May 29, 2005

Few Google updates

OK, first of all, they enhanced the Gmail Atom feed a bit—you have per-label feeds now. Just add the label name at the end of the feed URL. For example, I let Blogger email me whenever I have a new comment here, and Gmail filters it under the label ‘Comments’. So if I just want to see if I have any new comments, I can use this feed —

https://gmail.google.com/gmail/feed/atom/Comments

I’d say about time. I had this though for a while now, but I don’t remember whether I actually put in the feature request. So no gloating. Oh, and I’d like to add that the Gmail feed works best as a Firefox LiveBookmark.

Then there’s My Search History, which I love. It’s very useful to see which links I’ve already clicked in previous searches. OK, there is no way to export previous search data—I put up a request for this.

I’ve always though that any web application that stores your data must provide a way to export it. Which is one reason why I love those guys at 37Signals, both Backpack & Basecamp allow you to export data in XML—even if you’re a free user. And this is why I hate companies like Haloscan.

OK, back to the subject here, Search History only works if you’re using google.com—take a note to set your default to that page only and not google.co.in.

Oh, and Google now has personalised pages, fun to look at a couple of times just to see the funky Javascript drag-and-drop actions, but really beside the point. They did say somewhere that this is just the basic functionality and they’re going to add more stuff—but at the present moment they seem useless. Unless you want everything on one page…

These pages give me a reminder of the MyYahoo page. Ughhh.

Speaking of Yahoo, it seems that they’re not sitting quiet (of course). And Yahoo’s been increasingly getting praise lately from the bloggers as well, the tables are turned now that Yahoo is the underdog, you see.

OK, Yahoo Video search is really cool. And they just recently unvieled a search page where you can sort the results from commercial to non-commercial. Really cool stuff.

Sidenote: some of this is old news, but I’ve been collecting odd bits like this and trying to make a post. And I don’t have much time right now to think of the post’s structure…

Wiki quirkiness

There’s a whole subculture around Wikipedia, something I suspected but never cared enough to check for. Then I found the page on Bad Jokes and Other Deleted Nonsense. Seriously, check it out.

Looking at some of the pages there, I came over gems like this one which was originally added to the H2G2 page

Editor’s Note: Rumor & conjecture abound that the Wikipedia is a cleverly planned effort by the publishers of the Encyclopedia Galactic to undermine sales of the Guide. We categorically deny these allegations. Furthermore, we request that any and all leads as to the identity of those persons, aliens, objects, enlightended beings, or telemarketers perpetrating these lies be sent directly to security@encyclopediaGalactic.org. Thank you.

It finally hit me what an amazing place Wikipedia is. I already knew the stats and all of course, but I never really thought much of it. Just goes to show that things you’ve used for what seems to be forever can keep surprising you.

OK, I’m looking forward to writing a few articles there. Or I’ll just correct the typos. Whatever.

May 27, 2005

The latest trailers

Batman Begins

The full–length trailer for War of the Worlds, released today, blew my mind. This is one movie which I know is going to be fun to see. When Spielberg makes an action flick, you go and see it.

OK, hearing Gothic Power play on the trailer brought a smile to my face. That’s the same music as the FotR trailer, for all you not–trailer–geeks. This piece of music is particularly powerful—it just build and builds. Perfect for trailers. Can’t find a link for a good page on it, Google for it if you want.

Uh, the Potter–maniacs out there should know that the teaser for Goblet of Fire has been out for a while. Seems promising so far.

Of course, the “international” trailer for Batman Begins if terrific—the movie opens here on 19th June & I’m going. I don’t think Christopher Nolan will disappoint.

Also, I’m willing to bet on Russell Crowe winning an Oscar for Cinderella Man. Any takers?

No new trailers for Serenity or A Scanner Darkly unfortunately. I did check out a Fantastic Four trailer, and surprise surprise, it seemed a decent movie. Who knows?

