Square Pegs, Square Holes, and the Shape of Things to Come

Struggling to put a square peg in a round hole is an adorable expression of childish incompetence. Struggling to put a square peg in a square hole is a less-adorable example adult incompetence, because some asshole didn’t do their job and there’s no way to even find out who because they already have your money. Behold the toy teaching little TNG this lesson early!

More driving fun than Mario Kart

Isn’t it pretty? Isn’t it fun? Isn’t it appalling that the sky blue square block isn’t a cube, but also isn’t obviously not a cube. To the untrained eye of anyone but a Terminator that colourful cube-alike is a trap of frustration, almost fitting the hole. And like every other example of the word “almost” it means “annoyingly and absolutely NOT”. Because only the exactly right yet visually indistinguishable orientation of this pseudocube will actually pass through the square hole.

It’s a masterpiece of frustration. It’s the only way of using a lump of wood to damage a baby’s understanding of cause and effect without being arrested. At least Rubix cubes come with colourful warnings that they’re going to make you waste your time twisting things round and round. It’s My First Hellraiser, but more evilly frustrating, because at least the Lament Configuration looks  like it’ll be painful to deal with.

This isn’t a toy, this is training new brains to reject Euclidian geometry before raising them to fight Lovecraftian monsters. We can only imagine their teddys would be both amazing and grounds for severe psychological review, the only stuffed toys to require superstring stitching.

This solid chunk of failure is worse than pathetic, it’s apathetic. Everyone involved in assembling this child’s toy plodded through the motions without the ideas of children or joy even occurring to them. Nobody tried a a prototype, nobody picked up a product to play with, not even once, because it’s the most immediately obvious flaw short of making the blocks out of grenades. This toy was pitched, designed, tested, marketed, and sold by the soulless machine of capitalism without one person spending a second on the actual product.

I’ve thrown away the cube. Making me smarter than everyone in every Hellraiser. But it still opened my eyes to a world of terrible realisation.

EVERY peg and hole toy has a similar problem. Not the exact same cubic shortfall, but an analogous carelessness of cash-extraction over actual function. Behold this beautiful shape toy with its circle, triangle, and square.

My first ATLAS detector

But it doesn’t have a circle, triangle, and square. It has circular, triangular, and square prisms. Even when they’re perfectly shaped you still need to orient them to fit them through the holes. Which is fine, and fun, but it would be so much more fund and fundamental to have a sphere, tetrahedron, and cube. Those would fit through any face while tactilely teaching kids with shapes which are more basic AND more interesting. But they’d cost slightly more to make so we just don’t. Ever! I’ve never even seen such a toy! Because even our “simplest” activities have assumed and unmentioned conditions interfering with their basic functions just to make more money for someone else.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to complain that every problem is caused by capitalism. Some are just stupid! Behold that bottom string:

Yes, you red string, you SHOULD try to hide at the back in shame

That rubber thread prevents the pieces from falling out, and was designed by someone who hasn’t even heard of having children. They think they’re making props for a diplomatic exchange of concepts with energy aliens who haven’t had solid forms in star-centuries. Because you, an adult, can reach through the gap to pull the blocks out. But any baby young enough to actually play with this can’t. So this cylinder is specifically crafted so prevent your child from playing in peace, instead springing up to demand your help every five to twenty-five seconds depending on their fine motor skills. That’s negative feedback for both child and parent.

Which is why I cut the bottom string. And you know something has to be severely annoying to make man to say that without flinching.

These toys teach true lessons: people will frustrate you just to save money, or because they didn’t actually think. So throw away their mistakes and cut through their obstacles. Lessons which will help the next generation with everything from playing with toys delivered by Jeff Bezos to invading the eco-crash retreat compound of the man himself.  

NOTE: both these toys are brilliant in every other way. Simple fixes make everything better!

Appreciating Preciousness

Walking in the sunshine this morning little TNG picked up a fallen rose petal. He was fascinated by the wonderful softness, entranced by this little slice of perfect beauty, but of course as time went on it was rumpled, and wrinkled, until it was gone and fell away from him as he continued to play, and I was like JESUS I GET IT LIFE I’M ALREADY APPRECIATING THESE FLEETING MOMENTS OF TENDER HAPPINESS AS HARD AS I FUCKING CAN, GOD

Way of the Baby Ninja!

