Sunday, 18 February 2007

Mousetrap - 91

Life after Second Life
Get a First Life
Second Life, the 3D virtual world, has over three-and-a-half million members glued to their computers all over the world. Leading, inevitably, to highly polarised camps either raving about it or dissing it. This page, needless to say, is of the second variety. Since it’s just one page, I won’t spoil it for you by telling you too much.

Pen pals
Today in Letters
A wonderful little blog that gives you a peek into the minds of great writers across the years. Not through their books and formal writings, but from the letters they wrote to their friends. Yup, from way back when people actually wrote real letters, like with pens and ink, on paper (you remember, don’t you, grandma?) without a spellchecker or cut ’n’ paste. Dylan Thomas, Shelley, Thoreau, Austen, Pushkin, Faulkner, Proust... many riches indeed. And what’s even better is that the blog keeps it promise and does actually post a letter a day. It’s just over a month old, so let’s hope its creator can keep it up. [Via an friend who prefers to be known as Space Bar.]

The Skeptic Tank
The problem with faith is that so many people believe in it. Profound, no? But before you sign up for my books and companion 20-CD set, go check out the Tank. It features “archives on destructive groups, individuals, and ideologies with special focus on religion’s impact upon history as well as religion’s impact upon rights, liberties, health, and safety of the world’s populace in contemporary times.” If that wasn’t enough , the site also aims to scientifically debunk paranormal claims within the bounds of what is “testable.” Oodles of articles, newspaper stories and the like. All free to access and download. Go, keep the faith. And if unconvinced, come back, here. I want to invite you to my 20-day residential workshop at a luxury resort. I need a holiday.

Free site
Web 2.0 is all about the user-created web and all that. Yeah, heard that, been there. Now, here’s a site that fascinates me. You can go there and do anything. That’s right. Anything, including deleting the whole site. As the site’s About pages say, what you do with it will speak of who you are, and what you do when you’re free to do anything. Kind of like the difference between out social selves and the person we are when alone? I dunno. You go mess around. I’ll be watching. And yes, I know what that says about me. And I know what knowing that says too. And I know.. never mind. [Link courtesy Annie Zaidi.]

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, 18th February, 2007.

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Sunday, 4 February 2007

Mousetrap - 90

Change is cool
Ideal Bite
Just the other day, scientists concluded that it was us humans that were causing climate change that would lead to some serious global mayhem. (What took them so long?) So, right, the developed world has caused a substantial amount of damage, but we’re catching up rapidly in more than just the brands we buy. And sure, you’re worried, and sure you’d help if you knew how, but who the heck has the time, right? That’s where this site comes in useful. It’s full of straight forward, easy to follow tips and advice. And it doesn’t preach or tree-hug at you. They focus “on personal benefits and positive impact.” And you don’t even have to visit the site. You can sign up for free email tips. Go chew on it. We all need to.

(another) Nine-day wonder
The Kala Ghoda Gazette
Bombay’s favourite arts and culture festival is back. If you can’t make it to the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival for the nine days of food for hungry minds (see for the programme details, or check out page two of this newspaper), you can check out the blog. A team of Bombay bloggers will help you catch up on all the buzz, with oodles of reports, pictures, maybe even some audio and video. More than you’ll see in most newspapers, including, I’m inclined to wager, this one. [Disclosure: I’m part of the team that created the blog and so this item may be, ahem, biased.]

Degrees of (search) separation
Delightfully subtitled the “meandering search engine,” this is a fun way to search the web. Or just fun, period. In a great spin on the “six degrees of separation” concept, you can pick any two people, places, items, concepts, events, or any combination thereof. Get as weird as your like, pick pairs that you think could never have any connection whatsoever And then sit back and watch Omnipelagos do its thing. Even better, get into the options and tweak it a bit. I prefer to do the “more obscure but longer paths” version. You may prefer “shorter paths at all costs” or the default version that balances the two. The links along the chain lead to articles from the Wikipedia, so you’re guaranteed a bit of mind-expanding nonsense.

The Wikipedia Knowledge Dump
No, this isn’t part of the Wikipedia project. Quite the contrary. You see, ever so often, the folks at Wikipedia in their infinite wisdom mark some articles for deletion. There’s usually a good reason, of course, especially since the open nature of the project makes it susceptible to abuse. This site collects those articles and preserves them for posterity. It’s an interesting study, not just from the point of view of what Wikipedia considers inappropriate, but also to see what people want to have on Wikipedia in the first place.

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 / Outlook Traveller, Mumbai edition, 4th February, 2007.

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Thursday, 1 February 2007

Siteseeing 4

With the social web and web 2.0 and other such buzzwords, everyone’s a reviewer. What’s even more interesting is what gets reviewed. In the rush to win eyeballs and participation, new sites find increasingly esoteric areas to specialise in. This site, for instance, seeks to make, erm, a splash in a very special niche area. It is a wealth of information on a matter that concerns us all: when you gotta go, where do you go? Or rather, in different cultures, that could change to how do you go? So, what you have here is a Bathroom Search that gives you ratings of toilets from Antarctica to Zimbabwe, complete with celebrity sightings (like Bill Clinton at the Maurya Sheraton in Delhi!) and a set of delightful travel essays about loo experiences, all of it user-generated. Which means you can go add to the list. Its wireless section helps you find potties on your cellphone; but through a subscriber service, alas, and US-based, so, um, no go for me. It even has its very own award, the Golden Plunger (the winners are truly awesome, though the site seems to have ceased announcing the award the last few years). Verily I say unto thee, this is the Number One—or Two—resource on the web.

Published in Outlook Traveller, February 2007.

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