.in

And here’s another thing I saw yesterday—the government it seems has opened up the registration process for .in domains. This means that anyone can register their very own .in domain, no questions asked. I did some checking, most of the interesting names are already taken. Some names I really liked were:

give.in come.in act.in here.in there.in relax.in chill.in

You really can come up with loads of neat stuff with .in in the URL. This all reminded me that I also plan to keep a domain—and I’ll have to register soon. People keep taking up all the cool stuff. I’ll buy one (I’ve got two probable names at present, can’t decide); but I’m not sure that I’ll just move my blog there. I’ll probably keep the domain dormant till I have some cash.

Too bad they need a minimum 3 letters in the name; otherwise well s.in would be my first choice.

Please people, do post any domain name recommendations you have.

Finally studying…sort of

OK, tomorrow’s the exam. I studied a little yesterday—which means Googling around for information. The subject is Internet Theory & Applications, which is just a fancy name for saying ‘everything remotely related to the web’. The syllabus includes everything to web technology theory to HTML to ASP/JSP. But the questions asked in the exam are simple—they can’t humanly expect people to know the in–depth details of everything in six months.

I’ve not even bought a text–book for this one, because frankly that’d be a waste of money. Here’s what I do:

  1. Keep Firefox open.
  2. Lookup what topics are there in the syllabus.
  3. Enter define:[topic name] in the Google search box. For example, define:WWW
  4. Lookup the same at Wikipedia. I conveniently get a link to the Wikipedia article for nearly every definition search.

OK, for some of the others, I do Google around a bit more intelligently. But this works for most.

May 24, 2005

Storm clouds on the horizon…

OK, my exams start on this Saturday. I’ve had almost 20 days ‘preparatory leave’ till date—and I’ve studied on 3 of these days. I’ve not even touched a book today. This is some serious shit I’m in right now.

I love the feeling you get as times like these are about to come—I’m slightly nervous, slightly excited. You know you should be doing something, but you just can’t do it until the last possible moment, even if you’ve got nothing else to do. I’m not a very physical person, and adventure sports and the such are a big no for me. This is my way of getting a fix. And what’s more, this works.

You get a feeling of satisfaction if you succeed without any major efforts; it’s like saying ‘screw you’ to the world in general.

So far all this has paid off—I’ve never got such good grades, which gives me a warm & fuzzy feeling. But I’m bound to crash one of these days. Lets see what happens then.

For now, I’m going to watch a movie. Or read some book—fiction, not related to computers. Or just hang around book sites like Strand, Landmark or First & Second looking for some good deals.

A warning—once I do get to the point where I can’t put off the exams any longer, the posting frequency here will probably be greatly reduced. Exams are on till the 9th of June, FYI.

May 23, 2005

Book quiz

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

You’re One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey.

You’re crazy. This has led people to attempt to confine you to a safe place so that you don’t pose a danger to yourself or others. You feel like you pose a great danger to the man (or maybe the woman) or whatever else is keeping you down. But most of the time, you just end up being observed. Were you crazy before you were confined?

Take the Book Quiz.

This reminds me, I have to see the movie too.

May 22, 2005

Language

OK, does language affect the way you think? Or is it that the way you think affects your language?

For me, it seems that I use the different languages I know for different purposes. English is for thinking stuff up—and for written communication. For information gathering. Thinking in English gives your thoughts a nice ambiguous nature; the language has an almost non–liner and intuitive feel to it.

For talking, I use Hindi & Gujarati. Gujarati at home and with just a few friends, and Hindi everywhere else. I’m not really good at using English verbally. Both Hindi & Gujarati are very similar, but with subtle differences. Hindi is much more coarse (at least the dialect we use around here). Gujarati is what you call my ‘first’ language. Surprisingly though, it’s not the language I use for thinking. Nor do I prefer it for anything else, for that matter.

Then there’s Marathi—which is similar to Hindi & Gujarati but has a very different feel to it. I could never get my head around it’s syntax. It’s a much more formal language for one thing.

Also, I can barely read Hindi & Marathi—and I cannot read Gujarati at all. Don’t ask me to write anything down in any of these languages—I can’t.