Babies strike at your organs before you even know they exist. Therefore babies are ninjas! In fact they suddenly appear in your home, drain your blood for nine months, then spend decades emptying your bank accounts while being much better at new technologies than you. That’s regular ninja, anime series ninja and cyberpunk hackerninja all in one. The three thing-throwing* fates, a shadowy trinity of ninjae past present and future, and they’re all instinctively programmed to target you. You must learn their ways!

*Ninja normally throw shuriken but if your baby’s hurling those you have more fundamental parenting problems

The first step in dealing with baby ninja is understanding the difference between fantasy and reality. In fantasies they’re almost magical beings who suddenly appear and change lives. Specifically they change lives to be “over”, ninjas in the physical sense, babies in a more metaphorical “old way of life” but still utterly absolute sense. But in reality they’re deeply mercenary beings who often make a mess.

In reality more babies than ninja have worn tightly wrapped black clothes. Because most ninja were spies, which meant dressing as civilians instead of wearing shadow pyjamas. Ninja were more likely to pretend to be farmers cowering at the edges of a battle then reporting to their master that the northern armies had just obliterated each other if he fancied grabbing a new palace in that direction.

Babies are the same: fooling you into letting your guard down while gathering intel, learning where you keep your most valuable items, then striking the second you’re distracted. Pretending to be powerless is how you defeat someone ten times larger than you. Especially when you strike weak points like throats or genitals. (NOTE: babies strike at genitals harder than anything else in existence, but only when you’re giving birth to them. If you haven’t given birth to them you just don’t understand it. No, you don’t, shut up dudes, even the most Summerslamtastic of Infant Elbows to the balls is nothing compared to birth.)

Babies lull you into a false sense of security, wait until you’re already hassled and distracted, then when you’re trying to put them in the buggy HIYA! They strike with Starfish Pose! Four Limbs, Four Compass Points, Immovable Style! And you can’t rely on only superior strength to defeat baby ninja. That’s rule one of both “fighting ninja” and “not getting arrested for being the world’s worst parent”. Instead we must be like the martial arts hero and learn from our opponents’ techniques. Just as people can learn the ways of darkness to become Shadow Ninja, or the ways of anime combustion to become Fire Ninja, you must study the tricks of the tiny to become a Baby Ninja!

The first rule of (baby) ninja is giving your target your full attention. This’ll honestly solve 90% of the problems you’ll ever have and prevent 99% more. The second rule is never underestimating anyone. We’re told that babies are the future and will exceed us, and like fools we ignore this warning! This isn’t an eventual hope, it’s an urgent alert! They’ve already started! Don’t let your guard down unless you want to find it chewed in half and covered in marmalade! Babies will find ways to inflict injuries you’ve never dreamed of, and the fact they’ll inflict them on themselves only makes them more psychologically powerful.

A powerful example of proper Baby Ninja technique is Ninja Nose Cleaning. Too often you’ll see distracted parents with phones in one hand, tissues in the other, half-heartedly poking at a nose-fountain only to smear it across an entire face like they’re applying the world’s worst facemask. Half-hearted nose cleaning is like a half-hearted Aztec sacrifice: now there’s an awful mess, everyone’s screaming, and it didn’t even work. Babies treasure snot like Warhammer Orks value teef: hoarding an awful wealth which no-one else even wants except to get rid of. There are churches worshipping what they claim is Christ’s blood which won’t react as violently if you try to take their bodily fluids.

The Baby Ninja must approach their snotty child as prey. Your goals are incompatible. You cannot calmly explain that you want to wipe their nose, or gently wave a warning tissue across their bows, for this will sacrifice the advantage of surprise. You can’t start this casually and hope things will work out, because it won’t, and now their guard is up along with their volume and fluid output. You must remember that the peace-seeking parent-ninja only does this for the good of everyone, so even secret blows are moral. You must achieve this mission to prevent a stain on your honour, in this case is represented by your sofa. Approach your target as a ninja: silently, take a firm grip, and a strong strong horizontal motion to prevent them from making noise until it’s too late. Tidy as necessary.

