Friday, April 01, 2011
I just found out a friend has lymphoblastic lymphoma. He has a very aggressive kind, and as soon as he was diagnosed, he was admitted the same day for chemotherapy. He's only 40.
One of the worst things about getting older isn't the wrinkles, it's the number of friends and family who start to get very sick.
I was recently wrapped up in some meaningless drivel, and this news feels like a splash of ice water on my face. Sometimes petty problems seem so important, until I get slapped with a reality check about what is really important.
My friend has only started his treatments, so I am hoping for the best. He is strong, and has a lot to live for. I'm just stunned.
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
My heart breaks with Japanese earthquake tragedy. I am shaken and saddened. The morning the earthquake hit, everyone was just going about their lives. For even the most technologically advanced country in the world, lives ended abruptly. The buildings were intact after the quake, but the tsunami was unstoppable. We can engineer buildings to resist an earthquake, but there's nothing that can stand against a tsunami. Even people who received the tsunami warning didn't evacuate because they thought they were far enough in. The tsunami came 6 miles inland. 2000 bodies have washed ashore from that aftermath. It made me cry.
It made me think about my own life. How if it ended abruptly, what would people say? I hope friends and family would say that I lived a good life. I hope they would say I tried to do the right things, for the right reasons. I hope they would remember and speak fondly about my adventures to other places. I hope they would say that I wasn't afraid to live.
Friday, March 11, 2011
Now that I had a few days to digest, I have a few additional words to say.
My parents pushed me to do well because I was capable of it. The incident where my mom asked me if I wanted to clean toilets for the rest of my life was because I truly did slack off. I got the B, when I could have got the A. I did not try my hardest, and I was called out for it. But my parents never, ever called me 'garbage' or other names. They never called each other names either.
My dad thought it was important for me to have access to a computer when I was little. While computers are commonplace these days, it was rare when I was growing up. I was growing up just at the start of the home computing revolution. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak built the first Apple computer in their garage when I was 4 years old.
My dad was a car mechanic, then later an airplane mechanic in the Air Force. He told me on numerous occasions that if he had access to a computer, he never would have picked up a wrench. My parents didn't make a lot of money, but they bought me computers during a time when they were very expensive for a base model. My dad saw computers would be the future of the workplace, and he wanted me to have a head start.
Fortunately, I took to computing very well, even beyond just playing games. I dabbled with programming, digital art, and even video editing. I tinkered under the case to see what was inside.
Unlike Amy's daughters who were forced to play the piano, I was never forced to sit at a computer and write programs. I did have to get my homework done before I could play with it, though.
I understand and agree with the author that being pushed to try harder teaches confidence. I saw way too many of my peers being told it was ok if they didn't understand math, because math is hard. Their parents should have given them more problems to work on at home. When I was little, I got a bad grade in math on my progress report. My parents bought me math flash cards and workbooks.
I bristle at the notion ability to learn and excel is dictated by gender and 'natural' ability. One of the boys in my 3rd grade class told me I could never be as good at math as him because I was a girl. This lit a fire in me. By 4th grade, I had a near perfect record in math.
I agree with the author on the asian model of teaching versus the current American model. In asian schools, they teach achievement is based on hard work and practice, practice, practice. In Western schools, they teach excellence in an area is due to 'natural' ability. I prefer the asian school of thought. If you can never rise above your 'natural' talents, then we are all screwed.
I am not 'naturally' gifted at math. I had to work on it. There definitely were people I knew who may have been what you term 'naturally gifted'. They saw the patterns immediately and could work through them. Repetition makes things automatic. While I may have had to work harder than these prodigies to see the pattern, I could perform it as well as they could in the end.
In college, many of these 'naturally gifted' mathematicians struggled with the programming classes. I wizzed by in the computer science classes. Was it natural talent, or was it the many years when I dabbled with programming as a teenager?
The most important skill in computer programming is the ability to work through a problem, and have the confidence to fix your own mistakes. I have problems teaching people programming are who are actually very smart. The people who wizzed through school without having to try very hard are more likely to get frustrated and give up when their code doesn't compile, or it doesn't return the answer it was supposed to. Making a mistake that causes the program to crash makes them feel dumb, they put it aside, and are scared to go back to it. They don't like that feeling of 'this is hard'. When interviewing people for my teams, I'd rather have the person who is moderately smart with a 'I can do this' attitude than a genius. The geniuses can be some of the biggest slackers.
My recommendation to people who struggle with programming is more programming problems, more programming books. The number of people who have told me they want to learn programming and follow my advice is currently zero.
I once had a guy at work ask me how he could get started learning programming. I gave him a recommendation on a book that I liked that had practice problems to try. I told him to try the practice problems at home, and if he had questions, I'd be happy to help him. He derisively complained he just wanted me to teach, he didn't know why I was telling him to read a book. If he couldn't buy a book, read a chapter and try a small assignment on his own, then he was wasting my time. Every time he'd tell me he wanted to learn, I asked how far he got in the book. He told me he didn't have time.
