Friday, December 21, 2007

Project Hoshimi, Round 1, Rank 1

Project Hoshimi is a Programing Battle in Imagine Cup 2008. One has to programmatically control a set of nanobots to accomplish a set of given objectives. There are different types of bots, all controlled and synchronized by a single AI bot.

Round 1, the qualifying round for Hoshimi,  has started and I was participating on it for the last 3-4 days. Yesterday morning, I finally managed to optimize our strategy and managed to score 2700, which places us right at the top. Here is the leader board screen-shot :


Our team CU_CSE is right at top with 8 other teams. Till now around 150 teams have taken part. I hope that 2700 is the maximum that we one can score in this round ... but let's see if somebody can beat that.

Imagine Cup 2008

What is Imagine Cup?

Like the last five years, this year too, Microsoft has organized the world’s premier student technology competition, Imagine Cup 2008 (IC_2008). Through Imagine Cup, Microsoft is encouraging young people to apply their technological skills, artistic abilities and creativity to make a difference in the technological world around us. This one of the largest global student events. Last year, in IC_2007, more than 100,000 students around the globe, took part in the competition.

This year too, IC_2008 has started. Anybody over the minimum age of 16 years and currently pursuing a educational course in any recognized school, college or university is eligible for participation.

Imagine Cup 2008 Events


This year's theme is : "Imagine a world where technology enables a sustainable environment". Based on this theme, students have nine different categories of competition each testing a pupils abilities in different categories :

The prize money are quite attractive and added to it is the exposure that students get. I am not sure about it, but most probably Microsoft offers job opportunities to the finalists. In any case, the competitions are too fun to miss. Most of them are online, so no need to move from the comforts of our home or maybe, just a few more hours at college. The charm of getting a team together and working along with a deadline in mind is just awesome.

Please participate ....

I urge all my fellow students to take part in this event. Do not worry about your skill level, you never know how your opponent is. The first time I tried my hands at a competition, I had no idea of others, but I slowly gathered confidence. The worst that can happen is that you lose, but even that offers a evaluation platform. At least one gets to know his/her position globally.

Microsoft Campus Unit Inauguration

On Dec 7th 2007, Friday, the Microsoft Campus Unit was inaugurated in the University College of Science and Technology (Rajabazar Science College) under the University of Calcutta. The venue was on the N.R.Sen Fluid Mechanics Hall. Many professors were present in the inauguration function :

  • Dr. D.D. Sinha (Head of the Dept, CSE)
  • Dr. S. Sen Sharma (Sr. Prof, CSE)
  • Mr. K.N. Dey (Sr. Prof, CSE)
  • Mr. S.K. Setua (Prof, CSE)
  • Dr. N. Chaki (Prof, CSE)
  • Dr. S. Chowdhury (Prof, CSE)

Mr. Mohammed Reza (Academic Advisor, Microsoft India) officially inaugurated the club and gave a talk on the functions and goals of the club. He discussed a lot about the opportunities and benefits that the students will get through this club. He answered many queries raised by the students on Microsoft.

The very informative two and half hour long session came to an end with Mr. Reza distributing five DVDs of Microsoft Visual Studio 2008 Team Suite (Beta 2) to five lucky draw winners.

More than 150 students attended the inauguration and were signed up for the Microsoft Campus Unit. A group called KolkataNetStudent has been created for this purpose and all interested students are requested to join it.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Microsoft Download Center Beta

While trying to download .NET 3.5 Power Toys, I suddenly had a very obtrusive pop up window thrown at my face, saying that I had been "randomly chosen" to experience the Beta version of Microsoft Download Center. I accepted the offer immediately and was soon taken to a page that checked whether my browser would support all the features of this preview. I keep my browser updated, and had the Silverlight plugin installed so I passed the tests easily. Below is the screen-shot of this test page ...

MS 02

The ball in the mid-right part of the page is a visual treat, rendered with silverlight. You got to see to believe the capabilities of Silverlight, but my CPU usage shoots up to around 30% for this alone.

Upon hitting the continue button, I was taken to the actual Beta page, which looked great but took a lot of time to load. Around a minute only to load the page. I am sure this would not be there in the final version. Here is the screen-shot of the beta page ...

Microsoft Download Center

The top banner displaying IE 7, is actually a slide show with 3 different pictures. I am sure, there are some other improvements too, but visually it is a treat to watch. Of course there are a few glitches, but I guess they would be taken care of in the release version.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Visual Studio 2008 Express

Story so far ...

I tried to get into Win32 development for a long time, but I got my first experience with the Visual Studio 2005 Express editions. The most attractive part of the Express Editions was that they were free. Although advanced features were missing from it, I soon found out the tools provided were quite sufficient for my small requirements. I would rather jump into managed code development with a set of proper and legal tools rather than try out the same with the pirated versions where I had to always remain in fear. There was a version of MSDN for Express Editions too and it provided me with the much needed documentation.

So although I have become a Microsoft Student Partner now and enjoy a MSDN premium subscription that comes with it, the Express Editions still are very near to my heart. I distribute them to my friends and have a copy of it installed on a Virtual PC, in case I need to troubleshoot an application for my friend.

Visual Studio 2008 Express

The newest of the Express Editions is VS 2008 which sports a lot of improvements both in the Windows and the Web development areas. The WPF additions prove to be great. The WPF designer is like a boon for all those people interested in cool GUIs. It is very similar to the forms designer as per using it is concerned. Editing XAML and being able to see it instantly in the split view is cool too.

SQL Server Compact Edition is now a part of the C# and VB Express editions and allows us to create a data-driven application on the client side which can harness the power of SQL Server with much lower resource usage.

Multi targeting is another area that I love. You can target your code for older .NET platforms too, for running on PCs that do not have .NET 3.5 installed. I always use this feature when I do not need any new .NET 3.0 or 3.5 things link LINQ.

Web Developer Express 2008

The Web Developer Express 2008 has also improved. The Web page designer is been reworked. It now has a better support for CSS editing and development of AJAX based web sites is a breeze with it. I am told that it has improved its XHTML Standards compliance, but I am not competent enough to have a say in this regard. The javascript intellisense and debugging features were much needed which helps in writing complex javascript effects, menus and of course AJAX based sites.

