There's nothing a brain scan won't reveal

Science:

Activity in Caudate Nucleus (a part of our brain) predicts our choices. That’s another part of our brain that seems to be moored in the hunter/gather era of humanity, because the study shows that the brain pushes our choice towards the one with the largest perceived reward.

This is funny! Apparently, there’s very little you can’t see on brain scans. For instance, you can predict blunders! Seems like life would be different (easier?) if we could walk around with brain scanners on our heads all the time…

When romantically inclined, we don’t want to follow the crowd. It’s the other way ’round when we’re scared.

IQ:

A brain scan can show IQ?

Children:

When discussing how we bring up our children and feminism issues with friends and family I’m always arguing that 1) We must answer questions about sex when put to us by our children, in an honest and close-to-the-truth way, according to their age. If we don’t they’ll know how to get the information from other sources, which might not be as credible. They WILL get the information! And 2) that men and women will never be equal as long as the porn industry is as skewed as it is. When boys and girls see the average porn flick or magazine, they get a sadly stereotypical impression of sexuality. Finally a programme on Channel 4 (and not just yet another study by a feminist psychologist) shows how youngsters get their “knowledge” about sex: Porn. Think about that, parents, before you snub another sex-related question from your children out of misplaced modesty.

Told you so… Extra-curricular activities and good social skills in high school will benefit you later in life.

This story was all over Twitter yesterday. When your toddler doesn’t respond to your REPEATED instructions, it’s not because they’re not listening. They’re just storing it for later. What I don’t understand then, is what happens with bigger children? Maybe they are just storing the instructions for MUCH later?

Health:

Education slows down the spreading of HIV in Sub-Saharan countries. Read the interesting description of how, in the beginning of the epidemic, the disease spread fastest among educated males, because they had more leisure time and money to provide them greater access to commercial sex workers. Notice this new euphemism for prostitutes… Where did that come from?

A cure for Herpes. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Politics:

Why is it that politicians from all over the Western world aren’t queueing to scold Putin and his puppets for these killings? Russia actually claims to be a democratic country and wants a place among the world’s leading nations!

For a nation that embraces countries like China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Pakistan etc. it’s about time they loosen up towards Cuba.

Food:

Recipes on Twitter… I’ve just added a host of twittering chefs to my stream. Inspiration is everything when you’re the one left to do the everyday cooking!

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What makes you happy? I know and you don't…

Had nice Mother’s Day with flowers – hand-picked at real florist by young son – and womenly presents. It was an incredibly beautiful day, so we went to Box Hill, the highest vantage point here in Surrey bringing a picnic. We had a lovely time and even got some much-needed exercise walking up and down the hill.

Young son admiring view from Box Hill, Surrey
Young son admiring view from Box Hill, Surrey

In the morning I favourited a huge number of tweets and bookmarked an even bigger number of news from my weekly dosage of science news. All at your disposal.

Politics:

This is really good news: The US is completely reviewing and changing its policy towards the poppy-growers in Afghanistan. Lead came from @howardsend, who generally tweets very interestingly.

The populist blah blah blah about youth today and elevated murder and crime rates is just that. When the real pros dive into the statistics, a totally calming result emerges. But that doesn’t sell one single copy of the Daily Mail and doesn’t win over voters.

Happiness:

They don’t make us happy. A study shows that people with children aren’t happier than people without them. Personally, I think that the moments of utter happiness we have with and because of our children are offset by the colossal amount of worry they also give us. I’m guessing that people without children don’t suffer the same extremes – or at least not as often as we poor parents do…

A stranger is better at predicting what makes us happy than we are ourselves. See that’s interesting! The study was led by one of my heroes, Dan Gilbert. I’m always trying to get people to read his book.

Botox hinders happiness… Ah, well, sort of. If you don’t show your disgust over something but try to hold it in, the disgusted feeling will stay with you longer. People who’ve been botoxed can’t show disgust – or any other emotion for that matter.

