I have a lullaby. Exactly one. It helps her calm down when she is sleepy and tired, and knows that she is tired (so that she is no longer trying to crawl all over the bed) but still isn’t quite comfortable just going quietly to sleep. I don’t know whether it’s just the fact that I sing, or because it is a tune she is used to, or perhaps because it is a good lullaby – simple and repetitive melody, lots of humming mmm sounds etc.

The song is a very well-known one that every Estonian will recognise: Karumõmmi unelaul. It is about a little bear (karumõmm) who cannot sleep, because there is no one to sing for him. A honeybee (mesimumm) flies by and tells the bear to sing to himself. Bears say mõmm-mõmm in Estonian, and bees go summ-summ.

I have been singing it to Ingrid for many months. By now I know it so well that I can sing it almost unconsciously, even while I am half asleep. Sometimes I come to the end of one of the phrases (“mõmm-mõmm, mõmm-mõmm, something karujõmm”) and then I realise I don’t know which one it is, because I have sung the lyrics without any thought. I suspect that sometimes, in the middle of the night, I’ve looped the first verse several times before going on to the next one. (Nowadays I rarely need it in the middle of the night, but I used to use it more often some months ago.)

Unlike the bear, Ingrid is not yet listening to suggestions that she might sing to herself. However I am quite impressed that she is now willing to lie quietly while I sing to her, given how distant this possibility seemed 9–10 months ago.

Working from home on Fridays is getting harder and harder. I just cannot get much done during the day while Ingrid is gently and politely requesting my attention every 10 minutes. I make sure to keep up with email etc, but that’s about it. The bulk of the work gets done during evenings. I’ve got four evenings and eight hours of work, so I have been doing about two hours of work every evening. Which is fine, and I do get a lot done – those eight hours are the most productive ones I have all week. It is quiet, nothing and nobody interrupts me, and I can concentrate fully.

But it does mean that I don’t get much else done in the evenings, because by the time I’ve put Ingrid to bed, had dinner, and worked two hours, it’s about 10 o’clock.

Blogging frequency in particular has suffered. Work is not the only reason, of course. The other part of the equation is that I have gotten into a habit of blogging late in the evening. I think I need to change that, because this way there is too much chance that it just doesn’t happen at all. I may not be able to work while I am constantly interrupted, but I should be able to write a blog post piece by piece.

I attended a presentation yesterday by Kent Beck, one of the big names in software development, who had been invited to talk to the developer community at the company I work for. I went with great expectations and came away quite disappointed.

The title of the talk was “Trends in Agile Development” and the premise was that trends in software development methodologies mirror larger trends in business and in society – increasing accountability, transparency and responsibility, and increasing focus on relationships. Unfortunately he didn’t manage to actually say much more about this than what I wrote above, despite talking for an hour and a half (plus about half an hour of Q&A time). This could have been interesting if he had pointed out some non-obvious conclusions, or explained why we are seeing what we are seeing, or what this can lead to. Now he just stated the obvious.

The audience seemed to agree. Most of the Q&A time was spent on more technical aspects of Agile Development. There was only one question about the specific topic (about how these trends relate to the growth of open source software) and he didn’t really answer that question.

Kent Beck may be a good programmer, and he may have done some good thinking about programming methodology, but he is not a sociologist.

Despite all the filters I have in place, spam keeps coming through. Some of it gets no further than my inbox; some gets published and cleaned up afterwards. Interestingly much of the spam that isn’t caught by the filters is broken spam: spam with missing links or broken html code, or even stuff that looks like a part of the spam generating code itself. Anyway, it is a constant annoyance.

To try get around this I have now installed a very simple captcha mechanism (using the TinyTuring plugin). All you need to do in order to comment is to prove that you are human by typing a specific letter in a box. It seems to work. If you find that it doesn’t work for you, just send me an email (helen@).

If this works well, I will get rid of the rest of the anti-spam features, in particular the moderation queue, and all your comments will go straight to live without passing my inbox first.

As if we hadn’t had enough illnesses to worry about recently, today we were told that there had been 2 cases of measles at the nursery, and were very strongly advised to get Ingrid vaccinated ASAP. The fact sheet that the nursery had been given by the local health advisors says:

Measles has become uncommon in some parts of the UK because many children have been fully immunised. In and around the London area, various issues have resulted in many children being unprotected. The reasons include a high rate of mobility and many parents deciding to not have their children vaccinated due to the misunderstandings surrounding the safety of the MMR vaccine.

So I now have to worry about Ingrid catching measles, because other parents are not vaccinating their kids. Not happy.

