Thursday 6 November 2008

Vista Troubles and Office woes...

If there is anything I hate about technology, its institutionalization.
Think about it.

Everything we do with our Personal Computers, mobile phones, internet connections, and a bunch of other software has made us institutionalized.

Institutionalized in many senses of the word... We have become institutionalized to the user interface, the taskbar, the start menu, the OK / Cancel buttons whenever a dialogue box pops up, and many many things. In the absense of any of these, we feel left in the dark, insecure, and unsure.


Recently I got institutionalized to Windows Vista, and had to shift over from my earlier OS: fedora 9, for two reasons. Firstly, one of my courses this semester, creative multimedia, relies on Adobe Creative Suite 3, which runs only on Windows. Secondly, I had a lot of trouble getting the campus Wi-fi to work in fedora. But this institutionalization has its own demerits. I faced two problems (and when I googled, I found I wasnt alone).
===================================================================

Sonic Solutions DLA

On every Machine reboot, I would get a warning message saying:


this driver is blocked due to compatibility issues
sonic solutions
dlapublisher: sonic solutions


It turns out, this is due to the roxio drag and drop feature, which came bundled with the OS. The solution:


Open Up 'My Computer' and delete these files and folders if they exist.

C:\Program Files\Roxio\Drag-to-disc\

C:\Windows\DLA.EXE'

C:\Windows\System32\DLA\C:\Windows\System32\DLAAPI_W.DLL

C:\Windows\System32\drivers\DLACDBHM.SYS

C:\Windows\System32\drivers\DLARTL_M.SYS


Now, reboot. The problem should vanish.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Microsoft Office Word, Crashes on exit

This happened overnight. I didnt install anything new, no new drivers, no new softwares, no uninstalls, but yet one fine day My Word crashes whenever I close it. Heres what it says: "Microsoft Office Word has stopped working". Additional information:

Problem signature:
Problem Event Name: APPCRASH
Application Name: WINWORD.EXE
Application Version: 12.0.4518.1014
Application Timestamp: 45428028
Fault Module Name: mso.dll
Fault Module Version: 12.0.4518.1014
Fault Module Timestamp: 4542867b
Exception Code: c0000005
Exception Offset: 0003977b
OS Version: 6.0.6000.2.0.0.768.2
Locale ID: 1033



Additional information about the problem:
LCID: 1033
Brand: Office12Crash
skulcid: 1033



Solution:


If you want to work on Word, goto command prompt, and start winword.exe with the /a switch. It will work, but without addons. Its a relief, coz I can finally get my work done without bothering to search for the Office installation DVD, repairing office or uninstalling and reinstalling it...



Goto start, type cmd and press enter.


Navigate to C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\Office12


Type in "winword.exe /a" without the quotes and press enter. And now, it works!


And while ur at it, goto the office menu (top left), word options, add-ins and disable the culprit after you've identified it (no choice but to try all of them out one by one, unless you're sure).


Note that this solution works only if the fault module (in the crash message) is "mso.dll". In other common cases, the fault module starts with "hp... .dll". In such cases, your HP printer driver is causing problems and you need to uninstall it to get word to work.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The Hibernate Option in Windows Vista is Gone!

This happened to me when I tried to clean up my C drive (system drive).

Right clicking the drive > Properties > disk cleanup

Here, I chose to remove everything I could, to make some space. And accidentally also removed the Hibernation file from the list (which was consuming > 4 GB of space at the time).

So now I find that the hibernate option has gone missing. I cant even enable it. It isnt there in the power options, neither is it there anywhere else. I was forced to make-do with the sleep option. But the solution i quite simple:

Get into the command prompt, open it in administrative mode (by right clicking the icon in the start menu and selecting run as administrator), and type in:

powercfg /hibernate on

Reboot. And voila, hibernate is back in the "Microsoft Power Options" and the shutdown menu.


===================================================================


I know institutionalization is bad, but in some cases its just about optimization. In the enterprise, professionals would rather continue with the inefficiencies of a system they know how to use, than invest time (and money) in learning a new and better systems (including open source counterparts) with hopes of improved performance.


The day when Open Source software institutionalizes the users as much, or more, than Microsoft has; will be the day when we will get to see true competition at its best...


Till then, its make-do time...

Sunday 26 October 2008

Subversive Art

I just finished an interesting book titled "Film As A Subversive Art" by Amos Vogel" which is considered to be among the most unorthodox film histories in history. The author was also the founder of the New York City avantgarde ciné-club Cinema 16 (America's most important film club 1947-1963).

The book talks about the history of films that have been subversive in nature, first being used as tools by new, emerging, revolutionary groups (like the socialists and communists) and later being used against these very establishments. He also talks about subversion in a different sense, in the art of film making itself, in the portrayal of ideas, forms, shapes and direction - how they have responded over the years to a constant desire to challenge the existing norms and techniques of film-making (for example he talks about the movement of camera and camera angles as a revolution in itself). The artbook's review says:
So ahead of his time was Vogel that the ideas that he penned some 30 years ago are still relevant today, and readily accessible in this classic volume. Accompanied by over 300 rare film stills, Film as a Subversive Art analyzes how aesthetic, sexual, and ideological subversives use one of the most powerful art forms of our day to exchange or manipulate our conscious and unconscious, demystify visual taboos, destroy dated cinematic forms, and undermine existing value systems and institutions. This subversion of form, as well as of content, is placed within the context of the contemporary world view of science, philosophy, and modern art, and is illuminated by a detailed examination of over 500 films, including many banned, rarely seen, or never released works.


The essence of book lies in eternal subversive art, where the author stresses that subversiveness is an inseparable attribute of true art. The freedom to question lies at the heart of what art is all about.

Indeed, if you notice, one of the most prominent periods in history of art was during the renaissance age, which undoubtedly came about as a result of opposition to the existing Church regime.

Its really amazing to see the time and age when Vogel wrote down the book. The fascimile edition, you will notice, is written such that the concepts have been conveyed in so abstract a sense that they are meaningful even today. This and this will give you a better read into the history / biography of Vogel and Film at his time, including cinema 16.

His work seems to be inspired in part by the outrage against Nazi oppression of occupied Europe. (He fled Nazism with his parents in 1938 to the American South, where, he noted, the racial divide was analogous to the anti-Semitism he witnessed in Europe).

