Wednesday, 2 September, 2009

Good Web 2.0 Design Elements

In the recent days, ive had renewed interest in web 2.0 application development.

Web 2.0 is a vast domain, and a very important (and overemphasized, i must admit) aspect of it is design and layout. There have loads of gurus who've written about the new css standard and clean development methodology. In this post, I choose to document some of the killer tools that are helpful in adding the extra edge to a web 2.0 website with minimal effort.

First off, however, some highly irritating stuff that happens when you go into div alignment for tableless design is that sometimes float:right and float:left dont work correctly. At times they appear one below the other, and at times the outer parent div just doesnt expand to include the child div elements (imagine if you had a background image on the parent div that was supposed to strech all along). Quick fixes learnt after a lot of fishing through the web:
  • Make a div extend automatically to cover the child elements: use "overflow:visible" and "height:auto" on the parent div and watch it extend smoothly to cover all children inside. "overflow:auto" also works but visible is the safer choice. If you want fixed height and scroll bars on parent div in case the child overflows, use "height:100px; overflow:auto;"
  • To make sure ur parent div's width is enough to accommodate the child divs which are both floating left and right. instead of manually setting the parent width to greater than the maximum width of float:left and float:right children, a better way is to add a dummy element below all children (but inside the parent div) with a "clear:both" attribute. The dummy element could be a "br" or "div" or anything.
  • If you're in a situation where all children divs floating left or right, appear one below the other and not stacked side by side or horizontally as needed, you need to add "clear:none" to the style of the child divs.
And now we come to some excellent tools that can be used to enhance display

Photo display cloud:
Photo display: adding a photo display widget that looks like a nice photo cloud. Its released under GPL so you can tinker around as well. <link>

Roy tanck, the original author of this tool, also has a flickr/picasa tool that will import pics for display directly from the flickr / picasa rss for the photos you want to display. But he has decided to keep that project under closed control and hosted on a cloud platform. If you intend to use that, you will have to import the plugin directly from where he has hosted it and provide it with the necessary rss url to load the photos. I personally prefer to use the GPL version as I can download and set it up on my webserver without hassles and can also customize it the way I want. Btw, the flickr / picasa widget details can be found here: <link1, link2>

Word Cloud

A word cloud can be a good way of displaying a set of concepts and not having to clutter up the screen with rows and columns of data at the same time. Not to mention the way it catches your eye as an innovative mode of information display. Originally developed to display a tag cloud on a wordpress blog, it has evolved to support every major blogging software (including blogger and movable type) and now its also available for standalone integration into web pages. You just need to embed the swf and set the flashvars with the data in the correct xml format, and you're done. Of course there are loads of customizations for color combinations and background image etc, but all that is here in the documentation: <link>. You might also want to consider this funky interface if you're looking for something out of the ordinary.


If you'd ask me for a single best tool to pick out of the lot for web 2.0 usability, It would be Jquery. It makes very complicated things very easy to do, if you know the underlying concept and want to cut the chase to get what you want the way you want it without hassles. Most of the plugins and display tools that dont rely on flash, depend on jquery. I dont think I need say more. <link>

Tabbed interface

A handy tabbed interface for use on web pages. There are many available, but I personally liked the feel and usability of this one. You can obviously change the color and border styles.
Here's the link: <link>
There are two good fixes in the comments, one for adding a fade style between change of tabs submitted by Andrew Strachan. Additionally, if you want to fix the lack of support for nested div tags within the master tabs, you need to modify the javascript to as follows:

$(’#tabs div’).hide(); // Hide all divs
$(’#tabs div:first’).show(); // Show the first div
$(’#tabs div:first div’).show(); // Show the nested divs
// Set the class of the first link to active
$(’#tabs ul li:first’).addClass(’active’);
$(’#tabs ul li a’).click(function(){ //When any link is clicked
// Remove active class from all links
$(’#tabs ul li’).removeClass(’active’);
//Set clicked link class to active
// Set variable currentTab to value of href attribute of
// clicked link
var currentTab = $(this).attr(’href’);
$(’#tabs div’).hide(); // Hide all divs
$(currentTab).show(); // Show div with id equal to variable
// currentTab
$(currentTab + ” div”).show(); // Show nested divs
return false;

EDIT: I'll add to this list more tools that I feel are decent enough to keep in my web 2.0 collection.

Tuesday, 16 June, 2009

Think again... And decide

Its been quite a while that I've put in anything new here. Ofcourse, as busy as the month(s) have been, it wouldnt all account for this delay as much as a lack of an interesting topic and procrastination. In this post, I decide to bore you with a review of an interesting book that I decided to read the last week.

I just finished reading "Think Again: Why Good Leaders make bad decisions and how to keep it from happening to you". It documents a lot of interesting work done by the authors Finkelstein, Whitehead and Campbell (you can get it here). Finkelstein has been an authority on strategy, leadership and warning signs for corporate disasters; but I didnt know that when I picked this up from my neighbouring colleague at work.

The book has interesting material on how our brain processes information to arrive at decisions and just so that all this doesnt sound too far-fetched, the book is abundant with ample examples to verify each of its findings. Ofcourse the foundation of all of it is that we learn from experience how to handle situations and this experience teaches us to make prudent decisions as we get more and more experienced. However such experiences, the authors have shown very successfully, can also prejudice rather than enlighten and hence bias us towards wrongful decisions that may seem perfectly correct at the time they were made.

