Sunday, 28 October 2007

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I fully intended to follow up last week’s column with some more sites fighting the good fight for our environment, but then, hey, you don’t read this column for its grey matter now, do you? So, here’s the usual dose of looniness. Next week, we’ll go green again. (Send in site recommendations, yes?)

Conference call, redux
Every now and then, the web throws up a mad little idea with legs. I’m not talking useful stuff, mind you. I mean things that re just plain weird. (No remarks about this column now, Junior.) Like the dancing baby, or the Star Wars kid or LOLcats, which this column wrote about recently, and, oh, lots of others. This site’s noble objective is to bring them all together for a conference in spring next year. Why? Well, there are a few good, solid, scientific, research-oriented reasons peppered among the posts here, like thebit about their talking abut fame and celebrity online. But do you really need a reason? Heck, I’d go just to gawk. (And yeah, when I looked at the guest list, this column has covered quite a few of them.)

Facebook for President
The Right-Wing Facebook
So everyone with an internet connection and his second cousin are on Facebook. Big deal. Try getting on to this site. It’s reserved for US Presidential candidates. Alright, alright, we keeed. This is a parody, a satirical take on the right-wingers who are competing for their party’s nomination. There’s attention to fine detail—each has a profile, a Wall with messages from the others, a friends list, and so on—that makes the points its creators are aiming for in a light-hearted but devastating way. Now, any takers for an Lorkut Sabha? You do the work and this column will feature you, deal? Unless our humourless netas get both of us banned.

Warm and fuzzy
Despair, Inc
You know those cute posters with cuddly animals or scenic vistas and coupled with enthu motivational messages that make you want to tear them off their softboards and barf on them? Preferably with the person who put them up in the first place under the shreds? Well, this site feels that way too. And they’ve made a good thing of it, with their line of “Demotivators.” Available not just on posters but also on other merchandise. But you don’t have to buy. You can just go view their gallery and download the ones that really speak to you. Or use the DIY section to create your own. Then, print ’em out and put them up in your office. You know where.

Buy good
NGO products for the festive season
Yes, yes, I know, I promised only frivolity. But this one couldn’t wait, after all, we’re already into the festive season. Karmayog, which we’ve covered before, has a list of NGOs that offer products for sale. It’s neatly sorted by category, including small items as well as corporate gifts, and though mainly Bombay-based (that’s the city that’s Karmayog’s focussed on), there are quite a few options in the rest of the country too. So shop till you drop, and you wind up helping an NGO and its cause. Happy Diwali, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year.

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, 28th October, 2007.

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Sunday, 21 October 2007

Mousetrap - 123

In honour of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Al Gore and their Nobel Peace Prize, here’s a set of links for the planet.

Give it away now
In India, thanks to the ragpicking industry, a lot or recycling takes places despite the lack of awareness of even simple things sorting garbage into organic and inorganic waste. Even so, all of us have stuff lying around at home that we will probably never ever use, but it just lies there, gathering dust. This movement came up with the idea of creating a network where disused stuff could be offered free—not traded, mind you—to anyone who wanted it. Its mission statement says: “a worldwide gifting movement that reduces waste, saves precious resources & eases the burden on our landfills while enabling our members to benefit from the strength of a larger community.” From its origins in Tucson, in the USA, the network now claims local groups (operating via Yahoo!Groups) in over 75 countries, with millions of members. In India, there are groups in Delhi and Gurgaon, Bombay, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Jalandhar.

Lights out
Mumbai Unplug
On March 31st this year, Sydney, Australia, got worldwide attention when its citizens voluntarily turned out the lights for one hour. Other places have followed suit: there’s Lights Out America (planned for March 29th next year), and. closer home, this group. Their intentions are good, though their site design is, quite frankly, better left in the dark, both in terms of utility and aesthetics. One of the people behind the site tells me a redesign is in progress, so bookmark this and visit them once they have got their act together. Meanwhile, I’m happy to tell you that the Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation, like so many other cities in India, is way ahead of the curve. We’ve been having daily power cuts for years now.

Shop for the planet
So, you make a lot of money, and you have to have cool stuff around you, or what’s the point, right? Well, this site, like EcoCentra (, which I linked to in April, is about buying eco-friendly products. The added accent here, though, is on the look. Or as the site says, “blending style with sustainability.” And the site does deliver on that count. There’s bling aplenty, and lots of stuff your most style-conscious friends would be happy to have in their homes. This is a really nice thing to see y’know. It means that the issue is big enough for commerce to take note and jump on the bandwagon. And that’s a good thing, right?

