It is the blessed end to a long, rough week, I have cracked open what promises to be the first of several El Guapo IPAs this evening, and I am doing the last thing on my to-do list before I begin an evening of letting my hair down. My plans to “take the day off”, didn’t quite work out as planned, as I got a late afternoon call with some urgency that requires completion before noon Monday. For now, I have made no promises to myself other than to complete this daily ritual of writing, and then I will release myself to my whims.
We have finally allowed our new cats, Bodie and Utah, reign of the house. I am mildly anxious about the effect of cat dander on my various computers. So far that have stayed off the table where my mining equipment sits. At night we keep them locked in the master bedroom or bathroom, rather, lest they scamper over the bed at 3AM and wake Missus up, as they did last night. I have been sleeping in Younger’s bed, like a babe.
Besides the sleep deprivation, litter boxes and vomit that we’ve found on the bathroom floor for the past few days, the cats have been a wonderful addition to the family. The girls love them, and Elder actually did the chore of cleaning the litter box today on her own. Wonderful. I myself have flashbacks to a cat-crowded apartment that I stayed in during my twenties whenever I smell cat litter, and have told Missus that she needs to come up with a plan for me to have my shower, where a litter box is sitting, returned to operation.
The girls are doing well. Their TV consumption has come down quite a bit, and we’ve been making progress with their academics, as I’ve called it. I’m especially proud of some progress that Elder made with her piano today. She’s been stuck on a Playground Sessions bootcamp lesson for the Game of Thrones theme that she’s been stuck on for several weeks it seems. It’s not the first two-hand lesson that she’s done, so I’m not sure why she’s having such trouble. The app itself is actually causing her some stress, since playing with the real-time accompaniment and feedback is too much when she’s struggling to play. She wants to rush through them instead of giving herself time to grow, so I’ve been trying to coax her into playing it half-speed or from sheet music, but she resists.
I’ve found that starting each session by backtracking to the individual hands-separate lessons as a warmup before going into the harder one has been working well. And today I had her just look at the music and practice the problem bars over and over until she could put the longer sections together. And she started to get it. I think she’ll need a few more practice session on her own before she does the test again. And hopefully she’ll listen to her old man when he offers advice!
Making alphabet and spelling flash cards with a little help from regex
I’ve been getting used to RemNote for a little over a week now. I haven’t really gotten too much into yet, just taking notes and trying to link things up. I haven’t played with the spaced repetition features yet; I’ve used Anki in the past to get through an accounting class a few years ago, but I haven’t really felt the need to use it much for anything I’ve been dealing with lately. I may start using it for certain CLI commands at some point, we’ll see.
I did start trying to use it for Younger and Elder, though. I set up a document for the alphabet and filled it out like so:
And so on. It doesn’t look like there’s a way create these cards without having something on either side of the double colons, so I just filled it in with the letters on each side. Of course, Younger can’t do these by herself, so I have to sit there with her and push the answer buttons for her. It’s been working ok so far, it takes a couple minutes, and the app makes a nice little fireworks display when you hit your daily goal. She loves it. It of course makes her big sister a little jealous so I had to find a way to do one for her as well. We settled on third grade vocabulary words.
I found a couple lists online, but I wasn’t trying to copy and paste two hundred words into the proper format, so I did what any programmer worth their salt would do: regex.
Take a list like the following:
additional event region
agreeable examine repair
argue example ridiculous
We want to separate the non-whitespace \S from the whitespace \S, into two ( ) groups : (\S+)(\s*). Then we can substitute, using \1 as shorthand for the first group: \1::\1\n. This gives us the following output, which exports perfectly into RemNote:
Now while this works fine from a technical perspective, it’s a bit flawed in execution. Elder can’t see the words that she’s trying to spell, obviously, so I have to read them to her while she sits across the room from me. It causes her to miss the reward, the fireworks, and caused a bit of distress on her part.
So here I am now, brainstorming ways to generate audio files for these words so that I can put them in with the cards. Do I read a list of 200 words, and then go through the editing process to separate them into individual files and attach them to the proper file, or is there a way to program and automate all this.
Of course there is. There’s a Python module for the Google Text to Speech library, so I could literally generate the files in a few minutes. Then it’s just a question of importing them into RemNote. Unfortunately, RemNote doesn’t seem to support uploading or local audio files, so I would have to either upload them somewhere like an AWS bucket, or just use something like Anki, which supports audio within the card decks themselves. We shall see.
I’ll have to keep quizzing Elder on my own now, she seems to do better with the one on one time anyways. I’ll be sure to share any updates.
It’s the end of the day here, the kids are asleep, and I’m sitting down to write now because I had a dentist appointment and it threw my morning routine off. The trip to the dentist was my first since COVID, and I bring Elder with me, so I was a bit anxious about what to expect. I shouldn’t have worried, since we’re dealing with medical professionals here, so everyone was wearing PPE and we didn’t run into any patients, except for one lady who quickly exited past us as we were walking out. She wasn’t wearing a mask, but I forgave it as I figured it was just a lapse since she was coming out of her cleaning or whatever. It was a black woman, about my age, although I wonder if I would have had the same reaction if it had been a white person.
The office was understaffed for a couple of reasons, so the dentist himself did my cleaning, tearing through it in record time. We talked for a bit about what was going on, and he admitted problems they’d had with PPE previously, and that they were unable to get the disinfectants that they usually used.