They have analyzed a large collection of decisions made by influential people over the past few decades to arrive on bechmarks that qualify good decisions from bad ones. Every decision has an inherent risk factor and no matter how good it may be at the time, they might turn out badly in future: some people may just be plainly unlucky. The authors have done well not to include such decisions, but to limit their research to those that were flawed at the time they were made and could (rather should) have been averted if possible.

The findings result in four sources of errors that include
  • Misleading Experiences: past experiences that seem similar to the current situation but are actually not because we have underestimated a vital difference between the two scenarios
  • Misleading Prejudgments: Experience has a strange way of teaching us to think less and less as we gain more and more experience. It seems to become "obvious" to us what the course of action should be without thinking over it. This occurs due to heuristics that are developed and strengthened with age. Most often these heuristics or biases have strange ways of defying reason.
  • Inapproprate Self-Interest: Every one is selfish. Even those who claim they arent, are selfish for the appreciations that their perceived selflessness would generate. Ofcourse there are exceptions, but one of the major factors blinding us from making objective decisions is an inappropriate self-interest. Sometimese actions in this direction actually work against self interest if thought out carefully. Case in point: in a survey where a random collection of people of people were asked "If you were sued by someone else and they lost the case, should he/she pay your legal costs?", 85% people answered yes. But when asked "If you sue someone and you lost the case, should you pay his/her legal costs?", only 44% answered yes. It is evident that the influence of self interest clouded the objectivity in the decision that was made.
  • Inappropriate attachments: emotional or other attachments have a way of clouding the judgement with irrational thinking.
Ofcourse there are many other factors that come into play, the most insightful of them being short-term returns which our brain weighs more heavily than a long term return, especially when it comes to matters involving money.

Three good cases in point which I quote from the book:

The Iraq decision and Tony Blair:
Prior to the iraq decision, Tony Blair had 3 relevant but potentially misleading experiences: in the Balkans, in Sierra Leone, and in Afghanistan. In all 3 cases, military intervention or a credible threat of military intervention succeeded or appeared to succeed in resolving the situation. Eg: Tony Blair personally pursuaded a reluctant President Clinton to threaten the Serbian leader, Milosevic, with military invasion if he did not back down over Kosovo. The threat worked. Milosevic backed down and was then overthrown in an internal political coup. The poliy of making a credible threat of military intervention worked. These earlier experiences ecouraged Blair to support military intervention in Iraq. He was certainly more enthusiastic than the British foreign secretary or the chancellor of the exchequer, neither of whom had such personal involvement in these earlier events. Ofcourse, these earlier experiences may not have been misleading, they just turned out to be so because the situation in Iraq was different in some important ways. Most prominently, Iraq was a fractured society which had only been held together by brutal force.
The Bay of Pigs, kennedy and Cuba:
One of the first decisions Kennedy made when he became president was to overthrow Fidel Castro's regime in Cuba. The plan, developed by the CIA called for an invasion by cuban exiles, with US military support including air cover and paratroopers to secure the approaches to the landing beaches. The forces were meant to join up with other cubans opposed to castro. Kennedy wanted the US involvement to be "deniable", and he insisted that operation be undertaken entirely by cubans and landing take place at night in an area with little opposition. The only option was the Bay of Pigs. The operations was launched in April 1961. It was a disaster. The plan had been leaked, and Castro's forces quickly closed in, preventing the invaders from leaving the beaches. Despite US airstrikes, all rebels were captured or killed in 3 days time. Kennedy was forced to negotiate for the release of survivors and it was a political setback. So what was wrong in the decision? The list is long. Kennedy's plan was based on his prejudgment that visible US involvement was unacceptable. His changes made for political reasons and without advice of generals condemned the operation militarily. In addition to that, there was an element of self interest in his decision to go ahead with the plan. While he had personal misgivings about the whole enterprise, kennedy was under domestic political pressure to do something about cuba and was accused by opponents of being weak.

Russian Investment:
A large UK chemical company was considering a major investment in Russia. The chairman was concerned that the CEO and the regional management team had become overcommitted to the project. In this case, the chairman had not done a formal red flags analysis, but if he had, he might have been concerned about prejudgments. For example, he was concerned that local managers had presumed that the market was attractive. He was also concerned about attachments. The local managers had close and difficult to unwind relationships with local partners. the chairman also recognized that his own thinking could be biased. He had previous experience of losing money in Russia and had recently been briefed about deteriorating relationships between Russia and the UK. What later happened as a result of many meetings and exercises, was that the investment plan was wisely dropped.

The safeguards that the authors suggest against bad decisions are Monitoring, Group debates and discussion (there is minimal probability that a bias or prejudice shared by one will be shared by many others, unless it it worthy of an impact in the decision process), data and experience (as against intuition and heuristics) and continous governance.

It has been an enlightening book to read.

Thursday, 26 March, 2009

The Dream Gadget that we all really want

Its been a long while and I realized that a post is long due; its been quite a hectic week with a lot of things moving in progression and some things losing out to the more prioritized  set of tasks. 

What got me intrigued about the gadget that we as users really want is this post by techcrunch. Arrington believes that if you build features that users want, you will never succeed. And that the walkman would never have been made if this were so. The porsche would have been a volvo with user demanded features and horse would have been a camel. I beg to differ and disagree.

