The road to tech success is not paved with pink Legos

I’ve started writing about Daddyland again, this time around at a new business publication called Quartz.

It’s a mobile and international-focused startup from Atlantic Media, which publishes The Atlantic, among other publications.

So I’ll be taking more of a big picture economic and societal view on all the work/life issues that come up when you start talking about mass paternity leave, like we have here in Sweden (though not enough of it!).

My first Daddyland-centered post for them was about … Legos:

At our house, we’ve got a box of hand-me-down plain brick Legos tucked in a corner of the kids’ room. My six-year-old daughter tends to build  ”cities,” and they are tall and sprawling, though mainly vehicles for role-playing with friends. But, honestly, she plays with the Legos less often than she does with random objects—a steel tube, a broken reflector—found on the sidewalk and turned into homemade dolls.

I don’t push the Legos either, and I’m starting to wonder about this. Am I depriving my daughter of a future as a filthy rich mobile game app developer in Silicon Valley? Am I squashing her inner geek as I applaud her dancing and pictures of flowers?

And is the answer Lego Friends?

Lego Friends is the new line of girl-focused Legos that caused a firestorm when it was announced late in 2011. The new “slimline” Lego girls and their convertibles and beauty salons outraged bloggers, inspired a protest petition signed by more than 50,000 people, and earned a pro-Lego cover story at Businessweek.

Finish reading the story here.

New essay on existential jet lag (and small kids)

I’ve been absent from the blog for a while now, as I needed some time to think about how to proceed with my personal writing.  But I’ve also been busy editing a couple essays for The Morning News.  And here is the first one, on jet lag:

It is hard going east. It is harder going east with small children. It is hardest going east with small children into the gloom of a Swedish winter.

The planes are fast but the adjustment is slow, and I get caught in the gap between. This seems true of so much of modern connected life, but especially with kids, who ground me in their urgent and eternal needs, and in Sweden, with its fundamental tyranny of light and dark.

I’ve always taken jet lag as something to either cure or endure. But this proves impossible with my children, who cannot, or will not, fight the time shift. Instead, we linger in our altered state, and it is not fun, and it evokes death and madness but also transcendence, all at 2 a.m. as the little ones jump off the couch on a dangerous quest for buried pirate treasure.

You can finish reading here.

Talking about the medium chill and leaving work early … but still paying the bills

I am always tempted to complain, because it is hard to admit that you have it almost perfect, but my work/life balance is almost perfect.  I work short days, with fairly interesting projects at my day job, and hours with my wife and kids and time to write at night.  Oh, and I get paid enough not to worry about repo men and foreclosure.

Thank you Sweden.  Now if only you would learn how to smile …

The medium chill: This is a story from Grist last year, and I love it.  It goes into all the difficulties humans have with stepping off the fast track, eliminating possibilities and walking away from prestige and money.  And it praises relationships and time with family, while being realistic about the annoyances of being a little short of cash.  Even here in Sweden, E and I reach for the medium chill – small apartment, summer cottage with no water, no car, old stroller, not working 100 percent.  And we gain so much.  A quote:

That’s what consumer culture forever tells us: more money/stuff/status means fewer constraints, more freedom, more choices, thus more happiness. The entire economy runs on spending and debt, and for that to work everyone needs to think they’re not happy but could be happy if they just had more sh*t or a better job or a better house. Every “consumer” needs to be running on the treadmill, working toward the next thing.

But social psychologists tell a different story. They point out that there’s very little evidence that, once a certain base level of material security is achieved, more money and stuff make us happier. Gilbert offers one explanation: having fewer choices is often more conducive to synthetic happiness.

Her Key to Efficiency, Arrive Late, Leave Early:  This story tells an expat tale from Paris of a woman who discovered that she was more efficient with shorter work days.  Yes!  Having only six hours to get my job done means I leave very little time for screwing around.  Of course, it puts the pressure on too, but I’ll take that if I can unwind in the sun with my kids every afternoon.  Plus, there was this interesting tidbit about Dads. Once again, I find I am not unique:

More interestingly, she found a third category of men, who were successful in terms of performance evaluations and compensation, but who actually worked fewer hours and were unavailable for the office on evenings, weekends and vacations. These men subtly and skillfully chose the projects and clients that would allow more flexibility – and surrounded themselves with kindred spirits who would cover for one another. But they had also learned that it was better for their careers to remain discreet about their strategy, and so they weren’t role models for the rest.

Bring Back the 40-Hour Workweek:  From Alternet, via Salon, this is a look at why we had the 40-hour workweek to begin with.  And guess what? It was not just labor being lazy.  It was business figuring out that workers work best when they have shorter days.  In the short run, we only get a little more done in hours 40-60, and over the long run, it’s a disaster. :

American workers don’t realize that for most of the 20th century, the broad consensus among American business leaders was that working people more than 40 hours a week was stupid, wasteful, dangerous and expensive — and the most telling sign of dangerously incompetent management to boot.

