I went to a class reunion yesterday for my primary school class, grades 1 to 9. (Which actually only gave us 8 years together because in the middle of those years there was a school reform in Estonia that added one year to primary education, from 8 years to 9. So I never went to 5th grade.)

Last time I saw most of my classmates was 8 years ago, at another reunion. A few of them I haven’t seen since I graduated.

A few of them I wouldn’t have recognized if I had met them in the street; others are so similar to their 1st grade selves that any stranger could point them out in the class photo.

It is even more interesting to try to figure out how they have changed on the inside. (More difficult to observe, too, of course.) As with the faces, most are recognizable extrapolations of their school-age selves. Had someone told me 20 years ago that here is where this-and-this will end up in life, I would have nodded and said, yes of course, that figures, I can believe that. The quiet and studious teenager who now has a PhD; the poet’s son who has now published books of his own and studies history, etc.

Others surprise, with life and career choices that I wouldn’t ever have pictured. Which might well mean that I really didn’t know them as well as I thought.

With yet others I realize that despite our 8 years together I never knew them at all. I meet them now as strangers, effectively. Some of them have grown up into nice, interesting people, making me wish that we were not such strangers.

Two observations that, while not at all new, struck me with renewed force yesterday:

  • Some people really are photogenic in a way that has nothing to do with being pretty or handsome. The way they hold their body and move around, the way their face and hands move, just looks good in a photo almost regardless of when I press the trigger. Others look awkward in photos without doing anything that looks or feels awkward in real life.
  • Alcohol is such a natural part of all this events for so many people. I don’t think they could imagine a get-together without alcohol. As a non-drinker one is never specifically excluded, but as the hours pass, alcohol changes the discussions and the mood in such a way that excluding oneself becomes… well, not inevitable, and not the only option, but the only comfortable option.


Morning after:

Posts about previous reunions: first, and second.

How oil drilling in the US helps dirt-poor Indian bean farmers.

This is cool: NY Times: Copy of Mona Lisa done in tandem with Leonardo. To me the copy feels more like a Leonardo than the Mona Lisa itself, because of the dark varnish on the original.

Imbi Paju: peita ja unustada hoolimine (Hide and forget about caring)

This is an opinion piece by Imbi Paju, an Estonian author, about how the Soviet occupation and its opression of the Estonian people destroyed caring and sympathy and fomented mistrust and enmity between fellow Estonians. Those events, now long past, continue to affect Estonians to this very day.

The article is unfortunately in Estonian only, and Google Translate doesn’t manage Estonian particularly well. If you are not familiar with Estonian history, you can read a bit more at Wikipedia about the Soviet deportations from Estonia.

Even today, the general tone in Estonia – both in public discourse, in media and in everyday life – is characterised by a relative lack of respect and empathy, by putting each other down and trampling each other in the mud. This article lays bare the roots of this behaviour, which is not so much Estonian but rather the behaviour of an oppressed nation. An abused nation behaves like an abused person.

I notice this every time I read an Estonian newspaper or blog (and I have by now learned to never EVER look at the comments for any newspaper article), and to some extent when I visit Estonia. Less so when I meet Estonians, because the people I meet are of a younger generation, and perhaps they have already managed to put some of that past behind them. To purge all of it will take another generation at least, it seems.

This is why I never seriously consider moving back to Estonia. I like individual Estonians but I cannot live among only Estonians. It would drag me down.

It is very Estonian to identify with the country, the land. Estonia is still close to its farmer roots. People can ask an expat Estonian, how can you leave your country? I don’t identify with the land but with the people, which makes it all the more painful to admit to myself that while I do miss them, I do not really want to live among them.

Ingrid spends quite a lot of time with the iPad. The apps she uses most (apart from a movie player app) all come from one studio: Toca Boca. They make a variety of apps, some better than others. Originally the best ones followed a common structure but now they are branching out into more different kinds of play. We have every single one except the Helicopter Taxi which needs the iPhone camera to run.

I was going to list Ingrid’s favourites but then I realized that she loves almost all of them. Some days she plays one, then another day another app gets more time, and after a few days she comes back to the first one again.

Toca Tea Party

There’s Birthday Party and Tea Party, where you start by setting a table, choosing plates and cakes, and then proceed to eat the cakes and drink the tea and lemonade. These have great multi-touch support and work very well for several players. I believe that kids are supposed to invite their stuffed animals to the tea party but Ingrid usually plays with me instead.