Here are some more sites you can check out:
Lights Out America blog
Cleantech Blog - commentary on technologies, news, and issues relating to next generation energy and the environment.
The Conscious Earth - Earth-centred news for the health of air, water, habitat and the fight against global warming.
An Inconvenient Truth - the web home of Gore’s award-winning documentary, which hosts a lot of info we all could use.
Also, the 15th October was Blog Action Day (this column pointed you to it last month), and the focus was on the environment, so see the site for links to many more posts on the subject.

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, 21st October, 2007.

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Sunday, 14 October 2007

Mousetrap - 122

Peace be with you
Qibla Locator
The other day, a friend and I were wondering how Muslim astronauts in earth orbit would orient themselves to Mecca when they pray, seeing as their position relative to the holy city would change constantly; not to speak of having several sunrises and sunsets to factor in every “day.” A little research online and I found that theologians have been discussing this awhile, and have come up with several possible solutions. But while doing that searching, I came upon this mashup that uses Google Maps to help the faithful locate the correct direction to face, wherever on earth they are. You can zero down to street maps, even buildings, where the imagery is hi-res enough (or where detailed maps are available), and a bright line shows you the direction of Mecca. You do need to be able to find things on a map, of course, and have some basic sense of direction and geography, but play around a bit, and you’ll have it mastered in no time. Eid Mubarak.

There was a poet of old named Homer..
The Limerick Odyssey & The Limerick Illiad
In ancient Greece old Homer wrote
Epics that even today we quote:
About the travels of Odysseus;
And that heel of young Achilles.
Are they verse as limericks? You vote!

Phenomenal Women
This site was created to promote a book. Not your average potboiler. This one’s about a subject that, despite horrifying statistics, we tend to not speak about very much in this country: child sexual abuse. The book, put together by an NGO called RAHI (Recovering and Healing from Incest), is a set of personal testimonies from five middle-class English-speaking Indian women, their ages ranging from 19 to 67, who have been sexually abused as children by close family members. They write about their experiences and the impact on their lives, and about healing and hope. This site presents excerpts from those stories.

I was pretty uninterested in Math in school, and Economics in college didn’t exactly ring my bells either. But, y’know, if tools like this were around when I was soaking up the knowledge, who knows, I might have been giving Manmohan Singh, Amartya Sen, or at least, some bloggers I know, a run for their money. Or at least got better grades. Thing is, the presentations and tools on this site make data and numbers wonderfully easy to understand, visualising publicly available data in ways that doofus types like me grok them well enough to make wild statements about their numeric abilities. There’s a must-see link on the home page, to Hans Rosling’s TED 2007 conference presentation. After you’re done, get in touch, and we’ll go talk to Mr Chidambaram about giving us jobs.

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, 14th October, 2007.

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Sunday, 7 October 2007

Mousetrap - 121

Go ahead, take the food from my table
This is a scary site. For me, that is. Because it could cost me a lot of site design work. For you, however, it’s good news. Especially if you’re the type who goes cross-eyed when someone mentions things like DNS settings or FTP. First, it’s ridiculously simple to use: click, drag, drop, you’re done. I created a basic site layout in about 3 minutes without a moment of uncertainty. Aside from the basic templates, customisable layout elements and pictures, there are simple tools to bring in content from other providers (like Google Maps, Flickr, YouTube) and bung them in. There’s more. You can publish to a sub-domain on Weebly ( for free; or if you already own a domain, simply point it at your site here; or buy a domain through them. I say, Editor Sahib: you know that raise you promised me..?

Beyond the spectrum
Invisible Light
This column has a weakness for unusual artists. Among its many other obsessions, that is. Anyway, he’s a photographer, and as we all know, photography is all about using light to give you an image. Except that this happy soul likes to play with light we can’t see. He shoots photographs that use infra-red light. To fascinating effect. It can be quite illuminating (heh!) to see what his shots throw up; some look familiar, others like they were shot on an alien planet.

Home of the Ig Nobels
Improbable Research
Way back in the early days of this column—the second, to be precise—I pointed you to this site’s original home. It has, since, moved to its own domain. The site hosts a blog, has links to its creator’s magazine and newspaper articles, and so is a good read all year. Most famously, though, it is the home of the Ig Nobels, which reward some rather strange scientific research. It’s all great fun and, strange as it may sound, some of it could actually be of practical use. Most of the winners do come to receive their awards (which are presented by real Nobel laureates). Among this year’s winners (announced on Friday), the Chemistry prize was for extracting vanilla flavour from cow dung (a certain political party will love this), and the Literature winner published a study of the word “the.” The US Air Force didn’t show up, however. They won the Peace prize this year for their much-ridiculed proposal to create a “Gay Bomb.”

