As time passes, doors disappear from our house. Slowly we’re gravitating towards the open plan living habits we acquired in London.

Already when we moved in, some doorways were doorless, and had probably been that way for a long time, since there aren’t even any hinges. This is the case for the doors from the hall to the living room, and from the living room to the corridor. The door between the hall and the kitchen appears to have been removed more recently, the hinges are still there.

A few weeks after the house became ours, we lifted away the door between the bathroom and the laundry room, because we couldn’t see any point to having a door there. (The laundry room, also known as the weird room, is a room that can only be reached from the bathroom. It was originally planned as a walk-in closet, then morphed into a sauna before it was built, but was never furnished as a sauna, so now it holds the tumble dryer, our laundry bins, and some odds and ends).

During our Christmas vacation we took down the wall between the kitchen and the living room. The improvement was huge. Now that the wall is gone, and the potential has become real, there is no chance that we’d ever want a wall there again.

Last week we got rid of the bathroom door, too. We never close it, anyway, except when we have guests. And when it was open, it couldn’t be opened all the way, flat to the wall, so it blocked the already-narrow corridor, making it seem darker and slightly cramped. For the sake of the guests we stowed the door in the laundry room, so we can easily put it back when needed.

The only doors still left downstairs are the bedroom door (so we don’t wake Ingrid in the evening) and the door to the mud room / cold storage room (because it’s unheated and made the kitchen very cold during winter). The upstairs doors have escaped removal thus far, but that’s mainly because we don’t spend any time upstairs so they haven’t gotten much attention yet. As soon as the staircase gets a proper banister and we unblock it for Ingrid, those doors will face an uncertain future.

The End of Mr. Y starts slowly, although with a hint of weirdness. Ariel Manto, the narrator of the book, a PhD student in literature, finds a copy of a very rare Victorian book: so rare that there is one known copy of it in the whole world (in a bank vault in Germany). That book, also titled The End of Mr. Y, is special because it is said to have a curse: anyone who reads it soon ends up dead.

I almost thought that this book might turn into an intellectual, slightly bookish work, a bit like Paul Auster perhaps. Books about books, with some thought experiments and philosophy about the nature of reality thrown in. How very wrong I was.

Once the story starts rolling, it soon picks up speed and energy very quickly. In a short while it’s positively racing along, with sex, love, homeopathy, sharing consciousness with a mouse, and being chased by mysterious violent goons. Ariel starts to realize that the curse might be very real. And then it goes on from there.

It’s a weird book, hard to pin down to any one category (which is almost always a good sign). A fantastical philosophical thriller perhaps? As befits a good thriller, the plot is tight and gripping – the kind of book you don’t want to put down because you need to know how the protagonist could possibly survive. But there are also wild thought experiments, deconstructivist musings on the nature of reality, language and fiction (which I didn’t pay as much as attention to as they deserved, since there was too much suspense).

Thomas also shows a good sense of humour, and creates good characters: very realistic, flawed but easy to sympathize with. Foremost among them is Ariel herself: intelligent, lonely, poor, obsessive, disconnected from the people around her.

It almost feels churlish to voice any complaints about such an ambitious, interesting, compelling, enjoyable book. But I did find the ending disappointingly weak, and Ariel’s emotional disengagement from the world occasionally made it hard to care about her as a person. Like another reviewer, my fondest and strongest memories from this book are of the mice whose consciousness Ariel visits – both the free city mice in the beginning and the laboratory mice in the end. Those are the scenes with the most emotion and the least Derrida in them.

As usual with this kind of wild suspenseful doesn’t-fit-into-any-mould kind of book, I’d recommend you to not read any reviews before reading the book: almost all have far too many spoilers. (The only one you can safely read is this Salon review.) Just trust me and buy the book.

Amazon UK, Amazon US.

Our dev/build server at work ground to a halt yesterday. When I logged on to look at it, the cause was immediately obvious: the second hard drive, the one we use for our builds, was 100% full. And I mean 100.0000% full, with exactly 0 bytes free space. That was a bit of a surprise since I had a distinct memory of seeing 40 or 50GB free space there some months ago, and none of us could remember installing anything particularly voracious on that machine.

Further investigation showed that the main culprit was our NCover output folders, which hold coverage reports for our two regular builds. One of the folders had about 425,000 files, ranging from 12KB to 150KB in size. The second folder was so full that I didn’t even try to list all its contents, it would have taken forever. Just deleting all these files took most of the day (and that was from the command line – when I made the mistake of browsing to the smaller folder in Windows Explorer, Explorer keeled over). Emptying both folders freed the expected ~50GB and quickly got the computer back on its feet.

