Random mornings with my son

One of my favourite parts of the day is my morning walk to school with my son Harrison. Being stuck in an office all day isn’t the best way for a primate to live, so a refreshing start to the day is always welcome. Plus I get the added benefit of being able to spend some time with my son; it’s a win-win.

Usually we talk about whatever is going on at the time, or whatever Harrison is fixated on at the moment, so there have been many walks dominated by Harry Potter theorising, Superhero discussions, Dragon tales and so forth. But we also talk about other topics in the world in general.

Today’s walk involved an update on the progress of SpaceX’s goal of colonising space (and eventually Mars), spoiler alert: they suffered a little setback.


But the main reason for this post is because Harry wanted me to look up Geladas when I got to work. Geladas for those not in the know, are a distant relative of baboons, and not an Italian style of ice cream, as I originally thought. He has been watching a bunch of Deadly 60 episodes, and clearly this animal appeared on one because he had manifold facts to tell me this morning. He told me where they live, what terrain they like, their diet, what hunts them, etcetera. But what he really wanted to tell me was about their teeth. Specifically about their canine, teeth, about how they are the largest of any primate, and how they like to show them off by flipping up their upper lip.

Let me tell you, I thought I knew what to expect, but I didnt expect it to look this terrifying:

This looks like something a Predator would struggle to add to its trophy wall!

At any rate, I just thought this was cool, and figured I would share it with you all (whoever that may be). To finish up though, let me leave you with a more comforting image of our not so distant primate relatives; these little dudes enjoying a nice relaxing hot spring:



Pokemon Go, Father-son time, and B. F. Skinner

Seems everyone is posting about Pokémon Go at the moment, whether it be to bemoan its existence, or to celebrate it. So figured I would weigh in with the little experience I had with my son this morning.

I love Pokémon. I was 6 when it came out, so I am the perfect demographic to have grown up with the Gameboy game, the TV show, Nintendo 64 offerings, and now during the mobile era the advent of Pokémon Go.

But for me the best part of Pokémon Go is the opportunity to engage and interact with my son in an exciting new phenomenon. I love being able to experience the world though Harrison’s eyes, I think sometimes we old people get a bit jaded, or perhaps just immune to the fact that we are living in an awesome future. Spend some time with a kid however and you get to see things from a fresh perspective. We have augmented reality games, rockets that land on barges, feathered dinosaurs, electric supercars; the present is rad!

So today we made sure to leave home ten minutes early to ensure that our walk to school and work would include sufficient Pokémon catching time.

We had a good run, visited a few Pokestops, and captured the odd low-level Pokémon. The most interesting outcome from this father-son gaming experience however was the opportunity to pass on a bit of my fatherly wisdom in the form of some psychology related trivia.

Education is such an important part of life, you should always keep learning things, and I love being able to share the knowledge I have of the world with Harrison. Watching kids grow up you never know what they will actually take from the information you give them, and what will be forgotten. But I think every little bit helps, and slowly the concepts and ideas will crystallise in their minds. So this is why our attempts to catch virtual pocket monsters was able to include a brief discussion about a famous psychologist and his pigeons.

I noticed that as we were walking along Harry kept waving his hand past the iPod’s camera, and checking his notifications. I asked him why he was doing this and it turns out that his iPod was struggling to get a GPS signal, but he had noticed the signal return when he had happened to move his hand past the camera. Being the science nerd that I am, I then proceeded to explain to him the story of B.F. Skinner and his superstitious pigeons.

For those interested, B. F. Skinner was a psychologist who liked to experiment on pigeons in the hope that his findings could be used to extrapolate theories on human behaviour. One of his more famous experiments involved setting up pigeons in a cage with a food delivery system that would reward them with food pellets at random intervals. Pigeons can be taught to peck at a lever in order to receive food, but the aim here was to see how they would cope without any clear way to get their food.

So the pigeons would go about doing whatever it is pigeons do while they wait for food, and every so often a pellet would randomly appear. After a while the pigeons began to behave as if there was a causal relationship between whatever they were doing at the time (whether it be spinning in a circle, or looking over their shoulder), and the arrival of their food.

With this causal link supposedly discovered, the animals would then perform the same actions in the hope of receiving more food in the future.