The fundamental assumption I'd like to make here is that users are dumb. Yes, marketers would disagree, and users and developers would all go up in arms with the defense "the user is king". But if you notice, just about carefully enough, you will see that the user has certain wants and desires that s/he wants fulfilled; but doesnt know how to go about getting them. 
The Xerox machine was never demanded by the users, It literally came into the market and begged everyone to realize that they want it. 
Ditto with the ipod. Any many many other products.
The features that users ask for result from their deductions about how to satisfy their wants and desires. And most often than not, these deductions are wrong; and that is why the user is "dumb". If I as a user am uncomfortable in my sitting posture in a porsche and demand more leg space, the designers should be able to see through my discomfort and maybe design an ergonomic or higher seat rather than conceding my demand of more leg space, and other features that would take the porsche to being a volvo.

The point I'm trying to make is that user feedback does matter. But not at superficial level or face value. It matters one further level away. User feedback about features should *ideally* reveal what they really want. And smart organizations would focus on serving those wants / needs / desires rather than blandly conceding to the features that the user demands. (or denying them the way Arrington has argued).

As for the title of this post. Before I talk about the gadget I really want, lets talk about the why I would want something like that. 
  • I have a PC which is powerful but its bulky and un-portable.
  • I have a laptop but thats bulky too and I'd like to have a simple, fast laptop with a touchscreen interface to browse the net, read ebooks (like kindle), keep me updated with feeds.
  • I've seen the tablet, but its too cumbersome and expensive. I want reduced specs and usability.
  • I want something light and portable that i can carry around anywhere. Imagine watching TV on the sofa and querying for the latest discounts on the advertisement you just saw on TV.  or maybe read about the reviews of a move that will feature in another 5 minutes. Or maybe verify the facts that Bush / Obama / other leaders are talking about in a live speech; maybe live blog about it?
  • It should look nice and trendy and be usable and fast and sleek at the same time.
As said in the first post on crunchpad:
I want a dead simple and dirt cheap touch screen web tablet to surf the web. Nothing fancy like the Dell latitude XT, which costs $2,500. Just a Macbook Air-thin touch screen machine that runs Firefox and possibly Skype on top of a Linux kernel. It doesn’t exist today, and as far as we can tell no one is creating one.

Techcrunch went about its own task of making one such gadget. Here is Prototype A and Prototype B. A screen picture:

There are no plans of going into production yet, so lets put this aside as a mere hobby project.
Moroever, it seems a trifle too thick (and maybe bulky?)

Cost: 200$.

Recently I came accross Touchbook.
Until now, all netbooks were engineered the same way: Power-hungry Intel Atom, ugly case, and outdated 90's OS. Our goal: To achieve a breakthrough in both architecture and design. The result: a revolutionary device that works as both a netbook and a standalone tablet thanks to a detachable keyboard and a 3D touchscreen user interface.

Some highlights:
  • Like a cellphone, it is always-on, so there is no need to reboot each time. And without noisy fans and disk drives, it's completely silent, so it won't intrude on your inner space.
  • The Touch Book OS has two modes: one for use with keyboard and touchpad, and one for use as a standalone touchscreen tablet. The innovative 3D interface is easy to use and does not require a stylus or a skinny pinky.
  • The Touch Book also includes Mozilla's upcoming mobile browser, code-named Fennec, which was designed with touchscreens in mind.
  • 400$
  • The best one in my opinion
A device that is between a phone and a laptop, one notch above a PDA. 

Does almost everything on the checklist:
  • Memo - one of the core functions, vector-based memo engine, advanced technology that mimics the "same feeling of writing on paper," auto-save, detailed drawings
  • Schedule - calendar, appointments, to do list
  • Name Card - individual contact cards using photos taken with built-in camera
  • Camera - still images (JPG) and video recording (AVI)
  • Life - community feature, daily contests for mintpad users to enter
  • Blog - community feature, create your own and view others' "mint blogs"
  • Book Store - community feature, create and share content published as "books"
  • Chatting - real-time memo exchange, chatrooms, WiFi and ad hoc connections
  • Music - standard music functions (APE, FLAC, MP3, OGG, WAV, WMA)
  • Video - internet streaming TV, standard video functions (DiVX, MPEG-4, WMV, XviD)
  • Pictures - photo album, slideshow, up to 2048 x 2048 resolution
  • Recording - voice recording (WMA)
  • Internet - "high-speed full browsing with Flash support" (according to product brochure)
  • 160$

There are couple others trying to build a similar product. the Kindle itself does pretty well on few fronts though falls back on features and capabilities. Apple is roumored to be doing something with touchscreens lately. But as of now the touchbook seems to be the best of the lot.

Only time will tell which of the gadgets takes a lead and provides what we truly want.

Friday, 6 March, 2009

Social Media and Microblogging Roundup: What do you do with it?

We've all heard of the buzz around social media and the hype around the likes of twitter, facebook etc. OK, you've got yourself a twitter account. But what next?

Twitter is not just the next "cool" or "trendy" thing that exists just for you to join and brag about to others. Its more of a connecting tool, where you can share views with others, just like facebook; though twitter is not as much of a sharing tool as a "shout" tool: You're shouting out to the world and you know there are people listening. What you talk about is also a matter of choice and opinion, It could be what you're doing now (status updates), what you think about things (views, opinions) or News (Like the recent earthquake). And how much blogs influence what web surfers buy on the net is not so well understood, but social media is impacting this very quickly. But this is not all. If you're a company or a brand, you can get to build a whole personality around yourself to interact and listen with customers / prospective clients,  general public. The interactive nature of the system makes it much more effective at what marketing is all about: engaging the user.

