Sunday, 16 March 2008

Mousetrap - 140

Damn Interesting
This site does what your columnist tries to do as well: give you something interesting to read; stuff you’ll look at and go, ‘Damn, that was interesting.’ Except that the team of writers here goes much further, with long, witty, well-researched articles on all sorts of interesting topics, ‘facts and ideas, whether they appeared in the past, the present, or the (anticipated) future.’ The mix is amazingly wide; just a random glance through the archives reveals erudite pieces about mutant killer seaweed, could-have-been apocalypses, invisibility, a subglacial freshwater lake in Antarctica that was sealed under the ice at least 500,000 years ago, and, oh, just go see. It’s Damn Interesting. (Be warned, though, that it can be seriously addictive and a major thief of your time.)

Indian Postage Stamps
For our younger reader, let’s recap. Once upon a time, when people wanted to communicate with friends far away, they wrote (with pens, a sort of writing device without a memory) on paper (like what you’re holding just now, only blank), put those sheets of paper into envelopes (which looked like the ‘new mail’ icons in your inbox), sealed them, and then stuck on these small paper rectangles called postage stamps. They then walked over to a device called a postbox, and slipped their ‘letter’ in. A globally-linked entity called the ‘postal service’ then, when it wasn’t losing them, would, via mysterious methods, deliver the letters to the intended recipient. These postage stamps, for some reason, were very popular collectibles (your doddering columnist has a few albums ina shelf somewhere), with hobbyists willing to pay large sums for some of them, due to rarity, or even things like misprints. Well, this site is devoted to those little stamps, with a focus on the ones issued by the Indian postal service since 1947. Lots of enlarged scans, some interesting articles, and links to other sites.

Visual Dictionary
Sure, there are folks like us, who read dictionaries and encyclopaedias for pleasure. But more and more, we’re becoming visually-oriented. This dictionary, with its ‘20,000 terms with contextual definitions, developed by terminology experts; 6,000 full-color images of a wide variety of objects from all aspects of life’ in some 15 or so categories, is a rich resource, and not just for kids. The visuals are beautiful, all labelled neatly, for further study. I’m told it works well as a language-learning tool, since you can see and read, and find stuff based on what you already know. But it’s a darn fun read even with no particular agenda.

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, 16th March, 2008.

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