Where did all this stuff come from? It turned out that we had misunderstood how NCoverExplorer generated its files. We thought it would reuse its file names, so the coverage report for a given class would always be found in the same file, and each new report would overwrite the old one, if saved in the same folder. Instead it generates random file names every time. We’d inadvertently been saving all our detailed coverage reports, with our entire source code nicely rendered in html markup, and generating several new copies every day. No wonder we were running out of space.

Have you seen the Earth Hour campaign? Seems incredibly stupid to me. Not only is the message the usual “ask the government to do more” (Isn’t it easy to fix the world’s big problems? Limit your own effort to an hour and ask someone else to solve the rest) but it also seems like a hugely wasteful and, actually, climate-damaging idea. Power plants are not made for coping with huge step changes in demand, and that this gimmick is likely to cause a lot of headache for power plant operators. Millions of people all turning off their lights and appliances at the same time, and then on again within minutes of each other, will put a lot of strain on the power system. Do something meaningful instead: hang your laundry to dry instead of using a tumble dryer, or use public transport instead of a car.

After three months of Mac use, I’ve more or less settled in.

I stuck to Opera for email, web browsing and RSS. I know that most of Opera’s goodies (such as mouse gestures and Speed Dial) are available in Firefox as extensions, and I’m a happy Firefox user at work, but I feel at home in Opera. I like the convenience of having web, email and RSS all in the same application, and I like the feeling of supporting the underdog.

The bundled text editor in OS X is almost as primitive as Notepad. I’ve been evaluating TextWrangler for a while, but I’m not completely happy with it. It’s got some small shortcomings that, taken together, really annoy me. Why did they have to come up with their own shortcut for switching between documents? Why does the Find & Replace dialog never remember my settings? And why is there no keyboard shortcut for Replace & Find Again, when all other search commands have one? If you have a better text editor to recommend, let me know. All I really need is a smooth multi-document interface, syntax highlighting, and a user-friendly search with regexp support.

For organizing photos, I’m going with Picasa. It is fast, easy and convenient to work with, has good tagging support, doesn’t copy my photos into a black hole like iPhoto.

I have a bunch of Office documents that I need to keep working with. For these, I tried NeoOffice. But my initial conclusions (clunky, ugly, slow, and no support for mdb files) remain valid, and I just couldn’t stand working with something so clunky.

So I downloaded Parallels Desktop, and went back to Windows and Office for my spreadsheet and database needs. It felt GOOD. Parallels is a joy to work with: fast, easy to install, convenient to run, and I have full access to all the OS X documents from Windows. I almost forget it’s there: it just feels like I’m using two operating systems in parallel, seamlessly.

And I don’t miss Windows at all.

It’s the end of March and it is still winter. There were brief glimpses of spring – this weekend we even saw various neighbours get out their bicycles and pushbikes and footballs and hedge clippers. And yet today we woke up to several degrees below zero. As the day progressed we also got howling winds and snowstorms. Give me spring already!

This is what it was like outside, this afternoon:

For comparison, here’s what life was like almost exactly three years ago (give or take a few days) – except that was in London:

Småbarnsförälder is a very useful Swedish word meaning a parent of young children. It is useful because it allows one to concisely express wry observations about parenthood, such as “only parents of young children would have their Sunday dinner at IKEA’s customer restaurant”.

(Ingrid has not discovered McDonald’s yet, so the IKEA restaurant is her idea of fine dining. Meatballs! With jam! And you can watch TV afterwards!)

I had a haircut today. For many years, Eric cut my hair, but now that we’re juggling jobs and nursery hours etc, it’s hard to find the time for it in the evenings. So for the past half-year or so, I have been going to professional hairdressers. I don’t have a favourite one, because I haven’t stood still long enough to find one (we have moved home twice and moved office once during the past year) and because I haven’t been sufficiently satisfied with any I’ve tried.

They all do some things the same and some things differently. One thing they all like is to put stuff in my hair when they’re done cutting and drying it. I’ve generally let them do it, even though I am not particularly interested, because it’s less bother than trying to explain it.

