Dear Js,

I wrote a whole bunch of stuff over the last two weeks. But for some reason it got deleted. Serves me right for trusting a web-based text box again. I feel like Sisyphus. Like someone rolling a rock up a long hill, then getting kicked me in the balls and the rock rolling all the way back down to the bottom. I thought of throwing it all away and giving up.

But I wasn’t ready to. Writing these letters has been a routine for a few years now. So I sulked. And when got tired of feeling sorry for myself I decided to make sure this bullshit never happened again. So I set up an SVN repository for wcan yoriting. A little overkill, I know. But I’m like the person who found a pest in his home and declared war on the entire species. Anyway, the idea is that if SVN works for software, it will work for writing. Now the side benefit is my stuff is revision-controlled, backed up in 5 different places, etc. And I’m editing this document using VIM on my local machine. I think this setup is working out better actually. I love VIM for code; typing without it feels like having one hand tied behind my back. Although I’m still not sure if I like it for writing. Being able to edit too efficiently is distracting because I start editing too often. That’s bad; it’s like driving with your brakes on.

So anyway, the big news this week is that my brother and her gf have left. By now they’re probably at Machu Picchu. I love them but It sucked to have them around. Single people are annoying for anyone with kids because they just don’t understand. For example, it’s tough enough putting you to two to bed at night. But with my bro and his gf here, it’s impossible. They don’t see anything wrong with opening and closing doors, turning on the lights in the bathroom next to you, brushing their teeth, flushing, and taking a shower one after another. Anyone who has kids would have the courtesy to wait the extra 10-15 minutes until the children sleep. Instead, you two woke up over and over, and we have to play whack-a-mole all the way past 11pm — 1-2 hours past your usual bedtime.

And they think silly things like there’s more time to hang out in the weekend. Parents very quickly learn that kids do not care what day it is. Sunday is the same as Monday is the same as Thursday. Kids wake up at the ass crack of dawn no matter what time they went to bed or what day it is (and bless mama for letting me sleep the extra hour by herding you two downstairs). Another example of the crazy things people with no kids say is, like when my bro said, “So it’s like a picnic all the time, right? Because you have to pack and bring everything with you all the time.” I said, “Yeah… it’s like a peaceful picnic… except it’s in a Monkey Sanctuary where you’re trying to have a picnic while monkeys are swinging, stealing, picking, screeching, fighting, peeing and pooping.”

But when they left I missed them. I was happy I got to see them. So did you two.

One day when they were out exploring, you cried when they didn’t pick you up at school with mama. You asked if they went back to Australia. Then when it was dinner time you asked, “Why are they not home yet?”

Then on the last day, you were excited when they were packing. I don’t think you were excited they were leaving. You probably started feeling feelings but didn’t know what they were.

We said goodbye

They gave you presents

You dropped them off at the airport with me, while j stayed home with mama. You talked to my bro’s gf all the way there, which gave me time to have a nice long chat with my brother. I watched you closely but you didn’t cry when they left. You had it together and you politely said goodbye without any fuss.

On the way back, you asked, “Why do you love them?” I said, “I love them because he’s my brother and she’s his girlfriend.” You said, “I love them too because they are my uncle and auntie and because they got me presents from Australia and Target. I want to put my bullet train on my tracks so I can see them tomorrow.” I will miss them too. “Daddy can you tell me about your uncles and aunties?”

My brother said, "This is a bullet train. It is the fastest train in the world. You said,"DADDY! It's the fastest train in the world!"

My brother said, “This is a bullet train. It is the fastest train in the world. You said,”DADDY! It’s the fastest train in the world!” You took the train with you to bed that night.

The next day, mama told me she was surprised you made this connection: You asked her, “Is this how I felt when Abu left?” Feelings are intangible, so it’s interesting that you recognize the feeling of missing someone. “I wish my family was closer.”

I heard from an old friend that my bro was planning to propose at Machu Picchu. Funny he didn’t tell me. He had many chances to but never came anywhere close to bringing it up. That makes me think that he was carrying around a ring not really because he made up his mind, but just in case he made up his mind. It’s a big decision, after all. Like diving into the scary unknown.

