Friday, 27 January 2006

Mumbai Pervert

That's what some erudite person searched for, and found this blog. And guess what? Thanks to a quote on our sidebar and one quote from an article that mentions the city that we still stubbornly call Bombay, we're the number one for the term.

Any pron sites want to buy ad space from us?

Thursday, 26 January 2006

In which we stick our necks out and critique..

..Desicritics, the blog that everyone has been talking about, which is now open for business.

We have mixed feelings.

The positives first.

As both our readers know, we're a fervent evangelist and disciple of collablogs.

Add to that the site's promise to showcase excellent writing from the Indian blogosphere, and we're sold. And from an initial cursory flip through, it is defintely worth a bookmark or an addition to your feedreader. Quantity and quality.

Set against that is the nagging discomfort we feel when we see human beings choose to replicate political boundaries in this wonderful, borderless world of blogs that we love so much. (And yes, we know we started indi³. We're conflicted. Sue us.)

[Extremely opinioniated statement warning]

And then there's the design.

The blogcritics look is way too busy as it is, making it extremely difficult to enjoy their excellent content.

The look here takes the worst elements of that design and adds some clutter of its own. It's not so bad once you see the post pages, we'll grant them that (bad yes, just not so bad), but the home page is more crowded than a stockbroker's terminal during trading hours.

How do you bug us? Let us count the ways.

Post introductions are way too brief — we'd prefer to get more of a taste of a writer's style, more of the flavour of the post, before we click through to read. Especially when there's so much to choose from. Here, one has to click through, read a bit, and then trudge back to the home page.

There's an advertising panel of which the kindest thing that can be said is that it does not have animated banners. It completely overwhelms the content, which is supposed to be the site's USP.

And those icons, flags, call them what you will, that mark post categories? Two words.

Ug.

Ly.

Thankfully, there's an RSS feed. Whew.

Wednesday, 25 January 2006

Contests for writers at the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival

We're helping organise two contests as part of the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival's Literature and Writing section. The submission details are still being worked out, but here's the basics. An exclusive preview, so to speak. :)

Hope you decide to participate. If it's not quite your thing, we'd appreciate it of you would pass on to pals who you think might be interested.

And those of you with blogs, personal sites, mailing lists, forums and the like, we'd be eternally grateful if you gave this a plug. This blog will return the favour any time.




Reprised from last year, SMS Poetry (: someone you know won first prize last year :)

The basic rule is simple: your poem must fit into a single 160-character SMS.

For more details, prizes and the jury, please see http://www.caferati.com/contests/SMS.htm




The second contest is a new one, Flash Fiction. Also known as short-shorts or micro-fiction. The challenge here is to tell a story within a very limited word count.

For more details, prizes and the jury, please see http://www.caferati.com/contests/FF.htm




Caferati will also be hosting an evening at the Festival. 12th February, around 5 or 5:30 p.m. If you happen to be in Bombay at that time, we'd love to see you.

This page will detail the programme once we have it finalised: http://www.caferati.com/contests/KGAF2006.htm

And to generally keep track of important updates for any of these three events, please keep an eye out on http://www.caferati.com/contests

Tuesday, 24 January 2006

Bombay Bloggers

Akshay of Trivial Matters announces a Mumbai Meetup for bloggers here and here.
The basics:
Tuesday, January 31st, 6 p.m.
Cafe Coffee Day
Carter Road
Bandra

We hope to be there.

Sunday, 22 January 2006

In which we succumb to 55er mania

Succumb

‘Want to go up to the terrace while the order gets ready?’
‘Yes.’ As simple as that. No games.
...
Her eyes glistened in the moonlight.
‘I...’
Whack!
My cheek stung. ‘That was for presuming I’d say “Yes.”’
Whack!
The other cheek. Christ. She’s ambidextrous. ‘And that was for being right.’
And then she kissed me.

9th January 2006. 55 words.
The addition of the ellipsis thanks to excellent suggestion from an anonymous commenter,

Monday, 16 January 2006

In which we pontificate..

..in the Hum Blogistani series.

Blogs will help keep MSM honest

Written for the Indibloggies series Hum Blogistani and cross-posted here later

Why, you wonder, is this chap writing a piece in this series? He isn't a pioneer blogger, or an A-lister, he doesn't have legions of adoring fans (or even the type that love to hate him). He doesn't even make it for Best Tagline. Fercryinoutloud, the loser doesn't even have comments disabled.

