Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Father-Son Video Game Creation

Following on from my last article, and my continuing interest in Clojure, my son and I have begun working on a game together. He's still too young to learn much about programming (although at least by seeing me do it, he gets exposed to the concept), so he's doing the art and design decisions, while I handle the actual coding.

Of course at first he wanted the game to be called "Minecraft 2" and take place in space, but I only have any interest in writing 2D games. Luckily I was able to sell him on 2D as well, by pointing out that we'd have to make a flat game, since he only knew how to draw flat pictures. An irrefutable argument! So, we settled on a Mario-like platforming game, though naturally it will still need to have a block world, diamonds, potions, and skeletons that you can attack with a bow and arrow.

So far things are going well (I'm using the libGDX-based play-clj engine and basing my project on the Super Koalio example), but writing a game in partnership with a six year-old brings some non-technical challenges that I hadn't anticipated. What's a programmer to do when provided with this for a specification?

His spoken explanations aren't much better, as everything seems to change radically every time he opens his mouth. For instance, yesterday the main character was supposed to be James himself (or his sister, for player two); today, he's decided that it should be a flower. (Because he knows how to draw flowers, and is afraid that if he draws himself "it will look a bit rubbish.") That said, he's super enthusiastic, and actually very easy to please, so we're having a lot of fun together, which, of course, is the real point.

Posted by jon at 7:05 PM in Fatherhood 

Friday, 1 February 2013

Raising a bilingual child

One of the first unexpected feelings I had, when I learned I was going to be a father, was a sudden anxiety that my children would not speak English properly, or only speak it with a French accent. On a visceral level, I felt that this was unacceptable: if they were my children, if they were Cravens, then they had to be able to speak English!

But how could they? They would live in France, go to school in French, and be surrounded only by French. At the time, my wife and I spoke only French at home.

Five years later, my son James' English is equal to if not better than his French, when he plays with his toys by himself I often hear him narrating in English, and when he came to Iowa for the first time ever this Christmas, he was instantly playing with his American cousins, and fitting right in. (The only clear sign I noticed that betrayed the fact that he wasn't actually used to being around American kids, was when he asked one, being perfectly natural about it, "why do you say 'awesome' all the time?")

Raising him bilingual has taught me a lot about language, as well, in helping me to see first hand why minority languages such as Yiddish or American Indian languages are having such a hard time being passed on to the next generation. Here then are my keys to raising a bilingual child (note that I was helped immensly by the book Le défi des enfants bilingues, which helped me to map out my initial strategy).

1. The parent must be determined to pass on the language

As I stated at the start, I was determined that, by hell or high water, my son was going to speak English. Not because it will help him get a job one day, or because English is the most widely useful language internationally, but because he was my son, and the scion of what I still consider to be an English family (even if our passports haven't been for nearly two hundred years). It wouldn't matter to me whether my native tongue was English or Malayalam or Hottentot, he was going to learn to speak it, and to speak it perfectly.

The idyllic dales of Craven, England

So often, immigrant parents don't have this pride in their language, or even actively don't want their children to learn it, fearing that it will slow down their assimilation in their home country. This only guarantees that the children will not grow up bilingual.

2. The parent must always speak to the child only in the target language

Whenever James says anything to me in French, I just say, "what??" If he doesn't know the word he's looking for I'll help him along, but he knows he can only communicate with me in English, and that I "don't speak French".

Adults often wonder how this can work, since he hears me speaking French to everyone else, and if by mistake he uses a French word, I correct him with the English one. Shouldn't he be able to deduce that I know French, too?

When he's older, he will be able to, but at his age, it simply doesn't work that way. The age of reason comes at around seven years old. Small children can't apply logic in a coherent way yet, so the issue simply doesn't come up. The reality that we present to him is the way things are. Daddy can understand French if mommy is speaking it, but not if he is. Simple as that.

But again, applying this principle in practice means having pride in one's language to the point that one does not care what other people think. (See point number one.) Always means always: I never speak to James in French. Sometimes this annoys others at family gatherings, sometimes this leads to a lot of odd looks on the bus or subway. I don't care. But self-conscious parents will compromise on this point, and perhaps not use the target language when other people who don't speak it are around. While perhaps more polite, this is a huge detriment to bilingualism. If you are ashamed to speak in your own language, you will teach your child to be. I believe that failure to follow this step is what marks the difference between someone who can speak the language unusually well (but with an accent), with someone who can pass for a native.

