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Mom Tells Neighbors Her 9-Year-Old Daughter Could Help Them Do Chores, Cops Arrive With Child Labor Concerns


SarahA mother in Woodinville, Washington, posted an advertisement on behalf of her 9-year-old daughter, Sarah, who was willing to do housework—laundry, dishes, etc.—for neighborhood moms who needed help. Six hours later, the cops showed up to make sure Sarah wasn't being abused or worked to death.

That's according to Christina Behar, Sarah's mom, who wrote me a letter about the incident.

"Apparently the ad generated multiple phone calls from paranoid neighbors thinking I was using my child as a slave," wrote Behar.

This should spark some discussion of what we lose when we treat kids as incompetent or endangered, even though they're quite ready to take on some responsibility in "the real world." As that New York Times piece on the relentless demands of modern parenting made clear, many of us, wealthy or not, spend a whole lot of time and cash on our kids' extracurricular "enrichment." Let's remember that making some money, dealing with some challenges, and assuming some responsibility are enriching childhood activities, too.

Here is Behar's letter in full:

Dear Lenore:

My husband and I have three kids ages 9, 7 and 5. We have always tried to raise them to be independent and let them play outside for hours in our family-friendly suburban neighborhood outside of Seattle, walk alone to the neighbors, and have taught them how to cook, clean, do laundry and other household chores that we deem age appropriate. Inspired by your book [Free-Range Kids] I posted an ad on our neighborhood website advertising my daughter as a mother's helper. Moms often ask me for her help and I figured I would take your advice and reach out to others in my neighborhood I may not know. This was the ad:

Mother's Helper

Hello! My almost 10-year old is available as a mother's helper. She is the oldest of three and is quite capable. She can fold and put away laundry, sweep, set tables, clean dishes, take out the trash, make beds, vacuum, make light meals, and keep your kiddo busy. We are a homeschool family so she has a flexible schedule. Please message me if you are interested in meeting with us.

Six hours later the Sheriff was knocking on our door. He was embarrassed and apologetic but said he had to do a welfare to check to make sure I wasn't running a sweat shop! Apparently the ad generated multiple phone calls from paranoid neighbors thinking I was using my child as a slave.

You know I was thinking about it today—I was working in a church nursery with infants at nine years old, babysitting alone by 11, I had a paper route at 12, and was living on my own working almost full-time and going to college at 17. All those things would probably violate our state's child labor laws today.

It's a shame that our culture has resorted to this paranoia. It's robbing our children of the pride that learning skills and hard work bring.

I'm keeping the ad up.

I wrote back to Behar asking about her own reaction to this experience. She responded:

I was shocked that a friendly ad for a child wanting to help a neighbor generated multiple calls to the police and resulted in an actual visit by an officer. Fortunately, in our case, he was sympathetic, although he did leave with a warning that I should never post anything about my child wanting payment for her services.

But my ad was no different than the fliers I made 20 years ago with my friends offering yard work or babysitting. What if I had mentioned compensation? Would Child Protective Services be investigating me then? When I told a few fellow mommy-friends about our surprise visit, I felt judged. I was met with silence or questions like, "Would you actually leave your kid at a stranger's house?"

The knee-jerk distrust of all adults around all kids is a hallmark of our times. Where we could see verve, we see vulnerability. Where we could see neighbors helping neighbors we imagine the worst. Where we could see kids growing up with confidence and competence, we see a rising tide of anxiety.

Letting kids do some work for money isn't making them into slaves. It's making them into adults. That shouldn't be a crime.

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5 days ago
I agree that letting kids work for money should not be a crime. I also found ways to make $$$ when I was a child, with the permission of my parents. But not every child is mature enough to work. Or understand power plays between the employer and the employee. Or have a parent who is able to correctly judge the possible danger of a child in the "protection" of a stranger.

Anyone who submits an ad offering their nine-year old daughter for any kind of services is clearly delusional if they think the cops shouldn't look into it.