It's pretty simple, really. Debashish only knows I exist because of the collablogs* I have been part of. Very probably for the South-East Asia Earthquake and Tsunami blog (SEA-EAT), which finds itself nominated in two categories this year. (And while I'm at it, consider this a plug for your vote.)

So, not to worry, I won't test your patience with my usual boring pronouncements on the state of the blogosphere. Instead, I'll just waffle on for a bit on the stuff that Debashish asked me to write about: collablogs and disaster relief blogging.

I'll start with some excerpts from an essay I'm writing on the experience. It will make its appearance on my blog in due course, and it sets the background for the preachy bits afterwards.

SEA-EAT was, for me, a life-changing experience. I had experimented, with moderate success, with collablogs before, with Caferati, set up for my online writers' community, and as a contributor to what was originally Desi Media Bitch and then became well-known as CSF.

Just prior to the Christmas of 2004, Rohit Gupta had this great idea of growing Desi Media Bitch beyond the 'desi' label, and we had set about inviting bloggers from neighbouring countries to join in on what we had planned as a sort of media-bashing without borders fortnight (hence Chiennes Sans Frontieres). So you might say I was rather evangelistic about collaboration by the time the earthquake and tsunami happened.

However, the size of the disaster shocked all of us, froze us (well, I guess; it certainly paralysed me) as those terrible pictures flooded our screens. It was only the next day that my brains unclogged enough to be realise that a blog could possibly help. A few SMSes and phone calls later, I set up the template, Rohit made the first proper post, and we had begun mail bombing our address books with pleas for help. Dina Mehta was one of the first names we both came up. Thanks to her and Rohit being contributors to Worldchanging, a highly respected group blog, they were able to write about what we were doing there. Which was noticed by BoingBoing. And the traffic to our site surged almost immediately. (It is pertinent to note that Rohit, Dina and I had never met face-to-face at that point.) Around the same time, I had mailed Prem Panicker, Managing Editor at Rediff in the USA (yet another online-only friend) and almost immediately, all Rediff's coverage began to feature a link to our blog. Our viewership boomed from the few hundred people we had mailed directly to thousands every hour. We were flooded with offers to help from all over the world. People who wanted to blog with us, others who sent us information, linked to us, promoted us. And, of course, people asking how they could help directly.

There were news organisations who had the infrastructure to do hard news better than we could. What was missing was information about the NGOs and aid organisations working on the ground. That helped us hastily define what we were going to do: “News and information about resources, aid, donations and volunteer efforts.” We set some ground rules: no politics, no opinions, steer away from controversy, just find out about and link to aid efforts.

The next day, the New York Times and the Guardian in the UK had written about us, and put our URL in their articles, shortly after, the BBC linked to us too. These, and many other news organisations across the world cited us as an authoritative source for information. Including - high point! - the search giant Google itself, who not only linked to us from their dedicated Tsunami page (which, in an unprecedented move for Google, was linked to off their search home page), but also, through the efforts of one of our members who had friends in Mountain View, guaranteed us unlimited bandwidth, thus ensuring that the site wouldn't go down. Traffic was overwhelming - a million plus visitors in the first week.

I won't continue with the blow-by-blow (you can read these eloquent descriptions by Dina Mehta and Bala Pitchandi, and as I said, I'm writing about it in detail myself), but I will tell you that SEA-EAT model has been used, with modifications, and varying degrees of success, in the other disasters that have hit our planet this year (MumbaiHelp and Cloudburst Mumbai, KatrinaHelp and RitaHelp, QuakeHelp had many of the same core group behind them; ChennaiHelp did an excellent job of self-organising too). And I'll also confess that I have seeded a few other collablogs, some with less, erm, humanitarian goals.

Anyway, what did I, not the smartest cookie in the jar by any stretch of the imagination, learn from all this?

• One, that blogs can make a difference. That blogs can be more than the medium of choice of the self-obsessed. That the linking and research that the better bloggers all do, the ethics that guide them, when powered by a huge need to make a difference, to just reach out and help, can make for a pretty powerful vehicle.

• Two, that collaboration rocks. That a group of people with common cause can do bigger things together than they could do separately, even in a world as staunchly individualistic as the blogosphere.

