Sunday, 26 November 2006

Mousetrap - 80

Accompanied by:
For all you bathroom singers who just know that if you had a professional band backing you, you’d be a star too. Sign up, and you get tonnes of legal music with the lead vocals taken out, and the lyrics on screen for you to sing along to, karaoke style. You can also record your own take as well, and upload to the site for the listening, er, pleasure of the world, and get feedback from other members. And, naturally, you can listen to what other people have uploaded as well. (The last bit you don’t have to sign up for, but you will have to register if you want to leave comments.) [Thank you, Naomi Barton.]

Supersize greetings
You’ve heard of sky-writing, right? This is just the opposite, greetings you can see from the sky. Unfortunately, it would be rather expensive to construct entire messages at oe place, but this Google Maps addict has a solution for you. Simply type in letters, and the site pulls out pre-selected buildings and strings them together for you into a message, and you can then send the link around to your pals. Why? I’ll let the creator explain. ‘I noticed that a lot of buildings in Google Maps looked like letters, and I thought “Hmmm, how could I use that as an excuse to spend even more time playing with Google Maps?” This is the best I could come up with.’ And here’s a message for you.

The End
Exit Mundi
Global warming? Nuclear holocaust? Giant meteors? Flatulence? There’s a massive collection of end-of-the-world scenarios here, from the very likely to the far, far, far out. And no, even the wildest ones do have some basis. The site’s author strives for amusement, yes, but also for objectivity. (That bit about flatulence? He’s talking about the methane ice on our ocean floors, methane emitted by microbes.) He says that he researches all the scenarios thoroughly, and “When a particular apocalyptic scenario lacks any realistic evidence, we will tell you.” So what are you waiting for? Go read. There may not be much time.

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 November, 2006.

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Sunday, 19 November 2006

Mousetrap - 79

On the Origins of Darwin
The Complete Works of Charles Darwin
Darwin is one of the best-known names in science. The impact he made on our thinking was immense, and this site could show you why in a way that’s far beyond the bits we learned in school. It claims to be the first ever complete collection of all Darwin’s publications, bringing many of them to the to the web for the first time. Among them, transcripts of some of his handwritten diaries, like the one he kept on the Beagle. It features complete text, down to publishers’ ads, and gives you both formatted text and scans of the original pages. There’s a complete bibliography, naturally, and translations as well, and audio versions, plus works by others that help you understand Darwin, like contemporary reviews. of his books or obituaries and recollections of Darwin. A good entry point to the site is

Crymm 2.0
A site that pokes a bit of fun at several things. Most obviously the trend in deliberated misspelled words as names of online services (Flickr, Ryze, etcetera). And then there’s the whole Web 2.0 buzz about many-to-many and services that put power into the hands of users, letting them generate content. Of course there’s a fun to be had reading the fake extortion notes and examples and suchlike. Wish it were real, though. There’s a couple of people I’d like to add to my Extortr list..

Green Eggs and Dr Seuss
Dr. Seuss Parody Page
Everybody’s come across a bit of Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr Seuss. At the very least, you’ve come across a parody or a rip-off, but didn’t know it at that time. Well, this fan has a bunch of links to parodies of his works and style. On the main site., you’ll also find links to a brief bio, to other sites, and to his books. Just to make it clear, this is not an officially-sanctioned site.

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 November, 2006.

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Sunday, 12 November 2006

Mousetrap - 78

Ultralingua Online Dictionary
There are many online dictionaries out there, and on-the-fly translators too. This site combines a bit of both, covering the Romance Languages. It works like a normal look-up, of course, but also offers grammar resources, and lovely add-ons like the ability to conjugate verbs in those languages, or get words for a number (eg.: enter 935, and it will give you the German neunhundertf├╝nfunddrei├čig or the Spanish novecientos treinta y cinco). But the best bit, to me, is the ability to produce a dictionary-enabled version of any web page. Enter the URL, choose a dictionary, and you get a page where every word can be clicked to yield a pop-up definition. Invaluable if you have a shaky grasp of a language and need help often. [Via Ethan Zuckerman.]

Planet Read & Desi Lassi
Movies in other languages with subtitles in the one we read? Common. But subtitles in the same language? Think of it this way: not all who understand or speak a language can read it. So Planet Read aims to use Same Language Subtitling to help spread literacy. Stands to reason: karaoke-style subtitling below the visual does help increase understanding. Among its off-shoot projects (some commercial) is Desi Lassi, which streams music videos from Bollywood at you, with subtitles not just in Hindi but also transliterated in Roman script, and translated. (And so, for the first time, I actually figured out the lyrics of Chhainya Chhainya. I have to admit, though, it was difficult to keep one’s eyes on the words and not Ms Arora...)

The Late
Fuller Up, The Dead Musician Directory
When it comes to ways to shuffle off the mortal coil, popular musicians seem to have the widest range, from the banal to the tragic, from stupid to bizarre. And this site aims to catalogue them all. “A Site About Dead Musicians...and how they got that way,” is says, and lets your search by name and cause of death. Not for the queasy.

Wardrobe Dysfunction
Ugly, Ugly, Bollywood Fugly
A collablog dedicated to the sometimes outlandish choices our costume designers seem to make and inflict on our stars and hapless dancers in the background. Plenty of pictures, natch, so will take a while to load if you’re on a dial-up. (Frequent readers of this column will remember from a few months ago, that “fugly” is short for “fantastically ugly.” You can change the F word to something stronger if you wish.)

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 November, 2006.

