Thursday, October 9, 2008

Poisson rouge***** revisited

Looking at the earliest entries of this blog, I was surprised at how little I said about the sites, or even otherwise. [Good thing, do I hear you say?] But no, I really ought to do something about the sites: more screenshots, more info about games, a bit more exposure, for I started with our favourites, and I would not have them languishing while lesser sites flourish!

So, delving into Poisson Rouge again today. I guess the site is so familiar to me that talking about it had seemed superfluous, like bragging even, but to someone new, a synopsis is really not suficient. The main page, designed like a nursery, has toys and other icons like windows or a telescope, which are clickable and lead to further environments. In each section, explore fully - almost everything leads to a game, and some are hidden just a bit to make the exploration interesting but not frustrating. The games load very quickly, are excellent in concept and design, and have interesting sound effects. Here are some random screenshots, for really there is no way to select just a few to showcase!

A simple game in the 'bugs' category - leaf colour changes by rolling over them with a coloured butterfly -

From the toy chest, a shapes game. Clicking on the shapes below will lead to its corresponding three dimensional figure to spin. One very cute feature of the toy chest is the appearance of bubbles each time you start a new game or go back to the main page. They pop with the most satisfying sounds by moving the mouse over them :)

Another simple game illustrating camouflage from the same - click anywhere and the tiger moves, vanishing in the striped pattern. Click again, and it reappears.

A favourite from the number blocks - who can resist breaking glass bottles with that wonderful scrunching sound, and no scoldings?

The aquarium, which you navigate by clicking and dragging the submarine around. Let it go anywhere you wish and click on one of the numerous creatures to see what happens. In this shot, both the shark and the squid have been clicked.

One of the favourite games from the aquarium - the fish shrinks each time it touches a jellyfish, till it disappears and a new one appears, so you have to navigate it through by moving the mouse. For some reason, my little one likes the shrinking, so we end up playing the game the other way round!

Check the original post about Poisson Rouge for more details, and have fun!

Rage (and quiet)

There are ideas which germinate, grow, spread out and branch, flower, fruit and become trees. A multidimensional, breathing, living tree with roots that take hold in the soil of your mind.

And then there are leaves on a canvas, around which are painted more leaves, then branches and the trunk, and then the ground and the landscape. The general idea of the tree pre-existed; it was just brought into being on the canvas by a fluttering leaf which fell. But, because this is a creative process, you are free to intertwine its branches with imaginary beings, entangle the roots with other thoughts, insert impossibilities - whatever makes it more decorative, more useful, more elaborate perhaps?

And that is the difference between an insight and manufactured thought. Or is it?

Take rage for example. Not just getting angry. Raging fire. Violent and uncontrollable anger. Something we call road-rage or air-rage or some such, read about in the paper and exclaim in surprise and disgust about. Have you experienced it? Never ever? Or was it possibly-but-that-was-justified-and-I-was-right?

Rage, by definition, is something that is limited, finite in time. A fit of wrath is how Merriam-Webster defines it. Something minor happens; a tiny, easy to extinguish spark falls on flammable matter piled carelessly or tinder stacked in neat rows - it doesn't matter; suddenly flames shoot up, incinerate those in sight. The aftermaths are bloody. And not just for the victims. Rage is a spectrum like any other emotion. It is rage when I lose control and verbally spank my child. It is rage when you abuse and make finger gestures at the driver of that car in front. It is rage when two neighbours fight over a well they have used for centuries together. It is rage when a serviceman denied leave goes on a rampage and shoots four, injuring ten before falling dead by his own rifle. It is rage when a man-beast takes a girl by force because he is incensed by her brother's treachery. Never morally acceptable, there is nevertheless one end which is socially tolerated and practiced by many, although disparaged by all. The other end, of course, is the legal road to the death row.

Have you thought about what happens to the perpetrator in that moment when the spark digs fiery roots? What is happening in that mind? What happens when the fit is past, when the anger and possible pain and guilt and shock have worn off, and also, unknowingly or knowingly, it has become easier to cross that threshold of civility the next time, and the next, and then again? Easier to kill, to rape, to hit, to hurt, to shout, to abuse, to undermine?