• Three, that bloggers (or at least the ones that I have had the privilege of working with) are very creative people. Even without inventing anything new, the team made some pretty damn innovative use of existing technology. Not just the “blog as collaborative disaster relief tool” bit. Stuff like using Yahoo IM chat as a war room cum conference room, SMS as an information system when other communication is shot to hell, Flickr tags as missing persons notifiers, a Skype number staffed by people in three continents as a virtual call centre. Obvious in hindsight, like so many of the best solutions are, but hey, we did it first.

• And four (this is the really preachy bit), that people are essentially good, though it can take a disaster to make that clear.

That seemed like a good place to end, but alas for you, Debashish also foolishly asked me to include a section on where I saw the Indian blogosphere going, and which red-blooded blogger can pass up an excuse to pontificate? I have no rocket science to offer you, but here goes anyway.

I think a few bloggers will be able to make a living off their blogs. They will largely be, I'll wager, truly superior writers, specialists who have built up and nurtured an audience. And collablogs might make some Ad Sense money too.

And there's a flip side. There will be more and more attempts to turn blogs into cash cows. More corporate blogs, more splogs, more comment spam innovations, more paid-for blogging.

Blogs will not replace big media. They will complement it, they will help keep MSM honest, and in return, after all the hype is over, be an invaluable resource for gauging the pulse of the community.

And here's the big one. It is inevitable that computers and net connections will become more affordable, and that will bring more people into the blog world. But when user interfaces in Indian languages become ubiquitous, that, my friends, is when you will see a boom in the Indian blogosphere that will make the explosion we saw last year look like a wet firecracker.

So, in a few years, you will find me leaving comments on this site when the categories are announced, demanding that one be set up for Best Indic Blog - English.

*That's a term I believe I kind of invented, in an article in the magazine GT.

Sunday, 15 January 2006

The IndiBloggers of the year

We're very pleased to see so many of the blogs and bloggers we admire winning at the IndiBloggies.

Huzzahs and hosannahs to:
Amit (IndiBlog of the Year), Sonia (Best Topical IndiBlog), Jai (Best Humanities IndiBlog), Prem and gang (Best Sports IndiBlog), the DesiPundit team (Best IndiBlog Directory and Best Group Blog), Shivam (Best Tagline) and Megha (Best Designed IndiBlog).

Comments

If you comment here, you'll notice we have turned on comment moderation. Just to tell you that we haven't got too big for our britches and all fancy-like, and the chicas aren't beating down our door with proposals decent or otherwise.

It's just that someone seems to have figured out how to get past the Blogger word verification / captcha thingy. Got a bunch of identical spam comments on some old posts.

We will try turning it off later, and hope that it's gone away.

Thursday, 12 January 2006

butt naturally

And here's what we had started to post when we learned that we were a spam blog *mutter, mutter, mutter*

The Scotsman tells us that
a team of researchers from Edinburgh's Heriot-Watt University are launching what is believed to be the world's first scientific study to answer the often asked question of how clothing can affect the appearance of the female rear.

The team, from the university's School of Textiles and Design, based in Galashiels, believe the study could have major implications for retailers.
Yeah right. A bunch of scientists staring at female posteriors all day and getting funded to do so. We should be so lucky. Ig Nobel, anyone?

Oh yes.
four models had been chosen to provide as representative as possible a sample of female rears.
There are only four?

WTF?

"Blogger's spam-prevention robots have detected that your blog has characteristics of a spam blog."

and also:

"Blogs engaged in this behavior ... can be recognized by their irrelevant, repetitive, or nonsensical text, along with a large number of links, usually all pointing to a single site."

Well, we won't quarrel with the "irrelevant," "repetitive" and "nonsensical." We know our character flaws. But we do pride ourselves on our "large number of links." Fercryin' out loud this is, and always has been, primarily a filter blog (the original, and some say, only real blog). And what single site are we pointing to? Huh? Huh? Huh?

Bloody idiots.

Reporters Without Borders urges Internet users and bloggers to support its recommendations on freedom of expression

Got this in the mail (thanks Ingrid). A few things here that we disagree with. Which we'll come back to later. Meanwhile, here you go:
Reporters Without Borders / Internet Freedom desk

On 6 January, Reporters Without Borders issued six concrete proposals aimed at ensuring that Internet-sector companies respect free expression when operating in repressive countries. The organisation calls on bloggers and Internet user to sign an online petition in support of this initiative.

These recommendations will be addressed to the US government and US legislators because all the companies named in this document are based in the United States. Nonetheless, they concern all democratic countries and have therefore will be sent to European Union officials and to the Secretary General of the OECD as well.

