Sunday, 25 December 2005

Mousetrap - 33

Jingle *blip* Jingle *blip*
NORAD tracks Santa
In 1955, a store in Colorado Springs, USA, misprinted a phone number in an ad. Instead of its own number, kids wound up calling the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) Commander-in-Chief’s hotline. The C-in-C, evidently a kindly man, had his staff “check” radar data, and was able to tell his callers that Santa had indeed been spotted. This tradition has been faithfully followed since then, through CONAD’s merger into the combined USA-Canada NORAD (North American Air Defense Command). Staffers actually stay on watch to answer children’s calls. The web version has been around since 1998, which must have been around when I first saw it (somewhere on my hard disk is an animation of a sleigh crossing the Himalayas). I know you’re reading this on the 25th, but take advantage of time zones, log on and check the SantaCams and maybe you’ll catch ol’ Kris Kringle doing his rounds in other parts of the world. Plus there’s some games, Xmas music to download, and of course, detailed “explanations” on how the whole thing works. Enjoy!

Top of the world
Santa Claus and Christmas at the North Pole
It’s difficult to find Christmas sites that aren’t urging you to swipe a credit card. This is one of the few – not even a banner ad in sight! Well, yes, it does have a “toy shop” that helps you find toys you can buy, but I guess the site does need some kind of revenue. There’s a lot of fun stuff for kids here: games and puzzles, songs, stories you can personalise, free e-greetings, and a dancing Santa. Lots to keep the tykes from getting underfoot.

For auld lang syne
This one’s been around, its owner says, since 1994, which makes it practically an internet heritage site! From the design, and some of the references made, it doesn’t seem to have been updated much for at least the last few years. But it’s a nice little gateway to other stuff on the net (and yes, a lot of it commerce-based), but it also has its own pages, like an FAQ page, recipes, and even a couple of ASCII images (anyone remember those?) that you can copy into your email.

Sihuañu'u Ejaërepa aide'ose'ere
Christmas and New Year Greetings
Greetings from all over the world, for both Christmas and New Year, including the non-religious variety. (And the title for this section comes from Ecuador, the nearest thing I could find to the exact other side of the world. And since I’m not sure what it means here’s my greeting to you: peace and happiness to you and your dear ones.)


Blog of the week

From the desk of...
Santa's Christmas Blog 2005
With the world turning increasingly to Search, the number of commerce sites that try to game the search engines multiply, blogs being weapons of choice. But, never fear, your tireless columnist found you one that doesn’t seem to be selling anything (despite the tagline, which claims authorship by the CEO, North Pole Inc.), and is just having fun. Track Santa’s days, as he gets into gear for his journey, passes a physical, strolls the Village’s streets with the missus, recovers from a fire in the production facilities, and even a bout of the ’flu! Well written, though a part of me would have preferred that Santa not be made so down-to-earth.

Reader suggestions welcome, and will be acknowledged. Go to for past columns, and to comment, or mail The writer blogs at

Published in the Times of India, Mumbai edition, 25th December, 2005.

Tags: ,

Sunday, 18 December 2005

Mousetrap - 32

The Marquis of Queen to c5 rules
World Chess Boxing Organisation
You know how some boxers are regarded as being thinkers, not just sluggers? And how chess aficionados say the game is gruelling, physically draining, and all that? Well, this sport puts the two of them together - eleven rounds (six of chess, played according to “blitz” rules, and five of boxing, AIBA rules), with chess and boxing alternating. Wins are by Knock Out or Checkmate (er, in the chess and boxing rounds respectively) and some other refinements. They need contenders, by the way. I think neither Mike Tyson or our Vishy will be clambering into the ring soon, so all you cerebral pugilists and violent chess players, here’s your chance.

What would Betty Bowers do?
Betty Bowers - America’s Best Christian
We first saw this site - hm, well, ages ago. Went back to it recently to find that though you’re now plagued by pop-ups and huge links to the shop section (which, to be fair, sells funny stuff), it still has all the good stuff fairly close to the surface. Just scroll way down on the home page, and you can go straight to a lot of the links. What’s Mrs (yes, not “Ms”) Bowers about? The entire site is a very witty spoof of the sanctimonious right in the USA. Mucho laughs. Not entirely child-safe.

Argot finder
Dictionaries are all very well, when you’re looking for random words. But when you want to look up specific categories, you would be better off checking out a specialist glossary. This site helpfully lists industries and categories, and then links to glossaries in those niches. Not all links work, but it’s still a might useful site. Horrid thought: I’m shooting myself in the foot here - there are enough links listed here for me to fill out the next few columns. Mutter, mutter, grumble grumble.


Blog of the week

No refugees, please
Style Asylum
I am pleased to note distressed jeans have a place. Mine are past distress, they’re traumatised wrecks. But I’m going to need an Argyle-pattern sweater too, alas. So I will never make it to page three. You, on the other hand, could go read this blog (even though the Mumbai fashion consultant behind it seems to have lost interest in keeping it updated) and get ready for the party season. At least you’ll only be “so last month,” unlike your correspondent, who is so behind that he may just be next season’s look.

Reader suggestions welcome, and will be acknowledged. Go to for past columns, and to comment, or mail The writer blogs at

Published in the Times of India, Mumbai edition, 18th December, 2005.

Tags: ,

Sunday, 11 December 2005

Mousetrap - 31

i used to believe
Did you once think that plastic surgery involved the use of plastic? That hypotenuse and hyperbole were animals, rather like the hippopotamus? Or even that the bogeyman would come and get you, or that if you frowned, your face would stay that way forever? You will be relieved to know that you are not alone. Go over to this site, and you can check out what other adults believed when they were children. Perhaps you’d care to contribute some of your own? The world (that’s the big round globe you saw in school) waits.

Sound minds
Inspired Indian Film Songs
Our film industry thinks nothing of lifting, without giving credit, tunes from other sources (heck, they lift entire films), usually western pop, but also picking on sources closer to home, like films from other regions. I once heard a friend play an album in which every song technically owed some other composer royalties. itwofs lists ’em in sequence of submission or discovery, and sorted by composer and language, and includes a small section on ad jingles that lift music. Most citations feature Real Media streams to help you compare copy with original. Nitpick: the site’s author credits singers rather than songwriters when referring to western pop. But, hey, music to the ears allasame.

Line Of Comedy
The Hot Spot Online
The story starts, according to the site, with an ice cream shop in Islamabad which has a cult following. The founders then brought out what they describe as an underground magazine, The Scream. Which grew in size and complexity until they decided to take the entire shebang online. Today, you have sections on Holly, Bolly and Lollywood, music, sound clips, underground flicks and, best of all, for ye of the free broadband connection in the office, a set of B- film extracts (look for Mini Flicks in the menu) which will yield much entertainment. We should sack the embassies, send our armies home, and let sites like these build our bridges. [Thank you, Vikram Joshi, Samit Basu]


Blog of the week

Awful Plastic Surgery
Speaking of plastic surgery, this site is devoted to that uplifting industry’s bloopers. The nose jobs gone awry. The collagen injections overdone. The breast implants that have taken on a shape of their own. The focus is on celebrities, natch, mainly from the US and UK film, music and fashion worlds, and the site seems to have quite a following, with readers sending in before & after pictures with their notes. Neatly archived using a blog’s reverse chronological style, the side menu also has selected articles highlighted, to help you find out exactly how much your favourite celeb’s, um, charms, owe to science. Oddly enough, there doesn’t seem to be a special section devoted to M Jackson, Esquire.

