Saturday, April 30, 2005

Firefox completes 50 million

Take back the web...!! Firefox blazes through to 50 million...

Whoever said that open source software cannot break into the mainstream.. whoever said open source cannot make an impact - can bite their tongues off.

Firefox has been going strong since its Nov 2004 release. Firefox is definitely the best browser out there right now. Even Microsoft evangelists must agree that Firefox is more secure, less buggy and far more convenient than the IEs.

The gauntlet has been lay down - IE 7 must at least match the bar, if not raise it. Personally.. I doubt they can. :D

Get Firefox!

Skype crosses 100 million downloads

Well done.

Skype has truly been the one application taking VoIP to the masses. Its a phase which every technology needs to go through. The old Windows OS did it to the Personal Computer. I think Skype did it for VoIP. Though 100 mil is just a number - and I am sure many users re-download and re-install stuff all the time - and also many may have downloaded, tested and removed - but its still a commendable achievement.

I personally am a open source person - most definitely an open standards guy. So would be fair to say that am not totally convinced with the Skype model. But cannot disregard what they have done for the technology. If nothing else, Skype provided a quick kick on the back-side of SIP and other researchers.

Another major achievement of Skype was to introduce the idea of VoIP over P2P. Subsequently we saw people scramble together some code to make SIP based P2P voice clients, but nothing has really stood out thus far.

Not surprising, Skype was first written by the developers of Kazaa - which till date is the most downloaded Internet software ever.

Technology outpacing its use and need

Earlier this week CNN posted a very interesting article based on their interview of Microsoft's lead researcher Richard F. Rashid.

Rashid discusses some innovations we shall see in the near future and also expresses concern about the reduce of interest for Computer Science amongst students. He predicts a drop in the number of CS graduates coming through from US universities within the next 2 years.

This is actually in accordance with MS's stand all along. MS has always suggested that the education system and structure in the US does not produce nearly as many CS people as needed. Bill Gates was in D.C. last week after WinHEC speaking on a panel organized by MS. One of the things he mentioned was the need to do away with the H1-B cap. Makes sense, India and China can collectively supply more than enough CS majors to the world.

In this article though, what caught my eye was the issue of technology outpacing its need. I have to agree with this somewhat. I do not imply that research should be slowed down in anyway. But, I believe that there could probably be a better model of innovation which is targeted at quicker deployment.

In addition to outpacing its meaningful use, at times, the technology research follows paths which are unnecessary and offer no practical application at all. Such efforts are not only a waste of time and energy, but also a waste of talent of the people involved.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Google ads in RSS feeds

Google is experimenting with adding adverts in RSS feeds. Right now they are testing this out with select websites/blogs. This is very good news indeed. Why..? Let me explain.

With the increased popularity of RSS feeds, people prefer to read their news in their favorite RSS feed readers. This means, that the actual website itself gets reduced number of hits, and in turn, the advertising on these pages will get fewer still.

This trend has reduced the revenues for many such websites which rely only on advertising. Therfore, we have recently seen a number of blogs moving to headlines-only feeds. With Google ads in RSS feeds we should see more sites willing to provide full feeds.

IITs get praise in Congress

Nothing techie about this one. Being Indian myself, wanted to make a mention and post some opinion.

As reported here, the US Congress passed a house resolution commending the work done by the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs). It also appreciates the significant contributions of Indian-Americans to the American society.

I wonder how this is looked upon considering the growing frustration in many western countries with regard to outsourcing. No wonder I failed to see any mention of this in any of the American media - at least so far.

I don't think, this resolution essentially has any meaning or importance to any of the Indian-American society. The resolution came up in context of the Global IIT Alumni Conference scheduled to be held at Bethesda, Maryland, a suburb of Wash DC from May 20th-22nd, 2005.

Also, in regard to the conference, its a biennial congregation - the last one was held at San Jose - I personally feel, they should've held this one back home - maybe the next one.

This car is f#$@ing awesome...

Alright, I haven't been this excited making a post in a while. I'm talking about a car called the Atom 2 developed by a small British firm called Ariel Motors.