We are what we are today as a result of what our ancestors were yesterday. In pre-historic times, the fear of attack and conflict with other tribes/animals was a catalyst for social bonding and building of groups. This, as it often happens, was (mis)used by many as a tool for power during the medieval ages, and later during the 19th century too (If you remember, it was the fear of communism that lead to appeasement of, and the rise of fascism WWII). In today's world, the fear is not as much of attack or danger, as it is about the curb of freedom.

Its not only about Film, but any art in general is used by the prevailing authority to reinforce the prevailing cultural values and beliefs. Look at China today, talk about the "cultural revolution", look at the promotional art propagated by the nazis, The communists at the time of Lenin were no different. Look at the media today, they seem to be reinforcing beliefs too.

But then history is witness to the fact that the nature of art is such that there cannot be no contradiction. There will always be a form of art questioning the prevalent obvious. Theres a British band (the name slips my mind, ill update the post when I recall later) who have taken it upon themselves to produce the most horrifying and unpleasant music as is humanly possible. This they say, is their attempt to oppose social norms and do things differently.

Grosz once said of his work:
I drew and painted out of a spirit of contradiction, trying in my works to convince the world that it was ugly, sick and mendacious
The origin of abstract paintings also shares a similar notion.

If you have ever heard of the Manhua comics, you will realize that what I am trying to say.
The first Manhua comic appeared on the Chinese market in 1928. The genre was used as a political tool during the Second World War and by Mao's regime, before being adopted by today's underground artists, intent on challenging the state.

During Mao's Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, comics were used as propaganda, featuring a smiling workforce and heroic images from folk legends.

In recent years, the artform has been adopted by a group of underground illustrators to challenge notions of freedom and modernisation in China.

Because of their subversive nature, Manhua comics are not granted licences to be sold in bookshops, so artists give away artwork or send it free to mobile phones.

[Offtopic note: Manhua comics now come to britain ]


Here's another take on subversive art blogging.



And Here's a really interesting depiction of subversive art in guerilla marketting.













If you ever get to read the book, and if you appreciate it, you would love to view the films that he discusses at great length. Here's a site which makes an attempt to provide most of them.

IMO, the quest for subversion will forever remain as long as art remains; for there will always be opposition and curbs of varying form and degree in times to come. There will always be something to oppose and something to embrace, for change is the only constant, and without that, we cease to exist.

Wednesday 8 October 2008

Internet, Network and our Rights - BITS Pilani Goa Campus

I am writing this blog entry out of sheer desperation over the hopeless actions continually undertaken by our network administrators and providers in college.

I am a 4th year student of BITS Pilani Goa campus. I have been studying here for more than 3 years. In today's world, network availability and quality internet access is indispensable for any sort of academic activity. Let me recall the issues that I am talking about:
  • The entire college shares the internet over a 4 Mbps connection. This connection is further bifurcated through the use of multiple proxies for the faculty, staff and students. The exact bandwidth available to us is not made public, but I can vouch for the fact that a common google search, for which Google, Inc. takes 0.12 seconds takes well over 10 seconds to display on my room connection now, at 11pm today. (And it has been roughly the same almost every day).
  • The internet access is unavailable in our hostel rooms from morning 9 to evening 5. Presumably this has been done to increase attendance in classes. If this were so, wouldnt cutting hostel electricity be the logical next step? Is it moral to restrict someone's right over a basic necessity for something like attendance? Why not just let the grade reflect the attendance issues and let internet and other rights be left alone?
  • This semester, we have timed internet slots of 2 hours each, during which we get access to the internet - hostel wise. Did we know we were paying for this at the start of each year? Do we _want_ to pay for this? If low bandwidth is the problem, shouldn't a raise in the payments be an issue of debate? Shouldn't quotations be obtained from other service providers in search for the best deal? Have we seen any such attempt? I am afraid not.
  • Up until a month ago, I couldn't search for 'tuberculosis' on the internet because of the censorship policy.
    I couldnt search for 'chest cancer'.
    Nothing with 'teen' included.
    I couldnt apply to university of georgia because it had the phrase 'orgi' in it.
    I cannot log on to orkut to join communities for placement discussions and project discussions.
    Facebook has now been banned
    I cannot update my Linux system (fedora) with online repositories because apparently their download links have banned phrases.
    People have had to change their blog titles and had to rename sketches on their blog (remove the word 'Girl'!) to make sure they are accessible in campus.
    I could go on, and this list runs into thousands...
    I relied heavily on anonymous proxies to do this for me. And I'm not alone, a lot of my colleagues have to resort to it too. And given our bandwidth, imagine the patience that goes into such an effort. Add to that our growing censorship of these anonymous proxies by our self-proclaimed morality-keepers, the network administrators.
  • Our internal file sharing p2p network - DC (which has been the centre-stage of file search and information exchange in campus) - is in danger of being shut down because it is claimed (as per the notice put up), that it affects 'internet' bandwidth. I fail to see how much the internet bandwidth is affected by a p2p-based network which runs on a 100 Mbps network.
  • I'm afraid that if this continues, whatever we share over the network may come under surveillance of network staff and if deemed inappropriate the network facility will close down.
    I'm afraid that soon, there will be a day when each of our computers will be scanned for 'inappropriate' or 'banned' material.
    As deplorable as it sounds, these actions are still tolerable if these bans were legitimate, but 'tuberculosis' , 'chest' , 'georgia' etc. being considered 'inappropriate' ??

    Is this what we have come to?