Meditate on this example and learn your own ways of the Baby Ninja. Understand the truth that the parent and the ninja have much in common. Like the idea of perfect skills making things easy being a total fantasy invented by people who’ve never done it and are trying to make money from fiction. Both parents and ninja are just people working much harder than normal, trying to get through the days by finishing their jobs, and often making a mess of it, then having to deal with the consequences. Also both work for unquestionable hierarchical masters who had to be served and protected at any cost.

Perturbed Parenting Theory

Most parenting advice only works in theory. Because most parenting advisors are too busy branding new theories. In fact there are now more parenting theories than parents because of bloggers trying new titles until one of them gets a book deal. Unfortunately most “parenting theories” are “chemical-free food”: an idiot trying to sound smarter by using their only extra word wrong. The only way to get eat chemical-free is to shove your face into a fusion reactor, and the word “theory” doesn’t actually mean “here’s what I think but I want it to sound smarter.”

Most are these “theories” are presented as absolute truth despite having only one data point, and “N=1”is how science says you’re the one who needs to stop talking. A real theory explains reality in a way which generates testable predictions. Most parenting theory predictions are “I bet I can extract some cash from some sleep-deprived suckers.”

The most cursed example is “A Theory of Objectivist Parenting”. Parenting tip: when someone refers to “the young human beings we temporarily refer to as children” CALL THE POLICE and tell them to prepare their best or most expendable psychologists.

For real theories you need math and science. And they’ve already solved the most common parenting problem! Which shouldn’t be a surprise. Mathematicians worked out the shape of spacetime before we even knew that was a thing. They just got busy with all the fun figures and arrangements before realizing it really was the stuff of our continued existence. That’s just like becoming a parent!

There’s a real mathematical theory far too many parents already use without even knowing it, never mind understanding it. Which is a shame because it’s truly terrible for children. Even the name sounds upsetting: Perturbation Theory. (Though we should note that perturbation theory is like an oxyacetylene torch: it works brilliantly and solves lots of problems, it’s just a terrible way of dealing with kids).

Perturbation theory approaches complicated problems by starting with a much simpler solution and adding a little bit of effort to deal with all the extra complications. This is a terrible way of dealing with children! Perturbation theory then proceeds by adding several smaller and smaller bits then ignoring all but the largest. This is an even more terrible way of dealing with children!

Trying the simple solution with its little bit extra in the complicated problem generates a gigantic amount of fiddly extra work, which we mostly ignore. (You can see why we use this strategy so often). But it still leaves a lot of work. It’s the mathematical version of working harder instead of smarter. You just crunch more numbers instead of fixing the fundamental problem. And that’s fine! Sometimes you don’t need a better theory. Sometimes you just need an approximate answer.

The problem is that perturbation theory only works for simple things like astrophysics, quantum mechanics, and radioactive materials. It doesn’t work on children. It’s been used to detect entire worlds orbiting distant stars, because those distant worlds really are negligible changes to their parent stars. But real children aren’t planets of their parents, they’re brilliant black holes, and even less negligible when one enters your life.

We’ve all seen or been the perturbed parent. Busy, or tired, and trying to act as if the child just isn’t there, folding laundry or scrolling through their phone like they would on their own and adding a little adjustment by saying “quiet!” or “leave that alone!” every five seconds. Which never works. Despite their size a child isn’t a small change in any system. A child is an autonomous and utterly ignorant engine of change. And the worse this diverges from the fantastical theory of “I’ll just act like the kid isn’t there” the more perturbed everyone gets until everything breaks down.

The problem is that their “simple solution” is the simpler situation of not having a kid. You can’t tweak that into a parenting strategy! That’s the exact opposite of any possible parenting strategy! Perturbation theory only works when the addition is extremely small compared to the existing solution, but some small additions utterly destroy everything which worked about the original, like Scrappy Doo.

