~a month in the life of a lifelong learner~ parsimony

~2-23 to 3-23~

One afternoon just after his birthday I fed Quinn a mountain of food. A bowl of hard-boiled eggs (dragon eggs) had been the only snack the kids hadn’t eaten at the D&D party, so I suggested one for snack. “You made eggs for the party?” They were sitting right there in front of him the whole time. He ate two, then said he’d eat “the rest” for dinner (+5) but I convinced him to let Rich and I have two for our Caesar salad. And he did proceed to eat three more for dinner! And chicken, and veggies and the raspberries he needed at the co-op… oh my goodness.

Sifu gave him a birthday present- it is a grocery bag FULL of snacks; he knows what’s up!!! One of the carrot slices I served was a “snowman” from a mutant 3-prong carrot and he was putting off eating it and I encouraged him to just take a picture and eat the thing. He wanted to use my good camera, but since I had it on manual setting, it took a dark photo. I explained why and showed him how to change the shutter speed one step slower, take another photo, over and over until he got one he liked. Then I had him keep going to slower shutter speeds so he could see how it can make the image more blurry. He tried a 1″ and a 30″ shutter speed so he could see just how blurry (30 seconds is max on my camera). Then he finally ate the carrot.

Going to bed sometimes takes a few minutes. One night at 9:30 I was ready to be done but he needed to sit on my lap for a snug. Then he asked me to sit on him to see how that felt, and I did. I read him the part of the blog post from when he was three (into the heathers of the waters!) when he got in my jacket and told me when he got big he’d put me in his jacket… and then asked me to sing him a quiet song about the indigo girls. (He really got a kick out of hearing that he told me, “that means so much to you!” and now he will insert it into conversations and giggle.) I do not have documentation of which indigo girls song I chose to sing him back then, but I think it might have been power of two. Thirteen year old Quinn asked me to sing one now, so I sang Galileo. “Galileo’s head was on the block, the crime was lookin’ up the truth…” Which resulted in him reading the wikipedia article on Galileo Galilei.

I finally got him to go to bed, but his brain was just on. He was talking about a billion brainy things. We got on the subject of Occam’s razor (he brought it up – it was mentioned in ender’s game series but I am not sure why it came up as I was delirious by this time) and he gave a great example of a scenario to illustrate Occam’s razor (I threw down the word parsimonious for him and that was new, unschool at bedtime is how we roll). He said, “if you have a school of fish, and then you look at the place they were and they are gone, and you decide there are three possible conclusions to get you to this outcome

  1. they swam away
  2. a big fish came and ate them all
  3. a man in a boat came with a grenade and exploded it in the water and killed them all

and you have no other evidence to work with, you should definitely not conclude 3, because that’s very contrived and involves a whole bunch of unrelated pieces to the puzzle that don’t even really fit (why was a man there? why did he have a grenade? why did he detonate it in the water??) so the best, most parsimonious choice is 1 that they swam away, because it doesn’t require any extra agents (without evidence of them occurring) to be involved in the scenario. (But maybe we can’t rule out 2 because it also “fits” in ways that 3 does not.)”

Okay Quinn, perfect example, make your brain go to sleep now!

After we talked about the indigo girls I played their CDs in the car driving to and from school.

In science class this month, Quinn enjoyed the ecosystem modeling lesson because it involved an interactive computer simulation.



The simulation enabled the student to control the linkages in the ecosystem between primary producers, herbivores, omnivores, and carnivores, and then ran over time based on some built-in parameters that would result either in an equilibrium balance point where population levels reached a point where they stabilized, but in some cases depending on how you set up the links, you might cause the extinction of some of the players and one or a few species might take over the whole system.

Quinn related it back to dinosaurs. I was stealth recording audio at the time anyway, because of how excitedly he was talking about the simulation, and caught this:

“Time for a lesson on the Cretaceous Paleogene extinction real quick. The reason that all the dinosaurs died during that is because, so basically a meteor hits the earth. All of earth, even at the opposite end of the planet, the sky is just covered in solid dust for centuries and millenia. And the reason that earth’s life survived at all was because mammals at that time were incredibly diverse creatures in what they could eat. The thing is there’s dust everywhere so the herbs, the plants, the producers have nothing, no sun at all. They all died. Except the ones that didn’t need any sun in the first place. The plants in the polar ice caps survived, they never get any sun so they’re used to it. All those places that never have any sun anyway, they survive, but all the other plants are gone. So all the herbivorous dinosaurs are finished. All the herbivorous dinosaurs die because all the plants are gone so they have no food and it continues up the food chain so then the omnivores have nothing to eat – all the producers and herbivores are gone. The omnivores can’t eat the top predators because they’ll get eaten themselves, but once the omnivores are dead the top predators don’t have anything to eat so they die. So it went all the way up the food chain. Not to mention that half of them were suffocating from dust from the meteor (and all the ones in the immediate area of the meteor got blasted to bits).”

