Tuesday, November 14, 2017


Tonight, as I was dual-wielding my 1-year old daughter Lys as she was supposed to fall asleep, I got thinking about the transformative experience it is to have small children. Yes, I was holding both of her hands, at her request. I suppose it gives that extra 60% of comfort or something.

I think that the experience eventually wears off, although I would assume some residuals are always left. But I can't say for sure yet. Lys will be 2 years old this February but she isn't our latest child, unless you only count born children.

For me, the transformation is mostly about accept, of my own situation and that of my children.

For instance, I can't control even basic necessities in my life - like sleep. Not if I am to take care of my children. The moment I might need sleep the most, I may not sleep well for next week if one of them is ill. That's just the way it is.

But that part is sort of trivial. Much more interesting is the uncontrollable human situation.


An example is hurting people. Let me start with myself: as I held my daughters hands tonight, it struck me that I'm inadvertently hurting my children all the time. Why?

Well, it's just impossible not to. Physically, it's like a human in an elephant house in a zoo, the difference in size is just so big that the small party is going to take a hit sometimes. I going to trample a toe or scratch an arm when I swing them around giggling.

But also emotionally, it's just so hard to understand where small children are, and I don't always have the time or concentration or mood to even try to be there. And as is obvious with three children, sometimes someone has to let it go. We can discuss and think about priorities and what's the greater good when we find ourselves in a conflict, but in the end someone must chose a path. That's just the way it is.

Being mean

But it gets worse. There are so many ways to hurt other people, to be mean to them. I have yet to see a child who doesn't occasionally try out most of the obvious ones. And despite my children being, in my opinion, generally lovely, lively and relatively reasonable, they have too.

I try not to let them get away with it, but I don't control them. You can't control other people, and my children are definitely, albeit still in a small manner, people. Nor should I. Talk is cheap, leading by example is not. They need to understand and choose for themselves.

So, as I parent, I will watch them be mean to each other and to other children and vice versa. That's just the way it is.


For me, the transformative part comes about because of force. Before being a parent, there are many aspects in life where I could maintain an idea of how things should be, possibly an illusion, but still. But it's no longer about me, only, and I find myself being forced into accepting things that I don't, at the outset, like.

And in this accept, I've started to see some things that I haven't understood before, not only in small people.

You can't accept something without putting preconceived notions or what I think of as morality aside. Morality, even if well-founded, like the pretty obvious idea that you should never hurt others, is really one-sided in its emotional nature. Once morality enters, it calls for an immediate action, clouding cool judgement. So X hit Y. Shame on X!

Now my examples may have been somewhat dramatic, but honestly I don't think those are terribly deep. I may witness a child of mine being mean, but I'm not going to like it and will try to find a reason behind and do something about that. What I have accepted is that this is human nature.

And this accept of the human nature has opened some doors for me in much deeper territory.

I'm finding it easier to read about politics (and send an occasional email to a party), to understand and learn from the Waldorf kindergarten and school that we've ended up sending our children to, to work with people.

How much is visible from the outside, I don't know, probably I'm just tired and grumpy. But it feels different.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Some ways to get probabilities wrong

An interesting set of paradoxes in probability.

Some of them are somewhat mind-boggling.

It's too bad school doesn't generally teaches us enough to get the intuition right.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Lys' vuggevise/lullaby

Despite not having blogged much for the past years, or rather, not writing down many blog posts, because I do in fact have had a lot of blogs composed inside my head, I sometimes wish I had a Danish blog for stuff that only makes sense in Danish or for Danes.

This is one of them. For reference, here's someone singing an original version, with gestures (apparently the text is by Oskar Schlichtkrull and music by Finn Høfding). Obviously, when trying to get your baby daughter to sleep, you don't do any gestures.

Lys' vuggevise v. 3
Gentle, deep voice

Jeg har en flyvemaskine,
den har vinger på.
Du kan tro at de er fine,
for de er malet blå.

Og når jeg flyver om natten,
så tager jeg lygter på.
Der er ingen der kan ta' dem,
for hvem kan himlen nå?

Min mor, hun sidder og strikker,
og hun har lovet mig:
Den dag der ik' er flere masker,
flyver hun og jeg.

