Programmer's resolutions - 2014 report

links, 2014, lists

As Matthew Might posted a traditional link to his 12 resolutions for programmers again today, I remembered I retweeted it a year ago as well, so naturally I got curious about how many of them did I actually fulfil in 2014. Here is what I could recall:

1 - Go Analog

The first point is also the easiest: 2014 was my first year as a parent which I think alone is enough to safely tick it off.

I still want to mention though that in 2014 my third year of boxing training has begun - and while I hit the gym less often than before Anthony was born (something to correct in the next 365 days), I didn't drop out.

Now the next 11 points are going to be tougher.

2 - Stay Healthy

Well, despite exercising less often than in 2013 and being less careful with my diet, I didn't put on much weight.

I did suffer recurring back pain (which was probably a consequence of the light injury) though. It was also the first time in the UK when I decided to make use of my private health insurance, and to be honest my experience was just awful. Not sure about other providers, but sorting out a claim with PruHealth easily takes just as long as the NHS queue plus you get a lot of headache in the process.

I also got cold at least 2 or 3 times, last time sneezing through my Christmas holidays. This is something I need to tackle in 2015 as well by getting a flu jab, taking vitamins or doing other stuff a responsible adult is supposed to do.

3 - Embrace the uncomfortable

Not sure if that counts, but I experimented with working and leasuring on the same PC by carrying my laptop to work for almost a year (something I have never done before). At first it seemed like a very good idea, but then I decided that benefits do not outweight the extra weight (no pun intended) in the bag.

I am back to a separate workstation, but now I can choose from experience. Another change was switching from a development VM to local setup (in Windows, while our production is running Linux). I still test everything in the VM, but an additional testing step was there anyway, and the development itself just seems more natural that way now (plus it's an extra diffrent environment to test the application in).

I also started wearing watches which I haven't done since I got my first mobile phone. It started with me fishing for a specific model on eBay (and succeeding) for a present, then I decided to try wearing one of those obsolete single-function devices, and now I have 4 watches, one of which I have customized myself (rendering it hardly usable in the process, but nevertheless), another being my grandfather's watch which old ruined movement I finally got replaced, and another being an automatic (earlier, the last thing I could imagine buying).

4 - Learn a new programming language

Not really. I took a Scala course online, but as it didn't result in any finished code apart from course test tasks, that probably doesn't count.

5 - Automate

Err, programming-wise - probably not beyond what was directly required by the nature of the project I worked on (some of its implemented features actually were automated versions of the legacy processes requiring manual intervention, but that was not my own initiative).

Everything else - well, a remotely controlled sound system is here since it's mentioned, but that's solely thanks to Spotify new update.

And since 'syncing' is on the list as well, my phone now syncs with my laptop automatically through BitTorrent (camera content, sketches, scanned PDFs and everything else go to neatly nested folders or to OneDrive.

6 - Learn more mathematics

Zero here which is a real shame. Especially considering that it's for the second time in my life (and for the first time in the last 10 years) when I feel that the lack of the maths knowledge really holds me back at work. Definitely something to pay attention to (even returning to a fraction of my uni level would be an great improvement).

I did somewhat advance in other sciences though, but that didn't have any direct implications on my work and life.

7 - Focus on security

Wasn't an achievement of 2014, but through the last year I continued sticking to 'every login gets its own unique random password' practice which I now find very comfortable.

I have set up 2-step verification for my every account that allows that, got a hardware USB token for Google and printed out reserve codes for others. I also advocate for 2-step verification at work, and maybe our product will finally get it in 2015.

If that's worth mentioning, in 2014 I have also got a personal VPN.

I didn't encrypt my Android phone though and my Kindle isn't password-protected.

8 - Backup your data

My documents still go to OneDrive and photos to Flickr, and everything to my external HDD, but that it what everyone does now.

One well put thought I came across in 2014 was that "There is no cloud. Just other people's computers." Not sure if I'm getting a proper NAS this year, but this is something on my ToDo list.

9 - Learn more theory

Another point that makes me sad, but still I got deeper into functional programming in 2014 than ever before (although still splashing in shallow water) and read a couple of CS papers.

10 - Engage the art and humanities

I almost stopped going to organised sketchcrawls and drawing meetups (the same lack of time plus the novelty wearing off), but I got a Samsung Note phone with precision stylus support and started sketching more often on the Tube since unlike a notepad and pencils it is always with me. While even that technology doesn't offer as much precision as a cheap pencil, I quickly got used to features like layers and undo (both helped me greatly with quick portraits which is now my favourite genre).