  • Why brands absolutely DO belong to twitter by mashable discusses exactly this.  Its fun to note the ideas they provide if companies like coca cola were to ever have a twitter profile:
    "Coca Cola has millions of ways to go with this, from showing old ads, to trivia to history and answering questions about the product. I see many ways that staple brands—ones that people would think would be boring online—can be exciting. Not all brands need to reinvent the wheel with their own Social Networking sites. Some of the best tools like Twitter are out there for free to let people know all this great stuff about you."

  • For brands and businesses / organizations who want to project themselves using the new social media technologies, mashable has its own list of Top 10 Reputation Tracking Tools Worth Paying For. They charge a small fee to analyse the company profile and tell you what people think of them and other analytics including brand personality and keyword based searches. Ofcourse, if you want some free tools, there is a short list of them although not all that fancy and maybe requires a bit of effort. An interesting service is filtrbox which does a host of activities related to brand monitoring, but the service seems a bit cluttered in some places, too naive in other places and in general shows a lack of focus IMO. Although these tools (like MyReputation) are centered around SEO, they do have the focus around brand building and engaging with the users / customers / clients.  Buzzlogic comes very close to this goal.
    I feel this space is still naive and needs lot more innovation to deliver valued services.

  • For other organizations who have no clue about what they need to do once they've gotten into social media / microblogging, there are these handy "How to Develop a Social Media Plan for Your Business in 5 Steps" which btw apply to individuals as well, because as Reid Hoffman puts it, you are the entrepreneur of a small business: the business of your career.

  • In case you're an artist or a designer, you might be interested in twitter tips for artists.

Once you've got yourself into the social media space and have become active, there are these handy tools that you can engage in, either for pure fun or for real analysis:
  • Yacktrack allows you to track conversations accross blogs, bookmarking sites, microblogging sites depending on keywords you provide.
  • Socialmention is a realtime search aggregator that searches through blogs , microblogs and other social media networks for the keywords you provide (it uses other search services like google blogsearch, technorati search, twitter search etc behind the scenes).
  • Twinfluence shows you how much of an influence you have over your network and your second level network. some consider it as a metric of popularity or authority, others see it as a metric of reach or visibility (of yourself as an individual or a brand)
  • Twitter-friends is the best tool according to me. It shows you all kinds of statistics / graphs of your social network, activity, replies, messages etc. And it doesnt require a twitter login, so you can explore safely.
  • Twittercounter is a tool that shows you how many people follow you and how this number changed over time, along with a graph. Interesting for analysis.
  • Tweetoclock lets you find out what is the best time to tweet someone or when they're most active.
There are many other tools that I havent yet come accross (or just arent all that interesting to note!). I'll add them here when I do. 
All these signify that user generated content is not limited to what we have seen so far. The level of interactivity is just beginning to showcase itself, there is a long way to go.

Update: Found a lot more new stuff since I wrote this post. Here's an update -

Favourite (and good) Twitter Client tools for desktop
  • Tweetdeck - "The default columns can contain All Tweets from your timeline, @replies directed to you and direct messages. The GROUP, SEARCH and REPLIES buttons then allow the user to make up additional columns populated from the live tweet information. "
  • Feedalizr- "Feedalizr is becoming a way for you to “re-mix” the web and we notice that lots of our users are using the product in the discovery of serendipitous content. Not so much reporting to each other about what they had for breakfast…  This is largely a function of  how twitter/friendfeed are evolving. I think the facebook status update makes feedalizr the must have web 2.0 killer app (if I may say so myself - and you guys can flame me cause I am wearing kevlar !)." by John Kotsaftis
  • Twhirl - Very similar to TweetDeck though slightly less in features.

Some new (and amazing tools) for twitter users:
  • TweetBurner - Heard of feedburner? This does the same for tweets. You can check out which of your links were clicked how often and manage many other things.
  • TweetTimer - Need to be reminded of something at some time? Just follow timer and send a message in the format mentioned here
  • TweetBeep - Twitter alerts by email. (for eg, if anyone tweets your name or id, you get notified).
  • Quitter - Tells you who stopped following you, and the most likely tweet that lead to that unfollowing. Pretty cool.
  • TweetLater - lets you time tweets, so that you can tweet them later.

Reid Hoffman: "Every individual is now an Entrepreneur"

Reid Hoffman shares his views on the his investment successes and most particularly in the vision that he has for web 2.0's next generation user interactivity. This is the charlie rose show featuring him:
An interesting viewpoint and a quote that redefines the difference between individuals today compared to the generation before:
"I actually think every individual is now an entrepreneur, whether they recognize it or not. Because it used to be that you got a job at one company and you were there 20, 30, 40, years. That’s been dead for decades. That’s even dying in Japan. The salary man no longer even exists in Japan. Average job length is two to four years. That makes you a small business. You are the entrepreneur of your own small business. How do you get to your next gig? How do you do your career progression? All these things now fall on the individual shoulders. And so, they’re essentially an entrepreneur. Now, they’re not an entrepreneur a la, I’ll go create, you know, Google, LinkedIn, a business. They’re entrepreneurs in terms of the business of themselves and how they drive that. So it’s how they get, like, their next job opportunity, how they get a promotion. All of that stuff comes from how they manage the network around them. Which is, by the way, what gave me the idea for LinkedIn."
On Risk and investment:
"I think that one of the key things — the reason why I think risk tolerance is important is because what happens is people delude themselves they’re not taking risks. They say, oh, I’m going to get a job at, you know, Hewlett-Packard or I’m going to get a job — and that’s not risky. Well, look at current economic climates. Everything in life has some risk, and what you have to actually learn to do is how to navigate it. And people who take risk intelligently can usually actually make a lot more progress than people who don’t.
(On Bad risk:) Yes. Well, there’s a huge difference between intelligent risk taking and stupid risk taking. Now, the trick is to know the difference.
I mean, this is actually one of the things that makes me mildly nervous even on the stimulus package, because if you think about, well, our problem is leverage. What is the stimulus package? Borrow money, spend it.
So I think it’s really…
Well, and therefore, I think to do it successfully, you actually have to make sure that the stimulus that you’re spending it in is actually creating sustainable jobs. So I’m a huge believer in the way that you actually get out of these economic downturns is through entrepreneurship, because that creates new kinds of jobs that actually have longevity and strength to them.
If you’re investing in an industry that has, for example, known problems, you’re just delaying the problem. That’s not necessarily a good thing."

