Tag Archives: Liam

Processing for Kids

Liam (7) has been playing a little recently with Processing, mostly drawing shapes and moving them around. The Hello Processing interactive video tutorial is an excellent introduction, for kids too. Thanks to Jon Nordby for suggesting Processing.

Liam is gradually working through the Getting Started with Processing book, typing in example code and changing it as the book suggests. Previously he has used Scratch and he’s started using the Lego Mindstorms programming environment, which is surprisingly visually complicated. But Processing is a nice introduction to real text-based programming, where you must type everything perfectly correctly or the computer will complain with incomprehensible error messages.

So far this seems to be the closest modern-day equivalent to my childhood experiences of sitting down with a Sinclair ZX81, Spectrum, or BBC Micro and trying things out from a book on BASIC. The expectations are low so you can easily feel that you’ve achieved something significant.

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The Processing IDE is a very simple and obvious UI and a Processing hello-world can be just one line, without any platform initialization, without specifying anything about exactly where your output should appear:

line(15, 25, 70, 90);

By default there’s just one screen that you draw on, and all functions and types appear to be in a global namespace. So you can start making things happen without the distraction of boilerplate code and without figuring out where in that mess to put your own code. You don’t need to learn about objects, inheritance, or encapsulation, though of course you should later.

Writing an iPhone or Android app might seem more interesting to modern kids, but they’d have to wade through so much kibble just to get started, while always noticing how far they are from achieving anything like the existing apps they see.

Processing is actually Java. When you write code, that code then seems to be the contents of a method in a (derived?) PApplet class, though you don’t see that other than in some compiler error messages. The functions such as size(), stroke(), point(), ellipse(), color(), strokeWeight(), etc, are actually member methods of this class. You don’t need to import any Java classes to use this API.

Java is fairly forgiving, particularly for the simple examples that people will start with. And it  offers a nice route into object orientated programming without the lower-level pain of C or C++.

Instead of just writing a bunch of code to run and then stop, you can instead define (override) setup() and draw() functions that do what you’d expect. The draw() method can make use of member variables such as mouseX and mouseY (these are not parameters of draw()). Likewise, you can implement keyPressed() and make use of keyCode. So you get a simple introduction to making a program interactive by doing event-driven programming.

Processing is not perfect, and I think you’d feel the lack of a real API and IDE as soon as your project became more serious, but it’s a great introduction to real programming.

Meyah Kathi

Our daughter, Meyah Kathi Cumming, was born healthy and perfect just a few days ago, on the 25th December 2010 at 12:25, 51cm and 2695 grams. She is our second child. Liam was born three years ago. We know how lucky we are.

Meyah

Meyah is named after my mother, Maya Cumming, though we’ve changed the spelling. My mother was named Margaret Maya Lawrence, but there was apparently an argument about which Margaret she was named after. So her father soon decided to use her second name, though her official documents always showed Margaret. It was always pronounced May rather than the Mei that you’d expect in Europe or Russia, though nobody in that family ever spoke enough about anything for us to be sure that it was on purpose. There was vague talk of her father’s time in the pacific during the war, but that’s just vagueness upon vagueness. Anyway, it was her name for whatever reason. But now that we live in Germany, where there are many Mayas whose names are pronounced “correctly”, we thought we’d make the distinction clearer.

Her second name is from Sigi’s great grandmother Kathi Oma – Katherina Kiefer, wife of Hans Kiefer. Her maiden name was Thor and she was born in a German-speaking village in the Romanian Banat.

Both Meyah and Sigi are fine now, but it was scary for a little while. Sigi had signs of pre-eclampsia for a few months, which turned into definite HELLP syndrome on the 25th. She needed a full anesthetic so I had to wait outside the operating room for thirty minutes. Then I held Meyah in my arms shortly after hearing her first cries. It wasn’t our plan but it all worked out safely.

Liam’s third birthday was just four days later on the 29th. Unfortunately he couldn’t share it with his friends, or Meyah in the hospital, because we noticed the signs of chickenpox just a day later. Luckily he is not suffering much at all.

I am very grateful to our friends and Liam’s Oma for looking after Liam at home while I visited the hospital, first in the nighttime for the birth and later because he wasn’t allowed to visit.

Liam has looked forward to Meyah and Mama arriving home. He understands how little a baby can do at first and knows that she will grow bigger and learn to do everything that he can do. He’s very gentle and sweet with her. They will always have each other.

Liam at Two

December’s long season of presents is over and Liam is now two years old.

He’s recently started the famous language explosion, learning several new words each day. He’s obviously aware that he speaks two languages, now learning to say both words instead of preferring the first one he’d learned. He still prefers hand gestures where he has learned them first, seeing no need to learn words for them too.

For the past couple of months Liam has spent the mornings in the crèche over the road. That’s why I’m online again every morning. It’s great for him to learn some independence and spend time with the same kids every day. Leaving him there in tears has been heart-breaking every morning for weeks, but now he’s happy to go there and is nonchalant about us leaving.