Reader suggestions welcome, and will be acknowledged. Go to for past columns, and to comment, or mail The writer blogs at

Published in the Times of India, Mumbai edition, 11th December, 2005.

Tags: ,

Sunday, 4 December 2005

Mousetrap - 30

All for you
The Free Site
Long years ago – like maybe ten – The Free Site was a beacon of hope for this impoverished writer. I outfitted my system with all manner of software found here. Web veterans know, of course, that there’s a lot of free stuff available, if you know where to look. (No, we’re not talking cracked programs or bootleg mp3s, we mean genuinely free.) For the newbie, this is a great place to start looking. You’ll find games, graphics, web space, add-ons for your cellphone, tech support, useful little apps, even links to other free listings. Consider this a thank you for your coming to the party we have with this column. Your "return gift," if you will. Enjoy! Yeah, we’re cheap.

What’s the opposite of “upgrade?”
If you’ve used a computer for a while, chances are that you have also upgraded software fairly often, usually for the better. Sometimes, though, you land up with an app that is worse than its predecessor: bloatware with bells and whistles that confuse even your friendly neighbourhood geek, or it’s spiked with spyware that reports back to it maker using your bandwidth, or maybe you have an older computer whose OS or hardware don’t support the upgrade. You want the older version back, but unless you have the original install set stowed away safe, you’re out of luck – most companies don’t keep old versions available. You rage, but you can do nothing. Or so you thought. Head over here. The programs available aren’t too many at the moment, but the site is also looking for donations. So if you have old versions stored somewhere, you could give something back to the world.

Found in translation
Cipher Journal
The web is a helpful place when it comes to helping you understand other languages. Automated translators, freely available, can give you the gist without too much pain. But without the flavour, the nuances that only a professional equally at home on both languages can provide. This site aims believes that translation inspires better literature, and it publishes “creative works of art & literature that call attention to the process of translation. We will also include reviews of translated literature—both new and old—with a special emphasis on the merits of the translation.” What’s available online thus far isn’t, um, voluminous, but it should be site worth watching.

For the varlets
Shakespearean Insulter
Hast thou need of oaths with which to insult thy workmates and boon companions? Hie thee post haste, then, to this most excellent webbe syte, and enlist, to your task, the Barde himself. Point thou thy pointing device at the gray buttone, and thou will be served up fare such as this: “You starvelling, you eel-skin, you dried neat's-tongue, you bull's-pizzle, you stock-fish--O for breath to utter what is like thee!-you tailor's-yard, you sheath, you bow-case, you vile standing tuck!” Fare thee well.


Blog of the week

There was a blogger from Kolkata...
In the blog world, everyone’s searching for new ways to find readers. This blogger has found her niche with her takes on news items, all in limerick form. Worth a visit just for the interesting links she dredges up, just in case limericks aren’t your thing. And no, the fact that she mentioned this column in one of her posts has nothing to do with it featuring here. Really.

Reader suggestions welcome, and will be acknowledged. Go to for past columns, and to comment, or mail The writer blogs at

Published in the Times of India, Mumbai edition, 4th December, 2005.

Tags: ,

Thursday, 1 December 2005

We are the world [Cybertrack 4]


Imagine a whiteboard on a roadside, markers and eraser easy to hand. Random passers-by write whatever they want to, or erase or modify stuff others have written. That, in essence, is a wiki, except that it’s on a website. Famous examples: Wikipedia and Wikinews.
Wikitravel, one of the newer resources built on this platform, aims to be a free, complete, up-to-date and reliable world-wide travel guide. As of this writing, the English version (five other languages available, several more in progress) features over six thousand destination guides, contributed by “Wikitravellers” who get paid only in reader gratitude (hope Outlook Traveller’s accounts department isn’t reading this). And it being an open platform, sometimes not even that, because information can get deleted or edited by anyone. It seems like a recipe for chaos – after all, some idiot could come mess it up any time. Which does happen. But, like all successful wikis, it relies on basic human goodness. To quote the site’s FAQs, “People who care about having well-written travel articles ... are the majority. People who just want to vandalize or delete things eventually get bored with it ... and the rest of us come in and clean up.”
Ideal for trip planning, you can assemble a guidebook customised to your itinerary, and carry a hard- or soft-copy with you. Since it is accessible wherever you can find a net connection, you can find info even while travelling. There are also phrase books in various languages. Quality of information? I checked a few places I’m familiar with; coverage ranged from excellent to earnest-but-not-quite-there. And in the period that I have monitored the site, even those have improved.
All of this is yours, free.
I really shouldn’t be writing about this here.

Published in the December edition of Outlook Traveller, in a column called Cybertrack

Tags: ,

Sunday, 27 November 2005

Mousetrap - 29

So fa so good
An online trading zone isn’t an original idea, but, I believe, this site was the first to adapt it to the needs of travellers looking for cheap, but rich travel experiences. It lets you connect with other members, and, hopefully, find someone in your desired destination who is willing to host you. (“Host” could mean you get to sleep on their couch, natch, but it could also mean a guest room, a place to pitch a tent, or even the floor.) Members are vouched for by a tiered verification system. You’d have to start at zilch, of course, and build cred for yourself by being a good guest. They haven’t got every country in the world covered (so don’t plan on Siberia or Antarctica just yet) but they’re getting there. Happy Trails!

Quick bytes
If you use different PCs at home and the office, or, perchance, find yourself at a strange computer, and need to get to a site that you just know you have bookmarked elsewhere, you’ll know the agony of having all your Favorites in one basket. This site seeks to ease your pain by storing your Bookmarks online. You’ll need to sign up, of course, but after that, you have an always on online bookmark system. Tags help you differentiate your bookmarks, and if you use them well, they make finding information a breeze. What’s more, you can share your tags with friends, and take advantage of the tags that other people have created to help you find stuff.

Wee Wee Web
TinyURL &
Large sites with automated content management systems generate file names on the fly, usually using lots of numbers. So, when you see an interesting link and, full of the milk of human kindness, decide to widen the horizons of your 127 closest friends by forwarding the link to them, you wind up with http://subdomain.domain.tld/topic/subtopic/month/date/hour/articleshow/veryveryverylongnumber.smthng which won’t fit into one line. And, if you have HTML mail turned off, it may look okay to you, but when your victims get your mail, they find the URL broken up into two lines, with only the first bit clickable, and naturally, leading nowhere except to a “page not found” notice. Way out? Go to one of these sites, paste in that address and instantly get something like or you can then send to your buddies, and no one will swear at you. Both those, by the way, will take you to this column’s web archive.


Blog of the week

The Accidental Elephant
Less than a month old, but this collaboration is already showing immense promise. Three bloggers in different corners of the world write and illustrate for children. While they keep it simple, they don’t condescend to their audiences, and there’s much to enjoy even by more cynical adults. The writing is warm and full of whimsy, and the illustrations charming. I see a book deal in this blog’s future!

Reader suggestions welcome, and will be acknowledged. Go to for past columns, and to comment, or mail The writer blogs at

Published in the Times of India, Mumbai edition, 27th November, 2005.

Tags: ,

Sunday, 20 November 2005

Mousetrap - 28

By all that’s holy
The Internet Sacred Text Archive
I’m not big on religion, but this site’s first lines hooked me: “This is a quiet place in cyberspace devoted to religious tolerance and scholarship.” Not a rant in sight, just texts (mostly in English translation, but some with in the original language too) from just about every religion, tradition and belief that produced texts that we know of, from African religions to Zoroastrianism. The archive pulls together material from a huge variety of sources: scans from books and articles, material from early internet FTP archives and BBSes, even transcripts and retellings from religions with an oral tradition. It has over 45,000 files, some of them unique. For instance, comprehensive translations of the Upanishads and the Rig Veda that are unavailable online elsewhere. Amen.

