October 30, 2005

Mousetrap - 25

Checklist
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?

Tripping
StumbleUpon
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!
iWorkWithFools.com
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@$#@®d$!

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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 http://o3.indiatimes.com/mousetrap for past columns, and to comment, or mail inthemousetrap@indiatimes.com. The writer blogs at http://zigzackly.blogspot.com.

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

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October 23, 2005

Mousetrap - 24

Fwd? Del.
Snopes.com
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), Snopes.com 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
BugMeNot
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.

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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 http://o3.indiatimes.com/mousetrap for past columns, and to comment, or mail inthemousetrap@indiatimes.com. The writer blogs at http://zigzackly.blogspot.com.

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

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October 16, 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
http://www.filk.com, http://www.interfilk.org, http://www.filking.net
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 shave.com, a commercial site.

Logolepsy
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.

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

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

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October 09, 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.

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Blog of the week

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

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

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October 02, 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.

Stumped?
HowSTAT!
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!
Beedogs
“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 http://o3.indiatimes.com/mousetrap for past columns, and to comment, or mail inthemousetrap@indiatimes.com

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

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October 01, 2005

Bookmark this [Cybertrack - 2]

Literary Traveler http://www.literarytraveler.com/

“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



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