Thursday, February 27, 2014

Parenting Month 40: Learning Chinese

This is shui
This month had a bit of excitement.  T had to go in for a minor exploratory surgery. Fortunately, it had the best possible outcome (i.e. did not find what we were afraid of). He actually did very well considering this involved not eating the day before. He was entertained by being with parents and grandparents all week, which for him makes up for any discomforts.

The bigger picture has been language and socialization. We've noticed that among his daycare classmates, those who were verbal in Chinese at 2 all have stopped speaking Chinese somewhere between 3 and 4. We're hoping that does not happen with T!

One thing we have noticed is that T english is getting to be much richer than his Chinese. It is not just home and school, it is books and videos as well.  His english books are more varied and have more constructions allowing for richer speech. And I can imagine that at this age, as they are just becoming expressive, it would be frustrating trying to speak in Chinese when your English is more capable. One thing we are trying is to find Chinese language media geared for pre-schoolers. Fun Fun Elmo recently came out with another set of episodes which we enjoy. We were amused when T was replaying some of the scenes, like one piece that involved a boy giving a tour of the house and pointing out everything. We think that a key point is that Chinese be something that he can do fun things with. And that will mean playing with toys, movies, comics, and friends.

He had his assessments at day care this week, and they told us is that he assesses ahead of his age, but he does not talk to people at school. Even looking at many of the items that are labeled as 'emergent', they are things he does at home, but he does not express them at day care.  Basically, he is an introvert like his parents, the question is if he can learn to express what he knows when it comes time for assessments like this in the future.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Mining the Social Web, 2nd ed by Matthew Russell: Book review

Mining the Social Web: Data Mining Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, GitHub, and MoreMining the Social Web: Data Mining Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, GitHub, and More by Matthew A. Russell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The hardest part of learning a data analysis method is not in implementing the method, it is applying the method in the context of a real data problem. And data mining and machine learning texts often skirt the issue by using pre-processed data sets and problems defined to fit the method being taught. Russell uses analysis of social media sites to set a context where you start from having to gain access to real data sets, clean and transform the data into forms that your analytical libraries can make sense of, and then use the results to make a conclusion. For that, it rates a place along any other text that focuses more on the analytical methodology itself.

What I most appreciated about this book was the work put into converting data from one format to another. From the beginning, when he works with data pulled using a services API, then getting that into a format that another library requires, then getting those results into a data mining framework for analysis. Following his flow has helped me understand the methods better. And these examples of processing data from format to format is something that gets my students stuck before they get really started in a project. I especially appreciated the chapters that worked with the Natural Language Toolkit (NLTK) and the NetworkX graph libraries. These examples helped me get pass what was the hard part for me in working with these libraries in previous encounters.

The virtual machine is also very helpful. I have always found the hardest part of working with Python for analytic computing has been teaching my collaborators how to get set up. And in data mining this is even harder than standard. I was able to get through his book installing everything on one machine, but on another I used the author's virtual machine, and I have pointed a student who was working with me to the virtual machine as well.

This is a great book to work through the mess of implementing data mining methods in real situations. It is not a theory book, but it serves its purpose well.

Note: I received a free electronic copy of this book from the O'Reilly Press Blogger program.
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Saturday, February 01, 2014

Parenting Month 39: The LEGOs are here.

The Curiosity Rover was exploring and found something.
A substantial part of the Christmas loot was in the form of LEGO, and we seem to have hit a critical mass so it gets a lot more play time. Now that we got a couple of larger sets, we hit critical mass in a couple of aspects. First, we have a number of pieces that you can make things. Duplo blocks are so large and there are a limited number of forms (2X2, 4X2, 2X1 tall bricks, then 4X2 plates are the dominant choices) so before, essentially all T was doing was making towers and variations. Now, because we got a couple large Duplo sets we have several types of roofs and shear numbers so it can be more interesting (he can build structures, not only fa├žades.) And he can build things so that they are recognizable. Second, we have a much larger number of Duplo figures. In addition to the grandpa, brother, sister, and little brother we have added two firemen, a medic, and a zoo-keeper. So the stories he says while playing have become richer. Adding two fire vehicles and an ambulance helps (although this was not as much an issue as LEGO vehicles and his Home Depot and Lowes cars and planes have always mixed freely).

He has started some creative play. He tries to recreate story lines from books or shows, and there are some other story lines he gets into that we don't recognize. More recently we have started taking a page from homeschooler lessons where we give him something to copy. And occasionally he goes from that to making his own modifications.

But in terms of creativity, it is pretty clear to him that the standard LEGO bricks have a lot more possibilities. So far, they are special treats that are brought out as a reward for good behaviour (and in the case of the Curiosity Rover and the Master Builder Academy Robot set, a special and rare reward) There are a couple of small cars (~40 pieces) and a train (~50 pieces) that he we have him help build before he can play with them. Over the past month, he is able to do more and more of the building (there is one set he can almost make himself). At this point, there is little creativity involved. Like the Duplos before, we don't have enough pieces to do that, but as his fingers get stronger and he starts learning some of the rules of structure, we'll move to those.

In other news, he has finally gotten settled into his room at day care after being moved to the three's room. Every time he spends time with his cousin's in Chicago, his social skills jump up a notch (and having spent a few months in the three's room helps too).  Funny story:  when a group of kids moved up from the two's room this month, apparently he was trying to show them around and telling them how things worked now that he is no longer the new kid in the room.

We've started music lessons. At this point, this means do-re-mi and working on aural skills and reading the staff. It is amusing to watch since he has only limited fine motor skills so he counts by nodding his head :-P

He has mostly moved from board books to the first level of readers.  The fun ones are the Scholastic LEGO books for beginning readers. It helps that we have some of the right LEGO figures as well. He has reached the point where he can "read" the book (meaning, he has somewhat memorized the book and in the parts he can't remember, he makes up something to fill it in.)  In parallel, we have started him with phonics. The trick here is to find words that are fit for phonics that he does not known only because he has memorized the book we are reading.

Things for the future.  Getting him to sleep by himself (he now can be in his own bed (for part of the night) but still wants someone in the room), and the ongoing hope that he becomes more social.