I can generally agree with their opinion that the stuff makes my hair look better (on some scale) or at least different. But that positive effect is by far outbalanced by how unpleasant the stuff feels. Sometimes it just feels slightly less soft, other times (like today) it’s stiff, sticky, positively disgusting to touch. I bet it smells as well.

Putting goo in your hair makes sense if you only interact with your hair by looking at it, or having other people look at it. But since I also like to touch my hair, to pull my fingers through it, to scratch the back of my neck, and to put my head on a pillow next to Eric’s face without having to worry about it stinking… I’m washing this stuff out before I go to bed, and I really will insist on no goo the next time I have a haircut.

The twenty-ninth month has generally been a positive, contented, stable, routine one. There were a couple of days when everything seemed to upset Ingrid, and every little setback would be met with hysterics. But otherwise Ingrid has been happy and in a good mood most of the time.

She seems to have such a positive view of the world, such confidence that things will go her way. There’s no asking, “Can I take this?” – no, she confidently proclaims “You will have this!” or “You will eat this!” or “We can do it like this!” or whatever it is she intends to do.

She’s also becoming more aware of fun. She jokes and makes fun of things, and tells me “du narras”. She says things she knows are wrong, does things she knows are wrong, makes funny noises or funny faces. She thinks it’s hilarious to offer me her socks to eat, or to blow bubbles while drinking orange juice.

When things don’t go her way, on the other hand, she is heart-broken. I read somewhere at some point that children consistently react to adversity with either anger or sadness. Ingrid goes for sadness: tears, sobs, and then cuddles. She never hits or bites or stomps her feet or yells.

The best fix for sadness is sitting in my lap. The second best is a long hug. Sometimes it takes a while for the sadness to dissipate. She tells me “now you are happy again” and climbs down. Sometimes she then discovers that it was too early, and runs back to me and tells me “you are still sad!”. When she is pulled between wanting a hug, and wanting something else (such as going back to her movie) which is at some distance from me, she can oscillate three or four times before she is ready to let go for real.

We seem to have entered another one of those periods where toys are of no interest. When we’re at home we read books, or watch a movie, or cook dinner together, or jump and run around. Occasionally she might play a little bit with her stove and pots and pans, but not much. The only things that toys are good for is throwing: it turns out that lying on the floor and throwing soft animals at each other, as a mini pillow fight, is very funny.

Toys are important as possessions, though. There are things she almost never plays with, but when it’s time to go to bed (or time to run to the potty) she suddenly decides that she MUST have one with her. Or two, or four. She doesn’t have them for cuddling or holding (and sometimes she picks very un-cuddly things, such as a book). She just wants them to be in the bed next to her. At night it’s not too bad, but it can get irritating when she suddenly realises she needs to pee, and then decides that she cannot do it without some totally random object that she decides on because it’s closest. If that object happens to be something unwieldy, like her Wheely Bug, the trip to the bathroom can take so much time and attention that sometimes we get there too late.

Instead of playing with toys, she engages in various sorts of physical play. Jumping up and down is also a lot of fun, since we saw Jänku-Juta jump a rope. This is often accompanied by shouts of “keks! keks! keks!”. Climbing snowdrifts is fun, as well as running up and down ramps and stairs.

I get the impression that she’s become slightly more cautious in her physical activities. Sometimes she tells me “otherwise you can fall down” about something that to me seems totally safe, and wants to hold my hand. I wonder if it’s something she’s learned at nursery. Disappointing, if that’s the case.

We’ve started going swimming again, after a few months’ break. We did it a couple of times during autumn, but then Ingrid seemed to lose interest, and would ask to go home after just 20 minutes. And since the trip to the swimming pool is at least 40 minutes (and even longer if the weather is bad and we have to take the bus instead of cycling) I gave up. But a couple of weeks ago we had another go, and she enjoyed it a lot. We bought a pair of little red floaters to have around her upper arms (just like in one of the books we read), and while she didn’t use them for any floating, she was so enamoured with them that she took them to bed that night. She’s even OK with water splashing on her face again: we tried the big slides, with her sitting on my lap, and she was shouting more, more! all the time. It was even fun to watch Eric came down after us, drenching her in spray.

As usual, she is very interested in doing anything that we adults do. We go grocery shopping every afternoon after nursery, and she takes it very seriously: pushes her trolley, picks up the milk, helps me put things on the converyor belt and pack the bag. She loves pressing the buttons to call the lift or to cross the street, not so much because it’s a button to press (although that’s a part of it) but because helps us get somewhere. She almost always helps me cook dinner, and loves to help set the table. This month she’s started learning to pour her own drink (with me holding the glass, so the bottle doesn’t upset it), and to serve food. I get the impression that she’s particularly proud of setting the table and serving food, because that way she’s not just taking care of herself (which is very satisfying in itself) but also taking care of us.

