January 29, 2006

Typd w/ 1 thumb

A year and a bit ago, on the blog I run for my online writing community, Caferati, we ran a jokey contest, the world’s first SMS Poetry contest. The prizes weren’t KBC-class. - just free Gmail IDs, quite in demand at that time. The world didn’t break down our door, but many of us began playing with the challenges of the form.

Then, last January, the Kala Ghoda festival featured an SMS Poetry contest, also billed as the first in the world. While it got more responses and coverage than my wee contest did, pangs of envy were assuaged by Caferati members winning the top three prizes.

Now, having established my guru/seer credentials, I will now waffle on a bit about the form.

But first, disclosure. I have since discovered that both the Kala Ghoda festival and Caferati were wrong. The first SMS Poetry contest was run way back in 2001, by the Guardian, in the UK.

Right. Moving on...

SMS poetry is verse short enough to fit into the 160-character space that cellphone standards for text messages support. No, technological advances like multi-part SMSes that permit messages three times that length are not considered kosher by the purists.

Scratch that. “Purists” might give you the wrong impression. If there’s one thing this verse form doesn’t do, it’s delight that breed.

You see, it isn’t just the very short, more established forms like haiku and senryu, limericks, clerihews and grooks that find their way here. SMS verse creates a space very much its own. The cre8v contractions, abrevs, & delibr8 misspelngs dat help U cram much mo in2 a text msg, there4 gettng mo bang for yr buck (or two rupees for out-station messages, five for international) are not just permitted they’re practically de rigeur. And no, it’s not just dropping vowels. That’s for wussies. Tricks like no space after punctuation,using numerals to replace syllables that sound like them (42n8 for fortunate), a capital letter when you want the sound pronounced (QT for cutie), accepted short forms like w/ for with, and acronyms borrowed from online chat (BRB for be right back) all add to the delightful mix. And you’re helped along significantly by the illogical spelling that English is notorious for. Just spell ’em the way they’re pronounced: like gud for good and nyt for night.

A wonderful example is the poem that won the Guardian competition:
txtin iz messin,
mi headn'me englis,
try2rite essays,
they all come out txtis.
gran not plsed w/letters shes getn,
swears i wrote better
b4 comin2uni.
&she's african
SMS, and SMS poetry, may not be advancing the language. But they certainly stretch your creativity, and they’re fun. And hey, they’re better than corny SMS jokes.

Oh yes. One more thing. Mr Moraes, please forgive me for that title.

Peter Griffin co-moderates the online writing community, Caferati, which is helping the Times of India Kala Ghoda Arts Festival run two contests in the Literature and Writing section this year: Flash Fiction and SMS Poetry. See http://www.caferati.com/contests/ for details.

Published in the 29th January edition of Times of India, in the Bookmark section.



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Attention Deficit Fiction

Too many TV channels. Too many newspapers. And there’s the wide, wide world of the internet, breaking geographical barriers, putting more information at our fingertips — quite literally — than any generation before this could dream of.

If you’re a writer, and you name doesn’t happen to be Seth, the chances of anyone buying, and actually reading, your door-stopper magnum opus are, well, rather slimmer than your manuscript.

Today’s world wants its entertainment bite-sized. Even the traditional short story, usually upwards of 2000 words, can seem like an awfully long commitment to make in a world with so much information and entertainment jostling for your attention.

Flash fiction (also referred to as short-shorts, micro-fiction and other fancy buzz-names) could have almost been designed for this age, but digging around on the web tells me the genre’s origins date back to Aesop’s fables. So I won’t — or can’t — waste your time with a scholarly tracing of its history.

Flash stories are defined by their length. There isn’t a standard definition of what that length should be, but under a thousand words is safe. Most practitioners peg it rather lower, with maximum lengths of 500 words, even as low as 200. There are sub-genres that specify even lower, and very exact word counts, like the current online meme, “55ers,” which are stories exactly 55 words long, no more, no less.

Whatever the word count, it is generally accepted that they must be stories in the conventional sense, with conflict and resolution, protagonist and supporting cast, distinct beginning and end. Except that with the word-count restrictions, much of this is usually implied in the work rather than explicitly stated.

Is there a market for Flash, then? Most certainly. Many print publications and zines pay for Flash work they publish. None that I know of in India, but that’s bound to change. Plus there are contests (see the footnote to this article for one near you) with prizes on offer as well. If you want to study the genre, once more, the web is your friend. For the price of your internet connection (or for free, when you’re goofing off on your office computer), you can trawl through zines, free sites, writing communities, author showcases, and of course, blogs.

