Sunday, 29 July 2007

Mousetrap - 112

Green stuff
Vegetarian Times
“Great Food, Good Health, Smart Living” says the site’s tagline. I inspected it somewhat dubiously, because though I haven’t been a must-have-meat eater for a decade or so, and I am a staunch tree-hugger, I can’t imagine going totally vegetarian. But this site, the online presence of a magazine, makes me think that I could, perhaps, maybe, possibly, if pushed, stop eating bits of dead animals. There are many, many recipes to choose from, and you can make your search even tighter by selecting options for egg-free, dairy-free, lo-cal and lo-carb, and of course the absolutely tightest, vegan. (Apparently the answer to my perpetual question, “what the heck do vegans actually eat?” is “lots!”) The recipes are skewed to a western audience, though, so you may have difficulties getting all the ingredients, even in this age of supermalls. Never mind if that happens. There are essays and features to read, which you can quote at your carni pals, newsletters, and a community.

The Burra Sahib and the Mem are in the verandah,
A friend sent me a link to this electronic version of a 120-year-old dictionary, which I had never thought to look for, since I have a copy of the book (a more recent edition, though). Its more formal name is : A Glossary of Colloquial Anglo-Indian Words and Phrases, and of Kindred Terms, Etymological, Historical, Geographical and Discursive. Naturally, only the shorter name is remembered. It is a dictionary of the Raj, of distinctly Anglo-Indian words, many of which took on shades of meaning or spellings quite different from their origins. “Bungalow” is still in use, of course, but what about “bobbery-bob?” And there’s “dumb-cow,” meaning to cow, or scold someone, for instance, derived from “dhamkao.” It has detailed etymologies and citations, and is an easy book to get lost in, and the digital version is even more diverting. Just by the way, “hobson-jobson,” thanks to the book, now also refers to the process of adapting words from one language to the cadences of one more familiar. I’ll let you go look up the original meaning. [Courtesy Chandrachoodan Gopalakrishnan]

Au courant
This Is The New That
The world moving too fast for you? You haven’t kept track after pink became the new black? This is the blog for you, amigo. May you never be short of party small talk.

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, 29th July, 2007.

Tags: ,

Sunday, 22 July 2007

Mousetrap - 111

I’m a keen student of developments on the web2.0 front, particularly the social networking scene, out of both personal and professional interest. And usually, the one site that has the quickest and most comprehensive coverage is Mashable. And it’s not just for folks like me. Its just as appealing to anyone interested in keeping abreast. Their most recent act of beauty: a series of collections that would make any webhead drool. A random sampling: 20 Ways To Aggregate Your Social Networking Profiles; 90+ Essential Music and Audio Websites; 120+ Resources for Bloggers; 230+ Keyboard Shortcuts for Top Web Services; 90+ Online Photography Tools and Resources; Online Productivity Toolbox: 30+ Resources to Get Things Done. ’Nuff said?

..6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1..
Assignment Zero
One of the offshoots of citizen journalism is a phenomenon called “crowdsourcing.” What this means is that instead of single amateurs hammering away in isolation, they divide various aspects of the task among the crowd, and handle them independently. For example, interviews with different people, photographs if scattered areas, real world research, fact-checking . But then the various components are put together to make a whole, with, perhaps different members of the team handling things like editing copy. This site is one such experiment, a collaboration between and that geek icon, Wired magazine, as well as “those who choose to participate.” Which means you could sign up too, since all assignments are posted online. It has both professional newsgatherers and rank amateurs. The results of their first assignment are online (the assignment was, heh, crowdsourcing), so you can go make your judgements right away.

It must have bee love, but..
Dear John Letter Generator
A wee bit of nonsense for the weekend. A Dear John letter is one that writes “finis” to a relationship. I’m told (obviously I haven’t written any; perish the thought) that they’re very difficult to write. This site lets you choose from a host of drop down menus for almost every phrase, and then delivers a finished letter. And there are enough choices to cover most moods, so, hey, drop by for a giggle, but you never know, you might wind up using one for real.

3D Rangoli
Julian Beever’s pavement drawings
Here’s some eye candy to take you through to Monday. Beever is pavement artist with a difference, He creates these magnificent works which, viewed from just the right angle, give you the illusion of reality. Words won’t do. Go see.

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,22nd July, 2007.

Tags: ,

Sunday, 15 July 2007

Mousetrap - 110

I’ve got your back
Fight Corruption Now
That there is corruption in India is beyond doubt. That there are people who fight it, from outside the system as well as from within, is, thankfully, a certainty too. Sadly, these warriors have it all against them. The tragic cases of Satyendra Dubey and Shanmughan Manjunath come to mind. This site is run by a lady called Jayashree J N. She is married to M N Vijaykumar, an IAS officer in Karnataka, who happens to be one of those upright officers who is not only clean, but has begun to fight back, making official complaints about corruption. Naturally, corruption has been fighting back too. Ms Jayashree says that “his fight against corruption has resulted in harassment and threats, I thought it is high time I also independently, actively take up the issues he has raised by mobilizing like-minded persons throughout the country. I do not want to make the mistakes others have made under similar circumstances by keeping quiet and raising voice only after something bad happens.” Good luck, ma’am. (Link from Annie Zaidi.]

