Just like last year,

1. Estonian mosquitoes really like the taste of my blood, and like last year, some of the bites swell to palm-sized tender lumps.

2. Ingrid totally does not enjoy being outdoors in the countryside. Keeps suggesting reading books, watching movies, drawing, anything indoors. Initially seems happy about the idea of going out to dig in the sand, but after a few minutes’ walking, when we cannot see the house anymore and are surrounded by grass and trees, she gets desperately unhappy, and we turn back.

The boat trip to Tallinn was smooth but somewhat disappointing. Last year Ingrid really enjoyed the play room; this year there were far fewer toys because nobody had bothered to replace the ones that broke, so there wasn’t much to do there. But the whole thing was still a big event for her. First the trip to the harbour, then getting on the boat, then dinner in a restaurant, sleeping on the boat, and breakfast on the cabin floor.

We spent most of Friday morning in the Tallinn Zoo, so we wouldn’t have to begin our day with the two and a half hour car trip to Tartu. Most animals were interesting for about 2 minutes (Look, a tiger! OK, let’s go.) but Ingrid really enjoyed the petting zoo: goats, a pig, downy yellow chickens, rabbits etc. She was not too keen on getting too close to the mouth end of bigger animals (such as goats) but very interested in seeing them eat and drink.

Today looked set to be rainy (although in the end it didn’t rain at all) so we stayed in town, and I decided to start with my shopping plans: lots of children’s books in Estonian, and some movies too. Already I discovered that some books that were easily available last year, were hard to find this time, so now I’m preemptively buying books well above her age, just in case they’re not there when I want them. I am not looking forward to the task of packing my bags, or lugging them home.

We’ve also renewed our acquaintance with Oliver and Katariina, both just a few months older than Ingrid, both of whose mums I grew up with. Coming up tomorrow: Oliver’s birthday party.

My vacation starts today, with a two-week trip to Estonia for Ingrid and myself, while Eric gets some time on his own. Ingrid gets some language immersion, I get to meet friends and family. We’ve been talking a lot about how on Thursday we will go on a big boat, and the boat will take us to Estonia, where we will meet Grandfather and Tädi Ülle, and where everybody speaks Estonian and no one understands Swedish at all.

Things that have kept me from blogging much:

1. Summer has finally arrived. This week has been sunny and warm, after several weeks of cold, windy, wet, distinctly non-summery weather. Add lots of evening light, and the result is one energized kid. Ingrid and I have been out on playgrounds in the evenings, cycling, splashing, running around. Today we went out after dinner and by the time I finally convinced her to go home, it was nine o’clock. She only fell asleep around 10.

2. I have experienced an unusual burst of energy myself, and spent a lot of time programming. I’m starting to actually feel comfortable with Ruby and Rails, and getting stuff done. It’s not a painful bang-my-head-against-the-wall experience any more. My expenses tracker can now do all the basic CRUD stuff, plus UI goodies like paging, sorting, filtering, plus importing from CSV.

Speaking of programming, today I also dove into Python at work. A tedious task landed on my desk, and of course I decided to automate it even though writing the script would take about as long as doing it manually. I happened to have Python installed already (a prerequisite for some tool) so that’s what I fired up. I’d never done anything in Python before but after half an hour I had it all working. Learning Ruby was a good warmup, I think: now my brain was well prepared for working with a scripting language.

Something I forgot to mention in my monthly post: my losing battle to keep Ingrid’s Estonian skills alive. The better she becomes at Swedish (and she is speaking very well now), the bigger the gap between the two languages, and the more likely she is to choose Swedish.

As the dialogue example shows, even when I speak Estonian to her, she often responds in Swedish. I used to prompt her for the Estonian equivalent, but I keep forgetting – after all I understand Swedish so well that it’s hard for me to ignore and pretend to not understand it. The best I manage is to respond with the Estonian version of what she just said.

She rarely uses an Estonian pattern in Swedish, but when she does speak Estonian she often slips into a Swedish pattern. “Emme mul on vaja üks lusikas” (Mummy I need a spoon) instead of “Emme mul on lusikat vaja”. And I think I can detect a hint of Swedish sound and melody when she speaks Estonian – she is developing a foreign accent.

I hope our upcoming 15-day visit to Estonia is enough to stem the tide for a short while.

After last month’s lack of attention, I’ve been taking notes. Not only does that help me remember the things I want to write about, it also brings out the recurring, dominant themes: language and social interactions.

Language, then. On the grammar front, she’s got a grip on first- and second-person pronouns now. She figured out du and jag in Swedish first (last month already, but I forgot to mention it then) but kept saying them the other way round in Estonian. Then a month later she got the Estonian pronouns, too. Third person pronouns are tricky – it and they are not a problem, but she mixes up she and he (in Swedish only, because Estonian doesn’t differentiate by gender). Part of the cause is, we think, that she isn’t really able to tell the difference between boys and girls, women and men, which means that our labelling people as he and she must seem pretty random to her. The other day we asked her “is X a boy or a girl” about other children in her nursery group, and the answers were near random. Same with the staff – she deemed Sandra and Malin to be mummies, Åsa to be a daddy but Niclas a mummy.