I was worried when he suddenly learned more German at the crèche, but that has settled down now. Still, I make an extra effort with plenty of English books and music and some DVDs of gentle British children’s TV from the 70s, such as The Wombles and Ivor the Engine.

The language explosion was accompanied by a sudden increase in general understanding and concentration. Now he happily listens as I read all of a Dr Seuss book to him and seems to understand narrative instead of just wanting to identify objects. His imaginative play is more complicated, with detailed routines.

We’ve had a little snow in Munich this week. Liam learned to walk in last year’s snow. I hope he remembers enjoying this year’s.


Inefficient Crèche/Kindergarten Allocation in Munich

It’s hard to find a place in a Crèche (Kinderkrippe) or Kindergarten in Munich. As far as I can tell, this is how it works:

  • Every family puts their child on the waiting list at 50 Crèches. That’s 50 separate waiting lists. Each family needs different hours – such as half-day or full-day.
  • Every Crèche therefore has a huge waiting list, probably 50 times bigger than their capacity.
  • A Crèche fills the next available place by calling people on the waiting list. Many people they call already have a place elsewhere, because they registered at all the other places, because they have no confidence in any one waiting list, because the waiting lists are huge. Families have to take the first place that is offered regardless of suitability because they have no clue about their chances on the other waiting lists.

This is incredibly inefficient and ineffective. I am surprised that nobody has created an online system to match children to Crèche and Kindergarten places. It wouldn’t have to be specific to Munich or even Germany.

Liam at one year, standing

Liam is now one year old. The months have passed quickly but the progress is obvious. He can now stand easily though he only bothers when distracted by something shiny. He walks sometimes holding our hand and I’m sure that any moment now he’ll stop needing to hold on. Even without walking he gets around incredibly quickly, indulging his need to take things out of their proper place, take them apart, and then jam them all back together again.

Peek-a-boo and pretending to be chased are his other main interests.

For the last six months, I’ve been working part-time, spending two and a half days at work and two and a half days at home taking care of Liam, with not much time in between for other things. I am very lucky to spend so much time with him – if really helps you create a strong bond.

Hopefully in March there will be a place for him in a Kinderkrippe/Kindergarten for a few hours a day. He’ll need that to get enough time with other kids, and it will take some stress off my work routine, though I’m unlikely to be working totally full-time for the forseeable future.

Two Months and Smiling

Liam is just over two months old now. He’s a little more aware of the world, though not really interacting with it much yet. He started to smile properly a week ago, and every day he makes slightly different vowel sounds. After two months of sleeping, eating and crying, the first wide smile makes a big emotional impact.

He’s now nearly 5 Kg, almost double his birth weight, and my back knows it.

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Sigi and I take turns so we can get other things done. I have the midnight to 4am shift, when I give him the bottle, and 10am to 12pm. I generally get work done between 12:00 noon and 18:00, and sometimes in that midnight to 4am shift. He’s quite an easy baby, I think, but we are very lucky that there are two of us who can give him lots of time. It would be nice if he didn’t need to sleep in my arms quite so much.

I have decided to avoid taking on much new work before June, so we can keep this daily routine for a while more. I’ll also look for a small office in the neighbourhood – The Glockenbachviertel in Munich, in case anyone has a suggestion. But there is work to do so I’m still trying to hire new people.

Liam Kiefer

On the 29th December 2007 at 16:55, Liam Kiefer Cumming was born, 50cm long and weighing 2610 grams. I’ve spent most of the day in the hospital since then, including a ridiculously happy new-year’s in the Kinderstation changing and feeding him together as a family when the clock hit midnight.

Liam Kiefer on day 2

Early on the morning of the 29th we weren’t sure whether it was contractions that Sigi was feeling but they quickly became regular and frequent so we walked the few streets through the cold (-20C apparently) to the hospital and were told we’d made the right decision. Things moved quickly after that and the birth went well, without major problems. Liam has some very minor temporary complications so he’s stayed in hospital a few extra days, but should be home quite soon. He’s quietly inquisitive when he’s awake but mostly just sleeps, waving his arms for comic effect. He loves to drink but tends to eject it from either or both ends soon afterwards.

The people at the Maistrasse clinic here in Munich are skilled and patient, just firm enough and just gentle enough and there are many kind people to help with everything.

Liam’s middle name is taken from Hans Kiefer, Sigi’s great-grandfather who strolled with her around his Großsanktpeter village in the Romanian Banat, greeting everyone in their own German, Romanian, Hungarian, Serbian, or Roma languages, and who claimed to have used the same skills to fool various invading armies into believing he was one of them. When we visited Romania in 2006 we were invited into his old house, now the home of an aged Roma man and his family who remembered him fondly as Kiefer Bachi (or Baji, or something, apparently Serbian. Do correct me.) meaning Old man Kiefer. (Update: It’s “Kiefer Bácsi” and it’s Hungarian)

I’m particularly glad that Liam has three great-grandparents of his own on Sigi’s side, because family is scarce on my side, though he will have nice holidays with his aunt in Wales and his grandfather in Scotland.