A day to celebrate

Today—January 20, 2017—I have something cheerful, something that I’m celebrating.  It’s Lily’s fourth birthday. Happy birthday Lily!

As part of her birthday festivities, and despite her packed schedule, Lily has graciously agreed to field a few questions from readers of this blog.  You can ask about her parents, favorite toys, recent trip to Disney World, etc.  Just FYI: to the best of my knowledge, Lily doesn’t have any special insight about computational complexity, although she can write the letters ‘N’ and ‘P’ and find them on the keyboard.  Nor has she demonstrated much interest in politics, though she’s aware that many people are upset because a very bad man just became the president.  Anyway, if you ask questions that are appropriate for a real 4-year-old girl, rather than a blog humor construct, there’s a good chance I’ll let them through moderation and pass them on to her!

Meanwhile, here’s a photo I took of UT Austin students protesting Trump’s inauguration beneath the iconic UT tower.

55 Responses to “A day to celebrate”

  1. Timothy Johnson Says:

    Does Lily want to do computer science or programming someday?

  2. Shauna Says:

    Dear Lily:

    1) Who’s your favorite cartoon character?

    2) If you could have a superpower what would it be?

    3) Suppose a wizard called Omega shows you two boxes, A and B, and offers you the choice of taking only box A, or both boxes A and B. Omega has put $1,000 in box B. If Omega thinks you will take box A only, he has put $1,000,000 in it. Otherwise he has left it empty. Omega has played this game many times, and has never been wrong in his predictions. What do you do?

    Happy birthday!

  3. Scott Says:

    Ok, first round of answers!

    Favorite cartoon characters:
    Dora and Rapunzel

    If she could have one superpower it would be:
    Butterfly wings

    Does she want to be a computer scientist:
    (Warning: the answer would likely also have been “yes” with a thousand other suggestions. On the other hand: she then explicitly clarified that she wants to be a professor, the same job as mommy and daddy. On other days she’s wanted to be a doctor and various other things.)

    What she would do faced with Newcomb’s Paradox:
    Ask for chocolate gold coins. (She means Hanukkah gelt, and yes, this was her actual answer.)

  4. Charlie Says:

    What’s Lily’s favorite story?

  5. Scott Says:

    Favorite story:
    Angelina Ballerina
    (full disclosure: it’s the story she was being read while she was asked the question)

  6. Daniel Seita Says:

    Favorite food?

    Sorry my questions are lame. 🙁

  7. Scott Says:

    Favorite food:
    Pasta and spaghetti

  8. Joshua Zelinsky Says:

    What do you like best about your new home in Texas?

  9. Avi Says:

    Will you answer no to this question?

  10. Jeremy Kun Says:

    If you could repaint the White House any color you wanted, what color would it be?

  11. Scott Says:

    Ok, Lily is going to sleep now, but she may field additional questions in the morning.

  12. John Sidles Says:

    Happy Birthday Lily! My question is:

       Which Disney Princess are you?

    The quiz says that I’m “Aurora”. That means I’m “kind, curious, and eager to to explore the world around you.”

    Maybe others of your Dad’s Shtetl Optimized readers can answer too.

  13. J Says:

    What do you think of your daddy

    What is your favorite game

    Do you like answering questions?

    What is your favorite word?

  14. Isaac Says:


    Who is your best friend?

    What is the first thing you think when you wake up in the morning?

    Will you live forever?

  15. William Hird Says:

    Lily, how does it feel to be the most adorable future-complexity-theorist in the universe? And don’t forget to tell your parents you don’t give a shit who’s in the white house, I will prove P!=NP even if Pee Wee Herman is sitting in the oval office 😉

  16. Scott Says:

    William #15:

      And don’t forget to tell your parents you don’t give a shit who’s in the white house…

    Actually it occurs to me that, within the long annals of political horribleness that he now joins, perhaps Trump’s most distinctive characteristic is just how easy it is to articulate a valid case against him in terms that a 4-year old can understand (he’s mean, he loves hurting people, he doesn’t like to learn new things, he tells big lies every day…)

  17. wolfgang Says:

    What is the name of your puppy (going to be) and
    what will be the name of your pony?

  18. jonas Says:

    Questions appropriate for a four year old girl? Let me try.

    1. How many steps on a stairs can you make a slinky (spring toy) go down in one go?

    2. How many years from now do you expect you’ll be better at ice skating than your parents are?

    3. When you eat, do you start with the bits you like the best, or do you leave those to the end?

  19. Ryan Williams Says:

    Happy (belated) birthday Lilly, from GP and his mommy and daddy.