The kids were ok today. Elder and I continued our stalemate for most of the day. She wanted to ignore me and read a book, which was fine except for the extent that I had to keep an eye on Younger as a result. She decided to play with some slime on the back deck, and now the whole thing is stained with the residue of purple paint and glitter. If I wasn’t planning on ripping everything up in a few weeks and laying down new boards I would have been mad. Elder’s defiance continued until after lunch when she began to realize that she wasn’t going to get what she wanted, TV, until she spent sufficient time studying, and I managed to get her to do some math work. I even got her to do piano this evening as well.
A few days ago I printed up the following image from a metalearning post on Medium. Elder has this tendency to get frustrated at the things that I try to get her to do, saying things like “I can’t” or “I don’t know how” whenever she doesn’t want to do something, usually the dishes or some other academic point that I’m trying to make to her. We fought over it yesterday when I tried to get her to go over it with me, and she finally sat down with me this afternoon. Missus was in the room, giving me side eye for “trying to force freshman level psychology on our seven year-old”. Elder got it though. I asked her which side of the diagram that she thought she was, and she said, “I’m this side (growth) for my teachers and mommy, and the other for you.” That kid.
Overall, it was a good day. I managed to keep the kids from tearing each other apart by interjecting at even the hint of conflict, and Missus was more available to take over during the day instead of locked away in the office like she’s been more recently. We spent some time preparing for our getaway to the mountains Thursday evening, I did some yard work and the girls got their bags packed. We’ll be spending a couple days away, going canoeing, and maybe a hike.
Work was OK. I finished a small job for a Zombie, LLC partner outside the Denver area, which is nice because having contacts out there would be great in case we ever want to leave where we’re at. The owner is an old software development guy, more upper management than coder, based on what he told me, but it was nice to show off what I knew. In this case it was just a simple, single server Active Directory setup, but I did most of the prep yesterday building a Desired State Configuration in Azure. I just ran the script and was done in an hour and a half.
Today was also a bit amazing cause Boss actually agreed with me and seems to have decided to finally dump our problem employee, E., after what seems like three years after I first said that he has to go. Boss asked me to manage a couple projects, and I did my best to do so for the past two weeks, but E just refuses to check in with me, which forces Boss to get involved managing him. I told Boss this was the same pattern of behavior that we had fallen into several times before. If I’m going to manage someone, then I have to manage them, not him. And the time that Boss spends managing someone is lost time. Boss is our bottleneck. I think today he finally realized the E. is going to lose us a lucrative contract, so he told me I was right and that he was going to contact a potential new hire. Thank goodness, but I’ll believe it when I see it.
I’ve been continuing with RemNote today, just getting into the habit of recording some of the things I read, trying to get into the habit and figure out how to use it. I also spent some time looking at videos for Notion, and I’m leaning more toward cancelling my Basecamp subscription. I think the only thing I’ll actually miss is the communications features, since I like having that record instead of relying on text messages. For now I’m just using it for work related documents, while I give RemNote a proper chance, but Notion does so much more I think it will wind up cutting out several other apps I’m using, such as Google Drive. It reminds me a lot of Airtable, the way Notion’s spreadsheets resemble databases. Even the font’s look the same, so I’m fairly confident that there’s some sort of relationship there, even though I can’t confirm it.
Since I’ve been working on this tonight, I think I’m going to take a break from working on Substack and pull a couple other cards out of the kanban that I can knock out. Tomorrow night I’ll be on the road, so I’m going to really have to make an effort to get my posts in while we’re out of town.
I’m writing this at the end of the workweek, perhaps the last thing I do before I decide that there is nothing more productive to be done today and crack open a cold one and plop my butt in front of the TV or a video game. Today’s has been slightly better than the rest of the week. Yesterday’s storms seem to have broken the five day three-digit heat wave, allowing the kids some outside time with their friends. I was not terribly productive at work, although I am managing to get some things done with my cryptocurrencies that are way overdue. I’ve mostly been knocking out little random things that weren’t necessarily on my lists, distracting myself from working on any big projects for the past day or two.
I’ve been limiting the girls television in the morning to PBS kids, instead of letting them watch whatever they want. Elder gave me trouble about it earlier in the week, but they’ve been misbehaving and being disrespectful quite a bit the past few weeks, and something needed to change. I am seeing some improvement in how they’re responding, and I’m trying to adjust my behavior as well so that I’m not being unfair. I’m having to take more of a hands on approach with Elder’s math and music lessons. Leaving her to herself is causing her to miss some of the more subtle points about what she’s learning. In both cases she’s trying to rush through everything without taking the time to read the question. And in cases where she’s getting the right answer, she’s missing the method that they’re demonstrating which makes it easier to do the calculation in your head. Similarly with music, she’s mostly focusing on the fingering numbers instead of the actual notes. With Playground Sessions, with the instant feedback of the score, she’s paying more attention to the visual feedback than she is to the actual notes she’s playing. She’s not listening.
And trying to tutor her myself seems to trigger some sort of defiance in her, where she either fights me and shuts down, or acts passive aggressive and refuses to answer correctly. Or again, perhaps she’s not listening to what I’m asking. Today I took my time with her and tried to be patient, and we were able to work through everything correctly, even with her difficulties.