Has that person thought of it? Have you? Questioned why? What is it that made that mind so fragile, so unable to accept tiny shifts in values, paradigms, relations that result from mundane everyday events? Was it something in the basic, fundamental motor design? Or the gadgets and accessories we loaded on the way to here? Or was it the stress of recent journeys, the shear and strain from too many potholes, too much weight, too little grease, too much adulteration of the petrol? Was the spark laden with dynamite? Why, what happened?

Try and think - and what you think, desperate to find a solution, to see what happened, is that painted tree. The mind will show you links and branchings and all sorts of reasons and excuses - all plausible, all true - and yet, it will happen again and again. You can follow the chain of events, reconstruct the scene, deduce the reasons, figure out the solutions, and yet it happens, again. For if you are capable of thought, you are also capable of manufacturing it, of building up arguments and presenting your case as fluently as if you were on the school elocution team. You know, and yet you do not know. Until you, one day, reach that insight, that window into your own soul that lets you see what it is that you have known in words so far but not in spirit. Until you find that real growing idea.

It is not an easy process, this finding out the real why, in a way that will make you stop. The onlooker will say, why not stop, why not do things this way and not that, for they can't see the obstacles which you do. For a lifetime you battle them, saying 'no, its not possible', explaining, getting frustrated, clinging on to the little island in your mind that lets you see the whole picture. Till the day you find that insight, and you see that it was that easy, that it was, in fact, those 'outsiders' who saw the forest you missed for the trees. And it is not that complete either. Glimpses, partial truths and untruths, rare fragments of insight - they all are a part of the journey. And that is where the painted tree, the fractal of life on canvas rises up and touches the third dimension here, and here, and there, and the tree of the real idea, bends in to feel the paper and is held fast in its flatness. If I could draw, I would paint this scene for you... this intermixing of the shadow and the object, the weaving of leaves of a tree and its reflection...

P.S. Which of these two categories do you think this post falls in? A real idea, or a painted idea?

P.P.S. The second part of this post has already been posted just before...

(Rage) and Quiet - Orisinal***

Orisinal: morning sunshine. The land of pastel colours, of restful beauty, of gentle tinkling music, and - fast moving eyes and fingers! The personal playground of Ferry Halim, as the artist himself puts it, is an oasis of pretty little games which will appeal to your aesthetics as well as provide you with some finger fun. You? Yes, you, for unfortunately, the colour scheme, no matter how pleasing to adult eyes, just doesn't hold interest for the very young. The games have cute themes and characters, but by and large are too fast for little fingers, so that doesn't help either. The game premise is usually very simple, as in the teatime game below where the mice have to be moved out of harm's way by simply clicking above or below them, but the pace is relatively fast for tiny tots, and they get discouraged after a while.

The main page is a flash animated page but it doesn't take long to load at all. Hovering over a little thumbnail will light it up with brighter colours, and its name will appear below.

There are games which are easy to play of course, and even toddlers may enjoy watching them as you play and provide commentary, but you have to play all forty six of them first to be able to figure out which these are! Whether that is a bonus or extra work is your take! Starry night, for example, requires simple mouse movement to bounce the yellow star in such a way as to light up the other stars.

The site does have ads, but they are unobtrusive, at the bottom of the page, so the experience is not spoiled. The music, as I said, is wonderfully peaceful.

Here is a snapshot from the bungee bear game. Catch a rabbit from behind by jumping (using the left click) and you get points. Bang into it from front, and no good results. Trouble is, mouse movement, even a little bit, will often reverse your direction, so if you thought this was a simple game, just try it!

Below the games, in the miscellaneous section, you will find buttons for the store, flowers, rain, guest book, link back, wallpapers and trailer. Of these, flowers is a sort of ecard - there are a few pale (really pale!) pink flowers to be picked from the garden, resized and rotated and stuck in a crystal orb, so you can send them to - me :) Or anyone, of course. But the best is the rain button. Click to get a visual of a garden, or presumably a garden for only a tiny corner of the screen is really visible clearly - and rain falling unending. The music is not quite just rain sounds, but it comes close. Try it for a tranquil Zen experience!

And now for the disclaimer! Not all the games are as little-girl-in-sunshine as I have suggested. There are a couple of bam-bam games as well - but thats your choice. Even those are cute though!

