Saturday, September 13, 2008

Summer nights and H.I.P. for change****


Summer Night

by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809 – 1892)

Now sleeps the crimson petal, now the white;
Nor waves the cypress in the palace walk;
Nor winks the gold fin in the porphyry font:
The firefly wakens: waken thou with me.

Now droops the milk-white peacock like a ghost,
And like a ghost she glimmers on to me.

Now lies the Earth all Danaƫ to the stars,
And all thy heart lies open unto me.

Now slides the silent meteor on, and leaves
A shining furrow, as thy thoughts in me.

Now folds the lily all her sweetness up,
And slips into the bosom of the lake:
So fold thyself, my dearest, thou, and slip
Into my bosom and be lost in me.


The U.S. mint website for children, H.I.P. pocket change is a cool site which is fun in addition to being truly informational. The letters stand for History In your Pocket, a nice way of describing the coins this site is all about. There are the usual games, albeit related in one way or the other to coinage -

You can view these games according to the child's age, and if you wish, there are suggested lesson plans and other ideas for teachers related to each game. Here is a view of the dollar dive game. Note how the game helps in identification of coins, and teaches addition, plus mouse handling.

However, the other sections are just as much fun as the games. The time machine has the whole history of the US mint, and coins, in an animation, with some fun and games thrown in. There are informational cartoons about the currency of other countries, and about how a coin is minted. It is actually much cooler than it sounds here, and you might discover things you never knew! Do check it out!

There is also a section on coin news which features news about new coins as well as some features which probably wouldn't fit anywhere else. And another sectioned camp coin, which you had better check out because we haven't ever reached that far!

The url for HIP change -

P.S. Summer is ending for the northern hemisphere, and already some of us are feeling the chilly breath of winter to come. I am feeling a little romantic - as you already noticed I suppose from the Tennyson quoted, and a little nostalgic...

the heart searches for those days and nights of leisure again
when, free of care, we sat blissful...

in the toasty winter sun, lying in the yard,
(my eyes pulling the shade of your aanchal to me)
prone, or on my side...
the heart searches for those days and nights of leisure again...

or those summer nights when the easterlies blew,
lying awake till late on cool white sheets
watching the stars from the rooftop...
the heart searches for those days and nights of leisure again...

in the frosty winters, on any mountain,
listening to silence echoing in the vales,
holding some wet moments in my eyes...
the heart searches for those days and nights of leisure again...

P.P.S. What a beautiful song from Gulzar! Madan Mohan made the perfect lazy going melody, and Bhupinder has sung it with such ease that I can't help remembering hot summer nights on the rooftop myself...

For more information on Gulzar, try

For another translation, slightly more literal I suspect, check Atul's songaday blog.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Designing + Caillou****

From andDesign online magazine, for people interested in Design Education in K-12 schools,

"Non-designers often think that design consists mainly of decorating something - adding color and flourishes to make it "pretty". Designers make a big distinction between decoration and design. Whether it be in graphic design, product design, or environment design would-be "designers" have to get past the early "decorating" tendency. The need to first create the underlying structure is why many architectural models are done in plain white. In architecture, interior design, product design and, or for that matter, graphic design, structure is key."
Earlier, I would have read this statement and then, forgotten about it. Design was not my forte, and it is unlikely that I would have stopped here, at this e-magazine. Since I became a parent, however, I have been very gradually getting aware of how all children's books, not to mention toys and toy boxes and other paraphernalia are designed. Not just the designer clothes one associated the word design with earlier, but also the layout of a book, the colour co-ordination on a box, the ease of use of a website, the comforting feel of a toy - all the myriad components that make a product attractive in one way or the other. There is a kind of beauty in suddenly finding a world to discover at this age, at learning to piece together the various elements of design that make me like this or that, much like my child is doing with the rest of the world. It is fun! Take a look at all the sites I have reviewed so far. Bold bright colours, simple lines, non fussy layout - one look at the site's screenshot gives you an idea of how much you or your kid will like it.