So here’s the picture—English for non–verbal and abstract stuff. Hindi & Gujarati for talking. My behaviour differs depending upon the language I use to talk. I always feel like an idiot if someone talks to me in English. Talking in Gujarati is something that puts me in ease, and Hindi is for everything else.

I think that the languages you use define your thought process in a way. Not sure what’s best for me though. For the time being, English remains my favourite language. Don’t know why the language feels as great as it feels—I’m going to try and improve my verbal skills though.

In the really long term, I plan to learn at least a couple more languages. Something Eastern—Chinese or Japanese—for one; and maybe some South–Indian language. Tamil, Kannada, et cetera…there are lots more. And the south–Indian languages are totally different from anything I know. Or maybe some European language—Spanish or Italian being my top contenders. Lets see.

May 21, 2005

Sith!

Anakin

Saw Revenge of the Sith yesterday—and I’m not much for doing proper reviews. You’d be better off reading this one.

I’m not a ‘huge’ Star Wars fan, but I am quite familiar with the whole universe. I’ve watched all the movies so far—I even liked the first two prequels. Attack of the Clones especially worked for me—it was not perfect, but didn’t deserve all the negative reactions I keep reading.

Anybody who knows Star Wars knows what is going to happen in this movie. The question remains—how does it happen? And for once, a Star Wars movie fulfills the expectation surrounding it. The whole movie is of course centred around Anakin’s fall. Everything is almost perfect—except at the key moment it seems that he gives in too easily.

Throughout the prequels, I’ve thought that Anakin’s character is the only one that really makes sense. You know he’s a good guy, but his good intentions lead him to hell. I’m getting a little spoilerish, but the scene after Anakin’s transformed into Darth Vader is great. The first thing he asks Palpatine how Padmé is—who replies that Anakin killed her in his rage. You can almost feel the man breaking in that scene—and no wonder he will turn on Palpatine in Return of the Jedi due to this.

The temptation & fall of Anakin is the reason you see the movie. The rest of it is not that great—everyone knows that Lucas can’t write love. Some minor gripes—I can’t understand the reason to have the same two annoying droids in the prequels. That really screws up the story. Same with having a cameo appearance by Chewbacca. It’s like Lucas shows them due to popular demand to see them, not due to any reason that makes sense to the story.

I just can’t make up my mind on George Lucas, the man gives you such perfect cinematic moments at times, and then sometimes screws it all up. But I really liked that he keeps the story threads together in this one. It shows that he had planned the prequels while making the original triology as well. He didn’t have the details worked out, this is for certain. But he knew the general direction of the story.

You add John Williams and Star Wars, and you get a soundtrack you’ll not forget anytime soon. The musical themes themes are all recognizable, and still fresh. Don’t know how the guy does it.

This is a Star Wars movie for people who like Star Wars—other’s will enjoy it, but not as much.

On a side note, there is one thing that ruins my movie going experience. There is a rule in Maharashtra—cinema owners have to play the Indian National Anthem before the start of each movie. I just wish that I wasn’t chicken, and just sit out the damn thing. I hate displays of patriotism. I like my country, but excess of patriotism, especially political rhetoric and jingoism in the name of the country get me heated up. When the national anthem plays, everyone in the stadium stands up. I stand up too—crowds are too damn scary. Just wish that I’d have the guts to say “I’ll fucking like my country in whatever way I goddamn like, not how you want me to.” That’s all.

May 20, 2005

Bloglines

I registered at Bloglines quite a while back, and never got used to it. But yesterday, I suddenly got the urge to use Bloglines—the number of sites I keep visiting grows daily. And you can customize the Firefox toolbar only so much.

I have spent a lot of time today just adding more and more sites to my account—around 45 so far. And I’m keeping them private for a change.

It took a long while coming, but now I’m finally on the aggregator bandwagon. Even after using Bloglines for a couple of hours, I can’t imagine switching back. Using an aggregator means I can keep track of relatively obscure blogs, without getting overwhelmed by them. If I’m not in the mood, I can just ‘mark them read’, and ignore. Also, I can subscribe to stuff like the Calvin & Hobbes and Dilbert feeds—more fun.