It seems that internet usage and LAN are considered more of a privilege than a right in this campus. But are we, as students, paying for a privilege? Something that may be denied to us at the free whim of some external agency (These bans are suggested and implemented by the network admins, some of whom work for Wipro)?
Who decides the morality of these restrictive actions that affect our usage?
In any considerate society (and I believe ours is a considerate society), a person who pays for a service decides how best to use it. Shouldn't the people who pay for these services, decide how to use it best? This is how it should be, but morality creeps in, and in order to justify the incorrect actions the general fall-back claim is
'The students don't know what is right and wrong. By imposing restrictions, we prevent them from doing wrong things'
Two questions:
  • Who decides right from wrong? Should it be the administrative staff who provide the connectivity?
  • When the network admins say that a particular policy or a restriction needs to be taken to 'improve connectivity' or 'bandwidth' , are they always right? most of the times, 'NO'. There are many other ways of achieving better connectivity but those options have never been explored. My guess is that this is because our network admins are incapable of, or do not know all the different ways and do not wish to let this incapability be known to the general public. As a result, secrecy creeps in. They do whatever they want and claim it is the right thing to do. Haven't we already abandoned this kind of thinking long ago when the renaissance age crept in? Has there ever been an open debate in campus over this issue discussing these policies? I don't recall any.
Today, I was intrigued about the economic crises that have brought a lot of countries to the brink of bankruptcy.
I couldn't read the New York Times, because www.nytimes.com has been banned by our network administrators. This is what it says:
Access to the page: http://www.nytimes.com
... has been denied for the following reason:
Banned site: nytimes.com

You are seeing this error because what you attempted to access appears to contain, or is labeled as containing, material that has been deemed inappropriate.
Reading international news is considered inappropriate?
We are paying for this connection, not to be told that few of the most informative and educative sites are "inappropriate" for viewing. And by the way, who decides on the appropriateness of sites? If the network admins provide us with connectivity, does it automatically give them a right to
  • control what we do with the connection?
  • pry on our usage and violate our privacy?
  • dictate moral terms on the usage of the connection?
As an analogy, does providing us with a hostel to live, automatically entitle the wardens to impose on us a lifestyle of their liking and self-proclaimed morality? (I'm not talking about socially acceptable norms). It obviously doesn't. And similarly issues of morality should be considered separately from issues of connectivity, service and bandwidth.

When the Local Area Network and the Internet were designed and made public, they were done so as to enable everyone to stay connected without bounds and restrictions. And the internet and even intranet networks today exist between many societies across the world.
Ours is a civilized society where we have rights and liberties and duties.
Recently, various international human rights organizations, the Internet Society, Human Rights Watch, The American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the Association des Utilisateurs d'Internet and other civil liberties and human rights organizations have joined together to create a Global Internet Liberty Campaign (http://gilc.org). Two of their principles that I would like to highlight are:
  • The Global Internet Liberty Campaign advocates prohibiting prior censorship of on-line communication.
  • The Global Internet Liberty Campaign advocates insisting that on-line free expression (reading and writing) not be restricted by indirect means such as excessively restrictive governmental or private controls over computer hardware or software, telecommunications infrastructure, or other essential components of the Internet.
You can read more about the principles here: http://gilc.org/about/principles.html
The GILC invites all aware and conscious global citizens like us to join them.
We invite you our fellow users from around the world who are interested in taking concerted action to protect the Internet to join us in this campaign.
I would definitely support the cause of this campaign. And in case you are an open and aware internet user, I would like you to do so too.

India is a free nation. We have laws of freedom and liberty applicable to all our citizens. And as 21 yr old citizen, I am entitled to my rights. I have the freedom of equality, of speech, of religion and many others... But before we speak about that, the spirit in which these liberties were designed, were such as to enable a person to reach his or her full potential. To lead a better, richer life. To live freely. Without restrictive boundaries and fear. And in order to protect these rights, we have an independent judiciary. Independent, to make sure even the government cannot step over the line. We are the world's largest democracy. And our current rise shows that our system is successful. We should be immensely proud of that. However the global internet liberty campaign has not yet made it into our legal system, but I think it is only a matter of time before a similar set of rights are incorporated(there are many agencies already campaigning for it within India). Until then, I would hate to see the lack of such rules or norms cause inappropriate restrictions in our campus.

Although I have criticized the restrictions and policies that we are facing, I'm sure the administrative staff and faculty don't bear any ill-feelings towards the students. There is a major lack of communication and uncertainty over the right course of action. There is a fine line between trying to impose a morally effective policy and crossing over the right to freedom, liberty and information of an individual. Although the actions are noble in spirit, they are restrictive in action. I believe that the network and internet should 'enable' a student to achieve and perform better, rather than 'disable' him/her.
And for this to happen I would like to see the following take place:
  • Removal of all absurd and inappropriate timing restrictions for the internet.
  • Availability of internet connectivity in hostels at reasonable speeds (which it certainly is NOT right now). There are two ways in which this can be done:
    - Increase the bandwidth given the the ISP. This might involve increase in payments, and if this affects students' fee amount, a reasonable discussion should be put forth.
    - Search for quotations from alternative service providers who provide better service.

    In case this does not work out, then a reasonable and open debate about the restriction policy should decide the action to be taken.
  • surveillance of activities of individual users on grounds of morality should stop.
  • The connectivity staff should strive towards creating an open and free system in order to 'enable' every student in campus.
Although I have deep gratitude towards our alumni who provided us this connectivity through BITSConnect, I would like to point out the situation it is currently in. What was considered a luxury a decade ago is now a necessity, and we are being deprived of it. There is certainly something more to be demanded and done...

Sunday 5 October 2008

The engineering craze in India and college rankings


This is partly in response to an earlier post I wrote about engineering college rankings.


Something offtopic before I get to the point: Outlook's ratings are out this time and it agrees with even Mint's engineering college rankings in stating that BITS Pilani ranks as the #1 private engineering college in India. Being a Bitsian, this comes as a relief to me (not as joy though, mainly because its common knowledge that these rankings lack credibility).

Anyways getting back to the point, this is about the engineering college rankings (or the so called perception among people, of ranking). To get into perspective, these are few of the most widely popular rankings that majority of the public go by:
  1. India Today, college rankings: http://www.india-today.com/itoday/20010521/cover-engineering.shtml
  2. Outlook, college rankings (methodology here): http://www.outlookindia.com/full.asp?fodname=20060717&fname=Cover+Story&sid=5
  3. Dataquest college rankings: http://admissionsync.com/2007/07/13/data-quest-top-schools-in-india-2007/
What is the fuss about?
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. A great majority of them are pushed in by their parents, who know little about other alternatives and are ignorant or indifferent to suggestions of alternative options.

Whatever may be the reason, engineering is considered by a vast majority of people as a gateway to good jobs and a means to earn a good living. In this pursuit there is a mad rush for engineering all around India. This is evident by the number of students who sit for engineering entrance examinations such as JEE or AIEEE. And this number is only increasing year after year. No proportional growth in the colleges results in a very visible rat race for the few colleges that have earned a respectable reputation among the masses.