Check out how true it is in today's featured site - Caillou's. This is another of the English/French sites with beautiful visuals.

you click the play with Caillou button, an animation starts which leads you to Caillou's house, and there you meet up with him to play on games in his room, or the kitchen, the garden, the playground, or the school. Each scene is beautifully detailed and mouse movement leads to attractive changes. This scene is the playground, where you have two games highlighted -

In the beginning the child is asked whether he/she is playing alone or with a grown up - the games are then presented to involve the grown up as well. Each game has three levels of difficulty, but there is no choice about which level. You invariably start with the lowest unless you have been to the site recently, in which case it will start at the last level, and you can't change it. (But perhaps if the child is playing alone - something not very common with us - you do start at the lower levels repeatedly. Just a thought.)

The games are well designed, and hold interest for a long time. The train conductor game (from the playroom) and the dinosaur game (from the garden) are special favourites, but that changes with time, and varies from child to child. There is an element of learning associated with all games, even though they may not be designed to be as educational as say, BBC, or Uptoten, or Poisson Rouge. I particularly liked the dinosaur game for the way it introduced the concept of fossils. Followed by the Dr. Seuss publication, "Oh say, can you say?" (Cat in the hat learning library), this made an abstract concept very simple to visualize.

The url for the main site -

The downside for Caillou of course is the time it takes to load up, and if it ever gets stuck in the middle, you have to restart from the beginning, i.e. from the main page. That is the price you pay for the whole experience being in Flash. (Or whatever it is!)

The site, and the tv series is produced by Cookie Jar Entert

Also good is PBS kids Caillou at A simpler interface, and simpler games.

P.S. Also, while talking of design in books, I have been fascinated by the Art in them. Many a times my decision to buy a book when just glancing at it has been influenced by the quality of the illustrations. Some of the books I have are so detailed as to be too confusing for a young child, but I keep them in the hope that with time its intricate lines will become easy and the beauty of the whole more apparent. I have bought books simply because we didn't have any in the patchwork style or collage like illustrations, or the art resembled tribal designs, or African, or traditional Indian - and I am always looking! So, when I discovered a pictorial blog by Priya Kuriyan, who has designed for Scholastic books, I was thrilled to find, as a bonus, three very short but very cute films about animals meant for preschoolers. Check the June entry.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


So, Kipper.

Kipper Online belongs to HIT Entertainment Ltd. (U.K.) and Mick Inkpen, the creator of this cool dog. If you have seen their tv shows, or the cds, you know how well the stories are illustrated, and you expect something similar. Instead, this seems to be more in sync with the books in that there is hardly any music, and only three little games, one of which is colouring. Rather a poor show I am afraid. Still, in conjunction with a book or two, and maybe a cd, one mealtime passed by....

This is one of the games. Nice sweetly coloured images, and not a bad game but soon over. Wish they'd add some more!

The url -

P.S. Today, no time for more, so a small post :)

Concerning the aesthetics of living

Its a quiet summer afternoon in this posh locality. It had been sunny and hot earlier, and the road, slightly shaded by the tall thin Eucalyptus, was no place to linger. School children have been collected and restored to their homes, maids have scurried into houses for afternoon cleanings, and few vehicles use this colony lane. The houses are large but cramped, filling out into their allotted space like middle age paunches. Some have been demolished to make way for builder flats three or four storeys high. Balconies overhang the lane, showing the only sign of activity as ladies and maids scurry to pick dry clothes from washing lines in the increasing wind, afraid of a heavy drizzle.

The roads here are narrow and congested, the government flats designed without any thought for space, sunlight or ventilation, blocks upon blocks of standard little rooms built with the increasing bulge of official satin lined pockets in uncounted years. The occupants have tried to fit their life into these boxes, but increasingly illegal construction activity appears with ascending affluence and expanding family sizes. Balconies are enlarged and covered, and irregular jutting cabinets or roomlets appear where a little space permits. The daily washing is strung out on strings attached to window grilles, or the stairwell banisters left open.

Looking out of the running train, with the window closed and the A/C functioning, there is no residual dirt on your face at the end of the journey to show for the hours you spent next to the window, eagerly watching one picture postcard scene of rural life after another. Nor are your hair in a tangled heap from the rushing wind, powdered with suet from the engine stack. The bellowing of cattle, the sweet cacophony of parrots gathering at dusk, the screech of peacocks dancing in the rain, the bells of bullock carts waiting at the crossing are no more. The hay thatched mud houses with the tulsi plant in the courtyard, guarding washing strung on lopsided poles or mango trees and the odd goat or two, are still there.