Bloglines has a really neat interface—and I can always customize it a little more with a couple of Greasemonkey scripts. And it’s better than desktop based aggregators (FeedDemon, et cetera); being web–based, I can use it from anywhere.

May 19, 2005

Firefox profiles

I finally made Firefox the default browser on my system some time ago. I keep logged in to all my usual sites, and this is a shared machine. I really like my privacy, so I let the other’s use IE, that is until I discovered profiles. So now I keep two profiles—a default one that everyone used, and mine which I can load with a special shortcut. The -p "profile name" switch does the trick nicely.

Everything was fine until Firefox started getting too unwieldily. I’ve used the same profile since Firefox 0.8—a really long time. Don’t know why, but this profile got really screwed up recently. I created a new profile today—and spent almost an hour customizing it again. Importing the old bookmarks, installing all the extensions I use, installing all the Greasemonkey scripts I like and so on.

And then going to each and every site I frequent—and signing in again. Gmail, Blogger, Sitemeter, Backpack, del.icio.us, IMDb, et cetera. Now I can surf at peace.

Seriously, if I don’t buy a notebook when I get working, I’d have to get a USB thumb drive and use Portable Firefox.

May 18, 2005

Siblings

I’m getting a little frustrated. I’ve got a lot of cousins—all younger than me. Most are kids. Now, two of them come over and stay for a few days every time they get a break. These two are sisters—but don’t get along at all. So they come here one at a time. Right now one sister’s staying with us. She’ll stay for a few more days—then the other sister will come over.

I like these people—but I can’t stand anyone for long periods of time. Having them over really screws up my life—they keep wanting to play games on the PC. I had to dig up a few old freeware games for them. I don’t have any privacy at all now—they just keep staring at the computer wide–eyed wanting to know what I’m doing.

I can’t stand that. I hate it when people keep looking over my shoulder. So much that I’ve not even logged in to MSN messenger for a week now. I can’t chat with people watching.

So I’m going out more. Studying at friends’. Just hang out anywhere but home.

May 16, 2005

More Insomnia

I’ve started sleeping erratically again. This just proved my theory that I don’t sleep well if I don’t do anything throughout the day. I’ve been way too lazy lately, and I’m guessing I can’t go to sleep early when I don’t feel tired. And no one will feel tired after sitting around the house the whole day.

I’m back to getting sleep late—02:00 to 03:00 hours. And I spend at least 45 minutes tossing and turning before getting sleep. I’ve tried everything, nothing works. I should start doing some studies—those would surely put me to sleep. But I can’t seem to get started. Same with exercising—I need that badly.

Another weird thing is that I’ve been dreaming way more than usual. Nothing I remember unfortunately.

May 13, 2005

The Bourne Identity

I’m not talking about the movie, I’m talking about the book which is by Robert Ludlum. I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately, probably just to re–assure myself. This reading–like–crazy thing is after almost a month of no reading. All you bibliophiles will sympathise.

This reading will probably come to a stop again—gotta study. But back to the topic at hand—I wanted to read a good thriller. And the Bourne Identity is a good thriller (stop me, I can feel this post go too crazy as it is).

The book is a lot better than the movie, and I thought the movie was pretty decent. You have your standard killing machine (Bourne) surfacing in some quaint little French town without his memory. As soon as he re-enters the world, people start trying to kill him. He abducts a woman to get our of a particularly nasty situation, so of course these two fall deeply in love. There’s murder, suspense, intrigue—everything you’d want in a good thriller.

Highly recommended. And don’t mistake me, this is not some dumb book you’d pick up. It is intellectually satisfying as well. Not terribly intellectual though. You get the drift, don’t ya?

May 11, 2005

Eastern Standard Tribe

Eastern Standard Tribe was a really good book as well. In many ways a much better book than Down & Out, but I like the first one more.

Set slightly in the future, I really like the idea of people grouping together based on time–zones. I like the idea of tribalism. Anything’s better than arbitrary countries. Again, the fascinating future is a backdrop to one man’s like. Our main character is an ‘usability expert’ of all things—I really love that it’s his job to spot the obvious.

