Tuesday, January 29, 2008

First interview

This was today.

Tickets to Kids' Concerts

From Freakonomics, an economist dad's story about his bold plan to get Hannah Montana tickets. It worked out for the child but not for economics. Hannah Montana is currently a household obsession for our children. If we ever decide to go, I am getting tickets early.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Renting expensive toys

In the New York Times, David Pogue reviews the Pleo -- a robotic dinosaur -- that didn't make it in time for the holiday season but has launched since then. If you want to see what the fuss is all about, click here. Pleo is cute, seemingly fun, cutting edge and expensive. Naturally I couldn't resist getting it for my 7 year old son for his birthday. It also satisfied the requirement: "No you can't have a pet, but this is just as good."

For David Pogue, it wasn't just as good. It was fun for maybe a day but then it could go back. He came up with the suggestion that such things should be available for rent rather than purchase.

And so here’s what I think the world needs: a new Web site called WornOffNovelty.com. You’d list an object that you want to own -- but for only a short time. Other people sign up, too, so that a chain of purchasing is set up in advance.

You buy the thing at full price. When you’re finished with it, maybe a couple of weeks later, the next guy buys it from you for 85 percent of the original price. Then he sells it to the third guy for 85 percent of that. And so on, until the last guy gets the hand-me-down Pleo for, say, $25. Everybody’s happy, and there’s not a bunch of closeted Pleos all over America.

He sees it as "eBay without the uncertainty." At Amazon, Pleo currently costs $289 (down from retail at $349). On eBay it looks like you can sell it for about US$250 (used but undamaged) which less transaction fees and shipping gets you to less than 85 percent of the price. So, given that eBay can't make this work, do we think there can be another way of doing the job?

For us, we won't be selling. My son love his Pleo -- "Diny" -- and treats it as a pet. It has its own little bed, he takes it for walks and he teaches it tricks. He gets the love (at least for an hour or so a day under a full charge) and we don't get the mess. It is also cheap as pets go. I hope it lasts.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Saying you're sorry

In Slate, Emily Brazelon looks at the value of getting kids to apologise:

The other time I hear myself barking "Say you're sorry!" is when I'm with a friend and his or her kids, and one of my kids is being obnoxious, and I'm embarrassed. This one I can't really defend: It's a cheap way to signal that I, for one, have some manners; that I know my kids are being trolls and won't let them get away with it, at least not entirely. Forcing an apology is a lot easier than imposing a real punishment. So, it suits for small- to medium-sized infractions that I feel like I should address (or rather shouldn't be seen letting go). Especially, if I'm honest, toward the end of a long day.

Basically, she finds that for most things, it is the same as having adults apologise: it is a communication of someone's acknowledgement of a social wrong. The only difference with kids is that the communication is between parents rather than the wronger and wrongee.

That said, I am not sure if we are going to gather in a 'peace circle' and have our children discuss their feelings when they fight with each other. Not that there is anything wrong with that but it just isn't 'us.'

Instead, these school holidays whenever the inevitable fights between children emerged, I opted for a special 'joint' sending to the corner. This is the place in our house where children go for a time out. The usual rule is that there is no talking in the corner and no communication into and out of it except by the sentencing parent. However, with a 'joint' sending communication in the corner is allowed.

Initially, there was no such talking. Just two children sitting there with increasingly over-acting frowns of frustration, disgust and a vast array of annoyed emotions. Then eventually, the two of them realise their joint predicament and start to wonder what it was that put them there. Apparently, the triviality of it is not lost on them and they are soon giggling and plotting against their true enemy: me. The common cause resolves the conflict and harmony is restored. And the best part, I can do other things all the while. So zero parental effort/involvement equals the same outcome as a ton of parental effort/involvement. For the economist in me, the choice is a no-brainer.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Amalgamated parties

Tim Harford gets it exactly right about combined birthday parties ...

Dear Economist,
I feel guilty because I paid £200 to co-host a birthday party for my five-year-old with another mother, but got at least £300 of gifts in return. As a guest, I don’t like these parties because you take two gifts in return for only one party bag. But co-hosting is surely a rational thing because you pay half and get a full complement of presents?
South London Mum

Dear SLM,

Congratulations on your move to more efficient birthday parties. It seems to be a happy accident, since you have failed to realise the true scarce resource here. It is not doggy bags or disposable toys, but time. By hosting a joint party with a friend, you are saving time for many parents who would have had to attend two such parties in quick succession. The children may feel hard done by, but then again they may not. Even five-year-olds do not want a party every day.

