Busy, busy, busy…

So, I’m a bit busy at the moment, largely due to having a touch under 30,000 words to write in the next ten days. Other than that, I think I’m fine, but I’m getting a bit behind on email, especially the non-urgent kind.

Lots has happened while I’ve been busy, which is one of the reasons I still have 30,000 words to do; we been back to the clinic and seen our baby again, dancing to the ultrasound. (So the 3D photo is a bit blurry, because Yudetamago just wouldn’t sit still.) One of my US cousins has been to visit. Yuriko’s art fair happened. Yuriko’s brother came to visit, for the art fair. Teaching has still been going on. And did I mention the tens of thousands of words in not very long at all?

So a short blog entry before I go back to work. (Actually, 5,000 words written today, so I won’t be doing any more writing today. I might be burned out tomorrow as it is. And I don’t have time to be burned out.)

The Hour of the Dragon

About five and a half years ago, Borders in Cambridge had a sale on the Fantasy Masterworks series. I bought a lot of them, sure that I would get round to reading them eventually. I have just finished getting through them. (I still have some other books that I brought with me from England, but none quite so old. I do have journals from that long ago, though, still waiting to be read.) The one I’ve just read is the second volume of the collected stories of Conan the Barbarian.

I actually enjoyed this rather more than I expected to. While they are not going to join the list of my favourite books ever, they were definitely fun. Conan is implausibly strong, with impossible stamina and fighting skills, and a remarkable tendency to meet extremely attractive women in metal bikinis. Or nothing at all. He tends to go into underground complexes, kill monsters, and come out with treasure.

Oh my god, it’s Dungeons and Dragons.

D&D is often described as “Tolkienesque”, but the basic narrative structure is not very much like Tokien at all. In fact, back when I was writing for the Lord of the Rings RPG, one of the really striking things was how little like the standard D&D conventions Tolkien’s work actually was. Similarly, although Jack Vance’s Dying Earth books are cited as influences, and some ideas were simply lifted, the tone of the Dying Earth is nothing like the tone of D&D. (And the Dying Earth roleplaying game is very, very different from D&D, as it should be.)

Conan the Barbarian, on the other hand, reads more like a write-up of a D&D session than most D&D novels. (OK, “than most of the D&D novels I have read”, which only comes to a tiny fraction of the total published.) Since Conan is one of the archetypal “pulp” story series, this means that D&D is really a pulp RPG.

And this, dear readers, is why Conan the Barbarian counts as work for me. This sort of realisation is directly relevant to writing games, because it gives a bit more insight into what’s going on behind the scenes. It’s a good thing I love my job.


I upgraded my blog software yesterday, and accidentally deleted the .htaccess file for this blog. That meant that, although the front page was working fine, the archive pages and RSS feed were broken. Thanks to Sheila for pointing it out to me.

Anyway, it looks to me as if everything is working again now. Please let me know if it isn’t. (Yes, I know that wouldn’t be any use if the whole blog were broken. But I think most of it works, so you might be able to read this but still find something broken.)

What’s Going on in There?

Continuing my program of reading about babies and children, we have a book about the neurological development of the foetus and child up to the age of about five. This was very interesting; lots of neuroscience I knew in outline, put into a definite context.

The aim of the book is to provide the background necessary to understand why it’s best for parents to do certain things for their children. Some of it concerns how to avoid things going wrong: folic acid in pregnancy (did Yuriko have enough of that? IwillnotpanicIwillnotpanicIwillnotpanic), avoiding cigarette smoke (don’t Yuriko’s co-workers smoke? IwillnotpanicIwillnotpanicIwillnotpanic), and making sure that your baby is neither blind nor deaf early on. Early impairment in either sense can lead to the relevant parts of the brain not getting properly wired up, which means that the child will never be able to use them properly, even if the physical problem is resolved later. In the case of the ears, this can mean losing the ability to use language, even sign language. (This is the book with the quote about auditory systems not developing in a vacuum, by the way.) Other bits concern things that you should do; those are much more positive to read about.

Some bits are quite obvious. Babies, apparently, need loving parents who talk to them. Who would have thought it? Other bits are really not obvious at all. For example, there is pretty good evidence that spending ten minutes a day spinning round in a swivel chair while holding your baby can bring the age at which it walks forward by a couple of months. (You spin slowly, and hold the baby in different positions.) As an added bonus, babies, apparently, love this. Now, I don’t know about you, but this is not something that would have instinctively occurred to me. Similarly, while babies should sleep on their backs, to avoid SIDS, it’s a good idea to put them on their fronts while they are awake, because that lets them exercise their arms and heads. And some are somewhat surprising: baby walkers retard a baby’s own walking, for example. (Baby walkers are those seats with wheels that let babies move around by pushing with their legs.) The best guess is that it makes them lazy.

While much of the book concerns the various subsystems of the brain, from vision to language, the final three chapters concern intelligence. Apparently, about 50% of the variation in intelligence is genetic, and the other half due to environmental factors. (That fits with most of the numbers I’ve seen elsewhere, as well.) So, what can parents do to encourage their children’s intelligence?

This is another bit that isn’t terribly surprising. Teaching calculus to three-year-olds is not, apparently, much use. On the other hand, playing with them, and encouraging them to do things that use their brains, is.

One thing that struck me was the extremely close similarity between the parenting styles that seem to produce the happiest and brightest children, and what I think of as a good teaching style. Parents need to be responsive to the child, so that they always respond to the child as an individual. They should be as positive as possible, concentrating on what is good rather than criticising and correcting. And they should encourage the child to reach high standards. In fact, when you correct for subject matter, the two seem to be exactly the same. I’ve never had to teach anyone table manners, but teaching philosophy and English both work that way.

Finally, there was one comment which I will find extremely useful. The book says that parents should keep up their reading, in front of their children. This encourages children to read, and that has a massive positive effect on their intellectual development. So now I have the perfect excuse. “But honey, I am raising our child. I’m providing a good example, just like the book said.”