Sunday, July 24, 2011

Tips for new parents (part 1 of ...?)

We never found a diaper disposing device that was worth the money. They all required lots of cleaning and got disgusting anyway. We eventually settled on a simple metal trash can with a lid, lined with a garbage bag. We put dirty diapers into plastic bags and tied them shut before putting them in. Produce bags and newspaper bags were pretty useful for this. If this seems wasteful to you, consider how much plastic is in a Diaper Genie. You're going to throw that away eventually.

Find ways to spend time with your kids where you have no agenda. The biggest source of stress and conflict is trying to get kids to do things. It's even worse if there's a deadline. Often it seems like I spend all my time with them trying to get them to do things. It's also why I'm often better with other people's kids. I have no expectations of them, and I have no agenda for them. All I'm interested in is the current moment.

The least difficult way I've found to get the kids to do things is to be very predictable. They are more willing and more diligent doing things when they know what's coming. For example, Uma and Kieran get the newspaper before breakfast. They have to do a basic room pickup after waking up. Bed follows stories follows bath follows dinner. Any time there's a deviation, we try to make sure they have ample and repeated warning.

Chores should also be tied to objective events. It's best (but not necessary) when they are a logical consequence of some preceding event. For example, after meals, you clear your dishes. Not "because I said so," but because that's just the thing you do. Making kids do something "because I said so" would be convenient, but it doesn't work all that well. That's probably a good thing in the long run. You want them to be driven by internal motivations, not the imposition of your will.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Objectivity and transparency in media

The Economist argues that transparency is an adequate substitute for objectivity. The gist is that it's okay to be biased if you're upfront about your biases and provide supporting evidence.

That is idiotic. The fundamental problem is that the knowledge in your head does not have an audit trail. If you read something untrue or distorted, even if you know it when you read it, there's a good chance you're going to remember it as true.

The way they describe it sounds more acceptable, but they open the door for biased, distorted reporting. Human memory is flawed. It's unreasonable to expect perfect memory and discrimination from people in order to excuse away your own lack of objectivity.

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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Drive-by friendship

A name I just made up for a phenomenon I've observed a lot. Alice posts something on Facebook (or now Google Plus, I guess). Maybe some people comment on the post. Frequently, some Bob comes along and posts something like, "cute cat. Hey, so how have you been lately?"

To me, it's obvious that Bob doesn't actually care how Alice has been. It's obvious he hasn't thought about Alice at all. He's only asking how she is because her post showed up in his feed. If she hadn't happened to post about cats, or if Facebook's bizarre and inscrutable relevance algorithm had not shown it to him, thoughts of Alice would not have crossed his mind at all. He saw it, he had a brief thought about her, he expressed it, and he moved on. It's like dropping a pebble into a pond. There's a small ripple, and then it's gone.

If Bob did care, he would have taken an extra 30 seconds to send a personal, private communication (email, text message, instant message, etc. There are so many options). He would have made an effort to initiate a real interaction. He wouldn't have hijacked a thread on some completely different subject. Maybe some people really love cats and want to hug all of them but they can't, so they're discussing it on Facebook. Then Bob comes along to ruin the discussion with thoughtless, irrelevant, pointless comments.

tl;dr: when people post about cats, comment on the cat. If you want to check in with them, do it in a way that's private, personal, and direct.


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

An alternative approach to selective college admissions

Suppose highly selective colleges took a different approach to admissions. Rather than taking the "best" 6.2% of applicants (Harvard for the class of 2015), they might pre-select the top 15% or 20% who met a certain minimum standard (albeit a high one). Then from that pool they would select the students whose lives would benefit most from a Harvard education.

The rich and privileged are going to be rich and privileged no matter which college they attend. The scrappy underdogs, on the other hand, could see a real difference.

Obviously, no highly selective institution would switch to this approach exclusively. Perhaps they could reserve a third of their places for these candidates, or just have it as a substantially weighted factor in the overall equation.

All this ignores the question of whether the emperor has clothes, whether an education at a so-called top tier school is really worth what we think it's worth. Whatever you think the right answer is to that question, there are interesting implications of following this method.

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