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.

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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.

photography: the fine edge between spring and winter in sweden

I have not had the time I would like to take pictures lately but here is a taste of the drawn out end of winter here …

The coolest part of this?  I ride past this water on my way to work.  And getting on the bike again was a dream.

This is misleading because it was the only day so far where the kids did not wear snowsuits out.  Maybe tomorrow again, as it was over 10 degrees Celsius today.  But last year it took until mid-April.

I love taking pictures of sand and bikes.  I have no idea why.  But early spring sand cakes give me hope for summer.