Techcrunch has covered the interview excerpts here.

Monday, 2 March, 2009

Barcamp Singapore (Feb 28)

This is a long overdue post. I attended Barcamp, Singapore last Saturday. Being my first experience of a barcamp, it was a fun filled event with lots and lots of interesting talks (view the slides). Besides interacting with a lot of diverse, enthusiastic people, it was interesting to discuss and come accross new ideas, technologies and methodologies. This is a long post, you may want to skip to my ideas on people and talks I attended, My talk at barcamp, Pictures or links.

The Barcamp team organized the talks on a 2 tier level. There was a pre-registration online for those willing to present an idea or a talk; and certain slots were left vacant for on the spot presentations after their proposed topics were voted by the public on the whiteboard. (The schedule).

There were 5 tracks going on parallely and barcamp was characterized by the steady movement of people from one track to the other very frequently. Oh, and wifi access made live tweeting possible :)

The talk on virtual worlds by Jeremy Synder was interesting particularly because it focussed on the non-game aspects of the topic, something that is very hard to find since gaming is almost synonymous with 3d or virtual reality. Interesting also, because one of the guys I met earlier at RIAction and here at barcamp again, Gabriel, runs a startup focussed on getting 3D to the web (No, they dont use flash or other plugins, they write their own objective C based plugin).

I met quite a few people over lunch, and it was a bit surprising to see many NTU / NUS students with startup ideas on web 2.0, made for a good discussion. There was a general sentiment that blogging as a phenomenon will soon die in the face of other growing social networks like facebooks(which allows posts of stories) and microblogging. I strongly disagree with that, because a blog allows you to build a brand besides being a publishing platform (not merely where you share stories with friends). And then there were people working in new startup companies with eventual aims of starting their own thing soon. It turned out to be an interesting exchange of ideas, views and concepts.

I was kinda looking forward to the talk on the other google APIs by Vinoaj at Google, but was dissapointed to know that he couldnt make it and the presentation was done in lieu of him. It was an interesting topic because web development now is so focussed on standalone php / aspx / ruby etc development that getting a common task such as creating graphs/charts requires plugins and isntallations and configurations to get working. With google api's its just a matter of calling the right function and letting google do the graph generation for you. The same goes for the Google Web toolkit and other API's. It was amazing to see the demo on live swiss train positions (in real time) overlayed on google maps. Maybe sometime the MRT train positions of Singapore can be seen in real time on google earth as well.

There were a couple of other talks by the folks at CreativeCrew on Adobe products, I attended those on photoshop techniques, fireworks. CreativeCrew also had a presence at the First Rich Internet Applications conference in singapore, and their next upcoming event is this Wednesday.
An interesting topic towards the end was the poor state of funding available for aspiring entrepreneurs in Singapore (Only 600$ pm availability was claimed). There was a discussion on "Fundraising WTF" where stories on fundraising were shared and solutions discussed. There was a sentiment that NUS is very rigid and traditional in its procedures and something needs to be done about that. 

All in all, a very interesting experience, that ended in an interesting end with a game of werewolves, a kinda tradition at barcamp (you might want to read the-weirdest-werewolves-game-ever). The next barcamp, according to Preetam over dinner, may just happen this June, if you're interested.

I spoke on how microblogging is the next thing for web 2.0 and what could be future directions that it could potentially take. With facebook's attempted (and failed) acquisition of twitter, Google's acquisition of Jaiku (a twitter alternative), and Facebook's retaliatory move of opening up its LiveFeed (counter twitter?) shows how everyone is scampering into this area. 

My presentation:

I did get quite a good feedback later on, apart from a question on "How do you see microblogging emerging in singaporean culture". That took me offbeat, and I later learnt that commenting and talking freely on topics or arguments is not something that comes freely to native singaporeans. Two months in Singapore, and I'm still learning the culture :)

Some snaps of the event. (Disclaimer: All the pics do not belong to me. They have been taken from here and are the copyrights of their respective owners).

Friday, 27 February, 2009

The first Rich Internet Applications Conference in Singapore

I just attended RIAction, the first Rich Internet Applications conference in Singapore.
They had several parallel tracks, most notable ones being occupied by Microsoft (Silverlight, Expressions blind, Azure etc), Adobe (Flex, FlexMonkey, AIR, Flash etc), php (php user group, singapore), Flex User group and other user group communities.