The url -

P.S. This is actually the second half of the original post, focusing on the 'quiet'. The first half, on 'rage' will follow. Soon.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Evernote - no, don't note Wild Republic*

Have I mentioned Foxmarks before? I have, right. So today it is the turn of Evernote. A nice way of making notes from webpages and happily forgetting them thereafter. That is, if you are a copious note maker like me. Friends from college (if they are reading at all; likely they are going - ah the advantage of the net -being able to tune out this irritating person!) will remember that. So, today, when vague remembrances in the terra not-so-firma of my mind leaned towards some recipe seen somewhere with brinjal but no oil, I searched all my books where it could possibly be. Then I checked my recipe notebooks. Especially the phone diary, stray scraps of papers on the fridge and backs of envelopes gathered for throwing away. And, finally, long past dinnertime, I remembered! Evernote! A couple of clicks, and I have the recipe, its photo, and the link to the original. A great resource, Evernote, but like all new toys, it had had its days in the sun. Not its fault I am sure. But I am also babbling. Oh dear, I have been reading The Enchanted Castle again, so any faint stirrings of attempts to inject humour into the proceedings may kindly be attributed to that tome. Ahem, returning to Evernote, try it if you haven't already. Its rather nice to be able to clip just one little piece of information that you want rather than copy pasting and then not reading that word document ever, or worse, bookmarking and forgetting why you did so and where. See, its all the same - I lose things all over the place, but still, you, I am sure, are better, by far. Right?

Incidentally, that recipe - it is Mark Bittman's 'cold eggplant salad with sesame dressing'. Very simple, and different, and has no oil, and is tasty. Try!

Wild Republic is a brand of K&M International, Ohio. Founded in 1979 by Gopala B. Pillai, this toy company states that is mission is to "to educate the younger generation about the beauty and wonders of our animal kingdom in a fun and creative manner". Their toys are designed to be as near natural as it is possible for toys to be. But the reason I was going to talk about them was their series of stuffed birds - Audobon birds. These cute stuffed toys produce real bird calls recorded mostly at the Cornell university if I recall correctly, or the Audobon institute, when squeezed. Till sometime back, you could check the entire range of birds online - they featured the real bird, the toy bird, and the birdsong, along with details about the bird's habitat, call and other habits. It was a great introduction to the world of birds for young kids. But, when I checked up today, I found that the site has been totally redesigned and all you get are simple images of the stuffed toys, and not too good at that. To say that I am disappointed is rather an understatement.

Oh well, on with the show!

The kids only section promises more than it delivers somehow. Perhaps it is the slightly flat, not so cute nature of the graphics (not as much as the toys anyway). Or maybe simply the absence of enough games. But I have a feeling that they are building on it, and will likely be introducing more.

The games section has a couple of puzzles, and one game where the child will click and drag names under photos of five stuffed toys. The paint section has five images to colour. Routine stuff. I guess by this time I have become something of a connoisseur in kiddie games, and nothing but the 'excellent' satisfies! Maybe someone should employ me as their resident critic if not a contributor! (Nindak nearey rakhiye etc. etc.)

The other finding, other than the disappointing one that is, was this animation movie - Stripes is a hero. A large one, and a nice idea for storyline, but the execution was, once again, less than perfect. The animation had a slightly puppet-ish quality to it, some visuals were repeated (kids catch that very quickly!), and once again, the characters not too cute or original either.

A webcam, a link to find zoos, and e-postcard makes up the rest of this section. If the birds had still been there, I would have given this site three stars, meaning worth checking out. As it is, check it out on a rainy day, or if you are planing to buy a product and looking up anyway. I have the birds and I can recommend those for sure! (The only problem is that their battery runs out after 4000 squeezes and you'd have to open the seams and 'unstuff' the bird to replace it.)

URL for the kids section -

P.S. The site takes a little while to load up, being all animated. You can safely skip the intro :)

P.P.S. Nindak nearey rakhiye is the beginning of a hindi couplet which essentially means that you should keep a critic very close, for who else will give you the kind of feedback that will make you grow?

Walk backwards to the Elk story***

Walking backwards

Tom has taken to walking out of rooms backwards. He'll be standing there, watching Joanne and I in the kitchen, and it will occur to him that he should be in the next room. "Bye bye!" he'll say, and completely fail to turn around before leaving. Every once in a while, he'll keep offering "Bye byes!" as he heads out. I mean, he's still facing us, so why not?