Min far, han ligger og læser.
Men han har sagt til mig:
En dag hvor vinden rigtig blæser,
flyver han og jeg.

Min kat den sidder og spinder,
for jeg har lovet den:
En dag hvor solen rigtig skinner,
flyver vi afsted.

Jeg flyver hen over havet,
jeg flyver over land.
Propellen har jeg selv lavet,
den kør' så hurtigt som den kan.

Og mens min motor den brummer,
så kigger jeg op og ned,
for at se om der er andre folk der flyver,
så'en en dag hvor solen bare bli'r ved...

Here's a rough translation:

I have a flying machine,
it has wings on.
You can believe they're so fine,
because they're colored orange.

And when I fly at night,
I put the lights on.
There is noone who can take them,
because who can reach the sky?

My mum is sitting and knitting,
and she has said to me:
The day she's out of stitches,
she and I will fly.

My dad is on the couch and reading.
But he has promised me:
A day where the wind is really blowing,
he and I will fly.

My cat is in the window purring,
because I've promised it.
A day the sun is really shining,
we will fly away.

I'm flying over the ocean,
I'm flying over land.
The propeller is one of my invention,
turning as fast as it can.

And while my engine is humming,
I'm looking up and down,
to see if other people are out flying,
such a day where the sun is high...

Monday, December 12, 2016


That's the feeling you get a late night when you hit M-/ in Emacs (hippie-expand), and Emacs doesn't use the web page you are looking at in Firefox as a source to auto-complete the word you've halfway written.

I think I need to retrain myself to use the browser built into Emacs.

Some people use an IDE that semantically analyses their code and pops up a suggestion box at every opportunity with an exhaustive list of valid choices.

I program with structural templates/duck types in Python and Emacs lets me complete all sorts of stuff, in comments, from other comments, or from the documentation I'm editing. It'll sometimes suggest some weird stuff, including whole line completions. It doesn't care. I don't care. I guess we're hippies.

Hippie van by ma noelle
It won't complete stuff we haven't shared between each other recently, though. I suppose the Lisp engine would rather get into it than wade through a lot of boring code analysis.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Intuition and design

So I was writing about intution, and somehow got sidetracked into how not to do ranking. So like a review of a game where the reviewer would judge the game on 4-5 different aspects, game play, sound, story, graphics etc. and then compute a final score based on fixed weights. How you'd fit a smash hit like Minecraft into that, I don't know.

What I really wanted to talk about was design.

Software development is full of design decisions. How do we present the information to the user? How do we let them act on it? How much to show, how much to hide?

How do we structure the code internally? What data do we store, how do we model it, how much do we capture? What other software do we build on?

What interface do we provide to other software developers?

It's a sea of decisions. Although it can be helpful for analyzing some outcomes, you can never hope to get through this sea with logic alone. You can often make reasonable deductions that something is simultaneously a good and a bad idea.

This makes it hard to discuss and evaluate these decisions. Often, we do not have the words, and even if we had, the actual components involved may be interrelated in such a complex manner that you'd never get anything out of studying them directly. You'd have to condense this complexity into something simpler, a process which may take much longer than the design process itself. And in simplified form, you can't be sure deductions are still valid.

So we're left with the intuitions we train for ourselves.

In other words, a prime concern of a software developer should be training this intuition effectively, i.e. input good training data with valid, confirmed outcomes - this works in this situation, this doesn't.

The main road to wisdom in programming, as in other crafts, I believe, is learning by doing. So experimenting or playing around if you wish, and seeing what happens. Not just in a strictly scientific sense where the experiment is artificial and controlled. It may be as simple as recognizing a common problem, working out a possible solution and implementing it and watching it unfold.

Sometimes you can take a shortcut by learning from others. There are various ways to go about this. Reading literature, or source code, or asking questions, or getting them to comment on your work. It's mostly about basic curiosity. Typical developer chat when someone is talking about something new they've done circle around how they made it work and what problems they encountered.

But the annoying thing about learning from others is, again, that it can be hard to talk about these things. Design decisions change when the details change. Sometimes minutia can decide whether one model is better than the other. How do you communicate this effectively? The person you are talking doesn't understand your problem completely. You don't understand the situation the other person was in either. So how do you know that the advice is correct?