The other present they gave you before they left was a book about Blinky Bill. He said it’s a book Australian kids read. So I thought cool, let’s read this book about this cute little Koala. Chapter 2: Blinky’s dad dies. He is shot dead by a hunter and Blinky Bill watches him go lifeless while clutching his branch. I kept reading and hoped you didn’t notice. A page later, you asked, “WHY DID BLINKY BILL’S DAD DIE?” “WHAT IS A GUN?” “WHY DID HE SHOOT HIM?” Great. So I had to explain about death and then about guns and hunting. It’s okay, at least they didn’t build up his character like movies like Bambi, Ben or Old Yeller. So he wasn’t emotionally attached to his dad. And it’s good to talk about guns anyway. Anyway, I put it into perspective that humans eat animals and animals are delicious.

I emailed my brother to make him feel bad, “OMG, Blinky Bill’s dad Mr Koala dies in Chapter 2! What kind of kid’s book is this?” He apologized profusely saying he didn’t know. When I told mama she said, “Chapter one had Mrs koala looking for a nanny for the baby from the start and various animals being jealous or vindictive when she didn’t pick them. Then the snake tried to eat the baby when Mrs wallaby took him for a walk!” When mama told her Australian friend the story later she laughed saying it’s an old book. Mama said, “I wonder how Australian children grow up…” I replied…

"Probably something like this."

“Probably something like this.”

Mama wrote to them later, “The train, Gummy (the Koala) and Shuffles (the Possum) ride with us every day to everywhere we go! Luckily I’ve convinced them to leave them in the car, they’d be devastated if they got lost :). By the way, J constantly says he loves and misses you guys, you left a lasting impression!

NASA open house. For the first time in 17 years, they opened the military research base to the public. 120,000 people showed up. You really wanted to see a rocket because we saw Space X launch one recently. But it was surprisingly hard to find one at NASA. I guess rockets are no big deal now and all the new research isn’t as flashy as igniting a skyscraper of fuel to explode 6 people into space.

Finally, we found one! The best we got was an inflatable one with a guy next to it telling kids not to climb it.

Finally, we found one! The best we got was an inflatable one with a guy next to it telling kids not to climb it.

Meanwhile, all j cared about were the NASA sticks

Meanwhile, all j cared about were the NASA sticks

I haven’t seen so many people trying to go to one place that wasn’t designed for it. It was so packed we had to drive a few miles away to take the train in. And even the trains were packed but at least they were not max capacity. So we could all still hop on the next train. And the advantage of the train was the rails don’t jam and we didn’t have to park.

But I wasn’t sure what the point of the whole thing was. Because it wasn’t particularly interesting for kids, and for kids who were interested, there wasn’t a “next step” to lead them closer into the NASA family. For example, you were really excited about the rovers and a line-following robot. So excited that you almost forgot you had to pee. Luckily I caught you dancing and we made it in time. But anyway my point is that we got excited about robots, but NASA didn’t offer us anything to do about it. No kits I could buy, no robot clubs, no email list, nothing. I really think they could’ve put together a Mars Rover robot kit and sold it to the 120,000 people who stopped to watch the Rovers. So what was I left to do? I went back home to research on my own and I bought my own starter robot kit. (I’ll tell you more about it later in this letter.)

I just finished reading Claude Hopkins’ My Life in Advertising. The whole book is good, but here are a few things that made me put the book down to think:

Mail-order is not worth the standpoint of the ad-writer. But it kept me facing the facts that all sorts of advertising is based on mail-order principles.

He’s right. It takes too much time, money and research to create an ad that sells. It’s much harder to produce profit. It’s much cheaper and easier to make ads that flatter the advertiser. It’s a thankless masochistic exercise trying to get someone to let you do the right thing for them, even if you’ll do all the hard work. Too few people are interested enough, smart enough or disciplined enough to do what’s right. So I’ve concluded that the only place to allow yourself to do the most profitable things is in your own endeavors. If you want to make money helping others, it’s pays better to just abandon your principles and give them what they want. Like the band or the comedian who does the same hit song or joke that everyone wants to hear, even if it’s stupid or beneath you.

Anyway, if you do find it in your heart to help others despite how thankless it is, the strategy I’ve found most successful is to force success upon them. People are lazy and people don’t believe that life could be better for them. So you have to do most of the work for them to give them the first taste of success. Then they’ll go “Oh I guess this could work out after all.” Or, “I guess I could be good at this.” But remember that people won’t do anything for long unless they feel like they came up with the idea themselves. So the trick is to nudge as much of the right pieces into play as possible, but stop to leave just enough of a gap for him/her to make a personal commitment. It might take a long time and it might make you cry while you watch. But it’s like with me and you two kids – we have to get you just close enough but force ourselves to stay back while you struggle and cry. Because that last step before success is just as important as the first one.

Here’s another one about the satisfaction of discovering timeless principles:

What have I gained by these many years of exceptional application? I have gained what others gain by medical research, by spending their lives in a laboratory. My life work has been research in advertising. Now I have the privilege of setting down my findings for the men who follow me. I have the hope that the record will save to many the mistakes of the pioneers and the years that I spent to correct them. I have gained what Thomas A. Edison has gained by his twenty hours a day — the satisfaction of knowing that I have discovered some enduring principles.

I could relate to that. I found the answers to many things I struggled with from studying Behavioral Psychology, and advertising marketing taught me much about how everything in the world works. Because our world is shaped by our decisions, and the fastest thing our world changes for is when we make a decision to buy something. And in doing so, I made the interesting discovery that just about everything can be boiled down to very common things in all of us. The saying is that times change, but people don’t. On the surface we do, but just like how cheetahs hunt antelope, we humans will always hunt for things to soothe our handful of unchanging desires.

I liked his last paragraph too:

Here at our weekend parties I meet many successful men in a most intimate way. I envy none of them. The happiest are those who live closest to nature, an essential to advertising success. So I conclude that this vocation, depending as it does on love and knowledge of the masses, offers many rewards beyond money.

It’s great and all to have the special power to make money flow to you. But what I appreciate most is it’s given me more answers than Philosophy or Religion. It forces me to be more in touch with reality and I feel more at peace with myself and the world. Anyway, I highly recommend the book. Get the 2-in-1 one that has My Life in Advertising and Scientific Advertising.

There’s something brewing at Facebook. They’re the biggest player to enter the arena that I’ve been dicking around with. Namely, where there are problems with the Social aspect of everything online. Like how you’re no longer free to do or say anything anymore, because everyone’s watching all the time. The internet used to be an escape, where you could discover new people and new worlds, and by doing so you discovered yourself. But now the internet has become the opposite — a place that is more pressure than real life, because everything you do is public and everything will be judged by all, so most of the time you don’t even feel comfortable talking freely. And eventually people start acting like their own PR person, instead of a real person:

Anyway, they bought a company called Branch sometime back, and now its CEO is announcing something new on the horizon. I would love to meet with him to exchange notes. And tell him he’s not alone and to chat about all the same ideas we have grappled with. It seems like we’re both trying to fix the same problem. Sadly I can’t, because he now belongs to Facebook. I think there are a few pieces of the puzzle he’s missing, But I think the main problem is not with his ideas, but that he has to work under the FB umbrella. That fact alone makes it impossible for him to develop the solution he wants to, or which he knows is right. So in a way, working under FB weakens his endeavor. For example, he carries of the baggage of distrust and contempt people have for FB. Even when FB announced 100% anonymous logins, everyone cried bullshit.

Another brick is that everything he creates has to work with the FB universe. E.g., FB Groups has a couple million users. They cannot replace or abandon that. So I think whatever he develops will probably be a pseudonym login system for a redesigned Groups, rather than a brave new world. It’s hard enough to make something, but to make something great that is not allowed to break everything that came before it is impossible. Because the symptom of something great is “creative destruction”. The greater the invention, the more of the present it destroys or makes obsolete. If the present is not allowed to be destroyed, nothing great can be created.