Read the book if you want the story. I’m too hammered to write more. Been reading stuff on the PC for the last 3 days straight—my eyes are not going to take much more strain. Especially on the 5 year old CRT I still use.

May 09, 2005

Down & Out in the Magic Kingdom

I just read Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow. The text of the book is available online for anyone to read—very cool indeed.

I really loved the book—it’s different from anything else I’ve read in a long time. Thoroughly original, if I may say. OK, I read Fahrenheit 451 a few days ago, but I was indifferent to that book. The book was really nice, but it didn’t say anything I had not read before. It probably was an original & innovative book when it came out, but I’ve seen & read a lot of similar stuff. Stuff that’s inspired by the book probably, but the book seems stale now.

Down and Out was great in the sense I’ve not read anything like it yet. It’s set in the future—an almost utopian future where death & poverty are no more. You got killed—no problem, we’ll just restore you from a backup. Everyone’s ‘online’, the only currency is your reputation among your friends. There is almost no conflict—conflict just lowers your reputation. Things are managed by ad–hoc groups, you do your job well or some other group will take over.

A fascinating future, can’t stop thinking about it. Still can’t decide whether something like this is better than our present times though. The story’s good too, won’t spoil it for ya here.

The book is brilliant—considering it’s his first novel. You can tell that he’s not a very polished writer yet, he’s just writing for the sake of wanting to write. Am checking out his second novel, Eastern Standard Tribe next.

May 07, 2005

Kingdom of Heaven

Kingdom of Heaven

Kingdom of Heaven turns out to be surprisingly good. You’ve got your standard story line here—poor man loses all, becomes knight, fights a war, leads an army, and so on. I expected watching it to be fun, but thought the movie would be forgettable. Instead, I saw a really good movie that I’m not gonna forget anytime soon.

Ridley Scott delivers yet again. Like Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven too sets the standard for Hollywood action movies. Expect lots of similar movies to follow in a couple of years. And Orlando Bloom acts well in this one—the biggest surprise for me. There’s hope for him yet.

What I really like about the movie is that it takes a sensitive subject like the Crusades, and glances at it sideways. Throughout the movie you see bloodied action and fanaticism, but the movie’s not about that. It’s just about a man caught in these circumstances.

Cinematically the movie is great. Saw it at the Adlabs Multiplex, which has a good screen. The music is not great—there was no central theme to the score. And the volume was a little too high for my liking, probably some fault at our end.

Of course the battle scenes were great—this goes without saying. So to finish up, I’d say this is a great start to the summer season. Bring on the rest already!

Off to a sidenote—I really like it when new movies are released here at the same time they release in the States. I’m a movie geek, I check sites like ComingSoon daily. I download trailers. And then to wait for months at an end after some movie’s opened to watch it sucks. I’m still waiting for news on Sin City, and don’t know how long I’ll wait before grabbing a pirated copy. I remember waiting for 3 months for the LotR movies—they showed here in March. I tell ya, waiting really sucks.

Ads

As you can see, there is a small 125×125 Google ad on the top of the sidebar now. Or if you’re smart and use Adblock, you can only see the empty div.

I hate ads. I block them with a vengeance, and won’t even see them on my own site. I recommend that people do the same. So why the hell am I placing ads over here, you ask?

OK, with AdSense you get paid when your balance hits 100$. This 100$ will translate into at least Rs. 4000, cutting whatever tax and currency exchange stuff that goes on. I don’t know for sure. Now, with Rs. 4000, I can buy 20 books.

I just can’t resist free stuff like this. Who cares if it take a year, or two for the first cheque to arrive.

Here are the things I’m not gonna do—I’m not gonna watch my own ads. Everything’s blocked by Adblock. I’m not gonna click on my ads. I hate ads. I’m not gonna ask people to click on my ads. Though anyone who wants to click can click away, it’s all good.