Read this - It picks up its engine from a Honda Civic R, and generates a powerful 300 bhp - best part is - the Atom weighs a little over 500 kgs - So you get almost 600 bhp/tonne - hahaha.. Sorry can't help it. When I first heard that, it had me rolling on the floor. There's more - it does 0-60 in 2.9 secs :D

Its a piece of engineering brilliance. And get this - I wasn't kidding when I called Ariel Motors a small firm - they have just 7 employees - simply brilliant.

In Tom Keating's words, this is as close to a street-legal Formula 1 car you can get.

Top Gear did a feature on the Atom 2 recently. Here is a link to the video - you are going to love this.

Auxiliary display for Laptops

I am sure most of us have seen flip-phones (am talking about mobile phones here) which have a small LCD display which is visible even when the phone is closed. This litte display is extremely useful as it gives us important information like time/date/battery and caller identification without having to open the cellphone every time.

Microsoft has been working on auxiliary display for a while now - it should up in news around Feb this year. Well the guys at Engadget got a chance to demo it for themselves.

You can find pics and details of what's possible here. In a nutshell, they were able to do basic stuff like check the calender, view e-mail and control the media player even when the laptop was off.

Reminds me to some extent of the Audio CD player in some old HP laptops - it also had a single line display which showed battery percentage - and used to work even with the laptop turned off.

Best part is - MS guys at hand said that APIs will be made available for developers to use the aux display :)

Verizon cooperates

The problemof providing Emergency 911 services has been a big hurdle for VoIP providers. A lot of research has gone into the technology of this - but all is to no avail if existing phone carriers fail to cooperate - which has been the case for a while now.

But now, Advanced IP Pipeline has reported that Verizon has decided to work with the VoIP companies. Verizon will provide a solution to VoIP providers via which they will be able to access Verizon's E911 calling system. They intend to start with New York city this summer, and expand eventually.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

MSN working on clustering of search results

Clustering still seems to be a topic of wide interest in the search domain. I concede that clustering will remain a best-effort algorithm for the most of it - as there will always be clusters which make no sense or are unnecessary - but still is extremely beneficial for the end user.

MSN seems to be experimenting with clustering for their search engine. MSR Asia has developed the MSRA SRC Toolbar and also a web interface for clustered search for MSN, MSNBC and MSNBETA. Try it out here.


Slashdot is reporting that Microsoft is sending out legal letters to "bloggers" demanding the removal of Longhorn screenshots.

Its funny, first its a publicly available beta, secondly, they never mentioned anything about not posting screenshots when they distributed it to the attendees of WinHEC. Do visit the link on Slashdot - it has latest information on the reasons for MS to do this.

If this remains the case, then the link on my previous post may go dead very soon.

GM delivers first fuel cell truck to US Military

Old news, but just came across it via ExtremeTech.

Points to note in the above report are:
1. Two 94 kW fuel cell stacks.
2. Run on hydrogen and convert it to electricity and water.
3. NO other tailpipe emissions
4. 252 hp and 317 foot-pounds of torque
5. perf stats comparable to a 5.3L V8 gasoline engine - very impressive.
6. range of 125 miles - needs improvement :) - but good work considering that the design was not optimized for range

Fuel cells are a clean and quiet technology. Sure is a positive step.

Search Google Print

Google Print has already digitized a world of content. Now using a query like you can search for material through Google Print.

NOTE : If you follow the link above, it'll take you to a page of results from Google Print for C. Using the search box on the top you can perform other searches.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Longhorn screenshots

Attendees of WinHEC 2005 got another exciting trinket to carry home - another pre-beta build of the Longhorn OS - titled release 5048 - these have been rare from MS.

The folks at Flexbeta have a massive number of screenshots for our viewing pleasure. Enjoy.

Monday, April 25, 2005

WinHEC 2005

This week is gonna be all about Microsoft and WinHEC 2005. WinHEC is MS's annual hardware engineer's conference. This year, the build-up to WinHEC was mainly the announcement that MS was planning to launch the 64-bit Windows.

Another interesting bit doing the rounds was around the website titled StartSomethingPC. Another MS campaign, this had various bloggers discussing what it might be. Well, the curtain has been raised today - It is a PC design contest from MS and IDSA.