Tech:

Stephen Fry is one of the most popular celebs on Twitter. I’m not following him myself, but I see the occasional ReTweet and I have also visited his page. He is funny, there’s no way around it. He’s given an interview to BBC’s Radio 4 about why he looooves the web. It’s good. He says things some of us dare not say, we just think it. That’s a relief!

Here’s a quick run-through of a panel discussion about the future of the music bizz held at SXSW. These bizz people were clearly well chosen, because here’s people thinking out of the box and not shooting at everything that moves from copyright trenches.

Tips for Facebook power users. There’s even a tip that tells you how to return your Facebook page to the old look and feel before THE CHANGE. If you so wish.

Twitterer Lulu has made this cute little Twictionary over the strange words you encounter once you’ve entered the realm of Twitter (AKA the Twitterverse).

Speed up Firefox. Wauw, I needed that piece of info! Thanks to The G Man.

An interesting list of influential people in the tech world. Nothing to do with money, I should add. Link from Sheamus Bennett.

Science:

A huge study (from the US) seems to have proven that blacks actually get cancer more than whites. Even if I can see that they’ve done a lot to eliminate other factors, I still wonder if this would also be true if the comparison had been made between white Americans and Africans (in Africa) with same demographic and social characteristics.

The language of music is now proven to be universal. Must admit that I would have been more surprised if it wasn’t.

Here’s a really odd one – of the archeological sort. A study of 500 year old teeth reveal which bodies in a gravesite on La Isabela belonged to sailors brought there by Columbus and the interesting fact that some of the people buried there were almost certainly from Africa!

Health:

The fatter the parent the less he/she is able to see a weight problem in own offspring. Maybe not surprising, but still? How can you fail to notice that your daughter’s legs are twice as big as the other girls’? And that your son needs shirts for grown-ups even when he’s same height as the other boys in his class?

My father-in-law (80, super-fit, very healthy) has been eating after the GI diet principles for many years (1/2 plate: veg, 1/4 plate meat/fish, 1/4 plate rice/pasta/pot./etc.). Apparently one of the reasons it works is because a diet low on GI will make you feel more full. Makes good sense. Am trying to buy more veg and less meat already, inspired by Mark Bittman.

My husband sometimes angers me by salting his food before he’s even tasted it. I’m showing him this article about how a very slight reduction in daily salt intake significantly reduces your risk of heart deceases.

IQ:

More evidence that it’s highly hereditary.

Children:

Parents grossly underestimate the influence their children have on them when grocery shopping. Well, I don’t. Which is why I generally avoid having any of them with me when shopping. The 20-year old is worse than the 7-year old!

Viva music! The combination of children and music is good. Always. Never underestimate it. I’ve written about it before, here and here. And now there’s a new American study, showing that children who learn music also enhance their cognitive skills.

Psychology:

It pays off to be nice. Not just in the afterlife…

On a much related note: It’s harmful, particularly to men, to be angry and aggressive.

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Musings before Mother's Day

Feminism:

It being Mother’s Day tomorrow, the Times has asked six women, mainly writers, to write a letter to their children at 21 (they all have young children) or to share the advice of their own mothers. Some of these letters are so, so beautiful. I didn’t just well up, I had to go and get a clean hanky out of the drawer. I like Sarah Vine’s and Justine Picardie‘s the best. Found on Tania Kindersley’s brand new blog.

The Times has also compiled a list of the most powerful Muslim women in Britain. An interesting read!

So, at 49, I’ve finally found a word that defines me: Geek Mum

Olivia James writes a very poignant piece about Mother’s Day. Read it if you have a troubled relationship with your own mother!

Food:

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has a weekly food column in the Guardian. If it wasn’t online I’d feel compelled to buy the paper every Saturday. Actually, I might do that anyway, the Weekend Guardian is a very good paper, lots of sustenance! Today it’s about flour. Also one of my pet causes. I buy almost all my flour freshly milled at the Farmers Market, not least the lovely spelt. It’s a totally different experience from the supermarket stuff. Hugh forgets to mention cornmeal – not the dreary stuff that you buy to thicken your gravy, but the real stuff. I use it in muffins, which then look beautiful and yellowish and as one of three types of flour in my sourdough bread.

