… and bubble wrap and packing tape and other fun things.

A month to go before we move. We have a place to stay in Stockholm, and we have a moving company, and we have flight tickets. That means the essentials have been taken care of. Now we’re ordering boxes and bubble wrap. A load of boxes should arrive in time for this weekend, so we can start packing things like books and DVDs and other stuff we don’t need day to day. Then we’ll start disassembling our bookshelves and wardrobes. All this should lead to lots of climbing opportunities for Ingrid.

We’re also cancelling all sorts of subscriptions and catalogues and memberships we won’t want to keep, and notifying the rest of our change of address. The aim is to get to the point where all essential mail should be coming to the new address without relying on Royal Mail’s mail forwarding (which they probably won’t do to a non-UK address anyway) and ask our neighbours to forward the rest.

We’re also loading up on things that will be hard or impossible to find in Sweden. Eric’s filling a (small) box with Sainsbury’s ginger snaps; I’m thinking of making a trip to GAP to buy tops for Ingrid in the next size up.

I said the other day that adults live more boring lives than children because life does presents us fewer surprises. The other thing that sets children apart from us adults is that they don’t know their limitations, have unlimited ambition and are willing to cheerfully “try, try again” many, many times.

Case in point: building towers. When I build towers for Ingrid to knock down, they tend to be more or less straight, which lends them a certain stability but also predictability. When Ingrid builds a tower, she always stacks the blocks on their narrow ends and picks the tallest blocks, and she places the blocks whichever way they happen to land, which means it takes her about 10 tries to build something that’s more than 2 blocks high. (She also hasn’t understood yet that it is impossible to place another block on top of those narrow wedge-shaped ones.) While my towers don’t fall down when you breathe in their direction, Ingrid’s look more interesting.

Note: The second tower is a reconstruction; for some reason Ingrid tries to pick up her towers after she finishes building them, and they don’t generally survive that.

… of uninterrupted sleep last night, which is the longest I’ve had in about a year and a half. (Ingrid slept from 11 to 6:40.) Rather nice.

But, to be honest, it wasn’t that big a deal. Not a world-changing oh-wow experience. I think my body has actually gotten used to being woken once or twice every night. And if I could choose, I would rather wake once in the middle of the night but then sleep until 7:30, than not wake at night but have to get up at 6.

Experiments with water and sponge

It’s striking (and funny) how ignorant babies are – how little they know about how the world works. Things we take for granted are all new to them, including such basic concepts as “things fall down” and “you can’t grasp water” and “you can put a small thing inside a big thing but not a big thing inside a small thing”. It’s fascinating to see Ingrid learn this kind of things.

It’s also fascinating to “see” the differences between her brain and an adult brain. Apart from experience, our main advantage is the ability (and tendency) to generalise. I’m guessing that an adult would reach a reasonably firm hypothesis about gravity after having seen, say, five different things drop to the floor. He would probably keep testing this hypothesis occasionally with things that appear markedly different from the original five (things that are very large, or feel very light, or look very red, etc) but he’d probably mark that problem as “tentatively solved” pretty quickly.

A baby, however, will keep dropping things again and again for a long time, and watching them with great interest. She will learn after a while that solid objects fall to the floor. But she will still be surprised when she sees that, when you turn a spoon upside down, food will fall off. And once she has learned that, she will still be surprised to discover that when you turn a bowl of water on the side, the water will also fall down! It’s not obvious for her to expect water to behave the same as a spoon.

We learn to expect consistency, and we learn to expect new things to be similar to old things. Which is practical, but also takes away much of the childish sense of wonder.

A month ago I was hard pressed to find much to say about Ingrid’s 15th month. It seemed that not much had changed: most of what I said was “this continues” and “more of that”. This month feels very different. I guess there’s some truth in what “they” say about children developing in spurts. (And it’s probably this spurt of advancement that has caused the uncharacteristic whinging.)

Where to start? Language, perhaps, because that’s where I’ve seen the greatest change. I think Ingrid has gotten over the big threshold and really understood the concept of words. She knows that certain sounds don’t just belong with certain things, but the sounds mean things. And she tries to make those sounds herself, too, although she’s naturally much better at understanding than at talking.

Whereas last month she had a handful of signs and even fewer words, I know for sure that she now understands dozens. She knows daddy. She knows hat, mittens, trousers, and boots; book, ball, lamp, pushchair, gate, train and car; dog and bird and duck. She knows eat, fruit, sit, stand, sleep, nappies and potty. And thanks to her books she knows cat and cow and sheep and cock and duck, and some of their sounds as well.

