Sunday, 10 July 2005

Mousetrap - 10

“It was a dark and stormy night…
The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest
“…the rain fell in torrents--except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.” Named for Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, who opened his book, Paul Clifford, with the preceding sentence, the Bulwer-Lytton contest asks you to write the opening sentence of the worst of all possible novels. Started in 1982, by a professor in the English Department at San Jose State University, the contest has a cult following on the net. It now features entries in various categories, aside from an overall prize. The archives from previous years should keep you occupied on many a rainy day, even if you don’t want to enter the contest.

If you’re the type that likes to find out how things work, this site lives up to its name. Articles range from the expected (how car engines or cellphones work), to the mega (how nuclear bombs work) to the ones that leave you more than a little worried (“how lock picking works”). Perfect when you’ve got little kids with inquisitive minds at home, but as the examples I mention may suggest, you better be the one doing the searching. (Thanks, Sailesh Ghelani.)

Gonna sit right down and write myself a letter
You know about time capsules, right? Where letters and artifacts are sealed off in a container and buried, to be dug up an opened at some future date? Well, here’s the net version. Write yourself an email, perhaps about what you plan to do with your life over the next few years, or theorising about what you will be doing at a certain date, and set it to be mailed to you at a specific date (the site lets you choose dates up to 2035. Then (A suggestion form the site: “we recommend using an address with some potential for longevity.” In other words, don’t use a work e-ddress.

Some of our best friends recommended this site
Black People Love Us
The fine art of satire. The site rips off the entire politically correct thing through this “home page,” allegedly the property of Sally and Johnny, two WASP stereotypes, complete with sweaters. Everything works together: the design is studiedly amateur, the photos could come off any throwaway camera, and the copy is exquisite. Be sure to read the testimonials page. And the letters, which, if they’re not total fabrications, are tribute to how well the site is done, going by the number of people who take it at face value. (Thanks, Vikram Joshi.)

Blog of the week – The buck doesn’t stop here
Blame India Watch
A reaction to the anti-outsourcing hysteria in the West, this blog links to stories that get all whiney about jobs and opportunities going east, and offers a counter view. The anonymous blogger behind the site has a sense of humour and the knack of putting his/her arguments into pithy one-liners, the better to show up the articles s/he links to. Unfortunately, it’s not a frequently updated blog, but it’s definitely worth a place in your RSS reader.

This column explores the wilder, wackier, weirder corners of the world wide web. Reader suggestions welcome, and will be acknowledged. Mail

Published in the Times of India, Mumbai edition, 8th July 2005.

[Note: Mousetrap has moved to a Sunday slot, in the Science and Technology section of the new Review supplement.]

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