My BEAM mining seems to be going well. I’m currently gaining about six dollars a day in crypto. I haven’t calculated my power consumption, but I was able to reduce my power consumption quite a bit and increase my hashrate by ten percent, so I’m doing better than the WhatToMine.com calculations. I’m probably netting more than three dollars a day right now. I’m going to wait another week to decide if I’m going to unload it. I’d have to make sure my Binance account is still good and figure out a way to automatically move the coins based on my pool earnings for the week. After two and a half years, I still haven’t traded any of my coins.
Yesterday I decided to use some of my Microsoft Partner Network benefits, namely my Visual Studio credits, to spin up an Ubuntu instance in Azure and see if I could sync up multiple blockchain nodes on one host. I was able to get BEAM and ARW up and running, but I shut it down earlier today until I can figure out exactly how I want to structure things. I fixed a firewall issue with my AWS node that I’m using for IDEX, so I think I want to run the nodes on it and keep wallets accessible from here at the house. I haven’t accessed so many of my bags in some time, so one of the first tasks is going to be getting my XDNA node up and running. I’ve got enough for a small masternode, about sixteen hundred dollars worth of fiat, so I may as well get that back online and start earning. The IDEX node isn’t using any CPU since the Ethereum node has been offfloaded to Infura.io.
Other than that, I just paid some house bills and checked my accounts. I linked one of my credit card rewards points to Amazon and found that I have over five hundred dollars worth, so I’m trying to resist the urge to blow that all at once.
And at work today I did have a call with the embedded systems firm. I was amazed at how they operate. No version control, no test driven development. I was shocked really. I’m going to start by going over their developer setup environment and converting the build process to something that can be automated as part of a new build chain. It relies on some custom Eclipse version from their hardware supplier, which integrates different Texas Instrument libraries. So hopefully I’ll be able to help them build out a brand new CI/CD pipeline for the project that they’re starting in the fall. I don’t know where it will take me, but it feels good to be able to put my computer science degree to good use in a professional environment. We shall see where it goes.
So I’m going to go crack that beer, dig into some hot wings in about an hour and try to watch a movie with the girls. This week marks the anniversary of the moon landing, so hopefully we can watch a show about it. I can’t stay up too late tonight watching Dark or playing video games, cause there’s a lot of projects that need to get done tomorrow morning, and I don’t want to waste too much of the morning sleeping in.
Lambo1, my six-GPU cryptocurrency mining rig, is operational again, fans running incessantly across the room. After a false start with RaveOS, I was able to get it up and running with SimpleMiner yesterday, finally getting it up and running mining BEAM, which is a new one for me. Getting it up and running was a bit of a challenge, both the node and the wallet. Apparently the wallet has to be online to receive a transaction, which is an issue with mining pool payouts. I’m not happy with my setup, running the node on my downstairs server with it’s old five hundred gigabyte SATA drives. I’m tempted to stand up a new cloud server to run all these blockchains, and I very may well do that since I have some Visual Studio Azure credits that I can put to use.
Bitcoin finally broke out a bit this week, ostensibly because off stimulus packages in Asia and the US. It’s a modest breakout, but we’ll have to wait and see if we threaten $10K again anytime soon. Patience.
Last night I combed through seven years of brokerage statements, making a spreadsheet of transactions that didn’t carry over from the Scottrade/TDAmeritrade merger. I want to add the activity to my total realized gains, so I can gauge my performance. My post-merger activity has outperformed the SPY by a significant margin since 2018, but carries a lot of purchases from before the merger, and I want to incorporate the gains and losses that I took before then. I haven’t finished calculating the numbers, however just looking through the transactions brought back a lot of memories, some good, some bad. There were a couple sales of some strong positions that I used to finance some other purchases that haven’t worked out well, so I might need to add some opportunity cost calculations to my spreadsheet. Also missing, dividends. There were just too many to go through, but I will likely need to incorporate it somehow. I’m wondering if there’s a proper application that I can use to incorporate all this historical data, or if I should write some custom software. After I figure all this out I want to dig up another, closed brokerage account going back to 2003. I’m sure I’ll be embarrassed by what I find there.
I finally registered my business as an LLC yesterday. I can’t even say how long that one has been on my list, but now I’ve got to prepare some documents before I kick off any of these new projects that I have to do. Only one of them is actually for hire, but I need to spend the time developing the documents for the next one, before I get sucked into another off-scope
Now that the last WordPress project is off my list, I’m enjoying being able to spend some time pulling whatever I want from my Kanban board. After having that project on there, staring at me for several weeks, it’s exhilarating to be able to work on something that’s not urgent. Seeing my rig sit there for weeks was starting to bother me, so I’m glad it’s back to work. There’s still a lot of work to be done. Being able to pull tasks from my backlog instead of having them pushed on me is a different type of feeling, and I like it.
Another rough night. I went to bed on time but couldn’t fall asleep. Younger woke up around eleven and I was still awake, and put her in a fresh diaper and let her come in the master bed. Then, just after I had dozed off, the fire alarms went off. I don’t know why they only go off in the middle of the night. Never during the day, only at midnight. The same thing has happened in many times before, when the batteries gets low. They’re tied into the house’s power, and I think something about the HVAC kicking on causes the signal to drop below some threshold and off they go: BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP. I actually had some fresh nine volts, so I threw them in and went back to bed. Whether from the adrenaline, or from Younger tossing and turning, I still couldn’t sleep, so I just grabbed my pillow and went to Younger’s bed, and fell asleep close to two AM.