When I was a teenager, I once blew up a motherboard. I plugged a cable on the board the wrong way trying to install a bigger hard drive (this is impossible to do on modern motherboards btw.) In many households, this probably would lead to being chewed out and maybe grounded. My dad was like, "Bummer. What happened?" I told him. "Oh that sucks. Let's get a new one and try again." I figured he must have blown up a gasket tinkering with his cars at some point in his past, and saw it as just part of the learning process.
Wednesday, March 09, 2011
I'm out of it. I don't watch at lot of TV, so I had no idea this book was making a stir. I was looking to join a book club, and this came up as the monthly book.
In case you also live outside pop culture, it's about a Chinese-American mother who started writing the book with the thesis that the Chinese model of raising children is better than the Western way. Chinese parents raise well behaved, high achieving children. Western parents raise unruly, underachieving children. In the end, she has learned from both the Chinese way of enforcement, and the American way of 'finding their own path'.
I have a rather unique perspective on this. I am a product of both east/west cultures. My mom is Korean and my dad is American by way of Germany. I was raised in the US.
I'll get to the book part in a minute, but a little more backstory. My mom and I had a rocky relationship while I was growing up. We didn't understand each other, and we clashed. We also share very passionate, strong convictions. When I was little, my friend was in the Girl Scouts, so I wanted to join the Girl Scouts. My mom wouldn't let me. She didn't want me selling cookies. She didn't understand these strange American traditions. I didn't understand why she was ruining my life.
My dad was often in the role of mediator, especially in my teenage years. My mom and I would have a terrible fight, and she would go running to my dad and tell him to do something about me. I would go running to my dad and tell him to do something about mom.
I remember when I was 14 or 15, I was reading a book in my room. My mom calls my name and starts yelling at me in both English and Korean. I flew out of my room in a rage and started yelling at her, "WHAT?! I wasn't doing anything! I was just reading a book!" There was no answer from my mom. "Mom?" I go into her room. She was dead asleep. She was yelling at me in her sleep.
I laughed. I guess our relationship started to change a bit after that. I realized how tense things had become. Though my mom and I truly never became close or even really friends until after I was on my own in college. Now that I'm an adult, we get along great. And I realize that mom was right on a lot of things.
That is the way I think it should be. I've seen too many parents who won't discipline their children because they want to be their friend. A parent is an authority figure. They have to be able to make decisions their kids will not like. They have to wield a stick of authority and it's not a democracy.
I think that is really what "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" is about. Reading the reviews on Amazon, it's clear people are very offended. They call her abusive and extreme. I saw one reviewer say pushing excellence in school is a waste of time. High achievers like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg didn't even finish college, therefore academics is useless.
Completely false. While these men did not graduate college, they had darn fine primary education. You can't write a computer program without knowing how to problem solve mathematics. You can't give a killer keynote speech without a basic English education.
I don't think the take away message of this book is to make your kids practice piano 6 hours a day to be successful. However, if a parent doesn't push their kids to excellence, no one will. It is not up to the teachers. It is up to the parents. I saw way too many of my peers growing up who were content in their mediocrity. They said school was a waste of time, it doesn't teach any real world skills.
When I was younger, I used to get teased and tripped in the hall for being a 'nerd', the high achiever in the class. I stopped raising my hand in class to answer a question after a while because I would get ridiculed for 'always having the answer' or 'teacher's pet' later. I always hoped that the teacher wouldn't call on me if no one volunteered, but they usually did. I longed for acceptance like all kids do.
My mom used to yell at me to do well in school. She was a housekeeper at a hotel. If I got a B on my mid term report card, she used to say, "Do you want to scrub toilets like I do? It's back breaking work, no one respects you. The hotel guests treat you like a slave. Go do your homework, and do better next time."
I would get angry that a B was better than almost everyone else in my class. It was a good grade, I should be rewarded. I cried how mean she was. If I was a teenager today, I'd probably be texting a friend "OMG mom ylld 4 B n eng!!!"*
For some reason, I worked harder for the A.
Recently, I saw a status message on Facebook from one of my former schoolmates. He said something to the effect that he was working 3 jobs to send his daughters to private school because he wasn't going to let them get a crappy public education.
I agree with him that our school district wasn't the finest in the country, but I did the best with what was available to me. I don't recall him being in any of my honors classes. I am glad that he is pushing his daughters to excellence. In private school, hopefully the culture will reward achievement, and his daughters will be among peers who compete with them for the top spot.
* In truth, my parents probably would not have allowed me to have my own cell phone. When I got my driver's license, I was only allowed to drive to school, work, and back home. I was not allowed to drive to movie theaters or joy ride with friends.
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