Saturday, September 20, 2008

Musing on poetry and Bembo's zoo***

"But I want to record the other times too, because they are hard. Because growth never comes from the moments of easy pleasure. Growth comes when the ache is greatest, when wanderlust and terror swell equally in my chest and I choose instead to stay, to say I’m sorry, and to grow with this man at my side. Again and again and again."

What is poetry to you? A rhyme and metre, a phrase or line, an emotion, a state, a combination? When does a handful of words take on that shape you call poetry?

And what do you think about the tools of expressing language visually? Well, yes, one picture is worth a thousand words, but other than that - letters, the alphabet? Does the word font mean anything to you? What about calligraphy? The way of writing letters so beautifully that it became an art? When I think calligraphy, I think perhaps of those elegant Arabic letters curving in delicate traceries of the tree of life, or of the nuanced minimalistic strokes of haiku simplicity in Chinese or Japanese paintings. Certainly I did not imagine a children's book about English alphabet showing animals made of the letters in their names.

Bembo's zoo is a book written - or illustrated - by Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich, also a designer or book covers and posters, and author/illustrator of another book for children - 'The counting book of the number bug', and others. This webpage is an animated version of the book, where letters move to form the shape of an animal, and then, just as quickly, dissolve away, to the sound of animal noises.

Perhaps it is not very educational, but it is fun , more so for its novelty, for the younger kids, and the older ones may enjoy being introduced to the art. If you can get your hand on the book, it would make it a lot better :) Worth a look at any rate. One page, flash based, loads quickly, and easy for the small hands to navigate. (A contrast from the artist's own site, which for one, was extremely difficult to locate, and then, is a lesson on when not to be minimalistic.)

The url -

P.S. The words I quoted at the beginning are from a recent post by Christina Rosalie, at {my topography}. That is the blog that got me here in the first place, the blog which suddenly unraveled my resistances to the cyberworld, to even reading blogs - who wants to read about other people's reality shows? But when I read the way she writes - all prose and never a poem - I still found poetry in many of her posts. It is something in the way her language flows, the way she picks her words pebble smooth, brightly luminescent, and so wholly adequate for their places. The joins of her sentences are so often master crafted invisible lines, yet supporting the weight of her ideas in their design. And the meanings, perhaps, resonate at some level, an alternate me, a me that could have been or could be or is. Not always, not even, on re-reading, again. But that is what poetry is to me - a rush of adrenaline because of a clutch of words phrased just so. A single line will sometimes stick in mind as poetry when reams of well acclaimed minstrelsy will flow uninterrupted, out. The words 'again, again, again', for example, anchor this para for me, in addition to the emotional content of the whole post.

But of course, that very subjective feeling is not sufficient to define poetry. What is poetry after all? Is this -

"Because the enraged Iraqi civilian was harassing him as the soldier
Walked off behind some bush to shit in private, the soldier killed him."

(Stephen Gibson in Ghazal at the Hotel Ai Mori d'Oriente in the collection Masaccio's expulsion)
- poetry? Is poetry of the content, or of the language?

Eliot, when he said, "Poetry may make us from time to time a little more aware of the deeper, unnamed feelings which form the substratum of our being, to which we rarely penetrate; for our lives are mostly a constant evasion of ourselves," was defining but an attribute of poetry, not the whole, yet I suppose this is an essential...

Then what? Vague recollections from 'Mister God, this is Anna' come to surface, and I search, and find this, in 'Aristotle's theory of poetry and fine art', by Samuel Henry Butcher -

'The process by which the poetic imagination works is illustrated by Coleridge by the following lines of Sir John Davies :-

'Thus doth she, when from individual states,
She doth abstract the universal kinds,
Which then reclothed in divers names and fates
Steal access thro' our senses to our minds'

The meaning is not that a general idea is embodied in a particular example - that is the method of allegory rather than poetry - but that the particular case is generalised by artistic treatment. 'The young poet,' says Goethe, 'must do some sort of violence to himself in order to get out of the mere general idea. No doubt that it is difficult but it is the very life of art.' 'A special case requires nothing but the poet's treatment to become universal and poetical.'

And on that note, I bring to an end your sufferings from the random disjointed unfinished thoughts for today. Think, dream, and go, be a poem!

