September 24, 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. ExtremeIstri.com, anyone? We could do ironing in a suburban local train for a start.

(Not) by George
Bushku
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
Dicshunary
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.]

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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 http://o3.indiatimes.com/mousetrap for past columns, and to comment, or mail inthemousetrap@indiatimes.com

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

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September 18, 2005

Mousetrap - 19

No Dear, I won’t stop and ask for directions
MapmyIndia
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
FindSounds
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
InsultMonger
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.

Cut!
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 http://o3.indiatimes.com/mousetrap for past columns, and to comment, or mail inthemousetrap@indiatimes.com

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

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September 11, 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: http://projectwhy.blogspot.com/.)

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 - http://www.katrinahelp.info/ and http://katrinahelp.blogspot.com/
[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 http://o3.indiatimes.com/mousetrap for past columns, and to comment, or mail inthemousetrap@indiatimes.com

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

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September 04, 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
BreakTheChain
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]

Hoisted
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.

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Blog of the week

Cheersh
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 http://o3.indiatimes.com/mousetrap for past columns, and to comment, or mail inthemousetrap@indiatimes.com

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

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September 01, 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.



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