I am constantly astonished at how often he tries something new, just to see what it feels like, just to gain a different perspective on this world thing we've got going. The boy's got no inertia, no reason not to experiment. Life is a block box to him, to be toyed with and poked at until it does something interesting. Why not walk out of a room backwards? Why not run in circles until you fall down? Why not touch this or jump on that or scream for no reason or just babble to yourself, to see what sounds you can make? Why not do something new every day? Why not?"

Why not?

Ponder on these words for now :)

Today's featured website is another of those leaves fluttering on a lonesome branch all by itself. Ladies, gentlemen and children, let the curtain rise without more ado on this incomparable production - My Life as an Elk, starring you and the elk, hosted at The National Museum of Wildlife Art, Wyoming, USA. Claps and whistles please!

The museum is a great treasure find by itself when you are in the vicinity of the Grand Canyon and can take some time out to browse its galleries. Its website is also ok, but nothing exceptional. Of the games it offers - Art tales is out of commission, and Rungius leads to an error message, so I have no idea what they are! Animal athletes is an interesting concept: it has directions for real life games like sharks and dolphins (a swimming tag game when kids pretend to be sharks and dolphins) or the missing prairie dog hole game (a sort of variation on musical chairs with children being the prairie dogs). I guess it'll come in handy when you have a bunch of kids all learning the same things about prairie dogs or such, and you can reinforce the message while playing.

So, the only actual online game is - My life as an elk, and its not really a game. More of an interactive story. But wow, what a story! Just goes to show how much you can teach with some imagination and hard work.

Right in the beginning, with the sound of elks baying in the background, you can choose if you want the narration on or off. If the child is old enough to read, go with narration off - it slows things down somewhat. But keep the sounds on: you don't get to hear those sounds often in the city! The next choice is that of female or male, and a name of course. Thereafter the story starts right after 'your' birth, and leads up to migration to the elk refuse in deep winter.

The palette of the storyboard is rather dull for small children, but it does bring out most of the artwork in the story - paintings and sketches with bit of info about them that you can discuss at the same time. With each change of scene, leaves fall, first green, then yellow-red, and finally snowflakes. Winds howl and birds twitter. At crucial junctures, you have to decide, as the baby elk, if you want to flee or hide, swim or walk - and each choice tells you something about the elk. There is just enough information to be interesting and not overwhelming. Such a lovely tool to teach children about the wild, about art, about natural history! What a pity that it is over so soon! And I do wish that they had made the artwork clickable, or at least had another section showing these in detail, so you could really look them over.

The url for the elk's story -
(If you want to check the other pages, follow the appropriate links above.)

Its not done to quote nearly half of another's post - especially when it only one interesting line behind. Of interest to me I mean. But I just couldn't find a way to get this anecdote of Greg Knauss at the blog An Entirely Other Day shortened without punching its meaning. He says it so well that I really don't wish to add any more to it.

Except to admire also his ability to see the magical quality of his son's simple silly antics. I would have dismissed it as nonsense. Or laughed at it, perhaps, if not scolding to 'watch where you are going' so as to not bump and break things. The knowledge of this rigidity of mine is a very painful realization, more so when I recall, albeit with the mist of time shrouding this immense distance, the wondering, curious, exploring young person I used to be... I need, my child needs, more flexibility, more bridging towards what I used to be; why and how did the responsibility that came with parenthood turn such a damper? Am I answering my own question here? Or just proving the point?

P.P.S. I have a feeling that I am missing something about Greg Knauss. Was he some pioneer of the blog world? Of the net? Someone I ought to know of but don't? He disappeared off the net sometime after this entry - I can't find any recent posts or activity in his name (reading the old ones though), but surely I am missing something! What do you know about him?

P.P.P.S. Oh god, not again! The font gods at blogger have once again chosen to impose their wish upon mine, and try as many times as I might, I just can't get the font changed in the first para. Sorry folks.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Of trains and Thomas the tank engine***

Oh well, some posts just aren't meant to be. For the entire last month, I have been thinking of writing about - umm, shall we let that be a secret for a while more? Suffice it to say that this post, started actually a couple of days back, was supposed to be IT. And then, it isn't. All because I saw this photo by Jan Bussey, over at Cascade Exposures. (Note: photo copyright rests with Jan Bussey; not to be reproduced without permission. And yes, I have permission!) It is so well taken that merely looking at it makes me feel the shaking jolting train under my feet, the gravel flowing still underneath. And I remember.