P.P.S. Maybe six or seven years ago, while surfing I came across one paragraph entitled 'The Kiss', perhaps in the New Yorker archives. Just one paragraph, or maybe two, but I think not. That was all it was. I wish I had copied it down, at least noted the author, or where it was, because all that remains of it in my memory is the phrase 'triangulating heaven'. Yet, that para was one of the most poetic works I have read. It described a couple kissing, the space between them triangulating heaven as they leaned towards each other, and the beach front road, the boats in the background... As it happens, the author had discussed the evolution of that little piece of work, showing the various drafts over time, so perhaps it was that which was so fascinating rather than the finished piece itself. But I can't now say, till I read it again, for who knows where the emotional centre of my gravity is right now compared to back then. If anyone can point me to it again, I will be most grateful.


Starfall is primarily an educational site which is actually fun for children. Set up by the Polis - Schutz family, who are also the people behind Blue Mountain Arts Publishing Company and, Starfall was founded in 2002 with the aim of making learning to read easy and fun.

The contents are better than the slightly tacky looking home page suggests. The few games shown here are more of animations which do not fit anywhere, and kids do enjoy them, chiefly because of the fact that each is a full page one, with no advertisements, and they are free to explore by clicking here and there. But even toddlers enjoy the alphabets more -

Clicking on each letter leads to a series of pictures of objects starting with that letter. Some are with animations, but all have voice overs. The next arrow, as well as the letter, when clicked will be read as the phonemic equivalent rather than the letter itself. Beware though that the pronunciation is different from BBC's, and even if it be recommended by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, I will still disagree with the letter 'l' being pronounced 'o' :) After a few of those pictures, there is time for a mini game, usually involving picking a letter, but there are others as well. A few have songs which my kid loved.

The vowels have a song associated, which includes only one way of pronouncing the letter. There is however, a section for sign language alphabet as well, whose accuracy I can't vouch for.

In the next level, 'Learn to read', there are a couple of short games emphasizing the pronunciation of a letter or letter combination.

This is followed by a short story including similar words -

The next level, 'It's fun to read', look out for the usual music, art and games - but with an educational content. For example, the music section features ultra short pieces from well known composers and a tiny snippet of information about them. And the magic game is all about reading words aloud -

The last level, 'I'm reading' has folk tales, plays, myths, even Chinese fables to read:

The url -

Edit some hours later (now that is the real postscript, but I have already used mine otherwise!) - the download section allows free downloads of related material, and for even more, check out their shop.

P.S. I apologize for the delay - again! I really should have some extra drafts ready to post when I am suddenly busy, or when my net is acting up. But just for now, am posting at least this part till the other takes full shape :)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Ghostly snippet; Artpad***

Part I

The other day I found the ghost of chicken curry in my kitchen, wafting about with easy nonchalance, enticing, seducing, smirking. There hadn't been chicken in our home for weeks, and our neighbours, or such neighbours that I could ascertain were home at that point in time, were either vegetarians, or strictly on diets which prohibited anything in the nature of nutrition to cross their thresholds. I double checked the kadhai to make sure that Ramu hadn't conjured up some chicken somehow from the humble eggplant I gave him to cook. But no, there wasn't even the faintest smell of curry masala there. I checked the fridge. I checked the kitchen dustbin. I even knelt down and sniffed at the drains to see if there was some sort of backlog there. There was no apparent source for the darn smell that hung in the air, taunting me with its savouriness, delighting apparently in my inability to taste it. Outside of the kitchen, all was peace, but I swear I have never needed to go to the kitchen for so many reasons than I did that day, and each time, the ghost of the chicken curry tugged delightedly at my nostrils, tantalized my taste buds and tormented my appetite.

Part II

By and large online drawing and painting games are popular with children and parents alike for all that painting possible without any mess in the house whatsoever. I don't think there is any site with kid games which doesn't include at least one of these. So, to add to your gaggle of such games, here is the Artpad.
The Artpad is strictly speaking, not a kiddie site. But it is great fun to be sure! Speaking from an artist's view, there is a small plain canvas, fixed size, with just two tools - a brush and a paint can which will splash paint. The size and opacity of both tools can be changed. There is a text tool, but no choice of fonts. It does however allow you to write anywhere without drawing text boxes, and colour, size and opacity are changeable as with the other two tools. The colour palette is limited, and there is no choice of smudging or mixing paints either. Pretty basic, right? No comparison to the Corel Painter...

But, as a kid game, it is as good as any. There is fun to be had, and the level of sophistication doesn't matter. If anything, it introduces them to the concept of abstract art. Or rather, it introduces the parents to it, because all kids will start off with abstract itself, in which they, and everyone else, will look for meanings.