Anshul's kid brother, a friend of mine is doing extensive coverage of WinHEC. Link here to Kunal's reports from Seattle - Good job Kunal, and yup.. I think we all envy the goodies bag.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Something that all cellular providers should do

T-Mobile launched this website recently. You can enter any street address and get a decent idea of how T-Mobile's signal coverage is in the area.

A must check before signing up with them. It is the sort of information that needn't be updated real-time or anything - and hence there isn't any major technical challenge to it. Though, definitely is an innovative service.

"Gandhi" speaks for Telecom Italia :)

Nothing techie about this. For once a completely non-technical post..!

Epica Awards are Europe's premier awards for creativity in advertising. One of the ads honored in the ceremony earlier this year was the "Gandhi" spot by Telecom Italia. I found this advertisement to be simply brilliant. Take a look for yourselves.

Watch here.

MS launching 64-bit OS on Monday

Long after making the betas freely available, Microsoft has finally chosen WinHEC as the stage to launch the 64-bit version of its OSs. Detailed report on InformationWeek is here.

Gmail.. you got competition

I find this quite funny - while we have been going through all the hoopla about Gmail's bottomless storage plan - and the unprecedented 2 GB e-mail box - a relatively modest website HRiders is offering this.

Yup, its a 1 TB mailbox - and whats more they're servers are housed in an environmentally safe solar powered facility. Ok Gmail - the gauntlet has been thrown :). Impressive. I'm gonna get my terabyte right now.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

XBOX 360 is coming on MTV

Preview teaser for XBOX 360 is out. Here is the link.

Microsoft have big plans for the release - they are doing a 30-minute special on MTV on May 12th. Some details here.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Perfect liquid

A very interesting particle physics experiment - resulted in unexpected results. Scientists believe that this would give is better insight on the state of the universe immedietly after the Big Bang. Interesting read.

Linux isn't cancer after all

Irony.. Irony.. Sweet irony..!!

Microsoft announced that the Service Pack 1 for its PC virtualization software Virtual Server 2005 WILL have support for Linux. This isn't surprising at all. MS needs to wage its battle against Linux - yes, but its virtualization software will never stand its ground against VMware without *NIX support. Therefore, this had to happen - and with SP1 scheduled for arrival around year-end, I think they are still running behind the competition.

The irony lies in the fact that the announcement was made by none other than Mr. Steve Ballmer. In 2001, Ballmer stated that "Linux is a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches." Ballmer has followed up that statement with a number of seething attacks on Linux over the past few years. Makes it all the more ironical to have him announce Linux support offered by a MS product.

Games for education..?

The name of the game is perilously close to the blockbuster "Sin City" - but any Sim fan would know what I am talking about. Sim City, rated by IGN as one of the top games of all time, is easily one of the most complex and addictive games I have ever laid hands on.

BBC reports here that EA and the local authorities of the town of Gillingham, Kent, teamed up to develop a customized version of the Sim City game to teach junior school kids about town planning and environment issues. My heartfelt congratulations to the makers of Sim City on this feat.

Though, this effort was carried out on a small scale, it shows how capable today's computer gaming industry is. About 3 years ago, I attended a conference in New Delhi, India. The start of the conference was delayed due to late arrival of some of the dignitaries. I recall, how an audience of around 80 people was left captivated, as the organizers just left running a CPU Vs. CPU Brazil Vs. France game in FIFA 2002 on the LCD. Since then, I never doubted that given the advanced nature of the game engines and top-notch graphics, many video games can serve more purposes than just entertainment.

Flight sims started out as training modules and proved successful games - I can see many titles go the other way. For example, many sports titles like FIFA series, Madden NFL series etc could be used for sports training and strategy formulation. Sim City like games can be used to hone planning skills - this is evident from the above.

Another game I would like to make special mention of is the Championship Manager series. The CMs have been another vastly popular series involving sports strategy. Despite the fact that the CM series has always been text-based games with no graphics, their game engine is simply superb. Courtesy of their HUGE fan base, they also receive the best scout reports for players from across the world. This allows them to correctly model hundreds of thousands of professional and amatuer players. Diehard CM players will tell you stories of how the CM games were able to predict/scout excellent football talent even before they hit the world stage.

Moral of the story is, that video games can and should play a greater role.

Indy from Freenet developer

Ian Clarke presents Indy. For the un-initiated, Ian Clarke is the original designer and lead developer for Freenet.

