Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Plastic banned! Play with paper instead!

I almost don't want to award this one last time now, and share what I think of as a secret treasure, but share I must. Sigh... Let me introduce to you Stephen LeQuier, 'photographer, graphic artist and Photoshop enthusiast'. I may add that he is an wonderful digital artist, though he claims he is still learning! His blog, titled 'Trimoon's blog' is a really really cool place to check daily for I never know what I will find. In fact, I enjoy going through it so much that rather than follow it daily, I use it as a sort of treat, dipping into it at random intervals for amusement and inspiration. Unfortunately, I have never been able to leave a comment because his site requires a separate registration, and although I have tried, it gets stuck somewhere or the other and I give up... So let me say it now: thanks Trimoon, for everything you have shared.

Today, tucked away in one little corner of the newspaper, was this piece -Delhi government notifies blanket ban on plastic bags. According to the correspondent, the government has banned “use, storage and sale” of plastic bags of any kind or thickness, in all places where you get the bags after shopping. Break the ban and the punishment is a maximum penalty of Rs 1 lakh or five years’ imprisonment or both, according to the Environment Protection Act.

On paper, this is pretty impressive, but I do wonder if such a blanket ban is enforceable, practical, or even useful. Consider one person, any one imaginary person, living on this earth. We don't know what its gender is, or age; education, awareness, job or residence; we know nothing about the relationships it has flourishing or floundering. All we know is that this person is dealing with the day to day living as we are. Happy or sad, hard or easy, simple or complex as life may be for that person, there still are, and always will be, choices to make, decisions to take and priorities to deal with on a day to day basis. What then are the chances that saving the planet from plastic bags will be as high on its priority list as, say sourcing food or settling an illness? Something which must be done, for which a willing cost and inconvenience will be incurred cheerfully? Ought to be, certainly, but is it likely?

Consider then that the majority of Delhi's population is unaware, and unconcerned about the environment. That plastic bags are a convenience, worth more than just the grocery or merchandise they are used to carry. Pack foods, use as raincoats, or cover up the jhuggi with it. Line bins for protection against rodents and termites. Use to collect garbage in. Store clothes in. Take books to school in. Is there any aspect of life, at any level which is free of plastic bags?

Yes, plastic is a damned nuisance for the planet, choking up our lifelines in one way or the other. Yes, cheap alternatives are probably being researched but will take eons to be out in the market. Yes, something needs to be done about it, now.

But, will a total blanket ban such as this work? Is it practical? Sitting on my table right at this moment, is bread in a plastic, some raisins in a ziploc pouch, and cds in plastic covers. There is methi in a plastic bag, waiting to be plucked. A magazine still in the plastic pouch it came in. A new box of garbage bin liner bags and other stuff from the local store, in a large plastic bag, without which I would not have been able to carry it. Clothes from the drycleaners, individually wrapped in plastic. Some of these uses are easy to restrict, others not so. I do not know, for instance, what else to use for lining the cardboard boxes I have books in, in which I have gammaxene powder on the walls. (Another internationally banned substance by the way.) Will not a selective ban, say according to bag thickness, be more practical? Wouldn't it easier and more practical to slowly decrease bag usage? So far as I know, nobody has been able to stop people from having sex in an unapproved manner but promoting condoms has reduced the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases.

As has effective sex education. A ban, which is, and is seen as the government telling you not to do something, is not in the least likely to be useful in changing mindsets. Educating people about it is. Providing viable alternatives, making it appear cool and fashionable, is. Providing incentives, charging fees at the larger outlets (not the streetside vendor who has enough troubles without being asked to provide the bag inventories too), charging colonies for waste disposal, is.

And yet, the ban would be useful in that it would definitely reduce, grudgingly or not, plastic use. If it were enforceable. Is it? In totaliy? The enforcement of mandatory car emission checks, even though unpopular at the time, was possible because the number of cars is still limited compared to the population. Even though the staff of health and environment departments, food and supplies officers and SDMs are empowered to enforce the ban, I have my doubts...