... and this is what I think

Installing VS 2008 Express Edition over VS 2005 Express is an easy task. Moreover you can continue using it along with VS 2005 too. I currently have both in my virtual PC. Although no major glitches have surfaced so far to shy away for VS 2008, I hold on to VS 2005 just to be on the safe side. You can download Visual Studio 2008 Express free from the official MS sites. There are five different web installs :

and one single Express Edition ISO downloadable for offline installation. I recommend the ISO as you can burn it for later and distribute it too.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Microsoft Security Summit 2007

I attended the Microsoft Security Summit 2007 that was held in Kolkata on Dec 6th 2007. The venue was Taj Bengal. The session was primarily meant for developers. Registrations started from 0900 and by 0945, the summit started in full throttle.

Platform Security

The first session, "Microsoft Platform Security – An Overview" was delivered by a Microsoft ACE team member Mr. Prasad Nelabhotla. The discussion centered around the different forms of attacks that were prevalent on the Windows platform, starting from the cross site scripting attacks and how to defend against potentially harmful user inputs. Input validation at all stages was suggested as the primary means of defense. The "blacklisting" vs "white listing" approaches were addressed.

Typical problems of unmanaged code like buffer overflow was discussed and how managed code like .NET manages to address some of them were discussed. We learnt that the protection mechanisms should be built into all the different layers of our application and not just the outermost layer which interacts directly with the client. Ideally the developers should assume that all the layers before them are insecure and proceed to build maximum security features into their layer. Microsoft SD3 philosophy was discussed; Security by Design, Security by Default and Security by Deployment.

Developers were introduced to Threat Modeling which takes into account the different types of threats relevant to a particular scenario and the paths of them. It further marks the threats into different criterion based on the STRIDE classification. The DREAD method of evaluation of threats were discussed which attaches weights to threats by the five parameters : Damage potential, Exploitablity, Affected users and Discoverability. The importance of Logging and Auditing was stressed upon for analyzing the different threats.

Application Platform Security

The second session was on "Application Platform Security" and was delivered by the same person from the Microsoft ACE team, Mr. Prasad Nelabhotla. In this session the security features related to a .NET application was discussed. The features of .NET like Type Safe Expressions, Assembly Isolation, Authorized memory Access only were discussed and how they make the platform secure was brought out. The security features provided by Windows were talked about and how .NET security complemented it was shown.

The Code Access Security (CAS) was a major topic and how the platform grants security privileges to the assemblies were discussed in detail. The CAS policies and permission sets were demonstrated. The different levels of security available were talked about.

Encryption of data transmitted through a non secure channel was discussed and a brief overview of the .NET platform built in cryptography library was given. We were introduced to the different types of symmetric and asymmetric encryption algorithms supported by the System.Security.Cryptography namespace. Usage of DPAPI was advised for storage of sensitive information.

Data Platform Security

The next session was on Data Platform Security, conducted by L. Srividya, Architect and Evangelist, Microsoft India. She talked about various forms of attack on data platform, resulting in loss, corruption or leak of Databases which might prove devastation to the company. Cross site scripting and SQL injection were the chief topics.

Importance of backups and checking their restorability and status was discussed. The issue of physical security and software security were talked about. The kind of error message to display to the end user was also a good point. Messages like "Incorrect Password" could mean that the user name was correct and this should be replaced with "username and password did not match" type of messages.

The fact that hackers these days are professionals were stressed upon, so any loophole could be exploited. Even the amount of time available to developers are far less than what hackers have at their disposition. So best effort of secure the Database must be used. So every critical patches must be applied as quickly as possible, even if it means getting the server offline for a couple of hours. Some example of attacks were cited and their impact on the company were shown as an example.

The best practices turned out to be validation of user input, encrypting data through a unreliable channel, encrypting the database. The programs should be given as low privilege as possible. We do not need to give all our programs the SA privilege. The default username-password pairs like "scott-tiger" should be changed. The impact of a security breach from the inside was also discussed with the remedy that the number of most privileged users should be very low in number.

Web Platform Security

This fourth and final session was conducted by Vimal Rajyaguru, another member of the ACE team. He discusses the various threats imminent on the web today and how ASP.NET provides counter measures against them. ASP.NET and IIS were used to demonstrated some of the typical attacks like the cross site scripting, one click attack, and how their remedy through ASP.NET inbuilt features.

Various add-on packages like Anti XSS library were discussed. View state protection, HMAC message authentication, forms authentication were discussed. A comparative study of IIS across various versions were done along with the new features.


The one day long summit, although targeted for developers, was very informative for computer science students like myself. I am quite interested in cryptography and the practical usage of them were quite interesting. The various security threats were an eye opener and importance of security in application was well conveyed. Threat modeling was a completely new thing to me. Not being a web developer I could not understand most of the ASP.NET discussions but Vimal made it interesting enough with his hands on demonstrations.

The goodies were great. Each of the attendees got a copy of the book "The Security Development Lifecycle" by Mchael Howard and Steve Lipner from the MS Press. We also got two DVDs, "Microsoft Developers Security Resource Kit" for VS 2005 and a Visual Studio Team Suite Beta 2 editions usable up to March 2008.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Gmail web-chat introduces Group Chat and Smileys

The web interface of Gtalk, also known as Gmail Chat has introduced new features of Group Chat and an enhanced set of Smileys.

Group Chat

Group Chat allows people to talk in groups, where everybody can view what others are saying, more like having a talk with a group of friends than having a one to one chat. Anybody can start a group chat by selecting the Group Chat option from the Option menu in lower left corner of any chat window and adding the persons who would be part of the group. Simple ... isn't it? So you have a personal chat room where you can chat with your buddies.

Anybody in the group can add new people to the group, there is no specific host who takes the responsibility of this. This also has the added advantage that when the original person has left the group, others can easily continue to chat till all the members have left the group.

Leaving the group is simple, just close that group chat window and you are logged out of that chat and everybody on the group will be informed of your departure. However, you can rejoin the group only if somebody still in the group invites you.


