Saturday, August 30, 2008

No news is good news? Fifi ***

There was a time when I used to read the newspaper, as a means for gaining "general knowledge", which all and sundry claimed was essential for your all round development. That is to say, there were quizzes and debates and such events at the school where you could prove your prowess, not to mention the chance of getting into the administration later in life, and lord over the masses. But as soon as I gained some degree of insight into what the news actually meant, if filled me with such revulsion that I stopped reading all but the headlines, and the comics. In my view, the larger the comic page, the better the newspaper. For what was news all about except acts of depravity, cruelty or bestiality carried out by mankind, over men, women, children, animals and the earth? It depressed me, and horrified me, and I had the feeling that the world as it was couldn't possibly last much longer if we all continued doing things like that. Well, so many years later, the world is still doing things like that, worse if possible, and we still have the same news of deaths, disappointments and derangements. Isn't there any good news ever? Not the kind of chicken soup stories that come from Readers' Digest, even though I do like reading them, only not in my newspaper. No, news of the good that men can do. Of the survival of good, of the heights that the human spirit can and does achieve, of the things that are possible with effort or imagination or both, of wonder and awe, of exploration and inspiration, without eulogizing or sentimentalizing the affair. I expect that is why the Olympics are such a draw. Even seen through the haze of politics and all the murkier affairs that will not die down, there is still an achievement to look up to each day as you open the newspaper.

Many characters on tv, or in books and comics have their own websites nowadays, and many of my links are of this nature. They may not be educational in that their primary purpose is to entertain, but for the tiny tots at least, there is still some computer dexterity to be learnt. I am not so sure about the older ones sustaining repetitive stress injuries and eye strain spending prolonged periods playing one game or the other, even though studies seem to point to better performance by laparoscopic surgeons playing video games. At any rate, most of these, because of the commercial nature of the endeavour, and because a lot of them are already animated characters, are quite well designed and maintained, and prove to be quite popular with kids. Today's site, Fifi and the flowertots, is one such site. It is run by Chapman entertainment limited. The characters are cute, and the animation quality good.

There are the usual games, printouts, bit of videos, sing along songs from the tv series, along with scrapbooks, ecards, events and promos, shop for fifi merchandise, and such stuff which I haven't personally tried yet. Games and songs, and at the most some videos have been our province so far, but I doubt not that this will change once my kid is old enough to 'network' at school or otherwise. The games have a sort of reward system wherein most of them will give you something to grow in 'your garden' when you finish successfully. Here is one which requires quick clicking of the mouse -

Be sure to warned though that the site is rather slow loading on low speed connections, and sometimes does not load correctly either, in which case you have to refresh the screen repeatedly.

The url -

P.S. Well, well, well, its already tomorrow, isn't it, despite my efforts to be short and sweet and catch the deadline. Sorry to be late and stuff, but this has to happen from time to time, and better not spend too many tears here. And, the next entry will have to wait too...

A gardening quote, and Peep*****

"Because at the end of the day or a lifetime, a person should be able to stand up and regret only the things they did, not the things they did not. The one hope is that in living like this, you have nothing at all to regret when everything is said and done."

Think about it; more in the PS section :)

Peep and the Big Wide World. Imagine being brand new to the world, just hatched from an intrepid egg. Curious, unafraid, making friends with the world. That is Peep. Then there is Quack, the eccentric purple duck who insists he is blue, and beautiful, and the best singer ever. Also selfish and greedy but ultimately, a friend. And Chirp, the bright and intelligent and somewhat cynical baby robin trying alwa
ys to soar. Peep's philosophy is, "Its a brand new day!" in tones of wonder and awe and great expectation. No, he never says it, but that is it. So how can it not be fun for children to watch Peep? Yes, it is a tv series, and yes, there are DVDs/CDs available, but for those of us without these, what a site!

They aren't stingy at all about sharing their videos, one each day. Not all, but enough. Over a couple of months you have seen them all and then they repeat. Although I did wish that they would have a ready supply online for repeat viewing because that is what little kids want to do, over time I have become accustomed to the format. Slightly older children - 4 yrs or so, will not have any trouble with wanting to see Peep again, now, all the time! Each one has a different scientific theme but wow, what a presentation! Even you get caught up in the story and don't realize that there is something being 'taught'. A perfect tool for teaching the rudiments of science to preschoolers, and for encouraging observation and assimilation. There are suggested outdoor activities and related books to help you teach :)

Check it out -

There are also games - just ten, but enough to keep kids busy a long time. All teach some skill or the other, and are self-leveling. If players answer a round without error, they are offered a harder level in the next round. If they do make an error on the way to success, they remain at the same difficulty level for the next round.

