Sunday, 26 March 2006

Mousetrap - 46

Sing along
If you’re a Hindi film buff, and, more to the point, a film songs fan, you’ll want to check this out. It is the “result of a collaborative, non-commercial and open Internet effort called iTrans Song Book (ISB) that is over 9 years and 10000 songs old now.” This archive is mainly focussed songs from films but also includes Ghazal, Bhajan, Geet, and Pop. Aside from browsing by titles, films, singers, music directors or lyricists, it also features friendly search that helps you find stuff even if you mess up the transliteration. And there’s a companion wiki you can contribute to. If your computer and browser are Unicode-enabled, you could go straight to the Hindi version of the site: [Link via Megha Murthy]

My name is Anthony gone service
If you like the previous site, chances are you’ll enjoy this one too. It features a collection of mondegreens from Hindi film music. (Mondegreens are misheard phrases, usually from songs or poems, where the mishearing usually gives it a whole new meaning – or sometimes, just pure nonsense.) The lyrics are in Hindi, but in Roman script, and are sorted by freshness and popularity, as well as alphabetically. And yes, you can go submit your own, or just agree with some of the existing stuff.

You’re a star
Ever wondered what it’s like to get fan mail? Well, don’t look at me, I just write an obscure column. Let me point you, instead, to Mark Kaye’s little gimmick. He’s radio host in Washington, and, he says, he loves fan mail so much he thinks everyone should get some. So, if you sign up, he promises you that he’ll send you regular fan mail. And, occasionally, his newsletter too. What, you were expecting no strings attached? [Link courtesy Ingrid Srinath.]

Breaking through
There’s an inspiring story behind this name. It began at NIIT, in Delhi. Dr Mitra, its Chief Scientist, had been thinking about unsupervised learning and how computers could help. In 1999, his team made a little hole in the wall between the campus and the slum next door, and installed a computer that could be used through the wall. The kids in the slum took to it immediately, and quickly taught themselves to use the computer. This success, plus further experiments in other areas, rural and urban, led to the formulation of “a new way of learning - Minimally Invasive Education,” and then a tie-up with the International Finance Corporation to set up Hole-in-the-Wall Education Ltd (HiWEL). Go see the site for more, plus updates on its efforts.

With the ever increasing number of sites that aggregate popular topics or let users contribute them it gets a tad difficult even to keep track of these collectives. Here, you’re saved some of the bother. You get, on one page, the top links from digg,, furl, reddit, tailrank, slashdot, and others, plus Google and Yahoo news, and even Flickr and YouTube. Now, of course, you still have to do the choosing. And, you poor so-and-so, the clicking. Ah well. Into each life some rain must fall.

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, 26th March, 2006.

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Sunday, 19 March 2006

Mousetrap - 45

The traditional model of information dissemination is top down – experts, professionals, editors, call them what you will, find and select content and then present it to their readers. This newspaper you’re holding is an example. The restrictions of space (or time, in the case of broadcast media) make that a viable model. On the web, those restrictions don’t hold. Or, at least, they’re not that strong. Each of these sites represents a challenge to the established way of doing things.

DIY News
Ignore the rather awful name. The poster child of the citizen journalism movement, it launched in 2000, with “Every Citizen is a Reporter” as its motto. Anybody can become a reporter and submit stories, and get paid (though not at the same levels as professionals would). There is editorial intervention: stories are selected and edited by staffers. Wildly successful in its home country, Korea (one of the world’s most wired countries, with over 75% broadband penetration), OhmyNews is now also available in English, and is planning to move beyond text soon, with OhmyTV. Gosh! (See also: Wikinews)

Rising to the top
Digg takes the concept even further. It’s a technology news site that is run by its readers. Anybody can submit stories, and based on “diggs,” a kind of reader feedback, stories are promoted to the front page. And stay there. It also builds in other buzz concepts like social bookmarking (in plainspeak, sharing links with friends), and is blog friendly - you can easily add items or selected feeds to your own site. Doesn’t pay its contributors, though.

Get the picture?
One way to look at Flickr is as a photo-sharing site. It lets you upload pictures, specify who can view them – family, friends, the whole world – and you use those pictures on other sites and blogs. But that’s not all. The killer add-on: ‘tags.’ You can tag your pictures with descriptors of your choosing. That’s where collective intelligence, or collaboration steps in. Take a big event, and chances are that a ‘tag cloud’ has formed around it as well. It happened at the time of the Tsunami. And when the Bombay got flooded, some of the best on-the-spot pictorial coverage was by individuals putting up their digicam pictures and Flickr-tagging them. Instant news, worth a thousand words each one.

Radio YOU
The Kamla Bhatt Show
Kamla was India’s first podcaster (‘podcast’ is a neologism, from the popular iPod music player + broadcast; it basically means a sound file you can download and play on your digital music player or computer), with and Podcast shows like hers require little investment: a computer and a recorder, a sound editing app (many free options available) and a net connection. Of course, to gain an audience, you need good content, something she has been working hard on, and has continued to do after a move to the USA. She has just launched her own “show” and has already scored her first coup, an interview with Azim Premji. Not many conventional radio shows can claim that!

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, 19th March, 2006.

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Sunday, 12 March 2006

Mousetrap - 44

Build Your Own Browser
Firefox Add-ons
Last year, for the first time, Internet Explorer lost market share. The reason? Firefox, the open source browser that geeks everywhere fell in love with instantly. Happily, that infection has spread even to non-techies. Anyway, to the point. Perhaps the most attractive things about Firefox are the add-ons created by the developer community. All sorts of simple, interesting ways to tweak and your browser and add functionality. At this sub-domain, you can check out what’s new, what’s hot, what’s recommended. First, of course, get Firefox (at You won’t regret it.