In this wild rush, there is a great deal of chaos and confusion which is the reason why people seek these so called rankings, so that they may get a sense of direction and information out of the confusing mess that they are in.
But they do not know that the rankings they depend on, are not dependable at all. They are at best attempts to judge the colleges. And different agencies, magazines, judge colleges differently and not always correctly. The criteria for comparison also varies and often it is misreported (as had happened in the case of bits pilani and india today). For example, in the case of anna university, I quote (From T.R. Muralidharan's article in Outlook):
Anna University (to which TN engineering colleges are affiliated) is still finding it difficult to ensure that infrastructure and facilities at the colleges conform to standards. The quality of education rendered too is often substandard. There is a shortage of good professors in areas like IT and communications where developments happen rapidly.

The rankings are widely accepted to be futile, but however they do seem to have a following among the masses because of lack of other information.


Rankings:
When we try to analyze all potential rankings, there could be 3 kinds (source of information detailed below is rediff.com):
  1. Government rankings: The central government carries out a survey of engineering colleges every few years. The survey, conducted by the World Bank, is used to arrive at a funding formula for financing colleges under United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and to monitor the progress of the colleges receiving funding.

    The government survey is highly respectable and includes comments/suggestions for the improvement needed by the colleges. These are generally not available in public domain.

  2. Academic rankings: These is carried out by leading institutions around the world and sometimes by academic and scientific magazines. The survey is authentic and unbiased, but is of limited use. It is used mainly to boost the ego of a college among similar colleges, to attract talented faculty and to keep flow of money from its patrons.

    The Asian Technology Information Program, Tokyo, is a prestigious, non-profit think-tank, which monitors research programmes from universities/institutes across Asia and classifies some of the leading universities in a specific research area.

    For example, according to ATIP, Indian Institute of Science is among the world leaders in the field of nano-crystal technology research. Similarly, it puts Banaras Hindu University among the leading research universities in the world in the field of application of hydrogen energy to two-wheeler vehicles.

  3. Magazine rankings: Also known as popular rankings, these are the ones that are mostly read by common folk. These are carried out by national magazines as a guide for students and faculty, and for the college themselves.

So what we do require is a blend of government and agency rankings (pure government rankings could make the system corrupt, agency rankings coupled with openness of the ranking methods and information used, could be more transparent and a better system).


The craze?

A third point to ponder upon is the mad craze after engineering in India.
The mushrooming of coaching classes for engineering and private tutors and the conditions of teaching etc clearly indicate that students are trying too hard to satisfy this 'craze' or 'rat race' of getting into a good engineering college no matter what it takes. Heres an article that discusses one such region: Kota, where 40000 students join annually in hopes of entering an elite engineering college.

The craze is maddening, and will end only when either or both of two things happen:
  • People get wiser to the availability of other options for a good career; and students going after their passions and interest to chart out a future career that is both satisfying and monetarily rewarding
  • The number of colleges (not just any colleges, quality colleges) increase in the country, without useless fuss of quotas and locality rules spoiling the merit-based-admission criteria.
Thats as far as my mind goes, lets see how the future unfurls itself. Either the rat race ends, or we just wait for a Pied Piper to come along and lead us to our own disaster.
Or probably we dont even need him, we are enroute already...

Saturday 6 September 2008

Google Chrome - Crash the browser :P


Okay so this is a quick post on how to crash google chrome (not that you would want to do it, but just for fun).
  • This one was discovered by Rishi Agarwal, one of my hostel-mates: type in 'About:%' in the address bar, without the quotes, and the browser with all its tabs crashes instantly (even before you press the enter key). I think chrome was all about sandboxing of tabs... but apparently theres still some work to be done.
    (Correction: I just realized here that just typing in ':%' is enough to crash the browser!)
  • For those interested in crashing Chrome through some under the cover techniques, check out this and this
    “An issue exists in how chrome behaves with undefined-handlers in chrome.dll version 0.2.149.27. A crash can result without user interaction. When a user is made to visit a malicious link, which has an undefined handler followed by a ’special’ character, the chrome crashes with a Google Chrome message window “Whoa! Google Chrome has crashed. Restart now?”. It crashes on “int 3″ at 0×01002FF3 as an exception/trap, followed by “POP EBP” instruction when pointed out by the EIP register at 0×01002FF4.”

  • A vulnerability that tricks you into execution of an executable / JAR file. More

    Just hours after the release of Google Chrome, researcher Aviv Raffdiscovered that he could combine two vulnerabilities — a flaw in Apple Safari (WebKit) and a Java bug discussed at this year’s Black Hat conference — to trick users into launching executables direct from the new browser.

    Raff has cooked up a harmless demo of the attack in action, showing how a Google Chrome users can be lured into downloading and launching a JAR (Java Archive) file that gets executed without warning.

    In the proof-of-concept, Raff’s code shows how a malicious hacker can use a clever social engineering lure — it requires two mouse clicks — to plant malware on Windows desktops.

    The Google Chrome user-agent shows that Chrome is actually WebKit 525.13 (Safari 3.1), which is an outdated/vulnerable version of that browser.

    Apple patched the carpet-bombing issue with Safari v3.1.2.

(Nothing more as of now. ill keep adding to this list as I find out more)

Wednesday 3 September 2008

Google Chrome - First look

So after a long and anxious wait, its finally available to the public, and I've been using Google Chrome all morning.

It seems to be fast and quick and as expected, user friendly.

Quick takes:
  • Minimalistic look, with maximum space given to the web page / content. Even the status bar is overlayed on the page when necessary and dissapears when not.
  • Intuitive interface. Switching between tabs is fast (compared to both IE and mozilla). Each tab is sandboxed separately so a slowdown or crash in one of them doesnt crash the browser (havent tested this though).
  • icon on tab to the left of page title (before the favicon appears) is a rotating arc, showing a 'busy' state. Anti clockwise rotation until the site is determined, clockwise after download begins.
  • Handy address bar: intelligent autocomplete for urls. google search results also supplement the options for easy selection.
  • Frequently browsed pages appear as a matrix on newly opened tabs. Quickly resume where the last session left off.
  • Most other features work as in firefox, including shortcuts.