The characters were first created by Kai Pindal for the National Film Board of Canada Productions shows - The Peep show, 1962 and Peep and the big wide world, 1988. Currently the series is being produced by the WGBH Educational Foundation, Boston.

P.S. Now this (This garden is illegal) is an awesome blog. I am no gardener, but I just love going through this blog for the systematic way everything is documented, and oh, it just gets the feel of that wet earth in your fingernails across. Currently there is a tomato round up happening, which is very very interesting, to me, the total non gardener. But then again, I am always hungry for information, knowledge, input - does that ring a bell with anyone? A little robot bell, a movie bell? Back from digressing however, in the middle of the tomato round up, here is Hanna's entry on her husband joining up the National Guard. And this is where I picked up the quote above. Isn't is something special to find, amidst 'routine' life and 'normal' people, words that should be spelt WORDS? To see someone abreast with a truth, maybe a little truth, or a humongous one, but the sort of truth that life is built on? Thanks Hanna.

P.P.S. You can download one copy of the material on the Peep site for your own personal use on one computer - so you can actually keep all the videos handy for repeat viewing. Just a tip :)

Friday, August 29, 2008

Satin Steel Story place****

There is something about that line in Billy Joel's song Stranger - "Some are satin some are steel" that really holds me. I like the song, but this is about the only line that resonates in memory, and brings with it also a sense of what follows, but is just out of reach for the moment. Like being immersed in an aroma but not knowing the source. Or being impressed by a face and not knowing which feature was responsible. For some reason, actually remembering the words of the next line and the rest of the stanza don't quite help. Perhaps the poetry is in that line alone...

But more of poetry some other time. For now, this is more to do with the differences this line evokes, along with the unity of being just one all the same. So also posting here. Some fact, some fiction, some fantasy, some forwards, some fallacies, some foolishness. Mine. But which is which, can you tell? Ever?

I realize that my starring system is fallible, quite so, and also idiosyncratic. There are sites which I love and those which kids love, and they may not quite be the same. Then there are sites which are The Rage at one point of time, much like plain rice and no bananas, or Bournvita by the spoonful, and then they gather dust. How do they get rated? Hmm. More questions occur to you doubtless. Well, the rating is just a little clue. If its four or five stars, it means we have been there many times, either by choice or by 'mummy knows best' default. If its one or two, definitely not great. Three? Am playing with a coin. But the idea is that when you look at the heading, you have some little arrow saying, here may be a good site, read on! Story place is one site which makes me wish I was part of that library team (Public library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg county) which dreamt it up. Or that we had more libraries like this. Its not extensive, but adequate, especially in the preschool section. I do wish they'd add more stuff though :) There is a little animated story, a related (usually) online activity, an activity to do at home, a list of suggested books, and a bit of a guide for parents. Some, like the train and the fire engine one are sure to be perennial favourites.

Here is the screenshot and link to the fire engine story -

The url for the site for pre-school library is -

And that for the elementary library is -

But you can visit either one from the other, and from the story page, choose 'other themes' to go to the entire list available. Check it out. Good for preschool kids especially if you combine it with the recommended reading book list. Mine was still toddling when I found this site, but anything that looks cute and moves or sings is a hit at that age!

P.S. The lyrics for Stranger, from -

Well we all have a face
That we hide away forever
And we take them out and show ourselves
When everyone has gone
Some are satin some are steel
Some are silk and some are leather
They're the faces of the stranger

But we love to try them on
Well, we all fall in love
But we disregard the danger
Though we share so many secrets
There are some we never tell
Why were you so surprised
That you never saw the stranger

Did you ever let your lover see
The stranger in yourself?
Don't be afraid to try again
Everone goes south
Every now and then
You've done it, why can't someone else?
You should know by now
You've been there yourself

Once I used to believe
I was such a great romancer
Then I came home to a woman
That I could not recognize
When I pressed her for a reason
She refused to even answer
It was then I felt the stranger
Kick me right between the eyes

Well, we all fall in love
But we disregard the danger
Though we share so many secrets
There are some we never tell
Why were you so surprised
That you never saw the stranger
Did you ever let your lover see
The stranger in yourself?

Don't be afraid to try again
Everyone goes south
Every now and then
You've done it why can't someone else?
You should know by now
You've been there yourself

You may never understand
How the stranger is inspired
But he isn't always evil
And he isn't always wrong
Though you drown in good intentions
You will never quench the fire
You'll give in to your desire
When the stranger comes along.