This leads to the true value of theories, the unsung strength which can improve our lives. We always hear about the theories which revolutionized our understanding of the universe or our ability to read things on our phones. Because those theories were right. But the most important aspect of theorizing is that we can find out when a theory is definitely wrong. The perturbation theory of parenting is definitely wrong. When you know a theory’s wrong you can just rub it out and start again instead of wasting your life angrily headbutting a blackboard you never even read in the first place. When you work out what you’re doing, when you recognize perturbed parenting and how it fails, you can simply stop, let go, stop acting like your child is negligible, and start thinking with them to find a real solution.

BONUS article: Extra Epsilons for Perturbed Parenting!

Galactic Parenting: Your kid is A-star!

Content note: this piece talks about two parent families because that’s what I’m in.

Everyone knows that having a kid recenters your reality. Not everyone knows the process perfectly matches the history of astronomy. Because biology’s a bit of a distraction from understanding of the universe. Even though it’s also the only method (and point) of doing so.

Image result for ptolemaic system

Most people pupate Ptolemaically. Which sounds like a sophisticated insult because that’s exactly what it is. Ptolemy placed the Earth at the center of the existence. All the other worlds, stars, even the Sun orbit around us as pretty little decorations, a cosmic mobile entertaining our immature understanding. And when their actual behaviour didn’t match our self-important picture we invented endlessly complicated internal motions, declaring that they were all ever more eccentric, ever more ridiculous, just so that we didn’t have to admit we were wrong.

As people our immature understanding is exactly the same. We’re the only fixed point in existence and everything else is arranged around our path. Some people never progress past this. The Ptolemaic truant skips the step of learning that other people also exist with their own inner worlds. The worst examples accrete enough material wealth to become black holes, trapping everyone else in their endless consumption, the devastating simple-mindedness of bozos like Bezos and Musk moving so far past Ptolemy that they genuinely think they’re the center of existence instead of our planet, and that they’ll be able to keep going in space even when even the Earth is extinct.

Meeting the right person advances you past Ptolemaic to Copernican. You realize you’re not the core of existence because you’ve found a font of warmth. The glories of fusion give rise to so much more life and energy than your own little rock of existence ever thought possible. Now their Sun is the center of your existence. Just as Copernicus calculated. And thanks to a very special relativity they see you as the same. So instead of orbiting each other you’re both orbiting a shared barycenter, a beautiful point of imagination, a thing with no independent existence which enjoys shared warmth between you.

Babies elevate this from solar to galactic, upgrading you from Copernican to the Galactic Co-ordinate System. It doesn’t change your Solar System. You and your Sun are still there and still warm, but suddenly you see so much more than ever before.

Because the Galactic Co-ordinate System doesn’t shift the center to the center of the galaxy. The center of the GCS is still your Sun, and that’s still vital for every life involved. Likewise you can’t suddenly shift the center of your existence to the new baby because that would mean neglecting your lover, your entire relationship until now. Even astrophysics understands this, and stars are stupidly simple compared to children. Every day, every night, your world still turns around that special someone.

Instead the GCS adds a new direction to your life, adding a principal axis pointing from your precious Sun towards the center of our galaxy. So this shift in perspective doesn’t lose sight of the light of your life. Instead you realising that you’ve both been swept into the orbit of something far vaster.

Realigning reality along this axis opens your eyes to an existence so much greater than the two of you. There are innumerable new things to deal with, not a little list of tasks but a total change in perspective. All of it arranged around an ultimate center, an absolute reference point, an idea which had seemed unimaginable when you were younger, or impossibly distant when a little less younger, but is now unquestionably the core of everything. In astronomy our galaxy turns around Sagittarius A* (“A-star”). In parenting the cosmic core is your cuddly baby. Both beauties beyond anything Ptolemy could picture, or Copernicus could calculate, but they’re real and open our eyes to the universe!

