Saturday, 30 June, 2007

Apple iPhone - less known facts & Technologies to Ponder

Apple is known for its innovative gadget design, and with the release of the iPhone today, it continues to live up to its hype. But theres a lot more to the iPhone than the hype associated with it.

Of course it is THE gadget of the time with features like the smart, multitouch screen and the advanced Web browser, and you'd do better to go and get one; but here are some less known facts and technologies under-the-hood that are generally under appreciated by the media and the public.

The iPhone has tiny, powerful sensors--an accelerometer, an ambient light sensor, and an infrared sensor--that are able to pick up cues from the environment and adjust the phone's functions accordingly. Apple has decided to use these sensors for detecting when to convert the screen view from portrait to landscape, for adjusting the brightness of the screen based on the brightness of the environment, and for disabling the touch screen when a person holds the phone to her ear.

Independent research projects at MIT, Intel, and other companies indicate that phones built with hardware such as accelerometers, light sensors, a GPS, and a microphone could provide clues about people's activities and behaviors.
Such a phone could monitor exercise habits, track an elderly relative's activities, and let friends and family know if it is an appropriate time to call or instant message the phone's owner
At Intel Labs, researchers equipped first-year students at University of Washington with an accelerometer, barometer, a humidity sensor, a thermometer, a light sensor, a digital compass, and a microphone and were able to watch social networks form as subjects with the sensors interacted.
Eagle says it would not be difficult to write consumer software that would deduce a person's basic activities, which could be used to update the status listed on an instant messenger program or a blog, for example.

Wake-up people, the future is here! (for all those of you crying over privacy issues, id just say go-to-hell.)

More for you Here

Thursday, 28 June, 2007

Fedora 7 - Enter the new world (Download links at bottom)

Its been quite a while since Fedora 7 was released (10 days is really a long long time). Im really eager to get dirty with it, especially since I heard about a lot of the major changes going on in features.

And while I wait for the distro to download fully, I thought ill share some insight here.

The Fedora Project is a Red Hat sponsored and community supported open source project.
Its goal is the rapid progress of free and open source software and content. It offers cutting edge softwares for desktop usage. The latest version of the popular Linux distribution has a lot to offer users and developers.

You might want to take a tour of the new and latest fedora 7 here.

A small note: Till now the Linux distribution was called "Fedora Core"....The core is now off and its simple fedora 7. And its power packed with features that make ur PC a lean machine!

The Exciting new features:

1.) Spins
This is a first for fedora. Spins are basically like distros. We've got millions of linux distributions out there and those that are built from the fedora base(or rather, are variations of fedora) are basically clubbed into a group, of which each member is a 'spin'.

Technically, they are variations of Fedora built from a specific set of software packages. Each spin has a combination of software to meet the requirements of a specific kind of end user.

There are mainly 3 spin choices.
  • One is a GNOME and KDE desktop environment based bootable Live image for hassle free disk installation.
  • The other one is the regular desktop image intended for desktops & servers. The adv with this is that its got a well documented and neat upgrade path for those using fc6 (fedora CORE 6!).
  • And the last one is the set of dvds that have all the fedora repository you will need to install. (I said 'need' not 'want' :-P).
2.) A small boot.iso image for network installation.
Setting up fedora 7 in a lab is not a difficulty anymore!

3.) Desktop Environment
This release features GNOME 2.18 and KDE 3.5.6.
Read more about them here: GNOME 2.18, KDE 3.5.6
Ill be sticking to the standard Gnome Env while I prepare to get my hands dirty. (Its already 36% downloaded....:)

4.) Xorg server 1.3 included and ConsoleKit enhanced...
Xorg server promises hot diplay device plug-n-play capability. ConsoleKit integration promises fast user switching but we'll have to substantiate that ;)

