June 25, 2006

Mousetrap - 59

Bookmark this!
The World eBook Fair
Project Gutenberg and the World eBook Library will make 300,000 e-books available from July 4 to August 4 at this site, which bills itself as the “first World eBook Fair.” It will feature “..eBooks from nearly every classic author on the varieties of subjects previously only available through the largest library collections in the world. Now these books are yours for the taking, free of charge, to keep for the rest of your lives.” There's more. Aside from the free downloads, you can also upload your own eBooks, though the site doesn't saw how yet. There's more to look forward to in future editions: half a million eBooks in 2007, three-fourths in 2008, and a full million in 2009.

What if..
It’s a wonderful internet
What if the net were to disappear? This charming flash presentation takes you through that possibility, told in the best ’Twas the Night before Christmas style. (Warning: large file, so will creak via dial-up.)

All the time in the world
time and date.com
People who want to look all busy and important have these clocks in their office that tell the time in different parts of the world. Well, this site lets you do that on your computer screen with its World Clock, which you can customise to show only the cities you want, and save. A very useful widget to have around in this always-on, instant communications age, with friends and contacts all over the world. And while that’s the main reason a short-cut to this site has lived on my toolbar for years, there other interesting tools available, like a time zone converter (for queries like “at 9a.m. IST, what time will it be in Boston?”), a meeting planner, calendars from different countries showing their holidays, counters and countdowns. Also, fun stuff that will tell you things like how old you are in binaries, or in Neptune years.

Pin ups
Voodoo for FIFA World Cup
For the really fanatic followers. You pay—yes, it’s a pay site, US$5 a hex—for good results for your team (like wishing them “referee’s assistance” or “steel legs”) or send some bad karma to their opponents (“dozen of red cards” or my favourite, “slippery football boots”). And if you’re reaching for a credit card right now, mail me. There’s this bridge I’d like to sell to you.

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 June, 2006.

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June 18, 2006

Mousetrap 58

Luciferase + Fornacite = devilishly, um, funny site.
Molecules with Silly or Unusual Names
Chemistry, my friends, isn’t all about wild-haired brainy people wearing thick glasses and stained labcoats pouring stuff from one test tube into the other. These folk also frequenty find new stuff, or new combinations of old stuff (and thus we demonstrate why we flunked Chem in high school), and, by convention, get to name them. And, either by accident or design, some of them can be quite funny, if you have the right schoolboy kind of mind. I mean which red-blooded 9th standard lad won’t crack up when he hears about Arsole and Bastardane?

Equal Rites
regender
There are sites that will translate web pages for you on the fly. This is one of them. Except that it doesn’t change the language; as the name suggests, it regenders it. “What would the world look like if the two sexes switched places?” it asks, “What would it look like if English had genderless pronouns? What would it look like if English identified races the way it identifies gender?” To find out, slip a URL into the search box, and then check our the ‘revised’ version. And try out all the little buttons on the top, which will substitute pronouns for you. You could also view a regendered search on Google or Wikipedia. Fun. For a while.

In flight
AirSafe
Nervous flier? Join the gang. Even with the prettiest hawai sundaris in attendance, I usually spend most flights in a state of extreme nervousness. This site isn’t that reassuring at first: you see stuff like Fatal Events By Airline and by Aircraft Model and Fatal Event Rates and Most Recent Fatal Events. Clicking through gives some reassurance. Plenty of stats to show you your chances of a safe landing are rather decent after all. Plus there are top 10 tips and questions, and sections on topics like fear of flying, air rage and children. Very link-heavy, many of them, unfortunately, to pay sites or books you have to buy. Still, go for it. And you can keep your set back in a reclining position.

You’ll never watch alone
Joga Companion
This is for those of you who are football fans and Firefox users. It’s an easily installed add-on that lets you show support for your team by changing the browser’s look (but it keeps all your existing bookmarks and settings). It also lets you keep up with the scores, watch highlight videos, and network with fellow fans. The companion comes to you from Joga (Portuguese for ‘play,’), a Google creation. You won’t need to have a Google membership to download or use it, but you will have to sign up for the networking functions. But that won’t be a hardship for a footballista. (By the way, if you’re also an Orkut member, Joga imports most your settings automatically.) Link courtesy Bala Pitchandi.

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 June, 2006.

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June 14, 2006

Jai Hind and Janata

Bandra is pretty much the restaurant hub of the city, with, arguably, more restaurants tables per square foot than a food court in a mall. New ones seem to open every second week, each one out-exoticising the last.

