Saturday, January 24, 2009

Winter tidbits and Argosy medical animation****

Winter is warmer this year. The loads of heavy winter clothing I had amassed in anticipation are going to need a new home next year, little used. Yet, it is still winter. The sun has gone south for these months, as always. Mornings are dewy cool still when the last of school buses have left, the office goers dispersed to destination. Sweaters and thick dresses and warm inners hang heavy on clotheslines, slowly drying in the brief pale afternoons. The smell of smoke is in the air, smoke and roasting peanuts and sweet potatoes. Evenings begin to leak the sound of laughing children much sooner than before, emptying even as street lamps begin to come on. Sitting in the little patch of sun I can find, I still crave for sarson ka saag with makke di roti, dripping in butter, for cracking peanuts and shelling hara channa, for gazhak and revri...

If you have been to the Visible body project, you may have explored and reached the parent site of the company which has developed it - Argosy medical animation. If you haven't, or if you have problems in running the visible body software because of its large size, or because you have a Mac, try it today. Of course it is not a kiddie site; it is a professional site meant particularly to showcase the range and scope of their animations to prospective clients. But that doesn't mean we can't use it!

Don't be put off by the complex appearance of the home page. It looks very technical, and agreed, the site is so, but there is stuff which is useful for children, even preschoolers! The index page has a menu on the left sidebar, from which I advise you to click on the animation by system.

Then choose your system, and hover on the little snapshot of the animation to read a description below. Once you find what you like, click through to see it. Simple! Featured here is the beating heart, showing the cut section complete with muscles, valves and the nerve impulses (see that flash of light there?), and the sound of heart beats to accompany. A very brief animation: it had my two year old asking for more. But ever since the concept of heart 'beating' has been established firmly :)

The one below outlines the process of hearing, with a commentary to explain:

Quite a few of these animations were prepared for patient education, so are useful and simple to understand. Some are truly technical, of no use to anyone but the medical specialty involved. Which is not to say that your teenager may not need to use it for a school project :) I am therefore refraining from pointing you to those I think are best, because my judgement at this time is naturally aligned with a young child. As with most of life's questions, answers have to be tailored according to the age and comprehending power of the listener, so your choices will be different. The videos/animations are varying in length, but for the most part, brief, almost too brief. (If only childbirth was as quick as is shown here!) But the accuracy and level of detail is spectacular, as one would expect from a company of this repute. Do try it! Its a wonderful resource.

The url -

P.S. Trying to dredge a suitable winter poem to finish the post, and failing to find any at this ungodly hour, I turn to the internet. Isn't this cute -


January sparkles.
January's bold.
January huffs and puffs.
January's cold.

So, instead of an elegant poem, let me leave you with these elegant fruit bowls, as in bowls made from fruit by artist Margaret Dorfman. I am truly fida on them! If only I could learn how to make them myself...

Click on the photo to reach Susan Lumoto's Daily Art Muse, or go to the Gallery of functional arts here or here for more.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Obama and Brum***

"It is the firefighter’s courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent’s willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate."

Attributed to Barack Hussein Obama, current president of USA. Excerpted from inaugural speech.

The US presidential election last year brought hope, and a hint of the true magnificence of democracy, to millions around the world still quagmired in poverty, corruption, autocracy or worse. So may a poor wage labourer pause when quarrying coal and look at the distant jet, so high, so mighty, so proudly fine. With envy, greed, longing, but also, inspiration and hope that such things are. That it is possible for men to attain such heights. That it is possible for a people to choose their leader in such a way; that politicians can talk knowledgeably and skillfully of what they can do rather than flicking mud alone; that each and every vote can make a difference.

It is therefore natural that Obama's first speech as president will be dissected to its very osteoblasts by pundits and the junta alike. May I be allowed to join my voice to the cacophony as well? Thank you. The rest follows after the break.

Brum, the little, intelligent and independent car has a number of fans around the world, not all of whom are children. However, if your kids love Brum, this is the official website to visit, complete with the Big Town to explore.

The site is totally flash based, so be prepared to wait a little bit while it loads the first time around. In the meantime, enjoy a visual of the little car racing towards the Big Town. As seen from its rear. Once loaded, the game window occupies something like half of the screen, and is in the form of a map which adds a lot of visual interest for those following the tv series. Click on the little dots in the small navigational aid above to read about them, and click on the actual buildings in the map to visit. Most of the links are informational, or to do with watching their art gallery or sending an ecard. Two, however, are games.

Brum's airport adventure is something of an interactive story which requires nothing more than clicking on Brum to toot his horn, and on the flashing circles below to change the frame. There are two games, marked by Brum's photo. One, shown below, involves clicking on the crooks or the stolen suitcase as they pop up behind the luggage. The other requires clicking on various flashing signs to make Brum - er, intimidate the crooks. Both are timed, and become faster towards the end I think.