Verse for Commuters
Poems on the Underground
Twenty years ago, three poets talked the Underground (London’s commuter railway) into an act of beauty. The Underground, like public transport in most cities, carries ads. When those ad spaces are blank, said the poets, let’s use the space to carry poetry. That year, poems, some classic some contemporary, began to appear inside trains. Commuters loved it. It was so successful, the selected verses were published in a book (now in its tenth edition), and the idea has been replicated in other metropolitan transport systems. This site lets you sample those poems. Enjoy. Psst: Anyone have the CR, WR and BEST PRO’s email addresses? I tried contacting them years ago to push this idea, but I suspect my letters never got to their desks. Think about it: would you rather be perusing every last word of a Coaching Classes ad on your way to work? Imagine, instead, Ghalib, Faiz, Ramanujan, Tagore, Kolatkar or Moraes for company...

Knowing your AS from your EBLO
Financial Glossary Wiki
Financial jargon and acronyms confuse you? But you still need to know the words? This wiki (like all wikis, a collaboration open to anyone to edit - though you’ll need to create a log-in ID), will help you translate. Everything from AAA (a rating for bonds) to Zero Coupon Yield Curve (which shows the yield from, yeah, zero coupon bonds). AS? It’s a Czech or Slovak company title, like Udyog. EBLO, well we made that up to confuse you. And it makes for a better title, nay?


This week’s blog

(Not-so-) Silent Scream
Blank Noise Project
Road-side Romeos. Eve-teasing. Quaint, boys-will-be-boys, even rakish terms. If you’re a man, that is. But ask a women about the kind of things that happen to them on the streets; about the pinching, the grabbing, the groping... and worse. Your macho toes would curl. The project ran a “blogathon” on Women’s Day, requesting posts from around the blogosphere on street harassment. See the entry for March 6th for the links. Women in any urban space will find much to relate to there. Men? Even if you see this as a problem, chances are you haven’t a clue how bad it is, so go read. If you’re one of those who is the problem, go read anyway. Maybe it will change you. Or maybe, when you see all that anger simmering, you’ll wet your pants in fear.

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, 12th March, 2006.

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Sunday, 5 March 2006

Mousetrap - 43

Look, you’re on TV!
Google Video isn’t available in this country – why, one has no clue. The good news? On YouTube, you can, upload, tag and share your videos. And, natch, you get to view video uploaded by other members. Which, is, I’ll admit, a mixed blessing. The price is right – free – and it’s a good place to find the latest buzz videos. Some of it is bootleg, which adds to the fun, because those soon get yanked. You’d better have broadband access, of course.

Lala Raja Deen Dayal
We’re a bit late to pay respects on the centenary of his death (he passed on in 1905), but it’s never too late to discover this pioneering photographer’s work. There are lots of facts about his life and times, and of course, lots of reproductions of his pictures for your viewing pleasure. A fascinating view of India in the times of the Raj, replete with Maharajahs and sahibs, shikars and palaces, all spring to life before your eyes. The site design is a bit of a disaster, but the quality of the content more than compensates.

Breathalyser! Zapotecs! Bashi-bazouks!
David's Favourite Captain Haddock Curses
This page, says it’s author, “has received a fair bit of e-mail over the years (most of it, strangely enough, from India. For some reason Indians just love Tintin and Captain Haddock).” So, Gentle Reader, chances are you like that crusty old dipsomaniac too. In which case you’ll go all misty-eyed as you declaim to yourself, “Billions of bilious blue blistering barnacles.” (Oh yes, if you’d like to see the vituperative Captain’s outpourings in their original French, go here. And also see the official Tintin site)


This week’s blog

Bird Fever
Avian Flu Help (H5N1)
Should have written about this ages ago. A project by my friends in the World Wide Help Group, it brings together reports and news about the potential pandemic, from the media, specialist sites and NGOs. Hopefully, it won’t be needed much! Do also see the resource list, which points to several other informative sites. And check out the Flu Wiki (nope, not a WWH project, but one which is getting a fair deal of media attention in the West).

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, 5th March, 2006.

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Wednesday, 1 March 2006

Cybertrack - 7

This site excludes men. So run along there, sonny. Right ladies, where were we? This site targets the woman travelling if not alone, then definitely not with men. And wanting to find out the stuff reliable sources tell me women want to know: hair stylists, where to get bargains on clothes and suchlike. No, wait, I kid. The idea here is you sign up, and get to link up with women around the world who have registered with the site. You type in city name, and the site has someone listed from that destination (over 10,000 contacts in 36 countries so far, they promise) you get a couple of contacts who you can then ask for the information you need, like culturally appropriate clothing, woman-friendly lodging and whatever other mysterious stuff it is that men will just not get. And no, email addresses are not displayed - communication happens via web form on the site, and neither address is revealed. It’s up to you and the person on the other end to decide whether you’d like to exchange addresses. There is a prominent promise on the home page to never sell email addresses or use them for any other purpose except linking you up with other sisters who are doing it for themselves. The site also other interesting features – a city spotlight section, travel tips contributed by members, and yes, classifieds. How do I know how effective this is? Well, I don’t, I must confess. Mum done brought up right, she did. Never been in the Ladies Room, honest! Well, okay, yeah, there was this once, but it was to minister to a girl who had fainted. No, really.

Published in the March 2006 edition of Outlook Traveller, in a column called Cybertrack

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