To whet your appetite, I’ll leave you with what I’m assured is a piece of classic flash by Ernest Hemingway, which takes the genre to the extreme. Here it is, reproduced in full.
For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.
Peter Griffin co-moderates the online writing community, Caferati, which is helping the Times of India Kala Ghoda Arts Festival run two contests in the Literature and Writing section this year: Flash Fiction and SMS Poetry. See http://www.caferati.com/contests/ for details.

Published in the 29th January edition of Times of India, in the Bookmark section.



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Mousetrap - 38

Verbivores only
Luciferous Logolepsy
“Dragging obscure words into the light of day.”With a motto like that, I don’t really have to tell you what the site is about. But hey, this noble publication actually sends me a money (sort of) to write this column, a practice one seeks encourage, so one must macarise the countercasters and deliver a full complement of words. The site lists and defines over 9,000 words, with a self-confessed leaning towards the archaic, because they “tend to be more evocative – as if their very age lends additional meaning or overtones.” It’s a wonderful treasure house for students and lovers of the language. If you just want a little fascinating reading, pick a letter from the menu, click, close eyes, scroll down blind, and read the first few words you see. To find a word related to a term you know, there’s a convenient search option. Oh yes. The site name. I’ll save you the look up. It means “an illuminating obsession with words.”

More for the logolepts
Worthless Word for the day
A site with its heart in the same place as the previous one. Except that this one takes itself less seriously. No reflection on the quality of the content, though. In fact it scores higher in my book because it offers context and examples of usage. And, as the name suggests, it has a fresh offering every day. And yes, there’s a good search function too. Negatives: the archives are selected, and not comprehensive. There is a complete word list, but that only offers definitions. And the site’s frames, architecture and generally layout are, well, not the best. [Link courtesy: Megha Murthy]

Spring has sprung
Asinine Poetry
(And quick link to show you that we don’t have intellectual pretensions after all. Well, not too many.) Bad poetry is easy to find online. Heck, be nice to me and I might even show you where I hide mine. Anyway, thanks to the easy availability of free web space, blogs and the like, everything that sensible publishers reject can find a home, and an audience. Theoretically. But I digress. Asinine Poetry, says this site is “Not necessarily bad; mostly kinda funny.” And they deliver. Read via their list of contributors, or stroll around at random. Rewarding any way you choose. And the site also hosts contests. There’s one for asinine haiku open right now. Let’s see.. Web columnist fancies / Fifty dollar prize: / newspaper doesn’t pay enough. What say?

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This week’s blog

We are like this, what to do
Dick & Garlick
That rare and welcome creature, a blog that discourses with both wit and erudition on the various regional strains of Indian English and street slang, and the resulting neologisms, mixing links and citations with his own views. One character flaw, though. The chap behind it seems to take really long breaks. He’s on one now, the second since I first began following the site, and I’m hoping that this will bring him back. Well-written blog. Go visit and pprod him into posting again. And while you’re there, ask him to explain the name. I think I have it, but if I’m right, I can’t reproduce it here.

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, 29th January, 2006.

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January 22, 2006

Mousetrap - 37

Thank you, but..
Rejection Collection
The wide arms of the web embrace all kinds. This site’s claim to your browsing attention is rejection. Nay, not the romantic type, I hasten to add. Just the average rejection letter so much the feature of most creative people’s lives. You get to read rejection letters sorted by source (magazine, newspaper, small press, galleries, agents, etc.) and even reactions to rejection by the rejected, some, frankly, seem to only prove that that person deserved to be canned. You also have celeb interviews by the site’s founder, a set of positive stories and views ‘from the other side.’ And guess what? You can submit your own sob-stories too. Caveat: they may not be published. So what? Another letter for your collection! (Link courtesy John Mathew)

Spiced
Naughty Curry
Found this while I was searching for sites for a planned Food edition of this column (by the way, if you have suggestions, mail them in). This site stands out from the usual ‘exotic Indian food for the West’ or NRI/Indians-writing-for-NRI/Indians varieties when you go searching for Indian food-related stuff. There are no identifiably Indian faces behind the site, for one. And the focus is not so much Indian food but “about applying the spice techniques of Indian-related cuisines to enhance anything from last night's leftovers from a garden-variety chain restaurant to those instant mashed potatoes from your otherwise-empty pantry.” So it is an interesting perspective. The added bonus: entertaining writing, and loads of attitude. Go taste. It’s free.

Agony aunt
Dear Aunt Nettie
Aunt Nettie claims to be an internet pioneer of the 19th Century. She has answers dating back to the mid-90s, at any rate, and still answers her readers regularly, with a combination of self-deprecating wit and charm. Her archives are well worth the effort, as are the other sections of her site, most notably The Museum of Depressionist Art, and The Gallery of the Unidentifiable, which feature her art work as well. Which, I just realised, I could have strung out into two more entries for this column. Never mind. I shall raid her Links section for next time. Oops. Did I just say that aloud?