The most fun part of this is the facility to be able to replay your painting as a movie - to see the strokes you made come alive on their own. Trust me, kids love to watch this animation and once they figure out that it is what they have been doing - they want to try it again and again, with fresh scribbling. Plus, you can view other paintings in their 'gallery' - works submitted by other users, and learn a thing or two. Or further paint on them if you so wish.

There is also the option of framing and hanging your 'painting' in a gallery :)

The url -

P.S. Statutory warning: Adults may enjoy this more than children. Go try.

P.P.S. The ghost returned whence it came from after a few hours unabated in my kitchen, but I still feel its tentacles of taste, so very unworldly, so impossible to find in the normal way of life...

P.P.P.S. This little snippet today was sponsored by the which is refusing to save anything, so I don't know if it will publish either...

Health; Faust and Hubert***

What is health?

The World Health Organization defines health as a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Do you realize how beautiful a concept this is? Leaving aside the limitations of this definition, it is still a remarkable idea, once you think about it.

Being healthy is not just not being sick. Admittedly there is a continuum, usually, and there is no clear cut demarcation. [There is hardly a moment in time when you suddenly feel sick - excepting accidents and the truly sudden onset problems. Even with flu, there is a day when you are well, and another when you are clearly sick, even a time when you feel like you are 'going down with something', but when you are really truly sick, and think back, surely the problem was there before this phase.] So, where was I? Ah, yes, health is not just not being ill. It is somewhat like light and darkness. Surely absence of light makes darkness, and vice versa. But, if it is not dark, it can still be twilight, or the pre-dawn, or the earthen lamp in a distant hut to a hunter lost in deep dark woods, or the gray of fog on chilly mornings in the vales, breaths of ghosts materialized, or the eerie underwater silent haze.... It is light, yes, in a fashion, but it is not Light. It is not the ultimate brightness we can conceive of, not the light which lights up everything around it with a glow indescribable. It is also a little dark, not wholly so; not the full darkness of an underground cavern on moonless cloudy nights. So with health. True health is like that Light, and death, the Darkness. There are umpteen shades of gray in between, but you know when you are dead, and you also know when you are healthy - when you are ALIVE.

Because health is not just one dimensional, not just the perfect functioning of your systems - it has mental, emotional, spiritual and social dimensions as well, and only when all gears in these draw the arc of life in total cohesion that you feel brilliantly, beautifully, alive. That, I would say, is health. An awareness of that state is a bonus, but I am not sure if it is a requirement.

And then again, health is not a state static. It is not like you have reached the 14th floor, and that is it. Health is a state of equilibrium. It is dynamic. Its composition changes, minute by minute. It is not necessary for each part to be at its pinnacle; it is sufficient that a certain threshold is passed and there is optimum functioning of all components. It is the waterfall rushing continuously, it is the clouds grazing the sky. It is everchanging, and never constant, never to be taken for granted.

Think about how healthy you are, today, just now.

Faust and Hubert. A single leaf today to compensate for the large sites covered lately. No game, just one single animation in which a cat chases a mouse, with appropriate sound effects. Artist is David Torendel of Toddlers definitely find it interesting, especially if you add commentary. The site it is on - Fetchfido online games (U.K.) I would not recommend, since I steer away of such cluttered environs with many advertisements and no coherence of purpose other than being a game arcade. It has literally thousands of games, which I have not checked. But I came across this little animation when searching for cat mouse games at a time cats were THE rage around here (we even watched little kitten photos on stock photo sites!). I have been unsuccessful at finding other animations by the same artist, even at his site. Let me know if you have better luck.

The url -

P.S. There is health in relationships as well. But you all know that, with dysfunctional families and parasitic relationships and such other terms in common usage nowadays. If you were to rate any relationship in your life today - where would it fall on the continual scale of health? Not sick, or the positively salubrious?

What else in our life can we measure against this scale? What else will benefit from knowing that there is a continuum, that something better is not merely not being worse?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

British council**** and appendages

As a departure from my norm today I am going to feature three sites together, because of their inter-relatedness. As it may be a long post, I am refraining from chit chat just now, but there is no guarantee that you will be spared the post scripts!

Today's featured site - Brtish Council's
Learn English Kids is meant specially for parents in non-English speaking countries. As per the mission of British council the games, songs, stories and activities are focused entirely on teaching English in a playful fashion. The screenshot below is about their songs, since that is usually where we start from, but it is easy to navigate from menubar on the top.