The other game is a car chase in the snowy slopes of some ski resort, which involves side to side mouse movements to avoid obstacles and pick up the money dropped by baddies running on ahead. It is also timed, and beware, it is harder than it sounds!

The site is owned and run by Ragdoll Ltd., UK, who also produce the tv series. The url -

And if you should want to get a very simple make-Brum-jump game for toddlers or pre-schoolers, visit the Ragdoll site itself, and click on Brum from amongst the photos in the top left corner. Then, click on the silhouette. Or, for a single page to colour online, click on the yellow pencil. There are similar very simple games there for each of the tv programs produced by Ragdoll, so be sure to explore some more! (Incidentally, the games seem to have the trademark simplicity and strategies of the Red Fish people. I do know that they have designed some of the Teletubbies and Boobah games, so I wonder...)

P.S. Cbeebies also has a single Brum game which should be mentioned here. It too is a kind of car race, but without the crooks, and much slower in pace. The car has to be steered clear of obstacles using arrow keys and when it obligingly stops in front of a money bag, press the space bar to pick up the booty. An easier game for the younger kids :)

P.P.S. So, back to Obama. Two observations.

One, when there is a team of speech writers, as is the norm with presidents and even presidential candidates, should one be attributing the quote to one man, or many?

Two, there seems to me that this speech is far too redolent in rhetoric to be sincere, or true. I suppose the inaugration ceremony, in itself a rather emotional celebration, calls for a touch of the cliche to stir heartstrings. But somehow I get the feeling that there is more grandiloquence than called for. It seems to be simple, but it is a contrived simplicity, the language somehow alien to the author, the sort of oversimplification one would use in trying to explain the mechanism of a quantum clock to a third grader. Maybe it sounded different to those who were there?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A gift, and Arvind Gupta's toys

I got a gift today.

It is a book called 'A house is a house for me' by Mary Ann Hoberman, illustrated by Betty Fraser, and it comes to me from Scribbler of Vintage books my kid loves, whose giveaway I had the incredible fortune to win. I still can't believe I did, but that is another matter! Anyway, the book is absolutely brand new: no scratches, no bent corners, even the new print smell intact. Amazing. Going by the name, I had been looking forward to getting a - well, vintage book as in something that had seen life, knocked around a bit, had a drink or two. But this is like its just come off the press. If one could leer at a book, I would be asking, "Where have you been all my life, dear?" to which of course it'd reply that for the first eight years or so, it wasn't even born... Thanks for the book Scribbler. [Are you sure that you haven't been and bought a new book, just for us? Not that I am returning it or anything, even if!]

Even better is the gift that is in the book. The gift of the book I should say. The gift of a new perspective, a new way of looking at things. It starts, very simply, with an enchanting verse that I can't resist reading in a sing-song voice -

"A hill is a house for an ant, an ant.
A hive is a house for a bee.
A hole is a house for a mole or a mouse
And a house is a house for me!"

And goes on in this vein, very gradually building up the concept of one being - or thing - 'housing' in another, to lead to this -

"A mirror is a house for reflections...
A throat is a house for a hum..."

Isn't that a bewitching, intriguing, tingling idea? As the book itself says,

"And once you get started in thinking this way,
It seems that whatever you see
Is either a house or it lives in a house,"

How beautiful to be able to think of the eye as a house for the world you see, the child as a house for laughter and joy, the trees for the raindrops that fall after the shower... But the end is the beautifullest of all, as Anna of the book might have said. Beautiful in its simplicity and grand compass.

"And the earth is a house for us all."

And on the subject of eco-conservation, I am going to feature today a site that is definitely not for online use, but it deserves a full post to itself. You'll soon see why when you visit Arvind Gupta's Books and Toys. An engineer by profession, Mr. Gupta is currently working at Children's Science Centre of Inter-university centre of Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA) at Pune, India. I don't know whether the correct big word to use would be doyen or a pioneer or something else altogether when talking about his popularizing science or promoting indigenous toy making, but I know of no other person who does these, and does them so well. He makes toys from waste material, scraps we would not look at twice before throwing away, and in so doing, redefines the meaning of toys for our generation. What are toys after all? Anything that can be enjoyed, played with is a toy. Every mother has at some time or the other lamented the use of her kitchen utensils as toys by tiny tots who ignore perfectly beautiful and expensive 'toys'. Kids don't have the same fixed notions of what a toy means - they are groomed into it. But not only does Mr. Gupta use the silliest of material, available even to the poorest of children, he also uses them to illustrate some point of science, and makes them doubly useful for teaching. And then, instead of charging a small fortune for great heirlooms of hard bound books with '1001 ideas' in them, he goes and distributes it all for free. Whichever way he can. Which is why you will find his 'toys', complete with illustrations, on his website for you to use, directly, or as you need to modify it. Just go through the site. Even if the stuff is too plebeian for you, you will still get ideas. And a new way of looking at things.

