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In Which I Read Stuff: Kids’ Books

A while ago I was chatting with someone about books and bookstores and all that sort of thing and the question was asked: so, what do I read? I answered rather stupidly — “um, not bestsellers” or somesuch — but it did remind me that I’ve fallen out of the habit of posting about books, so I’ll start to correct that now.

What do I read? The honest answer is, anything that holds still long enough for my eyes to focus on it. But I don’t have a lot of time (and even less money) for physical books, so — while I’m being honest here — I’ll admit that most of my “reading” lately has been either children’s books or audiobooks. (Although I was recently given some excellent books for my birthday, which I’m very much enjoying and which I will talk about later.)

I read a lot of kids’ books because my daughter brings them home and she has pretty fun taste in books. I like to get a sense of what she likes so I can buy her books she’ll enjoy. Given the amount of travelling she does each summer, I like to send her and/or whoever’s flying with her with lots of new books. Also, she’s a Talker so it helps to have read what she’s read if I would like to understand much of what she’s telling me.

So on that front, I can recommend Patricia C. Wrede’s four Enchanted Forest books, which have dragons and princesses and things but which are far more clever than that brief summary implies. The protagonist in the first book is a princess who flees to the dragons in search of a less vapid life and then has to explain to dozens of would-be rescuers that no, she does NOT wish to be rescued and would prefer to remain Chief Cook and Librarian to the dragons, thankyouverymuch. They’re quite fun. Fast reads in book form, and well done as full-cast audiobooks as well.

I’ve also dipped into the Dear Canada books. D calls them Canadian History Propaganda books, which is fair. M has been bringing them home from the library of her own accord. It’s a whole serious of deeply wholesome books purporting to be diaries of girls at various points in Canadian history. These I find a bit tedious but M loves them and they’re not horrible. Faint praise, but there you go. Harmless stuff.

Collectively we’ve also been enjoying the How to Train Your Dragon series, which are full of goofiness and farting and so on. The sample sentences in Dragonese are worth the price of admission.

The child has also enjoyed Kenneth Oppel’s bat books. I’ve only read the first one, and I admit I bought it for M on the basis of 1 degree of separation from Ken Oppel plus good reviews, but they are indeed good books. M’s read all of them and they led to much swooping about and pretending to be a bat, which I enjoyed much more than the princess phase, so there you go.

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Facebook and information control

In the past week or so there’s been much fuss about several privacy-reducing changes to Facebook and how they are causing people to lose control of their information.

The changes (which I’ll detail below, with my recommendations on how to respond to them) do open up how people’s information can be used.

Remember Facebook is just a free tool and it’s trying to do the standard capitalist thing of leveraging what it’s got — lots and lots of information about lots and lots of people — to make more and more money. I don’t agree that it is a healthy paradigm, but they’re not doing anything objectively unusual or worthy of hysteria.

That said, we do not have to like it or agree with it and we certainly do not have to go along with it.

It also doesn’t mean you’ve lost control of anything. You control what you tell Facebook. It isn’t holding you down, administering sodium pentothal and interrogating you; it’s just a free tool. It’s all totally up to you what you do or do not choose to divulge. So keep a clear eye on what Facebook will do, or might do, with whatever information you choose to provide and act accordingly. (As you would anywhere else online.)

Change 1: Instant Personalization

This is the change that’s getting all the press, which is unfortunate since it’s not the biggest problem.

Instant Personalization (which I see has suddenly become a “pilot program”) lets select other websites use your Facebook data to personalize your view of their own sites. You need to be logged in to Facebook for this to work, and at the moment it only applies to three websites (Microsoft Docs.com, Pandora and Yelp) and fortunately it is easy to turn off. Even if you leave it on and even if it expands to other websites in future, apparently it notifies you or somesuch when you visit such a site and gives you another opportunity to decline.

If you want to turn it off go to:

Account > Privacy Settings > Applications and websites > Instant Personalization Pilot Program > Edit Setting

and un-tick “Allow select partners to instantly personalize their features with my public information when I first arrive on their websites.”

Good. That part was easy. Especially since you can’t even use Pandora in Canada, and why anyone would use Microsoft’s Docs.com when Google Docs exists I can’t imagine.

Change 2: Community Pages and Connections

The bigger, more important and much more intrusive change is the introduction of automated Community Pages, which are created automatically and which make the Likes and Interests in your Profile more or less public in a sideways sort of way.

