Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Be whatever you want to be and Antbee*

Of all the inspiring posts I have been reading lately, barely registering their meaning in the rush between one sleepy blink and another, this is not what I would have chosen to respond to. Of all the wonderful posts by Swistle, some thought provoking, some inspiring, some entertaining, this is not what I would have chosen to write about. Yet, here I am, trying to sort out my thoughts, trying not to make a mess of things by making a short comment which will be - well, a mess.

Basically (if you haven't yet been to read the post after all the links I gave you), Swistle takes exception to the ever optimistic tone of children's tv programs, which promise -

1. You can be anything.
2. You should always be yourself.
3. If you are unsuccessful, unhappy, or unliked, it is because you're not believing in yourself and/or being yourself.

Now, I haven't watched these programs, I don't have as much child rearing experience as Swistle does, and I do not share the same background as her. Yet, I do see what she is getting at; probably you do too if you have read her post (and also at least some of hers before, to get an idea of the kind of person she is). It is an unrealistic and oversimplified picture of the real world; there are disappointments in real life, and it is not always possible to be what you want to be.

But I also, very easily, see the other side of the picture. All of us need inspiration; at the times when all seems dark, it surely helps to know that light is possible, and that it can be within our reach if we try. As new as children are, very early they learn to limit themselves by what they have been told, what they see, what they are taught. So they also have to be told about the endless possibilities in this world. When Nadia dazzled the world with her perfect tens, I was but a child, in a place where there were no gyms, no gymnastics. I still dreamed that I could be like her one day. That I am instead just an overweight sedentary lazy book reader does not in any way take away from the beauty of the dream, nor its possibility. Had I tried to find a teacher, had my dream been less of a daydream to while away time, and more of a burning passion, I could have been at least a fitter person today even if I did not win Olympic golds!

I did have a passion though, something which didn't materialize, and which I ultimately folded and kept away in the attic of the past. Many reasons led to that point in time when I gave up that dream; some were solely my responsibility, others were beyond my control. Does that mean I should not have believed in that dream, shouldn't have followed it to a point where it was all my life? That I should have been told, very early on, that it was not possible for 98% of people to become what I wanted to be? Of course not. Throughout our lives we make choices, choosing at each crossroads the best we can, given our circumstances and level of knowing at that point. Some of mine were wrong, and I could yet have reached the happy isles, if I had known about them - then. But this knowledge, this knowing of self, I have only achieved through traveling the one way road we call life. There is no going back, no backspacing and re-writing. If I were living again, I would likely be making the same mistakes, taking the same road, without the benefit of this retrospective analysis. But, truly, who knows? It may be so, or not. But if I had started out being told, and repeatedly, that the chances of success were low indeed, that would have set me up for failure, and not only that, but for blaming everyone else except myself for so failing. Don't get me wrong - even blaming self is not quite the right attitude: blame is the guilty word here. But, at least, when I have tried and failed, I can take pride in knowing that I did my best, thinking that it was possible. Believing I was setting up to fail, I might not have tried so hard, shrugged the failure away as 'chances were poor anyway', absolved myself, learnt no lessons.

Yes, I am able to see that it is entirely possible to enter an arena knowing your odds, fight against them and win - simply because you care enough to defeat those odds. Or that it is possible, even recommended, to start a business venture with realistic expectations, expecting to fail, to lose money and time, and so win through to the end, to succeed. Yes, it is true of me as well - I can handle the chances and still put in my best. But that is now. Not when I was a child, nor even a young adult. Children need hope, encouragement, endless possibility; they need dreams.

And also, they need reality checks, need to be shown the road ahead, complete with thorns and potholes. That too is our job, as parents and teachers.

But television? It is not really a job for tv programs, (watched by thousands of children, each different from the other), is it? Would you really like your child to be told that it is not possible to be anything you want to be, that it is better to be a hypocrite, that lies serve, after all, better than the truth? There are two parts to it: about being told that you can be anything you want,

...save a komodo dragon, and that it is best to be true to yourself. I am not sure about the first part, but about the latter, I know that some parents would actually like that. The kind of parents who teach their children to bully, to cheat and lie, to bribe and be corrupt - because in their words, 'it is a cut-throat world, so get ahead however you can'. I am afraid I have no empathy with them, none at all. Not as parents, but as people.