Three little sniplets of life. Three little windows into someone's life lived in four walls, unseen by the visitor who lingers outside, save for the washing strung out to dry. Flapping merrily in the wind, or dripping morosely onto the pavement or the balcony below, clothes drying outside are a common scene in India. As common as the cows on the streets, or the families doing balancing acts on a scooter made for two. All sorts of clothes get their time in the sun and wind, from the mewling babies' diapers to the designer shirts of the dapper bachelor who runs his washing machine once a week, on free days. Outerwear and delicate undergarments, big bulky sweaters and small hankies, fancy clothes and torn dusters share this space alike, jostling for the best view. A painter I respect once said that she found this display of your wardrobe unseemly and unsightly, that clothes were better hung indoors somewhere, out of the view of passerby, who could revel in the perfectness of the facade so presented.

To her, and to all others who think alike - I know there are many - this is my answer.

I could say that in a country like India, with sunlight all year round except the few months of monsoon when rains for more than three days at a stretch leave houses smelling mouldy and unsanitary, it would be criminal to not take advantage of this abundant energy source. That sunlight acts against bacteria and other pathogens, and it would be a waste to instead dry clothes indoors under running fans and rising humidity. That the machine dryers are ecologically no match for clothes hung out to dry. That when space is a premium for living, when families are cramped in one room apartments, clothes are better outside than in. That even for those who could just afford to buy a dryer, to make space in the house or the budget for its daily electricity consumption is difficult. But these are logical reasons. Many reasons why this doesn't make sense, but not the one reason I feel about the aesthetics of living. Life is in living, not in showing. To me, a line of clothing hanging outside is a sign of life, of families loving, eating, sleeping, washing. A sign that all these houses are inhabited by living people, who have their own worries, own joys, own tensions, own successes, own lives, and are a part of this world that I also live in. Looking at blocks of balconies with the triumphant pennants of life waving to me feels like opening a book of short stories.

Why shouldn't we embrace this sign of life with joy rather than compare it to the architect's design table diagrams?

P.S. To say that the Centre national d'art et de culture Georges Pompidou is a popular place would be somewhat of an understatement. About six million people visit it every year. And whether or not they go to look at the outside rather than the museum or theater or library inside, the exterior of the building designed by Renzo Piano, Richard Rogers and Gianfranco Franchini, assisted by Ove Arup & Partners is always a talking point.

The designers, trying to free up space within the building, located all the utilities, including the elevators, outside. And the world still talks about it.

But, what about the aesthetics of the building? Does this mess (even if well ordered mess) of pipes and scaffolding and elevators add to the spartan, functional modern appearance, or does it detract from what would otherwise have been a well polished smooth exterior? What do you feel about it?
Is the building unique, modernistic, aspirational, whatever-positive-adjective-you-can-think-of? Or is it an ugly blot on the neighbourhood?

P.P.S. The image is from the website of Centre Pompidou, and is linked accordingly.

P.P.P.S. The homecoming of the G.I. by Norman Rockwell, long considered to be an iconic painter of the quintessential American life. Image from; click on it to go to the relevant page for a larger version. Note the washing hung outside - would you prefer a sanitized version of this emotional painting, sans the washing?

P.P.P.P.S. Today I am going to divide the post into two parts cleanly rather than clubbing the two together as an experiment. Which is better?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Internet safety at NetSmartzKids***

When I classified the sites I am showcasing, I left out one category which doesn't quite fit anywhere. And that is the links page - the ubiquitous page which pops up on most sites with a list of links or resources to go to. Many of these are invariably broken, and the usefulness of a link seems to be related to how deeply buried it is in the long list, but there is no denying that the link page is, quite quite needed! Today's post is going to be a link post itself, with constant addition of links about internet safety for children, as I discover them in my collection or on the net. (And when I have more time than today!)

