Sunday, 6 April 2008

Mousetrap - 143

Tomahto / Tomayto
Sound Comparisons
‘England and America are two countries separated by a common language,’ said that caustic wit, George Bernard Shaw. And in My Fair Lady, the Broadway and Hollywood musical version of his Pygmalion, Henry Higgins says, the various accents used just in the UK, ‘One common language I’m afraid we’ll never get.’ American accents also differ widely from region to region, and, now, with English pretty much the world’s connecting language, the accents that come into play are mind-bogglingly diverse. This site has value, then, beyond the fun bit. You get a set of words, with recordings of the way they are pronounced in various parts of the world, which load as small mp3 files which play on mouseover. (There are also phonetic-transcripts of various defunct versions of the language, and sister sites that focus on other languages and their variations.) You’ll need a fairly decent browser and OS, a fastish net connection, and a sound card and speakers or headphones.

Mixed up
Will It Blend?
This site is a classic example of how to use the web to sell a product in a fun, non-intrusive way. The commerce angle is there all right, but the site went viral for its sheer lunacy. Its name tells the story. A gentleman in a lab coat asks the simple question: will it blend? He then tests the hypothesis with a food blender, what we call a mixie in India. And he performs his tests not just with fruit and vegetables, but with things like a garden hose, assorted plumbing hardware, a golf club, action figure toys, even electronic gadgets including—and this broke your columnist’s heart—an iPhone. All this in a section tagged ‘Don’t Try This At Home.’ Of course there’s another section called ‘Try This At Home’ which has more conventional uses of the blender, many of which would be quite easily within the capacity of your average mixie.

Barack Obama Stole Your New Bicycle
A month ago, this column featured a site called ‘Barack Obama Is Your New Bicycle,’ which took off on the feel-good vibes the USA presidential candidate seems to exhude. This one works just the same, except in reverse: every page refresh gives you fresh reasons why Obama is a bad idea. Less giggle-worthy then the original, we thought, and the database of ‘reasons’ seems smaller, but it’s worth a few minutes of idle clicking.

And to end, a smile for you. A smiley, to be precise, an emoticon, one of those things that make language purists either cringe or utter grim predictions on our return to the dark ages of illiteracy. The smiley celebrated it’s 25th anniversary last year (19 September, 1982; yes, it’s that old!), and is still going strong. What led to its ‘invention?’ Well, it was the good old days of the BBSes, and, in the words of its creator: ‘if someone made a sarcastic remark, a few readers would fail to get the joke.’ Which sometimes led to acrimony, and ‘caused some of us to suggest (only half seriously) that maybe it would be a good idea to explicitly mark posts that were not to be taken seriously. After all, when using text-based online communication, we lack the body language or tone-of-voice cues that convey this information when we talk in person or on the phone.’ Go read the whole story.

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Published in the Times of India, 6th April, 2008.

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