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.