Kostub's Personal blog

The Owl Who Drank Curry and Other Tales

Thirty Days With An iPad

It has been a little over a month since I got my iPad. The first day that I got the device, it wasn’t apparent to me what I’d use it for. It looked really cool and was great for showing off, but beyond that I didn’t know what I’ll use it for. Over time the device has grown on me. It is a great multi-purpose device and in this post I’ll describe the various uses that of the device.

An Expensive Toy

One of the main uses that my iPad found is that it is an amazing toy for my 3-year-old. And the great thing about it is that it is not one toy, but many toys. She can use it for playing jigsaw puzzles, pattern matching, learning her ABCs, learning to read, write, count, as a sketch pad, for finger painting and the list goes on. Whatever you can think of, there is an app for that, often times many more than one. Moreover she has learned to navigate the iPad all by herself. The interface is so intuitive that it doesn’t need any teaching – a simple demonstration suffices. Now she can start whichever app she wants, and if she gets bored with that one, then move to another one. Most of the apps are just a few bucks to purchase, cheaper than traditional toys and moreover they save a ton of paper.

Book reader

While the iPad is no Kindle, it serves as a great book reader. There are a number of places where you could buy ebooks from such as the iBookStore or Amazon.com. While I haven’t actually purchased any books from these stores, I have a number of kids books that are available through the appstore. There are quite a few of great books available for purchase and sometimes even free downloads – such as interactive Dr. Seuss books which are cheaper than their print versions. While it seems to be great for kids books, I am doubtful how effective it is for reading adult books. You can’t really use the iPad to read in bed – it is actually quite heavy to hold in one hand for longer than a few minutes.

Movie player

iPad + Netflix has the potential to get rid of our DVD player. While Netflix is available on many platforms, it is very easy to connect the iPad to your TV and watch movies sitting on the couch. The only drawback being there is no remote. You can also use the iPad as a portable movie player, say in an airplane or car, if you buy movies from iTunes. This can be handy when trying to entertain your kid while going on a vacation.

Portable Internet Device

While the iPad is no substitute for a laptop, its form factor makes it a handy device if you just want to browse the web, check email or read documents or pdfs. Being larger than a smart phone, many of these tasks are actually much easier. Of course the lack of a real keyboard makes certain things such as writing long emails or blog posts much harder, but you can always use your laptop for those tasks. Now one may wonder, that why is there a need for a device other than your laptop – can’t you just open a laptop and do all the things that I just mentioned. While that statement maybe true, there is definitely something to be said about sitting on the couch and using a multi-touch device for these tasks. It is something that needs to be experienced to believe that it is actually better than using a laptop.

A GPS Unit

An iPad + 3G is a great device for having in your car. You can use it as GPS unit to get directions, find the closest restaurants or other services, or get any information that you need from the web while on the move. The device comes with a free Google Maps app that you can use for directions or buy more sophisticated ones from the appstore. It was definitely indispensable on our recent trip down to the bay area. The only drawback is that the data plans with AT&T are limited data plans. It is very easy to run out of the limit on the cheapest plan. So you need to keep making sure that you are using wi-fi when it is available. The good thing about these plans is that they are contract free. So you can just sign up when you know you are travelling and terminate the plan after you are done.

Gaming

While the iPad is not a dedicated gaming device, it is definitely handy for casual games. The interface is not as conducive to gaming as say my Nintendo DS, but there are certain types of games that work well on the iPad due to the larger screen. Notably puzzle games and point and click games. In fact, the interface is ideal for point and click (now touchscreen) adventure games. The adventure game genre has been largely ignored in the past decade, but seeing that Sam & Max and The Secret of Monkey Island are some of bestselling games on the iPad, hopefully we’ll see a lot more adventure games for the iPad and maybe some more of the Lucas Arts or Sierra goodness.

Other Uses

As I mentioned that the iPad is a multipurpose device – new apps are constantly available through the appstore. So what wasn’t a use case today, could be a great use case tomorrow. A few things that I have found the iPad useful for other than what was already mentioned are things like note-taking (both handwritten & typed), or managing recipes (though I haven’t found a good app for that yet).

Accessories

The one issue with the iPad is that it requires a bunch of accessories to make it work. The most important one is a case or a stand. The iPad is heavy and slippery and a bit fragile – so it is best to put in a case to protect your investment. Another important accessory is a stylus. Yes Steve Jobs hates them, but if you want to do any sketching, drawing or writing on the iPad you’ll need one. The styluses for the iPad aren’t as good as what I have on the DS, but you can get a decent one for $10. You may also need additional cables if you want to connect it to a TV and of course you’ll need a headphone. The good thing is that the battery life for the iPad is remarkably long and mine goes on for days without needing a recharge.

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October 7, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Life in Terms of Watermelons

Over the past 10 years I’ve had a number of jobs and each change has added some new benefit. Definitely, if you look at it in terms of watermelons! I started out in grad school. On the measly TA pay, a watermelon was a luxury. And if I were to buy them from Whole Foods, I might have just pledged two months of my salary to get one.

Then came Amazon! Now, I earned enough to afford them. But eating watermelons at Amazon.com was verboten. Maybe they thought that eating them might improve employee morale to an unacceptably high level. Or maybe they were afraid that the watermelon rinds would increase their garbage bills or they might have to pay the janitors $1/hr more to cleanup. Whatever the reason was, everyone just accepted it, and ate no watermelons. Except for the ones that came from watermelon rich jobs, but they didn’t last very long.

