Sunday, 25 November 2007

Mousetrap - 127

Remember the LOLcats meme this column wrote about a couple of months ago? Well, if you liked the lunacy of the whole thing, you’ll also like this one. You know the very long URLs that some websites—this newspaper’s for instance—generate? I told you ages ago about services like TinyURL and DURL that let you, in your emails or other communication, point to them by using a short, unique string of randomly generated letters. This service goes one better. You get to choose the words you want to use as your link (corollary: you need to choose words that no one else has chosen before) . For instance, will take you to an archived version of this column.

Cat food
A bonus link for those of you who have become LOLcats fans (courtesy friend of this column, Jugal Mody). It will will “LOLinate” any website for you. Just go over, enter the URL, and giggle. For best effect, choose a site that takes itself really, really seriously.

Search and ye shall not find
404 Research Lab
A 404 page is a page your web browser shows you when a page on a website for which you have entered a URL does not exist. For instance, will show you the Time of India 404 page (because, in their wisdom, the good folk who run the site do not link to this column about websites from the website; you will only find it in the e-paper). Your web browser will generate the error page automatically, unless the host website has its own 404 page. All the good ones do, because it is an opportunity to hold on to your reader, to guide her through to what she’s looking for. And, coming to the point, perhaps have some fun as well. This site links to the best 404 pages around, ones that are useful and amusing, that take the frustration out of finding a bum link. The site doesn’t seem to be updated for a while, going by the archives, but there are enough links there to keep you going.

Greek and Latin. Not.
The Internet Classics Archive
One of the senior citizens of the internet, this site has been around since 1994. It gives you over 400 works of classical literature, mainly Greek Roman (with a smidgen of Chinese and Persian thrown in), in English translation. Homer, Aesop, Aristotel, Marcus Aurelius, Hippocrates, Virgil, Caesar, Plato, Sun Tzu, Confucius, Omar Khayyam, they’re all here. No, junior, no pictures or animation; just the text, like in old books, y’know? Never mind.

“What’s for dinner?” “Go search!”
Cookin’ With Google
This will come in useful when there’s nothing cooked at home but you do have some ingredients. Enter the names of whatever you have, and the site, does a Google Custom Search, looking only for recipes that name those ingredients. Unlike many other recipe-generating sites, this one easily handles Indian recipes, even when you use non-English words. Which reminds me. Dinner calls! See ya next week, folks.

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, 25th November, 2007.

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Sunday, 18 November 2007

Mousetrap - 126

Below the belt
Panties For Peace
I’m late with this one—it’s been on my list for a while, but, erm, I forgot—so let’s cut to the chase. Y’all know what’s been happening across the border in Myanmar, right? (That’s the country that used to be Burma. Everyone renames these days.) Monks getting beaten up and killed, the military junta quelling rallies and all that? Well, this activist group has this rather novel form of protest. They want you to mail your scanties to that country’s foreign missions across the globe (a list is helpfully provided). Why? Apparently “the generals ruling Myanmar are superstitious and they believe that touching panties or the traditional women’s outfit sarong will eliminate their powers.” Now, folks, any ideas on what we can send Narendra Modi? And the CPM chaps in Kolkata?

Direction finder
Free Mind
Having trouble coping with all the information you have to deal with? The projects, the ideas, the plans, the sheer masses of data? Not surprising, in this information overload age. But, worry not. What you need is a “mind map.” No, not the “Here be dragons” and the large censored bits. That’s my mind. These are the type that management mavens and suchlike recommend you use; effectively a filing system for ideas. Thing is, they can get rather large and clunky. What this piece of free-to-download software helps you do is create one of those nifty li’l things and run it off your computer. Lots of neat little things like drag ’n’ drop, clickable web links and more. Go on then, free your mind.

Picturise this
Fiickr Toys
A few weeks ago, this column suggested you look at a site that gave you helped you generate Demotivators—parodies of motivational posters. This site helps you generate your own, or, if you like, straight motivational posters too, using your own pictures and text. But there’s a lot more: you can make kosher-looking magazine covers, LOLcats picture, CD or DVD covers, movie posters, photos in the style of a Warhol or a Hockney, and lots more. As the name indicates, there are quite a few generators designed especially for users of the photo sharing service, Flickr, but there’s enough there for just anyone to have a ball with.