And some ketchup
Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster
You’ve heard about the whole battle being waged by Dubya & disciples to have “Intelligent Design” taught in schools in the US, right? (Of course we wouldn’t dream of doing the same in this great and free land of many thousands of years of culture, right?) Anyway. A chap called Bobby Henderson wrote to the Kansas School Board, tongue firmly in cheek, demanding not only that ID be taught, but that his theory of ID be taught as well: that the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster. Read the rest on the site, and follow the, er, evolution of this “religion” and its “splinter” groups, each funnier than the last (they include Pastafarians, Linguinists, Pirations and Ninjaists), all poking fun at religion in general. Another great source for lots of links is the Uncyclopedia page on the cult.

Where knowledge is free
National Portal of India
The Indian Government’s very own portal. A much overdue, and for those of us used to making fun of government offerings, surprisingly good site. Its aim is to provide “single window access to the information and services being provided by the Indian Government for the citizens and other stakeholders.” It has sections aimed at citizens, business interests and overseas readers, listings of people in government, voluminous directories, important documents, downloads of forms searchable by state, tenders, maps (disappointing geographically speaking, considering what’s available online totally free, but compensates with maps you wouldn’t find easily elsewhere, like demographic info) and links to other government sites. The design and the interface are a bit grotty, in my arrogant opinion, but they do promise continue the “enhancement and enrichment” of the site, so there is hope. Into that heaven of freedom, my father...

Ego scraping
A neat little gimmick that uses search results from Google to amusing effect. Pick a name, a place, an object or even days, dates and events, and let Googlism loose. Based on the search engine’s results, the page gives you a series of statements that are “what thinks of you.” For more fun, check out the links just below the search box (Who is, What is, Where is, When is) for the top searches and the results thereof.


Blog of the week

No, really!
That’s the wonderful thing about the web. You can take your pet peeve and devote an entire blog to it. And if it’s a word that’s misused as often as “literally” is, hey, there’s a lot to blog about. Here, you get examples from the media and elsewhere of the word’s incorrect and unnecessary usage, and, just to be fair, its proper use too. Good fun. Literally.

Reader suggestions welcome, and will be acknowledged. Go to for past columns, and to comment, or mail The writer blogs at

Published in the Times of India, Mumbai edition, 20th November, 2005.

Tags: ,

Sunday, 13 November 2005

Mousetrap - 27

MS Orifice
For many years, this site was known as [censored], under which name it gloried till, I think, last year or the year before, when it also became available under the more socially acceptable URL you see here. (For the curious – not you, junior, go back to the previous item, there’s a good lad – you can still find it under the name that begins with “F.”) No prizes for guessing that the site’s founder is not part of Bill’s fan club. Aside from articles telling you what various people think is wrong with MS products, the site also has a long list of alternatives for those who’d rather not be in thrall to Redmond. And there’s also a forum. Viva la revolution.

Peer review
All the action happens in an area 18pixels square. News, games, downloads, a gallery (!), some graphics, links... Go see. Just remember not to set your monitor to very high resolution.

Feed for thought,
Most blogs (and many news sites), offer you free feeds. So, instead of visiting each site, you get updates from all of them in a single window, via a feed reader service or application like these. Bloglines is a great service I’ve been using for ages. Google’s new Reader is making waves, and is worth checking out. The open-source browser, Firefox, offers you instant subscriptions via a little orange button in the bottom-right corner, and also via its Thunderbird mail and newsreader. To subscribe to a site’s feed, look for icons for “RSS,” “RDF,” “Atom,” “Site Feed,” etc. Most applications can also help you auto-discover feeds – simply feed in the URL, and the app will find its feed. Once you line up your subscriptions, it’s as easy as checking email. (Nudge, nudge, wink, wink: here’s a feed you could subscribe to:

In your hands
Phone Feeds
If you hold you cellphone far, far more than you do the hand of your Significant Other, baby, you have trouble. But never mind. If that handset can do the WAP thing, you can use it to subscribe to news and blog feeds (see previous item), thanks to this free service. You’ll have to first go to the site via your computer, and find out whether it offers a WAP-compatible feed. If not, you can enter the RSS or Atom feed URL into the box on this page, and it will generate a free WAP-accessible feed that you can then access via your phone.


Non-Blog of the week
Since I’ve already hit you with two blog-related items, no blog this week. Instead, hehehehe...
Patron saint
The Diary of Samuel Pepys
Blogs didn’t start out as personal diaries, but now that’s the norm, rather then the exception. This site brings you the writing of a man whose name is practically synonymous with the diary: Samuel Pepys, the 17th Century Englishman who faithfully recorded his thoughts on his life and times. It presents his diaries as if he were writing them in the present, rather than in the 1600s, with the diary entry of January 1st, 1660 posted on January 1st 2003, and succeeding entries following on from there. Pepys’s writing habits are faithfully followed – he wrote about each day’s events late every night, so expect fresh entries at 11 p.m. UK time. It’s much more than a straight reproduction, though: there are summaries, notes, lots of background information, all profusely hyperlinked and easy to navigate. If old Sam had been alive today, he’d have been a blogger.

Reader suggestions welcome, and will be acknowledged. Go to for past columns, and to comment, or mail The writer blogs at

Published in the Times of India, Mumbai edition, 13th November, 2005.

Tags: ,

Sunday, 6 November 2005

Mousetrap - 26

Outer Cyber Space
Blog in Space
Of course you know that television signals and radio broadcasts don’t just come to our receivers; they also stream out to space... So, somewhere, some time, some poor alien will shrug its antennae and give up trying to figure out saas-bahu soaps. Never mind. Now, citizens of cyber space, you too can inflict your thoughts on the universe at large. Simply feed in your URL and RSS feed, and on to Andromeda. If you don’t have a blog, you can send an email message instead. And either way, there are snazzy badges you can display on your site. Go for it. In space, no one knows you’re a Sirius.

Knot your ordinary website
How to Tie a Tie
So, running dog of western values and slave to imperialism, a piece of coloured cloth knotted around your neck makes you feel well-dressed? And round-and-round-and-back-and-through (more formally known, I’m told, as a Four in Hand, or as we used to say in school, the samosa) getting to be a bit tedious? This site will show you variations such as the Windsor, half-Windsor, and Pratt, and for good measure, how to tie a bow tie. The rest of the site looks promising, but merely serves up search engine results for the various headings, some of them hilariously off-topic. For light amusement, see Animal Ties > Cairn Terrier (as a random example). You’ll find instructions on how not to choke your German Shepherd pretty high on the list.

Life under the microscope
Stalking the mysterious microbe
This one’s for the kiddies. Sam Sleuth has fun ways to teach them about the smaller inhabitants of our planet, with simple – albeit Americanised – analogies and colourful illustrations. Plus there’s news, experiments to do (no, Mummyji, they won’t get pond scum on the sofa), advice on what to study to become a microbiologist, and yes (this Mummyji will like), plenty of reasons why the progeny should wash their hands regularly.


Blog of the week

Ignored lives
Lives in Focus
A writer and a photographer bring attention to people who rarely get visibility in mainstream media. Their current focus is the impact of India’s new patent law (passed earlier this year, as a step towards our acceptance into the WTO) on HIV-infected people who depend on Indian versions of patented Anti-retro Viral (ARV) drugs to survive. They are using the site to release over 2,000 photographs and 13 hours of video interviews they collected from AIDS shelters and hospices in Mumbai, Bangalore, and Hyderabad. In their words, they want to “harness the Internet to showcase an issue with global ramifications—not just as information but as a way to involve viewers.”