Then there was Blist (now Socrata). This was just like any normal place – you could buy watermelons and eat them too. For most people this doesn’t sound like a big deal, but coming from Amazon, this was huge! Finally I got to taste these wonderfully refreshing fruits at work. And then life kept getting better. First came Ning. Now, I didn’t have to buy watermelons anymore. They bought it for me – I still had to cut them, but still a definite improvement. And now I am at RichRelevance – here they buy the watermelons and cut them too. All ready for me to gobble down!

So given this trend, and the simple mathematical technique of extrapolation, at my next job I expect a better watermelon experience. But I can’t seem to predict how exactly it might improve.  I guess, we’ll just have to wait and see.

August 19, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

More strange rhymes

More rhymes from the the aforementioned book. These are more hilarious rather than morbid – but note that these are still rhymes for little kids.

In case you were concerned about your kid hitting other kids, here is a great way of teaching him that he is not alone:

My mother and your mother
were hanging out the clothes;
My mother hit your mother on the nose
What color blood came out?
R E D spells RED.

And this is the one to teach your daughters – a very important lesson in life:

I should worry, I should care
I should marry a millionaire,
Should he die, I would cry —
Then I’d marry a richer guy

This is their version of Peter the Pumpkin Eater. It is a great one to read to your wife, especially when you need something such as a smart phone

Eeper weeper chimney sweeper
Had a wife and couldn’t keep her
Had another, didn’t love her
Up the chimney he did shove her

August 17, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Deathly Rhymes

Those of us who read nursery rhymes to kids get surprised with the amount of violence in these rhymes, clearly inappropriate for the kids to whom we read them to, especially in this day and age. But we get accustomed to it fairly quickly – most of it just comic/cartoonish violence – such as the rats getting their tails cut off (Three Blind Mice), a man being thrown down the stairs (Goosey Goosey Gander) or the pig breaking his bones (Piggy on the Railway) . This is similar in vein to Jerry dropping a hot iron on Tom’s tail, which of course we enjoyed as kids. Sometimes the violence is not so cartoonish – as in the case of lullaby Rock-a-bye Baby. My daughter always asks why the baby’s parents left her on the tree to fall in the first place.

So I expected not to be surprised when I encounter such themes while reading my daughter her new Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes book. Since the book contained a lot of rhymes, I was just choosing a few at random to read to her. And then I spied a rhyme that I had liked as a kid. The lyrics of the rhyme as I remember from when I was young went as follows:

Miss Lucy had a baby. His name was Tiny Tim
She put him in the bathtub to see if he could swim.

He drank up all the water. He ate up all the soap.
He tried to eat the bathtub but it couldn’t go down his throat.

Miss Lucy called the doctor. Miss Lucy called the nurse.
Miss Lucy called the lady with the alligator purse.

Measles said the doctor. Mumps said the nurse.
Chicken pox said the lady with the alligator purse.

Bye said the doctor. Bye said the nurse.
Bye bye said the lady with the alligator purse.

As I started reading the poem, I saw the last line of the verse and then immediately stopped – there was no way I could read that to my 3 year old. Here is how the variation in the book went:

I had a baby brother. His name was Tiny Tim
I put him in the bathtub to see if he could swim.

He drank up all the water. He ate up all the soap.
He died the next morning with a soap bubble in his throat.

That ending just completely shocked me. And I would venture to say, forget about kids, this variation of the verse should be disturbing for adults. Just the thought of drowning your own sibling and then writing a rhyme about it (to a catchy tune, mind you) seems a bit too morbid.

August 9, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Discipline without Timeouts

It seems like timeouts are in vogue as a method to discipline kids. Since spanking has fallen out of favor, the society seems to have come up with a new method of punishing kids. It is fairly common for popular parenting books such as 1-2-3 Magic or Have a New Kid by Friday, to recommend a system of using rewards and punishments to entice good behavior. In fact they seem to break down parenting into an algorithm – if you don’t listen to me three times – you can go into the other room and cry. It seems more like they are intent on building obedient pets or servants fearful of their masters (parents) rather than loving children.

In my opinion, timeouts and bribery are a completely inappropriate method for disciplining kids. When I was young, as far as I can remember, I was never subject to timeouts or other forms of punishment, or even bribery. And I have done fine – at least no drugs, no homicide, no running away from home – and have been reasonable successful in life. If I could have been raised without having been subject to timeouts or spanking, why can’t my daughter?

The reason I believe that punishment and rewards don’t work as discipline is that they are externally imposed. It implies the existence of an authority figure who the kids are supposed to obey to. The problem is what happens in the absence of such a figure, when the kids are alone – or at school – or with friends? If there is no one to reprimand them or reward them will they behave the way you expect them to or will they just do what they’ve always felt like? My belief is that unless they have an intrinsic value system which will help them choose between good and bad they will no doubt misbehave. That is where, externally imposed discipline fails – in building an internal value system.

The other problem with an authoritarian approach is that it creates a distance between the child and a parent and instead of the parent child relationship then based on mutual respect and love it becomes a relationship based on fear and conflict. At some point when the kids will grow they are bound to rebel. And at that time timeouts or rewards will not work.

So if there are no timeouts how do you teach a kid good behavior? I am still looking for a good solution. In order to explore this subject further I decided to read through the following three books on the subject:

Another book that I didn’t buy but is recommended is – How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk. As I finish reading these books, I’ll add more in depth reviews for each book and what is the plan they outline and if their advice is something reasonable that can be followed.

One thing that I was really glad with is that our daughter’s new school does not use timeouts. In fact, all of the schools we talked with claimed that they do not use timeouts to discipline the kid. That at least tells me that there are people who will inculcate good behavior in kids without resorting to punishments.

May 29, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments