December 25, 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
SantaClaus.com
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.)

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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 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, 25th December, 2005.

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December 18, 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
Glossarist.com
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.

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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 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, 18th December, 2005.

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December 11, 2005

Mousetrap - 31

Really!
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]

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Blog of the week

Cut-paste
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 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, 11th December, 2005.

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December 04, 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?”
OldVersion.com
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.

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Blog of the week

There was a blogger from Kolkata...
newsmerick
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 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, 4th December, 2005.

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December 01, 2005

We are the world [Cybertrack 4]

Wikitravel

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



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