The web chat client also provides an enhanced set of smileys, which are accessible via the smiley link at the bottom right hand corner. The smileys are divided in 3 sets,

  1. Simple text smileys
  2. Colored said-by smileys
  3. Colored box smileys

You see those smileys based on the group that you select. So if somebody sends you a :), you could see either of the 3 types of smileys based on which group you have selected. The default is the Text type, but you can always change it.

Looking forward to seeing more interesting new features from Google. I always keep a lookout for the top right hand corner of the Gmail window for new features.

Lastly, for the power users like me, the entire emotions list is available as text shortcuts. So no need to use the mouse, when we have the almighty keyboard. Here is a complete list of the Gmail chat emotions.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Installing Telnet in Vista

Windows Vista does not have Telnet client installed by default. I learnt this amazing thing today while trying to show my friend the much famed ASCII version of Star Wars. I have not begun to use Vista as my default OS, its installed in my machine more as a novelty and as a test bench than a thing that I actually work on !

However, I did manage to install Telnet client in Vista following these simple steps :

  1. Launch the "Programs and Features" link in Control Panel (Start > Control Panel > Programs and Features).
  2. Select the "Turn Windows features on or off."
  3. Select the Telnet Client option
  4. Click on OK.
  5. To confirm the installation, a dialog box appears.

What is most amazing is that the client is bundled with the OS but not installed by default !

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Visual Studio 2008 Professional Installation

I finally managed to complete the download of Visual Studio 2008 Profession Edition form my MSDN subscription. Needless to say, I have installed it too. I already had Visual Studio 2005 Professional and Visual Studio 2008 Beta installed on my system. I am a bit skeptical about all new MS products and thus I want to keep my existing VS2005 Professional Editions untouched and install VS2008 Professional besides it.

So these are the steps that I followed to get my wanted setup of both VS2005 and VS2008 :

  1. Uninstalled VS2008 Professional Beta
  2. Uninstalled MSDN Library for Visual Studio 2008 Beta
  3. Uninstalled SQL Server 2005
  4. Uninstalled SQL Server Compact Edition 3.5
  5. Uninstalled SQL Server Compact Edition 3.5 Design Tools

Then I rebooted my machine just to ensure that nothing is working in background after the uninstall. Lastly I mounted the VS2008 Professional Edition DVD ISO image to a virtual DVD drive and installed it.

I have found my ideal setup of both VS2005 and VS2008 together in my machine without any conflict. I double checked this by compiling a few programs with both of them, separately. Everything went on smoothly.

All the steps mentioned above are what I observed, the whole thing might be different for you, who might have installed another combination of VS products. So you might have a look in the complete list of all the components that need to be uninstalled prior to installation of VS2008. So far its being a nice experience working with VS2008 for both Beta and Release editions.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

What if Gmail was a MS product?

I was looking for a technical comparison between Gmail and Live web mails, but the search algorithms have a tendency to throw up irrelevant results and I landed on a page that had this amusing discussion on how would Gmail look like, had it been a Microsoft product.

The writer started with a simple Gmail Inbox page and through a series of transformations, made it look like the current Hotmail Inbox page complete with Windows logo, a Hotmail style "reading pane" and banner ads.

Here is a link to the page :

I am not the anti-Microsoft type, but this was too funny to be missed out. I love Gmail and in fact all of the Google products' UIs. The no nonsense looks and highly functional UIs are in a class of their own. Even the ads are blended well with the interface and does not stand out like in Hotmail. The speed is yet another thing that Gmail performs better at. Even in my 1.5Mb connection, I can feel the difference between a Hotmail page and a Gmail page.

I am sure that the guys at Microsoft are surely working on bettering their Hotmail UI. I would love to see a more responsive UI with less graphical ads for all my Windows Live Id email accounts. But at the end of the day, the party to benefit most from this Webmail war is the user group. For now, Gmail leads in almost all the measures, but I hope to see Hotmail come up with some cool interface sometime soon. So lets just keep the war going on as the ultimate winners in this battle is us.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Five consecutive 'and's

This very interesting piece originated in our class today. KND was teaching Normalization and suddenly in a typical KND style asked us whether we could use five consecutive 'and's in any proper English sentence. Of course we tried, but he gave little time to think and told us this solution :

There was one shop which sold both fish and meat and so the shopkeeper put up a sign outside his shop, which read : "FishandMeat". The spaces between the words were almost negligible and this prompted one customer to point it out :

There should be a space between the 'Fish' and 'and', and 'and' and 'Meat'.

So now we have a proper English sentence with five consecutive 'and's. The next challenge was to use four consecutive 'can's. The solution to that is :

I can "can-can", can you?

Here, "can-can" refers to a dance form.

I do not know where does KND gets these from, but they are interesting for sure. I remember having seen 12 'had's in a row being used in a proper English sentence. The sentence was so proper, that it required two more paragraphs to explain it well enough for an average English speaking person.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Theory of Everything?

Garrett Lisi, a 39 year old physicist claims to have got a "Theory of Everything", which is something like the Holy Grail of physics.

The "Theory of Everything" is supposed to be an all encompassing rule of nature, which would be able to explain all the physical phenomena around us. This one single theory is supposed to unite all the four basic interactions of nature :

  1. Gravity
  2. Strong Nuclear Force
  3. Weak Nuclear Force
  4. Electromagnetic Force

A quest for this theory has been around for a long time and a number of theories have been proposed over the ages, but nothing has been able to stand up to the strict scrutiny of physicists. Even the existence of such a theory is a point of major debate.

Lisi has a PhD, but is not attached to any University. He spends most of the year surfing in Hawaii. His theory which he published under the heading of "An Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything" in an online paper on Nov 6th 2007, is yet to convince the physicists of the world, but the initial responses from around the globe are quite encouraging. NewScientist run a cover page article on this.  It is possible that his theory could be experimentally verified as he has predicted a set of new particles.

Lisi has drawn inspiration form one of the most elegant and intricate shape known to mathematicians, called E8, which is a highly complex, eight-dimensional mathematical pattern with 248 points first found in 1887. E8 encapsulates the symmetries of a geometric object that is 57-dimensional and is itself is 248-dimensional. Lisi's equations match those describing E8.