I asked, “How come the mammals didn’t go extinct?”

“Because we were diverse. Basically we could eat pretty much anything at that time period.”

“Okay. When you say ‘we’ you’re basically talking about rodents?”

“Yeah. But we can eat pretty much anything so we have no limits on specific things to eat. We can eat the dead trees and the fungus growing on the dead trees… All the death around us doesn’t affect us. Like we can eat the dead stuff, and we flourished because we were the only class of species that could. We were the only ones left who were able to like not have nothing at all to eat. And so what happened here (back to simulation) was the bunnies were eating one thing. Grass. The snails ate two – grass and ferns. So the snails are like the mammals in this scenario, and the bunnies are the dinos. Everything except the grass here is trying to get the grass gone. Even if that’s inadvertent and they need the grass. The bunnies need the grass, it’s the only reason they’re alive. But it’s not able to have balance. So they have no backup plan because the grass just got eliminated by bunnies, snails, ferns and trees. So bunnies have nothing to eat so they basically just groundrocketed….”

We talked more about ecological modeling, which I know only with a passing familiarity, and mentioned how it’s even more fun when you can control more of the parameters behind the scenes. Sometimes I point out when other areas of learning point back to dinosaurs, or when they involve skills that could be applied to his future paleontology career. Other times, I don’t need to point anything out. This time, he immediately transitioned to designing his own simulation in Scratch, and though he didn’t get far with it yet, I think it inspired him to delve back into computer programming.

In other news…

During a Minecraft Monday before his cousins arrived in the sandbox, Quinn discovered that cousin Luigi had left a giant taco floating in midair. He decided to populate the levitating taco with cats, each of which he named, obviously, Tacocat. (Q loves palindromes, and knows his cousins love cats as much as he does or maybe even more in Mario’s case.) I love that they leave little easter eggs of “Cousin was here” for each other to find in their shared world.

helping out with mini-karate one time when we were there for open mat

This month marked the beginning of our coronavirus reality; schools closed, we had the last swim and karate classes we will have for a while, and Quinn’s trip to Italy was postponed.

I shamelessly click on my own blog posts “other posts you may enjoy” and this one felt good to read at that time. My favorite part was seeing how Rich is still that same positive, solid guy who gets stuff done. Well that, and Quinn in a seal suit. It is fun to reflect on how Q is taller but still into math and in-depth characters.

Quinn and I started doing video calls and sharing our time together in various ways: reading books aloud or playing taboo or sharing a screen to watch vi hart’s pi day 2020 video or wellington the penguin touring the shedd aquarium. During one of the first visits he held his guinea pigs up for me to see and snuggled one in his lap for a while. Another time he talked me through solving his 2×2 rubiks cube after I scrambled it. He really blew me away with how he could visualize what I needed to do based on what I was looking at and then tell me how to orient and twist the cube to solve it again. He does not have an analogous cube at his dad’s to reference.

We talked about him directing some home learning for himself (with me as consultant sharing ideas of things to put on his list or not based on his choice and then to be accountability person when he does do things he can report back to me) and he went right to work on a schedule. Computer programming, drums, and electronics feature prominently.

He read Ready Player One this month, after he finished a Neil Gaiman book called Norse Mythology and was inspired to subsequently speed-re-read Magnus Chase.

I sent him picture of quokkas (they have a permanent smile and are an Australian marsupial starting with the letter Q so… duh) and he hadn’t seen my text so he googled it on a new tab while hangout was going, then screen shared with me so I could see what he was seeing. Digital telecommunications skills, check. Treat yourself to a quick google image search, you will not be disappointed.

Quinn and I took a social distance hike at Ona beach. We looked at textural details of drift logs and he came up with a new plan to create his own Jurassic park but without carnivores. He instructed me to take images of the various dinosaur skin texture inspirations on the driftlogs.

On the last day of this month of lifelong learning, we began our Risk game, and he was already well on his way to taking over the world by the end of session one.

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