We all know the basic net safety rules, but we also flout them ourselves all the time - no personal information on the net (and that includes identifying photographs), checking safety of sites before divulging credit card numbers, no opening of emails from unidentified personnel, no meeting people we have just met online - because you don't know who is reading your post or looking at your photograph. It could be someone on the north pole, benign and smiling, or it could be your next door neighbour not convicted of a heinous crime for want of evidence, or the pervert who decides, out of the blue, to just randomly zero in on you to harass, or the roving ad-man looking for free photographs to filch and use for an ad for a product which you would never ever endorse in your waking life (nightmares not counted!), or an unscrupulous copy paster of your words. Remember that the net is like a public park or a railway station, only more public, and if you open your clothes to show the new purchase to your intimates, well, the park is watching. Or if you shout out to your friends to come look at the condo you redecorated, there are all sorts of people there, listening. We all forget in a short while of being with friends, or with friendly strangers on a forum, in a community, or, on a blog, that this is a vast conglomeration of all sorts of people, the good bad and ugly included. Also, the anonymity offered by the net makes all of us bolder in the pursuit of our ideas, be they good, or BAD. We break these rules despite knowing all this. Because it is in the human nature to network, to share, to bond. And children are doubly vulnerable on this account because of their inherent curiosity, and openness and trust in case of younger, and rebelliousness in case of older children. And it becomes our responsibility to teach them the tools for safety. For safety is a mindset. Safety of any kind. It doesn't lie in memorizing a set of rules only, but in knowing the points where failure to follow these rules can cause accidents.

A couple of books in the Tumblebook library can serve as a beginning even
if you don't have those books -

Little Red in cyberspace by Meghan Price,

and - which doesn't appear to have an author listed

Netsmartzkids is "an interactive, educational safety resource from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children® (NCMEC) and Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA) for children aged 5 to 17, parents, guardians, educators, and law enforcement that uses age-appropriate, 3-D activities to teach children how to stay safer on the Internet".

There are games and puzzles and activities and ecards and a club, but the most important part of the site is the Use Your Netsmartz section which features the actual tips for net safety. I am sorry that I haven't yet explored this site fully, so if falls to you to do so. But as this post will be updated later, as I mentioned, I will add on my take as well.

The url -

P.S. The first list link - Chicago Public Library.

Chiao, and safe surfing!

Of folktales and Tumblebook*****

Once upon a time, in a little village in Assam, lived a poor old childless couple who couldn't afford to make ends meet. In their old age, they were blessed with a girl child whom they decided they couldn't keep, so they left her in the jungle. Now this child, after some time, landed up with an eagle, who decided to bring her up as her own child. So the girl grew up in the eyerie, with everything a human child could need being provided by the eagle mother. When the girl was a young maiden, the mother went away for a short while after teaching her daughter a song to call her in case of an emergency. The emergency arose in the form of a merchant who happened to sit under the tree for rest, and glanced up at the eagle daughter. The girl had never seen men, though she had heard tell of them, so she called for her mother. The eagle mother thought the chappie looked prosperous and smart, so she inquired further into his prospects. Turned out he had seven wives, but was most happy to take the eighth pretty young one, so the marriage was duly solemnized.
Now the other seven wives were duly jealous of this young one, who never did any work but sat pretty all day long, so they cornered her one day and asked her to cook a meal. The eagle daughter naturally had never done any such work before so she called up her mother, and found that all she had to do was to put two pots to boil with rice and vegetables in them. The other seven wives ate and ate and threw and threw (covertly of course) but the utterly delicious food lasted on. Defeated they next asked her to clean a barn which she did by gently moving one stick of the broom all around. But the last straw was her making clothes for the husband by locking some cotton in boxes while they toiled and cleaned cotton, and spun thread, and wove clothes, and dyed, and cut and sewed. So they lured the eagle mother down and killed her, and in the absence of the husband, sold her to a river trader. Some time later, as the merchant was sitting by the river, he heard a familiar voice from a boat, singing the sad song of eagle daughter's life. Husband and wife were reunited, the wife duly hidden in a wooden box while the merchant went back home and talked to the other seven. Pretending disbelief in their version of the girl's disappearance, he made them walk across a deep ditch over a thin thread, which broke under all except the seventh who it transpired had been in the kitchen at the time of the conspiracy.