All the 3 big names in this arena were sponsors of the event (Google, Adobe and Microsoft).
Apart from tutorials and workshops / jumpstarts, keynotes, I got myself a cheezy Google Lanyard, and some Microsoft & RIAction goodies. Joined up with the Flex user group, php user group and met a couple of folks at creativecrew as well.

Interestingly, some web 2.0 startups like zopim (Aims to add an intelligent chat agent to any website for clients / customers). There were a couple other companies present, but with the same old USP of software consulting and development.

IMO the RIAction team (one of the organizers is Hu Shunjie)  did a pretty good job of a first RIA Conference in Singapore. 

Update: Just found this video about RIAction "I love RIAction".

Macbook Pro 17 inch is here. Is it everything that a notebook should be?

Apple's products have always held a niche position in the computing industry. With a sleek design, great interface, innovative features and the much touted superior OS X, it entered the notebook industry a couple of years ago with the "macbook". At the time, bloggers unanimously rejected its claim of being far superior to existing laptop models. CNet declared in 2006, that bloggers hate the Macbook Pro.

But over the years, constant innovation, ease of use and great design aesthetics have made it one of the must haves.  Recently, Apple has announced the New 17" Macbook Pro with the major attractions being
  • Intel Core2Duo 2.66 to 2.93 GHz processor support
  • The longest lasting mac notebook battery ever (claimed at 8 hours)
  • Desktop Graphics experience on the notebook with NVIDIA GeForce 9400M integrated graphics processor and 1920-by-1200-pixel resolution (133 pixels per inch)
And the all time favourites:
  • Precision Aluminium unibody thin and sleek build
  • Multi-touch and trackpad button feature

Of course, its not all eye-candy that attracts me towards the mac. The claim that "It just works" is heavy and well substantiated. I havent ever witnessed a mac crash, and havent experienced performance hogs that PC users are all well aware of. Of course, I could get my standard Dell Laptop well tuned and high on performance as well, but the difference is that it would require knowledge and most importantly, constant effort from my side. Effort that I could otherwise use to get something productive done. Of course, James likes to criticize the Apple folks and their following for their elitist attitude (and I agree with him on that), but I do believe it is a productivity enhancer if I can get more done with less effort and dont have to worry about performance and Crashing all the time. And the great build and interface doesnt hurt either.

So when I was deciding about getting myself a macbook pro, the new 17 inch release with better processor and graphics support. If only they could update the 15 inch version with those specs, but I guess that'll take a lot of time to happen. 

Macbook Pro Complaints:
So while I wait, its handy to check out some of the common complaints people have with the macbook pro (and see how many of them have been resolved and will be resolved in subsequent releases). I got most of these from AppleDefects, RedSweater and other complain posts.

Most of these problems are specific and not general (except the noise and wifi issue), they can arguably be blamed on the ignorance of the user. 

Those who are really picky about specifications and features may want to compare macbook with competing laptops like acer's travelmate and the latest Dell releases. You will get more specifications and features than the macbook for a lesser cost. But the Apple product has unique features that enhance usability and experience even if its a compromise on the specs. It does work for some, for the others there are always unlimited options.

The mac does make for a good user experience, but its not without its drawbacks.

Saturday, 21 February, 2009

The Changing face of Public Opinion and its neutrality

In the current era, there is a big hype surrounding user generated content. Everything that the web 2.0 is praised about involves enabling the average user to generate content and influence global opinions.

Think about it. Ten or fifteen years ago, the only people who controlled influence, impressions and perceptions, were the big media companies. The News Corporations. TV Channels. Radio Stations. Newspaper Publications. Magazines. To some extent, books and popular authors. To a lesser extent, public rallies. And to a greater extent, huge political movements involving all forms of mass media and public communications.
If you don't get the gravity of that, consider this: these Forms of Expression became so popular in controlling public opinion, that in all forms of societies some form of control was brought in to keep a check on their functioning. In countries like China and USSR / Russia, censorship was commonplace. In the US and other Free Capitalist nations, a more subtler regime was enabled (No corporations or organizations, for example, receiving funds from the Bush Administration would dare speak against them. No reporting agencies would contradict the views of their sponsors, and even if they did it would be confined to constructive criticism. Tiger Woods dare not speak anything against Accenture lest they discontinue their esteemed sponsorship.) The influence of these mediums of expressions was so deeply yet unobtrusively intertwined in the system that it makes me wonder why people couldn't see through what they were being made to believe.

(Image courtesy MessageInAMatrix)

Getting back to now. There are blogs written by users accross the world that everyone is free to read. News websites that are not so tightly regulated and need much less funds to survive (than are necessary for bigger agencies to use as leverage for censorship). There is user generated wikipedia which beats every other encyclopedia I've come across in terms of size, depth, information and content. And it survives on user donations. Not on the charity trusts of influential corps who would dig their tentacles everywhere to control public perception. There's YouTube replacing the big and dominant role of the TV. Remember the big tsunami? or Hurricane katrina? When no reporter dared to venture into dangerous territory, the native people blogged and uploaded videos of the event and thats how the word spread. Even news sites like CNN relied on youtube for most of their coverage. People now collaborate for Open Source Projects to develop everthing from the next Kernel for your PC to a financial accounting Services. And these open source softwares do not suffer from the drawbacks of big corporate software developments - "Manipulation for personal Benefit" as is explained by Sam . That's the prime source of distrust in adopting anything new and Proprietary (apart from the lack of freedom).