Sourdough bread & cake with muscovado sugar, cinnamon & courgettes.
Sourdough bread & cake with muscovado sugar, cinnamon & courgettes.

I’ve promised Tania Kindersley to publish my recipe for Panzanella. It’s from The Blue River Café Cook Book. I hope they won’t sue me for copyright infringement…

Panzanella – serves 6:

  • 3 stale ciabatta loaves
  • 1 kg fresh, plum tomatoes, chopped, seeds removed, save juices (key to recipe is the tomatoes actually tasting of something)
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed (I always dump them in boiling water for a bit to take the top of the “sting”)
  • Maldon sea salt (or similar) & freshly ground pepper
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 tbs red wine vinegar
  • 3 red peppers – grilled until black & skinned, then chopped
  • 2 fresh chillies – not necessary
  • 100 gr salted, large capers
  • 100 gr salted anchovies (these can be ground to a paste and mixed with the dressing)
  • 150 gr black, pitted olives
  • 1 large bunch of basil

Cut the bread (preferably stale) into bite-sized chunks. Mix all “wet” ingredients and toss the bread chunks in this. Mix all ingredients. Don’t serve cold.

Science:

Also in the Guardian, Ben Goldacre again crucifies a number of journalists for their faulty and misleading interpretations of a scientific paper about prostate cancer.

I’ll never stop recommending TED. Probably the best source of ideas on the web. It never, never fails to inspire and to lift my spirits. Here’s about how to grow your own fresh air… What to do when you DO NOT have green fingers?

Tech:

A lot of people are – as usual – angry with the new design of Facebook. Maybe I’m easy, but I’m fine with it… Here’s one who doesn’t like it, but makes a good joke of it.

Here are some very useful tips about how to customise the new Facebook. I’ve already done it – I have some FB friends whose updates are rather boring, to be frank. But I still want to keep them as friends. Done!

I don’t find any reason whatsoever to doubt this story about the GRU and the FSB in Russia using cyber “weapons” against Georgia in the war. But then I’m not a great fan of the Russian Leadership.

Oh yes, and as an Iphone owner I’m thrilled to bits by this. Can’t believe I forgot to write about it earlier!

Politics:

An American soldier tells the moving story of when he accompanied a fallen soldier to his final resting place. Very touching and also enlightning. The Americans are good at honouring their fallen. Would be nice if they were as good – or even better – at honouring the wounded and crippled.

Here’s about the methods of torture applied by the CIA. You know, the ones sanctioned by John Yoo, as mentioned yesterday.

This sounds like a good plan. Geithner reveals how the US will deal with its toxic assets.

See, here’s what sets a respectable Republican apart from one you can’t respect. Please Sarah Palin, can’t you just go elk hunting forever?

How can this and this take place in the same country at the same time? It’s about the right to life on the one hand and the right to a dignified death on the other.

With a few exceptions, which are from my RSS reader, all of the above were harvested over 24 hours on Twitter. So don’t tell me twittering is a waste of time.

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What can Google do for God's reputation?

There’s something about women’s rights out there every day. Even when you’re not looking for it actively. I don’t subscribe to any “feminism” blogs or sites, because, quite frankly, they often bore me. That doesn’t mean that I’m not supportive of the “cause” or that I necessarily disagree with a lot of feminism issues – it’s more that it’s so difficult to find the right balance between our “luxury” problems here in the Western world and the severe plight of women in the Third World, particularly the Arab world and Africa, where AIDS is hitting the women very hard.

Feminism:

This one I found on Twitter (twittered by a man, I should say). It’s about how Arab middle class women are using the web as an important tool in their struggle for freedom.

Israel/Gaza:

The truth always comes out in the end. The question here is of course whether the responsible will be brought to justice or if it’ll be like at Abu Ghraib, where only the foot soldiers got to pay the price. I suspect the latter, unfortunately.