Reader suggestions welcome, and will be acknowledged. Go to for past columns, and to comment, or mail The writer blogs at

Published in the Times of India, Mumbai edition, 6th November, 2005.

Tags: ,

Tuesday, 1 November 2005

I can see your house from here! [Cybertrack - 3]

Google Earth

Google Earth has caused significant undergarment torsion to the establishment, with even our First Rocket Scientist expressing concern at its freely available (to anyone with a whacking great broadband connection and Win2K or XP, that is) close-ups of the earth’s surface.

A clever mix of animation and actual satellite photography, and the globe is your plaything; spin it, flip it, fly around it, do a vertiginous zoom from outer space to close enough to see an individual street, building or even a vehicle. (I picked out out the yellow smudges of the taxi lineoutside Nizamuddin railway station, and, nearer home, the white streak of concrete changing to the black of tar road near the Vashi creek bridge.)

Google takes this already magical experience, mixes in mapping software, and harnesses the collaborative efforts of online communities, letting you overlay road maps, locate specific addresses, restaurants, hospitals, get driving directions, even put a thumbtack on your own neighbourhood.

For the traveller, this means you get a perspective on the place you’re interested in, a sense of of being there, that you’d never get from even a detailed line map.

Easy landmarks to find: Manhattan’s skyscrapers and the Statue of Liberty, the London Eye, the Eiffel Tower, the Gateway of India, India Gate. And yes, Rashtrapati Bhavan is dead easy. You can even figure out when the shots were taken by the angle of the shadows. The White House, though, has been blurred out, at the request of Georgie’s underlings. Hm. I see your point, Kalamsaheb.

Published in the November edition of Outlook Traveller, in a column called Cybertrack

Tags: ,

Shock and Awe

Fifty thousand years ago – give or take a few centuries – a rather large chunk of rock came hurtling in from space. As it screamed through the atmosphere, it heated up, lost some of its mass. But enough of it was left over (a meteorite about 60 metres across, weighing in at about a million tonnes) to make a rather large thump when it hit the planet’s surface. Not surprisingly, it made a fairly decent sized hole where it landed - a crater close to two kilometers in diameter, with walls over 130 metres high. The meteor itself – or what’s left of it – is, various references tell me, buried deep in the earth’s crust in the centre of the crater.

The impact, a six megaton explosion (or six hundred times the explosive force released by first atomic bombs), say scientists, generated enough heat to not just shatter the basalt rock, but to melt and vapourise it. It would have, quite naturally, finished off any local flora and fauna in the ’hood without a trace.

But the long years since then have seen Mother Nature slowly reclaiming what was hers. Water from underground springs liberated by the explosion flowed into the crater, covering the bottom of he basin with a lake. Rain, sand and wind erosion and erosion saw tortured rock being covered with sand. Seeds flew in, worked their roots into the soil, held it together, raised grass and shrubs and bushes and trees into the sky, and the earth healed.

But it healed in unsual ways.

While the walls of the crater became densely wooded, the lake turned into something altogther unique. The waters that fed it had nowhere else to flow - it is a basin after all. And the only escape is evaporation. But the salts and minerals they brought with them had nowehere to go and the lake slowly turned turned brackish. It now has very high pH value, it’s saltier than sea water, and a veritable soup of minerals. A hostile environment for life as we know it. But in the same way as Science has found life near volcanic vents on ocean beds, where it has no business being, it has also found unique, hitherto unknown, and evolving life in the Lonar lake. A small consultation with Auntie Google reveals that there is a form of blue-green algae that is essentially a new life form.

It’s not just the micro-biologists who will salivate though. Geologists spent decades debating the origins of the crater. It was once assumed to be volcanic in origin, considering that it was in the middle of the Deccan Plateau, which high school geography will have told you is the result of a steady build-up of lava oozing from the earth’s innards. It was only in the twentieth century that it was agreed that it was an astrobleme, not a geobleme. (Ooh, how knowledgeable search engines can make one sound! Those words mean, respectively, the scars on the earth’s surface formed by collision with extra-terrestrial objects, and those formed by internal explosions, like ’quakes or eruptions.)

Even now, with its provenance agreed upon, Lonar is a happy hunting ground for the rock-heads. Aside from being the third-largest impact crater on earth, it is the only one in basaltic rock. For more examples, you’d have to travel quite a bit. Like to the Moon, or Mars.

That’s all very well, I can hear you (and the editor) say, what of those of us who are not working on our theses? This is a travel magazine, not a Bill Bryson wannabe piece.

Very well.

Shun the carved out steps near the town - they’re for wussies. Make your way down any of the other paths, following the hoofprints of cattle, and, sigh, the trail of paan masala sachets down any other part of the crater. Start out from the East, where the gradient is less steep, and the walls less high. That’s because the meteor came in from the East, at an angle, causing the West side to pile up a little higher and steeper. Throw a large ballbearing into smoothened beach sand at an angle, and then look at the results to see what I mean.

Pick your way through the rocks (wear non-slip soles, please!) and look down around your feet frequently. For the collector of oddities, a five-minute stroll near the lip of the crater will yield a handfull of unusual pebbles in various shades and shapes. Glazed, fractured, veined, translucent, crystalline, pitted, deformed, they are the remnants of one our planet’s last known arguments with the solar system. That’s practically stardust you’re holding there, laddie!

(They, I tell Abhijit, are the merely surprised pebbles as opposed to what the boffins call “shocked rock” that sticks out of the earth walls like oversize warts. Abhijit is not amused. Photographers are a hard room to play.)

Oh right. Enough already with the Short History.

As the walls begin to level out, the shrubs grow thicker, till all of a sudden you’re walking through the undergrowth of the trees that were so far below you. Insects hum, birds converse loudly, and the sun is there somewhere – you can feel the heat – but it’s dim and damp here. In a short while, you break through to the broader path, flattened by bare feet over the millennia, that circumscribes the lake. Decide whether you want to go clockwise or anti, get your bearings (so you know when you’re back here to find our way back up), and stroll. Go soft, and you’ll come upon birds of various feathers. And you’ll regret not going for those BNHS walks, because all you can say is “Look, a red one!” and “There! A yellow and black one!” You can hear peacocks, their calls clear across the flat expanse of water. If you’re lucky, you might see one. The closest we got was a peahen, which raced off into shelter, giving us offended looks, at our approach. The Greater Flamingo stops over here, I have read, and even I can recognise one of those, but it’s too early in the year for them. For the birder, there’s much to see. A photocopied sheet from the manager of the MTDC resort tells me that you’ll find: dabchick, red-wattled lapwing, dusky reed warbler, rufouse-backed shrike, golden oriole, spot-bill duck, small green bea-eater, ashy wren warbler, and much more. And for the non-aviphiliacs (yes, I just made that up), squirrels, rabbits, langurs, signature spiders, funnel spiders and, if you’re lucky, maybe deer.

