Sunday, 1 April 2007

Mousetrap - 96

One site to hold them all
The Encyclopedia of Arda
If you love the Lord of the Rings, and Tolkien’s complex, detailed and vibrant creations in general, you have a multitude of options on the web: a search for ‘Tolkien’ as of this writing yielded about 17 million results. This site, though, has to be about the best I’ve seen (be warned, though, that I came to Middle Earth late in life and do not qualify as a rabid fan). Though the site’s creator warns that it is a work in progress—and, moreover, one that will take years to complete—it is a pretty exhaustive piece of work as it is, hugely cross-linked, indexed and sorted. And it takes the same stance as Tolkien himself did: “he presented himself simply as a translator, rather than originator of the tales. Hence, we try to describe his world from a ‘historical’ rather than a literary perspective.” Not one hundred per cent, though. There are also snippets about Tolkien and his opinions.

If you’re fed up of your computer’s desktop wallpaper (that ghastly XP landscape! argh!) , there are innumerable sites that will happily give you free images you can use instead, and, of course, there are a bunch of marketers who will give you stuff that promotes their products. This is one of the first variety, and it stands out from the crowd for the sheer beauty of its offerings. An absolutely gorgeous set of images here, created by designers, organised in annual exhibitions. The negative: an anal interface that forces you to wait while Flash files download. But, as I learned in my years in the advertising industry, designers tend to want to totally control the visual experience. With the good ones, it’s worth it.

Do you have..
We’re all used to startups that are the flavour of the month—week, day even, sometimes—before they just as rapidly get forgotten. Others flare bright, get bought over for millions or billions, then settle down to longer reigns. This one is a tad unusual. It never made the big time, but everyone who loves books seems to know of it. Founded by a young man (he was 19 at that time) of Indian descent, Bookfinder is specialised search engine. It looks for new, used, rare, and out-of-print books, even textbooks, from “every major catalog online, and letting you know which booksellers are offering the best prices and selection.” How successfully? Most rank it in the top two (with the 900 megatonne gorilla, Amazon). And here’s the clincher. It celebrated its tenth birthday in February. Worth many huzzahs that, in today’s attention deficit economy.

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Published in the Times of India, Mumbai edition, 1st April, 2007.

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