The girls have been completely demanding, despite the fact that they’ve been playing most of the day building a secret hideout in the living room. I managed to get Elder to do a lot of studying this morning before I let them watch TV; I’ve decided that giving them an hour beforehand makes it difficult for me to get them to do anything. The weather has been so hot lately, with heat advisories and temperatures topping the high nineties, so the girls have been indoors almost the entire day. I don’t think they’ve seen their friends since our little house party last Saturday. They’ve been getting along for the most part, but Younger has been acting out and refusing to follow directions.
I’ve been getting a lot done at work. There hasn’t been a lot of unplanned, urgent, anti-work coming at me lately, so I’m getting a lot of my queues cleared, cleaning out old tickets that have been sitting ignored for weeks or months. I’ve made some good progress rolling out Apple Business Manager with federated Azure Active Directory domains, so I might be able to use native mobile device management capabilities between the two and dump this god-awful third party solution that we’ve been using. Once I get that cleared up, I plan on looking at ways to supplement our configuration management using some native and open source tools. There are some interesting solutions that have come to my attention that can help standardize some of our build processes. Hopefully this will make me more valuable to other franchisees in our network, and help me get some more project work.
I’ve decided to start broaching the subject of a raise with my boss. I’ve been kicking ass since coming back from the July 4th holiday and implementing kanban into my workflow, and I want to wait another two weeks or so before I have a discussion. Zombie, LLC. may still have some life left in it. The printer repair subcontract that we’ve taken on seems to be doing well enough that Boss wants me to start taking over operations, and we’re also going to start targeting voice services in the area, which seems to have less competition going than our managed services offering. I re-registered a domain for this purpose yesterday and will be working on the website for it soon.
That makes four current WordPress projects that I’ve got, active or queued up. I hope to be wrapping up the one I’ve been working on by the end of the month, it may be tomorrow, depending on how the conversation with the client goes over the next day or two. If there are any conversations, I might say. There’s been radio silence since they essentially fired me and I responded that I was going to continue and follow through with my delivery objectives. In a way, I don’t recall feeling this heartbroken since my last breakup.
This project has consumed a lot of time the past two months, and I’m looking forward to putting it behind me. I had allocated eight hours a month, based on the retainer that we had agreed on. My timesheet for last month shows thirty hours spent, and I’m going to hit twenty for this month after another call or two, and possibly another ten if things go well. It can’t keep up at this rate, and I was hoping to add this site to my portfolio as a way to garner additional business.
The other sites that I have ready to go after include one for a local civil rights chapter, a rental booking site for my father in law, and now this site for the telco branch of Zombie. And it feels like I haven’t touched a code editor in weeks. I’ve been mucking around with some small tasks, like checking out lazydocker, and trying to get my cryptominer up and running with RaveOS, but I’ve purposefully kept any actual project work off my WIP board until I got this client taken care of.
I’m looking forward to getting my hands back in an IDE and doing some work, starting with some fintech stuff. I’ve got some refactoring to do with my equities trading protocols, work on the TDAmeritrade package has been progressing at a clip, and I haven’t even logged into Github in several weeks. Likewise, I haven’t filled out a job application in almost two weeks as well. I’m sure my Sixty Days to Six Figures deadline has come and gone. I stopped keeping track when this WP project consumed me.
I think I’m doing all I can do right now, honestly. I’ve practically given up all social media use. I haven’t logged onto Twitter in days. In the morning I rise, make my tea, and meditate, then write this blog if I’m up early enough before the kids. I work all day, take a few breaks for reading, cook and clean, and maybe watch a short show with the girls before dinner. Then after they’re to bed, it’s another two hours of work, and an hour of reading before bed. I’m not sure there’s much else I can do other than what I’m doing.
I’m forty-one now, and frequently looking back at where I’ve been and wondering if my trajectory is sufficient to get me where I’d hoped to be in life. I get to spend time with my kids, no matter how frustrating it is, and am able to give them everything they need. What more can I ask for? I was watching a John Oliver segment yesterday and they showed a supercut of TV anchors bemoaning being stuck home with their kids. I caught myself griping to someone on the phone today and caught myself thinking about it. Why should this be the norm?
I’ve been pushing the kids, perhaps projecting my own insecurities on them. I tell myself that it’s a different world that they’re inheriting, and that they’ll adapt to it the way we’ve all adapted to living with COVID these past five months or so. I want to give them the tools and a headstart on certain skills that I think will be needed in this future world, but Missus called me a control freak while we were arguing today, so maybe that’s part of it. No, that is a part of it. Having my kids close by, and able to guide their development at this early stage of life is probably the greatest opportunity to arise so far as part of this pandemic.
It’s hard for them, and it’s hard for Missus and I. We just have to keep working on it.
I seemed to have jinxed myself yest. erday. After remarking just how idyllic yesterday morning was, things quickly devolved into a battle of wills between Elder and myself that ruined the entire day.
One behavior that I’ve noticed in Elder is her propensity to make “trades” with her sister. She’s usually being manipulative, and often takes advantage of Younger, and this time was no different. I was working in my office downstairs, the girls were in the kitchen eating a snack, when Younger started crying out at her sister. Younger had picked a bag of mini-chocolate chip cookies, Elder Cheez-Its, and Elder had made a trade of four cookies for four Cheez-Its.
So that you might have more of an insight into the mind of my rising eight-year old, I might add that yesterday I caught her taking a bowl of trail mix, replete with M&M’s outside to eat. Since I didn’t want them all sharing from the same bowl, I went to call her back in, and found her reclining on our patio couch in the shade, Younger and the five-year old neighbor, E., rubbing her feet like she was in the spa. She was bribing them with the candy. Incredible!