Today, for a change, I am not talking of an online site for kids. Instead, here is 'How to make simple pop ups' by Robert Sabuda. A site to delight all you arty crafty people out there! (Is Winnie the Pooh who is not really the Pooh, reading this?) Pop up books are so spell binding for young children, that we remember them with delight decades later. But have you ever tried to make your own? Robert Sabuda is a children's book illustrator and writer, who has a passion for pop up books and a studio full of paper engineers. Did you know the meaning of this term before? Did you know how long it might take to make a pop up book you read to your child? Or how many pieces of paper may be required to make an intricate scene?

If you want to make simple pop ups, just go ahead and check out an example or two here. We haven't progressed beyond the very first, very basic one, because even that has been a delight to play with. But if you want to be entranced by the very world of pop up books, explore the site some more! Get the newsletter, explore the pop ups, check out the whats new archives for more wow! ideas and some tips as well. Or buy something :)

Here is the url -

P.S. I wish newspapers, or at least their websites, would carry some information about the sources they have obtained a news bit from. Would it have been too difficult for HT to carry the full notification as a link, or at least link to an online source if there was one? Why do we always have to have news distilled and processed for us, as if we were unable to understand it ourselves? Surely something like a mini reference list would be easy to manage, for those who want to know more?

P.P.S. As this site is for offline work, I am assigning no star rating to it.

Fun with Spot***

Today, the coolest blog award must finally be given to Christina, at '{my topography} The shape of daily life'. Even the blog title showcases her unique style, her way with words. Here is wishing her the best in life, and may we soon see her a famous author! She has a long blog roll, so I am sure she will not have any trouble finding ten more to award this to!

Are your kids friends with Spot, the little dog created by Eric Hill? If you own one of the books, and it is quite likely that you do, here is the site to go with it! In fact, here are two sites, something I discovered just today. So, am abbreviating the chit chat today and going straight on to Fun with Spot!

The website is created by Salspot Ltd 2008, for Frederick Warne Limited and is owned by Penguin Books Limited. Quite a number of companies involved here! If you start from, you will be asked to choose one of four countries. I have browsed the UK and US versions, and they are identical, so choose whichever one you want.

The index page lists other options, but as usual, our focus here is on the games :) Planning a party around Spot is a good place to draw inspiration from if you want one.

Pretty attractive layout, isn't it? Pity its all flash and takes just a little while to load up. Not too much though. The dress up game (see the skate shoes?) involves helping Spot choose the appropriate two of four garments/accessories presented for any given situation.

Helping Spot cook involves clicking on the item shown in the book, with the name of the object written there as well. It'd have been more useful had the words been spoken aloud also. And it'd be more fun if there was some more interactive mixing happening, the odd egg breaking etc. The end product is to be decorated and printed, but a rendering of 'happy birthday' or the candles bursting into flame would be even better.

Colour and make puzzles are very simple - just four jagged pieces to join up. The colour and make section as seen on the home page and in the tabs below is different, and leads to the downloadable/printable offline activities.

If you click on 'Adventures with Spot', you'll find some more fun, like the 'help Spot find where the key fits' below. Not much for kids to do except click on various locks, but it is entertaining enough for that age group.

And now to what I presume must be the older site but which has been left open for users even so. The site is owned by Frederick Warne & Co. of England. There are 3 options for territories - US, UK and NL, but I can't locate the index page, so go the UK version and change from territories under grown ups.

The home page looks like this - in full, but the subsequent games sadly occupy only a part of the window.

Games are divided by theme, but there are not more than two games in each theme. Despite the small number of games, it is possible to get an hour whiled away, because they are rather simple and fun.

The animal pair matching game below, and the day out at the park are our favourites. The latter involves choosing combinations of the weather and an accessory like the ball or sled, and seeing how Spot uses it that day.