In the National Security Journal they dare to ask the Big Question. Pointer from Andrew Sullivan.

Children:

Check this great blog with the fantastic title Freerange Kids.

Here’s the Times’ Schoolgate blog’s take on the story I had the other day about children’s lunch boxes and what ought and ought not to be in them.

Also on Schoolgate this heartfelt post about birthday party bags. I couldn’t agree more!

Food:

All I can say is YES YES YES! It’s not homemade food with butter, cream etc. in it that makes the world’s poor fatter and fatter. It’s processed food. How often must we say this?

God:

You won’t believe this. Google wisdom applied to religion.

That’s it for today – must dash to do my housewifely duties…

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News from the world

I’m afraid you’ll see many posts from me in the future looking like this. Since I started twittering I just seem to come across even more interesting things than ever before.

What about this kid, who donated his birthday presents to children in the Third World?

Technology:

More about children online. When reading this, please take into account who paid for this survey. Symantec. They want us to worry. But I still think it’s true that our children spend more time online than we’re aware of. The advice in the article is good and precise.

Why you (don’t) need Twitter. It’s funny.

Very Twitteristic: How to ReTweet better. Good idea.

Winners of the Bloggies 2009, announced at SXSW. I love this one. But it makes me hungry…

Watch whom you trust with your online security.

Fantastic Firefox plugin that shows just how far we’ve come on the web. Thank you to Gissisim.

Children’s freedom:

A mother is reported to the police for letting her 10-year old walk to soccer practice. OK, this is in the US, but still?

Feminism:

This would be laughable if it weren’t so tragic. In a recession, equal pay is unthinkable. I wonder what else is unthinkable in a recession?

Politics:

Some Republicans have understood what the majority of Americans were trying to say when they voted for Obama. Others haven’t.

Black women entering the White House in unprecedented numbers.

Don’t get smart with us, Dicky, says Obama press secretary.

EU is rasing the bar on climate change. But not for us. For “the others” (=developing world). Shame on us!

Health:

Best medicine at cheapest price. Conservative Americans claim that this is “European” – i.e. socialist practice. Read the interesting discussion, fuelled by a post in Obama’s stimulus package to fund research in this area.

IQ:

Passing it on. Possibly the brightest kid on the planet right now. I’m glad he’s not mine. Not sure it’s a blessing!

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High IQ = longer life expectancy?

Well, here’s another subject, besides feminism, that will trigger something in a lot of people. IQ. Just read this cool article, found on Twitter. The findings of the study aren’t really that surprising – the higher IQ, the better education. The better education, the better understanding of health issues. The better understanding of health issues and what to do to improve your own health, the longer the life expectancy. No magic, jut logic.

I would like some input about how to spot children with very high IQs in schools and about what to do, once they are identified. Please document your advice.

From the Wikipedia Commons
The IQs of a large enough population can be modeled with a Normal Distribution. From the Wikipedia Commons

@ my post on random acts of kindness, I got no replies. None. Is it considered as boasting when you claim that you like to perform random acts of kindness? Honestly, it isn’t. I just find it a very easy way to boost my own mood. When you see the smile on the other person’s face, it makes you feel good, instantly. No magic there either and no altruism to speak of! What did I do? A woman, probably in her 50ties, went on the scales in my gym. A sad look crossed her face when she saw the figure and she said to me that she was so disappointed because she had worked out so hard lately and it didn’t show on the scales. I said to her, that I thought she should stop going on the scales and just look at herself and see that she looked really good for a person of her age and stature and then go out and buy herself a spring outfit as a reward for her keeping up with her fitness regime. That was clearly just what she needed to hear. She was literally glowing afterwards. And it made me feel good too!

