2012 12 03

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Contents

Feature Cast for 2012-12-03

(00:00:17.321) Intro

  • Thanks to daniel for his donation to the podcast

(00:03:14.667) Listener Feedback

(00:05:05.553) Hacker Word of the Week: fred

(00:06:12.796) How This Hacker Sees Parenting

  • I had a moment that really struck me a few days ago
    • I was making some offhand comment to my older son
      • As he was about to head out the door for school
    • I put my hand on his shoulder, realizing as I did so he was almost as tall as me
    • Of course, living with him day in and day out, this is not unusual
      • The experience of him constantly growing
    • People who see kids only every so often usually appreciate the physical growth more
      • Seeing it only in stutters and snapshots
    • His stature wasn't what struck me but how much of an adult he is becoming
    • I've actually been mulling that shift in my perception of him pretty much since
    • The thought also gave me pause to think about the relationship I have with my kids
    • Every day I try to do the best I can for both my sons
      • From just providing for their basic needs to supporting them in school
        • As well as in their interests and life in general
    • Similar to teaching myself programming, I feel that the experience of parenting
      • Has taught me more than any of the books I only read when the kids were born
      • Or what advice my own parents imparted, as much as I appreciate it
    • Unlike writing software, I don't think I've reflected as much on my skills as a parent
    • That seems odd to me as the comparative importance is so different
    • Maybe the keen sense of the risks of failing my kids terrifies me on some level
    • When I relied on writing code for a living, failing at it certainly carried dire circumstances
      • But nothing on the order of sending a young adult into the world
        • Who I have incorrectly or inadequately prepared
    • There are those signal moments all parents face where I have consciously tried to do my best
    • These make up a vanishingly small fraction of the experience
    • I thought it would be useful to unpack some of the simple principles to which I try to adhere
      • In parenting my kids day in and day out
  • Parenting after all can be viewed as a system, albeit a very complex and counter intuitive one
    • But one that is amenable to applying the hackish mindset, to a degree
    • I want to start off by again making clear that I appreciate
      • That there is a profound difference between trouble shooting a printer under Linux
      • And equipping a child with the skills and experiences needed to thrive
    • For starters, it would be irresponsible to just blindly try different inputs to parenting
      • Given that wild guess will have sweeping ramifications out in the world
        • Both now and much later on in the child's life
    • I would suggest that the ability to converse with our children
      • Especially as they get older and develop more robust personalities and intellects on their own
        • Forms a sort of dry run mode, where hypothetical situations can be explored
    • Especially when dealing with social stresses at school
      • This is a technique Andrea and I rely on quite a bit
    • We will ask how small changes in behavior or approach may make some circumstance better or worse
      • Such as targeting by bullies or general feelings of stress due to work load
    • Unlike running a program in a no-op mode, working through these suggestions
      • Often leads the boys to some creative thinking on their own
    • A lot of the input we provide to the kids is like this
      • Unpacking some thought process and exploring suggestions
        • Encouraging thinking on their own, not just providing particular answers or solutions
    • Unlike a lot of the parents of my kids peers, we dearly want to avoid helicopter parenting
    • If you are unfamiliar with this term or the phenomenon it describes
      • Imagine a parent constantly hovering over a kid, meddling with their decisions
    • One of the things I believe my parents very much got right in my upbringing
      • Was to cultivate a sense of independence and self reliance
    • Likewise, I want to arm my sons with the skills and experience they need
      • To make good decisions on their own, not relying on me or Andrea to do so for them
    • I suppose in some ways, that is similar to building a robust program
    • Both software and children will encounter situations you didn't anticipate
    • You can instill simple rules, if-then patterns or you can look for deeper principles
    • Children, of course, are unpredictable, there isn't always a linear relation
      • Between the ideas you work with them to cultivate and their actions in the world
    • That unpredictability limits how far you can view parenting as a mechanistic system
    • For me it also injects a certain skepticism in books on the subject
      • At least for ones that are overly prescriptive or do more than suggest principles
        • And invite individual discussion and practices tailored to each family
    • Listening is another skill that I find serves incredibly well both in hacking and parenting
    • I do tend to use very humanistic principles in my technical work
      • Since technology--creating and using it--so often mediates between individual and groups
    • Many of the concerns my kids bring to me as a parent
      • Arise from their interactions with peers or with socio-cultural structures, like school
    • When I am unsure what advice to give my sons, collecting data almost always helps
    • Like troubleshooting some particularly mystifying bug, drawing them out
      • Has often led to an intuitive leap, making a connection about their emotional state
        • Or some event or series of events affecting them at school or among their friends
  • The most demanding aspect of parenting for me is allowing my sons to garner their own experiences
    • It is very easy to just tell them what to do, based on my own understanding
      • Rather than find ways to support them with a light touch
    • A rule or edict they will often forget but something they figure out on their own
      • They will not only remember but relate to similar situations and build upon
    • Again, I have found this to be true whether teaching them about technology
      • Or about much more complicated subjects like fairness, friendship, and honesty
    • Another geek parent and friend of mine, Cory Doctorow, has a notion he likes to share
    • He is often asked if he would be upset in some way
      • If his daughter grew up to favor stronger copyright
    • His response is that far more concerning would be
      • If she is apathetic than engaged but with differing views
    • I agree but again this is an outcome that is difficult to craft
    • Completely avoiding topics about which I am passionate or even just down-playing them
      • Could invite the worst response, of not caring, most likely through ignorance
    • Overplaying my own interest invites equal chances of apathy or then a strong counter reaction
    • As much as I'd prefer the latter to the former, I'd still rather we have some common understanding
      • With minor differences in priority or emphasis than be at odds