According to clippings.io, I have finished about 15 books in 2014, mostly non-fiction (history, memoirs, popular science). Four of them that I liked most:

11 - Learn new software

Almost nothing to write here, my daily used set of applications remained the same through just another year. I even keep using Total Commander!

12 - Complete a personal project

The only thing which vague resembled a personal project was a quick hack I put up at NHS Hack Day in Leeds which was about grabbing a screen from a third party application and annotating it with some meta data from a bar code scanner. The code was built in such a rush and was so hideous though that won't even link to it.


Now looking at all these points again it is easy to tell I can do better. Here is to 2015!

St Paul's and Barbican

sketching

A quick sketch I made at the balcony of Tate Modern today:

St Paul's and Barbican

Raising a bilingual child - first decisions

language, parenting, books

Maria and I both share the same first language, so we have been considering the same strategy many immigrant couples adopt in our less than extraordinary situation. To speak our native Russian at home and then at some point to start teaching English to our son... but while appearing simple and logical, the latter part was never clear enough.

At which point are we supposed to start introducing the majority language? How to keep the balance between them two so that the child would still be able (and willing) to communicate in their heritage language, and at the same time not feeling held back by it?

A search on Amazon predictably revealed more than one title, but it was easy to decide between the top ones: it wasn't the first time a negative review helped me to make up my mind with less hesitation as 'too scientific' and 'too many facts' actually sounded like a positive feedback to me.

So today I have finished reading Raising a Bilingual Child by Barbara Zurer Pearson (my clippings, if you fancy just a quick digest, are here), and since it has provoked some thoughts I feel like I need to write them down.

My main discovery, of course, was that the 'natural' strategy I mentioned above isn’t the only solution we have to follow for the lack of any sensible alternatives. Minority language at home or simply mL@H, as it is called, is easy for parents given they both speak the same language, but poses some hurdles for the child.

The first one is what I was worrying about before, a shock caused by a sudden introduction of another language. While according to referred studies kids do well even if they first start in a relatively late age of seven, it is still an opportunity for an unwanted isolation of the child, if not for bullying. Less likely in a such a multicultural city as London, I guess, with about a third of its population born abroad, but still somewhat concerning.

The second potential problem is that once a child copes with the initial shock successfully, the second language tends to overshadow the first one, often to the point of it perceived as truly secondary in every aspect affecting relationships in the family, especially with members only proficient in the minority language (grandparents).

It isn't that we weren't aware of these risks - we even know the families experiencing the above problems in exactly the same way as predicted, but we used to consider that an unavoidable evil.

Turns out, it isn't the only possible way of the bilingual upbringing. mL@H's strategy closest competition is one parent, one language or OPOL which implies that parents speak to their child in different languages each providing a less steep learning curve and showing that two languages can co-exist from the very beginning, thus relieving the child from the problems typical for mL@H.

I used to think this is only suitable for mixed couples where parents speak different first languages - naturally, OPOL looks just as logical for them as mL@H does for immigrants of the same origin. That being true, apparently it is not the limit. Some of the numerous case studies the book is based on show that with enough dedication OPOL is quite possible even when language chosen by a parent isn't their first one, and even if it isn't perfect. Provided there is a majority language environment, kids do not pick up parent's mistakes and accent, and there are also various ways to get over the gaps in vocabulary:

Saunders’s books have practical advice on some problems that might be unique to the second-language speaker parent. For example, when Saunders and his children did not know a word they needed, they would agree on a paraphrase to use until they could check it out in a dictionary or with a native speaker. Then, if necessary, Saunders would use a conscious teaching strategy to correct the wrong word.

Another advantage of this method is that it boosts parent's own level by extending the number of possible contexts she or he is familiar with.

It is hard to tell for sure which out of these two approaches is more effective - in the long run, they're roughly the same:

The “batting average” for OPOL appears to be about 78%; 58 out of the 75 children were reported to be actively bilingual, if not trilingual. However, because more than half of those are zero to three years old, it’s too early to grant them “success.” Without the children under age four, the percentage drops to 63%.

Using the same logic, taking away the one child under four in the mL@H group, there appear to have been around five children who became at least bilingual of the eight mL@H families, or 62.5%.