Not really the worst conclusion to draw, but not the most rational either. Skinner labelled these behaviours as superstitious, and hypothesised that similar effects can be seen in humans. And here Harrison was, proving my point.

It’s great because the concept of the experiment is simple enough for a kid to understand, and extrapolate from. Harrison said “What if it was jumping!” and then imitated a pigeon frantically jumping over and over in the hope of a meal; so he clearly got the idea.

We spent the rest of the morning sporadically walking to school, with the occasional stop in our quest to Catch ‘em all, but for me the morning was a success because I had been able to spend some quality time with my son, contribute to his education, and add a few steps to my day.

So while there may be a horde of people out there complaining about people spending too much time focusing on the virtual, or not engaging in the real world, perhaps they should take note of the fact that the world is changing. There is more than one way to interact with it now, and with others; we have all this amazing technology providing us with opportunities to do things we never dreamed of before, and to look at it with a closed mind means you will miss out on all these possibilities.

But hey; maybe I am just trying to justify the fact that it feels great to actually catch a Pokémon in the wild.



Interesting related fact: B. F. Skinner attempted to create a pigeon-controlled guided bomb. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Pigeon


Parental Guidance Recommended –Reflections on determining what’s suitable for my son

I went to the movies recently to see Marvels latest outing; Ant Man. I was thoroughly impressed with the film, but as I was watching it I noticed that a new thought process was taking place in the back of my mind. Not only was I suspending disbelief, and trying to keep track of plot lines, or character arcs (or as this was a Marvel film; keeping an eye out for Stan Lee); but I was also evaluating the films suitability for my son.

It was strange, as this wasn’t as intentional as it had been when my wife and I had gone to see Jurassic World recently. Being true to the 50% of his genome that I contributed toward, my son is a massive dinosaur nut, so when the latest addition to the Jurassic Park franchise was announced, he was naturally interested to go. I wasn’t so sure however, as though he is 9 years old now, he can still be sensitive to the content of movies.

So  knowing this, when recently he wanted to watch the original Spielberg Jurassic films I was sure to watch them along with him, and made sure he was aware of any possibly disturbing upcoming scenes. Yes we may be sheltering him a bit, but it seems preferential to be involved in his viewings of such things, rather than let them go into the wilderness alone and possibly see something potentially disturbing (as I did when an aunty hired Watership Down for me, thinking it was a kids film, and left me unattended to bear witness to the horrors within).

Indeed a lot of my thoughts on this stem from my own childhood. When I was a lad and attended the premier showing of Jurassic Park at the cinema, I was unduly terrified of what I might see, as I had read the book beforehand to prepare me. The thought of seeing Nedry’s intestines spilled into his hands, or Henry Wu’s ripped out of his body, kept my hands firmly placed over my eyes for all of the famous death scenes. No surprise then that years later when I rewatched it I was surprised at how tame the scenes were, and how much worse I had imagined them. But I still wanted to make sure that my son was properly prepared for what he was going to see. It is after all a PG movie, and I am the P, so might as well do the G.

So for instance when Nedry was going to be killed, I let him know; when a lawyer was going to have a bad time on the toilet, he was fully informed. He handled it all well enough; was amused at the demise of Genaro as so many are, and generally wasn’t fazed by the experienced (in a negative sense anyhow; he loved the film. Next stop: The Lost World.

Again I was cautious, because though you don’t see that much direct carnage in Jurassic Park, the fate of Eddie Carr in The Lost World seems far more graphic. Again I prepared my son, told him what would happen and so forth, he was willing and excited to see it, and after the Rexs had had their meal, he was relieved and all was well. So I figured, hey that’s good; worst part of the movie over.

I was wrong.

I gave cursory warnings for what was going to come. Raptors killing people in a field; all good. T-Rex chomping a guy through the waterfall; he can handle it. However I was a bit surprised when the lead up to Dieter’s death was interrupted by a distraught look on my sons face (my wife on the other hand was more on the ball). At first I thought he was reacting to the frightening visuals of a man being swarmed by a flock of tiny dinos, but it turns out he didn’t like the bit where Dieter grabbed one of the compys by the neck and appeared to be strangling it!