Today I can freely upload my own videos. Write my opinions on a blog (no matter who I may contradict in the process). Report an event (or experience) I've witnessed. Collaborate to develop Software I want and need. In essence I am free in principle and in action. And I know there are a lot of you like me. That's why I can navigate to youtube and experience the Olympics in beijing (and discover that the TV News video of the fireworks had been artificially generated for greater sensationalization as against what really happened) or a view of Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower. Or read about stock valuations and their behaviour; know about the future direction of technology and protocols for emerging systems. And I know what I'm reading is genuine; not filtered through a moral sieve, because you know what? The moral sieve is often an excuse for censorship so that bigger organizations can get away with their nefarious activities. It may be an over-hyped concern, I agree, but I feel secure in a free world, not a restrictive one (no matter what excuse you provide). And I'm sure you do too. And I'm glad this happened . User generated content is the best source of Information I have. And I fully support it.

But while we accept that, we must do it with a grain of salt; because here is something to ponder about: We regard Wikipedia as largely neutral compared to any other encyclopedia. Obviously, since Wikipedia is written by millions of users like us; and so in effect we are informing ourselves without a mode of bias. Quite unlike corporations like Brittanica, Webster, encarta and the like who can never guarantee you complete neutrality. (Of course, they do guarantee, but we all know how information can be twisted to favour certain viewpoints as against others and yet remain within the legal definition of 'neutral'). XKCD points out an interesting incident that outlines that the very assumption of public neutrality can be compromised:

Wednesday, 11 February, 2009

Notifications - a new direction for developers

Notifications is a common phenomenon. A lot of us have Gtalk as our IM client, even those on Pidgin would have noticed notifications like these:

You get the point. Every other application has their own notifications for users (btw, the notification on the right is from feedalizr, a great tool for updating you on twitter, facebook, friendfeed and other alerts all in one place). Imagine what happens when each of them are unaware of the other application and serve the user as though they were the only software using notifications
  • Each application would have a differently styled notification popup, confusing the user
  • The scheduling of notifications would be nonexistant.
  • The user could be bombarded with multiple overlapping notifications from different applications at the same time ("low battery" , "Mystifier is online" , "Dp replied to your twitter entry ..." ....)
  • The user would begin to get frustrated at times.
The solution? A notification system that each application could communicate with.

I just discovered a Growl inspired tool for Notifications on Windows - snarl.
How is it different from the numerous other notification software available? Well, for one, it uses a BSD style license, which means it is free to be used by both open source and proprietary software systems alike.

Snarl can be used by any application and it provides a centralized way for managing notifications. The user can turn it off, if say s/he has plugged the laptop to a projector and is in a meeting. Its a very convenient way to manage notifications and is highly skinnable and allows for fine grained control. The user can also override the application defaults and change the notification style based on their own preferences and style.

For a start, here is what you can do. If you have a Pidgin client (and assuming you have network on twitter / etc which you have linked to your IM for updates), you can integrate snarl to give your pidgin more bite.

I think snarl is the future for notification management on windows. Looking further down the line, there would probably be standardized protocols for notification management making the application work seamlessly on any platform / environment.

Monday, 9 February, 2009

Average is NOT Normal

I found an interesting slide on slideshare. We all normally rely on averages and means to work out whether something is worth the effort or not. But averages are not actually normal phenomenon.

Consider the stock market as an example. For the last 80 years, it has averaged 10% increase. But if you invest your money on that basis, you may not grow by 10%. Why? Check this slideshow out:

It all depends on where you start, where you want to go, and your behaviour / skill.

Friday, 6 February, 2009

Google FriendConnect - Great tool to keep visitors connected

I've just added Google Friend Connect to this blog (You can see the members gadget on the right column). Seems to be a great tool and probably the next big wave of web 2.0 innovation. This is for all the bloggers out there. But not for them alone...

It such an innovative feature that facebook supposedly banned it for a while claiming that (competition?) developers get access to user data. Turns out that was an overhyped concern.

Whether you've been looking for something to market your website, blog; or to connect with readers; to network with people; or keep in touch with friends, Google Friend Connect is a great way to add this functionality to your blog or website.

It allows facebook like applications to take advantage of your social network to connect you with others and them to you.

This capability allows you to add your google friends, orkut and twitter (as of now, the list is increasing) to the network and add gadgets like a wall (facebook users, sound familiar? I'll soon add it here as well) to you website where your connected network can write / post etc. There is also an API which allows developers to write their own gadgets (much like facebook apps). So this is exciting new Stuff.

Here is a video on how you can add it to your blog too.

Tuesday, 3 February, 2009

Pursue the passion - innovative website

Here's what I came accross while surfing today.

It's a website that is inspired by the passion people have for the work they do. (If you know how working for a mundane job which was never meant for you can feel, this is the exact opposite, if you know what I mean).

It was in 2006 that 3 college friends, who were presumably unsure of where their passion would be, traveled across the country in a 28-foot RV to discover how chasing your dreams can be the best career move you ever make.
"Pursue the Passion" RV traveled 16,000 miles over 38 states. We interviewed more than 300 people who love what they do for a living and created a sweet website at from those experiences.

They went around pitching their idea to various companies, corporations, angel investors, magazines, TV shows, and a business school; only to discover that startup money comes in through finding the best fit and not 'spamming' per se.