The animation and quality, while uniformly good, is not great and would not appeal at the first glance to toddlers. (Hence the need to start to with songs!) Some open in a separate window; but all the games, songs or stories are small sized. No full screen versions here. On the flip side, they are all quick to load. The site has all its offerings grouped by themes as well, eg. toys, or time, or animals - check under topics. The listen read write section has links for listening games (at the site itself), reading about books eg. reviews, and writing - just for practice, or creative writing. A middle grade child interested in books may like to explore this by himself.

The games are in three categories - just for fun, play and learn, and for kids. The level of the games is variable; not all the games are suitable for young children. Telling the time, or the alphabet game are easy for preschoolers to handle; others will need a little help from parents while still others will appeal to the elementary to lower middle grade age group because of their video game like appearance. Teachers may find that age group and fluency in English are not always concordant, though I don't know how many schools the net as a teaching aid will be catering to that population.

The nursery rhymes and songs are in four categories - easy, not so easy, traditional and for little kids. You'll find it best to explore all four to find songs your child likes, because the melody doesn't always appeal. Older kids who do understand all the lyrics may be turned off by some overtly 'message bearing' songs like those about the environment because the packaging is not that 'neat'. All the songs are read along, with the option of having text on or off in the subtitle box.

The stories are again divided as short, longer, stories for little children, and fairy tales. Remember that if yours is not an English speaking household, they will not hold interest for the younger kids unless translated. The Council has made special efforts to include non British characters in all the features, more so in stories section, to make it appealing to a diverse population.

The url for Learn English Kids -

The British council also has two other sites - one with Arabic translations, and the other based in China, that are worth peeking into at the same time. The former is called go4English. The section fun for kids has songs, games and stories. At first glance this page doesn't look like much, but click on the more link just above and to the left of each of the subsections to go to their archives. They have all the songs and games as the Learn English Kids site as far as I can make out, and then some more. I confess that I have compared only the songs in detail - the rest is just a cursory glance.

The url -

The second one is the British Council's site in China - its forums and discussions were closed down during the Olympics. The section that interests us is 'language games' under 'Learners'. The games are good, and increase fluency in idioms as well. This section, however, is meant for those looking to increase their vocabulary, and are not for young children. I have included it here just for the sake of completeness. On the same page there are a few listening exercises as well. Nothing great.

The url -

P.S. I can't believe I have run out of post scripts! But just for now, I have. Expecting guests at short notice :)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Procrastinating about cbeebies***** part III

I have been procrastinating a lot today, about a series of posts I have been planning. So it seems appropriate to instead substitute the post with just this, which nearly says everything -

Time now for another post about which I have been procrastinating - the cbeebies series. Today, a look at the fun and games section.

The games at cbeebies are many and varied, ranging from the simplest ones at Teletubbies which require a child to just keep on dabbing the space bar, to those meant for the kindergarten kids and first graders, utilizing both the keyboard and mouse. Direct educational games i.e. those teaching alphabet/phonics/counting/geometry etc are few, but BBC schools caters to that, more of which some other time. There are jigsaws, mazes, quite a few kinds of colouring games, dance games and music games, games with animals, games about ecology - there is something for most everybody. Most of the games are animated one way or the other, and have a full screen option which works out great. One of the advantages at BBC is that very often you will find the size of the game given alongside, helping you decide whether or not you will be able to play it on a low bandwidth. There is not one game which hasn't been worth looking at - even if you only play once because of personal preferences.

Here is a random selection of games (click to go there direct) which we have liked -

I could perhaps include a dozen more, but there is no point. Just go there and explore!


P.S. Another quote, worth thinking about, and also, worth reading the whole essay in full if you have the time -

"Good procrastination is avoiding errands to do real work.

Good in a sense, at least. The people who want you to do the errands won't think it's good. But you probably have to annoy them if you want to get anything done. The mildest seeming people, if they want to do real work, all have a certain degree of ruthlessness when it comes to avoiding errands.

Some errands, like replying to letters, go away if you ignore them (perhaps taking friends with them). Others, like mowing the lawn, or filing tax returns, only get worse if you put them off. In principle it shouldn't work to put off the second kind of errand. You're going to have to do whatever it is eventually. Why not (as past-due notices are always saying) do it now?

The reason it pays to put off even those errands is that real work needs two things errands don't: big chunks of time, and the right mood. If you get inspired by some project, it can be a net win to blow off everything you were supposed to do for the next few days to work on it. Yes, those errands may cost you more time when you finally get around to them. But if you get a lot done during those few days, you will be net more productive."
This is by Paul Graham, and this time instead of linking to the essay as such, I have given the link to the entire index of his essays, because I loved more than one, and can't not share it all! There will be more quoting from him in the future for sure!