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Incentives for children & something about books

This discussion is probably eternal and will never be solved. I was deadset against that kind of thing – until I got my own children… I just don’t have the necessary parental skills to motivate my youngest to make an extra effort with his homework without using incentives. I see the point many people make, that once the job is done and the incentive is received, the child might slump into a stupor and the end result will be even worse. But I’m not quite sure that fits all age groups – I believe that incentives when they are young and learning all the basic stuff they’ll need to proceed successfully in the educational system can be good. Then comes the teen years, where the wiring is awry anyway. And – at a certain age, which I believe varies greatly from child to child, they will begin to understand the value of learning without incentives provided by us, the parents. Check out this story about a young Pakistani student.

The inspiration for this came out of this article in the New York Times. Not unusually, the pointer came from Marginal Revolution.

Here in the UK, incentives for children – also the very little ones – are all over the place. Gold stars and stickers are in every learning book for younger children – my young one loved and to a degree still loves it! In his school they get stickers for everything, which are put on their clothes so that everybody else can see. It’s for good behaviour, good spelling, strong effort, etc. etc. And there’s a weekly ceremony where the deserving children get a Certificate in front of the whole of the rest of the school. I don’t know that this works for all children – because the teachers try hard to give an equal number of certificates to all children. So some children, who don’t achieve very highly, will typically get a certificate for an effort or for good behaviour, while the high achievers get certificates for multiplication, reading, writing or whatever. But it most certainly works for mine!

Not exactly related, but I just stumbled over this on the School Gate blog on Times Online. It’s a Top Ten over books people lie about having read. Ha, that’s funny! I highlighted the three I’ve read. Cross my heart & hope to die. I HAVE read them!

If you also think that’s funny why don’t you make it into a meme and do the same thing on your blog and refer back to me. That would be interesting!

1. 1984 by George Orwell (42 percent) <Wonder what it would be like to re-read it now>

2. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (31 percent) <so far I’ve downloaded it to my Iphone…>

3. Ulysses by James Joyce (25 percent) <tried several times and gave up>

4. The Bible (it doesn’t say which testament! 24 percent) >read a chapter a day for a couple of years>

5. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (16 percent) <it’s good!>

6. A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking (15 percent) <haven’t even considered reading this>

7. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (14 percent) <it’s on the bookshelf…>

8. In Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust (9 percent) <never got into Proust somehow?>

9. Dreams from my Father by Barack Obama (6 percent) <a neighbour has promised to lend it to me>

10. The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins (6 percent) <haven’t considered reading this either, don’t like Dawkins>

I wonder why people lie about the Orwell book (more or less understand the rest). It’s so short and so easily read?!? And yes, I actually read it before 1984.

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Tech news of the day

In Washington Post about viruses on social networking sites. It’s a very sober article, telling us the facts about the current viruses out there, how to spot them, how to avoid them:

It’s important to note that practicing basic online street smarts can save you from falling for these types of attacks, regardless of the medium. As always, be extremely cautious about clicking on links in unsolicited messages, even if they appear to have been sent by a friend or acquaintance. Also, don’t install applications or programs if you didn’t go looking for them. Before you install anything, take a few minutes to research the program and its vendor first. If you decide to install the application, make sure to download it directly from the vendor’s Web site, if possible.

– waste of time set aside, this is a good a reason as any to avoid all the silly applications on Facebook. I’ve kept just one and that’s because it’s been developed by a friend of mine, so I trust it.

Havent installed the app yet!
Haven't installed the app yet!

Also in Washington Post about a cool app for the Iphone, the kind you wish you’ll never have to use. At a calm moment in your home you record all details about your car, insurance etc. And then, if you’re in an accident, you can report it to the insurance company with details like photos of the wreckage etc. in seconds.

Wired has the story about Flickr now opening up for videos, even in HD, also for the non-paying members.

Guardian Tech tells that Yelp has launched for London. It’s a review site like so many others, but this has apparently worked really well in the US. At a cursory glance it looks good. Worth checking out if you’re going I’m sure. We go there so relatively rarely that I still feel so totally like a tourist – map in hand 50% of the time…

Finally a tip from down under. I’ve started following this entertaining blog, which has such a cool take on its two subjects, economy & children. He really knows how to mix those two things in new and entertaining ways! He also Twitters and a few days ago Twittered about a math site for children called Mathletics, which he recommended. I checked it out and now I’ve purchased it for Dane. We just did an hour and he won his first certificate. Not only is this a fairly cool way of learning stuff that could otherwise be boring (it responds intelligently to you getting a question wrong and goes back and gives you an easier one or one with more help), you can also play against other children around the globe. For me specifically I finally get a glimpse of the curriculum for his year and I can tell you, I breathe much easier now!