So the merchant lived happily everafter with the seventh wife and the eighth.
As a child, one of the most enduring memories I have is of the summer vacations with long empty days spent doing nothing, or exploring in the sheer June heat, oblivious to it all. In the afternoon, if one were lucky, and definitely in the night, nani spun her stories. Folktales for the most part, but also short stories by famous authors adapted for children among other things. That despite this, and the many many more stories my own mother gave me, I have no recollection of the stories I heard is a terrible loss for the next generation. So when I found this book called 'Folktales of India' by A.K.Ramanujan, published by the NBT, I was thrilled. But apart from discovering that most of these stories were unfamiliar, I found many more questions than I had anticipated. A folktale is truly a democratic mirror; for the people, of the people and by the people. At one time, their very distance from the present made them attractive, believable because so unreal. But now, look closely into its fabric, and what do you see, with grown up eyes?
  • So many of the folktales are about the poor downtrodden peasant or woodcutter or gatherer; almost an equal number about kings and castles and exotica. Would this one count as a 'middle class' tale, with the merchant as one of its protagonists? I am afraid I am going to remember it as the poor couple's story who couldn't afford to keep a child with them. What about you?
  • The little girl child whom nobody wanted, ever. Always it is the girl who is abandoned; the boys are lost or misplaced. Or so it seems to me. Are your recollections different?
  • Wonder how the eagle taught the, er, human graces about natural functions if not food to her daughter? And how did she feed a neonate? How did she teach her speech? Oh, sorry, of course the eagle conversed in human language. But how high was the tree, and how is it that it took sixteen years for the girl to see a man? And oh, how did she learn to walk on land after her arboreal life? But these are mere trifles in the face of mighty magic. Belief in magic is a prerequisite for listening to a folktale. Did you have doubts as a child?
  • But, what kind of a society was that - is that - which permits a man married seven times to be an attractive groom, even if he is not quite the maharajah?
  • And imagine the scenario in the household in real life. Seven wives toiling away, cooking, cleaning, waiting for and fighting for a morsel of attention from the husband who is bewitched by the new one? Women with no stature save that of the amount of attention (and its associated affluence) that the man decides to bestow upon them? No choices, no will, no means of attaining anything at all in life except through this man to whom they are yoked. All their life's force, and mind's energy spent in trying to eke out a living in this small universe of theirs. What choice do you have if your life stage is that small? Wiles, lies and gossip - what else serves? Not a deep knowledge of international affairs, not the application of mass psychology to a nation waiting to be swayed, nor the Kautilyan principles of war among clans and states. And so they are punished. But punished for what? What is it actually that these women paid for with their lives? The killing of a bird? The inhumanity of their behaviour towards the young woman? The plotting against her life - if it is construed that way? Yes, they were definitely wrong, but increase the scale a million fold, and is the politic sacrifice of a part of your nation - or party - in the greater good - is that viewed in the same light? Or was the punishment for removing the young plaything of their lord, of daring to be anything but the maids in that household now that this new one was home?
  • The merchant's 'magnanimity' in taking the girl back to his bosom after she had spent days with another man (what, you don't think he wanted a young nubile woman to simply gut his fish, do you?) is also quite a contrast to the maryada purushottam's prescriptions. Very interesting, don't you think, that the object of desire remained desirable with no moral high horse to ride? What is your interpretation?
Ok, now to Tumblebook.

The Tumblebook library is a Toronto based online collection of animated electronic version of popular 'paper' story books. The books are photographed (I think) in such a way as to create movement, and some animation, a voice over, and text (which is highlighted as it is read) added later. The result are very impressive, with no loss of the appeal of the original artwork but with added animation which holds interest. The Tumblebook is full page with its own controls. Each title has associated quizzes and/or games, and teacher notes for integration in the classroom activity. There are a sufficient number of titles, and new ones are being added, so you have a lot to do here :) There are also read-along books for middle and high schoolers, and an audio library for adults (see note below for usage).

The drawback to this excellent site is that it is only meant for libraries and schools - at $399 per year. No individual memberships. Rather unfortunate, but if your library or kid's school offers this as part of their online access, do take advantage of having someone else reading a story aloud :) since remote access is allowed.

The url -

P.S. The first photo above is the home page, and the second a screenshot of one of the featured stories, but the links will not likely take you to this home page but an 'access denied' page since you are not going from a library.

P.P.S. While on folktales, here is a little link to some folktales from Thailand - I can't vouch for the other links here, but do follow the ones under the heading folktales for some fun :)

Edit 21st Sep. 2008 - I realized - much later - that I had mixed up stories a bit. The parents in the folktale were actually young, but the father did not want a girl child, so the mother had decided to abandon her. Even sadder.