She was upset that her neighbors reported her ad to authorities? She thinks it's a shame we can't just let all the kiddies run around untethered? Yes, it *is* a shame. But there are also really bad people who are willing to prey on children --- especially when the kid's parent is dumb enough to be pissed at *cops* looking into this ad rather than upset at the *bad people* who make it dangerous for some kids in some neighborhoods to be outsourced for payment.
12 days ago
I mowed my neighbor's small yard as a child around this age, and I charged them for it. I also occasionally shoveled snow from a different neighbor's driveway and charged them for that as well. I feel so exploited!
Los Angeles, CA
11 days ago
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How to begin a song

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So a while ago I made my first Twitter/Mastodon bot, a very simple little bot called TheSingalongBot. It came out of a chance conversation at the XOXO conference with Kate Compton and Gretchen McCulloch, and all it does is toot/tweet/twoot the first line of a song. Humans can sing along if they want. (To date, SingalongBot followers have finished the ABC song, A British Tar is a Soaring Soul, When Will My Life Begin, and, heroically, The Saga Begins. They are also about 80% through 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall).

To build up a suitable list of first lines for the bot, I started with a list of billboard top hits from the last 50 years. And then, because I was worried that the top hits might exclude some of the best songs, I asked people to submit the catchiest songs they knew. I got over 1,500 suggestions. Once I removed duplicates (”I threw a wish in the well” was submitted 14 times, followed closely by “Is this the real life?”) and combined with the billboard hits, I had 3,847 songs. The bot is going strong, and meanwhile I have this dataset.

Yes, of course I trained a neural net on it.


[Image from somewhere in BigGAN latent space, using ganbreeder.app]

Here’s how well it did at imitating the song lines after it had seen all 3,847 lines just once in training (that is, at the end of Epoch 1).

All I was a light the goont dood and och go dread
I want the stars a gind was the stord
I can’t a live the sake you hee
I want you ging you sand the rook on the shook
The sharly goold the bodey

By the end of Epoch 2 it could at least spell a bit better, though it made no actual sense.

I can a got a baby
I can day more to make you make you a pan
I was a little time it make a love a friend
When I don’t got a love
I see up a bearsting
Well I was a pan and I ever mise
You can a baby, down
Here you one and you are now

By Epoch 3 it has settled on the strategy of using “baby” in pretty much every song.

I don’t know the baby
We’re the baby baby
I’m gonna get up and love is to the sea
The baby all the trains
You see you wanna take the something
We’re not on your road
I don’t know when I’m gone and thing
My baby but this baby love your eyes
Looking down the baby for you

Epoch 4: experimenting a bit more with new words, including some that don’t actually exist. Grammar: questionable.

You can see your face
I don’t want to be a room
You think a beautiful saids
There all the true of the horse
You don’t never think the street
You can dang the be sunshine
You love me funny things
I don’t never love you
You never good the darn tonight
You know you want you
I was air, the end is the light
The time, I was a train
There’s a tring at the boom
I’m not my bright on the brains the feeling on my heart

Fast-forwarding a bit to Epoch 7, the neural net’s progress is a bit less obvious. At least we can mostly figure out what it is trying to say. Mostly.

I was a little beautiful star
I was a funny life with a little sing
Hearing about a brain
I was so long to be a little baby
I got my love, I got a put you in my heart
I want you to the thing
I got a single and the world so lonely
You took my heart and shipportow
I can’t get up in love
When I was a strangle, day
Spinnarduachy nobody man whiskey, die where it come
Staps the phone
Yo babe, very where you are frow
You shazry waiting and I’m girlin’


We arrive now at the end of the training, in Epoch 15 (so chosen because progress had pretty much stopped). The neural net has learned quite a bit, really.

It has learned to do love songs.

I see you standing in the hair
I can dance if you want my life
Oh no, my name is in the sky
Oh, I’m in love with your head in my eyes
You look at me like there’s a strungle
I see you and I’m home, and I see your face for me
I’m so tired of being so hearts
Yeah I’m always love you

And dance tunes.