Here are the urls - both for the UK sites -
New site:
Old site:

P.S. I have been wondering how best to organize the site. There have been enough sites covered so far for someone coming anew to actually miss out on the good ones buried deep. Plus, if you want to really search for something, are the labels good enough? I would appreciate any comments, questions, suggestions or advice about this!

P.P.S. Oh dear, forgot to mention the print and play on the upper right corner of the second site. And also, that both have a couple of videos to watch (the latter site under bookshelf; scroll right to the bottom of the page when you click the video section), but the ones in the older site are downloadable. I think.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Rest. Pause. Recharge. And Little Princess****

Today I'd like to present, for the Butterfly award, Makiko Itoh, of Just Hungry, a blog about Japanese food. Her photos are so mouth watering, and the writing so lucid that I am sorely tempted to try something myself. And the bento boxes she features! Wow, I do wish I could find a Japanese shop somewhere, or even one of those 100yen ones online, to get all that cute stuff - at reasonable prices, the disclaimer that keeps me from getting them! Makiko's blog was one of the first blogs I ever met, plus it is so totally exotic that I can't resist it... yummm!

And now, to business. From "Mr. God, this is Anna", by Fynn -

"What," she asked us one Sunday afternoon, "was God's greatest creative act?"

Although I didn't go along with Genesis, I answered, "When he created mankind."

I was wrong, according to Mum, so I had another shot. I was still wrong. I ran through six days of creation and drew nothing but blank looks. There was nothing more that I could think of. It wasn't until I had run out of ideas that I became aware of the exchange between Mum and Anna. So often with Mum that smile happened. It was her Christmas-tree smile, she lit up, she twinkled, and there was no other place to look. She sort of gathered everything around her. Anna was watching her intently, chin cupped in hands. There they sat, looking at each other, Mum with her wonderful smile and Anna with her intense look. The insulation of the six feet or so that separated them was beginning to give way. Anna drilled away at it with her blue eyes while Mum melted it with her smile. Suddenly it happened. Anna slowly placed her hands on the table and pushed herself upright. The gap had been bridged. Anna's matching smile had to wait while astonishment shaped her face. She gasped, "It was the seventh day - course it was - the seventh day."

I looked from one to the other and cleared my throat to capture their attention.

"I don't get it," I said. "God worked all his miracles in six days and then shut down for a bit of rest. What's so exciting about that?"

Anna got off her chair and came and sat on my lap. This I knew. This was her approach to the unseeing and unknowing infant - me.

"Why did Mister God rest on the seventh day?" she began.

"I suppose he was a bit flaked out after six days' hard work," I answered.

"He didn't rest because he was tired, though."

"Oh, didn't he? It makes me tired just to think about it all."

"Course he didn't. He wasn't tired."

"Wasn't he?"

"No, he made rest."

"Oh. He did that, did he?"

"Yes, that's the biggest miracle. Rest is..."

Think about it. Whether or not you believe in Genesis, or any other such concept, isn't rest such a lovely miracle?

Do you have a little princess on your hands, or even a little prince? The series of books about the Little Princess by Tony Ross are a great delight at out home, so I was thrilled to find this website featuring the princess, now copyrighted by The Illuminated Film Company / Tony Ross and licensed by TV-Loonland AG.

Its as yet a smallish site, with a few games, few very short videos, and sadly - no way of contacting them. But it is enough to showcase Little Princess, and to act as a springboard for their online shop for all kinds of related merchandise. The outlay is cute, very much like the books, and the use of the phrase "I want to.." immediately resonates with those who have read the books or watched the animated series. As with the books, the entire site is geared towards the younger kids, including the use of the large arrow pointer. You can choose to play, watch the videos, or make - which will lead to some printable activities like colouring and dot to dot.

There are four games. Or rather three. Listening is good for toddlers and those just learning mouse control, as it involves hovering over various objects to listen to their sounds.

Dressing up options are as above. The dress components are presented and just have to be moved to the right place.

Counting rabbits is a nice and simple game for the pre-schoolers.