3. The parent must find as many ways as possible to promote the second language

In passing on English to my son,
I have powerful allies
Not only does James know that his daddy speaks English, but all his other heroes (Lightning McQueen, Mickey Mouse, Peppa Pig) speak English as well. In other words, nearly every DVD he watches, and the large majority of the books he reads, are in English. (I read him his bedtime story, and he's an avid user of the Reading Rainbow app for iPad.) This builds his vocabulary, and his exposure to other voices and accents, which goes a long way towards rounding out his ability. Taking our vacations in English-speaking countries (a very un-French thing to do!), also helps.

Obviously here English has a built-in advantage that a lot of smaller languages simply don't have. Speakers of languages with more limited media empires must do as best they can, but the point stands that the child must see the other language as useful too. The fact that he needs it to communicate with one of his parents is sufficient (I believe that a Yiddish or Irish speaker who stuck to the first two points doggedly would pass on the language just fine), but that "last mile" of speaking naturally comes from hearing other voices and personalities using the language as well.


Raising bilingual kids in France turned out to be far easier than I thought, by strictly following these guidelines. I'm no longer fearing that I'll have to send them to a boarding school in England when they're older to eliminate their French accents, and I'm happy to be able to converse with my son in my native tongue, and happy as well (even though it was not my primary aim) to have given him such a head-start in life, by speaking fluent French and English.

Posted by jon at 12:01 AM in Fatherhood 

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

It's a Girl!

Earlier today, my brave and beautiful wife gave birth to our daughter, Elisabeth Jeanne Marie-Antoinette Craven, weighing in at 3.2 kg (about 7 lbs 2 oz). Baby and mother are doing well.

To add some size to this article I will take the time to explain the significance behind her names.

She takes her first name after St. Elizabeth Seton. This is meaningful to us on many levels: As the first American-born saint to be canonized, the name calls attention to my American roots. As a convert from Episcopalianism, she shares more in common with me than just her nationality, and I am fascinated by the many parallels between her life and that of the later Bl. John Henry Newman. As a teacher, she also shares an important trait with Emilie, to say nothing of being a mother and daughter.

Her middle names have significance for both my family and Emilie's. Jeanne is the name of one of Emilie's great-grandmothers, and (in English as Jean), of my beloved paternal grandmother. Marie-Antoinette is the name of another of Emilie's great-grandmothers, who only left us a few years ago, having lived past a hundred. On my side, the name is that of my great-great-grandmother, whose father fought under Sherman in the Civil War.

Her parents and her older brother are both overjoyed at the arrival of the little lady, and are looking forward to getting to know her better in the days and months ahead!

Posted by jon at 11:03 PM in Fatherhood 

Saturday, 22 October 2011

DNA Testing: R1b1b2a1a1d1*

I originally wrote this article for my too-neglected private family tree site. However, given how little information there is out there about genetic genealogy in general, and our R1b1b2a1a1d1* haplotype in particular, I'm making this public in case anyone else with this haplotype might benefit from my historical analysis, or chime in with corrections or counter-theories, in case my own interpretation becomes obsolete.

Thanks to my brother purchasing a genealogical DNA test, we now know something about the direct paternal ancestor of James Craven (born 1806 in Leeds, Yorkshire, England), which should be of interest for any of his descendants. Exactly what we know, though, takes a little unpacking.

Concretely, we know that he was of the Y-DNA haplogroup R1b1b2a1a1d1*, previously known as R1b1c9. This is not atypical for an Englishman, but since "the English" as a race are a mix of Celtic Britons, Germanic Anglo-Saxons, and Norse Vikings, what we would really like to know is which of these origins R1b1b2a1a1d1* points to. Unfortunately, there is no clear-cut answer (that I have found).

Y-DNA testing tests sequences on the Y-chromosome, which is (of course) only present in males, and therefore every male's Y-chromosome-specific parts only come from his father. So, the mutations that mark different populations are only those present in the direct paternal ancestor.

It is rather exciting, being able to know something concrete, if obscure, about your direct paternal ancestor who lived thousands of years ago. However, we must remember that the genetic tests don't tell us anything about any other ancestors (which number in the hundreds or thousands when you go this far back). So that's a first caveat.

For instance, in my case, although this test shows that our paternal-line Craven ancestor had no Irish origins, four of my eight great-great-grandparents (all the women, as it happens) came from Ireland, so I almost certainly have more Irish blood than English, overall, even though it is invisible on this DNA test. (To get a full picture I would have to find a male direct paternal descendent of each of their fathers, and do a Y-DNA test on them; unfortunately I haven't even uncovered who their fathers were yet, let alone whether they have any surviving male descendants!) Forming a more complete genealogical family tree, then, requires enlisting male cousins descended from as many of your other ancestors as you can find. So this discussion only concerns my direct patrilineal line.