Love, love my eyes rollin’
Ive got to Seem sexy
Hello when I came home from ass
Oh, baby, do you make her bass?
Welp, a-sunshane’ said, doot doot doot dam i gim

And folk songs.

When i get up in the mirror
This is the world that you’re a burning here
I can’t explain my window
Welp, the lack of the sunshine
You are my eyes are the boot
I see you standin’ on the mind
I said it up, the year was 1778

And whatever the heck these are.

The lights in the eventoot, heaven me
I had a peanut, ooooonce colod me back at the sing
Look down! Couse Rider schoode
After all waits that you’re feelinged
Muskrat, pen up forever for me
Hush, you’re funny time
I was childrentin' 


Look out, songwriters! AI is coming for your jobs!

I also collected some songs generated by the most highly-trained algorithm, but at a higher creativity level so they’re really really weird. To get the list (and optionally bonus material every time I post), sign up here.

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30 days ago
When I get up in the mirror
This is the world that you’re burning here
I can’t explain my window
Welp, the lack of the sunshine
You are my eyes, you are the boot
I see you standin’ on the mind
I set it up, the year was 1999

That's better.
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Forced perspective

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As used in the filming of the movie ElfVia.
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32 days ago
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Everything is a religion, according to Andrew Sullivan

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I’m away. I’m on a break. I’m distracted by an adorable baby granddaughter. But even with those diversions, the stench of Andrew Sullivan’s latest column has disturbed my rest. It is just too stupid. I was stunned by the first paragraph, staggered a little further, and collapsed in defeat.

Everyone has a religion. It is, in fact, impossible not to have a religion if you are a human being. It’s in our genes and has expressed itself in every culture, in every age, including our own secularized husk of a society.

I’ve seen this a thousand times before, and I know what will follow. Sullivan is going to give us his own, personal, idiosyncratic definition of “religion” that he has made so broad and nebulous that he can assign it to everyone, no matter how godless they might be, and he’s going to rely on general human properties that he can then interpret as “religious”.

By the way, no genes for religion have been identified. Not one. He’s lying, unsurprisingly for someone who liked The Bell Curve. He links to a book by some guy named Dominic Johnson, who does have a degree in evolutionary biology, and from what I can see relies entirely on bullshit evolutionary psychology to make his claims.

Here comes his redefinition:

By religion, I mean something quite specific: a practice not a theory; a way of life that gives meaning, a meaning that cannot really be defended without recourse to some transcendent value, undying “Truth” or God (or gods).

I see that he has also redefined the word “specific”, because that is broadly vapid nonsense, not specific at all. A “practice”? So is writing garbage for NYMag his religion? Appearing on Bill Maher’s show is a religion? Except that it is specifically not a theory, but at the same time it requires a “transcendant value” that gives “meaning”. This is such a muddled mess of contradictions and immeasurable assertions that it in itself gives the lie to the idea that it could be based on something as concrete as a gene. He really wants us to believe that this wobbly bullshit is a load-bearing pillar…of jello. And it’s all set up to support this groaner of a familiar assertion by theists.

Which is to say, even today’s atheists are expressing an attenuated form of religion.

If your definition of religion is so amorphous that you can claim everything is a religion, then you’ve said nothing useful. You’ve turned religion into white noise. Religious people ought to find that as offensive as atheists do.

Their denial of any God is as absolute as others’ faith in God,

Wait. I thought religion was a practice, not a theory. But now he’s including “faith” and ideas about a hypothetical concept. He can’t even stick to his own definition!

…and entails just as much a set of values to live by — including, for some, daily rituals like meditation, a form of prayer.

So now it’s defined by daily rituals? I get up in the morning, brush my teeth, have a cup of coffee…this is now, in the mind of Andrew Sullivan, a religion. Hey, if I didn’t get out of bed, my life would be meaningless, if I never brushed my teeth, I’d be disgusting and would die of dental disease, and no coffee…that would be an unimaginable hell.

