Wednesday, March 21, 2012

App Review : Oh Say Can You Say Di-no-saur?

Title : Oh Say Can You Say Di-no-saur?

(The Cat in the Hat's Learning Library)

Publisher : Oceanhouse Media

Available on : Apple Store

The Cat in the Hat's learning library aims at introducing the interesting natural concepts of world around us to the young readers by making education entertaining. In line with this objective, this is another offering in digital format by Oceanhouse Media with two options - Read to Me and Read Aloud.

The book has Sally and Dick, hidden messages held by Thing One and Thing Two, and the favourite Cat in the Hat as the tour guide who likes to call himself - Cat-in-the-hat-saurus. The Cat in the Hat takes Dick and Sally to a trip millions of years back in time when enormous lizards ruled over earth and the fossils of these fascinating creatures form an interesting research topic. They then go to the Super Dino Museum to learn more about various Dinosaurs who roamed on the face of Earth during prehistoric period.

It begins with a brief introduction about the Dinosaurs followed by going into specifics of some dinosaurs. The readers are helped along in correctly pronouncing the names of these dinosaurs by breaking the words into smaller fragments. This is not all, a small lesson is taught on paleontology too - what are fossils, where are these fossils found, how are they then put together like puzzle pieces to create the whole structures. These skeletons are now displayed in the museums for all to see and learn how these enormous creatures looked like.

Application features like - more information popping up on tapping Dino names, words getting highlighted as they are spoken out, tap on the images leading to naming words, touch-to-hear text and bold words leading to a little more detail, along with beautiful background score and sound effects, make it a great reading and interactive experience.

Children will enjoy the well acquainted characters and style of Dr. Seuss in new avatar. A great way to introduce the fascinating dinosaur world to young children. The zany illustrations and rhyming text are totally signature style of Dr. Seuss and are retained in exact same form.

This application has a slight variation in navigating from one page to another. Unlike the previous one, this has an arrow in the bottom right corner instead of swiping option. The Cat in the Hat's Learning Library is surely doing a great service by making these informative books available on the hand held devices too.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Tech Review : Antezen

"Discover like minded professionals to work with"

ANTEZEN - Another website? You'd think - nothing new, thousands join the space every single day.

This site offers something new? Every site claims to be 'different'.

But amazingly as you enter the Antezen website and start exploring it in a little more detail, you won’t help getting impressed by some very interesting ideas and features that this site offers.

To begin with, I can not skip commenting on the well thought out name and logo of the site - Antezen (derived from the base word Ant) which is a symbol of dexterousness and perseverance. Neither failure perturbs an ant nor success brings complacency. And who can symbolise team work better than efficiently working ants in their colonies?

Antezen offers a cross between social networking and recruiting facilities. In other words, it bridges the gap between these two services which have been provided individually by numerous sites. Brains behind this particular endeavour had one objective in mind - to plug in a lot of gaps that have been left open by these two sets of systems-

  1. Networking sites : Professional networking sites like Linked In and Social networking sites like Facebook. This is done by facilitating the creation of network of co-workers and ex-coworkers.
  2. Recruiting sites and Job search engines : This is accomplished by clubbing the networking facility to make the recruitment more tailor made for the professionals concerned. This works extremely well for two end users - a company looking out to recruit a professional for a certain kind of work and a professional looking for a perfect job opportunity for him/herself.

For the second part, a very intelligent - SupeRecruiter software has been developed, which incorporates the most used but least technically implemented mechanism of recruitment - 'The Word-of-Mouth' mechanism. SupeRecruiter, superbly utilizes the information gathered from the first system, runs it through some smart algorithms and creates a perfect platform for perfect match making - between hiring managers and the professionals.

Through these two services Antezen has been able to create a very innovative system which is uniquely positioned in the market. It is commendable that the need of this middle layer could be anticipated in the midst of plethora of sites which are providing subsets of some of the functionalities separately. Antezen is well on its path to offering a super smart one-stop system which seamlessly integrates with Facebook and Linked In and completely eliminates the hassle of creating profiles at every single networking site.

Antezen primarily makes use of the technologies - Ruby on Rails and jQuery, which have been duly mentioned on the site.

Following are some of the worth-mentioning features of the site :

The services and working of the site are explained through self explanatory videos which very briefly demonstrate what a user/viewer can expect from it.

The attention to detail throughout the website is laudable. Every point which could be a potential for any kind of doubt or confusion in the users' minds is preemptively thought through and the guidance is provided there and then leaving the minimal to trial and error.

Users get to create bands or groups which empower them to moderate their own communication in a certain manner with different bands. These bands are like 'personal recipient list' of messages.

A brief summary email is sent to the users informing them about the updates which concern them. However the frequency of these mails can be controlled by the users directly.

I specifically liked the manner in which the contributions of World's Super Brains are acknowledged, immaterial of the area they made their marks in. Antezen considers them Gods of this world and taking the same thought a little further, they have their Angels too.

Guider Ant is another cool ant which is there to assist the visitors. Don’t miss using its helping hand (leg?)

Some more interesting features are in the pipeline, for instance the personalized e-Cube facility. This cube is almost like a virtual office space where you decide its décor, things you want to stick to its walls and whom to entertain and when. This clearly indicates that Antezen with such personal touch, aims to be the one standing tall above the rest.