I think this is here analytical skills are important. You always have to be sceptical, train your intuition into recognizing discrepancies and evaluate what context causes something to be judged to be good or bad.

For instance, if someone you know to have developed a sound intuition about a certain area find an idea of yours to be cause of alarm, you'd be a fool to ignore it. But unless you possess the same intuition about the problem, it can be hard to deduce exactly what causes the alarm and whether it's a problem in the context.

Frustratingly, it can also be hard to explain the root cause on the spot. Often, there is no explanation in the intuition. And examples can be hard to think up. I've sometimes been asked for an opinion, found cause for alarm but haven't been able to figure out why until several years later. I know that because those alarms haunt me for years, making me feel like a grumpy old man seeing ghosts everywhere.

One example I have is that of software you depend upon, as I touched upon in my previous entry. Over the years, I've come to the conclusion that some dependencies serve you exceedingly well, and others serve you hell.

Probably the hardest part of design is designing for the future. We never know what happens. Still, careful design mitigates the risks.

Monday, May 30, 2016

The failure of logic

Some time ago, I read a book about experiments on brains, You Are Not So Smart. As it turns out, many of the ideas humans commonly have about their own thinking capabilities are pretty far off the mark because our brains sort of works with illusions.

For instance, human eyes only have a small field in the center where the resolution is good, yet when we open our eyes, a wide field of vision appears. Because the images our brains see is something it has composed itself.

One of the recurring themes was logic versus intuition.

The point was that people mostly think with intuition.

Intuition is powerful. It lets you reason from the cumulative experience you've had. It works effortlessly and often only takes moments to do its job.

Logic is extremely limited. Like a simple computer processor, you can only work with a limited set of concepts at the time and make simple deductions.

People seem to think they make rational, logical decisions. But when you actually test them in experiments where intuition and logic disagree and logic has the upper hand, then most people don't wait and think through the deductions. So they arrive at the wrong conclusions and aren't actually as smart as they think they are.

But it has occurred to me that in some instances, you can see the opposite problem. People trying to use logic to solve problems that require more than simple deductions.

For instance, how do you use logic to decide what you're going to do in life? What education, where to work.

In the software world, an eternal question is what software to bet your future on. It affects end-users as well as developers. In the office next to IOLA, there once was a company that was betting on a particular technology offered by Microsoft. It was even embedded in their name. From the outside, they appeared prosperous. Then one day Microsoft decided to shut down their framework.

How do you decide which programming language framework will serve you well for many years?

I think you can use logic to elucidate some points. Likewise, you can try things out to gain more knowledge. But overall it is a huge trade-off with many factors.

Some people realize that and try to split the hard decision up. So you might look at it from different angles and make up a matrix comparing all the choices.

Helpful as it may be in understanding the problem, it can lead down a path where people spend their time arguing about unimportant matrix details. And someone may get the brilliant idea that all that's needed is a scheme for assigning scores to the various parts and then combining them with weights into a final rank.

This is, I think, the ultimative failure of the faith in logic - thinking that simple-minded strategies will beat the raw power of a trained human brain. How do you assign the weights so that the end result is meaningful? Nobody knows.

If you need a complex ranking, feed the details to a trained intuition, one that has seen what works and what doesn't, and let it decide.

Friday, February 12, 2016

When four becomes five

We're now a family of five. Since last week.

Now, there's a history of quick births. Last time we arrived at the hospital in an ambulance.

This time Janne woke me up at around 2:40 in the night. At that point, there was plenty of time. So we called the grand parents.

By the time they got here, maybe half an hour later, Janne wasn't sure there was still plenty of time, so we hurried of, arrived at hospital safely thanks to my father, and half an hour later, it was all over, Janne had given birth to a little girl.

They wanted to keep Janne around for while because she'd lost a bit more blood than they liked, but changed their mind later the same day after having tested her hemoglobin level. By five o'clock in the afternoon, we were all together again.

So for the past week and a half, we've been taken care of a little baby, once again. Rewarding in some ways, demanding in other ways. She's got a nice loud scream for when she's not happy.