Monday, November 21, 2011

Doing what I love.

I had a tough night last night.  Totally unexpected.

Lynn returned from a few days away in New York.  It was great to get her back.  Us boys had had a good time while she was away, but we'd not even left the house.  We just played, watched movies, built lego and played some more.  Lynn was exhausted so she went to bed at 8pm - same time as our boys.

So I completed my epic full season view of Moto GP racing.  I have an on-off relationship with Moto GP.  I love it, but I no longer know anyone nearby that shares this interest.  So I sort of forget about it, whilst my DVR thankfully does not.  Also, luckily, Moto GP doesn't get the news coverage of other sports, so I stay totally blissfully unaware of the season's results.

Last night I watched the Sepang Moto GP and had no idea I was going to watch the death of Marco Simoncelli.  Over previous evenings I had watched him develop through the season, getting faster and smoother and more controlled.  I'd enjoyed his flair and was getting excited every time I saw him race.  He was 24.

The crash caused the race to be red flagged and I immediately grabbed my laptop.  The crash was so horrific I feared he wouldn't recover and the internet confirmed my fears.  In the end the race was abandoned, but clearly fans and riders spent a grueling time waiting for news and wondering what would happen next.  I was spared that ordeal, but not so his girlfriend or parents.

Almost immediately, I watched the next race, the final one of the season, from Valencia.  Lets face it, what else was I going to do.  There was no way I could sleep yet.  The coverage was respectful to Marco and frankly moving.   But that old cliche emerged, "He died doing what he loved."  Thankfully it was only mentioned once.

I remember when I was in my early 20's, I had this weird feeling that I was going to die young.  Surprisingly, it wasn't particularly worrying to me at that time.  I think it's only once you've assembled your life, and filled it with your loves, that mortality is scary.

Then I had an accident.  I fell off a mountain bike.  Top tip here:  Don't drink vodka and then try to get a buzz by cycling as fast as you can.  I was bored at a party and thought it might be fun.  I didn't tell anyone what I was doing and I didn't wear a helmet.  Stupid, eh?  I'm still not certain if I was knocked unconscious, and if so for how long, but I know that when I returned to the party, people had started to wonder where I'd gone.... but then, as I said, the party was quite dull.  ;-)

That accident, however, seemed to totally remove my foreboding feeling.  Of course, it didn't make me more careful.  And it didn't make me wear a helmet when I was cycling.  No, it took my children to make me wear a helmet.  Just as I'm pretty sure that it was me, who made my dad start to wear a seat belt.

I love my wife, my children and my friends.  I love my life.  I hope that I will die doing what I love, but I really hope it won't be soon.  You see Lynn and I have this pact, that once we're 75 we can start smoking and experimenting with all the illicit substances that we were, and are, too scared to even consider trying... so I need to stay alive for that party!

RIP Marco

Sunday, November 20, 2011


Once we stop laughing, I'll ask her what's important.
It's terribly important that you read this blog.  Really it is.  No really, I set out here the most important facts and perspectives on the most important issues of our planet.  Still not convinced?  Me neither.  If you tell me something is important, then I won't hear the next word.  I'll be changing the subject.

'Important' is becoming my most despised word.  Mostly I think this is partly due to the school systems of the UK and US.  Everything's important - but clearly it can't be.  It's important to remember that our children can only use 'Free Dress Passes' on Monday and Wednesday.  It's important to bring our recycling to school on Wednesday so that our children understand the importance of recycling (though please only bring the recycling that the school will be paid money for).  It is important to instill in our children a pattern of behavior to make their homework become more of a way of life and a Pavlovian reaction to evening.  It's important, though, not to place too much importance on homework as we need to keep our perspective on making learning fun and inspiring...

Quite recently I was at a conference where a speaker gave a list of 'Important Things To Consider.'  What a crock of....  Tell me what you think is important, and then I'll consider it.... perhaps. ;-)

I could continue to write lists of things that aren't important, but that would be inflammatory and somewhat dull and negative.  So instead I'll tell you something that's important to me.

We moved our family 5,000 miles from our families in the UK and right from the start we suffered the effect of the distance.  Lynn's mum died very soon after we arrived.  Skype has been keeping us in touch with most of our family and friends...well the one's who want to see us!  But that's no good for my 87 year old Gran, she's never used a computer and struggles with the DVD player.

So when the iPad 2 came out with its front facing camera and FaceTime software, I figured that maybe she would be able to use that.  Everyone in my family that I mentioned it to (except Lynn) told me that she'd never be able to use it, and that I'd be wasting money if I bought her one.