Amidst all the quite literally flavour-of-the-month joints with their fancy menus, some old favourites are still holding firm. In the bustle of the bottle-neck of Pali Market, two of them have faced each other amicably for years.

Both restaurants are hugely popular, but have kept their prices modest. You’d be hard-pressed to find an item much over fifty rupees a serving, and except for a few “chicken full” dishes, there’s nothing over a hundred bucks. You could have a very decent meal for around Rs 70–80 per stomach in either place. And no, despite the prices, neither is a dive—female patrons aplenty, though in one of them, they’re unlikely to be without a male or two in the party.

Jaihind Lunch Home is the smaller of the two—twenty diner simultaneously who aren’t very fond of each other would lead to overflow—and has the shorter menu. It concentrates on food from the Konkan coast, largely sea food, and does it very well indeed. Connoisseurs recommend it highly, and its modest, no fripperies décor has given it a kind of reverse snob cachet. There’s usually a wait before you get a table at peak hours, and that isn’t just because of the size of the premises.

Across the road, Janata Lunch Home is much larger, with several sections, including two with air-con up the narrow stairs. It is better known as a bar (and in the bad old days of, oh, a few years ago, one that stayed open well into the wee hours, thereby gaining a loyal media clientele). They do good sea food here as well, augmented with the many varieties of greasy finger food beloved by drinkers. It also stays open later, though not, alas, past legal drinking hours any more. Many’s the day I’ve scrambled over to get a quick bite after other restaurants in the area have closed for business. This is usually when I have more work to do, so I don’t drink. Inevitably, a former advertising colleague will pass by on the way out (or more usually, in), grin a greeting, notice the bottle-less table and do a double-take: “You came here to eat?”

While on the booze, Janata doesn’t have a huge mark-up over MRP, and is available by the quarter as well as per drink or per bottle.

The last time I was there to drink, I was tagging along with several friends, helping a certain Award-winning Author celebrate the award he’d just won. He had a rather large cheque in his pocket, and was in an expansive mood. “Chivas,” he said to the waiter. Much conferring happened among the staff, and a worried emissary came back to ask, “Quarter?” Our Author waved a casual hand, indicating that he would like the Maximum, naturally, a full bottle. Dubious looks were exchanged by the waiters; writers do not, apparently, inspire confidence. Or perhaps it was the two editors at our table. But a bottle was brought to us, and toasts were drunk. And I did notice a certain relief on the face of the waiter when the bill was paid. In cash. Good ol’ Janata. Never change!

Published in the Times of India, Mumbai edition, 14th June, 2006, a part of the Mission Mumbai series. This one was about "no-frills eateries that stick to the noble business of producing food for every mood."

Also, a correction. Naresh Fernandes reminded me after this was published that the celebratory bottle was Vat 69, not Chivas. Blame it on the liquor.


Tags: The Times of India

June 11, 2006

Mousetrap - 57

It’s that time again, where all the world’s a football field, and all the men (and some women) are merely spectators. We face the inevitable and give you an edition devoted to the World Cup.

The establishment
Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA)
The international governing body for the sport, and an obvious first port of call for your browser. In combination with their world cup 06 site, it has pretty much all you’d want - news (thanks to the Yahoo! tie up, the schedules, photo galleries, rankings, team pages and videos of the highlights (a few minutes’ worth each match, and small, patchy videos, but videos nevertheless). Check out the interactive map on the FIFA site (it’s a bit of a bandwidth hog, so do it on the office connection *grin*), which, once it loads, gives you quick and easy overviews of each team. Also worth a look-see, the classic games section, where you can go over details of games past.

Mapping it
mibazaar’s World Cup Soccer 2006 News on Google Maps
A nice way to while away the time between games, this site, the brainchild of a transplanted desi. Aside from using Google Maps to tell you where the heck the participating teams come from (no unworthy task), also throws in links to official World Cup news from Yahoo. Zoom into Germany, and you can do the same for the various host cities, via Google. And bonus points: links to the latest team blog posts from World Cup Blog (the last item in this column).

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This week’s blog

Team sport
World Cup Blog
A blog that made its debut in 2002, when it was run by three fans who blogged that year’s tournament. Now, it’s back, bigger and stronger. Better? Yes, but with one caveat―its success has meant that the creators are pushing it commercially, so you’re going to have to live with a slew of ads and, thanks to those, a very busy layout, excerpts on the front page instead of complete posts (and so, annoying extra clicks to on). That said, what you have now is a huge exercise: 34 blogs in all, 32 of them devoted one-apiece to the participating countries (so you can, if you like, follow your team to the exclusion of all else), one about the referees, plus a general news blog. There are also sections with video and picture galleries, both of which are rather bad at the moment, but there’s hope: the site has contests up, and is giving away some cool prizes, so hopefully there’ll be better stuff to see.