P.P.S. Here is a favourite blog with poetry - I would love to read some more - do you recommend any?

P.P.P.S. I just love to keep on adding post scripts. You can tell, right?

P.P.P.P.S. Don't be surprised to see two entries separated by minutes - I am trying to get one out each date, so that is midnight to midnight :)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Imperfection and Uptoten*****

Back in class XI, or was it XII, there was an Ogden Nash poem which inspired our English teacher to get another one to read in the class. One about perfect people who pay their bills on time, have everything organized and so on and so forth. You can see how unlike I am by the fact that this is all I remember of the poem. If I knew some more words I could have searched it online, and quoted it here, just as a prelude to linking to this blog post. She is not perfect, not by Nash's definition, nor by her own, but wow, she is amazing! My place is a perfect pig sty right now, and procrastinator that I am, its just been piling on and on, and never ever would I have thought of that attitude - ok, what CAN I do? So, here is to Swistle, who has inspired me to feel just a pat my back a wee bit each time I pick and replace something in its rightful position.

Today's site is another favourite - Uptoten or Boowa and Kwala. Either search will lead you to the same page, but the site is actually called 'up to ten', which makes it obvious that it is designed for children less than ten years of age. It has two sections: the one for the younger tots, up to six, is the one with Boowa (a lovable dog) and Kwala (cute koala), and the one for older kids which is not so well developed yet. Boowa and Kwala have their own tv series, only not in our part of the world.

The site is free, but there is a paid full screen version without ads, which has recent, and just more of everything - games, animations, songs. There is also a version for schools. The games are organized by activity, but you can also search them by the skill it will develop - motor activity, intellectual agility or computer literacy and their components. The songs are cute, but just recently I felt that they were not as melodious as before, although still catchy. Animations are well done. There are new additions each month, added around a theme, which is chosen by a poll the month before. It is a very well organized and well thought of site, and I would recommend paying up for the full version if you are going to leave you kid unattended on the net. The screenshot above is from the demo through one of their affiliations which offer the full version at a discounted price to their customers. The free version looks as below -

The site is the brainchild of VĂ©ronique and Jason Barnard who started this in 1997. They run it from Mauritius now, claiming that the low stress location is conducive to creativity, and I must agree. Incidentally, Veronique is French, as are the Poisson rouge developers, and they are both Wonderful sites. Some coincidence? Poisson rouge is sans language, but this one is bilingual.

Here is the url for the opening page, which allows you to choose your version and proceed -

P.S. Here is another poem by Nash, since I couldn't get the one I wanted, and since this is kid oriented -


By Ogden Nash

Copyright Linell Nash Smith and Isabel Nash Eberstadt

Belinda lived in a little white house,
With a little black kitten and a little gray mouse,
And a little yellow dog and a little red wagon,
And a realio, trulio, little pet dragon.

Now the name of the little black kitten was Ink,
And the little gray mouse, she called her Blink,
And the little yellow dog was sharp as Mustard,
But the dragon was a coward, and she called him Custard.

Custard the dragon had big sharp teeth,
And spikes on top of him and scales underneath,
Mouth like a fireplace, chimney for a nose,
And realio, trulio, daggers on his toes.

Belinda was as brave as a barrel full of bears,
And Ink and Blink chased lions down the stairs,
Mustard was as brave as a tiger in a rage,
But Custard cried for a nice safe cage.

Belinda tickled him, she tickled him unmerciful,
Ink, Blink and Mustard, they rudely called him Percival,
They all sat laughing in the little red wagon
At the realio, trulio, cowardly dragon.

Belinda giggled till she shook the house,
And Blink said Week!, which is giggling for a mouse,
Ink and Mustard rudely asked his age,
When Custard cried for a nice safe cage.

Suddenly, suddenly they heard a nasty sound,
And Mustard growled, and they all looked around.
Meowch! cried Ink, and Ooh! cried Belinda,
For there was a pirate, climbing in the winda.

Pistol in his left hand, pistol in his right,
And he held in his teeth a cutlass bright,
His beard was black, one leg was wood;
It was clear that the pirate meant no good.

Belinda paled, and she cried, Help! Help!
But Mustard fled with a terrified yelp,
Ink trickled down to the bottom of the household,
And little mouse Blink strategically mouseholed.

But up jumped Custard, snorting like an engine,
Clashed his tail like irons in a dungeon,
With a clatter and a clank and a jangling squirm
He went at the pirate like a robin at a worm.