Oh, and then this one which isn’t techie at all, but still lovely news. Bryan Appleyard has good news, namely that pundits get it wrong 66% of the time. I’m sure that’s more than me :-D    and more than the flip of a coin.

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Completely unrelated…

As a comment to yesterday’s post about the web’s damaging influence on innocent young children, check this little (1.6 min) speech by Don Tapscott, which is in fact a well disguised and well executed advert for his latest book. I guarantee it’ll make you smile.

On a completely different subject – or subjects – is a post on theTimes’ Alpha Mummy blog. It’s about how the death of David Cameron‘s son touches us all, no matter how we might feel about him. And about how well he and his family have handled the publicity around their private lives. It’s also – and subtly related – about the survivors of the US Airways flight emergency landing on the Hudson. How some passengers are now suing the airline while others are just immensely grateful to be alive – realising that a flock of birds is “the Black Swan” – the highly improbable and should not lead to blame. Not a long post, very much worth reading.

I wish you a merry Friday afternoon & evening. Let’s go out and do some good!

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More, yes MORE about youngsters and social networking

I’ve written a lot about this lately and now it’s a major media storm here. If you haven’t read my last entry on the subject, this one probably won’t make much sense, unless you instead read this excellent post from a blog I didn’t know existed, but am more than glad that I’ve now found. It’s called Bad Science and that’s just what it’s about. Much needed!

In the post you can see a video clip from BBC’s Newsnight from last night, where Ben Goldacre, who writes Bad Science discusses with a psychologist who claims that social networking makes you physically ill… It’s here:

On his blog he also points to this article about a scientific study from the University of Southern California and the University of California at Berkeley, which claims that social networking in fact empowers the young. The full study is here.

I warmly recommend reading the whole article in the Washington Times (not long), as it has some good down-to-earth tips about how to go about helping your child using social networking in a healthy and responsible way.

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How social networking must be corrupting our children…

because it’s not our fault, is it?

The British papers are all running after Baroness & neuroscientist Susan Greenfield today. She has a message that we can all use – it’s the Internet’s fault. Almost everything. Including Autism. Here’s in the Daily Mail. And – thank God – a less hysterical one in the Guardian.

The most interesting thing about this is that all of it is her opinion. In spite of being a highly respected scientist she apparently doesn’t need any kind of evidence for her claims.

As readers of this blog will know, I don’t really believe in this. I do, however, believe that we ARE changed by the web. Of course we are! It has totally changed the way we go about things, so in its turn, we are changed. But so did Gutenberg’s lovely invention, the industrial revolution and radio.

One of her claims is that after some years of exposure to the web, we can’t read longer passages any more and we can’t hold focus. I read more and longer articles than I ever have before, on line as well as off line – that’s a fact. I watch much less TV than I ever did. I e-mail with my friends and speak with them on the phone on the same level as I always have – maybe a bit more e-mail and a bit less telephone, but that’s more due to my friends being in Denmark than a change in behaviour. For me, nothing beats a café morning with good friends. And I know many young people who are the same – as much as they love staying in contact with their friends via Facebook, WOW, text messaging etc., they still gather IRL several times a week!

It might be true that our attention span has shortened. But I’m afraid my own attention span has always been short, so I really can’t judge that!

She also attributes Attention Deficit Disorders and the need for Instant Gratification to the web. I just don’t buy that! I find the need for Instant Gratification among the younger generations very disturbing and I constantly battle with my own children on this account. But my 7-year old has yet to take any interest in social networking or anything other than Googling answers to his eternal stream of questions. And he certainly suffers from a much too great need for instant gratification. But so do all his peers, including those whose conscientious parents keep them away from computer games and restrict their TV time!