Instead of a double post as promised, here I am, already reneging badly on even a normal schedule. All I can say in defence is that I have had several little things happening on home front, and so, when in addition there are power cuts, and the net connection becomes so slow that a simple page takes about ten minutes and many reloads - it is about time to give up and try later. Maybe in an alternate universe in another decade or so. Planned posts include one on internet safety, and another on folktales. Keep your fingers crossed, and I will be back sooner!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Dr Seuss! Dr Seuss!***

Oh, the thinks you can think!

You can
think up
some birds.
That's what you can do.
You can think about yellow
or think about blue...

You can think about red.
You can think about pink.
You can think up a horse.
Oh, the THINKS you can think!

Oh, the THINKS
you can think up
if only you try!

If you try try,
you can think up
a GUFF going by.

And you don’t have to stop.
You can think about SCHLOPP.
Schlopp. Schlopp. Beautiful schlopp.
Beautiful schlopp
with a cherry on top.

You can think about gloves.
You can think about SNUVS.

You can think a long time
about snuvs and their gloves.

You can think about
Kitty O’Sullivan Krauss
in her big balloon swimming pool
over her house.

Think of black water.
Think up a white sky.
Think up a boat.
Think of BLOOGS blowing by.

You can think about Night,
a night in Na-Nupp.
The birds are asleep
and the three moons are up.

You can think about Day,
a day in Da-Dake.
The water is blue
and the birds are awake.

Think! Think and wonder.
Wonder and think.
How much water
can fifty-five elephants drink?

You can wonder . . .

How long
is the tail
of a ZONG?

There are so many THINKS
that a Thinker can think!

Would you dare
yank a tooth
of the

what would
you do
you met

Oh, the THINKS
you can think!

Think of
Peter the Postman
who crosses the ice
once every day –
and on Saturdays, twice.

THINK! You can think
that you wish . . .

a race
on a horse
on a ball
with a fish!

Think of Light.
Think of Bright.
Think of
Stairs in the Night.

Think a ship.
Think up a long trip.
Go visit the VIPPER.,
the Vipper of Vipp.

And left!
Think of Left!

And think about BEFT.
Why is it that beft
always go to the left?

And why is it
so many things
go to the Right?
You can think about THAT
until Saturday night.

Think left and think right
and think low and think high.

Oh, the THINKS you can think up if only you try!

Time to brush off the cobwebs from those Dr Seuss hats, and think! I was going to do a post about thought, the process, and how fun it is, and more, but Dr. Seuss says it so much better!

So, naturally, today's site has to be Seussville, run by Random House. Very Seussian in design, but the games were disappointing. Only four online games, and pretty much mundane ones at that, like the Cat in the Hat one in which you have to remember the sequence of the phrases used, or the memory game below. One expects something rather - well, Seussian - from these people! But then, Dr. Seuss himself is no more, so his Thinks have probably gone with him. There are no games for the toddler/preschooler group unless they play the memory game.

On the plus side, there are other links which are useful, like the story maker, or the quote delivery link, or the links which lead you to places you can shop for Seuss related paraphernalia like clothing or accessories! A site to use when you have a Dr. Seuss based project going on, or when you are reading these books in school.

The url -
If this doesn't work, try searching for seussville directly :)

P.S. I didn't have the whole think poem with me, so have quoted it from this page at

P.P.S. Another Seuss poem worth sharing is the 'Oh, the places you'll go!'
...So be sure when you step.
Step with care and great tact
and remember that Life's
a Great Balancing Act
And will you succees?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and 3/4 percent guranteed.)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Idea Ikea plus Pocoyo***

It was said of Tolkien that the world is divided into two kinds of people - those who have read Tolkien, and those who are going to. The world can also be divided into those who have been to IKEA and those who are going to. I am thinking of a cartoon by the Hilary Price, which appeared a couple of years back, in which a couple is talking 'Ikea-ese', with comments like "oh, lets get Inreda here, and maybe a Lekman there - and wouldn't Dremel look great over against the wall?" To those who have been to Ikea - and you can't go once without getting hooked for repeated visits - the humour in the usage of such exotic names to replace ordinary furniture terms is obvious. To the latter, the cartoon would have been just so much garbage or greek: take your pick. Which category do you belong to?