So how far back are we talking about with this test? That's the second caveat: scientists are still debating a lot of this. It all depends on when the mutation that makes this haplogroup distinct from that haplogroup occurred, but knowing this is difficult, and the best scientific opinion could change a lot as this new field advances. So what I say now about R1b1b2a1a1d1* might be considered total bunk in fifty years, or even five.

But according to the best estimate as I understand it, this mutation occurred around 2,900 years ago, but it could have been as much as 10,000 years ago. In either case, it is very important to realise that this is before recorded history in the part of the world concerned. Therefore, trying to associate our haplotype with a particular Germanic tribe is a fool's errand: the most ancient names of Germanic tribes that have come down to us today are still too new to be associated with one particular haplotype. On the bright side, though, between then and when recorded history starts, people weren't likely to have migrated all that much, so we can still make some educated guesses.

In prehistory, then, this haplogroup is concentrated around Northern Europe, over a zone covering the north of the present-day Netherlands, Germany, and the south of Denmark. The tricky bit is that until after the end of the last Ice Age, there was a place called Doggerland, connecting Britain to the continent. Apparently it was a good place to hunt mastodon back then, but today it sits at the bottom of the North Sea! (There's one ancestral homeland I won't be visiting.) The significance of this is that, as Doggerland gradually filled in with water, some populations presumably ended up on the north shore, in Britain, and some on the south shore, in continental Europe—among the people who would become the Anglo-Saxons, and end up conquering Britain around AD 600 when the Romans left. So if the mutation occurred before Doggerland disappeared, we wouldn't know for sure whether our ancestor were a Briton or an Anglo-Saxon.

However, it is also quite possible that the mutation took place after Doggerland was already underwater. In this case, the native Britons would not have the R1b1b2a1a1d1* haplotype, and we would know that our ancestor, since he did have it, was an Anglo-Saxon. It is tempting to believe this version since it is more definite, and for that reason a lot of genealogists on the internet are likely to hold by it. Just remember that it might turn out to be inconclusive.

In either case there is a third possible outcome: the R1b1b2a1a1d1* area overlapped with southern Denmark, as I mentioned above. The area inhabited by the Anglo-Saxons before they came to England bordered the land inhabited by the Danes, who invaded England in turn a few centuries later. Since the genetic marker could be present in either population (being far older than either), it is possible that our ancestor might have come to England much later, with the Viking invasions (circa AD 900), and settled there then. Statistically this seems less likely than the Anglo-Saxon option (and Cravenshire is pretty far inland), but we can't know for sure.

My own opinion, then, is that the Anglo-Saxon origin seems the most probable, but that is based on my limited understanding of the numbers of people involved in each population movement. I could be wrong about the probability, or even if I am right about that, our ancestor could fall in a minority case, and there is no way to know.

We know approximately where our paternal ancestor lived in prehistory, through the test, and we know where our ancestors lived in the 1700s through our recorded family history—and we know that there were three historical migrations that would account for how our ancestors got from their starting point, near the present-day Netherlands, to Cravenshire, in the intervening millennia. But genetic genealogy can't tell us which of the three likely scenarios actually happened.

Still, even knowing the scope of possibilities is more specific than it would be otherwise: it still gives us a far clearer picture than if we had no idea of his haplotype. Some Englishmen have ancestries that point to Celtic, Roman, Norman French, Pictish, and Swedish ancestries, to name a few, and at least we can rule all of these out for our ancestor. (Our direct patrilineal ancestor, anyway.) Since Cravenshire was originally settled by Welsh tribes, eliminating the Celtic hypothesis does give me a more concrete picture of my family history.


There is also a DNA test that tells something about the maternal line, looking at the mitochondrial DNA, which is passed from mother to child unmodified, and so gives info about the maternal ancestor (in this case my great-grandmother Ruth Leary's mother's mother's mother, etc.). This was a lot less informative, though, because the mtDNA group, Pre-HV, is such an early mutation (circa 25,000 to 50,000 years ago) that it can be found in nearly any Caucasian person. But I record it here for the sake of anyone else descended from the same maternal ancestor. Unfortunately, though, the mtDNA test doesn't give a lot of information with which to speculate on the family history of one's matrilineal ancestry.

Posted by jon at 12:01 AM in Fatherhood 

Thursday, 27 November 2008

A Precocious Child

Click to enlarge (cliquer pour aggrandir) this candid shot of James surprised in the middle of his reading.

There's also a new movie up on James' website, for those of you with passwords, in which you can watch his reaction to his parents' comedic stylings.

Also, note that I've added a table of contents page to this blog, which you can access by clicking on the View list of all entries link on the column to the right (just above the Java icon).