I’m afraid that we – the parents – are to blame again. The last many, many years of total focus on material things has left us almost incapable of rewarding our children with none-tangible stuff. We reward them with chocolate, junk dinners, trinkets, toys, a trip to PLAYland etc etc. And I’d like to emphasize that I’m as guilty as anyone here! The trouble is, of course, that once you’ve started down that path, it’s so, so hard to reverse!

I would LOVE to discuss this on an informed level – with other parents, with anybody with a qualified opinion.

How do we teach our children the joy of anticipation?

As a little aside, here’s a story about how the Daily Mail and papers like it distort reality, so it fits in beautifully with the Public Opinion – or what it perceives it to be. It’s on the subject of poor little Christian children being bullied by Muslims at school.

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Online safety and children

This is an issue that causes rather heated discussions in the media, in schools and among parents. The discussion is a close cousin to the discussion of computer games and television and hard rock and its bad influence on children and teens.

Here are a few of the latest stories on these subjects: Boys sending nude-photos of themselves to a stranger. Chatting on Facebook can lead to depression. Online bullying.

My general view on this is that by blaming computer games, FaceBook or texting for whatever ails the young is a way of running away from our responsibilities as parents.

Back in the “good old days” before wall-to-wall TV, computers and mobile phones, there were also dangers. Our parents, the good ones, explained to us the dangers out there. They told us what to do, if we were approached by strangers, they told us where it was safe to go at night, they told us about alcohol, drugs, cigarettes and sex. And just like now, some parents were successful in teaching their children this, others weren’t.

Picture from picapp.com
Picture from picapp.com

I would never forbid my children to have an account on Facebook or Myspace or install safety-software on their computers. But I would sit down with them and tell them about the dangers involved. Explain why it’s wise only to give your phone number and full address to people you actually know IRL or who’ve been vouched for by personal friends. I would tell them about dishonest people who might want to befriend them, posing as someone and something they are not. And how to avoid this. If I had a young teen boy I’d explain to him how most porn flicks and pictures are made, just so he’d know what kind of industry he’d be supporting by browsing porn sites. And most importantly, I would make sure that my relationship with my children was such that they would come to me if they were suddenly in over their heads, whatever the reason.

I don’t tell my children that they can’t use Wikipedia, because there’s information on there, which is not true. I tell them how Wikipedia is created and where Wikipedia is useful and where it isn’t and how to go about verifying information in general, be it an e-mail circulated story (e.g. a virus warning), a Wikipedia entry or just something you vaguely remember.

The overall rules for overcoming the dangers in life are not all that different now than they were then. Honestly, I think we, as parents, have become more lazy and want to leave the schools, the society, the television stations and the software companies with the burden of protecting our children.

But it is mainly our own responsibility as it always has been and as it should be!

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Random kindness and other kindnesses and randomnesses

I subscribe to a rather charming newsletter about digital photography and related subjects called Photojojo, recommended to me by a family member, who owns this site. Today the Photojojo newsletter had a very cheerful and Fridayish story. A geek who’d left his computer behind and had gone hiking found a Sony digital camera at the bottom of a river. It was completely rusted, but the (self-confessed) geek took it home to see if he could rescue the memory-card and thus maybe return the photographs to their rightful owner. He made a blog about it and after only one week, the rightful owner was found. See that’s a nice story. There are actually kind and considerate people out there, isn’t that nice to know? It turns out that there (why didn’t we just guess that?) is a website dedicated to finding the owners of lost cameras/photos. See it here and make use of it if you ever find a camera or buy a “new” memory-card with pictures on it, as apparently a number of people have tried.

Another random note comes here: A really good search tip, which as an almost-information pro I should have known, is that you can use Google’s superior search to find stuff on large websites with less superior search functions. Read about it here in PC World. I WARMLY recommend it. I quickly tried to do a search on PC World itself both ways. It works miraculously!