As you walk around, at regular intervals, you come upon the ruins of temples, thousands of years old some of them, going by the MTDC manager’s handouts. More modern hands have left their mark too, informing us of Sanju’s deep affection for Rita in white paint on the ancient blocks. The horror. Aside from twelve temples there’s also supposed to be a dargah here somewhere, but we seem to have managed to miss it. One temple, at about a third of the way around, is in frequent use: an electric wire and a water pipe emerge from the trees, saffron flags flutter, a garbage pit buzzes with flies, litter everywhere. We move on. Or rather, I move on – my intrepid photographer picks his way through the mudflats, to take photos through the branches of a dead tree. “Surreal!” he says, breathlessly. “Get real!” I growl back at him. The sun is beginning to disappear behind the crater, and Abhijit wants a sunset shot. He gallops off, fatigue forgotten, leaving his writer panting in his wake, as photographers are wont to do.

By the time I break through the tree line he’s a distant figure near the lip of the crater.

I stop to take stock. Also to catch my breath. And as the sun turns the sky technicolour a realisation dawns on me. This is the furthest I’ve been from other human beings since a day, more than ten years ago, when I went off climbing a peak near McLeodganj, In Himachal.

I find a nice rock, apologise for adding to its trauma, and lie back to look at the sky.


The information

Getting there.
By Air: Aurangabad, 170 km.
By Rail: Aurangabad or Jalna (98km)
Road distances: From Mumbai, 553km, Pune 401km, Nagpur 388km

Places to Stay
MTDC’s guest house is on the lip of the crater - Lonar has very few other half-decent options.
The service is warm and friendly, but the food is decidely erratic. Meals ranged from uncrecognisable, fiery, oily glop to a sublime fried fish delicately flavoured and done just right.
Tariffs: Rs 550 per 2-bed room, with attached bath with hot and cold running water, each room with a small front porch and a balcony/sit-out at the other end. (8 rooms) Two 16-bed dorms also available, at Rs 1250 per room. These rates will drop to Rs 450 and Rs 1000 respectively, February to April.
Booking via MTDC Central Reservation Division, Mumbai: (+91 22) 22026713, 22027762

Things to do.
The Crater is it. Ancient temples, some in ruins, dotted around the circumference of the lake, lush greenery, a profusion of bird life, some animals, interesting pebbles to collect, unique algae if you have your slides and microscope. MTDC’s staff will gladly arrange for you to be accompanied by an energetic local lad who will ensure that the hopelessly direction-challenged do not get lost on the one circular road around the top or the mud path around the lake. Carry drinking water and a snack.
If that won’t suffice, don’t go. Lonar, the town, offers little else: an ancient step well that has run dry and has become a rubbish dump, and a few temples near the Crater lip, a movie house. Oh yes, a wine shop of two.
You could take day trips to Ajanta and Ellora, but otherwise the nearest refuge for the all-mod-cons type is Aurangabad, several hours away by road.

Published in Outlook Traveller, November 2005 edition.


Sunday, 30 October 2005

Mousetrap - 25

List of Bests
We're coming close to the end of the year, and soon everybody and their Uncle will be putting down lists of the Best of the Year under every category they can think of. Want to join in, but too lazy to make your own? If it's books, movies or music you'd like to make your own "Best Of" of, try this site. If you register, you can merely wander around the site and tick boxes to make your own list. There are 2,104 books, 1,494 movies, and 873 albums listed to date, by over 2,300 users. But that's not why I recommend it. What you get without registering is even more fun: famous lists from the media (like the BBC's Big Read) and awards (like the Academy Awards and the Booker). Caveat - not all the lists are up-to-date.

Pass it On
Found Art
Remember BookCrossing, which featured a while ago? This site takes the idea into a different area. You have to register first, of course. You can then create little works of art — palm-sized, they recommend — slap on a sticker (you can download one from their site, or make your own) with your own unique ID, and set it free. The idea is that someone who finds it comes on to the site, looks up your ID, and tells you they found your art. Beautiful friendships may result. Or at the very least, you'll know your art didn't just mixed up with the trash. Which is not likely, given the state of our streets, hm?

Another nifty little way to interact with strangers across the net. You join, register, download and install a toolbar to your browser, and you're ready to stumble around the web. You rate the sites you stumble upon, Roman Emperor style, with a raised or lowered thumb, thereby helping the database understand your preferences better. Or you can let it help you, by "stumbling" by interest (around 500 topics to choose from) or staggering around randomly. You can also interact with other stumblers. Even more beautiful friendships. Watch your step, now.

Yes Boss!
Pissed off with the colleagues? Disgusted with your boss? Join the club. Go read their stories, and shake your head wisely as you ponder the wisdom of the sages who said the human condition is misery. P’raps, perchance, mayhap, you have a story you’d like to share with the world? Rest easy. Go hit the submit button, and contribute in safe anonymity. Now, get back to reading. Hm. That character in that story... seems like someone doing exactly the same work you do. Hm. The description could be of you too. Hm. They wouldn’t would they? The B@$#@®d$!


Blog of the week

When life gives you lemons...
Spam Poetry
We all live with spam, those unwanted commercial emails (and now, even SMSes) that offer us companionship, free advice, loans, prescription medication, Viagra, porn, millions of dollars if we’d only help the widow of an African dictator get her fortune out of Nigeria, and heaven knows what else. This blogger channelled her irritation into putting that spam to work. She writes poetry that puts together the subject lines of spam she receives. The result? She says it best: “A little bit Found Art, a little bit Whimsy, and mostly, just to find a way for me to find a peaceful intersection between digital communication and my life.”

Reader suggestions welcome, and will be acknowledged. Go to for past columns, and to comment, or mail The writer blogs at

Published in the Times of India, Mumbai edition, 30th October, 2005.

Tags: ,

Sunday, 23 October 2005

Mousetrap - 24

Fwd? Del.
Named for a family of characters that appear in the writing of William Faulkner (and I’m not well-read enough to figure out why), is the rumour-checking resource of choice for anyone who pretends even half-knowledge of the ways of the web. Their focus is urban legends, those widely circulated – nowadays mainly via email – tales which the people who pass them on earnestly believe are true. The “Bill Gates will give you $100 for forwarding this mail” message is an example. The couple behind the site painstakingly research these urban legends, their provenance, the various versions and deliver a true or false verdict. Their judgements are highly respected and frequently quoted as the final authority. Oh yes. That mail from Bill? False.

A. Nonny Mous
Many sites on the web insist on long registration procedures before they’ll let you view some parts of their content. They ask for your name and your occupation and almost everything barring bowel regularity. Due to either privacy paranoia, sheer cussedness or a combination of both, a large section of people fill in completely false details. This site works by using these dummy registrations: it asks people to enter log-in details for the fake accounts they create on these selfish sites. Then, when you reach a site that demands registration, instead of ploughing through the process, go to BugMeNot instead and check if there’s an ID available for the site you want. If there is, you’re given a password and User ID, which you can use. If not, hey, consider doing unto others first – create a user ID for the site in question and feed it to BugMeNot so that others may benefit.

If you can’t come, call
Country Calling Codes
Cool little site that helps you find international dialling information. Let’s say you have a visiting card that lists a phone number in Colombia, but you haven’t a clue what you should dial before that number. Tell CCC the country, and it will spit out country code, and even the city code. Now you can get through to your drug dealer in Bogota. (It doesn’t seem to account for cellular phone numbers, though.) As an added convenience, it also lets you know local time in the dialling and dialled countries. It also has a reverse lookup (you know the country code, but not the country) and a quick reference guide.

Hunt and click
WWF Wildfinder
Nope, this isn’t those chaps in tights throwing each other around wrestling rings in rehearsed and choreographed sequences. It’s a neat little utility from the World Wildlife Fund, the original WWF, who won their acronym name back in court a few years ago. The Wildfinder is a database of more than 26,000 animal species. Yes, yes, database, shmatabase, boring. Hang on, this one’s different. It uses a map interface to let you search for species, to find where they exist, or by area, to discover what lives in a particlualr location. Get the brats on to this, and homework will get done much faster.