    After seeing the Q&A thus far, GP asks: “Do you like noodles with butter and cheese? And what kind of cheese? I like Bulgarian cheese and I don’t like mozzarella cheese except on pizza”

    (Noodles with butter and cheese is his favorite food)

  20. Scott Says:

    What she likes best about Texas:
    Her school, because it has lots of toys

    Will she answer no to this question:
    (Note: later I walked her through this one, that if she says “no” it should’ve been “yes” and vice versa. She thought about it for some time, then demanded to know, “so what’s the right answer then?” My mom then told her that the right answer is ‘daddy, stop asking silly questions,’ so she repeated that with gusto.)

    What color would she repaint the White House:
    Pink and purple and brown
    She adds that these will still be her favorite colors after she grows up.

    Which Disney princess she would be:
    Rapunzel or Snow White

  21. Scott Says:

    What she thinks of her daddy:
    Kissy Daddy

    Her favorite game:
    Making party celebrations for her baby dolls

    Does she like answering questions:
    (Nods her head)

    Her favorite word:
    “Dora-bolly” or “gymnastics”

  22. Shecky R Says:

    1) Which do you like better, cats or dogs?
    2) And do you like birds, or do you have a favorite bird?
    3) How old do you think your daddy is?

  23. Scott Says:

    The first thing she thinks of when she wakes up:
    All kinds of things, like hosting parties for her dolls

    Will she live forever:
    Yes, with her mommy and daddy
    (Note: In general, she does know the concept of death at some level—she’ll often talk about how her great-grandparents, or a historical figure depicted in a painting or sculpture, or a smushed bird or insect, “got dead” a while ago.)

    Her best friend:
    I’m going to decline to relay this, since the answer changes from time to time and I wouldn’t want to record a permanent slight against her other friends!

  24. Scott Says:

    How it feels to be the most adorable future complexity theorist in the universe:

    What the name of her puppy will be:

    What the name of her pony will be:

  25. Scott Says:

    How many steps she can make a slinky go down:
    10 (she adds that she has a purple slinky, and started searching for it right after answering this question)

    In how many years will she be better than her parents at ice skating:

    What she does with her favorite bits of food:
    Some of them she saves for last, but others she eats first

  26. Noah Stephens-Davidowitz Says:

    How old is your dad?

  27. Scott Says:

    Ryan #19: Lily says hi to GP! And she says that, well, she just likes noodles, not with all of those kinds of things on them.

  28. Scott Says:

    Cats vs dogs:

    Does she like birds:
    Yes, she loves to catch them and hug them and then let them go (note: I have never seen her do this)

    Favorite bird:
    A rainbow bird (she admits that she hasn’t seen one—though I wonder if she meant a parrot or macaw?)

    How old she thinks her daddy is:

  29. Scott Says:

    Ok, thanks everyone! I think Lily has answered as many questions as she wants to this session.

  30. Kiki Fuchs Says:

    Happy birthday Lily! (a few days late)

    My question to you is do you have a purple plastic purse?

    (Kevin Henkes is one of my favorite authors)

  31. Scott Says:

    Kiki #30: No, she doesn’t have such a purse, although I believe she has a pink one.

  32. Begin Says:

    What is the biggest number Lily knows?

  33. Scott Says:

    Begin #32: That’s a tricky question, since it depends on the meaning of “knowing” a number. She can count to 40 or 50 by herself, and to 100 and beyond with a bit of prodding. And she knows the word “million,” and knows that it means a very large number, but I don’t think she has any sense of how large in relation to other numbers she knows.

  34. lewikee Says:

    Hi Lily,

    What’s the name of your favorite doll?

  35. Scott Says:

    lewikee #34: I can answer that on her behalf. Her favorite doll was, until recently, simply named “Baby.” Recently, however, Lily revealed that Baby’s actual name is Tooza Rebecca Aaronson. Meanwhile, the name of her second-favorite doll is Aaronson Rebecca Tooza.

  36. Peter Says:

    Hey Lilly!
    Do you like painting or drawing or any other sort of arts and crafts?
    Also, when are your daddy and grandpa Lenny going to release their paper on quantum complexity together?

  37. Ajit R. Jadhav Says:

    Does she miss your earlier home in Boston, or her friends from there? How about the cat (which was there in the photo of her first b’day)? (Or did you bring it along, too?)

    Does she (unlike, I guess, her father) show any particular inclination towards music?

    [BTW, the one answer which I found really amazing was in #28, in response to whether she likes birds.]



  38. Scott Says:

    Continuing to answer questions on her behalf:

    Yes, she loves painting and drawing, and illustrating storybooks and dictating the words for her parents to write (coherence of plot is not yet one of her strong points 🙂 ). She also loves building castles with Magnetiles (which I strongly recommend–they’re arguably better than Legos!), and making artistic patterns of colored letters and numbers in Microsoft Word and then sending them to the printer.

    She doesn’t know anything about the paper by daddy and grandpa Lenny. 😉

    Yes, she misses Boston, and talks about it and her friends there often. (Until this summer, it was pretty much her entire world.) But she’s also rapidly adjusted to Texas and has a new set of good friends here.

    Dana, Lily, and I have never had a cat—I like cats (I grew up with one), but we travel too much for keeping one to be practical. The cat in that photo was a friend’s cat. But there are lots of stray cats in our neighborhood, which we could probably make “our” cats by feeding them.

    Lily loves singing, dancing, and making “music” by mashing pianos or randomly strumming guitars. I have no clue whether this is indicative of a lifelong passion or just normal 4-year-old behavior; I guess time will tell.

  39. Ajit R. Jadhav Says:

    Scott #38:


    [OK. Bye for now.]


  40. mjgeddes Says:

    Sounds like Lily is gravitating towards the ‘reflective’ professions (art and communication).


    No question that the following triad is a closely related set of knowledge domains:

    Phenomenology > Personal Psychology > Art/Communication

    Consciousness is a symbolic language for reflecting on our goals and motivations, and the output is art and narrative ( a sort of ‘meta-arrow’ of time).

    I would ask Lily to draw a picture of her mind. But can a 4-year old grasp the concept of ‘mind’?

  41. Will Says:

    This is such a great idea!

    Lily, what do you think of your dad?
    Do you like answering these questions?

  42. Nagesh Adluru Says:

    A very happy birthday Lily! Wishing you many many more happy birthdays.

    How do you like Austin? What do like most compared to Boston?

  43. Raoul Ohio Says:

    Is Lily a Lemony Snickets fan?

  44. John Sidles Says:

    Flowering minds both young and old may appreciate the puzzles, artwork, and music of
            Rakuen … by Laura Shigihara

    Indies forever! 🙂

  45. Anonymous Says:

    Hi Lily!
    Do you want to learn to speak more languages?

  46. Howard Roark Says:

    “a very bad man just became the president”

    Oh screw off. You academics may be intelligent, but you’re also delusional.

  47. Scott Says:

    “Howard Roark” #46: It wouldn’t bother you if you didn’t, on some level, know it was true.

  48. Howard Roark Says:

    I don’t know it to be true. No one ever labeled Donald Trump these things until he had the gall to run for president against Queen Hillary. I consider President Trump to be a very good man who cares about our country. I know you and others on the left have some warped view that everyone who wants to come to this country should be able to come this country, but you’re absolutely wrong. We don’t owe anything to anyone but our own citizens.

  49. Scott Says:

    Roark #48: Are you kidding me? People (especially those who followed NYC or Atlantic City real estate) had been labeling Trump a terrible person for decades. It’s just that his terribleness mattered orders of magnitude less before he reinvented himself as an authoritarian demagogue, and then managed to place the entire civilized world at the mercy of his psychological problems.

  50. Anonymous Says:

    Roark #48:
    My family and I have viewed him as absurd for years and years. When Trump ran for president, it initially felt good because his stupidity suddenly became common knowledge.

  51. Anonymous Says:

    Roark #48:
    Also, my mother (a centrist/conservative Canadian) was incredulous when Trump started doing well in the primaries; she kept on asking “how can Americans be so stupid?”, and I told her to calm down because Trump had no chance of winning, but sadly she was right to be terrified.

  52. quax Says:

    Haven’t been on your blog for a while. How time flies and how fast they grow.

    Seems like yesterday that you blogged about her birth. Maybe a good thing that I didn’t get to put a question forward, mine would have been sneaky: “Who is smarter Daddy or Mummy, or is it about the same?” 😉

    All the best to your daughter and family!

  53. asdf Says:

    This was written in 2004 so is slightly dated, and it’s way longer than necessary to make the points that it does, but I found it interesting. It’s Philip Agre’s old essay “What is conservatism and what is wrong with it?” and describes conservatism basically as neo-feudalism. Url:


    There are a few rebuttals floating around online as well.

  54. Mark Says:

    I know this is bad etiquette, but given the high bar of your commentary, I wanted to comment on one of your statements, to the effect that 98% of intelligent people take your position on a controversial subject.

    As an apostate of the Left, I can assure you there is no lack of quality thinkers outside of the Overtun Bubble these days. The phase transitions predicted by “preference falsification,” which have been on full display recently, should give you some pause. The consensus you see may very well be a mirage.

    “When the actual reality is that, among the people whose intelligence (say) Boldmug would respect, probably 98% are closer to my side than to his—and the issue is just that, among that 98%, the overwhelming majority can’t be bothered to participate in comment sections. So then I, and one or two others, are left to carry the torch of Enlightenment on our own, against adversaries with unlimited time and paragraphs, and the absurd impression gets created that we’re an embattled minority.”

  55. J Says:

    Lily, can you sing:
    “Shalom aleichem,
    mal’achei hasharet
    mal’achei elyon.”

    My grandaughter (age 4) sings it and I feel completed.