Catching apples involves use of the arrow keys on the keyboard, but unlike most games of this sort, this is especially made for little fingers. The apples fall real slowly so there is ample time to catch them and accomplish the given task. All in all, a nice sweet site.

The url -

P.S. There are books. And then there are 'Ah!' books. I don't recall where I was introduced to this term - it was eons ago, but I have since adopted it for my own. An 'Ah!' books is a book that evokes no other response than 'Ah! what a book!'. It is a book that I can't do without, that I would read again and again and again, and then some more. It may be great literature, or wonderful writing, or magnificent concept, but in addition, it has a certain something that resonates deep within me. I like these books, I respect them, I admire them - but I also, in response, simply say - Yes! "Mr. God, this is Anna" is one of my 'Ah!' books, and you will no doubt see many excerpts now and then. Which are yours?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Of Schrodinger's cat and Giraffian**

There is Schrodinger's cat, which is perpetually occupying that funny space between being alive and dead since that great scientist first formulated his thought experiment.

And then there is my last molar which is lazing around in a supine position, unwilling and indeed unable to stand straight and do a honest day's worth of mastication. I don't in the least mind this lassitude: in fact I much prefer it to its fellow's best efforts, which resulted in a partial eruption, a huge cavity and a painful extraction. Nevertheless, there is a quarter, an interested and biased if knowledgeable quarter if you really want to know, which feels rather insulted by this attitude and is all in favour of its extermination. I suppose I shall have to acquiesce, in due course of time, the duration of which shall be entirely subjective, decided by my fears, and not open to questioning. But - and here is where Schrodinger's cat comes in - what would have happened if I had not got the X-ray done? This itself is asymptomatic, and could remain so for my entire life, assuming that I do live that long. Or it could lead to some major complication next month. In the meantime, isn't it somewhat analogous to the cat which is neither dead nor alive till observed? Till the tooth was seen on an X-ray done for another purpose, it was in a limbo between potentially dangerous and totally harmless. Nobody in the world knew of its state save itself, but once seen on the X-ray film, it has nowhere to hide....

More of this later :)

And now to Giraffian. This is a labour of love from Robyn Stanley of Australia. [12th Jan 09 edit - I had originally created Robyn's father, the artist Stephen Stanley for the website, which is wrong. Robyn wrote explaining - "And I've obviously mislaid my 'about' page when I upgraded to Drupal - Stephen Stanley is my father, I offered to host his editorial comics because he is a 50something internet fearing luddite. I'm Robyn Stanley and I live completely in the middle of nowhere in South Australia with two small children and a cat :)" ] The layout is simple, uncluttered. It does host ads, but they are predictably placed and children can be instructed to leave them alone. In any case, which child would look at insurance ads when there are games to be played! There is no audio, so you have to be present for most part, to provide commentary and enlightenment.

Use the menu on the left to navigate. Although the photo does have some clickable links, not everything is represented, and sometimes the links are broken.

Starting from the top, the jokes section is good for the early schoolers who would appreciate both reading themselves and being read to. The craft section has some beautiful images which can be used online or printed for craft activities. There are no charges for the low resolution images for personal use, but you must be sure and give credit.

The shapes game is very simple - click on colours and shapes to change the image in the middle, but it still keeps the younguns occupied for a long time. Plus it allows you to teach them the names of shapes you yourselves had forgotten... :)

The alphabets are simply but adequately illustrated, and quite simple, but a major drawback which has prevented me from using this site more is that the entire image doesn't fit into one page. You have to scroll down to see the image, and to click on the next link, and that means you can't leave a child to explore it on its own. It would have been lovely had the images been smaller, and if all the kid had to do was to click the image itself for the next one...

Emotions is just a collection of six images portraying different moods. Online books are small picture books - nothing spectacular, but adequate.

One of the books however, is actually a game kids enjoy a lot. Its called whose tail, and features a number of animals you have to guess the names of by looking at the tails. The pictionary is somewhat like a wiki, but it is pretty much incomplete. The number book is like the alphabets: one image per page.