Blog of the week

WHO did you say was blogging?
The Boy Who Heard Music
Pete Townshend, of the legendary The Who, is releasing his novella totally free, a new chapter every Saturday, until the end of February. This blog has it in text format, and you can get the PDF versions via his online diary on his site. [Thank you, Priyanka Joseph]

Reader suggestions welcome, and will be acknowledged. Go to for past columns, and to comment, or mail The writer blogs at

Published in the Times of India, Mumbai edition, 23rd October, 2005.

Tags: ,

Sunday, 16 October 2005

Mousetrap - 23

Erudite Timepass
Rum & Monkey’s Personality Tests and Web Toys
Yes, I know, there are plenty of sites that will help you decide which Bored Housewife you are, or whatever that show is called. This one’s more, shall we say, intelligent. More to the point, it gives you credit for some discernment. The options you got to choose from, for instance, are usually genuinely funny in their own right. And the subjects? Here’s a sampler. “Which historical lunatic are you?” “Which horrible affliction are you?” And the games: The Insulting Name Generator. The Weapons of Mass Destruction Donation System. Still not your cuppa? Eliminate the “widgets” bit of the URL, and you get to read some well-written essays and articles.

That’s all, Filks,,
That’s not a mistyped word. Though it was, originally. Let me explain. In the ’50s, chap called Lee Jacobs (so the legend goes) wrote a paper, “The Influence of Science Fiction on Modern American Folk Music.” Only he misspelled “folk.” The article never saw print, but the story of the typo spread. And “Filk” was adopted by SciFi fandom to refer to songs where new words, with a SciFi theme, were written to old songs. It grew to embrace completely original songs as well. The best definition is the name of an album: Folk Songs for Folk Who Ain’t Even Been Born Yet. At sites like these, you can buy the music (yes, there are commercially available releases), find out about conventions, meet other filkers, etc. Beam me up before you go-go.

Don’t cut yourself
Extreme Shaving
After we featured Extreme Ironing a few weeks ago, a reader pointed us to this site. It involves shaving in strange places. Um, let me rephrase. Strange locations. While rock-climbing, for instance, or in a department store (while shopping, natch). Then get yourself photographed. Send it in and if they use it, you could win £10 / US$15 in online shopping vouchers. Which you’ll get to spend only at, a commercial site.

My Favorite Word
Tell the world what your favourite word is, though you’ll have to remember to type out the URL spelled in American. “Money” was taken, though “food” and a certain three-letter word weren’t, so I might just go back and send one in. Yes, I’m a very basic kinda guy. The people behind the site plan to turn all this into a book, and they say nothing about sharing the royalties, so you may choose not to contribute, But browse through the entries, from “Abstemiously” (!) to “Zaftig” (which means “full and shapely,” or as a friend put it, “fat in a nice way.”). And no, I’m not going to explain the title above this paragraph. Go look it up.


Blog of the week

The only Esc
Blog of Death
You like spending time with the obit section? This site’s for you. It faithfully lists the passing of well known folk, mainly from the USA – though it has been known to feature departures from other parts of the world as well. But it’s not just the fact of their shuffling off the mortal coil it focuses on. There are short obituaries, a link or two, and the site invites you to leave a tribute in the comments section.

Special Note: If you’re looking for information on how to help the victims of last weekend’s devastating quake, please see South Asia Quake Help

Reader suggestions welcome, and will be acknowledged. Go to for past columns, and to comment, or mail

Published in the Times of India, Mumbai edition, 16th October, 2005.

Tags: ,

Sunday, 9 October 2005

Mousetrap - 22

Splash page
Liquid Sculpture
Liquids take the shape of whatever contains ’em, right? But what happens when they break free? When they splash, drip, are poured, squirted and dropped? That’s what delights and inspires this photographer. He displays a fabulous collection of photographs of water, plain and coloured, and other liquids of different viscosities, his flash freezing them in time for that fraction of a second, crowns and coronas, discs, beads, of course, and other shapes you wouldn’t believe water could form unassisted by movie SFX.

Funny Farm
Online Comics
Great place for the comic fan, especially if, like me, you’re distressed by the step-motherly treatment newspapers give them these days, you could do worse than check this out. (There are other sites run by the big syndicates, where you’ll see all the usual suspects. This is not that kind of site.) It allows anyone (who signs up, natch) to submit strips, so you’ll see a lot of fresh talent, a veritable rainbow of styles and schools, and a whole lot of fun. And the site helps you find them based on your preferences. There’s a lot happening out there, beyond the freckle-faced kid and The Man Who Cannot Die.

Screen Test
The Internet Movie Database
If you’re a film buff but anti-web, this site could change your mind. It claims to be the Earth’s biggest, and it might well be. It covers movies and TV shows, You can look up movie titles, personalities, check out star lines ups and lots more. You can set up your own personalised pages too, provided you register on the site. And yes, the Indian film and television industries (and I don’t mean just Bollywood) and their offerings are covered too.

Dead Editors
The Shannonizer
Named for the legendary Claude Shannon, this page uses Shannon’s research to comic effect. He showed that a random string of words could seem to have meaning, provided “each word had a high correlation with the word before it.” For the purposes of this site, it uses the styles of various writers, the word sequences they favoured, and any text you care to name. For instance, the previous sentence, as edited by Lewis Carroll: For the purposes of this site, the Jubjub bird, the claws that bite, waving his precious nose, and with quivering curds! Callay! Callay! Or by Hunter S Thompson: For the purposes of physical and reached for a suitcase full of a stainless-steel hunting knife with a grapefruit and crushed honeydew rinds? Fun? You go try. You don’t even need text. Feed the site a URL instead. You’ll find this column’s address below.


Blog of the week

Disclosure first. I started this site a little over a year ago, as a part of the activities of a online group of writers I helped start and run. But not to worry, you won’t be subjected only to this columnist’s deathless prose and verse. Far from it. Caferati – a play on the coffee houses that seem to be writers’ favourite hang-outs, and “literati” – is a collaborative blog with contributors from all over India and, indeed, the world, all of them more talented than yours truly. You’ll see essays, short fiction, poetry, reviews, and more. And we’re always open to new talent. Do drop by.

Reader suggestions welcome, and will be acknowledged. Go to for past columns, and to comment, or mail

Published in the Times of India, Mumbai edition, 9th October, 2005.

Tags: ,

Sunday, 2 October 2005

Mousetrap - 21

Pot Luck
The Bathroom Diaries
Your columnist has often been accused of having a potty mouth and a low sense of humour. Ah well. What have I got to lose then? If it would not discommode you too much, let me point you to the Number One spot (or perhaps it’s Two) for the lowdown on the world’s toilets. A westernised view, be warned, laced with more than a little wonderment at the practices of those societies that do not see the need for comfortable seating arrangements to facilitate their communion with nature. But you will learn of Japanese toilets that assist you with jets of warm water and gusts of air at the touch of a button. There are also listings of clean loos around the world, from Antartica to Zimbabwe, an award for the nicest, and reader accounts of close encounters of the, er, turd kind.

So how many runs did Sachin make in 1998, then? And how many test wickets has Saurav taken? For those of you who delight in cricket statistics, this site is what Playboy is for normal guys. You have oodles of numbers and facts, ratings, player lists, grounds lists, and what have you. A great place to do a spot of research, or to settle a bet. And you can test yourself against their quiz, randomly generated from their database. There are also a few stats-related cricket articles, but that section doesn’t seem to get updated regularly. They are looking for more though, so if you want to stop reading about numbers and write about them instead, here’s your chance.