Indeed, I think we should have one party per year -- a children's day. Think about how great it could be and it would give you back your weekends in this world of increasing class sizes.

Here is a recent post about our amalgamated parties and one about making a profit from a party.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The bits of life

Kids growing up with computers today just use them without much understanding of how they work. They think you do stuff and it comes on the screen and that is that. We know better. You do stuff, things run around inside the machine and on other machines around the world and that is that. Much more sophisticated.

Anyhow, children's book writers have stepped in. Published online is "Mommy, why is there a server in the house?" It explains everything; especially in our household. I am buying a copy today.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Fruity knowledge

On the inside lid of a Yogurt, my son read out the following trivia question:

"What fruity Californian region is the TV drama 'The OC' set in?"

To which his mother answered, "Orange County."


A surprised daughter then remarked: "How come Mummy knows everything about fruit?"

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Sorting out the Lego

As I begin construction of the 5000+ piece, Millennium Falcon, the first task is sorting out the Lego so I can find needed pieces. That task itself is going to take days.

According to this post, apparently the best way to sort out your Lego is to, umm, put it together!

The name game

In the midst of the very slow New Year's news, there are front page stories everywhere about baby names. There is this one about a Star Wars themed family and there are ones about the latest popular names list (The Age had three: here, here and here).

Freakonomics devoted a whole chapter to baby name choices and what they might mean. The answer: apparently, a surprising lot. The name you choose for your child might be correlated with later success in life. I was particularly pleased with this as our youngest had one of the names, if chosen in the last few years, was predicted as associated with future success. Of course, we hadn't read the book when choosing that name so if the cause of this association is some hidden characteristic it reveals about us as parents, that will still be there. But, even if we had read the book, it may be that the name itself generates success; although I suspect that isn't the case. Nonetheless, if you are a parent, why take the risk? Get a copy of Freakonomics and pick one of the names of the future winners in society.

The names identified by Freakonomics were not currently popular ones. The theory is that families at the high wealth end of social life choose names that are more unique and their example causes a trickle down to the rest of society; creating a popular name. Of course, that database is based on California and it may have its own peculiarities.

The trends in baby names have had a major personal impact on me. My parents chose my name back in the 1960s with the criteria that it was "unique." Uniqueness was seen as a good thing as it would assist me in later life by giving me a distinctive name that might be remembered. However, it comes with a cost: having to say it twice or spell it more when you are a child.

But here is the problem: the "Joshua's" of the 1960s faced all of the costs but have none of the benefits. Take a look at the top 10 names by birth decade in Victoria:

1960s: David, Peter, Michael, Mark, Andrew, Paul, John, Robert, Stephen, Anthony

1970s: David, Michael, Andrew, Jason, Matthew, Paul, Mark, Christopher, Daniel, Adam

1980s: Daniel, Matthew, Michael, Christopher, Andrew, David, James, Benjamin, Luke, Adam

1990s: Matthew, James, Daniel, Joshua, Thomas, Michael, Nicholas, Jack, Benjamin, Luke

2000s: Joshua, Jack, Thomas, Lachlan, James, William, Daniel, Benjamin, Matthew, Ethan

Look at what happened during the 1990s and to today: Joshua went from completely obscurity to being, not just common, but the most common boy's name! For the past decade or more, when I have been in a public place (like a supermarket), I am constantly hearing "Joshua, get your hands off that!" I then instinctively put back the item I was thinking of purchasing only to realise that that wasn't directed at me (well, usually not). But how was I to know? When I heard that, as a child, it was surely about me! If you had been a David, I guess you would not be sure. (Hmm, I wonder if Davids were more badly behaved as a result).

What is more, during the 1980s, I saw this coming. When I went to University, I would constantly meet people who, upon hearing my name, would comment on how nice it was and how they would like to have a child with that name. Socially, this was a disaster for me, but I quickly formed the hypothesis that the days of obscurity for Joshua were numbered. Had I had a blog then, I might have predicted it and linked back to it here.

The popular names list tells us one thing: the names popular yesterday will not be popular today. That won't help a parent get distinctiveness as choosing a popular name today still gives you a popular name in your cohort. But it does suggest that parents tend to avoid names of people they knew in childhood. Chances are that one of them annoyed them as a person, or they dated one of them or what have you. In any case, those names have lots of opportunity to be stricken from any list of potential names for a baby.

So if your parenting goal is to give your child a distinctive name, just choosing an obscure name may not do the trick. I think you are likely to have a better bet by choosing a culturally distinctive name; so not Anglo, Judeo-Christian or a name of a New York street but Ethiopian, Iranian or Klingon.