# How can I develop my kids’ curiosity?

When I'm around kids, I ask them questions all the time. The point is to make them wonder and help them think critically. A lot of adults like to tell kids things. In fact, I'll often ask a child a question, and a nearby adult will answer for/to the child.

But I really think it's better to ask kids questions about everything — even when the original question came from them.

For example:

Child: "How do I draw a dog?"
Adult: "That's a really great question, [child's name]! Where do you think we should start? What's the first part of the dog we should draw? Then what? Want to try it? We can always try again if we mess up."

And if they get it wrong, don't stop them and say, "No, that's wrong. Do this." Let them make mistakes. And then ask them,

Adult: "Uh oh! It looks like we did something wrong. Does any part of the dog look wrong? How can we fix it? What should we do differently next time?"

If you're having fun and it seems appropriate, you can even ask questions like:

Adult: "Great work! You put a lot of thought into your drawing, and it shows! But I wonder if that's the only way to draw a dog. What do you think? Is that the only way? Or might there be other ways?"

This gets them thinking — and teaches them to test, iterate, and try again. It shows them that many problems have more than one solution.

And, just as important, it teaches them to persevere when things don't go right the first time. It teaches them that it's okay to take a risk, and that it sometimes takes a few tries to get it right.

I really can't speak highly enough of how great it is to engage kids through dialogue. Here are some other examples of conversations I've had with kids recently that will help explain why:

While playing outside on a longboard

Adult: "[Child's name], where do you think the skateboard will go faster — on the dirt, or on the sidewalk?
Child: "The dirt!"
Adult: "Why do you think it will go faster on the dirt?"
Child: (says some explanation)
Adult: "That's a very interesting idea. Do you want to try it out to see if you're right?"
(We test it – the child's hypothesis was wrong)
Adult: "So what happened? Where did the skateboard go faster? Why?"

It was so great to set up a little experiment with this child and explore her thoughts with her along the way.

It's also awesome that when you ask kids questions, you often end up thinking differently, too. Kids have really interesting ideas and strange senses of humor. Here's something that happened at a playground recently:

While at the playground

Child: "I want to look for caterpillars!"
Adult: "Catepillars? Cool! Where do you look when you want to find a caterpillar?"
Child: "The air!"

The answer most people would have expected is probably, "The ground!" But in northern California, this happens in the springtime:

(He's hanging from a little piece of caterpillar string.)

So maybe that's what she meant. Or maybe she meant that caterpillars turn into butterflies. The only way see into the child's mind is by asking — not telling.

But often, like I mentioned before, my conversations with kids go more like this:

Child: "I want to look for caterpillars!"
Adult 1: "Catepillars? Cool! Where do you look when you want to find a caterpillar?"
Adult 2: "The ground. Caterpillars live on the ground. Right, [child's name]?"

It's also important to note that when a child is working on something, it's great to give them praise and feedback for their effort. It sends the message that their hard work (rather than their natural ability) pays off. It makes them more entrepreneurial and curious than careful and risk-averse.

You can often combine this effort praise with questions about the work. Try to avoid yes or no questions. Keep them more open. Like this:

Adult: "I like that you are spending lots of time covering the whole paper with paint. Can you tell me about your painting?"

Versus:

Adult: "You're so good at painting. Is that a house?"

I like the first option for three reasons.

1. Effort praise.
2. What if the kid isn't painting a house? You might accidentally embarrass them. There might be a really cool story or feeling about this painting, but you'll never know now, because the child doesn't want to talk about it anymore.
3. Asking them if it's a house limits their answer to a yes or no. Leaving the question open allows them to be more creative in how they answer.

Be there to guide, but not always lead, the discussion.

You should also provide them with opportunities and resources for growth. If your kid loves animals, take them to the zoo. Or even the creek in your local park. See how many different kinds of animals you can find living there. Ask your child about what relationships the different animals might have with each other.

Let them get their clothes dirty. The cognitive and motor skills they develop playing at this hypothetical creek are so much more important than a little bit (or even a lot) of mud.

And let them love what they love. Even if what they love is toilets.

This kids' parents are awesome. They could tell Dustin, "Ew, no! Toilets are gross! Don't touch them." But instead they did this — and I really wish I saw more of this and less of the nature/animal/germ/possibility of getting hurt-ophobia.

# Online Sharing

#statingTheObvious
I’ve been observing a trend lately, and the geek in me is not very fond of it. A lot of people who share links online, are doing it wrong. We have a (natural) tendency to just click and paste the link we want to share into the box which says “Share”. What some of us completely ignore is that Google provides a specific button to share a hyperlink.

Even Facebook had this system in place for sharing links, but they removed it a few months back. I don’t want Google to go in the same direction.

Of course you can say what difference does it make? Well, it is not pleasing to the eye. Let me show you an example:

The post on the top is definitely more pleasing to the eye than the second one. You have to agree!

Of course I can’t force anyone to do this, but it would be nice if we all follow the same protocol (which is in place because it is good).

# Best articles read this week

1. A neat article on product marketing, design and consumer behavior.
2. A designers views on the future of how we are going to interact with the tools around us.
3. Katango was a start-up which recently got acquired by Google. This video is from July, 2011 but feels like it has been made after the launch of Google . This is really crazy technology which is bound to benefit Google in the long run.
4. Katango: organizing your social network
July 9, 2011 5:50:07 PM EDT
5. Some career advice and Realities-of-your-industry 101.
6. Start-ups which help people Have more by owning less (Reminds me of Fight Club)

# Rethinking the purpose of the blog

It’s been a long long time since I posted anyting on the blog. I have made minor tweaks, such as changing the theme and adding a page which contains my shared Google Calendar[1]; but I’ve not shared anything interesting that I stumbled upon in the past one and a half year. This does not mean that I have stopped discovering new, interesting stuff. It’s just that I had forgotten the true purpose behind starting this blog – the purpose is not for me to write articles of literary genius, make commentaries, or attempt at writing fiction. The true purpose was for me to be able to share with people, the joy and pleasure which I derive out of finding cool, interesting stuff on the net. This too I’d realized during the Summer. After that, I’ve just been too lazy. So now I plan to right a few wrongs, starting today!