The Litmus Test for Lisi's theory would be when he would be able to compute the actual characteristics of the 20 newly proposed particles and experimental verification of their existence would take place.

Although such a comparison is premature, one can only marvel at the similarities between the greatest scientist of the 20th century, Albert Einstein and Lisi. Both of whom were outside the mainstream scientific research.

If you are interested further, you could check out the original paper, the NewScientist article (subscription needed). Lisi has also given a talk on this topic in the International Loop Quantum Gravity Seminar on Nov 13th, 2007. You could listen to it (mp3;7MB), or read it (pdf;8MB). You could also check out this interesting video, though I do not know whether it is authentic or not.

Please share your comments on this and other interesting links with me by dropping a post here.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Photoshop Express

Adobe is thinking of releasing the a new version of Photoshop, called the Photoshop Express. Like the Microsoft's Express suite of developer tools, Photoshop Express also would be free. It would most probably be a hosted service. Users would be able to log in to the site and access the software online.

Adobe has already launched a You Tube Remixer, which is also known as Adobe Premiere Express. It is written using flex and offers a lot of basic functionality of Adobe Premiere of movie editing in You Tube.

Here is a screen shot of the beta version in action :

Photoshop Express Beta in action

Filter to put an end to Stupid Comments

I recently read an article in Fortune Magazine which claims that Gabriel Ortiz, a 27-year-old systems administrator in Albuquerque is developing a comment filter that will disallow stupid comments. Any comment would have to pass through this filter. If the filter detects that the comment does not make much sense, it would flash an alert to the poster stating that the comment is quite unintelligible and if the user would like to reword it. The user can either chose to restate it to make some sense or give up and move on to some other more lenient site. Making such a filter that disallows stupid comments is quite difficult. It is far more complex than things like spam filters which do relatively simple things like pattern matching. But this is an entirely different ball game. Simple pattern matching for abusive words would filter comments to some extent, but understanding the contextual usage of a word requires much more than simple pattern matching. Even if the algorithm can detect whether a comment makes some sense or not. It is quite impossible to detect subtleties irony and sarcasm by it. Natural Language Processing (NLP) has not yet advanced to a level where these language nuances can be detected. Ortiz claims to have solved the problem by detecting the correctness of the spellings in the comment. While intelligent people are prone to using sarcasm and irony that makes little sense to the computer, they usually spell correctly. If Ortiz's software does what it claims to do, still a certain degree of manual intervention will be required for some final decision makings. But undoubtedly the degree of intervention would decrease considerably. With the current state of detection of context by the search engines which can at best be quite bad, it remains to be seen how much Ortiz's filter will be capable of filtering out stupid comments. The project is aptly termed as Stupid Filter and you can get more information on it from its official site

Monday, November 12, 2007

Hello World from Live Writer

This is just a sample post in this blog to check whether Windows Live Writer works well with or not. If it is working fully, and I sincerely hope that it will, I will be switching to this cool software from now on :)

Friday, November 09, 2007

Happy Diwali

Wishing you all,
A Very Happy Diwali

Fedora 8 (Werewolf) released

Yesterday (Nov 8th, 2007), Fedora 8 (Werewolf) was released. You can download it via direct mirrors or by BitTorrent. All information about obtaining Fedora 8 can be accessed in the Get Fedora webpage. Fedora 8 like its predecessor Fedora 7 also includes variations of Fedora built from a specific set of software packages called "Spins". Each spin has a combination of software to meet the requirements of a specific kind of end user. The available spins are :
  1. GNOME Live Image
  2. KDE Live Image
  3. Fedora Developer Spin
  4. Fedora Games Spin
  5. Fedora Electronic Lab
Among these the first 2 are official and the rest are developed by special interest groups within Fedora. There are a couple of tentative spins : Art Studio Spin and Xfce Spin. For all sorts of information on Spins, have a look at Custom Spins page. To promote the use of Linux, Fedora also builds Live images, which are CDs or DVDs that allow the user to try out Fedora without any installation. These are safe options for people who would like to switch over to Linux, but would like to have a feel of it before they jump into it. These are also useful in situations where there needs to be a job done with Linux, but installation of a new OS is not preferred; like using these images along with a flash-drive on a external machine. I personally use them for trouble shooting PCs and surfing the internet from an external machine. They literally let you carry your own OS around!! You can get all the information about the Live Images from here. Fedora 8 has a plethora of new features, but I have not been able to get hands on them, so no point discussing them. I am interested about KDE v3.5.8. I had a taste of GNOME v2.20 with Ubuntu 7.10, so it will be great to compare them. The completely free and open source Java environment called IcedTea will also be there. Eclipse v3.3 would also be a new thing to try on. The new kernel based on v2.6.23 will also be something new. Xfce v4.4.1 is also included; I am not a big fan of it, but lately I have seen some interesting things on it. Infinity, the new Fedora look and feel would be an eyeful along with Nokoda, a new GNOME theme meant for Fedora 8. Infinity is said to support wallpapers which change colors based on the time of the day !! I have got the link for direct ISO download of Fedora 8. I will be downloading that along with the developer spin. I wanted the "Everything" spin that they had for Fedora 7, but still there's no sign of it for Fedora 8. The downloads will be done at night 0200 to 0800 as internet is free then. I will give it a try on this weekend and write about the new features.