Cons:
  • It takes the connection settings from IE. So everytime you need to change a proxy, for instance, you will have to tweak your IE setting.
  • Closing the entire browser does not prompt you for confirmation. Neither does it save the tabs to be reloaded at next start.
  • No easy way to bookmark pages. Right-clicking on the tab or the page doesn't have a bookmark option. The only way, as I see it, is to go into bookmarks and add the link manually. 
  • Drag drop of tabs onto bookmark toolbar doesnt work.
  • the "forward" and "back" buttons dont have a drop down menu to jump into history more than a step. 
Issues
  • On my laptop, the touchpad scroll works fine when scrolling down, but scroll up doesnt happen. I check with firefox and it works fine there, but on chrome it just doesnt. Something that needs to be fixed.
Havent gone deeper than this so far. Next thing to do is probably test it out on wine for Linux. After that, probably check if the settings and preferences are exportable if I need to get back to firefox later.
So far it seems chrome will cut into firefox's user share pretty easily. I'm already a chrome-user :P. Find out more and more and more
Below: A video by google on the philosophy behind the need for chrome.



Tuesday 2 September 2008

The Google Browser: Google Chrome - Download



A little more about how the browser is going to be..
Google Chrome will be a multi tabs browser, with each tab owning its own process running with limited rigths for improved security and crash prevention. Google Chrome browser will also include several innovative features like a JavaScript Virtual Machine, called V8, to speed up JavaScript performance in the browser, an address bar ’omnibox’ offering search suggestions ( top visited pages or popular pages ), a special 'incognito' tab with improved privacy protection.
The entire Google Chrome Browser Blog announcement
The Beta Download: Available September 2, 2008 (Today!)

Google (GOOG) said it would be launching Chrome in 100 countries, but it will only be in beta in Windows (Google said Mac and Linux versions were coming soon).

Download links (Ill update this with information as available):
  • The Home page (http://gears.google.com/chrome/?hl=en). Yes it used to work earlier, but a few days ago, google redirected it to its search page. Probably when Chrome is released, the link will work.
  • Updates on download links: http://digg.com/tech_news/Where_to_Download_Google_Chrome.

The Google Browser...

Google just officially confirmed that it is releasing a new open-source web browser,named Google Chrome.

So after all that we've heard about Internet Explorer being the evil spearhead and firefox being the savior of us all, there's a new entry - Google's browser! [read more]

An interesting introduction to it using a comic strip (by Scott McCloud, creator of the classicUnderstanding Comics.) : http://blogoscoped.com/google-chrome/

Google's products invariable get associated with descriptions like new, simple, powerful and innovative. Not surprising, considering what they have under their belly so far:
  • Gmail
  • Gtalk
  • Google maps
  • Google Groups
  • YouTube
  • Google Spreadsheet, Docs
And now, they are going to have their own browser as well. Its a cool idea, and any competition is always good for the user [:P]. But just how good is Google Chrome going to be is just something we can only guess right now. I guess, we can take firefox to be a benchmark on which to make judgments.

Going by that, there's already rumour on slashdot that Google Chrome is based on Webkit, the same basic engine as Mac OS X's Safari. And we all know how great that runs on anything thats not a mac. Not to mention the portability issues of web applications and sites that depend on flash and client side scripting based UIs. And the mobile platform is something entirely out of picture right now. Anyway, any new entrant does deserve some time to make its mark. I dont know about you, but i'll just wait and see...

As Sadagopan points out,
Google is using the internet to systematically devalue Microsoft’s assets, forcing a “Microsoft’s Black Monday” on the wall street in future. Google is leveraging the mantra that built Microsoft: who controls the UI controls the user; who controls the API controls the programmer.
While there may be scepticism about what could a new broswer do - except introduce more confusion, as I see it, if Google Chrome delivers on its promise of speed, stability, security and reliability, it will like gmail soon command the mind share of the web users. This in turn should make it possible to push common web standards!
And it might actually happen! We have seen how firefox has been forcing web standards through its respawn in recent years. There's no reason why google wont play a big part in the process, now that it has a browser in its name. MSNBC says:
Until now, Google had been trying to undermine Internet Explorer by supporting Firefox, a Web browser developed by the open-source Mozilla Foundation. Bolstered by an advertising partnership with Google's search engine, Firefox ranks as the second most popular browser, with a market share of more than 10 percent. Google recently extended its advertising alliance with Firefox through 2011.

Bearing the stamp of Google's renowned brand, Chrome could be an even more formidable rival to Explorer.


There's also rumour that Chrome has better support for cloud applications than Mozilla, and getting a browser out is just the first strategic step in entering this valuable technology that many believe will decide the next decade of computing technology.

Anyways, I'll just wait and see before making a judgement.

Sunday 31 August 2008

Signature Quotes - Politics

Found some interesting quotes on politics, government and western bureaucracy.
Some of them are courtsey P.J. O'Rourke, while the others are randomly picked up from sites on the net.
And with elections for the students' council just around the corner, It makes it all the more (ir)relevant.
Enjoy...

"The whole idea of our government is this: If enough people get together and act in concert, they can take something and not pay for it." -- P.J. O'Rourke - A Parliament of Whores
---
"Giving government money and power is like giving car keys and whiskey to a teenage boy"
---
"A little government and a little luck are necessary in life, but only a fool trusts either of them."
---
"There is only one basic human right, the right to do as you damn well please. And with it comes the only basic human duty, the duty to take the consequences."
---
"The Democrats are the party that says government will make you smarter, taller, richer, and remove the crabgrass on your lawn. The Republicans are the party that says government doesn't work and then they get elected and prove it"
---
"The free market is ugly and stupid, like going to the mall; the unfree market is just as ugly and just as stupid, except there is nothing in the mall and if you don't go there they shoot you."
---
"Anyway, no drug, not even alcohol, causes the fundamental ills of society. If we're looking for the source of our troubles, we shouldn't test people for drugs, we should test them for stupidity, ignorance, greed and love of power."
---
"Well the planet I've got a chance to visit is Earth, and Earth's principal features are chaos and war. I think I'd be a fool to spend years here and never have a look."
---
"When a government controls both the economic power of individuals and the coercive power of the state ... this violates a fundamental rule of happy living: Never let the people with all the money and the people with all the guns be the same people."
---
"A politician is anyone who asks individuals to surrender part of their liberty - their power and privilege - to State, Masses, Mankind, Planet Earth, or whatever. This state, those masses, that mankind, and the planet will then be run by ... politicians." -- from All the Trouble in the World
---
"If government were a product, selling it would be illegal."
---
"Schneider has made a career of telling the public that the climate is going to change drastically any time now, and indeed every spring and fall he's been right."
---
"The American political system is like a gigantic Mexican Christmas fiesta. Each political party is a huge pinata -- a papier-mache donkey, for example. The donkey is filled with full employment, low interest rates, affordable housing, comprehensive medical benefits, a balanced budge and other goodies. The American voter is blindfoled and given a stick. The voter then swings the stick wildly in every direction, trying to hit a political candidate on the head and knock some sense into the silly bastard."