But I am afraid I digress. The programs we see on tv are like books we read - we have a choice in the matter regarding what we choose. Unlike books, however, tv is more pervasive and has far fewer choices. I do agree that programming should be responsible, avoid stereotypes, encourage without being overly simplistic. Yet, given a choice between a program which encourages my children to dream of becoming whatever they want to be, and one which cautions to the contrary, I know I would choose the former.

After all, I am there to teach the rest of it.

"Let the truth of Jack and the Beanstalk enter her mind
Equally true with the location of the post office
Because a beanstalk whereon a washerwoman's son
May climb above the clouds,
Is so impossible, it will train her soul
For the great impossibilities..."

Carl Sandburg, in "Prayer for the child Margaret who is six"

And because it has been some time now since we have had stories here, today we have
AntBee, a small site owned by AntBee, Inc. of USA. As far as I can make out, the site is still in the process of being 'finished', but I can't be sure how long this has been going one, for I don't think I have seen many changes in the past six months or more since I bookmarked it. Of course, we would have visited it maybe once or twice in this duration, so take my impressions with a grain of salt please!

The site layout is simple with no ads except one tiny one, maybe. The written material occupies only the left part of your screen, roughly as a square. Home is where you are, and more stories is the only other link except for parent's corner.

The stories are in the form of simple illustrations with one or two sentences to accompany each, with no multi-media content or flash animation, which makes it easy for dial ups. The page numbers are listed on the right, which is what you use to move to the next one. There is a 'what do you think' page too, which you can use if you wish.

There are nine stories in all, but they are not all visible on the 'more stories' page. Rather, you will have to click the drop down menu there to find them. As far as stories go, they are ok I think, but then literature is always such a subjective matter that I daren't comment more. Plus, I can never resist a story, no matter what!

The parent's corner has their privacy policy, and contact information, and a some links, of which quite a few are broken. There is also a survey which you could fill and help them in making the site something you'd like.

The url - http://www.antbee.com

P.S. Sour grapes? Or living the real life?

Wow, that is pretty!
It is a purse.
A purse? Really?
Wish I had it! How much is it?
Whoa! Guess, for a work of art that is an ok price, but I sure wish I could make it myself.
Wonder if it is washable though. Those little crinkles will gather dust like anything...

Purses and other everyday art objects made from polymer clay at artist Kathleen Dustin's site.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Tears and Spirographs

From Amy Tan's 'The Joy Luck Club' -

"An-Mei," she whispered, "have you seen the little turtle that lives in the pond?" I nodded. This was a pond in our courtyard and I often poled a stick in the still water to make the turtle swim out from underneath the rocks.

"I also knew that turtle when I was a small child," said my mother. "I used to sit by the pond and watch him swimming to the surface, biting the air with his little beak. He is a very old turtle."

I could see that turtle in my mind and I knew my mother was seeing the same one.

"This turtle feeds on our thoughts," said my mother. "I learned this one day, when I was your age, and Popo said I could no longer be a child. She said I could not shout, or sun, or sit on the ground to catch crickets. I could not cry if I was disappointed. I had to be silent and listen to my elders. And if I did not do this, Popo said she would cut off my hair and send me to a place where Buddhist nuns lived.

That night, after Popo told me this, I sat by the pond, looking into the water. And because I was weak, I began to cry. Then I saw this turtle swimming to the top and his beak was eating my tears as soon as they touched the water. He ate them quickly, five, six, seven tears, then climbed out of the pond, crawled onto a smooth rock and began to speak.

"The turtle said, 'I have eaten your tears, and this is why I know your misery. But I must warn you. If you cry, your life will always be sad.'

"Then the turtle opened his beak and out poured five, six, seven pearly eggs. The eggs broke open and from them emerged seven birds, who immediately began to chatter and sing. I knew from their snow-white bellies and pretty voices that they were magpies, birds of joy. These birds bent their beaks to the pond and began to drink greedily. And when I reached out my hand to capture one, they all rose up, beat their black wings in my face, and flew up into the air, laughing.

"Now you see,' said the turtle, drifting back into the pond, 'why it is useless to cry. Your tears do not wash away your sorrows. They feed someone else's joy. And that is why you must learn to swallow your own tears.' "

Is that true? Is it true that tears don't wash away our sorrows? What of the days you are so tired, your body speaks in the language of tears without enough reason? And when you have put everything you have in the making of a relationship or a pudding, which still goes sour? Those tears of frustration, and anger, don't they help bring healing? And I remember those grieving tears, for death, for the loss and acceptance of that void. Tears which don't ever fill that empty space but allow you to move on.