5.) Some other Misc points worth noting:
  • Firefox 2 includes a host of new features.
  • Fedora 7 includes a refreshing new "Flying High" theme, which is part of a continuous team effort from the community and the Fedora Artwork Project:
  • A new comprehensive graphical administration tool for SELinux, system-config-selinux is available by default in this release.
  • nVidia Card holders: Fedora has arrived! It now integrates the experimental nouveau driver within Xorg and the kernel. The nouveau driver, which is disabled by default in this release, aims to provide free and open source 3D drivers for nVidia cards. The Fedora 7 team seeks comments on this inclusion for feedback on further such attempts. Do put in a line if you find it useful! we might well have more driver integration in future.
  • This release integrates Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM) technology with Fedora’s graphical virt-manager and command-line virsh tools. KVM provides a hardware accelerated virtualization solution, and users have a choice between KVM and Xen, along with Qemu, in this release.
  • In this release, the performance of yum, Pirut, and Pup have been significantly improved.
  • This release features integration of a new FireWire stack in the kernel for more robust device handling.
  • Python 2.5 is included in this release, and all of the Python software available in the repository uses it. (Ill be starting my Python-learning-drive soon :) )
  • This release of Fedora includes Liberation fonts, which are metric equivalents for several well-known proprietary fonts found throughout the Internet. These fonts give users better results when viewing and printing shared or downloaded documents.
6.) A Really exciting development (skip to the downloads section)
This is a truly exciting development.
Fedora now includes improved power management through implementation of dynamic ticks in the kernel
Humble as it may seem, it represents a generation of change in kernel development. Ill try to simplify what it means and the difference it will make.

There is a general trend among kernel developers to create a 'tickless' kernel for improved power efficiency. It abandons traditional time-keeping methods for a more power-friendly technique.

In simple terms...lemme put it this way. When you have multiple things(processes) running on your PC, there is a lot of scheduling that is being done .. and very frequently too. so then the kernel has to "check for work to be done" very frequently. And remember, our processors have capabilities ranging in gigahertz. So that means a Lot of checks are futile (no work to be done :( ).

The tickless kernel, instead of frequently checking for work to be done, schedules the hardware to interrupt when it knows a future job will require attention. Again simplifying it, you may say its like reaping the advantages of using interrupts rather than polling!

Ill write another detail post on this exciting technology some time later. For now, here are some download links:

Download Links

  • Fedora 7 DVD ISO download
    - Visit mirror to download Fedora ISO images (2.7 GB)

  • Fedora 7 DVD ISO BitTorrent download
    - Download from BitTorrent (requires a BitTorrent client)

  • Fedora 7 Live CD ISO download
    - Use Live CD (700M) if internet connection is slow or you just want to see how Fedora works and looks in its new flavour. You can install fedora from Live cd (Thats the best part about this time's release. Nice work, fedora team!).

Upgrading from Fedora Core 6 to fedora 7 with YUM package.

With its improved YUM performance this release, Here is a very interesting Article describing the Upgrade for those of you already on the fedora bandwagon!

Alright...time to get my hands dirty with fedora!

Friday, 22 June, 2007

The Holy Crusade: Its Google vs Microsoft again!

OK this is the latest that has hit the wires:
Microsoft Changing Vista Desktop Search

Microsoft's compromise with the U.S. Justice Department, detailed in a report released late Tuesday, allows Windows Vista users to set a non-Microsoft program as the default search engine on hard drives. Microsoft will also add a link to that alternate program in the Windows Start menu, but will not change the way Vista "Instant Search" technology works.

Recent concessions by Microsoft are part of a broader battle between the two companies. While Windows continues to dominate the desktop operating system market, Google's ability to make money from search advertising has left Microsoft scrambling to catch up. Google has also stepped into traditional Microsoft territory in the past year with a set of free, Web-based programs for word processing, spreadsheets and presentations.

Tuesday's regularly scheduled status report came after Google filed a 49-page document with the Justice Department in April, claiming that Vista's desktop search tool slowed competing programs, including Google's own free offering. Google also said it's too difficult for users to figure out how to turn off the Microsoft program.

It is interesting to see how millions of us are closely following the so called 'crusade' between Microsoft and Google. In the not so forlorn past we can trace a similar analogy that prevailed between Apple and Microsoft.

Its easy to see that every attempt of Microsoft to provide default Ms tools to its users has created a hunch for many other software providers. consider these for eg:

Computer security software companies testing early versions of Vista last year also believed that the operating system might interfere with users' ability to chose products other than Microsoft's.