The small little images of ants illustrating the particular activity - under network section, show the extra thought that has gone in each and every aspect. However for the sake of uniformity something on the same lines could be done for other features too.

As I explored the site in detail, I came to the conclusion that it has been designed strictly adhering to the principle "work speaks louder than words" which I really appreciate. However, at some places, words become indispensable to put the point across so a right balance is extremely important. The whole text on the site needs at least one iteration of editing. The website is in Beta stage and work is on to smoothen out all rough patches and to give it the final shape.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Book Review : I Am Najar-am-Radh

Title : I am Najar-Am-Radh

Author : Geeta Dharmarajan

Illustrator : Vandana Singh

Publisher : Katha

ISBN : 978-81-89934-73-6

'I am Najar-Am-Radh' is a strange tale of a Tamarind Story Tree which has a treasure of wonderful stories for all. But how did this tree get all the stories? There is indeed a strange secret and a clever plan behind this.

Long time ago, all trees had lots of stories to narrate but a Wizard of Tantrapuri plucked all the words uttered by those trees, from the wind and robbed the trees off their stories. Once it so happened that he was cleverly tricked by a story teller who introduced the Wizard himself as a character in the story and unmindful of that, the wizard plucked that story too and put it in a tamarind seed and before he could realize his folly, he was entrapped in the tamarind seed.

Now the only way for him to get freedom was to be sown in the soil and since he had snatched so many stories of so many trees, he became a Tamarind Tree which was full of stories. And he started enjoying his status as a great story tree.

People from far and near places come to listen to his stories and he is a very friendly story teller now.

A swirling magic of the tamarind tree beautifully illustrated by Vandana Singh is sure to captivate young readers.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Book Review : The Glass Tree

Title : The Glass Tree

Author : M Mukundan

Illustrator : Poonam Athalye

Publisher : Katha

ISBN : 978-81-89934-79-8

'The Glass Tree' is one of the most endearing tales that I have ever read which begins with a role reversal of sorts. Grandma Mutthashi is pestering his grandson Unni, for a story before going to bed. This is because Unni's stories can put Mutthashi to sleep.

It does not take much time for 2-year Unni to relent to the pleadings of his Mutthashi. On this particular night Unni has a special story for his grandma- the story of a glass tree. He begins narrating the story as he imagines some pictures appearing on a bare wall in front of him. It is about a village chief - Kuruman. He is offering his prayers to the stone idol under the huge Champaka tree when a stranger, Melkorran addresses him and makes him believe that the old Champaka tree is about to die soon. Melkorran offers his services to Kuruman as he is adept in the art of making trees that don't grow old nor even shed a single leaf. Kuruman is completely bewitched by the idea of such a fascinating tree. Soon enough Melkorran sets to work, the old Champaka tree comes crashing down and the chirping inhabitants of the tree run helter-skelter trying to save their babies in the nests.

Melkorran shapes each and every part of the tree with utmost care and love. He builds the most beautiful glass tree which glistens with the sun rays but in spite of its magnificence there is something that the glass tree lacks.

Soon the images start to fade away from the wall in front of Unni and his story comes to an end.

This is actually retelling of a prize-winning original story. Fascinating art work by Poonam Athalye is a treat for the eyes.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Book Review : Trade Winds To Meluhha

Title : Trade Winds To Meluhha

Author : Vasant Dave

Publisher : Vasantrai P. Dave

E-format ISBN : 978-81-922506-0-1

In 'Trade Winds to Meluhha', the author Vasant Dave recreates the scene of Bronze Age in Mesopotamia and Indus Valley Civilization. As the title of the book suggests, the story revolves around the trade between the two ancient civilizations.

Samasin, the stable boy of a Babylonian - Nergal, gets accused falsely in a murder case of a visitor who happens to be a businessman from Meluhha. He absconds from that place in search of Siwa Saqra, the person whose name the dying man uttered. As the destiny would have it, he meets beautiful lass Velli and falls in love with her but she does not reciprocate his feelings because of her own reasons. There is another character Anu who is in search of certain men for revenge. Samasin with the assistance of Anu gets to decipher a Dholavira glyph which leads them to another adventure in the ravines of Saraswati. He does succeed in finding Siwa Saqra in Mohenjodaro but is there something more to the murder in Babylon than he knew already?

Gradually the mystery gets revealed behind the trade between Meluhha and Mesopotamia and the master mind responsible for the execution of wicked schemes is unmasked.

A very well thought out plot and is executed cleverly. While reading the book, the readers would surely get the feeling of travelling back in time and I must compliment the author in providing the perfect balance of authenticity and imagination in the narration. The way each character is etched, the names given to them, certain phrases of bygone era and the sensibilities of that society - make for an interesting read. It is evident that author has done a lot of research on that period of time, the people who lived then and their lifestyles and he has succeeded in creating the rustic feel to the story which is absolutely required for a historical novel.

But how much ever I try, I cannot avoid mentioning that the story is not free of typos, a couple of more editing iterations should have been done before releasing the final version. As I began reading the book, for initial 25-30 pages, I found it a cumbersome read because of introduction of too many characters too soon and completely unfamiliar kind of setting but slowly the saga pulled me in and then I realized that perhaps that kind of introduction is absolutely necessary for setting the stage.

This book claims to be the first professionally researched novel on Harappan Civilization. It is available as eBook on Amazon.

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