Queen—er—Camel takes pawn—um—rabbit
The problem with chess, say some folks, is that its rules and logic are such that a computer can be programmed to play it better than even the best human players. This enthusiast started out by making up a game to play with his little son, Aamir. (The lad asked his father what the name of the game was; loving daddy said “Rimaa,” or Aamir said backwards. The tot said “Arimaa?” and that stuck.) The game is played on a normal chessboard, with chess pieces. But the pieces are not called by their chess names; instead they’re named after animals, in descending order of power. The rules of the game, says its founder, are difficult for a computer, but fun and interesting for humans. It’s not kid stuff, however. Strategy is king (heh), and the game has grown a wide following around the world. It even has its own world championships. The site demos the rules, and if you get hooked, you can play online, with other players, or against a computer, or download the game. Or shmooze in their forum. Right. Where were we? Elephant to F5. Your move.

And there’s the one about..
A nice little diversion for the weekend, with enough ammunition here to take you through many a party, speech or motivation seminar. You have little stories, trivia, quotations, hilarious incidents, and lots more. The site search lets you find things by keywords or, if you prefer, within sections. Or you could just browse around randomly, which is much more fun. And yes, there’s a forum, and a gift shop, and, well, lots more. Now shaddup, junior. I was going to tell you a really funny story. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but have you heard the one about M K Gandhi..?

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, 15th July, 2007.

Tags: ,

Sunday, 8 July 2007

Mousetrap - 109

And they all lived happily
Godawful Fan Fiction
Fan fiction is writing by fans of a popular fictional character or book or whatever that uses those characters in their own scenarios. With the web, the genre’s practitioners do not lack for a platform, and for like-minded souls. Of course, not every fan can write for toffee, so the results can be rather, erm, uneven. Authors tend to be rather pleased that people care enough about their creations to want to create more scenarios and stories for them, so tend to not prosecute fan fic authors. (And, besides, these folks aren’t going to endanger future royalties.) This site doesn’t either. What it does is worse: find the worst examples available online and put them up for public scorn. (Warning: not for kids, the Harry Potter section notwithstanding.)

The Count
Dracula Blogged
Bram Stoker's Dracula covers a six-month period. This blog treats the sections of the novel as if they were a blog, and publishes them over the same length of time as the story covers with posts corresponding to the dates indicated in the text, “starting with Jonathan Harker's May 3rd Bistriz journal entry, and finishing up with November 6 and the final Note.” So you’re not too late to the party. Go read it as it happens. Tonight. With the lights out. And the windows open.

’Scuse me
Planning on a night out in different city? Or even in your own? Want to check out what people are saying about restaurants pubs, bars and so on? Check this site out. It’s less than a year old, and has grown to cover Bombay, Calcutta, Bangalore and Madras right now (though Bangalore is the only one that it doesn’t refer to by the ‘official’ name). It features reviews and ratings by its members, not professional reviewers. The paying customers, in other words, telling you what they like and what they don’t. It also has a section it calls India’s first lifestyle-focussed online. It’s called blah, and, from the bits I read (and, to be honest, it wasn’t much, so I may be wrong), yawn, the name’s apt. Stick to the reviews, and you’ll get that satisfied, full feeling.

Rickshaw (2)
India On Three Wheels
Last week, this column featured one of the teams in the Rickshaw run (go to the online archive to get the URL if you missed it). And while I was looking around for other team sites, I found this one. It is the account of a journey across the length of The Grand Trunk Road, in, you guessed it, an autorickshaw. The protagonists are a trio of American brothers, and this site describes their journey. Loads of nice pictures and video to go with the text. A nice change, to see one’s own country through foreign eyes.

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, 8th July, 2007.

Note: This column was actually supposed to run on the 1st July, 2007, but the entire Trends page was dropped, because, I'm told, very few of the writers could deliver, thanks to the floods and the power outages in the city.

Tags: ,

Sunday, 1 July 2007

Siteseeing - 8


After he and Jack Smith sold Hotmail to Microsoft for 400 mill, Sabeer Bhatia started a new company, Arzoo, which aimed to play matchmaker between tech experts and companies that wanted their services. Perhaps the plan wasn’t unique enough; certainly the timing was unfortunate. Arzoo dotbombed in 2001. Last year, Bhatia made it over into a travel portal but didn’t make too much of a noise about it. Recently, the site’s new avataar completed a year of operations, and badly written press releases flowered in journo inboxes, announcing a new and improved look. Not having seen the old design, one assumes, going by this underwhelming version, that it was horrible. (Get a decent designer, folks. And lose that awful logo!) Anyway, what’s on offer? There’s a bunch of decent holiday packages, national and international, service apartments, and an airline search-and-book section. A quick trial of this last service threw up a large array of options, each claiming an “Arzoo Rate.” But, I found, when I went directly to an airline’s site, I wound up with cheaper flights with the same parameters. So, nice to compare rates, but I’d have bought direct. Overall, not exactly one’s heart’s desire, but with some work on the details, it could be a useful site to bookmark.

Published in Outlook Traveller, July 2007.

Tags: ,