Thursday, March 31, 2011

Book Review: What to Expect the First Year by Merkoff et. al.

What to Expect the First YearWhat to Expect the First Year by Heidi Murkoff

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A book on baby parenting is trying to supplement two other sources. For your average baby, it supplements the advice that one used to get from a myriad of aunties and grandmas who were close at hand to benefit from the experience of raising children. For the not-so average event, it supplements the pediatrician, who benefits from the experience of working with hundreds or thousands of children. And so the 'What to Expect' book provides exactly what the title says. 'What to Expect'. But the moment that an individual infant deviates from the average, it begins to fail.

What to expect is organized strictly on a month by month basis. Within each month there is a discussion of standard developmental milestones, and discussion of issues that are expected to arise in each month. The problem is, babies are highly variable. Like good baby books, What to expect acknowledges this basic fact. But because of its organization, you can't find information unless you are examining the 'correct' month. And at this point the usefulness of the book quickly drops.

Runner's have a saying, we are experiments of one. While it makes sense to talk of developmental milestones (especially since we can't ask babies about themselves and get useful answers so milestones, and appetite, are all we have to work with), there are a number of ways of deviating from the norm. Substantially. What to Expect explains the norm. Which is useful before the baby arrives. But when you have an actual baby, even by the first month there are ways babies vary from the majority. Basically, any condition that is described as "n% of babies are ____" will represent deviations from the norm. Two very common examples are colicky babies (~20%) and preemies (~12%) (we have a colicky baby). The book quickly has notes that such babies are different, and can even discuss it in a relavent section. The problem is that now everything else is off. But if you are going through the book month by month, this is not obvious. And month by month, every developmental milestone discussed is off when compared to the real, living, eating, crying, squirming example of a baby that is with you.

There are other ways of doing this. Sears' The Baby Book has a section that is month by month milestones, organized in three sections per month based on probability (probably is able, may be able, sometimes can). But other topics are approached separately from the timeline, encouraging readers to think of them outside the timeline. This approach is much better then the What to Expect approach that organizes everything on the timeline.

In summary, 'What to Expect' is useful, if you have the average baby. It can be useful before birth (which is the definition of 'expect'). But if your baby falls into any special category (even mundane specials like colic or premature), regular reading of 'What to Expect' will lead to madness.

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Friday, March 18, 2011

Book Review: Data Sources Handbook by Pete Warden

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

While this bills itself as covering 'the most useful sources of public data available today" and that "You’ll find useful information on APIs" what this really is a sampling of a small number (57) sources and an example of its use. The information given is terse, and you will find yourself having to Google the documentation to get good use of the source, and probably use Google to find more sources.

I was interested in the Data Source Handbook because many of my models require a range of setting specific data as well as data that is available publicly, if I can get it an put it into a useable form. And looking at it, it provides many examples of available data sources. But these are all fairly specific as presented, so I'd probably end up having to search to find out if what I want is actually available.

The limitations of the presentation are more apparent if I look at one source I have actually used before, the Google Maps API. Warden shows an example of submitting an address and getting a result, and also mentions that you can do reverse geocoding, but he does not describe what information is in the geocoding results (only displays a small portion of them), or the fact that there are many other result sets (such as directions, distances, elevation) that can be returned using the Maps API.

The other way that someone can have a problem with this is that it makes an assumption about the reader without stating it, specifically that the reader is a proficient at programming for the web (i.e. someone whose is primarily a computer programmer as opposed to someone who programs because they need to get something else done.) It comes up because it assumes that you recognize a JSON result set as well as some internet utilities (e.g. curl) which are presented without explanation. It could have been greatly improved by having a one page 'how to use this book' section in the introduction that gives pointers on what is assumed you know before presenting the material.

In the end, if you don't know what you are doing with programming for the web, this book is only useful as a guide so you have an idea of what can be found. Even if you had this book, you probably are going to end up using Google to understand the capabilities of the sites that it does cover, and it cannot be that comprehensive because it is so small.

More information on this book can be found at the book website at Data Source Handbook at

I received this as a free ebook as part of the Oreilly Press Blogger Review Program

I review for the O'Reilly Blogger Review Program

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Pittsburgh St. Patrick's Day Parade March 12, 2011

Luke on parade

Today was the Pittsburgh 2011 St. Patrick's Day Parade. And I reprised my role as a ham radio shadow for one of the parade marshals, a member of the Ancient Order of Hiberians. We were at the front of the parade and his day job was with the county, so there was much hobnobbing going around among the politicians and also with the various police and fire pipe and drum groups up at the front. But like other ethnic events, this was about the next generation.

Parade marshals conferring

In addition to the various parade business going around, what is notable are the kids. Obvious babies and toddlers get attention. But what I noticed this time (usually I'm way in the back) were a bunch of older boys shadowing their dads as their dads meet and greet as well as work on organizing the parade. Dads introducing sons to friends also working or marching in the parade, exposing them to those who are in the public eye to recognize them as people and generally teaching them how the world works. And this is how it should be.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Pittsburgh Emerald Society Piper

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Parenting: Month 4

Working with an abacus by LugerLA
Working with an abacus a photo by LugerLA on Flickr.
This month saw the 100 day milestone come and go. And T is still colicy The Dr. Sears books mention that colic is a description and not a diagnosis, meaning that it is a description of a case where they cry for hours a day, with no consistent explanation of why (if there was an explanation, you would provide that as a diagnosis instead of colic). The current pediatrician statement is he is gassy (as opposed to reflux, and certainly not allergies, as he is continuing to grow) It also means that he still wakes up several times a night, and we look jealously on our friends who boast that their babies sleep through the night.

The other side of it is he is a babbler. I get a couple good conversations a day. We get a few laughing episodes a day. But his fussiness makes us reluctant to bring him anywhere.

Some thoughts:

1. Parenting an infant is a contact sport. A baby can only communicate by crying and touch. So the only way to communicate is listen to the baby's crying, or holding the baby, feeling his movements and noticing variations. My wife, who spends an order of magnitude more time than I doing this, especially at night, is regularly days ahead of me in noticing changes.

2. He definitely likes being held upright. The pediatrician says it is because he is gassy, and this makes it that much easier to get the air out. The problem is that he is a big boy, and we're running out of people in the household who can hold him for any length of time.

3. Waiting for the day when he sleeps through the night. But we hope that it is not much longer.

4. He is colicky. By definition it means that the issue/cause of crying changes frequently, so what worked yesterday may not work today. (ref. 1 the fact that daddy is a few days behind is actually a significant issue) So parenting is not only a contact sport, it is association football where the clock does not stop, not American football where you get timeouts.

5. My wife and I tend to treat parenting as an opposed contest. Us against baby as we figure things out along the way (with the reward at any given point in time being a happy, playful, laughing, thriving baby). (See Ayelet Waldman's Modern Love essay) Also reminds me of T.E. Lawrence 27 Articles (I may write a post based on that someday. Counter-insurgency seems like a very good metaphor for having a newborn in the house.)