Except for the few with genuine talent, most of us practically have to pay people to look at our photographs. And with digital photography getting cheaper every day, every one and his chacha are clicking away happily. And now, you can take bring your friends to a whole new level. You can tell little stories with a series of pictures, add captions and speech bubbles, and hey presto, instant custom comic strip. This is nothing you couldn’t do before, of course, provided, that is that you had good photo-editing software and knew how to use it. The difference hear is you really don’t need to know a thing about photo editing. Be afraid, world. Be very afraid.

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 November 2008.

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Sunday, 4 November 2007

Mousetrap - 125

India Water Portal
We take water for granted. Most of us barely give it a thought, enjoying the luxury of having it, quite literally, on tap. But, as we learn when we face water cuts or polluted supplies, the lack of it can be disastrous. Supported by the National Knowledge Commission, this portal is a huge knowledge base on water. Its creators say it was “created in a spirit of sharing and openness by a wide range of partners including technical water experts, research institutes, NGOs, Government departments, historians and hydrogeologists, IT specialists, educators and others.” There’s something for everyone: researchers and academics, journalists, kids, teachers, environmentalists, the casual passer by with some curiosity on the subject. Ask questions, participate in their forum, subscribe to their newsletters.. go, sign up. Your children will thank you.

Clean blogs
The Lazy Environmentalist & The Green Skeptic
Two takes on the environment. Lazy E takes the stance that we all care about eco issues, but most of us don’t have the time to do anything about it. So she tries to make it easier for us to make sustainable decisions by keeping us informed of steps others are taking, not just governments, but people like you and me. The Skeptic is, to my ear, a little more formal in his tone. His aim: “challenging assumptions about how we live on the earth and protect our environment. We have four focus areas: global climate change, social entrepreneurs, microfinance, and clean tech innovations.” They’re both good places to start when you’re making your first steps to widening your knowledge on the subject.

Chew on this
Slow Food
A dig at fast food and all that it means, “slow” food is about “living an unhurried life, beginning at the table.” Food, the site goes on to say, “should be produced in a clean way that does not harm the environment, animal welfare or our health.” The movement predates the web (it began in Italy, in 1989), and has national arms in several countries now, including what it calls convivia (local chapters in plain speak) in many more, and over 80,000 members. (There are a couple in India, though I didn’t see any activities listed against their names.) The site is a bit clunky, seeming to always say over several pages what it could say in one. Perhaps they believe in slow browsing too. Never mind my snark. They’re worth a slow, long look.

Slow Travel
From Slow Food, there came the Slow Movement, and Slow Travel is one of the results. It suggests that rather than “do” a country—y’know, fly from place to place on an itinerary, ticking must-sees off from a list—one should totally immerse oneself into a place, staying at least a week, exploring, wandering, really getting the feel of it. The site has articles, tips, lots of reviews and listings, forums, photographs, everything to help you learn from what others have experienced. It’s US-centric in its views, but otherwise well worth some armchair travel time, in preparation for your next holiday.

P.S. This is a site I featured here just a couple of months ago, but just in case you haven’t seen it yet (tsk, tsk, you must listen to the nice columnist), please go to the Earth Day Footprint Quiz and figure out your—yes, that’s you—impact on the planet.

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, 4th November, 2007.

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Thursday, 1 November 2007

Siteseeing - 12


Right, so there’s a heckuva lot the prospective traveller can do online—that’s why Editor-san pays me the big bucks coffee money to write this little thingy for you every month—buy air tickets and hotel rooms, book cars or restaurant tables, view route maps, meet people, whatever. Thing is, by the time you’re done, you have one heckuva lot of e-threads to keep track of. This services does that for you. Just mail an e-booking to, and then, as you finalise stuff, mail all your other confirmations to it too. It then sorts all those confusing bits and bytes, and gives you, just like that, a ready-made itinerary, adding for good measure, links to check-ins, maps, weather, photos where available, and so on. Of course you can log in and chop and change all you want, even let friends in, so they can, for example, figure out when you’re free to be taken out for a drink. Limitations: the service providers it “recognises” are mainly from North America and Europe. So, if you want to use it elsewhere (or with more obscure services in the West) you will have to a certain amount of manual filling in. Right now, I’m taking bets: will TripIt cover our part of the world soon? Or will some desi quickly do a rip-off painted in the tricolour?

Published in Outlook Traveller, Mumbai edition, November 2007.

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