Pronouncing words is a lot harder. She can reliably produce half a dozen consonants (P, T, B, H and J – that’s the Estonian J by the way – plus occasionally M) and two vowels (A and I). Most words get reduced to these few sounds, so most words sound almost the same, except for small variations in tone. Daddy, lamp, and boot (pappa, lamp, saabas) all sound roughly like bapa. The intended meaning is only apparent from the context. The first clear word was ball (pall, which she pronounces as paj), but she can also say “thank you” very clearly (aitäh, which also means “give this to me please” and “take this please”) as well as boob (tiss, pronounced initially as tihh but now more and more as tii, or rather tii, tii, tiiii, TIIII!).

She also knows that cows say muu and sheep say baa and owls say uhhuu and cocks say kikerikii and is really fond of those animals’ pages in her books. For a while kikerikii was her favourite word, and she kept opening Muu, säger kon at the cock’s page while saying titetii with great enthusiasm.

Now that she has understood how language works she has also become better (or maybe just more insistent) at non-verbal communication. She points, or pulls my hand, or spurs me with her heels when I’m carrying her but not moving in the right direction. But at the same time she now has higher expectations. She expects to be understood, and is most upset when we don’t get it, which is still a very common occurrence.

Books remain popular, especially books that have pictures of things that she can recognise and point out. Our living room table is covered with children’s books. We’ve also started going to the local library now. The books are all in English but she doesn’t know that – all she cares is that they have pictures of familiar things. Picture books with a story are more hit and miss. She’s ignored some of them completely, but enjoyed others after a week or two of gradually increasing interest. The Gruffalo was boring at first but then she learned to recognise the fox, the owl and the snake, and then we’d read only the pages with those animals. The gruffalo itself was not interesting at all.

Ingrid is her usual active self and gets bored after just a few hours at home. We may get up at 7 and by 9 she can already be standing at the pushchair, trying to climb up and making very insistent noises at us. It used to be that we went out in the afternoon only, now we normally go out twice a day. I try to spread out my errands so I have reason to go out every day – or we just go to a playground or indoor play area somewhere. Anything to get out. And she generally prefers the pushchair to any kind of sling, because she can see more and move more freely. That lasts until she is tired; she usually prefers the sling for sleeping.

Playgrounds and parks are more fun now that she’s a more confident walker. She likes climbing, but unfortunately few playgrounds have climbing frames for children of her size. They tend to be geared towards much older children. We’ve found one in Stepney Green that’s just right for her: challenging, but small enough that she can manage some parts all on her own. In the absence of climbing frames, staircases are good fun, as well as simple grass slopes and pavement edges: anything that’s a bit tricky to walk. She especially likes to walk and jump down from things – walking down stairs, for example. And the best part of our weekly swimming sessions is sitting on the edge and jumping in. Sometimes we spend almost the whole half-our session jumping from the edge over and over again.

For some strange reason she also thinks it is very funny to sit on things (big bags or pillows, for example). She also enjoys unpacking bags again, but with a twist. This isn’t the old “tear everything out” game. No, now she takes everything out from the grocery bags after we get home from the supermarket, one thing at a time, and carefully hands them to me.

Clothes are interesting, especially hats and mittens and boots. She likes taking off her mittens and put them back on while we’re out. She points at her head when we’re about to go out and she hasn’t got her hat on yet (or when I haven’t put mine on). She carries her own boots around, talks about them, lifts up my large boots and puts them on the bench, carries Eric’s shoes around, tries to put boots on and take them off.

Teeth are still eight only (I think – I don’t get many chances to inspect her mouth for molars). Potty use is unchanged; one session in the morning just after we get up, but then almost nothing during the day because she won’t sit still. Eating habits generally unchanged: variable, but with a great emphasis on fruit, bread, cheese and breast milk.

The Best Software Writing I is, well, a collection of good writing about software. Edited by Joel Spolsky, who is quite a good software writer himself.

The book covers a wide range of topics – from the design of social software to how to hire developers. However they all tend towards the “peopleware” side of things: the interaction between humans and software, rather than the technical minutiae of writing code. The selection has clearly not been guided by any sort of overarching theme or purpose, but rather by what Joel is interested in.