Monday, September 15, 2008

First impressions at Kiddonet***

One post is all it takes.
A handful of words in one post decide the fate of the blog.
When I come across a new blog I haven't been looking for - or a new book - I read at random to see if something strikes a chord. It may be the content, the language, the layout, the information - anything that resonates within. Therefore it also follows that a lot depends on my state of mind at that particular time. And so, it all depends on one post whether or not I bookmark a blog...

There are a million blogs on the net now, and the number is growing by the minute. So what are the chances of your blog - of my blog being read? Unless you use techniques like SEO, and have a vast network of online friends already, unless you are brilliant and have something great to talk about, unless you are lucky - what chance that you will not give up in a month, a year, or two?

So why write? Why blog? Because -

"It’s not good enough to want to have done something, unless I am practicing now, and the goal for having done it is well into the future.

It’s not good enough to want to be a writer — unless I write. Or to be a painter, unless I consistently paint. The content isn’t as important as the process, the habit. One must practice the scales before interpreting the music.

Maybe I’m not good enough yet, but so what? I have whatever life I have, to practice. And as I do, I will continue to set and break my own records."

Because the reason to write is seldom as simple as money and fame. Because you want to. Because you need to. Because sometimes thinking is only possible with the discipline of marshalling thoughts to submit to others. Because it is good practice for living to think things out.

These inspirational work come from Barbara Hartsook's blog - Over coffee. She is an artist who paints in all kinds of traditional media as well as digital, and excels in each. Take a look. And, thank you Barb.

But first impressions can also be unreliable sometimes. If I had stumbled upon Kiddonet owned by Starnet interactive, ever on my own, I wouldn't have bothered to explore it for obviously it is for preteen girls, and the site's name a misnomer, and the layout insipid. But I happened to find one of the games on Kiddonet as a standalone link from another site, and that game was good, and educational, so I looked for the site - only to find this!

If you choose from the channels on the left, or the drop down menu above, you will be able to find Kiddonet junior, which has early learning games - one of which I had sampled. The quality is good but the small size of the game window is not very enticing.

Also useful from the drop down menu are K-animals and K-zoo for the slightly older children who want information. Art zone has some nice colouring/making games, which again are in small sizes. The comics are worth a look as well for say, early graders.

With all these drawbacks, why am I giving it three stars? Simply because the links I have, supplied by the team that built it, lead to large, full page versions of these games, and you don't need to go through the site at all. In fact, you can't even if you tried! Given below are screenshots from the bear's cookbook, counting numbers and alphabet games -

And here are the links to all the games, quoting from the email I received from them -

"...We no longer provide support or maintenance for our KiddoNet site, but do not have the heart to remove it. However, here's what you can do: the following are direct links to each of the games on the KiddoNet JR. section of Add each one as a favorite link, since they do not link to each other or to the main KiddoNet JR. menu. Each of the Flash-based activities will appear as full screen when you maximize the IE window you open the link in.
The Letter Sounds game will automatically bring you back to the menu of letters as each letter is completed correctly. We hope this won't be too frustrating.
The Alphabet Animals, on the other hand, does offer you a link back to the puzzle menu, but this game does not come in a full-screen size.
The Read-Along Bear Cookbook can be seen in full-screen.
The Count and Color game can be played full screen and has 'back' and 'next' options for progressing through the pictures.
The same goes for the Dot to Dot game.
These games also work in the same way.
The Find It game does not have a 'return to menu' option, but is full screen.
Same for the Concentration game.
The Singing Cats game can also be played full screen. It has 3 level options, but you'd need to reload the game each time to return to the menu to choose a new level.
The Rock Band game is a little bit like the game SIMON, and also has a little keyboard that can be played anytime.
The Word-A-Cross game, when opened in a separate window, allows you to return back to the menu using the BACK arrow on your browser. If your preschooler can read/write a little, then they might find this game fun.

I thought it very decent of them to reply so promptly and with so much information when they were no longer providing support for the site. I do wish that if ever they do decide to do away with these, they would first allow free downloads for those who might want them!

P.S. I was using Firefox 2 - not 3, and three of these games crashed my browser. In contrast, IE (not the latest) was able to run them so do take care when opening.

P.P.S. The font colour formatting at blogger is driving me insane! Why it sometimes obeys orders and sometimes doesn't is beyond me. Just bear with me folks! :)