Also, my spiders spend their days in the endless ritual of maintaining their webs, and their lives would end without them. Therefore, spiders are religious. Maybe they don’t have a concept of a god (which I don’t know for sure), but remember…religion is a practice that gives meaning to life. And is genetic. If you can claim that atheists who explicitly reject gods and religion are religious, we’re at the point where you can’t stop me from claiming spiders are religious.

…(There’s a reason, I suspect, that many brilliant atheists, like my friends Bob Wright and Sam Harris are so influenced by Buddhism and practice Vipassana meditation and mindfulness. Buddhism’s genius is that it is a religion without God.)

OK, I’m done. I can read no further than the point where he claims Sam Harris is a brilliant atheist because he follows some Buddhist practices.

When will NYMag wake up to the fact that they’ve got a columnist who writes drivel? Probably never, since the NY Times has a similar problem, and will never change.

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39 days ago
The whole argument of "People who don't believe in god are religious: their religion is just that of believing there is no god" makes as much sense as me saying, "I have no kids but I am a mother. It's just that I'm a mother to a non-existent, never born child." Oooh, I wonder if I can write my non-existent child off as a dependent on my taxes? Do you even fathom the sheer quantity of non-existing children I have?
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Coast To Death

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Follow @lamebook on instagram for more content!

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39 days ago
Says Eric: That's, like, super-villain brilliant.
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This is what 'going viral' looks like

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Sometimes I blog about something and it goes nowhere, much like this girl's domino:

Sometimes I blog about something and it continues to weave its way to the many corners of the internet, much like this:

But, sometimes I blog about something and it starts a chain reaction that looks more like this (I looked for a domino video that featured fireworks and confetti but came up short):


In other words, it goes viral. Now, on November 11, I blogged about Tim Klein's "puzzle montages" and I believe it's the most-viral post I've written in my over-seven-year professional blogging career. While I don't have the exact numbers, I have been watching it quickly spread across the planet and I feel certain that it is. Today, I thought it would be fun to pull back the curtain a little to show you what "going viral" looks like from "backstage."

[TL;DR version (and, warning, this post IS entirely TOO LONG): The post I wrote about Tim Klein's puzzle montages went nuts! Media outlets from around the globe picked up the story (digital, print, TV), some linked back to Boing Boing, some didn't. Tim got TONS of fan mail, all of his art sold, and now he's being offered gallery shows. Well... he and I talked and we plan to take it to the next level together (note: we didn't know each other before all of this). We first want to build a community of people who love puzzle mashups. Want to learn more? Subscribe to our brand new (monthly?) e-newsletter called Pigjaw Suzzles!]

Still here? Good. Tim helped me build this chronological timeline of how the "viral explosion" (his words) happened.

Friday, November 9
A new friend, Marcia Wiley, shows Tim's artwork to me on her phone during a visit. I am immediately blown away by it. I know that, from experience, if I get really excited about something, so will others. Well, I was so excited about this that I could barely wait to start writing it up. But it's late, so I start researching cool puzzles on eBay instead because I'm inspired to make my own puzzle mashups. I also check to see if Tim's ever been written about (he hasn't) and I look to see if anything similar has been written about before (there has, though not exactly the same way: 2008 and 2011).

Saturday, November 10
9:16 AM: Marcia introduces Tim and me via text. We are soon communicating and he's great (one of us! one of us!). We learn we have mutual friends in the art car world.
2:16 PM: He grants me permission to use his photos and share his story. We then connect on Facebook and realize we have even more mutual friends. I then spend my afternoon writing the post.