We had a similar start many years before when a strangulation scene in Journey To the Centre of the Earth affected Harry more than anything else had (he had even been fine with Donovan disintegrating into dust in The Last Crusade, and the Nazis heads exploding and such in Raiders of the Lost Arc). So after this movie experience was over, we started to get a better idea of the things that bothered him (the repeated stomping of Carter was likewise not well received).

Women getting strangled, animals getting hurt, and protracted death scenes seemed to be the main causes of concern.

So armed with this knowledge, and aware of his excitement at the release of Jurassic World, my wife and I decided to evaluate its suitability for him when we went to see it.

*Spoiler Alert*

It didn’t take us long to come to a conclusion; this was not for Harry!

Women getting strangled/protracted death scene; the demise of Gray and Zach’s minder seemed very excessive, and not the best thing for a young kid to enjoy (you are almost relieved when she is put out of her misery!). But more to the point; the heartbreaking scene of the Apatosaurus death was definitely something we didn’t want our son to get upset about.

He is a caring boy, and he gets emotional as a result; it is a quality that I admire in my son, though it can be hard to deal with some times (like for instance when he questioned the right that my wife and I had to kill a plant that was entangling our fence, and grieved its loss).

Harrison was not very pleased when we informed him that Jurassic World was not a movie he would be seeing at the cinema, but he has accepted our reasoning, and we are glad that he is able to understand the motivation behind it. Furthermore my wife found a junior novelisation of the film for him to read, and he tore through it with vigour.

In previous times when we had warned him at the graphic nature of some movies and shows he would seek to allay our fears us by saying stuff like ‘Nah I’m fine with that. I have watched a bunch of murder shows with Pops; it doesn’t bother me’.

First of all, by ‘murder shows’, he means stuff like Foyle’s War and Poirot. Secondly we explained to him that we don’t want him to be ok with stuff like murder, rather we want him to be able to process it appropriately. Again he generally understands our views with stuff like this and begrudgingly accepts our parental censorship.

Now then, before this post gets too out of hand; back to the initiator of this post: Ant Man.

Sitting in the cinema, I became aware of how much I was evaluating scenes in terms of whether it was suitable for Harrison. It wasn’t at the front of my mind; I wasn’t doing it on purpose, or spending the majority of my focus on it. But I did notice that after a scene had taken place, be it a fight, or a death, or a adultish joke; I would think to myself ‘Yeah I think that’s ok for Harrison’.

It is interesting to note how little mental processes like this begin to form when you become a parent.

For example, I like to swear a bit in my casual voice. I don’t think I am an overly explicit person, but I like the emphasis afforded to English’s most versatile word, and if someone like Stephen Fry can extol the virtues of using the odd swear word now and then, I think I am in good company.

“Swearing is a really important part of one’s life. It would be impossible to imagine going through life without swearing and without enjoying swearing… There used to be mad, silly, prissy people who used to say swearing was a sign of a poor vocabulary -such utter nonsense. The people I know who swear the most tend to have the widest vocabularies and the kind of person who says swearing is a sign of a poor vocabulary usually have a pretty poor vocabulary themselves… The sort of twee person who thinks swearing is in any way a sign of a lack of education or a lack of verbal interest or -is just a fucking lunatic” – Stephen Fry on the joys of swearing

Nevertheless once my son got to an age where he would comprehend, and repeat words; it was clearly something that had to change. However I wouldn’t say that this change was an overly conscious decision; rather it just took place, and I noticed it at a later date. Suddenly I was like ‘Shit; you know what? I don’t swear that much at home anymore.’ Perhaps this is an easy switch to make, because I had already cultivated a mind that at a younger ages ensured that I didn’t swear around my parent, but still had sufficient four letter words when amongst friends.

At any rate, this was just a bunch of thoughts that entered my head recently, and I thought it might be interesting for anyone that has kids, or watches movies, or simply likes to read words online.

Feel free to let me know what you think in the comments; that’s why they are there.



*Spoiler Alert*

Oh, and for those wondering, the worst things you will see in Ant Man involve people, and in one case an animal, being shrunk down unsuccessfully to that all that remains is a small blob of flesh and blood coloured gloop.