So how is Indy different..? It is another P2P client which uses advanced collaborative filtering to provide you with independent music you would like. It basically allows you to rate what you hear, and its profile of your listening interests improve with the more songs you rate. Thereafter, you can permanently add songs to your playlist and also allow Indy to fetch more music.

Indy plans to target the independent music genre. We have seen time and again, that there is a lot of good music out there which goes un-promoted by the big labels. The biggest plus for this music is that it is all FREE. Hence, RIAA doesn't/shouldn't have a problem as long as it stays that way. Indy's definitely worth a try.

Cell Transplant cures diabetes

Am not a bio person at all - but this peice of news on Slashdot caught my eye.

These things prove to be very inspiritational. It is a constant reminder that while we expand our horizons into new technology, and extend the reach of our explorations, we are still on a learning curve about our own selves. Slowly but surely we are chipping away at it. Keep up the good work..!

MS jumping into thin-clients

As reported here, Microsoft is all set to dive into the Thin client market with two "thin" releases of the popular Win XP.

Smart move by MS. If MS can provide an OS which can (somewhat) automate the process of bringing ancient machines onto thin client/server networks, then they would definitely be hitting the nail on the head. Such a product would not only be commercially successful, but would definitely help technology in general.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Anti P2P tool..?

A Finnish company Viralg claims to have come up with the definitive anti-P2P tool. This report here has details.

Anyone who used Kazaa a few years ago, would know of the usual problem where people renamed and/or resized their files to look like other content. Result is that users on the network get files constructed from various sources, in which some of the sources maybe sharing something completely different - finally leading to corrupted files. This problem/frustration drove away a number of Kazaa users.

The solution that was devised was simple and obvious. To provide a hash of the file's contents and only use other download sources if the Hash matches.

Viralg seems to be using this exact same problem to render P2P sharing networks useless. They claim to have a patented algorithm which allows them to artificially spoof the hash values to make garbage files look like real content. If such files are shared long enough on a network, theoretically, they will be able to corrupt a lot of the files that they are spoofing hence, protecting content.

Their website has a link to a demonstration claiming/showing 100% success, but the demonstration isn't to be seen anywhere. I wonder if this turns out to be a hoax which got too much media attention too early.

Snap suggests differently

Snap provides a Google Suggest type of search interface. It looks like and probably is yet another search engine no where close to Google - but they do one thing differently, and maybe a touch better.

Unlike, Google Suggest which gives the count of number of results for a query, Snap on the other hand, provides and sorts on the number of queries made by users. Its hard to say, unless statistically proven either way, that which of the two provides better search results/experience for users - but I do find this innovative, and think, this might just a be a touch a better.

Search queries are personally motivated, but on many occasions we see a surge of acertain search keywords owing to news or certain events. For example, the sad demise of the Pope would have led to a lot more queries on the Pope's life, hence making "Pope John Paul II" a very common search string. So, Snap's way might definitely be the way to go, if Google decides to make a Suggest for something like news or for Froogle.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Now maintain Google Search History

I'm trying hard not to look like a Google evangelist here, but Google is the one making all the news. Google Labs is churning out new services at the rate of knots.

Another excellent service added to the ranks of Google. "My Search History" keeps a track of all searches made via Google. You should be able to see a "Sign-in" link on the top-right corner of Google now which allows you to log into this service.

Its usage is simple - login with your Google account at the above link to set-up your search history account. Go to the Google homepage while still logged in and use it like always. The only difference now, is that Google will keep a track of all keyword and also maintain a history of all websites visited from within Google search results.

Search histories are typically maintained as browser cache on personal machines. Having a service like this allows you to access your history from any machine anywhere - allowing you to retrieve information which you thought you had lost. I can remember innumerable instances where I struggled to find a website just because I did not recall the exact keywords I used previously in my search. Other search engines like A9 already provide this feature, and I personally think, for Google it was just overdue.

The history is maintained date-wise, and a convenient calender is part of the interface. The dates in the calender are shaded using a simple color-scheme to indentify search intensive days. It also keeps track of the number of visits to a page. In case you are signed-in and a search result shows a page you already visited, then alongside the result - you will also see the time-stamp of the last visit retrieved from your history. Of course, it also provides search to search through your history.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

P2P traffic on the up. Anyone surprised..?