The feel of wind, warm but easy, whipping my face, tangling my hair, leaning out of the door hanging by the handles, courting danger, or into the window grill, facing the engine shooting soot. From time to time, the whiff of seas, the freshness of foothills, the earthiness of gobar piles and choked up ponds, the unusual aroma of those little yellow catkins on thorny trees I never knew the name of, the smell of greenery at dusk.

The village panoramas, the countless eucalyptus rushing past, the bullock cart on distant dirt roads, the herds of thin cows, the hankies of yellow or green pocketed in little fields, the desolation of dry river beds. The road running alongside a long while, with its line of apparently motionless trucks peeking between trees, the tableaux of tractors at crossings; the children, recoiled from in their unknown-ness, shouting, throwing pebbles, following; the unending wires keeping company to the train tracks.

The feeling of freedom, of anticipation and adventure, of summer holidays. And later, traveling along, of being suspended for a while in a space time where you can be just who you are, or want to be, not needing to be the role you play...

And, after a little while, as nostalgia wears off, and I remember other journeys besides those made as a child to nani's, I remember also the hidden faces of smart cities - the clustered asbestos roofs all different levels tagged on to each other like art nouveau multimedia collages; the railway houses, all alike in their unimaginative boxness, dry and gardenless for the most part; the slums and rotting garbage piles, and the haphazard back alleys in posh colonies seen from a different perspective... The gleeful child's outlook gets tempered with new found vision of the anguishing adolescent. The children, too thin, feet unshod, asking for money or food as they run; the little windblown heaps besides the tracks of discarded plastic bottles, cups, plates and other stuff; the shit on the tracks, the spits inside, on floors too dusty to lean down and open bags on, the stinking spilling toilets. All of a sudden, I am grown up, just going from one place to another, choosing instead of windy second class carriages - being able to choose, the first class, then A/C cars, and not going back, for any romance that had been in the past. As the windows dull with darkened double glass, and preferred overnight fast trains, books, always a companion, become even more so. I now, fret about seats, worry about baggage safety, avoid sticky conversations with uncomfortable fellow passengers, looking in vain for more congenial beings. I remember the emotions, and I long for - but seldom find, or allow myself to find, that feeling of being complete, myself, whole, undivided and exultant, as I sit in the train carrying me hither. I sit and muse about recent events of life, think of the loved ones left behind more often than not, plan for the chores ahead, already trying to manage tight time schedules from taking this break...

The train journey becomes, now, just travel.

On, then, to today's site - Thomas and friends! I haven't yet touched on the sites of the popular tv networks, except BBC, for a good reason. They each have far too many characters, and so, games, with little common except that these shows are on that particular network. I have been wondering how best to approach them - according to the shows, or the networks, or bit of both, and it appears now that I shall have to do the last. For this site is actually owned by HIT entertainment, UK, although the copyright for Thomas and friends is owned by Guillame (Thomas) Ltd. If I had a post on HIT, there would be, understandably, very little info about Thomas. But on the other hand, because there are links from here to the other shows of HIT, I can't not mention them either :)

The url I have linked to will take you to the initial choose-your-country page. When I last checked, each country had slightly different games and layout, but at the time of posting, at least the sites for UK and USA are now identical.

The home page above will link to activities, games and engines - which is all about the various engines featured in the show, and is quite useful for the little fans out there. The activities page has some colouring sheets for offline work, plus other downloadables like posters and wallpapers. It also has simple games - an online colouring one and a decorate the sheds game.

The games on the site are not too complex either, doable by a preschooler on the main. The graphics, on the other hand, throughout the site, are excellent.

The usual matching game, puzzle and click to burst balloon games are present, of course. Common, but fun for young kids nevertheless. The ones which are slightly challenging are the remote control and race games. Building an engine or the lego station are easy as well.

The emotions game is an unexpected finding here. It consists of matching the emotion named with the engines shown, and is useful for the toddler group as well. In fact, for most games I have found that an adult playing them will keep infants and toddlers engaged as long as the visuals are good and there is something happening as opposed to just numbers or words on the screen.

The url -

P.S. For the life of me, can't remember any train poems that I have liked! Can you?