Ban Science Books for Kids

No, No! I am not a book hater or a science hater. I just do not like a certain type of science books for kids. These are the books with glossy pictures which claim to explain science to kids. They have lots of pictures and talk about everything from space to robots and animal kingdom. These are typically aimed at kids in the age range 3-10.

Whenever I am in a book store, I am tempted to buy these books since they are so attractive. As a parent, you feel good buying them since it feels like you are getting something fun and interesting for your child. But after I started tinkering with the Raspberry Pi (and now Arduino) with my son, I have been feeling that science books are a waste of time. I did not realize why until this realization hit me. I decided to write up this post with what I learnt.

When one reads science books, it feels like someone is telling you how the world works and you have to take them at their words. How different is this from reading about history, news or philosophy? Yes, these books have flashy pictures and diagrams and so do the books on history! Essentially, by making the kids read them, we are giving them a message that we adults know best and they should understand the world with the books we give them.

I feel that science has to be experienced and cannot be “read” or “explained”. I have noticed that kids who read these books seem to know it “all” since they have read about science in “books”. Aren’t we killing the natural curiosity that kids are born with by giving them a book to “read” and “understand” science? Reading a science book is equivalent to someone leaking the ending of a thriller.

I feel that the best way to teach science to kids is to let them do experiments and create hypothesis about why something works the way it does. They will make mistakes in their hypothesis. I feel that they should be making mistakes. We parents aren’t doing well if they aren’t making mistakes! They can hone their hypothesis by performing more experiments to understand better. This way, they will feel motivated to test their hypothesis and own the conclusions they come to.

The other impact of just “reading” science books is felt much later in adulthood. Take a look at folks who take issue with darwin’s theory, climate change etc. It is no wonder that they feel that science is just another class of fiction!

This is why I have stopped buying science books which have glossy pictures with “explanations”. You should too! Don’t forget to post your thoughts in the comments if you disagree.

Fun, History, Records and Politics in our day at London Olympics 2012

Ever since I saw Olympics on TV when I was growing up, I wanted to see an Olympics in person. When tickets for the London Olympics went up for sale last year, I submitted my bid on the very first day! I was even more thrilled when they allocated tickets to us in the first round of random selection. After waiting for more than one year, I was at the Olympics in London last week. Here is how it went.


The Train Stations were decked up

We noticed the festive atmosphere as soon as we got out of the Eurostar. There were smiling volunteers everywhere who were ready to help us with any of our questions about the event. Since we wanted to know where the nearest ticket office was, one volunteer went to the extent of using her own cell phone and laptop to hunt this information down. This was the level of enthusiasm from the volunteers everywhere.


On the day of the event, we were told to reach the gates of the event at least 90 minutes prior to the start of the event since there would be airport style screening. We were also told to expect huge delays since the public transport system would be over whelmed. But we found the whole process very smooth and without delays. There were signs everywhere and so one could not get lost.


Even though it was airport style screening, the checkin process did not take more than 10 minutes. They were very efficient about it. The longest lines were for toilets and gift shops once we were inside the venue!


They had also informed us not to bring filled water bottles and to get empty ones. We got filled ones with the expectation to use it before we got into the check in process. We planned to empty them if they asked us to. But they took away our filled water bottles and gave us brand new ones! This was a very pleasant surprise. This was very thoughtful of them (even though not very environmentally friendly). This process was not repeated at our second event. There, they allowed us to take our filled water bottles with us as long as we took a sip in front of them!


Rain Soaked Volleyball

First event – Beach Volleyball.  Who does not want to watch beach volleyball?! We saw Italy and Russian (ladies prelimnary match) which Italy won. The second one was  a men’s match between Spain and Czech Republic. Spain won this game very easily.

The announcer was getting the crowd pumped by saying “Who is for Russian Federation? Who is for Italy? Now who is for Great Britain?!”. Obviously the last one got the maximum noise.


Our next event was ladies’ weightlifting. If you want your child to get over their feelings of “my dad is the strongest in the world”, this is the event to get it done!


Directions were everywhere

Directions Inside the Train

We had to make our way across town to the Excel center. The Olympics spectator guide talked about giving extra time to reach our venues and so we left the previous venue before all the events were complete. We noticed that the traffic was very well managed and we reached our destination more than 90 minutes to spare.


When we took our seats, we noticed that we had got some really good seats. We were seated 4-5 rows in and on the left side of the stage which gave us a very good view. This allowed us to be fully immersed in the emotions of the game.