Summoning my inner King Solomon, I broke out the food scale to weigh one of the cookies, explaining that one cookie was obviously worth more by weight than the Cheez-Its and calculated that Elder actually owed her sister somewhere between twelve and sixteen of her treat for the four cookies. This took about thrice as long as it should have, since Elder kept trying to interject and complain while I spoke. My patience shortened, but I managed to resolve the situation, and went back to work.
Elder has another stubborn habit she turns to when she gets in a stink of refusing to do something that I ask and then fighting with her sister to do it after I ask Younger to help me instead. And that’s what happened next. We were planning a trip to a nearby nature park in the afternoon, so I wanted the girls to get their safari kits that Missus had bought them. When we tried to put all the items on the table, Younger was missing her flashlight and Elder her binoculars. And here is the trigger that’s been bothering me for days.
“Where’s the x?” Shrugs. “Well go look for it.” Silence. It drives me nuts, and I have told the kids that if they don’t know, then I expect them to go look for it instead of just telling me that they don’t know. I asked Elder to go look in her room for her binoculars, to which she pouted back that they weren’t there because she had just cleaned her room yesterday. She crossed her arms stiffly and sat back in a chair. I asked Younger to go look in the Harry Potter closet, where we had made a bit of a hidey-hole in the closet under the stairs, and gave Younger the flashlight belonging to Elder so that she could go look for it. By the time I had made it upstairs and found the binoculars in Elder’s room, the two were fighting over the flashlight and I was a boiling pot of rage spilling over.
I won’t go into the details from here, other to say that my wife was outside on the back deck and came back after hearing the cursing and yelling. We had a bit of quick therapy session about what had happened and how we were going to deal with what just happened. The facts were that neither of us wanted to send our kids back to daycare, but we would have to if we couldn’t find a way to manage our jobs and taking care of the kids. My wife has had her outbursts as well; both of us came from families with explosive parents. In my case, setting grownups to yelling was a bit of sport for me and my cousins. I resolved that the answer to prevent me from having explosive outbursts was to not tolerate those untolerable behaviors in my children.
And thus began the battle of wills.
I began by going into Elder’s room and apologizing or losing my temper. Nothing else, just “I’m sorry for losing my temper.” I said it twice, hoping she might break her icy glare, so I left her and went back downstairs. I wound up going to the library and getting about thirty books, and spent twenty dollars at DollarTree on various things. When I got back, Elder was still in her room. I wound up spending most of the day with Younger, playing with the plastic baseball and bat I had picked up, and reading some books.
Mid-afternoon, a few of the Little Rascals showed up, K. and E., so I called the girls out. I stopped Elder before she went out, telling her that I wanted to talk about what we needed to do to prevent what had happened earlier. I told her that I expected her to follow my directions. Taking a queue from Douglass Rushkoff’s experiences with improv’s “yes and” rule, I told Elder that the words “I can’t”, “I won’t” and similar were not to be uttered from her mouth, and that I wanted her to respond “yes, Dad,” to any directions she was given. She could throw on the “and” with any objections or challenges that she had afterward.
I don’t know how many chances I gave her there in the foyer, but I tired of it and told me that I wanted her to write me half a page on why it’s important to follow directions. This was another, tactic my parents had taken with me as a child. Perhaps it would work better. She objected, and I doubled down, telling her there would be no privileges, no screens, &c., until she complied. She stormed off to her room.
I realize now I’m screwing up the timeline a bit here. It’s amazing how quickly I’ve forgotten the exact order to events. It’s amazing to think that we can consider our memories accurate after years. Age and importance certainly matter, this was no 911, obviously, I just mention this as a note my later self. Enough digression.
Her friends came back a second time, after I told them Elder was being punished, and this time I let Younger go out without them. Elder eventually came down, whining about some complication as her way of asking for help. I laid out her notebook, and a pencil and sat down at the table with a couple of crosswords.
Elder often claims ignorance to things I have just told her. I assume it’s just defiance, but it may truly be that the words don’t register in the first place. So we go back and forth, and I usually just let her sit there in silence, waiting to see if she’s bluffing or not. I gave her a line to start with: “why I should listen”, but I told her that I was not going to sit there and spell words for her the entire time. “Write fast, write wrong. The goal here is to get the thoughts out of your head, not to be correct,” I have often told her.
I finished yesterday’s crossword and started on that day’s, looking at my watch I told her that if she wasn’t done by three o’clock, in half an hour, she would be grounded for the rest of the day, and that she could give me her essay in the morning. She sat and hrmmfed at me for another fifteen minutes.
I had told her that if she found it too difficult to write something, that I would accept “yes dad, okay and” written ten times on the page. She finally did this in all of five minutes, but before I let her go I wanted to make sure that the lesson had gotten through her head. “I don’t want to hear ‘I can’t’ or ‘I won’t’, or ‘you can’t make me’ out of your mouth again. Do you understand?” She obviously did not, and went right back into her defiant backtalk. I pointed to the page, at the words she had just written, one, two, three times. I held back the inner Red Queen screaming “off with her head,” and told her that I wanted her to write the phrase ten more times.
The wailing continued again, and I pointed out the clock was rapidly approaching three. So she scratched out the lines, and I repeated my questions again. Finally, an “okay dad,” came from her mouth. Obviously a hug was too much to ask for, so I let her go out to join her friends.