Call the SPCA!
“The premier online repository for pictures of dogs in bee costumes.” But why? Why? Why would anyone put little black-and-yellow jackets and antennae on their bewildered pooches? I’d understand if they only picked on them wee, irritating, high pitched ones, but I do believe I noticed a bulldog who should have known better, and even a poor retriever. The horror, the horror. (No, Mrs Khanna, you will not take phone cam pictures)

Ah, so!
How to draw Manga
Manga is the Japanese word for comic book. But we’re not referring to talking three-fingered animals wearing gloves, or a freckled American teenager here. Manga covers all kind of topics, and they’re read by adults, not just kids – and not just in Japan either; they have a worldwide fan base now. And this site gives you a free tutorial on how to draw in that distinctive style. Bow when you enter the site, hm?

Blog of the week

Random Thoughts Of A Demented Mind
It’s a bit difficult to slot this blog, so I’ll just use his own tag line: “Politically incorrect cribs about life, love and everything in between.” He’s an opinionated man, this blogger, a proud son of Bengal as his URL indicates, and he’s a witty, entertaining writer, even when he’s all worked up about something, and he produces fresh content fairly frequently. So I’ll just say pour yourself another coffee and go read. Don’t miss his post on that other great Bong – Mithunda.

Reader suggestions welcome, and will be acknowledged. Go to for past columns, and to comment, or mail

Published in the Times of India, Mumbai edition, 2nd October, 2005.

Tags: ,

Saturday, 1 October 2005

Bookmark this [Cybertrack - 2]

Literary Traveler

“Explore your literary imagination,” says the site’s tagline. And, even though I disapprove of people who spell “traveller” with only one “l” (them that pays the cheques rule, sez this writer), I must tell you that there’s plenty of great reading on this site, if you’re a lover of both travel and books.
Literary Traveler’s main offering is articles about writers and the places associated with them. Some are obvious: Hemingway and Pamplona, Robert Louis Stevenson and Samoa, Neruda’s Isla Negra in Chile. Others less so, like James Joyce and Trieste, or the “dismal swamp” that Robert Frost almost never came back from. The quality of writing is high and most articles come with links to more information on the location or the writer. You can search according to the places written about, or check the authors’ names to see if your favourites find a mention. The site attempts to earn its keep with ads, yes, but they’re not intrusive, and you do get the feeling that it’s one of those increasingly rare animals, a genuine, old-fashioned labour of love. One assumes its founders also get revenue from their listing of Literary Tour Operators (you can, if you choose, do a Jane Austen tour or wander the haunts of the Beat poets in the San Francisco Bay Area). Oh yes. There’s also a newsletter to subscribe to. Quibbles? The locations and authors covered are mainly in the USA, with some representation from Europe, with the rest of the world, and its literature, going largely unrepresented.

Published in the October edition of Outlook Traveller, in a column called Cybertrack

Tags: ,

Saturday, 24 September 2005

Mousetrap - 20

Pressing business
Extreme Ironing Bureau
“The thrills of an extreme outdoor activity with the satisfaction of a well pressed shirt.” What that means is that a small subgroup of adventure lovers all over the world now carry around ironing boards and irons (battery-powered, usually) and attempt to set records. Here’s a sample: the first at the North Pole; underwater ironing; while paragliding; while doing gymnastics (pommel horse style, using two irons); and so on. There’s even a World Championship, and the Bureau is its ruling body. No, I didn’t find an Indian chapter., anyone? We could do ironing in a suburban local train for a start.

(Not) by George
They’re not very fond of the Leader of the Free World, the folk at Everypoet (which is worth a visit in its own right). Their Haiku Generator is a popular web destination which produces technically correct 5-7-5 syllable nonsense haiku. And the Bushku does the same in a unique 3-5-3 syllable form, “’Cause 5-7-5 is too darn complexicated, Laura.” Aside from the sillybub count, a Bushku must also contain a Bushism. You can try the generator or read what other contributors have put together. Or write one of your own.

Past Imperfect
National Mission for Manuscripts
Launched by the Ministry of Culture (no, that’s not an oxymoron), this Mission’s worthy, um, mission is to locate, catalogue and preserve India's manuscripts, and to enhance access, spread awareness and encourage their use for educational purposes. In typical sarkari style, sucky site design and navigation, with page after page devoted to restating its objectives. I’m told that in the real world, they have been very successful so far, though there’s much still undiscovered. Should be site worth bookmarking when they’re done (it’s a five-year project that was launched in 2003), but in the meanwhile, I recommend visiting their photo gallery, which has some lovely pictures of manuscripts on paper, cloth and palm and bamboo leaves.

Werds are all I have
The net is full of wonderful reference sites. Dictionaries, thesauri, what have you, it’s all there. But this site is a home for all those words that will never make it into the more, ahem, respectable resources. The words - make that “werds” - that “might only exist in the language of one neighbourhood, one family or even one person.” You can contribute stuff from your own private lexicon, and even have a custom (you do the tweaking) version on your own site, so people know what the heck you’re waffling on about. [Statutory warning: not for children.]


Blog of the week

Are you being served?
Waiter Rant
The view from the other side of the serving tray. Interesting longish posts from a waiter in an Italian restaurant somewhere in America. Anonymous, but good writer, and I’m sure there’s a book deal in his future. He writes about his aching knee, tips, the customers he meets, the conversations. He seems to be the type people naturally talk to - or perhaps it’s his experience working in a psychiatric ward, which he mentioned once - and is a keen observer, so it’s always worth a visit. And here, you don’t have to tip. (Thank you, Annie.)

Reader suggestions welcome, and will be acknowledged. Go to for past columns, and to comment, or mail

Published in the Times of India, Mumbai edition, 25th September 2005.

Tags: ,

Sunday, 18 September 2005

Mousetrap - 19

No Dear, I won’t stop and ask for directions
Despite the occasionally suspect grammar, this site looks like a very useful one indeed. It promises to help you find locations all over India, including villages and small towns, not just cities, going as far down as locality, street and road names, landmarks and useful info like restaurants and ATMs. It also provides driving and route maps, both inter- and intra-city (some of it is available only to paying customers). I zoomed in as far as seeing my lane in Vashi before it asked me to pay up. It also lets you mark your “e-location,” your home or office on a map of the area. Currently, that’s free as a promotion. I’ve got mine. your turn.

Of sound mind
If you want to jazz up a presentation, or, perhaps, scare the daylights out of someone in your office by surreptitiously changing their boot-up sound effects, here’s the site to go to. It helps you find sound effects and musical instrument samples, letting you specify file sizes, formats and sampling rates. All sorts of stuff available: animal sounds, warfare and chaos, nature, season-related stuff... Go make some noise.

Yes, I’m talking to you
All the words your parents never wanted you to use. Plus an insult generator for the lazy. And jokes. And slang. And, for me, the real killer app: the Swearosaurus, which helps you be potty-mouthed in 165 languages (Punjabi is one of the featured languages, patriots will be happy to know, with other Indian languages on the list as well). Its content is contributed by over 4000 people. Go see if your fave gaalis are on the list. Definitely not for the kiddies.