Money Is the Root of All Parenting:  But don’t get poor!  Which seems obvious, but is perhaps a good message in the face of all these earthy work less links.  Lisa Belkin at the Huffington Post talks about reports that show that parents lose it more when they are stressed and angry (of course).  And how to avoid that?  Don’t lose sleep about the car repair bill.  Don’t get frantic about bank overdraft fees.

Hard to pull that off if you are poor.  So how to help the poor, or more specifically, their children?

What, then, is the alternative? They start with a few suggestions: “stabilize incomes, provide low-income credit alternatives to deal with the ups and downs of life, or ensure stable housing. These may not be “parenting” programs in the conventional sense of the term. But by freeing up psychic resources they allow people to be the parents they want to be, they allow more traditional parental skills programs to be more successful.”

when the winter ice breaks in walden and in stockholm

I am on the alert for the first signs of spring, to hear the chance note of some arriving bird, or the striped squirrel’s chirp, for his stores must be now nearly exhausted, or see the woodchuck venture out of his winter quarters. On the 13th of March, after I had heard the bluebird, song sparrow, and red-wing, the ice was still nearly a foot thick …

One year I went across the middle only five days before it disappeared entirely. In 1845 Walden was first completely open on the 1st of April; in ’46, the 25th of March; in ’47, the 8th of April; in ’51, the 28th of March; in ’52, the 18th of April; in ’53, the 23d of March; in ’54, about the 7th of April.

Every incident connected with the breaking up of the rivers and ponds and the settling of the weather is particularly interesting to us who live in a climate of so great extremes.

From Walden: A Life in the Woods, by Thoreau

I chose this partially because I still do not trust the spring is really here, though we were all in sweaters at the park yesterday afternoon. But I also chose it because the ice in Walden Pond in Massachusetts broke so much later than the ice does here in Stockholm, at least, even at our small pond.  It shows that the winters, at least back in 1853, can be so much harder in New England than in Scandinavia.

Yet a Boston winter is a summer vacation compared with a Swedish one, even one with little snow.  It drives home how much of our winter pain is about the dark here, and the winter dark is not going away, no matter how warm the climate gets.

Talking about fandom, fathers and the violence of football

My daughter is a die-hard fan of AIK soccer here in Stockholm.  She is five.  I have never mentioned AIK, except in relation to their stadium, which is in our town.  But she picked up AIK fever at preschool, even though she has no idea about the reality of AIK soccer.  She just loves the black and gold and knows that they “win a lot” (this is debatable).  You can probably read in between the lines my ambivalence.  I am not an AIK fan.  I am a fan of other, American, teams.  I appreciate much of AIK’s history and the devotion of the fans and their association with our town.  I do not like the hooligans, who piss outside our window and drink in our park and once rioted (really) right outside my sleeping childrens’ window.

I also think soccer is boring.  I also do not like that her sports world is not revolving around me.  This is what I get for swearing off watching sports on TV.

Still, this makes me think what I do want her to like.  Baseball?  Definitely.  Basketball?  Absolutely, and this is the local sport I push the most.  American football?  Oooh, I get tortured.  I still can’t shake football or my love of the Buffalo Bills, and I definitely do not want my son to play.  But can I replace the Bills with AIK?

Should I Quit Watching Football For My Kids?:  OK, I wrote this story back in 2010.  And it led to a radio profile on The Story from American Public Media.  Everything still holds here, however, on my ambivalence about the nature of football’s violence, its culture, and the concussions.  How can I even watch the NFL now that we know about the concussions?  I don’t know.  Now I feel bad.

The Saints, Head-hunting, and (another) disaster for the NFL:  I feel less bad after I read this by Charles Pierce.  At least I am trending the right direction.  I too feel the slow slide of football away from the realm of baseball and basketball and more towards boxing.  It may take decades, but I’m not sure the hyper-controlling NFL can put the concussion genie back in the bottle.  And I really don’t think they’ll build helmets that solve the problem, at least fast enough.

For years, sensitive people in and out of my business drew a bright moral line between boxing and football. Boxing, they said, gently stroking their personal ethical code as if they were petting a cat, is a sport where the athletes are deliberately trying to injure each other. On the other hand, football is a violent sport wherein crippling injuries are merely an inevitable byproduct of the game. I always admired their ability to make so measured — and so cosmetic — a moral judgment. This was how those sensitive people justified condemning boxing while celebrating football, and, I suspect, how many of them managed to sleep at night after doing so.

How We Become Sports Fans:  The Tyranny of Fathers:  This is the article that makes me feel worst about my kid’s AIK fascination.  As a sports-loving dad, I am supposed to be dominant here.  And my daughter does say she likes the Bills “too.”  And while I picked up my father’s love of football, I did not pick up his team (Detroit).  I went for Buffalo, where we lived.  In fact, I did this about when I was five.  But I don’t even like soccer!  Ahhhhh.