Posted by jon at 12:01 AM in Fatherhood 

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Approaching Toddlerhood

It's been too long since I posted another video of our little guy (password required)—his behaviour has evolved a lot since the last one!

In particular, we can tell that it won't be long before we have an official toddler on our hands—already he's figured out how to use his walker to get around the house, and is starting to prefer moving around on two legs to crawling. It's really mostly a question of confidence at this point—he probably could walk if he wanted to, but he's visibly concerned about not falling down, so he's waiting until he's absolutely sure he can do it. As his father I am much happier to see him take his time if it means fewer bumps and bruises, so I think this is a good approach.

Posted by jon at 12:02 AM in Fatherhood 

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Baby / Toddler Update

Well I'm not sure whether to call James a baby or a toddler yet, because although he has walked on his own, he isn't doing it with any regularity yet—but he's fine if we hold his hand, which shows that it's more a question of his confidence and fear of falling than his motor ability at this point. So far he's only dared walk in our office, which is a fairly confined space in which he never needs more than about four steps to get where he's going. I suspect that the larger living room sends him looking for his walker rather than trying to do it himself.

No new movie to announce this time, but I have put up new photo galleries (password required), and finally gotten around to updating the previous months, so there are a few dozen new photos included in the earlier months' galleries as well, although I expect most people will be more interested in seeing the more recent photos that I've just added.

James also 'graduated' from baby daycare last month. Now he is taking his summer vacation at home with his mother, but next fall he'll head off to a new daycare with the other toddlers. There's a new photo gallery that recaps his first year at daycare too.

Posted by jon at 12:02 AM in Fatherhood 

Friday, 27 June 2008

Baby of the Month

Of course everybody says that every parent thinks his baby is the cutest, and true to form I do find James to be a very handsome baby. So does his mother—in fact she was so sure of it that she sent his pictures in to her favourite parenting magazine, Parents, for their "Baby of the Month" competition. And wouldn't you know it, he won!

So, in the July issue of Parents you can see our son's smiling picture. Along with that honour he also got a personalized gold and diamond bracelet worth 175€, and one beamingly proud mother. We sure are glad she sent in his picture!

Posted by jon at 6:45 PM in Fatherhood 

Monday, 2 February 2009

Baby's First Christmas

Lots of new pictures up on James' website (password required), as well as a new movie (which has actually been up a while, but I was waiting until I got the photos up to advertise the fact). This was one spoiled baby this Christmas, as is blatantly apparent if you watch the movie (which was filmed on Christmas Eve, which is why he's in his Chicago Bears outfit instead of his Christmas outfit, which he wore the next day). I'm glad we have the movie and so many pictures, though, because he's not going to remember any of these toys when he's older! All the same, he is getting a lot of enjoyment out of them, which is the point after all.

As always, the point of the password protection is just to keep these personal photos separate from the internet at large; if you would like a password (and I or Emilie know who you are!), all you need to do to get one is ask me :-)

Posted by jon at 8:33 PM in Fatherhood 

Monday, 18 August 2008


Last Friday was Assumption, a big holiday in France and an even bigger holiday for us, as James was baptized at the church of the Immaculate Conception in Don, France! We are extremely proud parents: not only did he not cry during the ceremony, not only was he not fussy or fidgety during the ceremony, but he actually seemed to hang on the priest's every word: he was wide-eyed and adorable throughout the whole thing! You have to see it to believe it: the movie is posted on James' website (password required).

After the baptism we adjourned to our house to celebrate as only the French can: with a 12-hour meal! We had over 20 people over and set up a couple of tents in the back yard to fit everybody; it was quite a party.

There is another movie, of the party, that I'll be putting up soon, as well as lots and lots of pictures. Stay tuned!

Posted by jon at 10:45 PM in Fatherhood 

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Birthday Boy

It's official: James is now one year old!

He had two birthday parties, one with family on the evening of his birthday, and another with his 'friends' on Sunday: four babies and their parents in all. The house felt like a day care that day!

The best thing about both parties is how much James enjoyed them. He was just smiling ear-to-ear, and his happiness was quite contagious. I think he has taken a definite liking to birthdays.

There are a lot of new pictures up in the 12-month gallery, both of his two parties and the last month in general (which was also marked by the visit of his American grandma!). He's grown a lot in a short time!

Note that there are two pages of pictures in the 12 months' section; it's been awhile since we've had a month with this many pictures in it so it can be easy to overlook.