Interesting developments

J you run off into Bing backyard without saying bye. Mama has to call you back to remind you. Your sister goes with you. It’s getting hard for her to leave. She loves the place and she loves playing with you there. When mama has to go she says, “NO!” and pretends to hit, and threatens to cry. The trick mama has been using is to say, “Want to see Edward? Edward the turtle?” That’s the turtle at the junior museum. You stop crying when you hear that and you say, “Tuhto. Tuhto. Okey.” Then when mama straps you in you start to fuss again and mama reminds you about the turtle and you’re fine again. When you arrive at the museum, you run right to him and say hi. “Heylo tuhto (wave)” That day he was munching on a leaf. Mama says you’re doing amazing things over there. There’s a table with an electronic circuit that has a solar panel under a light that powers a fan. Mama knows you understand how it works because you turn the light off and wave your hand over the solar panel to interrupt the fan. Then when the light times out you turn it on and cover the solar panel again.

j you’re getting good at kisses. You make loud kissy kisses.

You two are starting to play with each other a little more. Sometimes when we forget about you guys for a few minutes, we turn back and are surprised to find you two doing something together. Like reading, playing with something, or J trying to get you to do something dangerous.

J, how do you write sandwich? I nudged you with the sounds and you said, "s... a... n... w... G! SANWG!" sanwg

J, how do you write sandwich? I nudged you with the sounds and you said, “s… a… n… w… G! SANWG!” I didn’t correct you because I felt you already got the most important lesson.

j, mama calls you an onomatopoeia with legs. “Pop, Moo, Meow, Vroom, Wowowowo (dog), Honk honk (koala).”

J you learned to hold your poop. Can you guess what happened next? Nights and nights of sitting on the potty for hours until late into the night and I me clawing my face off. Every night you complained you were too tired and you wanted to try tomorrow. Mama gave you an enema a week later and you gave birth to a mountain. You’ve gotten better.

Joshua and I are listening to “Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano” by Claude Bolling this morning. He’s loving the piano and the flute. Then asked me if we could get a piano for the house and if we could also please get some of the written music so he can match the color dots to play like the guy is doing. My mama heart is filled with joy in this cold morning! I hope he will love music as much as we do!!
That’ll be nice.

Mama: "j's building! I made the base for her and she did the rest :). I wonder the cities the kids could build together one day!"

Mama: “j’s building! I made the base for her and she did the rest :). I wonder the cities the kids could build together one day!”

While mama wasn't looking, you made this at a playspace somewhere. Look at that -- tail, propeller, wheels and all. We need more appropriate building materials at home

While mama wasn’t looking, you made this at a playspace somewhere. Look at that — tail, propeller, wheels and all. We need more appropriate building materials at home

j piano

Curious convos

Teacher Laura came to tell mama. J was running running running then stopped to sit in corner. Then she sat next to you and asked, “Is there anything I can help you with? Is something wrong?” You said, “No… it already happened.” She said aww and gave you a hug and asked if you would like some help to get new clean clothes. You said, “That would be nice.” When mama picked you up she asked you what you did at school. You said, “I did not do anything. I sat in the corner because I had an accident.” Mama: “Did you sit there the whole time?” J: “No. I went out to play after.”

In hallway at bedtime:
You storm out of your bed and stand in your doorway, “Daddy can you PLEASE stop tapping your feet???”
“Sorry J.”

When leaving for work, mama packs me an egg/bacon burrito. Every time I say bye, j runs to me and says EGG EGG EGG. I first did that to distract you so I could slip out the door. Now you won’t let me leave without taxing my egg. Then you’re happy to say bye.

On morality:
J: “Daddy do you have a bike?”
“I used to. Someone stole it from me. He took it without asking.”
“Who took it?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t see. He took it when I wasn’t looking.”
“Why did he take it without asking?”
“I don’t know. Maybe his parents didn’t teach him that it was not right.”
J: “Maybe they took something from him. That’s why he learned.”
I was stunned. I didn’t say anything for a bit. We teach you that j and Kimi learn by watching, and hearing you say that about stealing made me think, “Could that really explain all these behaviors? They took something from him… that’s why he takes from others-“
Before I got lost any further in my thoughts, you said, “Daddy, I wish he did not steal your bike. It was not nice so if I I was there I would be VERY ANGRY.” You said Angry like you had a rage burp.
I tried to calm you down by saying, “Maybe he needed it.”
“Why didn’t he give it back?”
Good question. I had no answer.
Then you said while nodding, “Daddy, you will have a bike one day.”

J to mama: “I love you. I will love you in my whole life.”

Listening to Ella
Mama: “Some songs you don’t listen with your ears, you listen with your brain and your body.”
J: “Mama, I’m listening with my belly! This song makes me happy!”

At school a teacher asked the children, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Some kids said Ninja, Princess, Astronaut, etc. But she noticed you were quiet. So she asked you what you wanted to be. You thought hard. Then you said, “I don’t know.” She said, “That’s okay, when you think of something you can tell us.” Some time later, after everyone moved on to something else, you said, “I know what I want to be when I grow up!” Teacher asked, “What?” You said, “A Daddy.” Mama found out about this because the teacher was so touched she made sure to tell mama.

j, you’re making sentences now. But you use surprising inflections like Christopher Walken.
“Where amMA go? Where amMA GO?”
“Therez amMA!”
“WhEr fly gO? WhEr fly gO? Ahpu deyr!”

This week in pictures

"daddy this will be a spooky night." "what will be a spooky night?" "this night will be a spooky night for the dinosaurs. and this train will be a spooker"

“daddy this will be a spooky night.”
“what will be a spooky night?”
“this night will be a spooky night for the dinosaurs. and this train will be a spooker”

Moo

Stop, amma time

“Why I was so crazy today”

Still not sleeping

Maze

Hanging Bike

Morning walk

j wanted to push

j wanted to push

Triceratops baby

Triceratops baby

Mama had a client one evening. We swapped cars so I could take you two home. You fell asleep in the  car and neither of you woke up.

Mama had a client one evening. We swapped cars so I could take you two home. You fell asleep in the car and neither of you woke up.

Lights on, music blasting, still asleep

Lights on, music blasting, still asleep

Where's daddy?

Where’s daddy?

There he is!

There he is!

"How did you get up there?"

“How did you get up there?”

Playing in bed together

Playing in bed together

Happy and wet

Happy and wet

No sleep corn hunting

No sleep corn hunting

J: "This is my treehouse."

J: “This is my treehouse.”

You took the bullet train everywhere

You took the bullet train everywhere

You sometimes shared it

You sometimes shared it

"I'm a Koala"

“I’m a Koala”

Food trucks with uncle/auntie

Food trucks with uncle/auntie

Fries in a box

Fries in a box

We take it very seriously

We take it very seriously

Always a challenge to strap in - rare family shot because uncle was here

Always a challenge to strap in – rare family shot because uncle was here

Another rare shot of our messy trunk

Another rare shot of our messy trunk

One of mama's home projects

One of mama’s home projects

At NASA…

Mama jet

Mama jet

Starfighter at NASA

Starfighter at NASA

Fake 117 at NASA

Fake 117 at NASA

Pumpkin decorating party. "I that on him because I thought it was silly"

Pumpkin decorating party. “I that on him because I thought it was silly”

Where all the glitter glue went

Where all the glitter glue went

Dog riding dog

Dog riding dog

Auntie's hat

Auntie’s hat

"I'm so sleepy... what can I do?"

“I’m so sleepy… what can I do?”

Play, of course!

Play, of course!

You're very snuggly when you're sleepy

You’re very snuggly when you’re sleepy

:)

🙂

Building with uncle and auntie

Building with uncle and auntie

I should be worried about you eating whatever anyone gives you

I should be worried about you eating whatever anyone gives you

"I found a cone"

“I found a cone”

Triceratops walking dog

Triceratops walking dog

Mama: "BREAKFAST!" J: "Mama, stop it! I'm still reading!"

Mama: “BREAKFAST!” J: “Mama, stop it! I’m still reading!”

"Mama, I made an elephant today." Teacher T said you focused on it for 40 minutes. It is balanced enough to stand up on its feet.

“Mama, I made an elephant today.” Teacher T said you focused on it for 40 minutes. It is balanced enough to stand up on its feet. When mama told Abu, she fell off her chair. I guess it’s another one of those things you’re not supposed to be doing yet.

"I'm too tired to eat."

“I’m too tired to eat.”

Building trains

Building trains

"Can you give me my book? I didn't finish it in the afternoon because mama stopped me."

“Can you give me my book? I didn’t finish it in the afternoon because mama stopped me.”

"I put them on my bike for Halloween"

“I put them on my bike for Halloween”

At the food trucks

At the food trucks

Ring ring old phone

Ring ring old phone

Master of the Maze.

Master of the Maze.

Sand friends

Sand friends

The bike is on the ceiling

The bike is on the ceiling

"I LOVE PIANO!"

“I LOVE PIANO!”

Feet five

Feet five

Who's that?

Who’s that?

Someone at your school threw a Halloween party and invited everyone. You two dressed up.

Triceratops and mama

Triceratops and mama

Cat daddy

Cat daddy

Triceratops Tarzan

Triceratops Tarzan

Triceratops on pony

Triceratops on pony

Cat sneaking into car

Cat sneaking into car

Home alone with you two who refused to nap. Mama left me in the morning to see a client. Then she left me again in the afternoon to help Auntie J shop for wedding gowns.

I made a slide to buy some time

"This book looks interesting..."

“This book looks interesting…”

"PsSSSSHHHHhhhhwww"

“PsSSSSHHHHhhhhwww”

Still not napping

Still not napping

So sleepy you finally fell asleep despite your brother playing loudly

You finally fell asleep despite your brother playing loudly

Interesting things

Primitive porn

The future of dating?

What I’m excited about right now. Check out what I just ordered…

Kimi's replacement

Kimi’s replacement will be here next week.

After seeing the robots at NASA, and seeing how well you did with the Strandbeest, I decided you’re ready. I explained it to you and you said you wanted to make a robot with eyes, bumpy tracks, a fan and an arm. We watched the video and j you kept your finger on my screen and said RUBBUT! RUBBUT! You cried when I turned off the video. You shouted, “AGAIN! AGAIN!” I said, sorry, all done. You said “AGAIN-” then WAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaa broke down.

So that was what I decided on after A LOT of research. I wanted something rugged, but also something that you couldn’t outgrow. I didn’t want a toy, I wanted something that uses standard stuff. This had an aluminium frame and uses the same open-source platform that even grown ups use. I hated all the kiddie stuff that tried to make it easy for kids, like with drag and drop building blocks. Because the problem with those is the learning curve is lower, but there’s an artificial ceiling because you can only do what the drag and drop UI lets you do.

So check out the plan I was discussing with mama. My idea is to take the regular Arduino robot platform, and write some dirty code to let you type instructions into a page/buffer. I will only give you 4 operations: forward, back, left and right. Then when you hit “Go,” the batch of instructions will be sent to the robot via Bluetooth. The Robot will then interpret the instructions and carry out the actions. I think we could draw mazes that you could solve them by “programming” the robot with your instructions. What do you think? I’ll tell you in my next letter how it went. But that won’t be for a while. We’ll start by building it like the Strandbeest. Then I’ll slowly introduce the manual IR control and load the default obstacle-avoidance program when the time is right.

I really think this is the best way. That is, instead of dumbing-down technology and treating kids like idiots, teach how it actually is but use simple words. You seem to get it when I describe it like:
“The robot is like a baby. It doesn’t know how to do many things. We will have to teach it. Would you like to teach the robot?”
“The robot doesn’t know how to talk, it can only read. So we have to teach it by writing instructions to it. When you learn how to write, you can write instructions to teach the robot how to do things.”
“You can tell the robot instructions like forward, back, left and right.”
“What is Bluetooth? It is what you use to talk to the robot from far away.”
What else is there to it?

I have a feeling this will be an interesting adventure. It’s going to be a whole new bunch of questions that will fry our throats, like when you were learning to read. But it will be interesting to explore this new world with you and through your eyes.

I turned around one night and saw you watching Dinosaur Train on the couch. That’s what we let you do while you hold your warm pillow to your eyes. That’s to “help the bumpies go away.” I usually take that time to escape to my laptop. But this time I felt bad you were alone so I went over. “Daddy, he is a Stygimoloch.” I tried to stay calm because it felt like the cartoon was killing my brain. I reminded myself that you’re only growing bigger and these days won’t come back. Funny how much we want to hold on to time, how much value we give to our lives, or how arrogant we are about it. Even though our existence as humans is just a fart on the timeline of everything. Even dinosaurs lived longer than us. How much longer will we live? Will we figure out how to outlive our star?

Love,
Dad

P.S. It was my birthday. You blew my candle and you ate my cake.

CHOCOLATE CAKE!

CHOCOLATE CAKE!