The scheduled event was Women’s 53 kg weightlifting. There were 10 contestants and we were able to get into supporting everyone since we could see the effort they were putting in. Here there were no cheering squads or cheering commentators but the game was a lot more engaging. Was it because we were so close to the action? I think so.


Yay! A New World Record

Shu-Ching Hsu from Taiwan demolished the competition by lifting her weights with ease. She was announced as a Shu-Ching from “Chinese Taipei”. I know that Taipei is the capital of Taiwan and have never heard of this country (more on this later). She made it look extremely easy. This was until Zulfiya Chiunshanlo of Kazakhstan came along and broke the world record. She was quite an unlikely candidate for breaking the world record since she looked so small in size.

Notice the Taiwan flag – it has Olympic rings on it

Then came the award ceremony which was quite a surprise for us. Take a look at the image above. The flag of “Chinese Taipei” has the Olympics rings on it! The citizens of this country must love Olympics a LOT! Actually, there is no country by that name. It is obviously a way for IOC to appease the country that wins the most medals in modern Olympics. You can read more about it and see the real flag of Taiwan here. So if a Taiwenese sportsperson wins the gold, they cannot see their flag being raised and neither will their anthem be played at the Olympics! For all the talk about peace, friendship and sportsmanship advocated by the Olympics, I think this is a big blow to that claim. I am not sure if I have the same warm feelings towards the Olympics anymore. (Update #1: I saw this coverage in Guardian newspaper about this flag controversy. Check out the comments under the article which are very interesting. Update #2: The flag swap has to extend to a commercial establishment in London too. Update #3: Olympic security snatches the official Taiwan flag from one of the spectators at the Taekwondo event)


Check out some more images from the Olympics below:


The controversy of empty seats is very true

Visa got a whole lot more card holders with this promotion?

The organizers included all day public transport passes with every ticket

A good reminder of who is the real boss!

Lot of Veggie Options



Le Tour De France Viewer’s Guide

We got to see the Tour De France this year since it passed by very close to where we live in France. When I came to know that we can watch the Tour De France in person, I did not know what to expect and how to plan. Internet searches did not yield much information and so here is my post which might help people who are looking for this information in future.


As you know, the Tour De France is the annual endurance bike race which takes place in France and surrounding countries (understatement much?). If you want to check it out in person, the first thing to do is to check the route on the official website. Next thing is to decide if you want to see only the riders or to see the caravan also.


The caravan is a circus like atmosphere of publicity cars, trucks and bikes which come bearing interesting acts and goodies (junk?) to the waiting public. Check out the gallery above to see the pictures of what we saw. From what I noticed, they seem to give out key chains, hats, grocery bags and snacks. There was a mad rush for all the goodies being thrown at the crowd. So if you are interested in maximizing your loot intake, find a place close to the policemen who are controlling the traffic. They seem to attract the most goodies aimed directly at their faces.

The other thing to note is that the caravan passes very close to the people standing on the side walk. It can be dangerous if anyone steps in front of a passing car by mistake. The Wikipedia entry for Tour De France has a list of people who died in collisions with the caravan. We noticed that the people throwing the goodies were making sure that they landed near the crowd’s feet (unless it happened to be a policeman!). Still we noticed many things flying off and landing in the path of the fast driving cars.

These caravans arrive at least 2 to 2.5 hours before the arrival of the bikers. The timings for the caravan will be announced on the website and they kept to their time. The 2012 caravan lasted for about 45 minutes. Since we had a lot of kids in our group, these 45 minutes went by really quick since we all enjoyed watching the show.

After the caravans pass, there will be around 1-1.5 hours before the riders arrive. As estimate of  this time will also be announced on the tour website. This year, the riders arrived about 30-40 minutes later than the time announced on the website.

Watching the riders is obviously a big thrill. It is a lot of fun watching the different jersey winners go by. The only sad part is that if you are in the last stage, like we were, the peloton can pass by really quickly. For us, it went by in 20 seconds!

This is why one of my friends advised me to watch the last stage at the Champs-Elysee in Paris. Here the riders have to take 8 rounds in the same route. So you get to see them well. Also, if you are into goodies, this is where it all ends and the caravans will be unloading all on the crowd.

I hope this post helped. The next goal is to figure out how to guest ride with the Tour De France to hone our fitness to their elite level!

Startup Depression?