The pirate gaped at Belinda's dragon,
And gulped some grog from his pocket flagon,
He fired two bullets but they didn't hit,
And Custard gobbled him, every bit.

Belinda embraced him, Mustard licked him,
No one mourned for his pirate victim
Ink and Blink in glee did gyrate
Around the dragon that ate the pyrate.

Belinda still lives in her little white house,
With her little black kitten and her little gray mouse,
And her little yellow dog and her little red wagon,
And her realio, trulio, little pet dragon.

Belinda is as brave as a barrel full of bears,
And Ink and Blink chase lions down the stairs,
Mustard is as brave as a tiger in a rage,
But Custard keeps crying for a nice safe cage.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Myalgia, and Mauki*** (untested actually, but can predict its likeability)

Sorry, no chitter chatter today - yet. Do I detect some signs of exuberant joy there? Have been surfing a lot today, hence a pain in the neck, so have to get up and smell some smog by extending my neck and sniffing the sky. Posting first, and will edit later if I have time :)

While we are still talking of little babies, here is a site that I discovered just today. Just a cute little kitty Mauki sitting and watching where your mouse is going. By itself, the concept is nothing new, and is likely part of many games which I don't remember because they are just one of many on a site. But babies like cats and kittens, and there is not much they can damage they can do here if you let them have the mouse for once, especially if you make the browser full screen. On the other hand, they will learn how moving the mouse makes something happen on the screen.

The site that is hosting this flash animation isn't sure where it originally comes from, but if you follow the links from them (, you can download it to sit on your desktop :)

P.S. If you have been looking at the screen for far too long, do yourself a favour and look just a bit more to read up about eye strain caused by computers at

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A question and the red fish *****

A friend today forwarded one of the usual corny emails you get from time to time, about happiness and how you should be happy just now rather than waiting for something to happen next. You know; you have read it a dozen times already. I don't know anyone who lives like that permanently, not just once in a while, except maybe Eckhart Tolle, and he doesn't quite count, being ignorant of my existence, even if he were only a few miles away. And I don't think I even know anyone who is constantly trying to live by that principle. If I were to talk to this friend, or any other, it is unlikely that we will be talking of being happy right now. Jobs, children, weather, family, pressures, achievements, food, medicine - any number of things, but not happiness. Just normal 'worldly' talk. We are all, at this stage of our lives, world weary cynics, seeing the world in increasing shades of gray rather than the black and white once visible when very young. We may not be doing anything to alleviate world poverty, or inequality or the arms war; we may not be interested in the energy conundrums or global warming or going green; we may not like to give alms, to be friends with our neighbours, to be tolerant of another's beliefs. But, something like this comes along, a sermon sans a human face, and it still touches us. We read, nod to ourselves, perhaps make a note, and then, pass it on. Why?

Ok, drivel over, and time for the site for today. Poisson rouge. The red fish. A creation of Patric Turner and Edith Furon. This is a really truly wonderful site, currently free although in need of support, so if you like it, do try and send a little something their way for the immensely creative work they are doing. Its a site meant totally for children, to allow them to explore at leisure and own pace, and to encourage the use of mouse - mine got proficient after being stuck on this site for what seemed like ages, but was probably just a few months, of 'red fish! red fish!' squeaked in an excited voice each meal time. The games are nice, and easy, and fun, and there is also a bit of learning tucked in here and there unobtrusively. Here is a description in their own words -

There are no instructions on the site and there are some good reasons for that: most people, even adults, do not read instructions, children who cannot read will ignore written text anyhow, but most importantly for us, there is no need and in fact, instructions get in the way of the experience : the navigation through the various sections of the site is purposefully simple and intuitive, the functionalities within games are carefully thought out to afford a maximum of possibilities while keeping that special relationship to the real World. When small children pick up objects, they invent new ways of holding and using them. Thus there is no right or wrong way of using anything on this site. It's up to the children to find what they want and to grow their naturally exploring mind. We found that what they don't discover straight away, they'll find later, what they don't know how to do at first, they'll learn when they are ready and, as many of you know and/or have found out, that is extremely powerful and confidence building. Having said that, we also found out that adults were quite confused by all that. What? No text? So we have finally decided to give parents who do not have the time to explore - and teachers who are preparing lesson plans - a quick guide to all the games, activities and animations on the site (for those who are wondering there are over 200 of them!)...

Its a website for infants to preschoolers, but I think kids even later will enjoy it simply because of the way it is presented. All kids are curious, and there are no dangers here, everything is clickable, findable. Take a look, and be prepare to be hooked by the fish instead. Here is the url -

Edit 9th Oct. 2008 - I have added another post with more information and more pictures today.