I like IKEA, with its slogan of affordable solutions for better living. If you haven't seen their products, check out their catalogue for 2009 for an idea of what they are about. The products are well designed, usually stylish and comfortable, and priced modestly compared to the competition. In their own words, "IKEA products are hard-wearing and easy to live with. They reflect and facilitate an easy, natural and unconstrained way of life. They express form, and are colourful and cheerful. And they appeal to the young at heart of all ages." But what I like most about them, even better than their socially and ecologically responsible manufacturing, is the fact that they are there at all. Let me see if I can explain.

IKEA is an idea, the idea that you don't need to buy the most expensive designer furniture and furnishings available to be able to assemble your own style, your own signature decor. Try wrapping your mind around this idea; trace it back, forwards and sideways; follow it up to see the magnitude of the network of sourcing, manufacturing plants and skilled labour, designing and material planning, shipping and selling required to get this idea off ground. To achieve affordability and style in the same product, to make it reasonably good looking and yet not too tacky from the cheaper building blocks used, to look at new ways of looking at the form and function of a common use product - these are probably simple exercises in school for most designers. And yet, it is difficult, as difficult as the Nano to produce, because it requires a vision of a different kind to make such dreams into ground reality. To understand people as well as materials to be able to coax what you want of them. To see how you may achieve the best possible combination of cheap sourcing, from which part of the globe and from how many sources, and efficient manufacturing, in which factory, using which tools, and which sort of artisans (including robots!); to be able to predict the trends in consumer likes and dislikes; to be, in short, a businessman. That is the achievement of IKEA, as one hopes it will be of the Nano, that it started from a simple idea, a dream, if you will, and made it possible, and in doing so, changed the world's perception about its products.

Did I say simple? Nay, the concept is simple, but the idea - well, that idea had to be huge to be able to accomplish all this. When Ingvar Kamprad had this idea of selling cheap but quality furniture in the late 1940s as a mail order company using a milk van to take his products to the railway station, did he envisage this international web of today? I think he did, I think he did. For there is no way you can grow like this if you are banking on chance alone. So, it is that IDEA which I like, that mind which saw and shaped it to reality, that complex thought process... Isn't it beautiful, the working of a mind like this?

Enough of blah blah blah then? Ok, today's site is Pocoyo's. You may be familiar with it from watching shows on the telly, but even if you are not, little ones will enjoy the simple games and the animations here (under cinema). There are two games right now, but earlier they had three different ones, so maybe they keep changing the games. Last I checked, which was a while back, there were three animations, and all take a while to load up on a low speed connection. Once loaded though, they will run smoothly unless a long time has elapsed or you have had your computer hibernate in the meanwhile. Nice bright colours and cute ideas for the animations, not to mention the basic concept of Pocoyo learning by exploring his environment. Fun for toddlers, but infants are also attracted to the animal characters.

The url - Choose your country and it will open a pop up full screen window. If you go to the blog, you will be able to download the midi for opening theme music in the April 21st 2007 entry and use it for your mobile ringtone.

Pocoyo is the trademark of Zinkia Entertainment who also own the site; others which appear on the site, and therefore may be co-producers are c-ITV and Granada media.

P.S. Yes, I know, there have been more, much more stupendous ideas in the world, many many more. Ideas which changed the world much more substantially than IKEA. But I just happened to come across this cute blog called Ikea Hacker which sparked off this chain of thought, and also, it seems a lot easier to comprehend this than the awesome discoveries of the nano world (pun unintended!). Check this blog to see how people personalize their Ikea products.

P.P.S. Also, while searching for some information about Ikea, I found this article on CNET about the design process of Ikea. It is too long to be quoted, so follow the link :) for a little more insight into how they design their products. And here is another one about the visual design of Ikea billboards, and its relevance to your power point slides. Not related, but interesting anyway.

P.P.P.S. (Too many today, no? But just couldn't resist adding this one.) Here is Hilary's cartoon today from her website If it is not appearing in your paper, you can subscribe to it there. Appears a couple of weeks later than on the papers, but that is just fine. Her humour is truly unique, much like the word orange with which nothing rhymes. I used to follow it regularly, but find that it is even more fun to let it slide and then check a week or month's posts together. There will be a few times when you don't agree with her, but then who do you agree with all the time save yourself?