Then there’s Toca Store, which is sort of similar but more clearly meant to be played together. One person takes the role of shopkeeper, the other is the customer. The shopkeeper chooses which items to sell, sets their prices, rings up the items on the till. The customer picks items to buy, counts up the coins, puts the stuff in their bag.

Of course you could play those things without an app, with actual physical items – and we have. But the app is 5 seconds away whereas setting up a tea party with real toy plates and cups takes time, so Ingrid is infinitely more likely to use the app than the real thing.

A bit similar is Toca Robot, where you build a robot by picking body parts for it. The graphics are well made and fun to look at: the robots can have arms with propeller attachments and a body like a fridge. When the robot is done you can fly it through a simple maze to pick up gold stars. Updates to the app have brought new varieties of each body part, as well as new mazes, so Ingrid keeps returning to this app.

Toca Robot

Toca Hair Salon and Toca Kitchen are two of a kind – you get some materials and can perform some actions on them. Cut, blow dry, comb, wash, colour hair; chop, fry, boil, mince food. I’ve found these somewhat disappointing – they sound like more fun than they actually are. In Toca Kitchen the choices are too limited, and they’ve skimped on the graphics: the results look dull. Frying things just makes them brownish, for example, so frying an egg doesn’t actually result in anything that resembles a fried egg. In Hair Salon the hair is difficult to control and the results are all too similar to each other, except for the colour and accessories, so what sounds creative boils down to a painting app.

Paint My Wings is actually a painting app where you paint the wings of a butterfly. The wings are mirrored, so whatever you paint on one wing also turns up on the other. There are other nice touches such as the butterflies talking to you (“that tickles!”) and using berry juice for the painting, making this a bit more interesting than just a plain drawing app.

Less open-ended is Toca Doctor which consists of a bunch of puzzles and mini-games. Ingrid liked these to begin with but they’re too simple for her now.

Some fresh links to good stuff:

  • A Brief Rant on the Future of Interaction Design – The currently popular Pictures Under Glass technology is an interaction paradigm of permanent numbness. It denies our hands what they do best: touching things, sensing their tactile response. Claiming that Pictures Under Glass is the future of interaction is like claiming that black-and-white is the future of photography. It’s obviously a transitional technology. And the sooner we transition, the better.
  • Gilad Shalit and the Rising Price of an Israeli Life – One soldier swapped for over 1,000 prisoners, most of them convicted terrorists. How and why did Israel end up in a place where they would agree to this deal?
  • In ‘Game of Thrones,’ a Language to Make the World Feel Real | NY Times – Hollywood is driving demand for constructed languages, complete with grammatical rules, a written alphabet (hieroglyphics are acceptable) and enough vocabulary for basic conversations. (Estonian grammar gets mentioned in passing.)

Today I found something I did not know I needed: SubtlePatterns.com. The moment I saw it, I realized that this is what the blog design has been missing.

Perhaps you’ve heard the assertion that you need to put in 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become an expert at any field. Well, here is an amazing and inspiring example I found today. Jonathan Hardesty decided that he would learn to draw and paint. He totally became an expert. And what’s even more cool – he documented his progress in a forum thread spanning 7 years of work, so you can follow him on his way. Makes me wonder – what might I achieve with the same kind of dedication?

September 2002 (© Jonathan Hardesty)

February 2009 (© Jonathan Hardesty)

Some fresh bookmarks from delicious.com:

  • Fostering Healthy Attachment – How we, as a society, have raised our children with the expectation that they become totally self-reliant and autonomous rather than with the hope that they have the capacity to form close, loving, intimate relationships with others.
  • NY Times: From Scroll to Screen – In the classical world, books came in the shape of scrolls. Then came the modern form of books, the codex – stacks of leaves bound together. With e-books we are going back in the direction of scrolls, losing the power of random access reading.
  • Economist: The flight from marriage – Asians are marrying later, and less, than in the past. This has profound implications for women, traditional family life and Asian politics.
  • Viewers vs. Doers: The Rise of Spectatoritis | The Art of Manliness – “80,000 people gathered to watch 22 men run around, throw a ball, and smash into each other. The appeal is not difficult to see—there’s something truly compelling about watching the most talented athletes in the world perform. But when you take a step back, it’s really quite odd, isn’t it? Two groups of men–the doers and the viewers—and one group is far, far larger than the other.”
  • Cartooning vs. Technology: How Steve Jobs Ruined Comics – Representing something in a super-simplified style when the object itself is already super-simplified becomes increasingly difficult. How do you draw someone talking on the phone, when the phone can’t be seen because it is smaller than the person’s hand?