I am not going to jinx myself this morning and make any claims about the domestic bliss I am enjoying. To the contrary, Younger, back in my bed this morning, woke me up no less than three times during the night with her tossing, got out of bed before my wife and I, and then decided to return to the room with some loud furball toy her auntie mailed her yesterday for her birthday. I already put her in timeout once for not leaving me to my writing. Elder on the other hand, is in good spirits, and we shall see if we can make it last through the day, and end the week on a high note.
When getting things done turns into getting things done
I’m not sure what did it today, but I am B-E-A-T. I woke up at five AM and went back to sleep before finally getting up and starting my day. I worked on my Substack instead of writing here, writing a short review of The Phoenix Project. I’ve got more to write, this week’s (or is it last week’s?) post will likely be three shorter segments instead of one long one like I’ve been doing. I just got to keep writing.
Work really kicked my ass. I had clients texting me near the end of the day yesterday, so I got an early start. It didn’t end until almost three. Missus is still on leave from work, so she managed the kids, so managed to get a lot done. A LOT. I started reading Personal Kanbanlast night, so I decided to give Microsoft Planner another shot, and started by creating three lanes: to do, in progress, and done. I limited my work in progress to four items, and started cracking. It helped me stay focused, and I managed to move four tasks to the done lane. I’m going to leave them there till next week, so I can see what kind of progress I’m making.
I’m going to have to create another board for my work outside of Zombie, LLC. I’ve been using Trello to try and keep track of things that Missus and I are dealing with, but it’s devolved into a bit of a mess. When I heard that Personal Kanban is a bit of an evolution over Getting Things Done I became really interested as I’ve never been able to really make GTD click. I started really trying to give it a go a few months back, and kept writing things down on index cards, going over them once a week at our review. I tried sorting the cards in a small recipe box, but they just got too many and I couldn’t keep them sorted. Our current system involves writing new tasks on cards, then processing the cards into Trello during the weekly review. I tried to have lanes for the various tasks based on category, and one lane for doing/to do, but this lane soon became populated with things that we just want to put off further and further down the road, like replacing the deck, or other expensive projects. It has been successful in getting some of our recurring duties on a calendar, like balancing the house accounts, or weed eating the yard.
I also really like Nirvana. It’s a great app, and seems to be geared well toward the GTD methodology, but when it came time to choose something to manage the house, I went with Trello instead. I think it’s time to go back to using a wallboard. Take the tech out of the equation completely until we get into a rhythm and have something that works. Having it in Trello means that I’m the only one that’ll do it, and looking at it once a week isn’t really helping us keep on top of things.
If today is any indication, it looks like I may wind up with a board for work, a board for family stuff, and a board for consult clients. I’m using Basecamp right now, and I’m not happy with the way my todo lists develop on there. I do love it for communication and client management though. If only my clients would use it more… I think that’s going to give me about twelve tasks for my work in progress across the board. That may be too much, but we’ll see how things go. Four for Zombie seems like a good number, but it already looks like blogging and the Substack are going to take up two of the slots for the consulting lane, so I’ll have to figure out a way to break the larger projects into smaller chunks if I’m going to be able to keep my capacity to a manageable level. Having FINISH PROJECT as a card isn’t really going to do it.
For today though, I’m going to turn in early, read a bit more and see what time I wake up tomorrow. I’ve not been very consistent at all, so I really have to make sure to turn in on time if I’m going to get up early enough to get things started. And tomorrow’s the last day that Missus is off work, so after that the kids are on me again. Missus is really pushing about having them go back to daycare, and I’m not really happy about that. I finally feel like I’m making progress, financially, and not looking forward to losing that money again. Part of me likes having the kids around, however there’s no denying that they distract me from work. Missus is concerned they’re missing out, especially that Younger isn’t going to have the educational head start that her sister did. I’m not as worried about that, but she’s the one with a background in early childhood development.
I think it’s more important to have them nearby and be able to bond with them, but that means that I’ve got to make sure that our interactions are positive. There’s just too much strife in the house. I don’t think it was any better when they were at school, to be honest, but taking breaks from work to talk, play, and care for them is probably better for my stress in the long run than just spending six or seven hours a day focused on work tasks. I’d say it gets easier, but I know it doesn’t. It just gets different.
My kids are constantly running around the house while I’m on the phone with clients, I usually wind up making apologies to whomever I’m speaking with. Everyone’s been understanding, usually with a sympathetic “I know”. So it’s clear I’m not the only one struggling to work from home while trying to run a daycare and elementary school. I want to get a sense of how other families have been coping the last three months, and share my thoughts on where we go from here.
There are two things that have been made perfectly clear to any parent who has been forced to pull their kids out of day care. One, teachers and day care providers are not paid anywhere near enough what they should, and two, the education system as we know it is completely ill-suited for today’s day and age. I’m limited about what I can do about the first problem, but I do have some thoughts about how we’re going to deal with the second one.
Our daily life
I’ve got two kids, a second grader, Elder, and a rising pre-schooler, Younger. Elder has been finishing out her public school classes via Zoom meetings, which usually run from an hour to ninety minutes in the afternoon. She’s also involved in the gifted program, which is one day a week in the morning. Based on what I’ve seen, the conferences are a mix of the teacher and students chatting, a math lesson, maybe a physical activity, followed up by a reading lesson. I don’t get much of a sense that the focus is on academics, which is fine. The kids need the interaction. Elder’s attention on the lesson varies from day to day. Sometimes I’ll see her sewing, or working on a typing lesson while the class is going on, and I’ve caught her playing video games on several occasions. I usually make her start on the computer a half hour early to do whatever assignment the teacher has, and let her have some free time to play a game after class is over.