Thursday 21 August 2008

Annoying phone service SPAM

Theres a great deal of buzz going on around the importance of customer privacy and preventing spam calls to the extent that its a crime to do so, if the customer has expressly enforced it.

All this doesnt bother me, I just get occasional spam SMSes on my vodafone postpaid account. But then today, I happened to be in a meet for a couple of hours. And I was out of reach for the most part.
So when I finally get free and reconnect, I get 4 messages sayin I have a voicemail from +919764616724 . Again, wouldnt bother me, except that there were FOUR of them from the same number. So I dial up to receive the all important message, and after going through half a minute of typing in the mobile number and the security code, I am greeted with a recording that plays the crappiest bollywood song I have ever heard.

Yeah... I know. I had already stored the number as a spam so I can recognize it whenever I get such a crappy call. But now, the smart asses at vodafone decide to change the source number for every such ad-call. But recently I had noticed that they rotate between some standard numbers, so you can still store them as spam. But in the voicemail system, you just get a message indicating the number of the caller. So now, I get a spam calls rite in the middle of my all important meet, and while chilling out after the hectic work, I end up payin Re1 / min hearing the spam recordings that chose to be so strategically timed.

There are times when, after something annoying, you sit back and think: 'how did that happen'.

Tuesday 22 July 2008

UPA Survives the Trust vote

So, finally the big drama is over and the government survives the trust vote in the parliament!


Dr. Manmohan Singh is the 7th Prime Minister to win the trust vote.


With 271 being the magic number to be reached, the UPA allies managed 275 against 253 in opposition, with the others abstaining from voting.



The climax of the event can be judged from the fact that Punters had bet more than Rs 500 crore on the much publicised event of the year. It is speculated that the amount crossed 2500 crore by the end of the day!!!

This is what was said about a week ago:

Bookies think the UPA would not get more than 274 seats, so they are offering higher payouts to punters who bet their money on seats above 274.

According to one punter, the market expects cross voting by four SP lawmakers but UP Chief Minister Mayawati would not allow at least two other lawmakers of her Bahujan Samaj Party, who are in jail, to travel to New Delhi for the vote, reducing the halfway mark.

"Yet, we are sure the UPA will get more than nine seats from small regional parties, but cannot cross 280-seat mark," he said.

The trust vote, scheduled at 5 pm today, was postponed at the last minute to 6pm and the proceedings were nothing short of a classic case of climax. What was disappointing (though entertaining) was that the entire diaspora was not centered around the deal and its merits/demerits, but rather on the politics behind it and picking of MPs and parties over one another with pouring criticisms and sarcastic remarks. The bargains between them were visible clearly as both sides were desperate for support.

A new twist to the drama was added when a few MPs (rumoured to belong to BJP,) marched into the parliament with cases full of cash claiming that they had been bribed for abstaining!
The Lok Sabha witnessed high drama when a Bharatiya Janata Party member shocked the House by walking into the well with a bag full of currency notes, which he claimed was given by a Samajwadi Party leader in return for his support in the trust vote.
And with Laloo and Mayawati's comments adding more comedy than productive discussion on the deal, the show was more pitifully entertaining than intellectually enlightening.

The results were not disgraceful though, thankfully, and since I was supporting the deal all through, there should be no reason for complaint!

It will be fun to watch world reaction to today's development. Most interesting would be to watch China's response (and the left's response to that).

Update (As I write): Karat, on behalf of CPI(M), has already made a statement that the winning of trust vote by the Manmohan Singh government as the "sad day" of Parliamentary democracy as it was accompanied by charges of bribery and horse trading.

The story has just begun, the deal is still a long way from being a law...

In case you need some food for thought, read yet another conspiracy theory on the Indo-US Nuke Deal here: http://ia.rediff.com/news/2008/jul/22rajeev.htm

Sunday 8 June 2008

JDK in its newest release...

This post follows an interesting development at the BOSUG meet this saturday.

I met an employee at Thoughtworks (until then I hadnt heard of the company). Its a software consultancy based company completely based on open source and focussed on quality and performance.

So these guys try out all the newly released versions of open source software and conduct variety of unit tests and several other benchmarks to test out improvements and select the best Open source app for the customers. The discussion this time was regarding JDK 6.

The newest release, in its JIT compiler improvements, produces targetted code compiled to exploit the benefits of the microprocessor architecture of the running machine. Also the adverse effects of reflections (where some common method calls loop over 50 or so times before getting to their destinations) and method call loops seem to have reduced drastically due to better optimizations in the JIT.
The result, as claimed by thoughtworks, is that JDK 6 provides 2.5 times better (faster) performace than version5. Theres more on this performance improvement here, and how best to exploit it here

Some additional info about the performance improvements:
Many deployers in the field, using pre-release versions, have reported noticeable runtime performance improvements, in the "two-digit range" according to Sun, which translates to anywhere from 5% to 24% improvement. Note that this is anecdotal, of course, and depends on what tasks you're performing. However, the JIT has been improved, with better runtime analysis of program characteristics, and the performance improvements have been agreed with by external users.

Desktop support may not be as relevant for the enterprise community, except for rich clients. System tray support, splash screen support, and other elements have been added.

JSE6 now has dynamic language support. It comes pre-delivered with Netscape's Rhino, a Javascript engine, and the scripting project's home page documents many other available scripting languages, including Ruby, Python, awk, Jelly, Pnuts, and Scheme.