You can no longer have free-form text in your Profile, only automated “Connections” which link to automated “Community Pages”. Facebook explains it:

Community Pages are a new type of Page that enable you to see what people are saying about the things that matter to you, and discover the friends and people who share these connections with you. They are similar to any other Page to which you can connect, although they won’t generate stories in your News Feed, and won’t be maintained by a single author. Where available, they also show Wikipedia content for the relevant topic, which Facebook has licensed under the creative commons license.

If you choose to include any given Connection, your profile is linked from its automated page, thus making that information visible to all and sundry as well as making it pleasantly open for data mining. In short, you’re being asked to stop being a human and start being a consumer on your Profile.

If you decline all Connections, your Profile becomes blank. I think they’re hoping this will annoy people enough that they’ll cave in and use Connections.

It’s apparent to me that there is no “community” being formed through the use of this feature. In fact, the level of euphemism being used here reminds me of a real estate listing I recently read advertising a house with a “reverse ravine view!” — meaning, of course, that it’s at the bottom of a very steep hill.

I use Facebook to talk to real people, not to indicate my consumer preferences so they can then be bundled and sold.

I’d say that if you’re not interested in intrusively personalized advertising (“John Anderton, you could use a Guinness!” [Minority Report]), it’s time to delete your Profile information. What’s to lose, really? Does anyone really spend much time surfing through their friends’ profiles to see what TV shows they watch and where they work? Don’t you already know that kind of stuff about your friends? I don’t think it’s a big loss.

So delete away. Put a sentence or two in your Bio if you like; the Bio can still be freeform text.

Change 3: The Like Button

The other way that Facebook is creating publicly linked information about you is through the Like button. The idea is that any website can install a Facebook “Like” button now, so you can Like things across the Internet and not just while you’re in Facebook. Facebook says:

When you click the Like button, a link to that page is added to your Facebook profile and a story is shared with your friends.

Note that as well as sharing these Likes in your news feed, clicking that Like button (wherever you see it) creates a Connection between your profile and one of those auto-generated Community Pages, again making life very nice for the data miners while providing…. what benefit, exactly, to users? None that I can see.

If you don’t want those Connections created then avoid using this feature. If you want to tell your friends about something cool, you can put it in a status update.

Get Firefox

While I’m offering unsolicited advice, I strongly recommend you get and use Firefox along with the Adblock Plus extension. It gives you extra control over what you choose to see or block. Adblock Plus is so good that I didn’t even know Facebook had ads until I used someone else’s computer one day.

While you’re at it, give the Firefox and Adblock Plus folks some money. Good stuff is worth paying for. And have you ever been bothered by aggressive ads for open-source software? …I thought not.

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Book meme

From Try Harder
 1. Hardcover or paperback, and why?

Paperback. It’s too hard to hold hardbacks in one hand.  Plus, they hurt if you fall asleep and drop them on your nose.

2. If I were to own a book shop I would call it…

Probably something cheesy with “nook” in the title. I am very bad at naming things.

3. My favorite quote from a book (mention the title) is…

“If God meant this here bulldozer to live He wouldn’t of filled its tank with diesel fuel. Now would He of?”

It’s Edward Abbey, but I’ll have to guess at the book — probably the Monkey Wrench Gang.

4. The author (alive or diseased) I would love to have lunch with would be

I’m going to assume “diseased” there is actually deceased so I’ll go with Patrick O’Brian.  Lunch would be cheese toast and grog.

5. If I was going to a deserted island and could only bring one book, except from the SAS survival guide, it would be…

In the past we’ve accidentally taken a Collins Ready Reference into the woods in place of the SAS survival guide… they look very similar when one is packing in a hurry.  The Ready Reference is a bit small but I’d want something along those general lines, for use in quelling arguments… a big quote book or the paper version of the CIA FactBook or the OED or somesuch.

6. I would love someone to invent a bookish gadget that…

Read to me until I fell asleep and then automagically stopped.

7. The smell of an old book reminds me of…

Libraries.

8. If I could be the lead character in a book (mention the title), it would be…

Hmm, I’m not sure, but it sure as hell wouldn’t be Bridget Jones.  Maybe Han Solo in one of the more dashing Star Wars novels.

…No, wait. Han doesn’t get a lightsaber.  A Jedi instead, then.

9. The most overestimated book of all time is…

The Da Vinci Code.  What a lame, lame book that was.

10. I hate it when a book…

Wraps things up in the most obvious way possible.