The flip side is that she’s very aware of her inabilities, and very sensitive to being reminded of them. (These quotes from John Holt’s How Children Learn really resonated with me.) For example, she generally enjoys painting (well, not so much this month) but not drawing – because she knows that I can draw things that look like things, but she can’t. I haven’t shown her that I can do the same with a paintbrush. When we get out pens and paper, I draw and she watches, and guesses what I’m drawing. When I ask her to try, she says “but you cannot!” and refuses.

I got a pleasant but agitated letter from an intelligent and highly trained psychologist who had heard my talk. How, she demanded, could children possibly learn unless we corrected all their mistakes? Wasn’t that our responsibility, our duty? I wrote a long reply, repeating my point and telling still more stories about children correcting their own mistakes. But she seems to be as far from understanding me as ever. It is almost as if she cannot hear what I am saying. This is natural enough. Anyone who makes it his life work to help other people may come to believe that they cannot get along without him, and may not want to hear evidence that they can, all too often, stand on their own feet. Many people seem to have built their lives around the notion that they are in some way indispensable to children, and to question this is to attack the very center of their being.

I would have been less tempted to correct this child’s little mistake had I not, like so may adults, been under the spell of the Bad Habit Theory of Learning. This tells us that every time a child makes a mistake, in speaking, reading, or whatever, we must instantly correct it, lest it freeze into a “bad habit”, impossible to correct. The theory is simply untrue. Most of the many things children learn – to walk, talk, read, write, etc. – they learn by trying to do them, making mistakes, and then correcting the mistakes. They learn by what mathematicians call “successive approximations”; that is, they do something, compare the result with the desired goal (doing it the way bigger people do it), see some of the differences (their mistakes), and try to reduce these differences (correct their mistakes). All children do this, and all are good at it; even in the homes of the busiest mistake-correctors, the children themselves correct many more mistakes than are pointed out to them.

One of the wittiest and truest remarks I have ever heard about education was made not long ago by a Catholic educator, a veteran of many years of teaching and teacher training. He was talking to a group of Catholic high school superintendents about handling your teachers, and was urging them not to be too quick to point out and correct mistakes that the teachers, given a little time, might see and correct themselves. “A word to the wise,” he said slowly, shaking an emphatic finger, “is infuriating.” We all laughed, because he has fooled us, and because he was so right. Infuriating is just what it is. We all know the kind of person who is quick to interrupt whatever we are saying to correct some unimportant mistake. Strangling seems much too good for him. […] A word to the wise, or even the unwise, is infuriating because it is insulting. When we teach without being asked, we are saying, in effect, “You’re not smart enough to know that you should know this, and not smart enough to learn it.”

What we must remember about this ability of children to become aware of mistakes, to find and correct them, is that it takes time to work, and that under pressure and anxiety it does not work at all. But at school we almost never give it the time. When a child at school makes a mistake, say, in reading aloud in a reading group, he gets an instant signal from the environment. […] At any rate, something will happen to tell the child, not only that he goofed, but that everyone around him knows he goofed. Like almost anyone in this situation, he will feel great shame and embarrassment, enough to paralyze his thinking. Even if he is confident enough to keep some presence of mind in the face of this public failure, he will not be given time to seek out, find, and correct his mistake. For teachers not only like right answers, they like them right away. If a child can’t correct his mistake immediately, someone else will correct it for him.

The result of this is a great loss. The more a child uses his sense of consistency, of things fitting together and making sense, to find and correct his own mistakes, the more he will feel that his way of using his mind works, and the better he will get at it. He will feel more and more that he can figure out for himself, at least much of the time, which answers make sense and which do nt. But if, as usually happens, we point out all his mistakes as soon as he makes them, and even worse, correct them for him, his self-checking and self-correcting skill will not develop, will die out. He will cease to feel that he has it, or ever had it, or ever could have it. He will become like the fifth-graders I knew – many of them “successful” students – who used to bring me papers and say, “Is it right?” and when I said, “What do you think?” look at me as if I were crazy. What did they think? What did what they thought have to do with what was right? Right was what the teacher said was right, whatever that was.