Here’s a story from Financial Times. I don’t know whether it should make you laugh or cry. It’s about a host of abandoned luxury cars in Dubai’s international airport with keys in the ignitions and maxed out credit cards in the glove compartments… The pointer came from Marginal Revolution.

As I’ve mentioned previously Alex Tabarrok from Marginal Revolution is a TED speaker this year. He tells about his experience and also brags a little (I would too!!!!!!) about having met and talked to Peter Gabriel. He recommends Gabriel’s website, which empowers the powerless, Witness.

One of the three TED prize winners was a person and a project that I’ve previously written about here. José Antonio Abreu and his El Sistema. Briefly explained, El Sistema uses music to drag poor children out of poverty. It originated in Venezuela, but has since been succesfully exported to other countries. I can only approve. LOUDLY! Viva Music!

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Culture clash

Looking out of our living room window Monday morning.
Looking out of our living room window Monday morning.

OK, so it was a lot of snow. It really was. And I was fully sympathetic with the schools for closing on the Monday – many children couldn’t have come anyway or would have spent endless hours in their fretting parents’ cars before finally getting there. Tuesday – when it hadn’t snowed in our area for 18 hours, I thought OK – it’s still a bit of a hassle to get out and about and for us personally, it wasn’t a problem since we work from home. But when I read on the school website Tuesday evening that the school was STILL closed on the Wednesday I just couldn’t believe my own eyes! True, most smaller roads and parking lots and driveways are still icy and slippery, but it’s not like we don’t know that by now! And salt and/or gravel could be spread to ease the situation. But no. A lot of the parents who are not as fortunate as we are must have been desperate! I do realise that a school is not there to mind our children, but most of us depend on our jobs and we should be able to rely on the school to be open and to school our children, when it’s supposed to.

A tired Dane with his snowman.
A tired Dane with his snowman.

I’m told that this has to do with the extremely rigid Health & Safety Regulations in this country. It’s getting to me – I’ve written about this before, the ubiquitous worry-sickness. Children can’t walk to school, they can’t use a computer un-monitored, they can’t climb a tree. And adults have to be told that hot food is hot (!!), that roads are slippery after 15 cm of snow…. It’s like we just can’t handle any disruptions to our ordered little lives anymore. AAARRRRRGGGGHHHH! Can I PLEASE have the responsibility for my own life back! Anne Applebaum writes about it in the Washington Post. And there are loads of opinions on the Alpha Mummy blog.

Igloo lamps - Swedish style.
Igloo lamps - Swedish style.
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Living history

The Eton shield. Floreat Etona - may Eton flourish.
The Eton shield. Floreat Etona - may Eton flourish.

Our Sunday outing took us a little bit further away than usual, namely to the most famous school/college on the planet, Eton. It is a thoroughly astonishing place – even if I’d recently read a very interesting article about Eton in Vanity Fair and thus knew how subsumed in tradition the whole place is, it’s still completely amazing to see it with your own eyes, even on a Sunday where the boys are out of uniform. Wikipedia has an excellent article about Eton. It’s very long and thorough, I’ve only read down to where it starts going through the various houses and societies.

The college church.
The college church.
The oldest classroom still in use!
The oldest classroom still in use!
Eton college centre court yard
Eton college centre courtyard.
They wear this outfit to school EVERY DAY!
They wear this outfit to school EVERY DAY!
This is where their parents buy it.

Of the fourhundredsomething boys (no no no, no girls!!!) only 70 of them are there by merit. Meaning that the original idea – the school was founded in 1440 by Henry VI as a charity school for poor boys – has long been abandoned. Even among the 70 “King’s Scholars” (boys who are there because of outstanding exam results at 12 years) most parents are paying up to 90% of the school fees. On top of that comes uniform, books and all sorts of things that boys who live away from their parents might need. Yearly fee: £ 26.490. Many families don’t even make that much money before tax!

So egalitarian? No.

Super elitist? Yes.

Do I like it? No.

Am I fascinated by it? Yes.

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