Tagging Kelly, Too Many Quinces, Exit Pursued by a Bear, and anyone else who wants to take it up (leave your link in the comments).

Book #27: Biscuit Finds a Friend

By Alyssa Satin Capucilli (Author), Pat Schories (Illustrator)

Biscut Finds a Friend

D fell asleep on the couch this afternoon. M wanted to make everything all perfect for him, so she went down and very sweetly covered him up with her special quilt, put some books next to him for when he woke up, turned off the light, closed the door, then came upstairs and shushed me (loudly). When D woke up a bit later and came upstairs to continue his snooze, he was also treated to a teddy bear and this bedtime story — Biscuit Finds a Friend.

A stirring tale of interspecies friendship it is, too; unrealistic in that particular kids’ book way. Spoiler: Biscuit and a small duckling become friends. In reality the story would have been something like Biscuit Enjoys Ducklings for Lunch (“Woof! Woof! said Biscuit through a mouthful of feathers”) — much like Curious George and the Bunny, which is in our house often called Curious George the Opportunistic Carnivore.

I suppose we should quit that sort of nonsense soon.

You can definitely tell it’s not wartime in the kids’ books. In the forties, Biscuit would’ve neatly dispatched the duck and turned it over to the resourceful children to cook in for lunch using some clever mess-kit contraption made of tin cans and string after they started a small neat fire with a tinderbox or somesuch. “Good dog!” the children would have said, “Now we have feathers for the quilt and soup bones for Mother!”

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Camel, meet straw

I’ve crossed from vague dissatisfaction into active dislike of our current daycare.

Objectively speaking, they’re OK. They keep the kids safe and all that stuff. The location is good and the food is good and everyone’s ECE qualified and yadayadablahblahblah.

But my kid has been there for a year and four months, and in that time she’s had no fewer than four primary caregivers. One we nicknamed Ashley the Sullen (no, I haven’t changed her name to protect her). The others have been profoundly mediocre. This year — after she’d been there for an entire year — they got both her birthday and her last name wrong.

Which, so what, really, except I’ve spent the last few days getting our photo collection in order, looking through picture after picture of Maddy’s old daycare, full of beaming kids, happy staff, special events out the wazoo, kindergym, dance class, music class, swimming class…. and feeling decidedly underwhelmed by our current place.

And then today they lost Maddy’s necklace. Rather a nice one — a Christmas present. Maddy told her teacher the necklace was bothering her at rest time, so the teacher took it off and put it on a low side table and told Maddy she could have it back at the end of the day. Mistake #1: what kind of idiot takes a desirable object away from a small child, and then leaves it in easy reach?

Later, Maddy took it (Mistake #2 — Maddy’s clearly at fault here too), and was playing with it “on a shelf” with a friend, when the friend “flicked it” and somehow it vanished into a black hole or was eaten by dingoes or somesuch. Gone. Mistake #3: there were only four children in the room at the time, and the teacher didn’t notice what the two of them were doing? Given that the other two kids were on the computer, not putting each others’ eyes out or anything similarly distracting, WTF was the teacher doing?

Then, I arrive to pick Maddy up. The teacher is unapologetic about the loss, shrugging faintly and disinterestedly. “I looked under the shelf but it was dark,” she offered. Well, lady, get a fucking light. Mistake #4: This is the n-thousandth thing that has been lost at this daycare.

Our old daycare rarely lost stuff, and 1. they dealt with infants and toddlers, both notoriously prone to sudden spontaneous clothes-shedding; and 2. they were profoundly apologetic when stuff went missing. Daycares deal with kids — I understand stuff vanishes. C’est la vie, enh? But it would be nice if they’d at least try to keep track of things, and at this place they very clearly don’t, even when the missing stuff is kind of obvious. Child goes outside behatted and comes back inside unbehatted — wouldn’t you think you might notice? Ditto for jackets, socks, and shoes (!). But they just shrug.

I’ve worked in childcare, and I am quite clear about how challenging the job is. It’s a hard job, often thankless, and distinctly underpaid. From theoretically-qualified staff at a centre, though, I do expect a bare minimum of professionalism — not just passive observation and helpless shoulder-shrugging whenever anything untoward happens.

I also expect new caregivers to introduce themselves when they arrive and old ones to announce when they’re leaving, so a bunch of four-year-olds (and their parents) aren’t left managing sudden unexpected transitions.

And I do, in retrospect, think they should manage to keep my kid’s name straight.

I’ve had it up to HERE with this place.