Telling the time is a pretty useful little gadget which can be used for both analogue and digital time. It is one of the few time related games I have found which can be used for small children. The time tables may be useful if you have an older child you wish to leave alone on the computer for a while, but the best part is getting the time table for any random number you want! Arithmetic exercises are a set of ten simple exercises - not being a teacher, I failed to grasp the advantage in having them here when a simple pen and paper does as well. [Another edit - the exercises are generated randomly each click, so you don't repeat something over and over.]

As to the other links, well, you do have to do something when you reach the site, don't you? If you must ask for homework, find out where his cartoons are :)

The url -

P.S. Probabilities and possibilities in the field of medicine constitute a concept that nearly everyone - the doctors included - have trouble with. I suppose statisticians and other mathematicians don't, but I can't vouch for them, not being in contact with any. The body is not a rigid box of organs, each fixed in position or function; instead it is a system in flux.Things change, and sometimes they move so far outside the normal range that we call it a disease - and that needs cure. So far, so good, but every state in between this and the healthy one, is in the nature of the abovementioned Schrodinger's cat because of the uncertainty associated with it rather than the change in system with observation. [And well, I admit to misleading and erroneous use of the famous cat to get your attention....]. Will the system restore itself, will it mend if something goes wrong, or will it tilt dangerously into the precipice of disease? How can you tell? Sometimes there may be clear cut signs, but so very often we are only faced with numbers. For instance, let us suppose there is a 65% chance of my lazy tooth being infected: should I get it extracted now, when it is totally asymptomatic? Or should I wait and watch if I am lucky after all... What of the other figures - what happens if I do get it removed? What of the possible complications of the extraction itself? If (suppose - these are imaginary figures all - ) there is a 90% chance of severe pain which is easily controlled by medication however, 10% of bleeding which can be controlled, 2% of bleeding which can't be, 5% of infection which can actually worsen the situation inside my mouth? Grrrr. Way too many figures! And it is not easy to decide, is it? Because after all these are only figures in the nature of "if hundred people have this sort of a tooth, 65 will have some infection later" or "if a hundred get their tooth extracted, 2 will have such severe bleeding that they need transfusions". There is no way of saying if I will be among the 35% or the 98% - lucky or unlucky as the case may be....

So what exactly is the point of this post? My ramblings, dear fuddled reader, do have a point even if it is totally obscure :) For all those who stand in my 'patient' shoes, it is this - think it through and list in advance the figures which would be most relevant to you, and therefore, which questions you need to ask of the doctor. Think through each branch of the possible outcome, including non-medical factors, eg. if you are going to be traveling abroad, taking care of that tiny cavity in your tooth is a good idea, or if you are going to retire in five years, and currently the company takes care of your dental insurance, why not get that lazy molar removed? (Not the case with me, alas!) Are you more scared of possible complications of surgery or are you scared of the long standing toothache? Which should you be more scared of - if you actually knew all about it? Don't just assume that the doctor is pushing you for an unnecessary procedure: find out more about it! Be an informed patient!

And for those who stand in my 'dentist/doctor' shoes, it is this - if your patient is symptomatic, there is enough on his or her plate to begin with: the symptoms of the disease itself, the resulting disturbance of daily life, including livelihood in some cases, the strain of unfamiliar diagnostic procedures, the disease diagnosis you have just pronounced - it is not therefore easy to shift gears and decide on the best course of treatment objectively. Be patient. Know what you are talking of. Repeat, reassure, respond. Be prepared to do it all over again, and to tell it all over again and again - to sundry relatives as well. And if asymptomatic, educate, emphasize and empathize!

Hmm. Too preachy. That is what happens when I don't get to eat for a week because my darned mouth won't open. But I have decided not to go for the second surgery in a fortnight as advised, so be of good cheer ye readers!

P.P.S. And the only reason this silly post has even made it is because I had inadvertently already posted it once, in the draft phase, so its already been out in the open...

Also, the next awardee will be announced in the next post, because this one is too long anyway!