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Sunday, 5 November 2006

Mousetrap - 77

So you don’t have to
Squashed Philosophers
Back in school, there were these books we’d pore through before exam time; guides to the various textbooks, question sets and the like. (I remember people who never bothered with the actual prescribed texts; they just read these.) This site is similar. Except that it scrunches entire philosophical texts into digestible chunks, with estimated reading time and percentage of condensation helpfully indicated alongside. It covers only western philosophy, starting with Plato, working its through other ancient Greeks and Romans, then leaping forward a thousand years to chaps like Machiavelli, Descartes and Spinoza, to Darwin, Thoreau and Nitetzsche, and to thinkers from the last century, like Russell, Sartre and Turing. Philosophers, says the site’s owner (who has done most of the squashing), “are generally appallingly bad writers and you’re after ideas, not precise words.” There is also a section on the Divines, condensing a few religious texts, and Writers, which has a huge collection. Here, the bad writers bit clearly does not apply; most of the books lose much in the squashing. But if all you need is cocktail party conversation crutches, head on over.

Re: search
Research Beyond Google
This column doesn’t normally link to specific pages within a site, but this case is a very worthy exception. For most of what we search for on the web, Google and other search engines deliver. But, despite the eight billion pages—give or take a few million—that Google indexes, there’s even more data out there. As much as 500 times that, some say, in what is being called the invisible or “deep web.” This page explains the concept and lists, and links, to “119 Authoritative, Invisible, and Comprehensive Resources.” Invaluable for any specialist. See also this article that explains the Deep Web concept. [OEDB link via Sunil Shibad.]

Grave matters
Indian Cemeteries
A small site that lists graveyards, graves, and monuments from the times of the Raj. Lots of reader-contributed pictures, historical information about the churches or cemeteries mentioned in most cases, and a searchable database that lets you look up names, cities, regiments and campaigns, and occupations. It’s not comprehensive, of course, but it does go some way towards its objective: “preserving the memory of historic cemeteries in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Burma.”

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 November, 2006.

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Wednesday, 1 November 2006

Blessed Beach Resort [Hotel review]

The cantankerous bits first. The name flirts with the truth; Om Beach is five winding, up-hill-down-dale kilometres away. The kitchen closes at 10 p.m., with nary a coffee available after that. There’s nothing to do on the premises but eat and watch TV (or get some Ayurvedic massage treatments, of which more anon). And yes, like the brochure says, there is internet access; a solitary computer, which connects at a creaking 7.2 kbps. Gah!
Now that I have that off my chest.
It is beautiful: a cluster of villas perched on a breezy hilltop, undulating lawns, plenty of trees, birds and butterflies and flower beds.. very idyllic. If you want to hit the beach, they drive you there and pick you up when you’re done, gratis. Permission for a swimming pool has just been sanctioned by the government. And Management says that when the Season gets underway, they take guests on boat rides to isolated neighbouring beaches, and run water sports.
Interiors: comfortable, large rooms, though the layout of mine felt cramped. They call ’em suites, but the sitting room is sparsely furnished, and not ACed, and the bedroom hasn’t a comfy chair. Big gripe: large, inviting bathtub. And no drain plug. Even if one had materialised, the water heater was one of those miniature jobs that yield half a bucket of hot water at a time. Tchah. But. A private porch looking on to the garden! Great place to watch them birds and butterflies.
Food? Oily (the veggies) to pretty good (the seafood); a limited menu, fair enough in a place with just 12 rooms; large servings, priced decently. They’re happy to go against their better instincts to satisfy weirdos like this reviewer, who prefer prawns not smothered in pungent batter.
The place is managed by the Kairali group, which has built a rep for its Ayurveda health tourism. And the Ayurvedic Centre was the highlight of my stay. (Unlike Kairali’s other establishments, where you follow a strict regimen, treatment here is optional—build it into your package, make instant appointments, whatever—so the place serves meat and alcohol, and permits smoking.) I indulged myself with two treatments in two days, the first while still stiff from the bone-jarring four-hour drive in from Goa. (Dabolim is the nearest airport, but until the monsoon damage is fixed, take the train, amigo.) After a two-hour session, I was so relaxed that my post-lunch meditative lie-down dissolved into another eight hours of oblivion. Bliss. I guess I’ll grant them the “Om” after all.

The Information
Location: Gokarna, Karnataka; 65km from Karwar, 135km from Dabolim, Goa.
Accomodation: 12 suite rooms
Tariff: From Rs 3500 for double occupancy. Ayurveda packages also available.
Contact: +91 11 51749800 (Delhi), +91 80 51122815, +91 8386 257718 (Gokarna),

Published in the "Hotels" section of Outlook Traveller, November 2006.

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Siteseeing - 1 (Cybertrack - 14 )

Note. This column used to be called Cybertrack, a name that Outlook Traveller came up with, which I was never really comfortable with. This month, I suggested the new name, and they agreed. Yay!

HolidayIQ harnesses the opinions of its holiday-making members, and ties that to a database of hotels and resorts around India. Destinations are sorted state-wise, with hotels for each location. Large chunks of the destination lists haven’t been reviewed yet, though, and I didn’t find much value in the bits that were. And of the claimed 2200 hotels listed, by its own admission only around 800 have been reviewed so far. With 73238 members, one expects, um, more. The positives: detailed contact information for hotels; search by type (beach, spa, home stay, etcetera), tariff and rating; and the promise of deals filtered from those offered by travel portals. But be warned before you sign up, parts of their Terms of Use are truly idiotic for a site that will sink or swim based on user goodwill. Exhibit One: “Any and all information that is submitted by you including but not limited to comments, feedback etc is the sole property of the Company which may be used in any manner the Company deems fit.” Exhibit Two: “You hereby consent to the receipt of physical & electronic communication from us.” Spam ahoy! And the one that proves that this new economy company just doesn’t grok the web: “Any hyperlink to any page of our website should be with our written permission and consent.” Perhaps I shouldn’t give you the URL; they might sue me. Heh.

Published in Outlook Traveller, November 2006.

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