# A second take at blogging

I have been feeling a very strong urge to write something (anything) since the last few days. So this will just be random blabber. It’s been too long since I last wrote an entry (the only one ). Now my friends suggest that I should not "kill" this blog. So I promise I will not let that happen and use the blog as a medium to share as much as I can. In the mean time Tiwari has started a pretty decent blog which has its own flavour.

Now, I had suggested to my friends that while we are on our internships, it will be a very good idea to have blogs where we can share our experiences and sometimes talk about our work. It happened that I myself couldn’t stand up to it, and here I am writing for the first time after a month!

One thing that prompted me to write was that I am very pleased with myself over how things have changed over the past weekend. My initial work here involved quite a lot of reading, which I of course enjoyed. But after that I had to switch to the monotonous task of reading a huge piece of Lisp code. It was fun initially as I got to learn some amount of Common Lisp. But the past weak was extremely monotonous as I didn’t get to learn anything new and was just reading code. This weekend I finally emerged out of this cycle and picked up "Analogy Making as Perception" which I regard as the second-best text in the field of Computer Modelling of Analogy Making, the best being the first book to be sold on Amazon. I got back into the reading mode which I like being in. I finished the book yesterday and I am extremely satisfied with myself. Now I plan to read "The Selfish Gene" and "The Society of Mind". I think I don’t want to read any more code. This will probably result in me not doing anything new, in the sense of contributing to the field of Cognitive Science. But somehow that does not concern me too much. I also have a Summer School from the 5th, which means I have hardly 3 weeks to work on whatever I would like to make of this Internship (if you can call it so). The Summer School is really THE bright spot in my visit to Sofia, as it gives me the assurance that even if I continue doing the reading stuff, it won’t be a big blow. I hope though that I don’t get too carried away by this. I would like to make as much use of this opportunity as possible. I hope you can give me some suggestion on this!

Apart from the internship part, I have not done too much here. I don’t like going out much as I am alone. I did go out once to see the city. It has some very old churches. I was very pissed off when the freaking camera stopped working the day I decided to go out. I hope I’ll be able to buy a new Camera by the next weekend and may be go somewhere!

Meanwhile I have also been reading other blogs (a lot of them). Reading gives me a sense of satisfaction which very few things in this world give. I hope I can continue all this as we enter one of the most dreaded semester of our four-year term at IIT.

I would also love to discuss some issues from my research, but that in some later post. I hope I’ll be able to come up with something more interesting the next time.

Thank you.

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# Arrow’s Theorem

The time seems apt for me to write my first “proper” blog-post. Two days back I happened to stumble-upon (using the excellent firefox add-on) a very interesting theorem in socio-economic theory, called Arrow’s theorem. I read it, clicked “I Like It!” and closed it. That was not enough to make me write a blog post on it. Before I describe more about it, I would just like to add one of my strong beliefs: The more you read, the more things start reappearing before you in different contexts. Arrow’s theorem similarly seems to have no superficial connection to either CS or mathematics. But when I saw it in a Discrete Math book I was going through, I once again realised that my opinion was getting stronger day by day.

Arrow’s (Impossibility) Theorem:

[I feel it is easier for me to describe it in terms of elections, so I am using this approach]

Suppose there is an election being held. Let $A$ represent the set containing all the candidates and let $N$ be the no. of voters in the community. Also assume that voting means that each person writes down the names of the candidates in a self-preferential order ( $L(A)$ is a linear ordering of A). Now, our aim is to find a welfare-function which transforms this set of $N$ preferences into a global preference order,i.e. basically we want the function to predict the outcome of the election:

$F : L(A)^{N} \longrightarrow L(A)$ which aggregates voters’ preferences into a single preference order on $A$. The $N$-tuple $(R_{1}...R_{N})$ of voter’s preferences is called a preference profile. In its strongest and most simple form, Arrow’s impossibility theorem states that whenever the set $A$ of possible alternatives has more than 2 elements and $N>3$, then the following four conditions(which are reasonable for a voting-system to be fair) become incompatible, i.e. No social-welfare choice function exists which satisfies all the following 4 conditions:

1. Non-dictatorship

One single person should not be able to completely influence the outcome.

2. Unrestricted domain(or universality)

The social welfare function should account for all preferences among all voters to yield a unique and complete ranking of societal choices. Thus:

* The voting mechanism must account for all individual preferences.

* It must do so in a manner that results in a complete ranking of preferences for society.

* It must deterministically provide the same ranking each time voters’ preferences are presented the same way.

3. Independence of irrelevant alternatives (IIA)

The social welfare function should provide the same ranking of preferences among a subset of options as it would for a complete set of options. Changes in individuals’ rankings of irrelevant alternatives (ones outside the subset) should have no impact on the societal ranking of the relevant subset.

4 a. Positive association of social and individual values (or monotonicity)

If any individual modifies his or her preference order by promoting a certain option, then the societal preference order should respond only by promoting that same option or not changing, never by placing it lower than before. An individual should not be able to hurt an option by ranking it higher.

4 b. Non-imposition(or citizen sovereignty)

Every possible societal preference order should be achievable by some set of individual preference orders. This means that the social welfare function is surjective: It has an unrestricted target space.

I am running out of time here. So shall give the proof of the theorem using the theory of Posets in a subsequent post.