Sunday, November 11
7:38 AM: The post goes live on Boing Boing.
8:26 AM: I text both Tim and Marcia to tell them that it's up. Tim texts me back ("Woo hoo!").
11:19 AM: Tim texts me again to say that he's already getting "a few happy fan emails" from people he "doesn't know." I tell him that it's likely that other blogs will pick it up too. He replies, "I hadn't even thought of that!" [Insert foreshadowing]
3:07 PM: John Overholt, a curator at Harvard's Houghton Library, tweets the image of Tim's "Iron Horse" and it starts blasting off:

Monday, November 12
Morning: Nag on the Lake is the first blog to pick it up.
4:18 PM Miss Cellania of Neatorama is the second.
Sometime this day: THE Stephen King retweets (to his 5M+ followers) John Overholt's tweet.
Sometime this day or the next: John Overholt's tweet becomes a meme:

The meme starts spreading on Facebook and Twitter through various "viral" sites with no ties to Tim whatsoever. The one started on the "Texts From Last Night" Facebook page currently has over 23K shares. Because Tim is not mentioned in the meme, people start thinking John Overholt is the person who discovered that you can mix-and-match pieces of puzzles from the same manufacturer.

Then, someone creates a meme that strips out John Overholt's name. Tim writes about that,

"Later I started seeing an even more highly edited image with Overholt's name also edited out. And that version got shared around ad infinitem as well. Maybe that's when full "memehood" is reached -- when there's no attribution whatsoever, just an eye-catching picture along with an anonymous caption."

Tuesday, November 13
Morning: Pee-wee Herman posts it on his blog, commenting Tim's art is "SUPER COOL."
Later: Hacker News.
10:22 AM: MetaFilter.
Sometime the same day: A redditor posts the image of Tim's "Iron Horse," but does not link to his site or Boing Boing. As of this writing, that post has 74,200 upvotes (!). It gets posted in a different subreddit this same day with only 608 upvotes.
11:26 AM: Tim writes me, "I'm getting fan mail and purchase offers from faraway lands, from Turkey to Trinidad."
3:26 PM: A reader of my inbox zine sends me a tip. He's seen something cool in Dan Lewis' Now I Know e-newsletter and is sharing it with me because he knows I'm "always on the lookout for new interesting art." The "something cool" is Tim's puzzle montages and the link in Dan's newsletter goes to my post. I tell Tim. Turns out he's a patron of Now I Know. I also know Dan, so I remark, "Small world!"

8:07 PM: Tim writes, "Meanwhile, a number of friends have told me they encountered a post about puzzle art and thought they should forward it to me... only to discover that it IS me. :-)"

Also this day: theCHIVE, TwistedSifter

Wednesday, November 14
First thing in the morning: I share the story of me learning about Tim's montages in my inbox zine.
Later this same day: Kottke picks it up, using John Overholt's tweet as its source. Then, Facebook page "Nerds with Vaginas" posts a grainy version of the Overholt meme and gets almost 11K shares.

Thursday, November 15
3:43 AM: Archaeologist David S. Anderson tweets Tim's "King of the Road" as so:

Later the same day: Tim's puzzle montages land on the much-coveted Twitter Moments. To this, I email Tim, "Wow. Your montages went mega-viral. This is MY top post...ever. Very cool to experience this with you :D"
Sometime this day: Bored Panda publishes Tim's art, with permission, but adds the "clickbait" headline, "Artist Comes Up With Genius Way To Use Puzzles, Sells The Result For Up To $650." About this, Tim comments:

The author mentions my acknowledgment of Mel Andringa as the originator, and never mentions the prices that I was selling my artwork for. But the clickbait headline, which I'm guessing came from someone other than the author herself, implied that I came up with the idea myself and that I'm doing it in order to make a lot of money. These two implications sparked lots of indignation among commenters.

That Bored Panda Facebook post has over 1K shares.

His art then lands on a Hungarian site called Femina.

Friday, November 16
Austin Kleon includes a link to my Boing Boing post in his e-newsletter (yay).
Same day: My Modern Met covers it. Their Facebook post has over 2,392 shares.

12:26 PM: Tim writes me, "I have a few dozen purchase requests to answer, plus journalist inquiries from England and Italy. Something called the Interactive Museum of Games and Puzzlery wants to organize an exhibition."

5:24 PM: After telling me about the long list of media outlets that want to feature his work, he writes, "Meanwhile, the sink is full of dirty dishes, the cat is hungry, and I haven't shaved in a week. I gotta walk away from the computer and take a break."