May 04, 2005

Greasemonkey scripts

Greasemonkey is a Firefox plugin that lets you run custom Javascript files on specific pages. That is, you get to add functionality to sites you visit often. You can write these scripts yourself, or you can just search the huge repository to see whether any of those scripts seem useful.

Without a doubt, Greasemonkey has become my favourite Firefox extension. I’ve got lots of scripts loaded up. Here are some that everyone should find useful —

  • Gmail Tweaks adds persistent searches to Gmail. Really cool.
  • del.icio.us Auto-Complete makes posting stuff to del.icio.us easier. And it works with the ‘experimental’ interface too.
  • Lickr is Flickr! without the Flash interface. I’m loving it!
  • Google Butler is Mark Pilgrim’s script to ‘enhance’ Google searches. It does a lot of things. Check it out before installing.
  • BoingBoing Butler does the same for Boing Boing.
  • And you can finally fix Slashdot’s colour schemes. Really good on the eyes.

That should get you started. Look at the huge repository to find more scripts.

May 03, 2005

Minor blog re-design

The blog looks much better now, if you’re using Firefox. I was tired of seeing the same old thing everyday. But it looks really horrible if you’re using IE.

I had a whole step-by-step process thought out—finalize new layout, change the template, and Base64 encode any images used to make sure they always work. But I’m no designer—make one change here or there and the blog looked better in one browser, worse in another.

I’ve just given up and used some Firefox specific CSS to get it looking a little good. Sorry to all those who prefer Opera or Safari—I’ll try and port the look to other browsers as well.

May 02, 2005

Python challenge!

Can’t really say I’ve studied at all lately. One more fun thing I’ve gotten into is the Python Challenge. It’s a programming competition—riddles and stuff. You’re supposed to use Python to solve them.

I’m up to level 6 right now. Solved the first four soon enough, and got stuck at level 5. I finally figured the damn thing out. Am looking forward to more good stuff now.

May 01, 2005

Backpack

OK, Backpack is due for release soon and as I had signed up for updates, I got a ‘preview’ account. And I gotta say, it’s pretty cool. Read the official preview to get an impression. Of course this is all buzz in them blogs as well.

Backpack is like a mixture of everything. What struck me the most is that it is just like a wiki—you create arbitrary pages and you can add content to them.

There are the notes, which are just like blog posts. You can create one list per page, which is the same functionality as Ta-Da. Of course, you can add any arbitrary content to the page body. And links to other pages you’ve created. Just like a wiki. And you can also add arbitrary files & images to each page, but these are only for paid members.

You can share your pages with others, and let them add content. Sharing is the best thing about Ta-Da, I can’t tell you enough on how convenient this is. Not tested it, as I can’t share pages till it’s released to the public.

Then there are the reminders. Haven’t got around to playing with those yet.

Even though all this functionality is ‘out there’ in different applications by themselves, Backpack is, how shall I put this, perfectly usable and elegant. I could very well put up a public wiki or something for collaboration, but it won’t match Backpack’s ease of use.

It’s the little features that make my day. You use Textile formatting for everything—I would have preferred Markdown though. And Backpack’s interface is excellent—miles ahead of Ta-Da and Basecamp, and that is saying a lot. You add things, they are updated instantly. You never need to reload a page. Hover over items to edit them. Highlighting and all is done perfectly. Everything is dynamic, and everything just works.

All’s not perfect though. You register for free, and your functionality is pretty limited. You can’t upload files & images—this is understandable. But what I don’t like is you’re just limited to creating three pages other than you home page. This just sucks—there isn’t much you can manage by just three pages. (Update: This seems to be updated to five pages, which is better.) And you’re limited to 10 reminders.

You know, if I was in the States, I’d just buy a paid account. But the conversion of rates into Rupees just kills it. Can’t afford it. Still, goodbye Ta-Da list, hello Backpack. And sorry to those friends with whom I’m sharing lists at present, you’ll have to register to another site. Again.

As a sidenote, viral marketing only works if your product is good enough. It worked for GMail, it’s working for Backpack. It’s not gonna work for everything (read Yahoo! 360).