I checked out their website, and at the time I saw it, it had a video of an intervew with an aerospace engineer. Seems like a boring topic to check out; but the way it was presented catches your attention as an interesting and amazing job profile to look at. The catch here is the passion with which the interviewee presented and the way in which the video was shown.

This is what their mission is
The goal of Pursue the Passion is to get people to think differently about career paths. We want current and future workforces to not only realize that they can be passionate about a career, but we want to provide them with the tools to do so. Through our website, speaking program, and initiatives in the classroom, we are playing a meaningful role in reversing the long-term negative trends in employment statistics.

The website is a collection of such interviews that inspire you to find where your passion truly lies. Because without that life seems a drab, quite unlike the roller coaster that each of the interviewees describe their lives to be.

Interesting website to look out.

Monday, 26 January, 2009

Microblogging as a phenomenon

Let me admit it. Im not (yet) a micro blogging addict.
Neither was I a blogger about 5 years ago. Back then, blogging was considered niche, and the rules were just being defined. You'd get a quizzical look if you said you owned a blog (unless ofcourse, you were confronted with questions like 'what is a blog?'). But now, its commonplace and its exploding, so much so that standards are being rewritten for scalability.

Its just a part of life that has engulfed everyone, irrespective of age, culture, employment, status, and what not. And it is a great leveler too, because everyone's opinion counts equally. Well, not equally, but then the mode of expression does exist. It has become a natural form of communication for most; while it still remains a form of publicity for others. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

But thats not what this post is about.
In the same way that blogging has revolutionized the connected world, a new concept called microblogging is beginning to do the same. And right in the midst of this new paradigm is twitter. Here's a video about it: "Twitter in plain english"

Here's what BusinessWeek Says:

It's easy to laugh at nonsense on Twitter, the microblogging rage. "My nose is leaking," writes someone called Zapples, "so imma go to sleep now.…" But I've heard lots of similar drivel (and even produced some myself) on the phone—an important technology if there ever was one.

The key question today isn't what's dumb on Twitter, but instead how a service with bite-size messages topping out at 140 characters can be smart, useful, maybe even necessary. Here's why I'm looking. In the last few months, the traffic on Twitter has exploded, growing far beyond its circles of bleeding-edge tech enthusiasts and hard-core social networkers.

Yes, thats true. You will find many high profile celebrities, tech enthusiasts, company spokespersons, employees, product users and ofcourse, friends!
The fundamental difference between microblogging and blogging in the purest sense is that the former is centered around engagement and conversation, while blogging is more involved with expression and publishing. Yes, the boundaries are very fine. But what tells me that microblogging is still in its infancy is that the users are making up the rules right now. There is a large share of anti-twitter microbloggers out there who vouch for OpenMicroblogging (essentially get open source to do what wordpress did to blogging) and if you're one of them, there are other services available too. So why not Jump in and have some fun!

By the way, if you're wondering, I'm here

Wednesday, 14 January, 2009

On Entrepreneurship...

Interesting links on entrepreneurship:

Just read over a couple of interesting articles on entrepreneurship. Heres a short list (and a handy bookmark for myself).
  • 15 tips to be a successful entrepreneur
    Some general aspects of attitude, behaviour and outlook for entrepreneurs.

  • Nows the best time to start a business
    How is this recession time the best time to start a business..

    "History bears me out. When times are bad for the economy, it can be a great time to start a business. In fact, 16 of the 30 companies that make up the Dow industrial average were started during a recession or depression. These include Procter & Gamble, Disney, Alcoa, McDonald's, General Electric and Johnson & Johnson."

  • Thinking about starting your own biz?
    "People are attracted to the idea of owning their own small business for different reasons. You may crave the freedom and independence of being your own boss, have a business idea that keeps you up at night, want to make a lot of money or simply escape the nine-to-five job routine."

  • An inspiring chinese Story
    “You know, we were so hungry, people would take it home any wildlife to eat. You see, we were very poor. I mean –he paused- my grandparents were rich, they had a summer home, and a small brick factory, but after the revolution they lost everything. Not only what they had physically. My parents had to work very hard, we were displaced. It was very difficult. Some of my relatives die of hunger. I realized I had to study very very hard to honor my parents. I finally got to go to University, in another state. We were so poor –he sighted- I only had two shirts in four years, can you imagine? I washed one and used the other one. You could almost see through the fabric when I finished.” "I'm so lucky"

  • Kiva: loosen your social entrepreneurship credit
    "I read a week of Wall Street Journals today. Lots of articles about worsening credit. The only lending I do is through so I've doubled the money I've channeled into the system. "
  • Campus Entrepreneurship - NYTimes

    “We’re really a dorm of dreamers and doers,” says Prinya Kovitchindachai, who is hoping to market a vile-tasting pill, imported from Thailand, that he touts as a hangover treatment. “College students are the largest group of binge drinkers,” he says, quietly gleeful at the prospect of such a large market so close at hand. Friends have helped him bone up on the basics of international shipping, of securing shelf space and — in a consultation with a neighbor who was wearing a towel and still dripping from the shower — of creating Web sites

Plan to currently network around before delving into something new... lets see how things turn out...

Friday, 2 January, 2009

Moving and resizing Partitions in vista

Although vista has a cool partition management tool inbuilt, you cannot perform powerful operations like increase your primary boot partition space by bringing in free space from the end or another drive etc.

Gparted allows you to do that flawlessly. Here's a good howto on that:
I'm plannin to use it myself and see how it goes...

Other unrecommended but possible alternatives include: