big thumbs up for the bobike mini

little man taking five

little man taking five

I Cycled from Dorking where we live to Reigate the next big-ish town along the railway line. I had my one year old on my bike in the Bobike mini bike seat.

The head line is: If you like cycling and you want to head out on your bike with a child then yes buy a bike seat: they are great fun.

A lot of our friends have ask me about the bike seat. Ours is a hand me down from a Dutch friend. So had I done the research i might not have got this one. but my basic message is not to agonise over witch one you get. Any bike seat is better than no bike seat. A problem with bikes-stuff in general is that there is a beguiling amount of choice most of which is superficial.

At the end of the day it is a plastic lawn chair that bolts to the frame of your bike. They are all going to be pretty much the same. That having been said, a friend of ours is currently in the research phase of getting a bike seat and I was happy to confirm that it would have been better to get one that could recline so the baby can sleep in it while you are on the move.

I see that Halford’s do a reclining one for £75 that has a ‘sleeping position’. I think that is excellent value. We keep being asked if we would recommend the front bike seat or if a rear one is good enough. I love having the little man up front. But i expect that I wouldn’t have bought the front bike seat. I would have done what most people on my Facebook feed who have bought one recently did and put them straight on the back. the front seat can take them untill they are 15kgs.

The advantage of having them on the front is:

That for the first few journeys I was able to tell myself that i was able to ‘make sure’ he was ok a bit more easily. My guess is that if he was crying i would here him straight away.

Our seat does not have a sleeping position. We can not trust Isaac to not fall asleep. As he is upfront. I can see when he has dropped off straight away and pull over for his nap. When I head out. I take an ama wrap with me.  It drops straight in the my bag takes up very little room and doubles as an extremely flamboyant scarf. Dorking to Reigate is a 44min ride but that didn’t take into account a 50mins nap on a bench at a rugby club on route.

When we pick up speed going down hill, Isaac whoops and throws his hands in the air, because he is upfront i get to see that and can enjoy it with him which i think makes a trip on the bike more of a ride and less like he is just cargo.

Its also hard to put a price on it: sometimes when we have been going along for a while I will feel this little hand rest on mine and my heart just melts.

I have plans to get him a massive bell so that when he wants he can ring it.

He enjoys waving at people we pass on the way and they seem to enjoy it as well. I think much of that would have been missed by me if he wasn’t upfront. So although I understand not wanting to pay out twice the front bike seat is more fun for the adult. but i bet the back one is also lots of fun.

When we do have another kid I fully intend to have front and rear bike seats on my bike so we can have family outings.

The other thing I like about the bike seat is that it is still possible to bundle ever thing on a train. That doubles the distance you can do, on the way home you don’t have to worry about a long ride back.  Now i think about it. I think the optimal configuration is two bike seats. one on the front one on the back. So I get the fun of having him on the front and when he drops off an empty reclining seat on the back for him to sleep in on the move.

Now i just need to work out how to sell such an extravagant idea to my wife!

The unpopular case against good spelling punctuation and grammar

The sad thing (i feel) about these types of discussions is that they tend to be dominated by bookish adults who absolutely love the medium of written language or, parents who are worried sick about their kids, struggles to learn to read.

If your job is to teach kids to read the idea that the importance of literacy is over stated presents an existential threat, and is therefore offensive, but as a severely dyslexic adult or a high functioning illiterate, let me make the case.

We shouldn’t assume that the only way to acquire knowledge is through reading. I only read my first book age 17 during a dull and arduous rugby tour. Now I would say it’s not unusual for me to consume three books per week, having them read to me by my kindle. I also proof read my outbound emails using text-to-speech software.

My feeling is that people should not wait for literacy in order to start learning. As someone who had to sit through hundreds of hours of reading bangers and mash, I can attest that reading aloud and making mistakes in a book that you know is well below your Maturity and intelligence level does nothing for yourself esteem.

My personal view based on my experience growing up, is that if children are slow to learn to read, other roots have to be found for them to access information.I feel; often educators are very dogmatic about children’s ‘need’ to learn to read. They do of course, but if they are experiencing delays, that should not be allowed to impact other subjects.

if people are bad readers, that is a bandwidth issue, you need to find another way to bring on band with for them. i.e. youtube, podcasts, TV, text to speech software and many more options.

I often feel this is really more about schools unwillingness to fight for resources for these children.  If the adults are freaking out what chances do the children have? My other observation is that some things can be learnt later. I have only just learned to touch type and am learning to code now. which my wife reports has improve my writing accuracy.

I passed all my exams and read Biology at Imperial because my mum negotiated me having a reader and  a scribed for my exams.  I went on to work at the BBC, and simply used Voice driven software to work. Luckily for me the normal requirement for literacy was just dropped.

My personal feeling is that a big issue, is that access to opportunities is denied to people who do not have good literacy. My personal view is that literacy is important, but that is not a synonym for essential.

Normal people find it hard to conceive of how someone could operate with a low level of literacy, but the truth is you can so long as yours self-esteem remains in tact.

Ironically, my biggest issue is literacy pedants, patronising people who want to spend time talking to me about phonetic mistakes in my e-mails to them which, given the meaning and the intent of the message has been transmitted is a waist of my time and ‘theres’.

I very much agree that RRR should be taught in the most time effective way.  I also agree there are massive opportunity costs, the greatest of which is the persons self esteem.

If a standard has to be upheld then for me that standard has to be ‘adequate communication. Could you understand what was meant? So long as the signal is discernible  from the noise, the spelling and grammar are good enough. When i notice that someone has a bad stutter, I both feel for them and at the same time envy them, although they must have been teased as a child, I imagine they are generally treated with more good grace than i am as an adult.

What your key-board says about you.

What can key-board layouts tell us about the fundamentals of human nature? All people are willing to do something stupid in order to conform.

I found it very hard to learn the alphabet as a young child. It took me a long time to get those 26 letters in the correct order. Imagine my dismay when I realised that the keys on a keyboard where not laid out in the same order as the alphabet.

Qwerty is better optimised for typing than if the keys were laid out in alphabetic order. So why not dump the alphabet and just get kids to learn the ‘Qwertybet’?  At least that way there would only be one 26 letter long sequence of random letters that we all had to handle?

Three reasons: Switching costs, network effects and coercion. 

There are a large number of people who’s brains would melt if filing cabinets had to be reordered to be in a qwerty layout. Nobody running a library wants that head ache, that cost. Even though it would save everyone the need to learn anything as you could just glance at any computure keyboard to see the order.

The alphabet is a well established system that is so widely used it is stable and not going anywhere. At the point in life were you meet these things you are a child and can be coerced into a school and forced to learn two redundant systems.

There is never a point were the problem becomes so acute that all 6.3 billion people using the roman alphabet are going to get together and agree to drop the alphabet in favour of a Qwerty layout.

Too big to die

So people are willing to tolerate redundancy if something is useful and works. Systems can grow beyond our ability to control them. The alphabet and qwerty are too big to die.

Qwerty is an insult to common sense: It was designed before computing made it possible to look at word and letter frequency properly: More than 3,000 English words utilise QWERTY’s left hand alone, and about 300 the right hand alone. Great if you are left handed,  but for the majority of the human population that is pants.

The Villain

So why don’t we switch to a better system? There are vested interests: That evil keyboard manufacturing lobby with their vast financial resources stop the politicians from imposing the change just so they don’t have to up date there machines. NO! of course that is in’t the reason.

I am a cyclist and I would like the council to narrow the main road near my house and put a bike lane in. No doubt if you ask the CEO of Ford if he wants to reduce the amount of car usage in the uk their answer is ‘no’ but the specific reason I am not getting my bike lane is local  officials don’t want a row on their hands.

It’s the same reason I have never heard of a boss walking in to an office and saying ‘Oh hey guy’s: you will have noticed that all your keyboards are different. I have switched you over to Colemak. Most of your short cuts are unchanged, but now you can type more words using only the home row. In 2-3 months for most of you this will result in a marginal increase in typing speed. So we are all going to get more work done in the long run, but for the first few days, when you type it will feel like you have had a stroke’.

Survival of the fittest

This is called ‘inertia’ it literally means a systems resistance to change. Like a car, when it is moving at 50mph inertia is the force stopping it from slowing down, when you push-start a car, inertia is the force that has to be over come to get the car moving.

The key thing to remember is nature does NOT produce perfect systems. A common, miss understanding is that ‘Survival of the fittest’ means the ‘best’ animals/products win out. The trouble is that fittest actually means ‘most able to reproduce’ not ‘best’ in any global sense. So we have a costly car base transit system even though mass transit might be less polluting. Cars are better able to ‘reproduce’ because they are able to reinvest more of their profits into marketing. In the UK we use a badly optimised keyboard layout and an incredibly unrepresentative first past the post voting system because those systems were adopted first and most importantly ‘work’.

Good enough

You also have to remember that you are looking at a snap shot in time. It is possible that as cities get bigger the cars size will mean that it becomes unfeasible for planners to continue to provide for a transit system based on the personal car. But the tiny, tiny benefits that alternative keyboard layouts offer over Qwerty make it hard for me to imagine a large scale move away from qwerty ever happening. There is too much inertia, the switching cost are too high. It pains me to say it but it is also possible that rather than a malevolent lobby keeping the car supreme it could just be that that system is so stable it is unlikely to change any time soon.

The World can seem like an infuriating and confusing place if you aren’t willing to take a system level view. Its easy to think that shady deals are being made in back rooms, and that is why you are missing out, but I find it reassuring to think that more often than not its just simple incompetence. Qwerty is like a buck toothed stupid reseptionist at an ok hotel. They do the job. It may be possible to find a smarter, prettier person to do the job, but is that necessary?

As soon as you realise that often things aren’t supposed to be ‘perfect’ but just ‘good enough’ the world seems like a less malevolent place. In fact isn’t it a wonderful thing that we live in a world were there are people who toil away to make better keyboard layouts?Somewhere in the world someone is solving a problem you don’t even know you have.

Rather than being frustrated by how stupid my keyboard is, I think it is a wonderful reminder that the world isn’t perfect. Every were I look there is the potential for me to do things better than  they have been done before.

The magic Words

‘I am not suggesting you …… ’ Have to be the most freeing words in my life. That simple phrase makes it possible to live my own life without conforming all the time. Those five little words said to anyone who questions your approach allows you to slip away to freedom and not become embattle explaining your actions.

This crazy layout is a reminder that you don’t have to do things the way other people do them. I rent cars when I need them despite the fact that many, many people think i will ‘need’ to own one at some point. I have switch to colemak because its better, but the great thing is: Its ok to be utterly indifferent to the car ownership status, keyboard layouts, diets and parenting strategies, (to name but a few) of other people because people will do ‘stupid’ stuff again and again and again literally millions of times so long as they get the result they want most of the time and thats fine! All I have to say is: I am not suggesting you do it this way’ and then in the words of Dr House Md ‘The best thing about being an adult is that I can do pretty much what ever I want.’

Every day when you sit down at you computer it can remind you that you don’t have to break the system, you don’t have to change the system or conform to it (unless you want to?)

Going back to go forward.

Almost on a whim I have started to learn to touch type. This is something that i never thought that i would be able to do.

I grew up as a dyslexic child. When i was about the age of 12 for some reason my mum and dad took me to go see a psychiatrist. This was a special occasion they weren’t the garden variety psychologist that i was used to seeing for my dyslexia.

Thank fully this guy was able to confirm what I and my parents knew: I was very bright for a boy of my age. but it was also true, that i had some pretty profound learning difficulties. Towards the end of the conversation this very powerful man said something that i will never forget and as i sit here now slowly but surely touch typing this blog, I am emotionally processing it on the fly. My dad ask ‘would it help if we got him to learn to touch type? I have heard that that can be very good for their spelling?’  To which the doctor responded: ‘No, I doubt this boy will ever be able to learn to touch type (with 10 fingers).’

So that was it, i got on with other things. I stopped even trying to learn this skill and never really thought much off it again. that was untill a year or so ago when i was sat down of an evening as I often do learning computer programming. this involves a lot of transcribing example code into text documents. So I had to learn to tab between windows. One day it suddenly occurred to me that i was not looking at the keys at all. I was still typing in my usual ‘hunt-and-peck’ three fingered style, but my hands were flying around the key board.

I turned to my wife and said ‘hey look at this: I am touch typing’. In my head I thought: well it turns out that F*ing guy was wrong.

Now was he? I know that I had tried very hard to learn to touch type in qwerty, and that i had never got on with it. So although I was now touch typing, it was not in a typical 10 finger style. it was with the furious style of a mad wizard using their hands to conjure a spell over a cauldron, but typing by touch, I was.

A little while ago I read a book called the first 20 hours. The author Josh Kaufman switches from qwerty to the colemak keyboard layout. He did it to increase his typing speed. Colemak offered me a much bigger advantage, as I saw it: ‘no peekin’. As the keys are not where they are indicated on the keyboard, I had to learn this layout by ‘touch’.

Looking into it online all the alternative layouts have their detractors, but the main point they seem to be making is that it is not worth the hassle and the time investment to switch from qwerty. ** But I am learning 10 finger typing for the first time. There is universal agreement that it is worth investing the time to learn to touch type, if you don’t have this skill. So for me it made perfect sense to go with the most:Ergonomic and comfortable system – Your fingers on QWERTY move 2.2x more than on Colemak. QWERTY has 16x more same hand row jumping than Colemak and there are 35x more words you can type using only the home row on Colemak. Fastest – Most of the typing is done on the strongest and fastest fingers. Low same-finger ratio.

The big difference for me of this layout is that your fingers almost never,  if ever have to jump from the bottom to the top row or visa-versa. I don’t know for sure but, i think this has made it much easier to pick this layout up. I am on day 7 of learning colemak.

So perhaps the good doctor was right: I never would learn to touch type ‘normally’ but maybe in the end that didn’t matter.

**  = is the point were i had been typing for an hour. 509 words or 8 words per min in real typing speed.

It you are embarking on a touch typing journey. Best of luck.

Right I now need to put my hands in some ice!

How Zero Marginal Cost, will cost you

If you haven’t grown up in a world of endless abundance it is hard to get your head around it. A friend of mine is in the army and does survival training. He told me a a great story about being out on secondment with the Canadian Army and was there to see how they train their troops.

My friend told me that some people just know how to get by in a ‘survival situation and other people really struggle.’ He was riding around on a snowmobile and jumping off to see each of the trainees dispersed through this frozen landscape and told to fend for them selves.

One of the recruits was found freezing to death, sat on her back back getting its contents wet, huddled over a tiny fire made from twigs. The fire had been going for so long at that size that it had dug a 12inch pipe into the snow. She was using it to keep her hands warm and sort of pain free while she slowly became hyperthermic. They had to tell her the training was over and get her back to civilisation.

Contrasted with that: there was another guy who had grown up in the Canadian Country side. When my friend saw his condition he couldn’t believe it. This guy was a big bloke. He had worked out that al the trees around him were brittle and that he was big enough to simply push whole trees to the ground in a circle so there trunks and branches overlapped. He had lit such a big fire that when they found him, he was dress down to his vest sat by an enormous fire sweating. Not only that he had time to set snares made from saplings. If memory serves this guy hadn’t caught one rabbit, he had caught three. They found him chilling out, eating cooked rabbit, claiming he was fine if a little board. So they left him out there for a few more days. I understand that he could have been left out there indefinitely.

My point is that if you have grown up in a suburban setting were fire wood is bought and payed for, then you will have a restricted view of what fire looks like. You might even think of it on a completely different scale. Your experiences put invisible walls up around you. This can happen even if you might be n some danger.

It’s called ‘absence blindness’: If you haven’t seen something done a certain way before you may make the imaginative leap, and be able to see how it could be done but If you have seen something done a certain way and that way works, to conceive of it being done differently, is an incredibly hard thing to do.

Its only human to assume that the way you have seen it done thousands of times before is the correct way. Social proof is telling you not to waist too much time or effort trying to be different. A life time of experience has shown you that your efforts will probably be waisted. The only problem is that you might not be able to see that your context is now completely different. We are not lighting a fire at home with logs that were bought as a treat. In this instance if the fire dies, its  not just disappointing. In this situation if the fire dies, we could as well.

I am 32. The world I grew up in was not one of endless abundance. My mind formed in a world where things cost money. That isn’t the world we live in now. Slowly and invisibly the world is changing all around us. Like an odourless combustible gas our atmosphere is changing. I don’t know if one spark will create an explosion but I have seen endless examples of the effect of Zero Marginal Cost at play.

A Maths teacher I know asked his team aged class why they weren’t taking notes? One of them said that they could simply photo the board at the end of the lesson. It was as ridiculous to them, that he wanted them to make notes, rather than sit and listen and understand what he was saying. After I here that story I stopped carrying a note pad around with me and started using my smart phone as a photo-logger. The idea didn’t occur to me because i grew up in a world were photo’s had a cost. In my head I wanted to leave room on ‘the film’ for photo’s of people. Photo’s on a phone now have effectively zero marginal cost. It is advantageous to be more frivolous with them.

Its not up to anyone of us to create every single coping strategy for this brave new world. I think the best defence is to foster relationships with people who hold genuinely diverse views. I reckon that platoons that walk off a cliff, do so in lock step.