Also this day: A Romanian TV station airs Tim's art set to some English-language soft rock. Then three new sites run with it: WhatTheyThink?, a Russian site, and an Italian site called FrizziFrizzi.

Saturday, November 17
Tim reports that his images have started showing up in strangers' Facebook cover photos.
Tim also reports that John Overholt wrote him and expressed remorse for not including his name in the original tweet ("If I’d had any idea 3 million people were going to see this tweet, I would have put your name in it...").

Sunday, November 18
The Jealous Curator adds Tim's art to their blog. Later, a Turkish site called listelist runs the story (the first one to use a photo of Tim himself). On this same day: The montages land on a site by psychonauts called Acidmath.
Later: Tim is approached by an agent at a major literary agency headquartered in New York, who writes "I love your puzzle montages and think they could make for an interesting art book!"

Monday, November 19
Italian site Linkiesta covers it.
2:01 PM: So does an Indonesian site called Brilio.

Tuesday, November 20
Colossal grabs it. They credit Kottke who, you may remember, credited John Overholt.

Wednesday, November 23
A website called Awkward (they're somehow related to "Awkward Family Photos" -- their post had over 3K shares) posts Tim's art without permission (many sites did not ask to use his images), does not link to his site AND replaces the titles of Tim's artworks with titles of its own. They've since updated the page to at least link to Tim's site.

Thursday, November 24
11:00 AM: Japanese site IRORIO grabs it.
Tim comments on Facebook:

"When I was constructing my puzzle montage "Mountain Plantation" from two thrift store puzzles during my limited spare time as a computer science grad student in 1993, the World Wide Web barely existed, even within the USA. So now, in the distant future year 2018, it's pretty darn wild to find myself looking at an image of it beamed to my home computer from a website in Japan."

Saturday, November 26
12:26 PM: Tim: "I've made the jump from the lightning-fast propagation of online media to the slow slog of traditional print publications." He's referring to two newspapers that will cover it soon, the French bi-weekly Society and the British Sunday-only The Observer. They both have promised to send him hard copies in the mail.
6:52 PM: A designer office furniture company in Thailand named WURKON blogs about it on Facebook, after getting Tim's permission. Tim chuckles at how the translation software on Facebook has changed his name, it "can't decide whether my name is "Timberlake" or "Tim coli."

Tuesday, November 27
Seattle TV station KING includes Tim's work on their "headlines" segment with Chris Cashman. A blog called Compulsive Contents also covers it.

Wednesday, November 28
10:30 AM: A Hungarian site called Index picks it up.
12:20 PM: Another Hungarian site grabs it.

Thursday, November 29
Tim's montages continue to move around the globe. On this day, a (what looks like a neat) Australian publication called Smith Journal added it to their blog.

Saturday, December 1
Society magazine sends Tim a screenshot of the digital version of the article that features him:

OK, so what's happening now?

Well... Treehugger.com will soon be publishing their story and a different online media brand wants to do an instructional video. They want to record Tim as he makes puzzle montages in his studio (he notes that he does not have a studio). Additionally, a major magazine (that cannot yet be revealed) has contacted him for inclusion in a future issue.

On top of that, Tim and I have decided to join forces to take all of "this" to the next level. We talked and felt we had a good match. I have some ideas, he has some ideas, and we believe that together we can create something super cool! Again, we'll start by building a community of people who love puzzle mashups. Is that you? Then, subscribe to Pigjaw Suzzles, our brand new (probably monthly) e-newsletter!

Plus, I've been working on a mashup of my own. It's fun, though harder than it looks. Not only do you have to find puzzles that have pieces that can be mixed and matched, you have to find puzzles that lend themselves to be mashed up together.

Want one of Tim's pieces? Get in line. He's sold every single one of his current pieces (he delighted in selling his art to STRANGERS for the very first time) and there is a waiting list for future ones. (Pssst... if you subscribe to our e-newsletter, rumor has it that you'll be the first to know when new puzzle montages are available.)

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43 days ago
What a cool breakdown. Congrats Tim.
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