Thursday, November 08, 2007 Emails and

Microsoft has opened the domain for email accounts. This means that now whenever you try to sign up for a Microsoft Passport Network or Windows Live Id, you will be able to get a "" email now, instead of the old "". I am personally in favour of this decision as
  • "" is obviously smaller than "". So some less typing and smaller things to remember.
  • Getting a suitable name in Hotmail is an impossibility these days as it is one of the oldest email services and all the short names have already been taken. So most often people end up with something like "" which is very long and difficult to remember. One of these days I got frustrated enough with Hotmail to try a set of random characters of length 8. To my surprize even that was taken !!
So people, grab before all the short names are taken. I personally found my first name and am quite happy about it. Microsoft has added one more step towards customization of email and has bought a number of domains for providing emails in those domain names. They can be accessed at Coolhotmail site. You can get customized domain names on the basis of :
  • where you live .... for example ""
  • who you like .... for example ""
  • what you are .... for example ""
  • what you like .... for example ""
  • if you don't fit in the above categories, there's still hope in the "I don't fit" category, with emails like ""
Here is a list of all the domains available that I have compiled. The domain names are mostly ".in" types, but there are some ".com"s and some with "" and a couple of ".mobi" names too. These are supported under Microsoft Passport Network and Windows Live Id too. So you could also grab these cool alternative ones which provide a personal touch to your email address.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Google Phone

Over the last few days (ok, months for some) there has been quite a hype over something called Google Phone and some people have even dubbed it as "G-Phone"! However yesterday the official announcement was made and it was quite a disappoint for people who were actually expecting something like the Apple iPhone; i.e. an actual new handset. However the announcement is quite important as this time Google has partnered with mobile giants like HTC, Motorola, T-Mobile and Qualcomm and has formed what they call the "Open Handset Alliance". The alliance aims to "to accelerate innovation in mobile and offer consumers a richer, less expensive, and better mobile experience". Together they have developed "Android™, the first complete, open, and free mobile platform". A preview of the Android SDK will be available on Nov 12th, 2007. So what about an actual handset? Here's what the site says, "We are committed to commercially deploy handsets and services using the Android Platform in the second half of 2008". So there goes our hope for a GPhone out of the window for now. Here is the official story. This Times Online article which explains this announcement is simpler terms. Also have a look at the Android overview.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

DARPA's Grand Challenge

This year's DARPA Urban Challenge winners have been announced. They are :
  1. Tartan Racing, Pittsburgh
  2. Stanford Racing Team, Stanford
  3. Victor Tango, Blacksburg
For decades, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have been funding scientific developments. For the last couple of years they are encouraging the development of automated automobiles by organizing a series of Grand Challenges. The first two editions needed the vehicles to navigate through desert terrain. This year's Challenge raised the bar by changing the environment. The 2007 Grand Challenge was called the Urban Challenge. DARPA required the automobiles to "obey traffic laws while merging into traffic, navigating traffic circles, negotiating busy intersections and avoiding obstacles". DARPA noted that "The urban setting adds considerable complexity to the challenge faced by the robotic vehicles, and replicates the environment in which many of today’s battlefield missions are conducted".

This time three teams finished within the alloted time. The first team Tartan Racing driving a Chevy Tahoe bagged the $2 million. The second placed Stanford Racing Team which also won the second Desert Challenge, drove a Volkswagon Passat and pocketed $1 million. The third team, Victor Tango drove a Ford Escape Hybrid named Odin to win the $500,000 prize.

As expected, all the participating automobiles were filled to the brim with sophisticated laser sensors and state of the art radars to detect their surroundings. The AIs were powered using a lot of hardware and very high precision GPS systems. The 2nd placed Stanford Racing Team reportedly used 64 laser sensors to create a 3D map of its surroundings and was capable of tracking 32 individual obstacles.

With so many new technologies being put to use, it seems that DARPA plans to apply these technologies in the development of next generation combat vehicles and aircrafts.

Catch more about the challenge at the official Grand Challenge website. Catch some cool pictures of the cars in the Gallery.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Poets of Fall

Yesterday was the last day of the month and my monthly quota of 2.5GB of data transfer was falling short by around 500MBs, so I decided to indulge myself into a treat of some good videos. While searching up Youtube, I came up with the band Poets of Fall. It is a Finnish rock band starting out in 2003, comprising of singer Marko, guitarist Olli and keyboardist Captain. I had first heard of them in the game Max Payne 2; the name of the song was "Late Goodbye". Till date they have 2 albums to their name :
  1. Signs of Life (2005)
  2. Carnival of Rust (2006)
Here are the 2 videos that I liked. I confess not watching all their videos, but these 2 I liked from the lot that I saw. Carnival of Rust - Carnival of Rust (2006)
D' you breath the name of your saviour in your hour of need, n' taste the blame if the flavor should remind you of greed, Of implication, insinuation and ill will, till' you cannot lie still, In all this turmoil, before red cape and foil come closing in for a kill Come feed the rain Cos I'm thirsty for your love dancing underneath the skies of lust Yeah feed the rain Cos without your love my life ain't nothing but this carnival of rust It's all a game, avoiding failure, when true colors will bleed All in the name of misbehavior and the things we don't need I lust for after no disaster can touch us anymore And more than ever, I hope to never fall, where enough is not the same it was before Come feed the rain... Don't walk away, don't walk away, oh, when the world is burning Don't walk away, don't walk away, oh, when the heart is yearning
Lift - Signs of Life (2005)
Times when I just can't Bring myself to say it loud 'Fraid that what I'll say comes out somehow awry That is when it seems We move in circles day to day Twist the drama of the play to get us by And it feels like fear Like I'll disappear Gets so hard to steer Yet I go on Do we need debate When it seems too late Like I bleed but wait Like nothing's wrong You lift my spirit, take me higher, make me fly, Touch the moon up in the sky, when you are mine You lift me higher, take my spirit, make it fly, Where all new wonders will appear Like the other day I thought you won't be coming back I came to realize my lackluster dreams And among the schemes And all the tricks we try to play Only dreams will hold their sway and defy When it feels like fear...
If you happen to come across some interesting video of this band, just drop a post. Also tell me what you felt after listening to them for the first time.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Code changes in Gmail

After inclusion of IMAP in Gmail not even a week back, I was not expecting something new so soon from Gmail. But as it turns out, the gmail team has surprised me once again by changing the interface a little bit. It first came to my notice last night when I checked my email and noticed a bit of change in the interface in the chat window. It looked a lot nicer. The same was true for all my contacts too.
But I was dissapointed to find out that the menu options did not include anything new. I have no idea what they could have possibly added to it, but maybe a link to the individual's Blogger blogs or GooglePages website or Picasa public albums? I guess we will have to wait for that.