The teachers use Class Dojo to communicate with the parents, and Google Classroom for assignments and archived Zoom videos. When the Great Lockdown started, the schools here sent out work packets for all kids. We were originally told that the kids were supposed to bring them back when school reopened, so Elder actually did a lot of them at first. After the second order came out closing schools for the rest of the year, more packets went out, but they’ve mostly languished on a shelf with the rest of the scrap paper. Especially since we figured out how to use DocHub to edit the math PDFs and turn them into the teacher via Classroom.
Younger requires more of a hands on approach. We’ve got flashcards and printable worksheets for letters, although I rely primarily on Khans Academy Kids on the iPad to keep her busy. It has a ton of interactive lessons on letters and words, numbers, stories and such, with rewards for completing them. She likes it, when she gets to browse through the library to pick what she wants, but I prefer that she follow the pre-selected lessons for the day. I presume there’s some sort of algorithm that’s tracking her progress, but she’ll often complain that it’s ‘too hard’ and fall back to picking and choosing stories and songs. I try to keep it balanced, and let her switch over to PBS Kids videos after she’s done twenty or thirty minutes of Khans.
The rest of the day is mostly free time, although I do have a number of chores the kids do, and I try to limit their free time with the television to two hours a day. We live on a quiet street with a big back yard, and plenty of things for them to play with both inside and outside the house. So long as they’re not fighting or destroying things I pretty much leave them be. I try to fit in a bike ride every day, or spend time playing football or soccer, wrestling or other horseplay. If it’s raining I pull up GoNoodle, for some dancing activity, or Cosmic Kids for some yoga. My wife, fills in when she can, and usually does some sort of craft activity with them, while I tend to focus more on their meals and making sure that they’re doing their chores.
Public and private education options
It seems a lifetime ago that Missus and I were looking over summer camps and dreaming about sending Elder off for a week of fun with the Girl Scouts, and plotting which of the grandparents we thought were most likely to take Younger for a few days so that we could have a break of our own. Alas, it is not to be. Since the kids have only been spending a couple of hours a day during the week on “academic” work, my wife and I don’t see any reason why we should change things up and are going to continue their education over the summer.
Tobi Lukte, the CEO of Spotify, made a really good point on a recent podcast appearance about the velocity of learning that struck me. He said there’s no limit to how quickly people can learn if they just have the teachers to help them. It is a factory model system, designed to produce workers, not citizens, and to “educate” children as a group, making sure they have the basic skills that they’ll need to perform their factory assembly line jobs.
I’m generalizing, of course. Today’s schools have lots of steps to provide resources and opportunities for both “the gifted” and those with special needs. And there seems to be a trend spreading around the country for academy-type schools with a focus on industry-specific skills. Still, we are still a long ways from wholescale self-paced learning in schools, and there’s plenty of evidence that students perform best when they are able to proceed at their own pace, at their own direction. The public education system is still locked into this factory farming style of learning. They’re trying to change, of course, however the pace of political change at the local, state, and national level, makes this a slow process.
I’ve been reluctant to break away from the public schools for several reasons. One, my wife and are both products of it, and “we turned out great”, as Missus like’s to say. Recently though, as I’ve grown up, I’ve come to realize that is not quite the case, and now, as a parent and engaged adult, I’m more aware of the issues inherent in the system. And besides, the world is not the same as it was thirty years ago. Secondly, private school is expensive. We’ve been spending a large percentage of our annual income on day care for the kids at a “learning center”, and we’d been looking forward to Younger entering public schools so that we could save that money. The savings there during the lockdown have been immense, and are one of the prime factors driving me to home school. It’s for that reason that we’ve ruled out Montessori. Too expensive, and in our case there are too many logistical issues about getting the kids there and arranging care outside of their hours.
And also, there’s a political factor to choosing public school. In my hometown, and in many areas across the American South, many of the private schools are segregation academies, opened in response to Brown v. Board of Education so that white parents didn’t have to send their kids to school with black ones. And home schooling for me has long been associated with religious fundamentalists, who pulled their kids from school to prevent them from being taught evolution or sex-ed. Attending public schools taught my wife and I a working-class, dare I say liberal education, and sending our kids there has been an act of solidarity with the working class. Choosing public schools has been a political act.
COVID, current and future
Of course, COVID has changed how we think about these issues especially within the context of class economics. Not only are the poor being hit hardest by the lockdowns, but it also seems to be making more affluent families such as mine more well off. The disparities between economic class correlates directly to the types of people most affected by the pandemic: aside from front-line hospital staff, essential workers like those in grocery stores, shipping warehouses and meat processing plants are the ones most exposed to the disease and others, such low-wage workers in food service, have joined other furloughed employees on unemployment. Meanwhile, tech and other knowledge workers like my wife and I are mostly uneffected, working from home remotely. And since we’re not forced to go into work, as some are, we are literally saving hundreds of dollars per week in daycare costs. I imagine the same is true for others in higher income brackets.
Beyond the economic effects, I wonder about increasing academic inequality. There’s no shortage of broadband or computers in my house, so Elder has no problem accessing her online schooling, unlike some of her peers who may be limited to using their parent’s cell phone. Then there’s the technical support that I am able to offer to her, and assistance I can provide to her teacher when needed.