But, wait, maybe it’s a good thing she likes AIK.  Maybe it means she doesn’t need to bond with me over sports.  Because we bond over doing goofy dances together instead …

Dads are more emotionally remote than moms, except when they’re watching sports, and that’s the crack in the ice that kids naturally choose to exploit. If Dad laughs, cries and high fives about the Red Sox, his kids are going to use the Red Sox to laugh, cry and high-five with him.

Do Sports Build Character?:  The big money question.  Does all our sports obsession mean anything?  Are we kidding ourselves that we are somehow tapped into the Greek ethos, the YMCS ethos, of building character through sport?  This is a long, rambling article but at least it is asking the question, one that we don’t usually even dare to bring up in American pop culture.

And, heck, he features Plato and Lawrence Taylor extensively.  Got to appreciate that, even with a wishy-washy conclusion that Plato and LT would knock off the field.

In Plato’s spirit, one must give the thymotic drives of the soul full recognition and reasonable play, but at the same time keep them in check. This is an ideal—Hector’s ideal, we might call it—and it is not impossible to attain. But there is something in the drive for glory that despises all reflection. A certain sort of glory-seeking must in fact overcome reflection, as Achilles shows, and go headlong. So sports will always be a world of danger, as well as one rich with humane possibility.

talking about education in the information age

We had to pick an elementary school for my daughter a few weeks ago.  Our town has school choice, and, honestly, I wish it didn’t, as it was an agonizing choice.

But the real problem is that I don’t want her going to any regular school.  I have bought into the idea that our schools – both in Sweden and in the US – are built for an industrial age long past. I do not want her sitting at a desk all day. I do not want her necessarily with the same age kids for 13 years.  I know she will be fine, but will she be ready to thrive in a network society?

Why Memorizing is Ineffective:  This takes on the SAT, grades, why we have our kids in school, different types of learning.  Even for kids that find school easy, the skills they learn are of little use in the outside world.  Yay, I was awesome at multiple choice.  Strangely, I have not had many multiple choice exams at my current job …

Before society can improve the educational system, we need to have an honest discussion about the purpose of education, and whether society is willing to devote the resources necessary to create a 21’st century workforce.

Stop Stealing Dreams:  This is a self-described “rant” by uber-blogger and author Seth Godin.  It’s really a short book that he has posted for free and in many forms, trying to create a viral discussion on education.  I like this list best as a summary:  What kind of qualities do you want from your kids or employees?

Column A 


Column B


Mind the gap: Zadie Smith on school reporting without the wonk: All my education worries are very developed world ones, I know.  Here Guernica Magazine sent some very good writers out in the less developed parts of the world to write subjectively and, with an eye to the human, about education in countries like Bosnia, Pakistan and South Africa. The challenges are different, of course, but the need to redefine what we mean by education in this century is not.  The kids in these countries are just starting on a different (not necessarily better or worse) baseline, in terms of becoming well-adjusted, productive adults.

Changing education paradigms:  I posted this last October too, and it gets to the exact same points as my first two links. But I still think the illustration and the talk are awesome.

A Californian finally feels spring winter in Sweden

This week it seemed like spring in Stockholm. The snow is melting, leaving thin sheets of ice over the shadowy depressions in our park. There are green shoots poking through the earth, and the temperature got into the high 40’s probably.

But I am not deceived.  I know the winter will return.

But it will be what Swedes call spring winter. This is mostly a northern mountain phrase, but to a Californian it goes for Stockholm as well.  It is the time of year when the sun is returning but the winter refuses to go.

In years past it has been the hardest time of year.  My body feels the winter ending, feels the sun warming my closed eyelids as I stand and face the heat.  But the winter does not end. I still dress the children in snowsuits, I still bundle up, my feet still freeze.

It seemed like spring stalled, leaving me in a winter limbo.

I am a minority on this, I think.  People seem to love spring winter, getting to ski in the sun, camp and ice skate, that sort of thing.

And this year I get that.  I get spring winter. I have finally been in Sweden long enough for my soul to calibrate not to the snow, not to the temperature but to the sun.

The sun returns slowly, inching forward, but then near the end of February seeming to come 10 minutes earlier each day and linger well after we have come back from work and preschool.

In Sweden they do not measure seasons by the calendar but by the weather.  So spring comes when the temperature is above freezing for so many days in a row.  That sort of thing.

But that does not reflect the joy of the sun returning, even behind overcast clouds, even in a freezing wind like today. So we get spring winter.  And I get to know that in less than three weeks, we will be tipping over the spring equinox and suddenly days here will be longer than in the US.

And that brings the promise of summer and of the forest and the blueberries and the lake by our summer cottage and riding my bike to the country store miles away.