    • For me it has come down to fueling curiosity and supporting exploration
    • I would liken the right approach to identifying opportunities, to crafting invitations
      • But never making kids feel obliged to pursue any particular one
    • As with cultivating some strong inner principles, I think the trick
      • Is to get them to see both the chances we as parents illuminate
        • But also to develop the skills to see their own openings to explore
    • This delicate balance still risks yielding some disappointments
      • But at the same time has given me some moments of intense pride
    • With both of my sons, I would like to have more overlap in the books that we read
    • Sharing more authors and titles would be an extension of the years we enjoyed games together
    • In the absence of friends and acquaintances who've read the same books
      • I'd have a built in opportunity to discuss what I am reading
    • At the same time, I have to respect him cultivating their own interests
    • When I was thirteen, I would not have shared the same interest with myself now
    • The unexpected moment of pride was my older son buying his own copy of Dante's Inferno
    • He had been playing a lot of video games that borrowed imagery from the book
    • In recognizing this common source, he clearly saw the choice of book to read
      • As more than fulfilling a page count for a reading assignment
      • Or even a bit of enjoyable escapism
    • For him, I think this was the first visceral experience of reading to directly sate curiosity
  • I want to tease out the expectations I have as a hacker and a geek parent a bit more
    • It is still very hard to resist the urge to see my sons as following in my footsteps
    • An important lesson my own dad instilled in me was that he'd be proud of me
      • No matter what I did in life as long as I followed my own way
    • From what I know of his relationship with his grandfather
      • This was a hard won lesson, one I try to hold close against the temptation
        • To see my sons as reflections or extensions of my values and interests
    • Generally my kids do share my interests but I worry
      • Whether it is because they came to them honestly
      • Or that I have unduly influenced them towards the things that I like
    • I suspect the fact that I do worry helps
      • Along with limiting myself to introducing them to things they may like
        • Trying not to pre-judge them, letting things go if they are not interested
    • Even though both my sons are pretty much geeks like me
      • And with each passing year show more and more hacker interests
      • They also serve to remind me in a microcosm
        • Of a lesson that is important to bear in mind in the wider world
    • When I was growing up, being into geeky or hackish pursuits was heavily stigmatized
    • As a consequence, even kids with pretty distinct interests got lumped together as outcasts
    • While my kids are generally pretty geeky
      • They express it in their own ways
    • I already mentioned being disappointed that they aren't necessarily into the same books as me
    • Additionally, they are pretty distinct from each other
    • The older one is more interested in building and creating
    • The younger one is more into more main stream video games like first person shooters
      • And appears to be a bit of a budding gear head, perhaps taking after his grandfather
    • Our younger son actually has the least overlapping interests with Andrea and me
      • And even seems to show inclinations with which we struggle to find a way to support
    • Neither my wife nor I are particularly athletic, at least not in the form of team sports
    • He is definitely more physically outgoing and in the next few years
      • We suspect he may want to go out for sports
    • Thankfully we both have some experience from being made to do so when we grew up
      • But I think our disinterest in many ways is a reaction against being forced
    • So far, supporting our kids interests hasn't been hard as they have been at least similar to our own
    • We joke about a couple of geek parents possibly raising a jock
      • But humor aside that would definitely put our parenting skills to the test
        • To put our son's interests ahead of our own
        • Even if they evoke aspects of our own childhoods of which we are not overly fond
  • So far I think the evidence speaks for itself in terms of our success
    • As much as I worry about the right degree of support and guidance without going overboard
      • In general the boys do alright
    • First there is also some creative project or other under way
    • The older one in particular is always sketching out some new art or craft project
      • Though both will take solid advantage of things like Lego bricks or model kits if on offer
    • They engage on their own in lively discussions about the movies, books and games they have in common
      • Much like any geek, sometimes to the point where we have to intercede when they disagree
    • Some friends were over for the holiday and one of them remarked
      • On how deeply interested both were in the new Linux machine I set up for them
    • Up to this point, we have often referred to them as monkeys, for a variety of reasons
    • She pointed out we really should start calling them penguins
      • Especially since the chatter was apparently pretty involved
        • The two of them ganging up on her husband for advice on how best to use Wine for gaming
    • Granted, I mentioned that he would be a good resource to help them
      • But they made a strong connection with their interests in video games
        • And drove the conversation, using it to build on their own knowledge
    • A good example is how well before that instance, I found out they had installed Mame on their old Mac
    • Not once did they ask me about Mame or for helping in understanding it and running it
    • They figured it out, including how to download and run ROMs, all on their own
    • I may have mentioned this before on the podcast, but my discovery of their use of Mame
      • Led to us having our first direct talk about copyright
        • To make sure they understood the legality of ROMs
    • That direct connection with their own experience made them agreeable
      • To attending their first reading by Cory Doctorow when he was recently in the DC area
    • Prompted only by his preamble, the discussion of the issues surrounding Pirate Cinema
      • And what led him to writing that young adult novel in the first place
      • We ended up chatting the whole way home about copyright
    • You would think that perhaps around our dinner table, I hold forth on the subject
      • Quizzing my family on legal trivia and recent events
    • Much like my stance of Linux advocacy, that I am happy to discuss it or not
      • With my family and friends, I respect their interest or disinterest in issues of copyright
    • Perhaps there was some osmotic absorption, despite my conscious stance
      • Just based on how important it is to me
    • I like to think that even if that is the case, they still have a more useful, direct understanding
      • Guided more by their own experience and understanding
        • And my role, as always, is just to support and encourage

(00:28:27.593) Outro

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