Movie Mistakes
Do you delight in bloopers? Would you love to know, for instance, that in Harry potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, ‘When Harry, Ron and Hermione rush to Hagrid after the end of the year exams, and Harry is saying something that ends with, “Why didn't I see it before?” Hermione is mouthing his lines.”’ That the Cesna in Terminator 3 changes registration numbers in flight? That Drew Barrymore called Lucy Lui by her real name in a fight scene in Charlie’s Angels? Go then, my nitpicking friend, to this site. There are, as of my last visit, 51,885 mistakes and 4,384 films for you to chuckle through. The site is free, by the way, though paid membership gives you a bunch of additional benefits. [Thank you, Nina.]

Blog of the week

Not quite news
Crazy Journo
As the title suggests, the person behind this blog is, apparently, a journalist. And one who perhaps, finds the news reporting not satisfying enough. He does regular take-offs on the news, with deadpan articles that spoof our more, ahem, conventional media. His standards are a tad erratic, but we put that down to youth. It will take a lot more life lived before he can hope to rival a Barry, Buchwald, or our aapro late lamented Busybee, but what I like about this blog is that he tries and does often get a grin out of my cynical face.

Reader suggestions welcome, and will be acknowledged. Go to for past columns, and to comment, or mail

Published in the Times of India, Mumbai edition, 18th September 2005.

Tags: ,

Sunday, 11 September 2005

Mousetrap - 18

Today, I’m in the mood to give you a different kind of site from the usual. All these sites seek to make a difference in some way. Three are home-grown. The fourth should be. And the fifth was created in that borderless place, the web.

Where good guys don’t finish last
Good News India
To go by the daily dose of disaster, scandal, crime, page three banality and political ludicrousness, it’s easy to forget that good things happen too. This site wants to remind you of that. “India is a million new initiatives now,” it says, and the site brings them to you. Stories of initiatives that strive to make a difference – and succeed! – of individuals for whom “a better India” isn’t a phrase they last used in school. They verify each story, and give you follow-up information. The site has also followed the example of the stories it features: it has given birth to a foundation of its own.

The buck starts here
Project Why “Rupee a day” festival
It’s less than you paid for this paper. And that’s what Project Why (a Delhi-based NGO that works with deprived children, mainly in education) would like you to consider donating to support their efforts. And now, with the start of our long festival season, they’re trying to reach more people. They’re looking for ideas, so head over if you have any. And yes, they could also use that rupee a day. (Project Why’s founder also runs a blog:

Start them young
CRY buddies
Run by the well-known NGO that works for deprived Indian children, CRY (Child Relief and You), CRY Buddies is targeted at more privileged kids. It features large doses of games and fun stuff, while gently educating its users on the situation with children less fortunate and giving them ways to participate in CRY’s mission. Point the kids this way, folks. You won’t be doing just them a good turn.

Don’t read this
Forbidden Library
Take a look at the date on top of this page. It’s 2005, yes? You wouldn’t think it from the way, even now, we have self-appointed custodians of culture that exists only in their narrow minds wanting to decide for us what we shouldn’t wear (hide those legs, girls), whether we can send roses on February 14th, and yes, what we shouldn’t read. This site has neatly sorted lists of books that have been banned or challenged over the years, telling you why they were considered bad for the innocent public. A fascinating and scary view of narrow minds through the ages.

Many hands
Katrina Help - and
[Disclosure: I’m involved with these sites.] Come visit, and see how a group of volunteers are collaborate across the globe, to run an inspiring online effort using multiple technologies to help victims of Hurricane Katrina. If you’re comfortable with wikis and blogs, you might even be able to join in.

Reader suggestions welcome, and will be acknowledged. Go to for past columns, and to comment, or mail

Published in the Times of India, Mumbai edition, 11th September 2005.

Tags: ,

Sunday, 4 September 2005

Mousetrap - 17

Don’t take my word for it
The Skeptic’s Dictionary
“A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions (and how to think critically about them).” That’s it in a nutshell, really, but I get paid – not much – to write this column, so... a great listing, conveniently sorted out under topical indices, as well as alphabetically. Or you could just do a random search. You’ll find the odd (I use the word advisedly) Indian godman there, and new age guru too. Oh yes, while you’re in the mood, go see the Science and Rationalists’ Association of India’s web page. Terrible looking site (may I redesign it for you chaps?), but you should go visit.

Independence Day
One of the site’s banners says: “If email chain letters are your idea of staying in touch, don’t touch me!” BreakTheChain lets you input text from chain letters you get and test them for veracity. The site has a forum and a newsletter, like any site worth it’s web space, but it also has a library or interesting articles, and a couple of apps that let you generate your own chain mails, just to show you how easy it is. All in all, using the site is a polite way to let people know you’ve been had. (Of course you could use my method: ignore the frequent offenders; in fact, junk their mail unread, all of it.) [Link courtesy: Joan Pinto]

Flags of the World
Know what vexillology is? It’s the study of flags. And if those symbols of old fashioned notions (to us netizens, that is) like borders and countries turn you on, come right aboard. It boasts of more than 52,000 flag images, including civic and personal flags and banners. And yes, you get vexillological terminology explained, information about books on the subject, and links to other sites along the same lines. Oh yes. There’s line drawings of flags to colour in. Imagine there’s no countries...

In a more serious vein
Indian Blood Donors
A resource I’m conflicted about. They list current requirements prominently on the front page, and ask for volunteers to join in and list themselves as donors. So far so good. But they do not state how they work – whether there’s a database that contacts volunteer donors automatically, how much personal information is revealed (they ask for a lot) – and they don’t have even cursory information about donation on their site. Their hearts may be in the right place, but I’m wary. The hack I’d recommend? Go see the donors wanted listing and get in touch direct.


Blog of the week

Daily Lush
Need one say more? (One must. –Ed.) A newish blog, and it features well-written long pieces about various aspects of booze. Glasses, drinking stories, bar bets and so on. Sip through the archives by subject, or just go post by post. Recommended reading for the thinking sot. Have one for me this weekend. Better still, buy me one, why don’t you?

Reader suggestions welcome, and will be acknowledged. Go to for past columns, and to comment, or mail

Published in the Times of India, Mumbai edition, 4th September 2005.

Tags: ,

Thursday, 1 September 2005

Travel log [Cybertrack - 1]

Instead of postcards, gloating SMSes from the beach, or mass e-mails to all your friends, why not blog the your next holiday? Just send your friends your own blog address ahead of the journey and tell them to Watch This Space. With cyber cafes as ubiquitous these days as touts, keeping your blog updated is easy.

What is a blog, you ask? Simply put, it is your own personal website, but comes with tools that make it easy to post fresh entries, as easy as hitting the “send” button on your email program.

Most blogging software makes it easy to post not just text, but also images, so pack your digital camera. And if you choose your blogging service carefully, posting is dead simple: log in, type, hit “publish.” Some services let more than one person post to the same blog, so you, the significant other, and the brats can do a family log. Most services also let readers comment, so you’ll have the pleasure of seeing feedback from your envious pals slaving away in the city.

Oh yes. Here’s the delicious little irony. Know how blogs got their name? In the brave new world of the early web (in the dimly recalled 1990s), a few geeks began posting information about the websites they visited on their cybertravels. They styled them like the logs of the real-life travellers of pre-internet times, with dated entries, their observations, and route maps in the form of hyperlinks. These began to be referred to as web logs, which, in the way of the web, shortened first to weblogs, and then to blogs.

So, when you blog your holiday, you’ll be tipping your hat to a tradition that predates the internet. How cool is that?

And where do you go to sign up for a blog? “Free blog service” threw up 24.5 million Google results the last time I looked. You, my friend, have choices.

Published in Outlook Traveller, September issue, in a new column I will be doing regularly, Cybertrack, which you will find in the NSEW section.

Tags: ,