But there are tears of hopelessness as well, of impotence in the face of life's vicissitudes, or failure and dejection, of humiliation and rejection. And pain. Pain of third degree burns, of broken bones, of compressed nerves, of cramps which don't stop. Pain of the burnt heart, of broken spirit, of soul squeezed too tight into little jails. What of these? Who do you share these with? And when you do, who amongst the handful of names you have clutched so tightly in your fist will not be a magpie, feasting, feeding, gorging?

But enough of this. Move on now to Spirographs (is that patented, do you know?), those little wheels with holes within wheel with big hole. In the days of yore, when my childhood was long past, but I still roamed free this earth, unencumbered by thoughts of impending extinction akin to the Ankylosauraus, I used to see these with roadside vendors and be tempted to buy them. It seemed like a chidish thing to do, twiddling with colours and circles, so I didn't. Now I think I should have; at least I should like to play again, just fiddle with shapes and colours and the possibilities, and who know what might result? And so, one day, I googled for online spirographs, and here are a few that I saved for you to play too -

Lynn's spirograph is an applet which will allow you to 'use multiple pens and colors at once. If you stop the drawing you can restart it with or without clearing it. You can change the pen colors or select a new disk when the drawing is stopped. Note that when you change disks or click the one (in the disk selection pane) that was being used in the drawing, it will rotate to match the one in the drawing.' Simple and fun, most like what we have seen as children.

The spirograph at Thinks.com has more controls, viz the radii of the two circles and their offset, a complete colour choice, light or dark background, whether a continuous line or not, and what is called revolutions, meaning I suppose the number of revolutions because the line gets thicker when I choose 500... And oh, I almost forgot to tell you that the drawings are more or less instanteous, so the fun is in choosing the numbers :)

David Little's spirograph was the one most liked at our place. It pops out in a new square window, looking more like a game I suppose. But more fun was the finding of new shapes by positioning the smaller circle outside the bigger one. In addition to the control over circle radii and offset, there is also the speed and resolution of rendition, which makes it easy to show the exact path being taken. The page has basic math explanation behind the game, so it is a must read for parents who want to at least know what their kids know...

And over at AFLAX, the java library for Adobe Flash platform, I found this cute little one, attributed to Jim Bumgardner -

The size of the inner disc and its pen hole position is all that you can change, and the thickness of the pen. It keeps moving by itself in rainbow colours, its tail end fading while the leading point moves on...

And finally, there is this spirograph by numbers, which only provides an image after you punch in the required numbers; must for budding mathematicians, but kind of wasted on the young 'uns, and their rushed parents :)

Here are the urls -

Lynn's applet - http://perl.guru.org/lynn/apps/index.html

Spiro online Thinks.com - http://thinks.com/java/spiro/spiro.htm

David Little (maths deptt. Penn State Univ.) - http://www.math.psu.edu/dlittle/java/parametricequations/spirograph/index.html

AFLAX library - http://www.aflax.org/examples/spirograph/spirograph.html

Spirograph by numbers - http://michelle.esfm.ipn.mx/~mrspock/spiro2/

Edit 16th June 2009 - just found another of these flash toys at Chew on glass (http://www.chewonglass.com/games/Wheels) The example below has three wheels, but if you need use only two for the classic spirograph pics. Even if the maths is a bit different, which, being totally sleepy right now, am not even going to figure out :)

Note : Unlike other games, I have not, this time, looked into the backgrounds of each page, so if you wish you may explore further, or not :)

P.S. This post has been nearly a week in the making. For the first few days, unfortunately I alone shall have to take the blame, but for these last three - I am happy to announce a guilty albeit totally unconscious partner: Vivianne Schwarz, author, illustrator and maker of sock monkeys, whose blog has kept me occupied whenever I have had a few moments to spare... Here is a gem I am copying from her 22nd November 2008 post. In entirety. I rather think it may become a chorus line over here, at my blog, where apparently I am doing time lapse bloggography (another little gem I have picked from elsewhere, but more on that some other time. Thanks Pete! And a thousand apologies for calling you Mike earlier.)

La de da doo dum dee da da da... da deee... dum da dooo... da da... don't bother holding the line, try calling back next week... doo doo...
And oh, did I mention we made a sock monkey yesterday?