The figures might not seem very representative (being used to big datasets at work, 'eight families' doesn't exactly work for me), but I probably trust them because of the a whole chapter the author has dedicated to problems of measuring bilingual kids' achievements against monolinguals (in brief, there are very few properly conducted researches, and the ones listed were picked out more or less carefully).

I personally don't feel comfortable with OPOL - I tried to talk to Anthony in English, but didn't succeed much so far. Since I have never done that before, I struggle to form parentese versions of words (which - something I also learned from this book - some researchers consider an evolutionary mechanism important for baby's development), but that is something I can clearly overcome with enough efforts put in. What is more important, it simply doesn't seem natural and distances me from the child. I understand this simply means my English needs to be improved and that is exactly what OPOL can help me with, but nevertheless it remains a major blocker of emotional nature for me.

Another sign OPOL should not be pursued by all means is that people who have experience with both strategies (say OPOL in childhood and then mL@H with their own kids) favour the latter more. Overall, it looks like we will end up with the same thing as if without any research, but it's good to know it is going to be an informed decision.

As to the 'scientific background' of the book that reviewer was unhappy about, I am not an expert, but I thought that LAD and Chomsky references in general appear a bit outdated for 2008 when the book was published. That doesn't undermine, however, an whopping number of relevant facts, real life case studies and explanations it provides.

Despite its Amazon description, this book won't really give you a clear step-by-step guide to raising a child fluent in at least two languages, but it will definitely supply you with enough of verified information to make your own decision or to understand what else exactly do you need to clarify before making up your mind. That's a time well spent.


P.S. It's a long shot, but if anyone who was facing the same question, made a decision and now regrets or is happy with it comes across this post, I'll appreciate a couple of words in support (or otherwise) of the chosen strategy. Thanks!

First post

boxing, books

As it is unexpectedly difficult to write anything longer than a tweet after reducing your online activity to such for a while, I might just start writing about books I'm reading and then see how it goes.

Luckily I started to read more since I switched a job last summer and my 15 minutes cycling commute turned into an hour on a train, that's one way. Ditching my smartphone for an aged e-ink Kindle also helped a lot. While I don't find its screen more comfortable for my eyes (it still is, but just not as much to justify the hassle of carrying and managing an extra device), the mere fact it cannot do anything beyond displaying a page to read means you cannot get distracted as easily, and that boosted my reading speed enormously - well, at least comparing to what I used to read while cycling, i.e. to zero.

So the book I finished recently was Battling Jack Turpin, which probaly is obscure enough judging by the fact I was the first reviewer on Amazon who didn't know Turpin personally or through a handshake. Thanks to the excellent clippingsconverter.com I also started to publish clippings from the books I read, so here are the quotes from this one.

Call me lazy, but clippings themselves are enough to get the idea of what I liked and what the book is about. There are two bits, however, which impressed me most.

The first eye-opening fact was how remarkably poor post-war Britain was, at least comparing to the US. I've read about that before (and you can in, for example, Family Britain), but that's one more facet to it.

When Sugar Ray Robinson was fighting Randolph Turpin in 1951, he brought a fair crowd of entourage and a luxury car across the ocean to London with him:

All the razzle-dazzle of America came with Robinson. ‘Hollywood Come To Town,’ is what the papers said. It was like Britain was only in black and white, and America was in technicolour.

Randolph, on the other had, after winning the world title (and back in the days it used to mean more because there was only one champion in every weight category), to return to 'boxing booths' (fighting with whoever challenged him at the local market) to earn his living.

It isn't that he didn't get rich later, but reading about that in details juxtapositioned semi-unintentionally was still pretty striking.

Another discovery was reading about Turpin brothers carrying heavy tools around those boxing booths and carefully avoiding confrontation with their opponents' mates, should they be upset after their friend's defeat.

I’d got a big spanner in my jacket. I always carried it on the booths. I was only 9 st. and if some of those buggers come back for me after I’d knocked ’em out, I needed summat.

I mean, they actually were the best boxers in the world (Randolph) or England (Jack), never defeated on these booths, but they still didn't think that avoiding an unnecessary brawl or relying on something apart from their bare knuckles was overcautious, especially when facing two or more angry lads or if they were heavier.

That sort of puts things into perspective and is worth remembering when you come to a gym for a couple of times and get that less than deserved feeling you're a superman now.

So what can I say. If you either like boxing or are interested in 1940-1950s Britain, you probably won't regret reading this book.