P.S. The forwarded mail, in part, and minus the cartoons appended, read -

"We convince ourselves that life will be better after we get married, have a baby, then another. Then we are frustrated that the kids aren't old enough and we'll be more content when they are. After that, we're frustrated that we have teenagers to deal with. We will certainly be happy when they are out of that stage. We tell ourselves that our life will be complete when our spouse gets his or her act together, when we get a nicer car, when we are able to go on a nice vacation or when we retire. The truth is there's no better time to be happy than right now. If not now, when? Your life will always be filled with challenges.

It's best to admit this to yourself and decide to be happy anyway. Happiness is the way.

So, treasure every moment that you have and treasure it more because you shared it with someone special, special enough to spend your time with..... and remember that time waits for no one.

So, stop waiting
Until your car or home is paid off.
Until you get a new car or home.
Until your kids leave home....."

P.P.S. I just discovered that I hadn't yet explored their link section, which is a recent addition, when they did up their shop. When you have time, you can check those out as well, and I will too :)

Day one, and kneebouncers*****

In the nineties, back when I was still staying in hostels and delighting in the restaurants of C.P., a friend got married. Had a son. I was maha impressed that when that little kid got to be four year old or so, he was able to make basic webpages and do some programming. Or so I remember. It may be that he was just able to put the computer on and start his favourite game, but I had not so much as touched one at that point of time, and his achievements were really cool. His father was totally into computers, of course. So much so that he designed his own website, combined it with his love of traveling and came up with an online travel agency. And left his anaesthesia practice. But thats just a story. The point being that when computers are as basic an equipment around the house as a toothbrush, kids will take as naturally to them as er, to brushing their teeth? But (again!) thats not why the kid site section of my bookmarks grew to eclipse the rest of them, or made me get Foxmarks so I could synchronize them over different machines. No, that story has to do with my own precious bundle of joy not eating. Period. No matter what the incentive offered, or what the punishment suggested, right from the time weaning started, food, and drinks even more so, have been no-no-no-NO! unless I managed to distract attention from the fact that there was something going in the tummy, with a basketful of toys. One fine day, papa dear got his laptop and a nursery rhyme cd to the table, just to see if that would help, and mummy got a little break from washing toys after each meal. The laptop never left our table since. And I got started on my newest collection, which I itch to share with friends, family and teachers, hoping that someone else will be able to show me new things :)

So, here we are. There will be two main parts to each post. One, a lot of piddling nonsense like what you have just read. And two, the website of the day, with hopefully a sentence or two describing it, so you know what it is like. I will post the url as it is now, but am not going to keep on checking for broken links, so if you don't find it, you can do a google search to see if its still alive.

So, today's site is something for the littlest ones. Its called Kneebouncers, and it has been developed by Punch Communications, LLC. A site for little ones to play with when bouncing on your knees. It has very simple, bright and colourful bold images, and no advertisements. A few games, all played by simply tapping on the keyboard, an event which leads to peek-a-boo or some other change in the screen image. Even before they start reaching out for the keyboard - which is difficult to imagine since mine was doing it before starting to sit - you can show them this, and they'll enjoy it. The sound effects are nice, and the animations cute and smooth. Plus, it doesn't take very long to load up. I don't know how to embed links yet, and the photo is just a screenshot (edit - learned how to link but still leaving url so you know what it is!), but check it out -

P.S. Of course there are post scripts. For one, here is Dr. Rakesh Anand's travel agency site - Maybe he will correct me regarding the prowess of his eldest, but no matter what, he can't take away my sense of awe then at his son's playing with the impressive machine! And of course, I do so admire his taking an uncharted territory on for the fun of it, then making it such a success.

P.P.S. The second one of course is about Foxmarks. I had recently shifted to Firefox, tired of the IE closing down on me every now and then, and was totally floored by its tabbing feature, when this sudden surge in bookmarking made me look for something to synchronize bookmarks added here and there. Foxmarks are a life saver, and I don't know what to do without them now! Plus they are improving and already in alpha for the IE. Do check them out as well - By the way, firefox shuts down on me as well, but it has this neat feature of being able to restore all tabs and windows as they were before it was paralysed, so I don't mind as much. Unless you are in the middle of writing a long blog entry like this. Keeping my fingers crossed!

P.P.P.S. Adding this later - check out the stars in the heading for each site to get an idea of how much we like it here. Zero through five.