As always, the point of the password protection is just to keep these personal photos separate from the internet at large; if you would like a password (and I or Emilie know who you are!), all you need to do to get one is ask me :-)

Posted by jon at 7:45 AM in Fatherhood 

Thursday, 13 December 2007

"Bonus" ultrasound

Had a bit of a scare on Wednesday, as Emilie was briefly admitted to the hospital, but happily she was let out the same day when her tests came back negative. On the upside, though, the ultrasound that she got when she was there showed the baby to still be doing fine, and this time we got a good view of his face (in contrast to the lewd pose he showed us last time!).

Posted by jon at 9:53 PM in Fatherhood 

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Fatherhood, one month on

Well with one month of fatherhood under my belt, I can confirm what I had been told to expect: having a baby at home is exhausting. I can nuance that, however, by saying that the first ten days or so are by far the most exhausting part (after which we did more or less get a handle on things), and that it is primarily exhausting for the mother (who, unavoidably, has the heavier load to bear).

In our case, the difference was particularly stark because Emilie had never, until the birth of James, actually spent any time around babies or changed a diaper. Whereas I (having gone through life with a constant supply of infant cousins), had a much greater notion of what babies were like, and had even changed a diaper or two as a babysitter while a teenager. So the adjustment for her was even more unknown and uncertain than it was for me.

That said, Emilie has proven herself to be an extremely competent baby caretaker and at this point, a month into James' life, has already surpassed my diaper-changing experience by at least a hundred diapers! To call her a quick study would be an understatement.

On James himself there is not that much to report in only a month: he's gained about 1 kg, right on schedule, and we have had no health problems so far, for which we are very grateful. At any rate, I've put up a third picture gallery (password required), which can be viewed by clicking here or on the photo above, along with the older galleries and movies that I've posted so far.

Posted by jon at 7:43 PM in Fatherhood 

Monday, 30 June 2008

Fighting terrorism in its infancy

In planning our trip to my brother's wedding this summer (woohoo!), we were faced with the challenge of figuring out how to transport an infant across the ocean. And in so doing we discovered that the whole business has become a lot more complicated "in a post 9-11 world"—whether out of a fear of baby terrorists, or babies smuggling drugs in their diapers, I don't know.

So whereas before it was sufficient to add James to his mother's passport, it is now necessary for him to have his own passport, even at three months old. That might not sound so bad, but the kicker is that he has to follow all the same new super-strict passport restrictions that adults now have to as well: no smiling, no hats or glasses, both eyes clearly open and both ears visible.

Getting such a picture of James was no easy matter.

On the positive side, since Emilie's mother and step-father both work at the prefecture, they at least had an inside track to getting to the passport service to present their documents. On the other hand, despite a whole day of trips back and forth to the photo booth, they could not get an acceptable picture. Here is the first attempt:

The problem here is the hand is visible holding him (he has to be held up because he can't sit up on his own yet). So a second attempt was made, holding him from behind:

This one is no good because the head has to fill up the frame of the picture, and he is too zoomed out! By this time a couple hours had gone by and so the baby fell asleep. He had to be woken up for the third picture, which he did not appreciate:

This one is no good, not because he's crying, but because his ear is cropped off on the edge of the picture! At that point they gave up, and went another day to the one professional photographer in town who was willing to do passport photos for infants. After all that we were finally able to get an acceptable photo, and James now has his very own passport:


Posted by jon at 12:00 AM in Fatherhood 

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Growing Autonomy

It's been a while since I've written a James update, but that isn't because he hasn't been growing! He now feeds himself, and is starting to talk—in both English and French! A lot more French than English, but unfortunately that is to be expected since his mother and day care both speak French to him, and he only sees me for about 20 minutes a day on weekdays. So the only things I've heard him say in English so far are "ball", "shoes" and "bye-bye"—and just today he repeated "I love you" back to his mother, which had her bouncing with joy :-) In French he can say "au revoir", "regarde", as well as "nez", "bouche", and probably about a dozen other words, although not all of them with much regularity.

This is because James' own priority is not on learning to talk. It is on playing with his toy cars. Those are his obsession and he enjoys driving them around on everything: bookshelves, tables, floors, and even up the wall! Usually the first thing he will do when he gets up in the morning or when we get home from somewhere is go running to his toy box to dig out the toy cars and start driving them on the coffee table. He's also a voracious reader, and my twenty weekday minutes a day with him are usually spent by him gradually stacking up books on my lap until he decides that I have a big enough stockpile, then he climbs on the couch next to me and waits for me to read them to him.

New pictures are up on his web page (password required), showing highlights of the last three months, including trips to the zoo, his great-grandmother's 100th birthday, and some of his aforementioned toys.

Posted by jon at 7:35 PM in Fatherhood 
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Non enim id agimus ut exerceatur vox, sed ut exerceat.