A quick stop
Urinalnet
Need a pitstop on your travels? Check this out. Large photo galleries, mainly US-centric, but also an international section.

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This week’s blog

Remote control
War for News
A newish blog that seeks to follow the battle for the English TV news viewers’ eyeballs. Unlike many other media-watcher blogs, this one isn’t about bile-spilling. The blog has substance and style, is well-written, and worth a place on your feed reader if you’re a news-as-news follower. Reservations: the writer has chosen to focus on just two of the English news channels. But s/he has hinted that the scope of the site may widen when a certain TV channel not too unrelated to this page makes its debut.

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, 22nd January, 2006.

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January 15, 2006

Mousetrap - 36

...but were afraid to ask
Webopedia, TechWeb, and Whatis?com
Bookmark these if you're dealing with information technology on a regular basis - and who isn't?. Easy search options on the first two: just enter a term to get a simple definition, examples and related links. Or search the entire database, or narrow in on a particular area if you know to some extent what you're looking for. I prefer Webopedia, not just because I've used it longer, but because there's less clutter in the results, and the advertising is less intrusive. Plus a Quick Reference section on some key areas which I find very useful. Whatis?com operates differently. Presenting you only with a series of links. But I’m told it’s still beloved of the web’s thought leaders and early adopters because it has been around a long time.

Die, thought leader, die!
Buzzword Hell
All those words that you hear so many times that you could throw up if you saw them on another slick marketing presentation? Send them here. And while you’re here, vote to condemn one of the words already on the list. The more votes, the lower they sink into the nine circles of hell. No special effects and bells and whistles, I must warn you. Just the satisfaction of being able to sound off about your pet peeves, and perhaps, watching in glee as a words sinks down, down, down.

Be very afraid
Bullshit generator
If you find the previous site fun, this can give you more jollies. Or maybe just provide you with fodder for the nine circles. It lists three columns of jargon. Hit the button, and it randomly picks a word from each column, and generates a phrase for you. Try slipping them into your next presentation and see if anyone notices. Scary part? Like me, you probably know people who spout this kind of stuff without needing the generator.

Terms of Attachment
Motivation
A little bonus for you. Perhaps not much use to Gmail users, who have all that search expertise at their fingertips. Definitely useful if you send and receive many large attachments. POP3- or IMAP-friendly, it lets you store and access any type of file remotely, in any format using your current e-mail account, for yourself, or to share with others.

***

This week's blog

Of, For and By the blogs
Indibloggies
I have mixed feelings about this. To me, blogs – and the web – are all about breaking down arbitrary borders, and redrawing those borders in the cyberworld seems kinda retrograde. Anyway, I’ll ignore my biases, because it does give you a great window into at least a section of the Indian blogosphere. This year, some needlessly complicated nomination procedures and undefined categories created the kind of controversy bloggers love. By the time you read this, the organisers promise that that votes will be tallied, and you’ll get to see the 2005 winners. Even if that hasn’t happened, you still get to see some interesting blogs. Or, at least, some free entertainment in the comments sections.


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, 15th January, 2006.

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January 08, 2006

Mousetrap - 35

Frequently Asked Questions
The Straight Dope
The online version of a popular newspaper column, the site has, I’ll wager, a far bigger following on the web than it does in print. Written by Cecil Adams (who may or may not exist; at least he hasn’t been photographed), the column has been “fighting ignorance since 1973.” It takes reader questions, and answers them comprehensively, but laced with huge dollops of scathing wit. Not the agony aunt kind of questions, I hasten to add. Like “What is the origin of the tooth fairy?” Or “Is it possible to be dyslexic in Chinese?” Or “How does Kirk Douglas shave his chin dimple?”

10-9-8-7-6-5-4...
GReat Images in Nasa (GRIN)
Treasure trove for the space enthusiast. An archive of free-to-use pictures that include, besides photographs taken from space vehicles, aircraft structures and designs, astronaut training, and important historical images. It also includes a section on the Soviet space programme. Neatly sorted by category, and searchable, images are available in a variety of sizes, from thumnbnail to you-better-have broadband.

Formula Stories
Michael Swanwick's Periodic Table of Science Fiction
Remember the Poetic Table of the Elements from last week? Here’s another site that finds the Table inspirational. This one isn’t open for entries, though, or collaborative either. It’s a bunch of short Science Fiction tales, one to each element, all by the same author. I would imagine this took a while to write, and there were points where he wished he hadn’t started – heck, I haven’t finished reading the lot yet – but it’s a great effort. The standard varies, but I personally like his toungue-in-cheek style, even when he’s vamping his way through. I particularly liked Germanium, Argon and Xenon.