Sagittarius A* is a black hole. Which is where unhelpful writers would make gags about darkness and destruction, an endless appetite consuming everything in its path. Because they’re wrong as well as miserable. Black holes are the brightest things in their galaxies! The material fed into galactic black holes is compressed and heated to output incomparable brilliance. They’re often brighter than the rest of their galaxy put together. They’re the brightest things in the existence, points of light shining in an otherwise infinite emptiness, because that’s what children are in this universe. We all consume material to shine. Babies just do it brightest.

Parenting Tips for the Modern Climate

The modern world presents parents with exciting new challenges. Our parents didn’t have to deal with electric cars, next-day delivery, or the owners of both publicly fantasising about space colonies because they’ve already abandoned an injured Earth. When we were young imagination meant children playing with princesses and dragons, not billionaires believing they’ll be able to breathe bitcoin in an orbital tin can. Please enjoy these tips to parenting in modern climate.

  • Every time you pack a sunhat include a raincoat and vice versa.
  • When reading your baby any book mentioning the seasons do so in random order, shouting random words and occasionally throwing the book at them.
  • A good raincoat and wellies are a great way to let children enjoy weather which, while not ideal, isn’t actively trying to kill them yet.
  • Sunscreen. SUNSCREEN.
  • Explain to your child that we got sick of the old seasons album so we put it on shuffle. Now it’s a techno remix and every time we burn coal it gets faster. When they ask what an “album” is take a moment to bask in memories of electricity. As an Elder this will help you look wise and that’s the only reason the young and capable members of the tribe still give you scraps of rat.

Baby FAQ: The Most Important Answer Ever

THIS SITE IS NOT A GUIDE TO RAISING YOUR BABY. You shouldn’t use any site as a guide unless it’s been approved by an entire nation’s medical association worth of doctors, and even then only the larger nations with more advanced healthcare. A single “expert” won’t cut it. Unless it’s Dr Spock, who has a pretty good record in advice for babies and everything else. But every other “expert” who turned up on the Enterprise accidentally compressed spacetime into an incredible adventure, or unleashed brand new plagues on everyone involved. Your baby will do both of those all by themselves.

The internet and libraries are filled with definitive expert guides on how to raise children. Most make Sturgeon’s law* look like the quality control in a pacemaker factory. 99% of all online advice is some asshole using your child as an expendable prop to convince themselves they haven’t already ruined their own. (Narrator: they have). Or trying to inflict the same damage on so many other kids that their own offspring becomes the new normal, and has an advantage because they’ve had more practice dealing with such parental debilitations.

*90% of everything is shit. Volumetrically true for the first few months of having a baby.

What people want is a definitive Baby FAQ. It doesn’t seem too much to expect. There are online guides to 100% completing expert mode in every video game ever made. It’s a bit worrying that the survival of the species is a lower priority than unlocking the Pepsi logos in Call of the Knights of Anime Part XIV: Wearing Bottle Caps As Armor. It’s because that game is the opposite of having children. Which is why the writers have so much time and energy.

I don’t have a complete list of Frequently Asked Questions, but I can answer the most important question right now:

Q. Whose turn is it?
A: Get on with it.

Arguing about turns is an idiotic cliche invented by sitcoms, and if we lived according to TV tropes we wouldn’t have babies because we’d still be sleeping in separate beds. A fate you invite if your first response to a screaming child is adding to the noise by badgering your spouse.

This answer alone will improve 100% of all baby-raising arrangements. Often in the early AM. As the wise Spock said, “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Or the one.” Especially when those many are your partner and baby. So boldly go change that nappy to let your lover sleep.


Parent plus plus, because parenting always positive. There’s always more, and more, and more!

Parent++, because being a parent means adding to existence and adding to yourself.

P++, because there’s always more pee so you’re better off being positive about it.

Because too many parents think that writing and whining are synonyms, that they’re the first people to procreate, and that “there was poo!” is a complete punchline instead of the most obvious and often very first consequence of becoming a parent. Because too many dad writers believe staying interested after ejaculation earns them a Nobel prize.

Parent plus plus, because the whole point of parenting is adding something new and positive!

I’m Luke McKinney, comedy and science writer, and now that I’m a parent I’ll enjoy writing about that too! You can find me on twitter and support me on Patreon.