Java SE 6 also has new diagnostic capabilities. For example, profilers and debuggers can now attach to a running JVM without specifically using a debugging-capable configuration. For example, if a problem is found at run-time for a production server, a debugger can attach to it without restarting the server, a valuable feature for issues that show up after the server has been running for a long period.


Now, when one talks about performance, the obvious notion is that nothing can get better than targeted assembly code. But thats zero on interoperability, so here's java for that. But somewhere on this transition, the performance suffers partly on effects of interpretation of bytecode and various other overheads. Needless to mention, the JVM on various platforms are not exactly quite consistent in their look and feel, so application starts looking and behaving differently on different machines. Of course for the performance critical (or real time) applications, C/C++ would be the default preference for producing fastest code with some lever of interoperability.

This always has been the belief to the extent that it has been generalized to imply that "any language in its native form gives better performance than one that runs on a virtual machine like jvm". That belief comes now to be questioned as it is claimed (by thoughtworks again) that JRuby runs faster and is better space optimized than native Ruby itself. The explanation is that this is accounted for by the superior JIT compiler optimizations which ensure coherency among objects being accessed together.

Seems like the easier route for developers may not actually tax them on performance anymore. But its just the beginning. I havent really tried out version 6 so far, but user targetted apps with interoperability in mind definitely must go in for it as the best option.


Monday 2 June 2008

Firefox 3 .. on the way

This post follows my new experience with firefox 3 beta 5.

Im not usually the kind who downloads the latest and greatest to test them out. I generally prefer the stable versions to work with rather than experiment with.

But with fedora 9, I gave it a try.


The features are good.








First Impression:
  • User interface, although mostly similar, has grown better.
  • Web pages layouts (when opened) have become more beautiful: Button styles, text boxes, frames etc and other page elements seem to look slick(er than on earlier versions).
  • The tab edges are squared rather than rounded on previous releases... and this blends well with the gnome desktop.GTK supporters should rejoice.
  • Full screen goes REALLY full screen. So on my 12.1" laptop, i get maximum leverage for viewing web pages. really helpful and cool.
Usability:
  • Much faster (is expected)
  • Few points to prove this: On firefox 2, some of the popular blog posts with a cazillion comments used to take ages to load (the comments would only appear much later). Firefox 3 loads them in a breeze. (not that its too much faster, that depends on ur net connection; but its smoother and not jerky and really pleasing to use :-) )
  • Theres a slight issue in installng adblock. But latest devbuilds here work effortlessly: http://adblockplus.org/devbuilds/
  • Although I dont use too many extensions, some people do and they faced problems getting their extensions to work on beta. But mostly lifehacker solved their problems: http://lifehacker.com/355973/make-your-extensions-work-with-the-firefox-3-beta. Cool for me.. i just stick to the basics without depending on too many extras... keeps me independent of the platform.
  • The auto complete on the address bar makes it more user friendly, in that it provides extra information in the drop down besides just the url. positive to some, negative to some. not a difference to me.
PROBLEMS?
Havent run into any serious problems yet, but yes:
  • VERY VERY SLOW SCROLLING. they like to call it smooth scrolling, but its too annoying to use. rather than improve aesthetics, it removes the users command of the page.
  • Adobe flash plugin installer doesnt install automatically. Manual install necessary. I havent tried other plugins yet, but some others might face similar problems. I installed mine through yum
All in all a pretty cool browser. waiting for the final release...

btw, the firefox community is eyeing at setting a new guiness world record for most downloads in 24 hours, when firefox 3 is released.

http://www.spreadfirefox.com/

Join us in our mission to set a Guinness World Record for the most software downloaded in 24 hours!

Till then, its beta 5. Just hoping that the scroll fix is out soon.

Sunday 25 May 2008

Easy SSH technique (SSH Public key based authentication - Howto)

SSH is a technique used to login remotely to another machine and execute commands from your own machine.
For simplicity, we will call the machine that you are sitting at as the local machine, while the machine you wish to connect to, as the remote machine.

so,
USER : [LOCAL_MACHINE] -----------ssh------------------> [REMOTE_MACHINE]

(Obvious assumptions are that the remote machine should be switched on before you attempt to login and that a valid network connection should exist between the machines)

Normally, this would present a security threat, so you cannot login without supplying the password to your account first.

When I first arrived for my internship, I was given a thin client (Sun RAY) and had to connect to a machine (intel) remotely everytime I needed to use utilities like firefox, gnuplot etc. (Of course, everytime I logged in I had to open up obvious utilities like firefox/mozilla)
$>ssh -X garl-intel1
$>abhishek@garl-intel1's password:
garl-intel1.serc.iisc.ernet.in> /usr/local/firefox/firefox
But this process can get annoying sometimes:
  • When you wish to login frequently (almost everytime you boot your local machine) you have to keep typing in the password again and again.
  • If you wish to run a shell script at your local machine which executes a set of commands on the remote machine, it asks you for password at every command to be executed. Wouldnt it be simple if I could write a script here that runs a couple or more of commands on a remote machine without me having to type in the password every time? Lets assume I have a script that has the following lines:

    ssh -X garl-intel1 xpdf ./abc.pdf
    ssh -X garl-intel1 gnuplot gp.sh
    scp ./abc.ps abhishek@garl-intel1:./a/abc.ps

    I would have to type in my password for each of these commands.
So this post is for those who are looking for an easy way to use ssh without any hassles at all. For simplicity, I have numbered the steps. I assume you are in my position and the remote machine is garl-intel1.serc.iisc.ernet.in
Step 1
Make sure the default shell is bash. (type bash and press enter if not)
Check the ssh connection to make sure its okay and works fine. For me, its:
>bash
$>ssh garl-intel1
$>abhishek@garl-intel1's password:
garl-intel1.serc.iisc.ernet.in> who

Step 2
Create a Simple Cryptographic Key by the following commands:
$> ssh-keygen -t rsa
Now assign a passphrase (if it asks, for simplicity just enter you connection password) and press enter twice (when it asks for location) to store the key in its default location.
Normally the default location is ~/.ssh/id_rsa (private key); ~/.ssh/id_rsa.pub (public).
In case you need to change your passphrase later, you need to type:
$> ssh-keygen -p
Step 3>
use scp to copy the id_rsa.pub file to remote machine. This is called installing the key.
$> scp .ssh/id_rsa.pub abhishek@garl-intel1:.ssh/authorized_keys2
The procedure should be over in a flash. (It will ask for your login password to complete).
Step 4>
From now on, you can type [ssh garl-intel1] to connect. But it still asks for passphrase everytime which is annoying. So to turn this off make sure you are in the bash shell and type:
$> ssh-agent $BASH
$> ssh-add
Now type in the current passphrase for the last time and press enter.
Step 5>
Done!
Now you need to login using [ssh garl-intel1] without any hassles.
Step 6>
A note about security: The remote machine is still password protected. It is not open to attacks through this process. BUT, the current local machine has been authorized to login without asking for user password. So as long as the local machine is secure and access is given only to authorized users, the server is secure as well.