Interesting article about Internet traffic trends. No surprises P2P traffic is just about constant. If anything, the awareness created by AAs has just increased traffic somewhat.. SWEET..!!

This reminds me of an article I read about 3 months ago - I think on Slashdot - which said that BitTorrent alone accounted for 70% of all Internet traffic :)

VoIP is another major player. So clearly VoIP is quickly moving out from the "early-adopter"s stage into a very mature service.

Grouper on the watch list..?

For the un-initiated, Grouper is a P2P sharing software. Unlike traditional Gnutella based clients, Grouper claims to be optimized for small personalized sharing of content. It uses concepts from social networks in the creation of sharing communities, many of which are formed on an invite system. It has many advanced features for members of these communities, like IM, group logging (glogs), audio streaming, and of course file sharing. They also claim to encrypt all IM and file transfer exchanges.

I personally use Grouper to share data with colleagues and old friends from school. It is extremely heavy on the system due to its rather complicated GUI, but proves to be a simple and secure way of sharing data (like photos, videos) within groups.

Last week, I came across an article in the LA Times which wrote about Grouper and its possible "mis-uses". Any Grouper users would definitely want to read this - and other might just want to see how the AA's want a piece of anything that is P2P. For some one like me, who is doing research related to P2P networks, this is just not right...!

Coolest Apartment hunt ever

In an earlier post - I mentioned integration of the keyhole satellite imagery with Google Maps - I had a feeling that such a powerful tool would provide an ideal platform for many more services to come up.

Paul Rademacher here has done a very cool and innovative integration of Google Maps with Craigslist - to provide the coolest apartment hunt tool ever.

Another thing I intended to post about last week was about another Google service which seems like a cool idea - but alas - doesn't seem like it is working. I am talking about the Google Ride Finder. My understanding of the description is - that this should post live positions of vehicles. The whole plan sounded extremely ambitious to me in the first place - but you can never be sure with Google. Though, observing the Manhattan ride-finder for a few hours I realized that the positions hadn't changed. Well, its still with the Labs - so I guess it'll get there soon enough.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

AAs hit I2

The AAs are at it again. I'll limit this post to reporting this news and not to express any opinions on the debate. 405 students from 18 campuses - sad. Worse is, MPAA is also gearing up for similar action.

But, having recently graduated myself, I find it very sad that students have been targetted. I had a chance to look at I2Hub at one time - it looked like a neat piece of work. Based very much on the DC++ software, it provided very high speeds owing to the Interenet2 backbone.

More than for file transfer, it was an immense experience to be part of the online chat on I2. I2Hub connected students from hundreds of universities around the US and provided a unique platform for them to interact and share real-time.

In an ideal world, RIAA would actually look at P2P as competition and try to put them out of business. I think 99 cents per song is still a lot - and here we are still talking about 128Kbps mp3s. I could go online and download the same song with a higher sample quality and with the choice of live, acoustic, unplugged, remixed or regular. I still don't see reason to pay 99cents for a song or 20 bucks for a CD which has one good song. But I guess, this has been the debate for years.

My wishes are with the students...

Friday, April 08, 2005

One click satellite pics

Earlier this week Google integrated the satellite images collected for KeyHole into their Google Maps feature. Yet another COOL service from Google. I just wish they can get higher res pictures sometime in the future.
For people interested in looking this up follow these simple instructions :

1. Goto
2. Just above the map, right-justified in the shaded title bar you will see a link named "Satellite" - Click it.
3. Enter any US address.
4. Enjoy

Being a Columbia Grad :), I particularly liked this.

NOTE To People who know the Columbia Campus : If you check out Columbia Univ carefully - You can see the lawn in front of Butler under covers - and can see the CEPSR building emitting some smoke from the burners.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

1-minute recharge for new Toshiba battery...!

One Minute Recharge For Toshiba's Nano-Particle Coated Lithium-Ion Battery
Ok.. my first exposure to a laptop was when my Dad got one from his company a good decade ago - and I recall leaving it charging overnight - am not kidding - to be able to use it for a couple of hours the next morning.

The comparison with the battery of the 4th Gen iPod discussed in the above story is a good gauge of this groundbreaking technology.