And yes, I realize how fortunate my family is.
I already expect that we will be dealing with COVID for another year, likely until a vaccine is available for mass production. A second wave is almost an certainty now that lockdowns are easing, and may force states back into shutdown as cases and deaths rise. Our blue-state Governor seems to be handling it rather well, but I fear others are not. And I am not optimistic about public schools reopening next year, either. There are too many logistical issues around how to maintain social distancing during busing, instruction and lunch times. As one commented remarked, whoever wrote the safety guidelines for the schools apparently doesn’t have kids.
Daycares are currently under capacity restrictions, one teacher per nine children; two for infants. I suspect that most of the spots are being taken by the children of essential workers, or WFH parents who just need a break from the kids. We’re maintaining, and I’m considering keeping the girls home, even if restrictions are eased up enough or we can figure out a way to deal with the logistical issues. If I had to guess, I would wager that the schools will offer parents the option to home school their children, keeping them home, but allowing them to participate in class time via teleconference.
And if not, then I suppose that I’ll be sending Elder off to school, and her sister back to day care as well. Or perhaps not. This summer will tell how well the kids handle themselves. My wife is skeptical that I’ll be able to keep it up permanently, especially if she has to return to work, but to be honest, I’m enjoying keeping the kids at home. I understand the appeal of the home school crowd to have more direct control over their children’d upbringing, and watching them play every day is magical. It’s not all roses though, it is hard. I lose my temper at them and we fight about how much screen time they can have, what they eat, and their chores, but nothing beats spending more time with my kids and watching them grow up. As I’ve remarked often, it doesn’t make sense to work so hard, to spend so much money to pay others to raise my children.
With resources like Khan’s Academy, Code.org, and others providing math and knowledge resources, work from home parents have tons of tools available for homeschooling. How many parents like me, forcibly exposed to homeschooling by the pandemic, are going to choose to opt out of the traditional public school system, even after things return to “normal”? Will we once again count on public workers to watch and teach our kids, or we we instead choose to maintain this more direct role in our children’s education and upbringing? For me it’s exposed us to the joys of what some might call unschooling, and we will be reassessing things as the summer goes on, before the kids are called back to school.
Well we are off to a good start this morning. Had a bit of trouble falling asleep last night, but woke up (was woken up) feeling pretty good. Got my morning meditation done, my cup of tea in hand, and I’m ready to kick ass today.
It’s still unseasonably cold and windy outside, so we’re looking at being stuck in the house again today. I think I’m resigned to this being my life for the next few months, at least until schools open back up. Part of me thinks that they may not open. I went to pick up Elder’s stuff from school yesterday and the teachers were handing out grocery bags while wearing masks. I can’t imagine they’re going to send kids back to school and try to keep them separated using plastic dividers on their desks or something. And I can’t imagine Younger going back to her preschool and not being able to keep from hugging and touching other children.
The most likely scenario, I think, is that families that can afford it are going to keep their kids in some sort of remote homeschooling class, while the rest are going to have to send their kids into whatever public schools there are, or worse yet, just keep them home. Missus has told me on several times that we’re lucky for my tech background, cause I’ve been able to deal with her and Elder’s technical issues. Lots of other families don’t have the same options, and probably aren’t getting exposure to the limited options that schools are offering. It’s going to increase our already divided nation, leaving a good number of kids behind.
The daily Zoom meetings that Elder is participating in are mainly just serving a social function right now; there’s maybe a half hour of math instruction, followed by another half hour or more of the group reading Harry Potter. Half the time, Elder gets bored and I catch her playing video games, so I’ve tried to redirect her to doing Khan’s or Typing.com lessons. Sometimes she’ll sit there and sew, which I don’t mind. The longer this goes on though, the more concerned I am about the progress that her generation may lose out on.
Younger is a bit more of challenge. Elder had a great preschool, and I’m not sure where her sister should be, developmentally. She’ll be four over the summer, can sing her alphabet, and knows about a quarter of it by sight. And she’s already riding a bike, without training wheels. Her education right now is me going over alphabet flash cards, doing Khans Kids activities and watching PBS Kids.
The worst part is just the sheer lack of exposure that she has to other kids her own age. It’s like our world has collapsed down to just the four of us, and the proximity forces the worst out sometimes. The children are like two Tasmanian Devils that leave a path of destruction around the house with their playing. And the fighting, Lord, the fighting. The two of them get into it constantly, and it seems that nigh an hour goes by without the one of them pestering the other into a crying or whining fit. It is so exhausting.
Which gets back to being cooped up in the house with them during days of inclement weather, like we’ve had the past three days. They don’t have many outlets for physical exertion, so it usually winds up being Daddy Jungle Gym time, wrestling and such. We’ve been doing GoNoodle a lot lately. It’s still not as good as them being able to go outside and ride their bikes or play in their clubhouse, but what else is there?
I’m about ready to sign us up for being foster parents for the local cat shelter. Negotiations continue with regard to a trampoline, I just don’t want to mar our already packed yard with a fifteen foot monstrosity. I told them that I would consider it once I remove an old stump near the back of our lot, but it just seems like one of those things that will make things harder for us if we decided to move in then next four years.
For now, the kids are watching their morning hour of television, which means it’s time for me to get to work. Hopefully I’ll be able to stick to my priorities today instead of reacting to whatever tickets have come in. We’ll see.