She manages to correctly use a suprising variety of verb forms in Estonian. In Swedish there are more irregular verbs to be grappled with, and it’s clear that she’s aware of the complexities. Sometimes she starts to use a regular pattern on an irregular verb (“jag sågde”) and then gets stuck because she hears or feels that it’s not quite right. Plural forms of nouns have similar traps: bokar instead of böcker, stenor vs. stenar.

Ingrid still likes word/sound games. The neighbour girls have the whole series of Mitt ABC and Ingrid always wants me to read those when we visit them. (There’s one book for each letter of the alphabet, and each book has stuff with that letter.) The books focus on first letters, but when Ingrid herself gets to decide, the important letter of each word is the strong, stressed sound. It’s not R as in raamat but A as in raamat, and O as in kook, Y as in cykel, and M as in emme.

Sometimes she also plays with songs – takes something like Idas visa (Lille katt, lille katt…) and makes it into Lille mus, or Nyss så träffa’ jag en krokodil might become Nyss så träffa’ jag en elefant. The changes are small, often just switching one animal for another.

The social aspects of language are becoming important to her. She’s picking up polite phrases and formulaic expressions, and using them a lot. “Jag tar gärna lite bröd”, “nej tack”, “jag tänkte titta på film”, “jag tycker att det är varmt idag”, “jag ska visa dig en sak”, “hej då vi ses imorgon”. (“I would like some bread”, “no thanks”, “I thought I’d watch a movie”, “I think it’s warm today”, “let me show you something”, “bye-bye see you tomorrow”.) It’s nice (and novel) to hear her ask politely, but at the same time slightly scary to think about how much our everyday behaviour affects her manners, already at this early age.

A few of these things she says without fully understanding them, but in general she’s good at using social language, asking or telling people things – language as a social tool, rather than just a way to express wants (“more milk!”) or comment on her environment (“there’s a big puddle”). There’s a fair amount of talk about yours, mine, and borrowing: “can I borrow your bucket”, “this is mine, you can’t take it, but you can borrow it”.

Unlike both Eric and myself, Ingrid is an extrovert, a very social creature. (It’s hard to remember but I think I was the same at her age. The introversion came later.) She’s never happier than when there are people around her, and she is bored when there aren’t any. Every day when I go to pick her up from nursery, one of the first things she says is “today we will go play with Julia” (the younger neighbour girl).

I: Jag vill leka med Julia.
H: Peab Julialt küsima, kas ta tahab meiega mängida.
I till J: Julia, vill du leka med mig idag?
J: ja
I till H: Julia vill leka med mig idag!
H: Julia on selle üle rõõmus.
I: Jag är också glad! Jag är jätteglad!

I: I want to play with Julia.
H: We have to ask Julia if she wants to play with us.
I to J: Julia, do you want to play with me today?
J: Yes
H: Julia is happy about this.
I: I am also happy! I am very happy!

A lot of the time she still imitates or plays side by side rather than together with others. Whenever there are other kids at the playground, she trails them, and wants to do whatever they do. If they climb the jungle gym, she wants to do the same. If their mom catches them when they come down the slide, she wants to be caught, too. If they swing on a big kid swing, she will, too. If the other kid is a year and a half older than her and stands up on the bird’s nest swing, she will try that, too, even though she’s kind of scared.

Other popular activities: making sand cakes together with me and then happily stomping on them, one by one. “Now they are ready, now I can stomp?” Balancing on kerbstones, ledges, planks etc. Cycling on her tricycle. (The balance bike was quickly discarded – “It’s difficult! I cannot do it.” Perhaps next summer.)

Drawing, too: now it’s not just me drawing for her all the time. She’s more willing to draw herself, and she now draws actual things, not just scribbles and swirls. Sometimes she tries to copy something that an adult has drawn for her, but other times she comes up with her own ideas. Mostly they are relatively shapeless things, but she says they are balls, clouds, snakes, or hot dogs or cupboards. She’s also bolder in her drawings, more likely to draw huge balls that cover the entire piece of A2-size paper. (We bought a roll of cheap paper from IKEA for the easel, and often cut pieces from it for drawing, too.) When I draw for her, she likes to choose the colour for me. I get to draw a lot of purple and pink stuff. When I’ve finished, she likes to colour in my drawing.

Loose facts:

  • Does not like jokes about eating her up. Sometimes she just looks scared/worried, and sometimes she says “No, you cannot eat me!”
  • Likes Bendicks Bittermints, dark chocolate, and liquorice.
  • Does not like having her hair brushed, but no longer objects to brushing teeth, at all.

Out of all the talks and discussions at Agila Sverige 2009, the most useful tidbit I took with me was this:

Evolution = Variation + Selection

The equation is obvious, and yet it was useful to have it spelled out like that. The moment I saw it on the screen, I knew it was just what our Agile project needed right now.