The books belong to a loosely-connected trilogy. Chronologically, Gifts comes first, but it is in no way necessary to read them in that order, and I happened to do the opposite. The third book, Powers, has not been released in paperback yet.

For some reason I found Voices and Gifts in the young adult section in the bookshop, just like the Earthsea books. I don’t know why, because there isn’t much “young adult” about them, apart from the protagonists, and the size – these are no brick-sized lumps. (And if the age of the characters determines the audience, then why isn’t the rest of the bookshop grouped by age?) It’s a shame, because Le Guin’s young adult books are far more mature and intelligent than most fantasy that’s marketed to adults.

Both books are about growing up – not so much about learning as about growing wiser and losing that teenage righteous anger, and about finding your place in the world. And that isn’t particularly easy, given the harsh worlds and hard lives these characters start out with. Most of Voices takes place in an occupied city, and the protagonist, Memer, is a siege brat, born after her mother was raped by one of the occupying soldiers. In Gifts, Orrec lives on a highland farm, with raids from neighbouring domains a normal part of his life.

In Voices books and reading are forbidden. Memer is one of the few of her generation who learns to read, since the occupiers believe that reading and writing are evil and outlaw both. Books become a passion for her, and she yearns to overthrow the occupying army. In the end she is forced to learn that they are only human, just like her, despite everything they have done.

In Gifts certain highland families have special gifts, such as the ability to call animals, or to strike a man dumb. The story revolves around the effect of these gifts – sometimes desired, sometimes unwanted – on both the wielder and the people around them. The power to destroy by looking and pointing at a thing, for example… It makes you look at the world with different eyes, and makes others look at you differently, too. On the whole these gifts, which at first glance seem magical, seem to cause more trouble than good. It’s a darker book than Voices, with more pain and grief, but nevertheless ends on a positive note. As with Voices, stories and storytelling play an important role. Much of the happiness in Orrec’s life comes from stories – first from the stories his mother tells her, then from stories that he makes up himself.

One of the aspects I really liked in both books was that they never turned into a simplistic good-vs-evil story. The occupying army in Voices are really just humans, not evil monsters, and the city is finally liberated with the help of words rather than arms. The bad guys in Gifts are a bit more all-black, no-good baddies, but here their role is limited and the story focuses much more on Orrec’s own acts and decisions.

The language is as good as in all other Le Guin books. It is simple, restrained, and beautiful, and poetic without ever being overblown. Wonderful to read, and I wish there was more of it.

If you want to hear more, here’s a review of Voices that I liked.

Voices at Amazon UK, Gifts at Amazon UK.
Voices at Amazon US, Gifts at Amazon US.

We went to Tate Modern to see the famous crack and an exhibition of Louise Bourgeois.

I found the crack a baffling waste of money – digging up the floor along the entire length of the turbine hall just to put in place a new concrete floor with a crack in it is not art.

The exhibition was not too interesting either. I like her giant spiders. There was one outside on the river bank, and I also saw it when it was first set up in the Tate turbine hall, and happened to see them in New York in the summer of 2001 as well.

But much of her work was just weird. Too modern for my taste, the kind of thing that is art only because an artist says it is. Too modern, even though the majority of the works were done before I was even born.

I liked her marbles and bronzes, like the one in the photo here – a nice contrast between soft forms and hard materials, and shapes that seemed both organic and mineral at the same time.

Tried to work during the day but didn’t get much done, apart from keeping up with email traffic.

In the afternoon we went to the Museum of Childhood (which is close by in Bethnal Green, half an hour’s walk) for a short while. Ingrid liked the sensory area (different-coloured LEDs and some light shows, and a touchy-feely wall) and the long staircase up to the 2nd floor, and the Lego table.

She wore her new dungies for the first time and I have to admit she does look like a boy in that outfit… she needs some pink glittery hair clips, except she doesn’t have any hair to put them in… or maybe just a big sign that says “It’s a girl!”.

Touchy-feely wall

I found an utterly fascinating story about what seems to be a provable case of large-scale (6 figures) cheating in online poker. The best thing about this (apart from being a ripping yarn about software security) is that the detective work has been done by members of an online forum, and all their guesses and investigations and allegations can be seen, step by step.

I started from a blog post by Bruce Schneier, which linked to a few summaries, which in turn linked to links that led to links that led to links… as much information as you could possibly want.

Ingrid’s 5-day course of penicillin is finished. No more strawberry red stains on clothes, no more night-time fiddling with the measuring syringe, trying to find her mouth without waking her too much.

Also, no more eye drops. She hated them.