Reporters Without Borders' proposals

- E-mail services:
No US company would be allowed to host e-mail servers within a repressive country*. So, if the authorities of a repressive country want personal information about the user of a US company's e-mail service, they would have to request it under a procedure supervised by US judicial authorities .

- Search engines:
Search engines would not be allowed to incorporate automatic filters that censor "protected" words. The list of "protected" keywords such as "democracy" or "human rights" should be appended to the law or code of conduct.

- Content hosts (websites, blogs, discussion forums etc)
US companies would not be allowed to locate their host servers within repressive countries. If the authorities of a repressive country desire the closure of a publication hosted by a US company, they would have to request it under a procedure supervised by the US judicial authorities. Like search engines, content hosts would not be allowed to incorporate automatic filters that censor "protected" key-words.

- Internet censorship technologies
Reporters Without Borders proposes two options:

Option a: US companies would no longer be permitted to sell Internet censorship software to repressive states.

Option b: They would still be able to market this type of software but it will have to incorporate a list of "protected" keywords that are rendered technically impossible to censor.

- Internet surveillance technology and equipment
US companies would have to obtain the express permission of the Department of Commerce in order to sell to a repressive country any technology or equipment which can be used to intercept electronic communications or which is specifically designed to assist the authorities in monitoring Internet users.

- Training
US companies would have to obtain the express permission of the Department of Commerce before providing any programme of training in Internet surveillance and censorship techniques in a repressive country.

* A list of countries that repress freedom of expression would be drawn up on the basis of documents provided by the US State Department and would be appended to the code of conduct or law that is adopted. This list would be regularly updated.

Note: The purpose of these recommendations is to protect freedom of expression. They in no way aim to restrict the necessary cooperation between governments in their efforts to combat terrorism, paedophilia and cyber-crime.

Sign the petition

More information about this initiative

Tuesday, 10 January 2006

Monday, 9 January 2006

Why India is a Good Word.

1. Because it's the world's largest democracy.
2. Because it's where a large proportion of the world's poor live.
3. Because a richer India will make for a richer America.
4. Because it's not China.
Read Charles Wheelan, the "Naked Economist" columnist at Yahoo, on Why What's Good for India Is Good for Us.

ccPublisher


meant to link to this ages ago, when we saw it in Lawrence Lessig's post on the Creative Commons blog. Here's Lessig:
ccPublisher is a desktop application that makes it easy for people to put their creative work — marked with a CC license — on the Internet. Once you install the application, you can simply drag a file to ccPublisher. It will launch a procedure to first ask you to specify a CC license to apply to the content and then upload it to a server.
The server currently specified is the Internet Archive. Internet hero Brewster Kahle has committed to giving anyone who licenses content under a CC license free storage and free bandwidth, forever. So through the Archive you're given a permanent home for your content as well as a URL that you can give to others. In three simple steps, your work — however large, however difficult to carry — is available to everyone, forever.
And from the ccPublisher page:
CC Publisher is a tool that does two things: it will help you tag your audio and video files with information about your license and it allows you to upload Creative Commons-licensed audio and video works to the Internet Archive for free hosting. You also have the option of publishing the licensed and tagged audio works on your own site.
Good stuff for those among ye who create much heavier content than us word warriors, who can make do with our blogs.
Downloads are available for Windows XP/2000 and Mac OS X. Here's the ccPublisher link again.

To graduates in Bombay

This via email from journalist Dionne Bunsha, who you can contact at dionne11@gmail.com (For the record, we don't know Mr Narkar. One of the reasons we're posting this here is because the bit about the graduate constituency is something we didn't know, and while we are admittedly abysmally ignorant, the fact may somehow have missed the erudite readers of this blog. All two of you.)

Dear Friends,

I am writing to ask for your help in getting a truly deserving candidate voted to Maharashtra's legislative council.

Prabhakar Narkar is a friend of mine. He is a well-respected journalist of 18 years experience. He was with Maharashtra Times, the state's most influential newspaper for 16 years. Narkar has written several exposes on corruption in co-operatives, banks, dairies and his stories have resulted in the arrest of over 40 people, including some influential ministers and MLAs. He has also written alot about Mumbai's labour issues, land scams, social issues.