I’d been thinking for some weeks now that our project felt a bit stagnant. Everything was going well, we were delivering good stuff, the process was flowing smoothly, but there was something missing: change. And if there’s no change, there’s no improvement, and I get restless.

We’d had our regular retrospectives, and we’d always come up with some points for improvement. But I felt that we were often saying the same thing every month, and that any adjustments we made were small, on the margin. Looking back (with that equation in front of me) the reason is obvious. We had a good deal of selection (critical evaluation) but far from enough variation. We need to experiment more, change our routines and our processes more (more often, more extensively, more deeply, more creatively) and see what happens.

The first thing we’re going to change (after we all get back from our vacations) is try 1-week sprints/iterations instead of 4-week ones. And I’m going to spend a lot of time during the summer doldrums (when we’re between iterations) thinking up more variations to try.

I spent Monday and Tuesday at Agila Sverige (Agile Sweden). A lightweight and agile event, as befits the topic, somewhere in the continuum between the ALT.NET unconferences and “real” conferences. There was a small attendance fee, and meals were provided, and there were printed programmes, but the structure was like an unconference – lots of scheduled lightning talks in the mornings, and Open Space sessions in afternoons.

As with the ALT.NET events, I came home not so much with facts or techniques or tips, but with feelings of inspiration and energy. While it would have been nice to find answers, it is also nice to at least know that others are struggling with the same questions (such as fitting testing into short iterations, or adjusting Agile & Scrum for use in a very small team). The term mutual admiration society may be derogatory, but sometimes a bit of mutual admiration is what we need to energize us.

The most interesting discussion was a philosophical-political one. I cannot recall the original label for the session, but one of the topics we ended up discussing was the parallels between some dynamics of the Agile movement and “real-world” revolutionary movements. Liberation movements themselves are often very illiberal, even autocratic, and it can be hard to shift from leading a liberation movement to leading a liberated population. Very different qualities and behaviours are required.

The Agile movement is a kind of liberation movement, aiming to free developer teams from the burden of excessive management, procedure, planning and documentation. But when the message trickles through to the masses, the original leaders think the message has been distorted, lament the degradation that their lofty ideas have undergone, and start talking about the need to restart the process under a new name and a new manifesto. And the masses get upset that their leaders seem to be abandoning them.

The Agile movement is a principles-based movement. It’s not so much a method as a philosophy. (Aren’t real-world revolutions the same?) And for the leaders of the movement, principles suffice. But when the idea spreads (or when you try to spread the idea) from innovators and early adopters on to the early majority, it starts to seem that principles are no longer enough. The target audience now includes people who do not think much about principles – because if they did, they would be leaders or early adopters themselves. So processes and methods and rules start to agglomerate. “If you’re not doing TDD then you’re not doing Agile,” and so on. So there is an inherent conflict between the foundation of Agile software development (trusting people), and the desire to spread it to the bulk of the developer population (whom you don’t trust to do the right thing on their own).

(This, of course, raises a new question: should we even try? Would it be desirable to have the majority of projects run in an Agile manner? Or, as another speaker put it, are we running out of Agile developers? Can any developer work in an Agile manner, or does it take a certain kind of developer, of which there is a finite number?)

The issue of leaders abandoning a movement once it reaches some level of maturity is also an interesting one. (Lean development is one of the new new things that people orient towards when they get enough of Agile.) There are at least two forces conspiring to make it so. Firstly, thought leaders are rebels and/or innovators. In order to feel happy they need to feel that what they’re doing is new and fresh, and not mainstream. When their idea becomes mainstream, they must find something even newer. Secondly, the leaders will naturally continue to develop and refine their own ideas. They won’t stop just to wait for the rest of us to catch up. So by the time we get to Agile, the people who started Agile will again be ahead of us.

Top five unhelpful things you can say to your toddler, especially if the child is crying, angry, sad or upset – learned from actual playground encounters:

  • Sluta! (Stop that!)
  • Skärp dig! (A direct translation would be “Pull yourself together!’ but I guess in English you’d say something like “Behave yourself” instead.)
  • Vad är det för fel på dig?! (What’s wrong with you?!)
  • Nu lägger du av. (You will stop that right this moment.)
  • Varför ska du vara så jobbig? (Why do you have to be so difficult?)

Every time I hear a variation on this theme I can just imagine the toddler thinking, Thanks for the reminder – I had totally forgotten that crying is not the accepted method of argumentation in this setting. Of course I will stop. Not.

May is the prime time for our garden, the season when it is at its most impressive and beautiful, because of our two huge cherry trees. They’re taller than the house and flank it on two sides.

When the cherry trees were joined by a large bird cherry bush (prunus padus, hägg, toomingas) and a plum tree, half the garden was covered in white blooms.

But we also had lots of primroses, both the ordinary wild yellow ones and some lusher-looking red ones (possibly planted) and orange hybrids

and daisies, here camouflaged between fallen cherry blossoms

and periwinkles

and various weeds which I’m sure would have been removed long ago in a stricter garden, but which I found quite decorative.

By the end of the month, the lilacs were blooming, too.