More sites you might enjoy:
A listing of all matches results scorers and statistics of the FIFA World Cup.
Association of Football Statisticians. Claim: “The world's most comprehensive football statistics.”
A printable wall chart from the BBC.
And for those of you who are sick of the whole thing, a World Cup quiz quiz that has nothing to do with football.

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 June, 2006.

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June 04, 2006

Mousetrap - 56

On the tip of your tongue
One Look Reverse Dictionary
Online dictionaries are a boon when you want to look up the meaning of a word quickly, or check a spelling, but what if you can’t quite recall a word you want? If you know its meaning, but the word is just out of reach, somewhere in your memory? This utility (part of a larger dictionary search site, which claims to index “7,934,909 words in 974 dictionaries” and is worth a visit), lets you input a word or words, even a sentence or a query, then gives you a bunch of words that could be related. I find that it gives you too many answers, but it’s still in Beta, so it’s worth keeping track of. Meanwhile, it even has a way to help you solve crossword puzzles!

Mousetrap Tested, Mother Approved.
The Advertising Slogan Generator & The Free Slogan Generator
Forget temperamental ad agency creatives and massive agency bills. Get yourself your very own slogan, for free. Fill in a name, and either of these sites will generate endless slogans for you. Satisfaction guaranteed! [Link via Sunil Shibad]

Placeholder for title
Structured procrastination
Dear Ed. Will send you copy and headline for this item later. - peter

Dill waters run steep
Tarzan's Tripes Forever, and Other Feghoots
What are feghoots? Related to the anti-climatic ending shaggy dog story genre, they’re also meandering anecdotes, but the dfference is that they must end in a pun, preferably atrocious and groan-worthy. The entire story is merely a set-up for the word-play. Our Ajit jokes almost qualify, I think, except that they’re never very long. If you’ve followed this column, you’d know that I’m addicted to bad puns. So, much joy happens when I go through these archives. There are 1,920 of them as of this writing. Ooh, there is a god!

Websong
Blogswara
An interesting idea taken to fruition. This a collaboration between Indian bloggers in different parts of the world. And no, it’s not a blog. It is a musical collaboration, with (up to now) songs in Malayalam, Tamil and Hindi. They’ve done everything, lyrics, music, orchestration, vocals, even the mixing, online. I’m no music critic, so you go check out their wares. The price is good: they’re all free downloads.

***

This week’s blog

Fresh words
Word Mint
Regular readers (all two of you) will know that this column has a weakness for sites about words and language in general. This blog falls into that category. It makes up words, the world needs, and serves them up with definition, pronunciation, an example of usage (though that’s usually the weakest section) and an etymology. It’s a CollaBlog (no, not one of their words, this one I made up several years ago, and it actuallu caught on!) run by a dozen or so bloggers, so there’s fairly frequent posting. And they’re open to new members, so you could join in.


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 June, 2006.

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June 01, 2006

By the Lake of the Lotus-eaters [Hotel review]

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Our limo doesn’t whisk us to the hotel’s driveway; instead, we glide to a stop on the opposite bank of Lake Pichola, leave our bags in the vehicle, descend to a private floating jetty, and are ushered into a canopied motorboat.

A smiling, liveried helmsman takes the long way across the lake, pointing out the sprawling City Palace, and, mid-lake, the palaces where a Bollywood actress had her wedding reception, and where Octopussy was shot, and the city in general. He tells us that the drive around the lake that our bags are taking is a long one, through crowded streets. The soothing putputput of the motor conspires with the gentle breeze over the calm waters lapping against the hull to soothe nerves that are still a-jangle from a hideously early flight and the drive through the bustle of the city. By the time our boat bumps gently into the landing stage at the other end, we’re mellow and ready to be pampered.

A wee vehicle – sort of like a golf-cart with a trailer – waits to ferry us up the driveway to the hotel. We, being perverse, wave it away and stroll up instead. Worried driver speaks softly into a walkie-talkie. Evidently, we’re disrupting the choreography a bit, because as we amble up, admiring the flowers in our best minor-potentate-returning-to-the-beloved-manse style, we see that our vehicle is rounding the bend, having made it around the long way in just about the same time as we have. We realise that the boat-ride is a little psychological game, and we grin as we admit to ourself that we fell for it.

And we remember we’re here to review the place, and, reluctantly, we abandon the ’tude and the Royal Pronoun, and get down to work.