Recently, Narkar decided to quit journalism because he felt he should be doing something concrete rather than just criticising the system. He feels that the reason our system is so corrupt is because people feel politics is too dirty to get involved in. So the space lies vacant and is filled by people we criticise.

Narkar now plans to stand for election to the legislative council of Maharashtra from the graduate constituency of Mumbai. Only graduates can vote for this seat. And they have to register to vote before-hand.
I'm writing to request you to please register to vote. All we need is:
1. a form to be filled (which you can collect from me)
2. a xerox copy of your graduate certificate (from anywhere)
3. a xerox copy of your proof of residence in Mumbai. (passport, driving licence, ration card, recent electric bill etc)

We need to submit this by Jan 10th.
The election will be held in June 2006 and you can vote in a centre in your own neighbourhood.

Please help enrol as many graduates to vote, and support an honest and sincere candidate in politics.

you can call me 98203-01643 or Narkar 98205-07342 for further details and the form.
please spread the word and get other friends and people involved.

thanks and best wishes,

Dionne

Saturday, 7 January 2006

And to slightly, er, larger audiences..

..the Hutch-Crossword 2005 Book Awards longlists are also up.

Here they are: English Fiction, Indian Language Fiction Translation, and a new category, English Non-Fiction.

Amitav Ghosh, 2004 winner for English Fiction, will announce the shortlist at Crossword, Kemps Corner, Bombay, at 7:00 pm, Tuesday, 17th January.

The IndiBloggies..

..are on.

Go here to see who's been nominated.

And here to register to vote.

We haven't seen all the blogs that are on the list, but we'll happily recommend these for you attention:
IndiBlog of the year
A walk in the clouds.. - Megha's unique brand of madness
Death Ends Fun - Dilip's take on life and the world
India Uncut - Amit's great mix of links and opinion
Indianwriting - Uma's writing, causes and links
Random Thoughts Of A Demented Mind - the Great Bong's reliably funny blog (even when he gets earnest
The South-East Asia Earthquake and Tsunami Blog - our precious
Best Humanities IndiBlog
Jabberwock - Go Jai!
Best Sports IndiBlog
Online Chess Blog - not that we luhrve chess or read this blog, but we approve of anything that isn't all cricket
Sight Screen - because we take off our hats to the way Prem and his gang have used blogs in brand new ways
Best IndiBlog directory/service/clique, a category we're conflicted about, because we disapprove, on principle, of blogs that draw geographic boundaries. But then, we shouldn't be doing this post.
DesiPundit - we likes the mix, though we thinks it could get better
IndiBloggers - great effort
Best Designed IndiBlog
A walk in the clouds.. - no, not bias; go see the others yourself
Best Group Blog
The South-East Asia Earthquake and TsunamiBlog - well.

Thursday, 5 January 2006

It could happen to you

Rebecca MacKinnon has the skinny on MSN Spaces's blocking of a dissident Chinese blogger's site.
Microsoft’s MSN Spaces continues to censor its Chinese language
blogs, and has become more aggressive and thorough at censorship since I first checked out MSN’s censorship system last summer
On New Years Eve, MSN Spaces took down the popular blog written by Zhao
Jing, aka Michael Anti. Now all you get when you attempt to visit his
blog at: http://spaces.msn.com/members/mranti/ is the error message pictured above. (You can see the Google cache of his blog up until Dec.22nd here.)
Note, his blog was TAKEN DOWN by MSN people. Not blocked by the Chinese government.
Anti is one of China’s edgiest journalistic bloggers, often pushing at the boundaries of what is acceptable. (See a recent profile of him here, and an interview with Anti here.)
His old blog at the U.S.-hosted Blog-city is believed to have caused
the Chinese authorities to block all Blog-city blogs. In the final days
of December, Anti became a vocal supporter of journalists at the Beijing Daily News who walked off the job after the top editors were fired for their
increasingly daring investigative coverage, including some recent
reporting on the recent police shootings of village protestors in the Southern China.  (For all the gory details on the current press crackdown click here, here, here, and here.) Roland Soong at ESWN has preserved the original Chinese-language posts of Anti’s Call for a Beijing News Walk Out and his Call to Cancel Beijing News Subscriptions.
Read the whole story here, along with recent updates.

Link via Neha, who also says this:
I think it's crucial to remember that this just isn't about living in oppressive regimes. You may choose to ignore this issue because you live in a country with relatively more freedom, or you think you are outside the purview of censorship because you write about horticulture or compare knitting patterns. You probably aren't.