I ignored the naysayers.  What the f**k, I'll have that iPad if she can't use it.  Sorry for swearing Gran, but being as you don't have a'll never know!  So I bought one, and with a few swipes of a finger or two I hid every icon that wasn't Facetime.  And so when we went back to the UK in August, I took the iPad with me for my Gran.  She was scared, but under careful, click-by-click instruction at my Aunt's house, she managed to set up and answer calls.  So I left it with her.

It took a while for an internet DSL connection to be set up in my Gran's apartment and then we had to wait for my Aunt to travel the 200 miles to visit and set up the iPad to connect... but (ironically about a week after Steve Jobs died) my Gran called!

Now we see each other every week, we get to share smiles and my kids get to act up in front of their Great Grandmother.  'Gi-Gi', as we call her (she's pretended to be 23 years old throughout my entire life and so clearly can't be called Great Grandmother),  isn't well enough to come to see us here and for that I feel robbed.  But thanks to the wonders of technology, geeks and some bloody-mindedness we have Gi-Gi close again.

Unfortunately, she is now talking about taking some computer lessons at her local library.  So I may have to consider keeping my language a little cleaner.... and I wonder if I should have mentioned that I was taking a picture for my blog?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Write 50 times, "I will not pay too much attention at school"

Our eldest is in 3rd grade and this appears to be the point where school becomes hateful.  I'm not sure if that's too strong a word, but I've always wondered why/when it is that learning ceases to be fun.  Now I know that in the USA, this starts in 3rd Grade.  The plethora of homework is divisive and the speed of progress is both tedious and relentless, all at the same time.  It's almost as if this is our boy's first taste of how shitty people and school can be.

"Who's fault is it?"  What!  Do you think this is a political blog?!  ;-)  It's no-one's fault, it just happened through bad motivation, fear and ignorance.  The teachers are forced to keep testing our kids - this isn't to help our kids, it's to analyze the teachers' performance.  The syllabus can't hope to keep up with the way the world is progressing.  Learning a few keyboard skills will probably not be all that useful for my boy by the time he enters the world of work... I doubt we'll see 'qwerty' all that often in the 2020's.  If you can talk to your mobile phone easily now, how will you 'write' a report or an email in 2021?

So why is education such a mess?  I think it's because we're all scared.   Scared that our kids won't seamlessly power through school and into the career of their dreams.   Why are we scared?  Because we know it's inevitable that they won't have an easy ride.  We've learned that all by ourselves, without a single class in school.  We learned that by living.  But the main issue I think is that when we are scared we don't make our best decisions.  We blame teachers.  We try to cram more into the curriculum.  We decide to narrow the curriculum to be more vocational or more academic or more 'progressive'.  We assume that the job market will be only slightly different from the one we compete in  right now.

So you want a solution?  Well provide world peace first and then I'll tell you the answer!  Perfect formal education is not possible, nor should it be.  The world keeps turning and although most of the test answers don't change, but some do.  But the biggest changes come from when we reset the questions. 

Too many times I look at my son's homework and I can think of 3 or more 'correct' answers to a single question, and this isn't just because of the language differences between UK and US English.  How many sides does a circle have exactly?  In the UK, I seem to remember being taught a circle has no sides, but my son has been taught that it has one side and, if you think about it a bit more, a circle could be considered as a polygon with an infinite number of sides.  Or of course there's inside and outside. ;-)

It probably sounds like I'm nitpicking, of course our kids need to develop concepts and so simple questions with simple answers are the best way to start... but do they really need to be tested on their ability to accept narrow minded questions and answers.  I wouldn't mind, but I'm told these tests are 'important'.  It's just BS, if my son knows that there are 3 valid answers but only one is 'correct' for teacher then he's only going to be confused.  If there's an Einstein in our schools right now, I bet their teacher is in discussion with their parent(s) about treatment for his/her condition in order to improve his/her poor test scores.

RANT OVER.  Sorry, it went on a bit. ;-)

I love learning new things, experimenting, discovering and trying to make sense of the world.  It's my job as Dad to fight my fears, as they try to tempt me down a path that will ultimately ruin my son's education.  My son is good, he is bright and he is interested.  He is not motivated by homework, tests and my pointless obsession with neat handwriting.  It's taken me 43 years to start to begin to learn what really interests me and what really motivates me.  Perhaps I can help give my son a head start by helping him find his own focus earlier in life than I did.

We certainly shouldn't be fighting over homework, we have a model airplane kit to learn to build and fly.