Also last year, Google told the Justice Department it was concerned that Internet Explorer 7, Microsoft's latest Web browser, made it harder for PC users to install toolbars of competing search engines. Regulators declined to intervene, but Microsoft still changed the way Explorer worked. And at the request of antitrust authorities in Korea and Europe, Microsoft released versions of Vista without the Windows Media Player.
The instant search technology so ambitiously flouted in the new vista release has been said to have existed in the Mac since prehistoric times (A very huge fan following would resist any of your attempts to prove otherwise). However, software developers have a different take to it:

Microsoft is enmeshed in a similar battle with the European Union, which has levied more than a billion dollars in fines against the software maker for depriving competitors of technical information, and charging too much for some licenses.

In response to claims that Vista's "Instant Search" slows other products, Microsoft agreed to give competitors technical information to help optimize performance.

Google had initially raised concerns about desktop search in December. The April complaint that drew public attention to the skirmish was filed just days after Microsoft called for antitrust regulators to scrutinize the search company's planned $3.1 billion acquisition of online ad service DoubleClick Inc. (That was a big story in itself).

More of an interesting read here.
Here is the Antitrust case filings (for those of you too interested!).

As I said it will be interesting to see how the two companies continue their skirmish. As users, of course, Its a pleasant ride all the way to the end. The more the competition, the more the options we have and the better it is. All we can do is spectate, comment, participate and enjoy the ride!

Wednesday, 20 June, 2007

A Lookback at Our Experience @ Imagine Cup India SDI Finals - The Beginning

Alright this was long overdue...So here goes a small adventure that I've been through this last semester@college. Its all about our (first)experience at the Imagine Cup competition held by Microsoft. For those of you who admit to be naive, you'd do better to click <here> and <here(details)> to find out more and the rest of on with patience.

The competition has a strange knack of getting into the line of fire for various reasons by various people. Id love to talk about the Open source movement and alternatives to .NET as well as competition policies/privacy policies some day. But today is not that day.

'Twas the beginning of March (As far as my poor memory recollects) and I along with some friends & college mates was at the GRID the time discussing about current projects etc.
We were a team of 4: Roshan Sumbaly (Roshy - the senior), Shubham Malhotra, Gaurav Paruthi and O'course I, myself; and we were involved in a project related to GRID computing at the time. It is needless to say that BITS college life turns us into nocturnal creatures; and not being an exception, I could proudly say at the time: "Laziness is the most active thing inside me!".

Well, so as our discussions focussed on our techfest preps (QUARK - our own science & technology festival) we started thinking, inadvertently, about competitions. Having been to IIT Bombay's techfest earlier this year, we were in no mood to participate in another College festival (We had simply had enough of it for this sem at least!). We knew that the Ms organized compttn Imagine cup was coming up and upon inspection of the website, we realized that the theme this time was education.

What followed was a small brainstorming session (I would rather not call it a brainstorming session because we hadn't thought of participating whole heartedly - just to have some fun!). This continued over at DC @night and we finally hit upon an idea. The deadline was still out of sight, and, disconcerting as the habit is, it was remembered just the very day before round-1 submission deadline. I had to quickly make up a write up of our concept for submission and we managed to get it through just in the nick of time. Of course, who cares, we're just doing it for some fun; and even getting into the top 75 teams was enough as far as we were concerned. We already had a lot in our hands and mind you, QUARK 2k7 was approaching at the time.

The week that followed has been and probably will be the busiest week of my life@BITS. I was supposed to be the chief organizer of Quark (of course Hari Sudan was d head Org...and it was mostly upto him to manage the important as well as the nitty-gritty work. We were all there to assist and take responsibility). Roshan was the organizer too ... he'd, of course, the most imp role of gettin da main sponsors and organizing the main workshops, events etc etc. Shubham was the event management coordinator while Gaurav was the event manager of an event 'Lines of code'.

So, you see, we were all heavily involved in the safari ride that was to take place at BITS Goa in a week...and guess what? we were already stranded in the middle of the jungle! You see, organizing an event to be held on a national scale, that too the first time, is really a formidable job.

No, really!