Some of my best friends are in HR
Evil HR Lady
The Human Resources department gets a bit more of its share of the flack in any organisation. Not that they’re blameless, mind you. It’s just that part of the job is to play the interface when there’s blame being passed around. This blogger writes about the profession with wit and candour, and answers questions as well. She operates in America, in a Fortune 500 company, according to her site info, so her advice is rooted in US labour law, and may not be applicable in this country. But she’s a good read, so go visit. And when your HR cell sends out new paperwork, casually mention the URL in their hearing.

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, 7th October, 2007.

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Monday, 1 October 2007

Dear Delhi

You know, there’s this thing Delhi and Bombay have about each other. People from either burg take great delight in sniping at the other. And when His Editorness asked me to write a Capital Letter, methinks the man was hoping I’d write a Delhi Sucks piece and earn some hate mail to put some spark into his life. But I won’t. Why make a Delhiwalla happy?
Oh darn. That truce didn’t last long, did it?
Ah well, at least it’s out of the way. And I can confess that I’m actually rather fond of old Smogville-on-the-Yamuna. The bits of it that I have seen that is.
Yeah, your city is so darn large. Bombay may stretch interminably northwards, but, because of its geographical constraints, it is a slim city, seen from a plane. Delhi sprawls outwards in every direction, horizon to horizon, a giant amoeba that seems to be gobbling up, nay assimilating, UP, Haryana, burping, taking a wee nap and then looking speculatively at Himachal Pradesh and Uttaranchal.
Sorry, carried away, wasn’t I?
Like I was saying, I haven’t seen vast swathes of the city. On my first visit, as part of a dance troupe—yes, honey, that was a long time ago, stop prodding my paunch—we were give an off-day from rehearsals and taken off on a lightning tour of the city, herded from monument to monument, with, every little while, getting Rashtrapati Bhavan pointed out to us without ever seeming to get any closer to it, leaving me with a deeply ingrained feeling that everyone went around in circles here and I’d never be able to find my way around, ever.
That feeling of disorientation has never quite gone away, though over subsequent sojourns one has acquired a slightly better idea of the geography. Heck, I have even, quaking in my flip-flops, sweaty-palmed, driven around the city. Bombay’s traffic is merely a perpetual traffic jam, and once you come to terms with that, it’s all part of the routine. Delhi’s drivers, aided by Delhi’s lovely roads, are in a league of their own for sheer fershlugging bloody-minded lunacy. But of that, much has been written, so one shall swiftly move on to.. No, wait. Those roads. Can we have some of them, please? Just a wee bit of the Ring Road? You’re hardly going to miss it.
And while we’re swapping, I’d like to get some of those majestic buildings, those parks, that feeling of space (I have slept in Bombay bedrooms smaller than the bathrooms in most Delhi houses). Oh yes, and a wee bit of your winter, preferably with a few of those foggy days you folks do so well. You can keep your summer, though. We’ll trade you some of our monsoon. But perhaps not. I don’t think you chaps really know how to deal with rain: I saw rickshaws pulled over to the roadside, hazard lights flashing on every car during a piddling half-hour shower the other day.
We—and I speak now for the rest of the country too—would also like some of the sporting action (and stadia), and the buzzing literary scene you have going.
No? Selfish sods, you lot.
I’ll just have to come back now, won’t I?

Published in Outlook City Limits, Delhi, October 2007, in a section called Capital Letters.

Siteseeing - 11

EveryTrail & GlobalMotion

Sister sites, with the same basic idea: mashing up maps (specifically Google Maps and Google Earth with some other services as well in the USA), GPS data, photographs, and personal notes. They differ in the fine focus. EveryTrail is about trips, and works best for treks and road trips. Routes are mapped via GPS device, and photographs are “geo-tagged” to the exact time and location at which they were taken (i.e. if your digi-camera and GPS thingummy are set to the right time). You can add notes as well, and then share the whole thing with friends. In places where you can get high-res imagery, you can practically do a virtual glide over a route. GlobalMotion is a wiki—anyone can edit it—and focussed on places. Each has pictures that are geo-tagged at that location, and notes, and downloadable data for your GPS. With both services, you can get deep into an actual satellite image, and put yourself into the shoes and behind the eyes of someone who stood at that exact spot and took a picture. They’re both still newish (GeoMotion will be a little over a month olf by the time you see this), but have a fair amount of stuff to snoop on. Go look. Add your own. While I go lobby the editor about giving me a GPS machine for my next trip.

Reader suggestions welcome, and will be acknowledged. Go to for past columns, and to comment, or mail The writer blogs at

Published in Outlook Traveller, October 2007.

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