***

This week's blog

Praise be!
Indian Sports minus Men's Cricket Sania and Narain
A blog after my own heart. If, like me, you’ve had it up to here with cricket, and think certain other sports people need to actually deliver some results and not just endorsements, you’ll wish this blog much success. It’s still kinda early days, and the blogger behind it only lists events and links to coverage, but perhaps a little attention will spur her/him on to more, perhaps with some collaboration? There must be a few more people who would like to write about other sports... Hello, someone, anyone?


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, 8th January, 2006.

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January 01, 2006

Cybertrack 5

Transitions Abroad

There’s an important distinction between the tourist and the traveller, one that the people who call themselves travellers like to make. Tourists go to see. Travellers go to experience, to learn. Or, to put it another way: “Tourists are those who bring their homes with them wherever they go, and apply them to whatever they see. They are closed to experiences outside of the superficial. Travelers, however, leave home at home, bringing only themselves and a desire to learn.” That quote, from Transition Abroad’s first issue, way back in 1977, sums it all up. Waitaminute, 1977? Heck, there wasn’t an internet then, let alone travellers’ portals. Ah, the story starts with a magazine. One aimed at the reader who aspired to genuinely travel, to immerse themselves in other cultures and be the richer for the experience. It’s not a concept that has ever taken off in this country, with our habit of demanding home food wherever we go, or carting along our own food - or even a cook. Anyway. The site is an extension of the magazine, and aims to eventually bring online the huge bank of information it has built up. You will find tips and essays on travel and work opportunities, studying abroad, teaching abroad, or just plain “going native,” as they used to say in less politically correct times. It’s an American magazine, so the slant of most of the pieces is predictable (you’ll find that “teaching English in [country name]” is pretty much the most repeated theme), but it doesn’t condescend, and the effort to understand rather than judge is transparent. Worth a bookmark. Worth thinking about.

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



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Mousetrap - 34

It’s all about collaboration – creating stories, community travelogues, elemental poetry and online relief.

A very happy 2006 to all of you. May the year bring you much joy, and here’s to peace on our planet. Collaboration using the net makes nonsense of borders, and is therefore, a great way to build bridges. This week, the focus is on sites that help people collaborate, to the greater common good.

Everyone has a book in them. Or at least a chapter.
Glypho
I have been checking out collaborative writing sites, to see if there’s an idea or two I can steal for my own writing group. Stumbled on this via a newsgroup (thank you, Ambika Sukla). The has “preview” in its masthead, so perhaps it’s going to go paid soon, or maybe it’s just got more features coming up. In the meanwhile, it’s a fun place to try out your writing skills. How it works: a user outlines a story and ideas. Other members contribute their thoughts, and then take a stab at writing a chapter. Democracy takes over from there, with users then voting on whose rendition is best. And so on. Worth watching, to see if the hive mind can replace the single author; though Stephen King won’t lose sleep yet. What do you think?

Wide World Web
Wikitravel
Frequent readers of this space will know that Wikis occupy a place in your columnist’s heart next only to blogs. Wikitravel is “a project to create a free, complete, up-to-date and reliable world-wide travel guide.” As of this writing, the site features over 6500 articles and guides covering almost everywhere on earth, all contributed by “Wikitravellers.” It also has phrase books in various languages, a news section, and is, thus far, available in seven other languages, with more in progress. One great way to use the site (as suggested by one of their articles: before you travel, research and print out, or softcopy, your own a guidebook. Happy trails.

How do I love thee, let me count the electrons
Poetic Table of the Elements
Pure fun. A mix of science and poetry – unusual bedfellows at the best of times – the site features a Periodic Table of the Elements, where you can click on any of them and read poetry that is “original poems about, inspired by, reminiscent of or otherwise related to that element.” Much enjoyment, with some decidedly informative verse, which, methinks, should be included in school curricula. And yes, you can also contribute your own flights of poetic fancy. Registration isn’t required. (And, by the way, everypoet.com, the parent site is a great resource for the bard in you.)

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This week’s blog

We are the world
World Wide Help
Once more I use this space to push a project I’m involved with. World Wide Help developed from other collaborative online relief efforts, like the TsunamiHelp blog, which, last year, tried to aid in post-tsunami relief. The blog is the public face of the group, which will attempt to put together learnings from other disaster relief efforts during the year. Today is the last day of WWH’s Disaster Remembrance Week, which seeks to get attention back to the enormous amount of work still needed in the areas affected by the natural calamities that 2005 brought to this planet.


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, 1st January, 2006.

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