As a spectator it seems easy and jovial but it soon becomes excruciating when the stakes are high. You get to learn a real lot from such an experience. It shows you that idealistic management is so different from practical management. So many new challenges at every step and a degree of risk involved with every decision. Of course, some of the crucial decisions were taken through a we could take solace in blaming the rest of the committee if it didnt work out! All in all I think we managed pretty well for a first time. Of course we could have done better, but there are some things we couldn't help -things that jeopardized our budget plans. But we couldn't help it. Where there is power and where there are people, there is politics.

But hey, it was one hell of a battle. And we were one hell of a crew!

Oh..and did I mention, we had thought of participating in one of the 'Open Software showcase' events of QUARK with our IC (ImagineCup) Idea? Well, we had; but were forced to drop it due to stringent persuasion from the rest of the participating members of our college!

So! Round 1 results were out and we managed to clear the first round of the competition. Party Time! But wait...Deadline for Round 2 was approaching...and this time we were supposed to give an interview as well....That spells serious work! The next week or so saw lots of brainstorming over ideas and technologies and final project specifications. It was the one thing that kept us nocturnal creatures alive by the day and out of our den.

So the D-day arrived...I remember it was exactly the day before Quiz-II started. We had 'screwed up' our Quiz-1 thanks to QUARK..and we had absolutely 'No Idea' about the syllabus for Quiz-2 until now. Of course it would be utter blasphemy if I don't mention that Roshan was an extreme exception to this! (Im sure u get d point).
The Interview was scheduled to be at 3 pm...and we were toying around with our idea since 11 thinking of what we would be asked and what we should stress on. It went well...smooth and encouraging and we kept our fingers crossed.

As expected Quiz-2 went disastrous for us all.

Next thing we know we are greeted by a mail from Microsoft which says 'Youve Stepped Up!'.
We qualified to the Top 10 teams in India! Now this calls for a Party!

So now our real work had started. We were in the league...and on our way to the national finals.
Compre's were round the corner, no doubt, but we were attuned to this mode of 'Ignorance' which is bliss! And bliss it was...until the very end.

Ill be posting on the 'Finals Xperience' next. Keep tuned

Wednesday, 13 June, 2007

Engineering College Rankings - Outlook vs India Today

So its finally out.
Last time it was India Today and now its Outlook.
Im talking about the Great Coveted survey and rankings of Engineering, Medical and other colleges/universities in India. The June edition of Outlook features a grand cover story over this.

Among the top 50 Private Institutes/colleges, BITS Pilani ( topped the list while BIT Mesra was second closely followed by other colleges including Vellore Inst of Technology (VIT), DCE, NSIT, Thapar etc etc.

A Point to note is that BITS Pilani opted out of India Today's survey because of a pending court case between them (India Today had cited wrong facts about the collg in the 2005 survey, as claimed by the university). However there are no qualms against Outlook as far as I know.

A lot of people rely on these rankings to decide their "destiny" during Engg entrance exams and counselling. A lot of other people have rubbished these surveys as mere rubbish and some even say that they are bogus and biased. There was a great furore over India Today's Survey and you will find various blogs and posts that convey a general sentiment among the public that the rankings were more or less "cooked up".

Well, In my opinion, It does not matter what the rank of your instt is, what matters is who you are. period. A guy who time-passes for his 4 years even at an IIT is no better than someone who makes productive use of his/her graduation time at any college.

The "final verdict" is to be decided by the populace alone...lets see whether this turns out to be "yet another survey" and finds the wrath of the people; or whether this turns out to be a more acceptable one!

PS: Here is the link 4 u to read (you need to create a free account on outlook to view these pages):
Link #1, Link #2

UPDATE: A follow up of this article is here: [].
About: This is about the engineering college rankings (or the so called perception among people, of ranking). In my opinion, all the fuss is about confusion and misinformation. Half the students who get into engineering dont know what it is about, or what they want to do in life. What are the possible solutions? and why all this craze about engineering in India?

Celebrating Technology

Technology is Driving the current age. From everything that has ever been to everything that will ever be, It is the single factor that contributes most to it. The only thing thats constant is "change".

Ill be blogging about my adventures in technology and various tid bits that I manage to get along the way. You'll get to read more of a compilation, along with personal projects and experiences with lots of info on various upcoming technologies thrown in.

Lets Celebrate Technology!