And that, I think, is the greatest weakness of the book: an unclear aim. Joel claims on the back cover that “the goal of this book is to encourage better writing about software by highlighting some of the best writing of the year”. That’s an admirable goal, but it leads to a book that’s aimed at everyone and no one in particular. It’s even unclear whether the book is mostly meant for a technical or non-technical audience. Almost all of the essays assume some familiarity with software development, although not at a very technical level – a technically-minded non-developer wouldn’t have any difficulty. And yet there are footnotes explaining basic concepts in idiotic terms: “Dev = developer = an actual computer programmer”. Huh?

Some reviewers disagree, and mean that the book’s greatest weakness is that you have to pay for it, while most (or possibly all) of the material can be found online for free, including Joel’s introduction. But I like the feel of a book in my hands, and I also like to have a book in my bookshelf so it reminds me to re-read it occasionally. So even though I’d read several of the essays and blog entries before, I chose to buy the book rather than look for the rest online.

The quality of the essays varies. Some were worth reading once, and I’ll skip them the next time. There was a bit too much Eric Sink for my taste (come on Joel, three essays by Eric and only one by Paul Graham? What were you thinking?) and I really don’t think that why the lucky stiff is an example of good software writing. On the other hand, A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy by Clay Shirky is so good that it’s almost worth buying the book just to read this one essay.

Because the book was written with no one in particular in mind, I’m not really sure who I’d recommend it to. The most likely audience would be technically-minded people interested in the human factors of software development. But the contents of this book aren’t new, the thoughts aren’t new, so someone who’s interested in the field will most likely have read these or similar materials already. Worth picking up if you haven’t.

Amazon UK, Amazon US.

Some new photos are up.

Someone has switched my baby. Instead of the one I know, who was generally happy and full of energy, there’s now one who whinges and complains about almost everything. Putting on clothes? Oh no, not clothes! Changing the nappy? No no no, hate nappies! Hungry, but angrily shakes her head at all the food I offer. Tired, but screams when I take her to the bedroom. Clingy, but fights me while I put her in the sling.

And while the old one wasn’t a great sleeper, she had learned to go to sleep without much of a struggle. This stranger I have here now can spend an hour fussing and fighting me in the bed. Which means she doesn’t get enough sleep, which makes her mood even worse.

We had a round of something similar back in November, and at the time I guessed that Ingrid was angry because she couldn’t tell us what she wants. That’s still part of the problem, I’m sure. While she has become better at communicating, she’s also developed new and more complex wants that are harder to explain by pointing at things.

But I suspect that this time there’s more to it. It seems that now the underlying cause is frustration over not being able to control the world. Ingrid now gets angry when things are not done her way and don’t go exactly the way she wants – when she cannot decide. She may not like a wet nappy, but when I decide to change it she still gets angry because it was my decision. She may feel cold when we’re out, but gets angry when I put on her hat. However if she gets to pull out the hat herself and hold it out to me, then it’s OK to put the hat on. Same deal with the sling: once she is sitting there she is happy, but she seems to resent my decision to put her in the sling.

I wasn’t expecting this kind of independence and need to control quite yet… Well, anyway, I’m sure it’s just a phase. As always.

Two interesting blog posts about programmers and their preferences.

Here’s one that explains the fundamental difference between (most) programmers and (most) managers:

So here’s my theory: Managers must work shallow and wide, while programmers must work narrow and deep. People who are naturally tuned to one particular method of work will not only enjoy their jobs a lot more, but be better at them. I’m a deep guy, I should be doing deep work.

I didn’t say it was a particularly insightful theory.

It may not be an insightful theory but it certainly strikes a chord with me. I’ve said many times to both to my current manager and the two previous ones that I have no aspirations whatsoever to move up the traditional career ladder that inevitably leads to managing people. In fact if I was forced to I’m pretty sure I’d rather quit. Wide vs. deep is not the only reason for this preference but is certainly a big part.

The other talks about the role that personal preferences play in technological choices, and about why you need to know your audience before you can tell them what they should do.

When someone tells you “you need better tools: try Lisp”, ask “what about Lisp do you think would help me?” If they start listing reasons without first trying to understand who you are, may I say there’s a problem.

This is something I have encountered many times. People who recommend me some music or other, and when I ask them why they think I would like it, their only reason is “because this band is great” or “well I just think you would”. Book reviews that effectively say “everyone will like this book” or “best book of the year”. Of course they may sometimes be right, but more often it’s just a sign of sloppy thinking.