However, if any time you wish to remove all keys. Type in the following in a bash shell:
$> ssh-add -D (delete all keys)
$> ssh-add -d key (to delete specific key)
$> ssh-add -l (to list all keys)

And now, its playtime.

Saturday 24 May 2008

The most wanted gadget of the next decade.. the new XO-2 (OLPC)

For those not familiar, the OLPC group aims to provide children in developing nations with low-cost computers.


Although it seems like a noble cause on the outset, it has been criticised for several reasons including but not limited to:
- profit making attempts by various vendors through unscrupulous means
- Top bureaucrats adjusting purchase policies in accordance with manufacturer-friendly contracts as opposed to open and transparent means

The recent period has been a difficult one for OLPC, during which the entire ethos and aim of the project has been called into question. One former employee, Ivan Krstic, blasted the organisation for becoming a vehicle for creating the "economic incentives" for a particular vendor.
Apart from these, functionality is also of some concern. One user mentions how he tested a beta release and found problems in basic operation.
However that is not what this post is about. Its about the future plans of the next generation XO. Its supposed to be a touchscreen based book-shaped gadget half the size of the current one (now that is something everyone would vouch to get - IMHO). Here are further details:




The new XO-2 machine will be developed by the team behind the One Laptop per Child project. It will have two touch-sensitive screens and be about half the size of the original, iconic white-and-green XO device. Nicholas Negroponte, the founder of OLPC, also said the XO-2 will have a foldable book-like feel to it.

"The next-generation laptop should be a book," he said. The screen will be optimised to ensure it can be seen both in low light conditions and bright sunlight, while power consumption will be reduced to just one watt. Negroponte said the laptop would be ready for launch by 2010.

Users will be able to switch between using the computer in a book-like vertical format, a normal horizontal format, and even as a touchscreen tablet PC.

“Younger children will be able to use simple keyboards to get going, and older children will be able to switch between keyboards customised for applications as well as for multiple languages,” said the organisation.

More information at thejournal and geekzone

Geekpics offers some stats as well.

The next gernation OLPC (the XO-2) will have:

  • Dual 16x9 proportioned sunlight-readable touch screens

  • Keyboard and touchpad both replaced by touch screens

  • Physically smaller than XO-1; size and weight more like a book

  • 1 watt power consumption

  • Target price of US$75 to large educational buyers


Now theres just one point worth noticing here: "the machines will have enhanced dual-display capabilities with touch-sensitive screens." There. We have seen a preview of the technology in the just launched iPhone and it has been loved by many (probably some of the performance aspects need to be worked out, but the touch sensitive addition has been most undoubtedly the defining factor of the trend of mobile phones today).

Now imagine an ultra portable device which u can carry along as a notebook (not a laptop-notebook; the notebook-notebook!) and be able to access documents, run applications, watch videos, pics, surf the net, check your mail wirelessly and what not. And besides, you could also load in ebooks to read in a friendly gadget like that.

Fancy?

Imagine a mobile phone integrated into it. You dont need anything else at all. Some users fret over the possibility of having to use touchscreens. I see it as just the future. People will adapt and the technology will adapt making it easy for both. Another slight concern is the processing power and the low grade features offered. But I think we can trust the technology gurus and the economies of scale which should eventually bring a compromise between features and cost. Until then, its waiting time...

Check out a video of the features:


A Better coverage of the unveiling-of-the-plan reveals that the gadget is aimed to be cheaper than even the current $188. Now the current XO was targetted at 100$ and it came out at 188. The XO-2 is targetted at $75! Only time will tell how it comes out and what it actually offers.
As tekno_boy puts it, "Forget MACbook Air, the coolest thing on the horizon in the computing world might be something bound for the third world."


Thursday 17 January 2008

QUARK 2008 is coming!

2007 is behind us, and we’re all staring madly into a very promising 2008. And it is time for an exciting festival coming up - QUARK 2008! If you are a College going student in India, you won’t want to miss the party. Encompassing three days of engineering perfection, the campus will play host to some of the finest minds in the fields of engineering and the sciences. QUARK '08 will witness students vying to master the arena of technology as they compete in a medley of events spanning all aspects of innovation.

In case you are wondering, the registrations are up @ www.bits-quark.org.

There are many exciting competitions lined up for you. The core events provide you ample opportunity to showcase your talents and win prizes along the way. Ranging from Computer science to electronics, robotics, mechanical and corporate, there are events that test you for every dimension of an engineer's skills. Registrations have started and the deadline (Jan 25) is approaching. Start registering at http://www.bits-quark.org/index2.php?id=register
(In case you face problems in registering due to heavy traffic / load on the site, mail the event managers with your team details).

We are holding a range of different workshops in QUARK '08, pertaining to fields as diverse as Aeromodelling to Origami. We are having workshops in the fields of Robotics, Telescope Making, Linux User Group (LUG)-Install Fest and so on. Under the Specials section, you get an opportunity to test your skills with Sudo-'Q' (Its more than just an array of numbers), M^+KA (The ultimate Gaming Zone), Paper PPT and Open Showcase. For the Nobel geeks, we provide an opportunity to showcase your innovative minds in our very own version of the Ignobel.

Our Aurora - QUARK@Twilight special events are bound to leave you starry eyed about the ways we can make Engineering an Artist's canvas.



To know more about the events and QUARK, visit the official QUARK website at http://www.bits-quark.org



The registration for all the events has commenced. For information regarding your stay at campus visit the 'Hospitality' section on QUARK website. The Hospitality Team is there to ensure your nice and comfortable stay in the land of Sand, Surf and QUARK!