Also on his site are loads of pdf books - science books, education books, Russian classics, children't books - waiting to be downloaded and read. And documentaries. What else does one need to teach?

Or learn?

And now, the site itself. When you reach the homepage, there are three links - Books, toys and films. Nothing else. Click on each to expand or lead to a fresh page, and you have a veritable library on your hands. There are no flash galleries, no colourful boxes in sidebars and fancy banners, but there is a lot of stuff!

The url -

Go on, challenge yourself to look at things in a new light twice over today!

P.S. Again, as the site is not meant for online usage, no star rating has been given.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Berenstain bears: official**, RandomHouse** and at PBS***

You know a young mother by the way she -
- rocks gently on her heels when standing in line with a couple of bags in her arms
- looks out of the window and sees only the cows, pigs, dogs and assorted animals which make noises she can imitate
- mimes eating herself when she is feeding a toddler - or watching one being fed
- finds sharp corners and exposed electric outlets better than anyone else
- looks only at the children's books section in the library, the bookstores and the houses she visits...

It is perhaps just as well that my recent book buying sprees have been limited to kid books, twenty of which would occupy as much space as one of mine, because otherwise I would have to move out of my own home! I am more than an impulse buyer of books: I am an unstoppable force. As long as there is money in my wallet, there will be books in my basket. Especially if there is a sale on, when I will not even pause to examine if the books are appropriate for age or not. After all, if not now, they can always be read later. Or by me. Anyway, one of such acquisitions last year turned out to be a Berenstain Bears book, of which I had been previously unaware. It was the one in which the brother sister 'get the gimmies', something that thankfully we haven't had to deal with yet. I thought that its overt preaching would put my then just two year old off, but so far, its magic is holding. Perhaps because the characters are not really identified with? Keeping my fingers crossed anyway!

Berenstain bears were created by Stan Berenstain and his wife Jan, who took inspiration from their real life family for the books. Subsequently the family has also been turned into a tv show. So, instead of one site, today I am going to talk of three, all of which feature Berenstain bears.

The official website is of course, 'The official Berenstain Bears Website', owned by the Berenstain Enterprises, Inc.

Its a java based site, so may take just a little while to load up. The home page has a separate scrollable menu on the left, which is useful. Or you could click on the links in the image itself. Do not click on the enticing 'new' site promoted here - it has no games at all. Of course, if you want to know more about the Stan Berenstain foundation, you should visit. Or for such other academia of no interest to small children :) The link to click is the Activities one -

You'll notice that most of these are actually downloadable activities, for example the dress up figures, mazes, colouring sheets, and all of the newer activities. The interactive story book is the one thing that this page is worth visiting. It allows you to read one whole book online by turning the pages. Rather small, but beggars can't be choosers!

The Factoids are about eight little - factoids. The trivia quiz is also - trivial. Slider puzzle is online, single slider puzzle. And the mystery message is a message in code, with the decoder ring given on another page. All these are therefore suitable for the pre-teens more than kindergarten kids.

And oh, there is a video page; the link is called Barn theater, which has three or four very very small sized clips. Small as in viewing size, although the length is not great either.

The colouring pages below come from the Random House page of activities related to Berenstain bears. Nice detailed drawings to colour online, with the added advantage of being able to scribble or add a few simple shapes over any drawing so completed. Be warned that the eraser is rather permanent: you can't colour over it once erased!

But the best set of games come from, as usual, PBS kids.

The matching game is standard, but I have not seen a single matching game being given the miss so far, so all is well. The join the dots game has letters rather than numbers, spelling out the name of the thing drawn, and is an interesting find.

The 'pack a picnic' game is fun too, even if you are not aware of the bears' family histories, as we were when we first found it. It involves opening up or moving a lot of things to find the required article.

The 'make your own story' game is directed towards slightly older kids, who can read and are being taught parts of speech etc. But I still read it out and we have fun filling in the blanks.

The game I liked the most, partly because of the long time it takes I admit, is the 'find whats wrong' game. In each room, there are a few things which are amiss, and it takes a bit of observation to find all of them. An enjoyable game too.

Dress a bear is a game which falls somewhat short of expectations in that the dresses don't 'click' into place, but merely hang over the image like stickers, leading to some strange montages when put together by not so adept fingers. Oh well, as long as they are having fun... The video clips here are predictably more numerous, though, alas, just as short.
Here are the urls:
The official site -
Berenstain bears at PBS kids -
Berenstain bears at Random House Publishers -
P.S. It has been suggested to me that by engrossing myself in all these children's books, and websites, I am actually reliving my own childhood a second time. Hmm, what if? And if so, isn't it fun!