The Evolution of Happy

Last October, my daughter Lydia was 17 months old and learning new words rapidly.  One day, we were out for a stroll and saw a large, inflatable Halloween decoration in the form of several grinning jack-o’-lanterns stacked up like a totem pole.  Lydia was very excited and shouted, “Balls!”  I said, “They are pumpkins.  Happy pumpkins.”  She said, “Happy!” for the first time.

As the season progressed, Lydia remained excited about jack-o’-lanterns and shouted, “Happy!” whenever she saw one.  We had to acknowledge that we also saw the Happy–using that word–before she would stop yelling about that one and look around for more.  She stubbornly resisted learning “pumpkin” or any other word; to her, they were Happies.  Even pumpkins without faces were Happies.

Jericho illustration by Brenda SextonIn early November, Lydia rediscovered The Little Golden Bible Storybook, illustrated by Brenda Sexton, and when we reached the story of Jericho, she began shouting, “Happy!!!” and pointing at the illustration.  Do you see why?

I didn’t get it at first.  I thought she was recognizing that Joshua and his tribe were happy when the walls came tumbling down.  That person in red does have arms raised in the gesture Lydia had learned (from Dr. Seuss’s ABC) is called, “Hooray!”  But when I said, “Yes, they were happy!  Hooray!” that was not what she was looking for; “Happy!” she insisted, jabbing her finger frantically at the page.

Eventually her dad realized that what Lydia was pointing out was the building.  See how it has a face like a jack-o’-lantern?  That face doesn’t look happy at all–it looks appalled, as well a building might be when its protective city wall has been abruptly destroyed–but the dark eye and mouth openings must have reminded Lydia of a jack-o’-lantern, and jack-o’-lanterns are Happy.

By the new year, Lydia adjusted her definition of Happy to apply to what most of us would call “a happy face,” and she began pointing out happy faces in various picture books, on shopping bags, on toys, on the Eat’n Park sign, etc.  She also discovered that most people can draw a happy face quite easily, so she went around demanding that people “Draw Happies!”–by the end of one church service, at least five different people had drawn Happies for Lydia on their service leaflets!

P1030279She’s two years old now and has started saying “happy face” or “smiley face”, but she still asks us to draw them frequently.  Our home is littered with sheets of scrap paper that look like this.  Sometimes we put some variety into the faces just for our own entertainment; sometimes she requests “different noses” or something like that.

Meanwhile, she’s also shown that she now understands “happy” as the word for a feeling, not just a facial expression. Sometimes after she’s vented some hurt or frustrated feelings, she’ll wail, “I need to be happy!!” and then calm down. Sometimes when someone else is upset, she’ll plead, “Be happy!” She isn’t quite doing the “Mama, you happy?” thing her older brother used to do, but almost.

A few weeks ago, I had a bad migraine on a day when I had to be home alone with Lydia for a couple of hours.  After I had drawn some happy faces for her, she started drawing on that paper and another sheet, so I was able to lie down on the bed in the same room.

P1030280Some time went by.  I may have passed out or slept or something.  I got up after Lydia climbed up on the bed and started pulling on me.  Later, I was cleaning up the room and got a closer look at her drawing papers.

That blue scribbling at the bottom of the page at right doesn’t look like just an aimless scribble.  Might there be some eyes on a face there?  Is it just my imagination that makes that look sort of like some sort of elephant (with one sock foot)?

P1030281Even more intriguing is the page where Lydia drew after getting hold of a pen.  I really think I see a happy face there!  By this Halloween, she may be drawing her own jack-o’-lanterns.

Watching the fascinating processes of my child’s learning the different things a word can mean and learning to draw works for me!

Where Robots Learn to Cook

Recently I’ve had several conversations about robots: how people keep making robots that can do new things, how robots are getting better and better, how someday maybe they’ll take over.  Yes, it is a bit daunting, but I believe there are some things that robots will never be able to do quite as well as we humans can do them.

One of these is cooking.  I can imagine robots making fast-food meals that are exactly the same for every customer in every restaurant.  (And I’m kind of surprised that McDonald’s hasn’t yet replaced its cashiers with ATM-like machines where you key in your order and the foodlike items drop out of slots–that technology has been available for a while, but thank you McDonald’s for continuing to hire humans who need jobs!)  The kind of cooking that requires tasting the food and making judgments about what it needs, though, seems like something that can be done well only by someone who eats food.

I’ve written before about robot cooking blogs, but today I received a trackback from one that really impresses me with its ability to look like a pleasant, informative cooking site while actually publishing a lot of gibberish.  It’s cookdaymeal.com and is “Designed by DECENT WEB EXPERTS.” (You can tell they’re really decent by the capital letters.) I clicked through to their site, and it looks like the decent experts might be humans, just humans who don’t speak English. But cookdaymeal.com has recipes that I don’t think were written coherently in any language.  For example, here are the ingredients of No Bake Banana Pudding:

Components: three or even four ripe plums, broke 1/3 cup dissolved butter (or decreased fat for any healthier version) the single cup sugars or darling (this could become reduced in order to cup) 1 egg cell beaten one teaspoon vanilla one teaspoon baking soda pop Pinch of sodium 1 glasses associated with all-purpose flour or even whole wheat grains flour Optionally available: Walnuts, pecans or some kind of other enthusiast of the particular option.

That’s a lot of plums for a banana pudding–and no bananas.  Yet somehow we will later “mix the particular butter using the bananas inside a large mixing dish.”  Here are some other excerpts from assorted recipes: Read more…

Pajameter

This morning I realized that Today’s Young People have created the need for a device which can assess the pajama-like qualities of one’s outfit in a quick and objective manner to determine whether or not it qualifies as clothing for the purposes of, say, attending school.  This pajameter could be used at the school entrance alongside the metal detector. Read more…

Words my three-year-old made up

Nicholas is six-and-a-half now, but I just found a post I made to a discussion board three years ago, answering the question, “Has your child invented any words?”  I’m glad to see it again because I had forgotten 3 out of 5 of these!

Pretendstructions.  Read more…

Grildebeest

I’ve done it again–suddenly thought of a word that nobody else ever used or, at least, that Google says nobody else has written on the Internet.

Scientists will breed the grildebeest especially for barbecuing.

This raises the deep moral question of whether it is very sad for the grildebeest or the grildebeest ought to be happy to exist at all.

I bet the grildebeest won’t be a very deep thinker, though. Read more…

Autumnymity

Autumnymity is the situation in which you can’t recognize a tree because it has lost its leaves.

I suddenly thought of this yesterday.

Google tells me nobody else has used this word on the Internet.  Hooray!  A new word!

My Favorite Invention Name Changes of 1997

One of my responsibilities when I was a technical writer at an invention-marketing company was to keep track of changes to the name of an invention (that is, the inventor had changed his/her mind about the name under which the concept should be pitched to manufacturers) so that we’d be sure to use the correct, current name on all materials.  Many inventors were nervous about their idea’s chances of finding a manufacturer and therefore changed the name several times, attempting to make it sound more appealing.  There were also some changes made when inventors realized that the name gave away the idea, perhaps enough that someone could copy it rather than enter a licensing agreement.  All this was complicated by the fact that a startling percentage of our clients were crazy and/or clueless and the fact that we were required to accept their choice of invention name without modifying the spelling or questioning it in any way.  The following is just a small sample of the name changes we processed in 1997–the ones that were funny enough that I wrote them down on a paper in my desk drawer. Read more…