From the outside, Udaivilas sure looks like a palace. Vast arrays of fat, pink onion-shaped domes and cupolas crown the rambling building, chhatris and arches abound, a large version of the bronze, mustachioed sun god symbol of the princes of this neck of the desert adorns the driveway. But it is a modern building a few years old, merely styled to look like a palace of the Mewari persuasion. Great care has been taken to further the illusion in the interiors, but not at the cost of function. Room ceilings, for instance, are high, but not so absurdly so that it takes hours for the airconditioning to cool the room down; the room refrigerator is hidden in a dark wood cabinet, as are TV and electronic safe. Unique little touches abound, but alas, space dictates that I not list all of them. (But you’ll find most of that on their site, oberoiudaivilas.com)

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For Them That Must Stay Connected, the lobby is a wi-fi hotspot, and each room has a LAN connection. (Connectivity, though, is ridiculously over-priced for a day and age where free wi-fi in public spaces is common and broadband access costs less than dial-up did not too long ago.)

Standard (or Deluxe, in hotelspeak) rooms feature a small private sit-out, the Superior Deluxe have access to a semi-private infinity pool, and the suites have their own pools. In addition there are two other pools, the larger one’s black-and-white-tiled walls are an acquired taste, the smaller Spa pool is a kid-free zone.

The spa, run by Banyan Tree, is a house of delight. A wide range of massages and treatments are enough to keep any sybarite supple and relaxed.

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Food: Excellent. Aside from a range of local specialities like the fiery Laal Maas (toned down on request), the range covers a nice assortment of Indian and international cuisine. Special note for the bakery: they gave me the best croissant I’ve ever wolfed down.

Complaints? A few. The service is a tad too attentive for my taste: I don’t want my pillows rearranged and bed cover put back on when I’ve taken great trouble to arrange them the way I like it; and if I put my toothbrush in a glass next to the washbasin, that’s where I want to find it when I reach for it blearily the next morning, dammit. And I hope there’s a special corner of hell for hotels in India that think toilet paper is the only necessary ablutionary aid in the loo.

I’m a bathtub addict, but the “Victorian-style” claw-foot bathtub pissed me off. It’s just a hip-bath, really, and if I want a good soak, I want to be immersed, not have half of me sticking out shivering. On the plus side, it’s kinda nice to soak next to a picture window.

Standard tariffs (valid up to 30 September 2006): 63 Deluxe rooms Rs 22,500; 19 Superior Deluxe rooms, Rs 26,750; 4 Luxury Suites Rs 105,000; Kohinoor Suite Rs 127,000. (Rates are for India nationals and foreign nationals with a Certificate of Registration. Rates for foreign nationals and NRIs are a little higher.)
The Oberoi Unforgettable Experiences Summer 2006 package, valid until September 20, 2006: for 2 persons in a Deluxe room, includes breakfast, round transfers from the nearest airport or railway station, a 20% rebate on spa treatments, food and non-alcoholic beverages and local transport (via Avis). 2 nights Rs 27,000; 3 nights Rs 38,000.
All rates are subject to 5% State Tax.

Note: These were the pictures used in the article. More, also by me, here.

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Cybertrack - 10

mapsofindia.com

Quite the most comprehensive set of maps for this country that your hard-working columnist has stumbled on in many years of web surfing.
Right. That was the good part. This site used to be much, much, much more useful before commerce became the overriding factor. It’s not just the jumble of advertising, though that comes very close to drowning out the content. It’s not just that the site now doesn’t provide the same amount of free content it once did – but yes, it’s bloody irritating that a lot of the more detailed maps are now only available for a fee. (Lucky for me, I have some maps saved from back in the day, when you could click through to the taluka level.) I guess it’s also because, like Topsy, it just growed and growed, and no one seems to have been keeping a watch on how all the information fits together, and making it easily searchable. That said, there’s an enormous amount of good stuff on still, but you have to wander a bit, put up with the irritation of a very cluttered layout, annoying pop-ups, sometimes erratic spelling, and a few gaps. Some useful stuff for the traveller: a distance calculator for more important cities and towns, distance charts from the perspective of selected cities, linear road charts for routes, with point-to-point distances marked, all the national highway routes, train route maps (including special trains), even important waterways! There are also some trekking route maps, not much use for the actual trek, unless you buy the high-res versions, but enough to give you an overview. Likewise, there are basic metro maps, enough to get oriented within a city, but no fine detailing for free. Still worth the visit, yes, but if only they’d pay some attention to the info-design. Or Google Earth and the army of happy addicts who layer on information, landmarks and routes will put it out of business.


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



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