You might have heard about it. Most start up founders get depressed. (Here are exhibits A, B and C). I read about it and in my naivete, I thought I was immune to it. This is a post to put my depression out into the world and hope that it also helps some other founder who might experience it during their startup life.

As with everyone, I have had my share of depression. The good thing is that I get out of it soon thanks to my awesome wife and son. So far most of these episodes have not affected me longer than a day. Like they recommend in the exhibits above, surrounding myself with awesome family and friends is a good way to get out of the d-spot when it hits you.

This time it was different. We encountered a problem with our Android app. You can read about it here. The issue was that we had done everything we could to test the app before it was released to the market and yet we encountered this problem. We even tested the app once again using the Android 2.3 emulator but we could not replicate the issue.

I have to give credit to our awesome users throughout this process. They were extremely nice and willing to provide screen shots, logs and any other information that we needed to identify this issue. One of them even sent us an email saying “Don’t be embarrassed about this problem. I am glad to help you guys since you are creating such an useful tool for people like us!”.

But even with these words of encouragement, I felt depressed. I realize now that my depression had to do with the fact that I am unable to do much about this problem (mainly because I am not developing the Android app). Looks like one of the ways I have been staying clear of depression is to meet my problems head on and take care of them. Since in this case, I cannot take a hands on approach to solve it (by writing code myself!), I felt depressed. Very.

Once I realized this, I knew that the only thing that I can do is to go to the other ways to tackle the d-situation. Go back to family and let the knowledgeable people solve the problem they know and understand very well. So I went for a walk with my son, talked about people, sky, earth and the moon and I am now back to being my normal self.

BTW, the Android problem is still unsolved. I know that having the confidence that it will be solved is almost 90% of the way there. I will hopefully post an update on that front soon.

My review of Saravanaa Bhavan in Paris

Saravanaa Bhavan is the chain of vegetarian restaurants that originated in Chennai, India and now in many countries around the world like USA, UK, France etc. This is one of the only handful 100% vegetarian restaurants in Paris.

Being a vegetarian and also one who loves South Indian food, I frequent this restaurant a lot. After going there so many times, I felt that I should write a quick post which can help others.

The restaurant is located near the Gare Du Nord area of Paris, which is also known as little India, little Sri Lanka etc. Here is a tip – if you are going to this restaurant on a cold winter day, the best exit from the railway station is the exit going towards “Rue Du Faubourgh Saint Denis” from the Magenta RER station. Even though Gare Du Nord is the main station, you are better off making the indoor walk to Magenta and exiting out from the Faubourg Saint Denis exit.

The restaurant specializes in South Indian cooking. If you know about Indian cuisine, there are many varieties and among the different varieties of South Indian cuisine, the restaurant keeps true to its Tamil Nadu (state in south India) roots. So the best bet to try at this restaurant are items like Idly, Dosa, Upma that are local to South India. The good news is that there is an overwhelming variety of Idlies and Dosas that can keep one occupied for a long time! They also make North Indian items like Chapathi, various North Indian curries etc. As any good Indian restaurant should, they also serve Chinese items like Gobi-65, Vegetable Spring roll, Chilli Paneer etc. I am sure my friends from China will recognize these items (not!). These items are better avoided even though they take up half the menu.

The many varieties of Idly and Dosa has its downsides too. They come with the same sauces, chutneys and sambars. So even though you might be expecting three different things by ordering three different idlies, they all turn out to be almost the same since you will get the same sauces and chutneys to go with them. My suggestion would be to try one idly, one vada and one dosa. If you feel adventurous, you should add something from the North Indian and Chinese menu.

Regarding the beverages to have, the standard mango lassi is too sweet and is best avoided. The fresh juices are really good. If you want to have it the way it is made in Indian roadside juice stands, ask them to add some sugar to it.

The best dessert here is the Falooda. If you can get the sweet pongal, it will be awesome but it is made only on special days. The other desserts like Rava Kesari, Gulab Jamun are available at all Indian restaurants in Paris and should be similarly avoided.

A note about the timing of the restaurant. They are open until 11 pm everyday. The best days to visit are Friday nights and Saturdays. They make special items on these days (rava idlies!). Even though the restaurant tends to be crowded on these days (see the line in the attached picture), the service is really fast. Avoid going there on Sundays (and Sunday evenings especially) since the food seems to be almost spoilt!

If you are interested in the interesting story of the founder of Saravanaa Bhavan, who is now in a jail in India, check out this news.