The first reaction after this was definitely to check the top right corner of the page where I was looking for the cool "New Features" link. Instead I saw this :
Hmmm, option to switch over to old version !! Who would possibly want to do that? .... browser compatibility issues maybe? Well as it turns out, I was right, the new version is currently supported by IE 7 and Firefox 2. The official Gmail blog says that this code change uses "a new model that enables us to iterate faster and share components".

The list of modifications are :
  • Contact Manager has been upgraded.Even if you do not have the new Gmail version, you can still access this cool new thing at
  • The mouse over menu for the contacts have been revamped.
  • Few new keyboard shortcuts have been added.
  • Bookmark specific emails.
  • Bookmark specific searches. Like for searching for "orkut", the bookmark address would be "". Do try this out.
  • Loading time has decreased. The new UI is faster; although I do not know whether this is for Firefox 2 or all browsers. In any case this would not matter much except for power users.
So if you are still not using Firefox 2 or IE 7, here is one more reason to upgrade. Firefox 2 is free and IE 7 has officially become free from the last couple of weeks, so there can be nothing stopping you from upgrading to these latest browsers and experiencing these cool features.

You can have a look at the official release notes, "Code changes to prepare Gmail for the future" for more information. In case you found out something more, do drop a post here.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Seagate sued over Gigabyte Definition

"Seagate Technology, the world's largest hard-drive maker, is offering customers a five percent refund on drives bought during the last six years following a lawsuit over the definition of a "gigabyte". As an alternative, customers can choose to receive free backup software." Reportedly, a group of four people sued the company over the fact that they were cheating customers by mentioning larger number of Gigabytes for their HDDs than what was actually provided. The problem arises from the definition of gigabyte. One gigabyte is actually defined as 2^30 bytes or 1024^3 bytes. But HDD manufacturers have been measuring gigabyte as 1000^3 bytes. The difference turns out to be about 73,741,824 bytes per GB. For 20GB drives this results in 1.5GB loss of space. All other HDD manufacturers like Samsung, Hitachi and Western Digital all measure GB as 1000^3 number of bytes. I have been asking a lot about it for a long time for now, but all of my queries have met with the common answer, "That's how it is measured by HDD manufacturers". It's good to see that somebody has finally sued the company on this issue. The only question is how to claim the refund or the software? I visited the Seagate webpage recently and did not find anything there. I searched for "refund" and nothing worthwhile came up. But I will surely keep an eye on it. I have a total of 6 HDDs that were bought on or after 2001, so I guess I will gain a bit from this. If you know where to claim the refund or the software from Seagate, do let me know. Here are the links to the original article by Peter Judge and the Seagate Website.

VS 2008 Beta 2 VPC Image Expires on 1st Nov

Today to my utter dismay, I learnt that the VPC images of Visual Studio Beta 2 will actually be expiring on November 1st, 2007 instead of what was originally announced to be March 15th, 2008. Reportedly, the problem is at the OS level, so changing back the system date is not a solution as this would not re-enable the OS image. So all you fellows who were busy getting their hands wet with the VPC images of Visual Studio Beta 2, create backups of all your projects. On November 1st, the software is supposed to stop functioning; I hope MS will come up with a patch to re-enable it till the originally announced date of March 15th, 2008. However no such announcements have come to my notice. Check out Paul Litwin's Blog to find out more on this. I will be keeping an eye on the official VS 2008 information page for probable patches. Jeff Beehler's blog gives a much more detailed report of this problem and possible workarounds. Edited on Ost 31, 2007 Finally MS has released the new set of VPC images. You can download them from the VS 2008 Download page.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

User Group meeting on 27th Oct '07

The 27-10-2007 meeting was on "How to get SUCCESS in an Interview... in .NET and SQL Server, Frond End / UI and Database Developer". Abu, the main speaker, started with the homework that one should do before appearing for the interview. We discussed the total time needed for it and what are the key points essential for a good preparation. The discussion also included some of the methods that one should follow for achieving this target. We discussed what were the general types of questions asked and what should be their answering format. What should be the answer to the standard "rate yourself" and "tell me about yourself" type of questions and how to approach them. Approach to HR questions were also discussed. Abu showed us a sample CV and discussed what all should be there in a CV; what to give for freshers, what for 2 yrs experience. The dress code on the day of the interview and the best behavioral practices were also discussed. Abu stressed on the fact that an interview the candidate can also ask questions and what questions a candidate must ask. The last topic to be covered was telephonic interview. How to approach them were discussed regarding where to receive the call, what to have with you at the time of the interview. Abu stressed on the fact that having a copy of CV in front is one of the essential things which is often overlooked. The meeting was overall an interactive session where I could gather much about how to prepare for an interview and how to give the interview so as to maximize my chances. From what I could gather, the most essential things for achieving this goal is to prepare thoroughly and to have a cool head to tactfully answer all the questions.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Elimination of Dihydrogen Monoxide

A friend of mine send me this interesting article about a sociological experiment. I do not know whether it is true or not, but nonetheless it makes for an interesting read and give some insight into the human gullibility even in this scientific age. A junior high school student from USA won the first prize at the Greater Idaho Falls Science Fair. He was attempting to show how conditioned we have become to false reports when they come with a scientific packaging; how pseudo science is spreading fear of everything in our environment. To demonstrate this, he came up with the novel idea of urging people to sign a petition in demand of elimination or strict control of the very harmful chemical "dihydrogen monoxide". To back up the claim he had plenty of reasons as to why it should be banned :
  • major component in acid rain and is also known as hydroxyl acid
  • can cause excessive sweating and vomiting
  • accidental inhalation can kill you
  • contributes to erosion of our landscape
  • can cause severe burns in its gaseous state
  • decreases effectiveness of automobile brakes
  • causes electrical failures
  • has been found in tumors of terminal cancer patients
The fellow also quoted the degree to which this harmful chemical Dihydrogen Monoxide has contaminated our lives :
  • found in large amounts in every stream, lake and reservoir
  • used as fire retardant
  • used in most forms of animal research
  • used as industrial solvent and coolant
  • used in food products and beverages of all types
The result of the campaign was very interesting. Out of a sample of 50 people, 43 were in favour of banning the chemical, 6 were undecided and only 1 could actually see through the fact that Dihydrogen Monoxide was actually pure water. The conclusion is obvious. We should not be intimidated by scientific pompous names. I have often observed that people are more likely to believe things which have big scientific names attached to them than which does not. We should just have some sense and learn to listen carefully before we pass on a judgment only because the something sounds scientific. At all the levels, science teaches us to think logically and not merely to believe.

Integrate different IMs into one Web UI

I have been looking for a way to integrate all my instant messengers (IMs) into one single interface for a long time. I am a heavy user of GTalk, Yahoo Messenger and MSN. So every time I boot my machine, I have to start each of these 3 applications one by one and log on to each service separately. Apart from being time consuming, it is annoying too. Also I have to keep track of which one of friends are in what service. There is also the problem of having to carry around installers of different clients in case the PC that I would work in does not have them installed.

What I wanted was an integrated solution for all my IM needs. So when I found out about the site Meebo which claim to do just this, I decided to give them a try. I was pretty apprehensive about what they could actually offer as I have been disappointed often by these integration services.

Meebo is such a website that integrates Yahoo Messenger, GTalk and MSN into one neat web interface. There is no need to install anything, so it is portable in the truest sense. It officially supports IE, Firefox and Safari so browsers are also not a problem. It enables me to chat with 3 of my friends in 3 different IM services all at once in a single web UI. It uses a Flash interface and even provides a gadget that can be placed in places like blogs and personal websites and will allow visitors to directly communicate with the author.

However like every integration service, Meebo too has its quirks. No audio or video chatting supported till now for obvious reasons. File sharing is also a bit tricky. I am also not sure whether they support all the features that the desktop clients can offer. But for pure IM, its good. I loved the gadget too and plan to post it on my blog in one of these days.

Of course there are issues of speed; i.e. the time lag between the sender sending a message and the receiver receiving it. How much time it takes for a contact to show up as live once somebody has signed in his service of choice. Most importantly are these factors same for all the 4 supported services. I am not equipped enough to carry out these tests accurately, but I will definitely post some information here, if the local tests throw some unexpected results.

Some more search on this topic threw up KoolIM as another site offering similar features. Although it is impressive, Meebo outweighs it through the sheer number of features.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Herbert Round 1 Started

Today at GMT 00:00, Imagine Cup 2008 Algorithm competition has started its 1st round. The algorithm competition is about programming a bot, named Herbert to traverse through all the white buttons in a 24 x 24 board. Each point of the board is one of the following :
  1. white button that needs to be pressed
  2. grey button which resets all the white buttons to unpressed state
  3. ordinary point
  4. wall through which Herbert cannot move
The coding is done in a simple language called "h". Interestingly "h" does not support any decision making statements and looping is indirectly supported through recursion. The coding for a particular level must be done using at most the number of bytes specified for that level. Ability to do so results in being awarded a full marks. If one completes the level with lower number of bytes, he is rewarded with a score beyond full marks. The competition has started from today. Round 1 consists of 4 matches, from which a total of 200 advance to Round 2 which will be a take home coding challenge. If you are interested, check it out at the Algorithms section of Imagine Cup 2008 site. However, Imagine Cup being a Microsoft financed competition requires the participants to work on Windows platform and have .NET 1.1 runtime installed on their computers. I had a rank of 75 in the warm-up round and I am trying my best for getting into round 2.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Subho Bijoya

Wishing everybody a Subho Bijoya ....

Here is the link to my Picasa Album of some of this year's Pujo pictures that I took while pandal hopping in and around Kolkata.

Monday, October 22, 2007


I have been looking for an IE alternative for some time now. I use Firefox for all my browsing, but for some sites having IE is a must. Moreover I love the .mht format that IE allows pages to be saved in, it is a lot better than PDF and simple "Save as HTML".

Recently I got a nice feedback of Maxthon, an IE based browser, from a close friend of mine and decided to give it a try. Downloaded their latest offering v2.0.4.5799 and installed it in no time. The interface is a lot better than IE 7. The functionality is same as that of IE 7 with all the features.

Here are a list of features of Maxthon that I liked, and comparisons with Firefox :
  • Drag-and-drop words from the pages into the search bar. I donot know of any FF plugin to do this. Anyway, this is just a novel feature.
  • CPU saving mode. I have no idea whether it actually works, but I would love this feature if it works. Interestingly, this feature is not featured in the official page, leaving me a little suspicious of its effectiveness.
  • Integrated RSS feed reader .... I no longer need the feed reader from Google. This functionality is provided by a host of plugins from FF, so nothing new.
  • Url Alias -- allows users to define alias to some web-address and type that in the address bar instead of the complete address. Apparently this feels cool, but I was quite happy with the predictive typing mechanism provided by IE and FF.
  • Integrated Ad-Blocker. FF does have the plugin AdblockPlus that has been doing this thing excellently for years now. Lets see how this integrated blocker measures up to it.
  • Web-Sniffer -- locates the actual address of embedded files on webpages. Like the link to the actual .flv video file in YouTube. I guess I will have much use for it; the days of opening the source and searching seems to be coming to an end. I know that there are many plugins for this kind of things in FF. I personally used AdblockPlus to get the links to these files. ;)
  • Undo List is a cool feature that helps re-opening of accidentally closed tabs. I have been enjoying this feature and lots of others in FF through the TabMixPlus plugin for ages now.
  • Web-page capture in a picture format. I can think of many places where this will be quite effective; but I still like the .mht format.
  • Mouse Gestures. I am not much fan of this thing as I know all the keyboard shortcuts !
  • Skinnable interface with some cool skins being offered for download.
There are a lot of other features too which I either did not notice or did not care to mention. You can have a full look at all the features of Maxthon in their webpage. One lovely feature of IE that I am missing in Maxthon is that of the "Quick Tabs", its a great boon to people like me who visit n sites (n>5) at the same time.

Lastly, it will come as no surprise that I can still save pages in .mht format and can also access sites that require IE with Maxthon as it is an IE based browser. The actual web-browser running behind Maxthon is IE. So the bottom line is that if you are looking for something beyond IE, yet retaining all the advantages of it, you can very well consider Maxthon. But if you are just looking for a good browser and have no biasing towards IE, you can very well stick to Firefox.

As for me, I will still be using Firefox for browsing and Maxthon for those special IE only sites.

Ubuntu 7.10 (Gutsy Gibbon)

Yesterday I installed the latest stable release of Ubuntu 7.10 (Gutsy Gibbon). I have been keeping a track of Ubuntu from its 6.06 release, as it provides an easy to use Linux environment for non-geeks. Touted as the "Linux for Human Beings", Ubuntu really exceeds in the ease of use department. I usually recommend Ubuntu to all people who want a stable OS at minimum cost and has a SOHO computer usage pattern. The newest release, Ubuntu 7.10 (Gutsy Gibbon) has many new features over the last release 7.04. I found out some from using it yesterday, for most of the day and the rest from the 7.10 release notes. Here is a brief listing of the new features :
  1. Genome v2.20, which means that we get :
    • access desktop search from the file chooser dialog
    • handy new features in the email client (Evolution)
    • easier and enhanced browsing of pictures
    • simplified system preferences, specially for non-geeks
  2. Compiz Fusion will add the much desired eye-candy 3D Desktop Effects to the usually boring old desktop of Ubuntu.
  3. Deskbar Applet which allows quick access to common actions like opening web bookmarks and searches and sending messages to all contacts.
  4. Fast user switching
  5. Firefox plugin finder wizard has been improved a lot and now provides an easy way to search and install packaged plugins.
  6. Graphical configuration tool for X enables users to :
    • configure what driver to be used for graphic card
    • change the screen resolution for all users
    • change screen refresh rate without having to turn to the terminal
    • moreover, a new GUI has been added to adjust video and screen settings
  7. Plug-n-play hassle free installation of printers
  8. NTFS writing. Previously Ubuntu could only read from NTFS.
  9. HDD encryption
  10. Superior power management and accurate battery monitoring for laptops.
Users can also upgrade directly to 7.10 from 7.04 using the Update Manager, provided that one has updated the 7.04 system with all the patches that were released.

Sunday, October 21, 2007


Microsoft Popfly is a cool new toy to create what MS calls a Mashup. A Mashup basically is a new way to create a web-app that consumes content from other sites and presents them in a visually attractive form using the MS Silverlight technology. Currently it is in a beta state and completely free. For example we can search for images with a particular keyword and present them in a photo-sphere (a very interesting way of showing a lot of images moving within a sphere). You can try one out here. It was made by me following the basic tutorial that the site offered and tweaking it a little bit. All this is done without using a single line of code on my part. MS has provided a gr8 web-UI for creating these MashUps. The interface needs MS Silverlight to run and can be used by drag-and-drop alone !! There's plenty more to Popfly than just showing pretty images. You can obtain conten from a plethora of site for local information, maps, RSS feeds, online shops and social networks. The presentation technologies are a feast on the eyes. What previously could only be done using complicated flash effects can now be done by people without any coding knowledge what-so-ever. However for coders like us, there's the added features like adding custom HTML and a bit of further tweaking. Moreover one could also create new effects (called blocks) and submit them for others to use. However everything is not so green. For many of us Google users, its bad to see that MS has not provided any native support for Google group of sites .... Google, Blogger, Orkut, YouTube. Their absence is not well looked upon by many. Next comes the issue of having the Silverlight plugin installed in your browser. Thankfully even if you don't have it, the download is a simple 1.4MB file. However it will take a bit of time before Silverlight is as standardized as Flash. You could get more information on Silverlight on it's website and overview pages. I'll keep adding links to my new creations on this page. So check out later for some cool stuff. Meanwhile do post your feed-back and any of your creations here.

Friday, March 09, 2007

7 Basic Story Plots

Today I read up this very interesting piece of news in Ask Yahoo! that there are only seven basic story plots in the world ! They are :
  • (wo) man vs. nature
  • (wo) man vs. man
  • (wo) man vs. the environment
  • (wo) man vs. machines/technology
  • (wo) man vs. the supernatural
  • (wo) man vs. self
  • (wo) man vs. god/religion
Hmmm . . . . . now who knew that? At the first sight I passed the lot as a joke. But later in the day I gave a serious thought to it and tried to find a story that I had read which did not qualify for any of the above categories. Interestingly, I could not find any. If any of you could find another category please do inform me. Frankly I was astonished that I could not find even one out-of-category story !!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Bitwise 2007

Yesterday while chatting with one of my numerous net-pals I got the information about Bitwise 2007. It is an online programming contest organized by the Computer Science and Engineering Department Society of IIT Kharagpur. It was being held on Feb 11 from 1300 to 0100 (according to Indian time).

I was too late to participate; the registrations had already closed on Feb 10. Nevertheless, I was inquisitive enough and checked out their website. My friend's ID and password opened the door for me. The competition is on a total of 2400 points divided into 10 questions each of different weights. The winner is the team who submits the correct solutions to the problems and gets the highest marks.

The problems given were quite impressive. Some of them were newer versions of some of the classic CS problem. Being a CS student myself, I downloaded them in no time. All of them are available from their site without any registration whatsoever. All the problems were in a story like format with "Santiago" being the protagonist.

The first problem was on devising an algorithm to find the centre of a tree. The organizers also provided a sample test case along with the problems to help participants gauge the success of their algorithms. I found the problem quite interesting and wrote a sample code myself. Although they were not submit-able, I wrote them just for an interesting time pass. Here is the code along with the problem.

The second problem was a variation of the classic denominations of money problem but with a twist on the minimum number of coins that the person has to take per denomination. Everybody studying CS has at one point of time or other solved this problem, but this new added constraint proved too much of a thought process for my brain and I moved on to next problems, in search of greener pastures.

Problem 3 was on job scheduling, with job dependencies and concurrent executions. It reminded me of my graduation classes on PERT and CPM, where we had to draw elaborate diagrams on process dependencies and time taken for various jobs.

Problem 4 was a 2-tier problem with classic problems in both the tiers. The first is the well-known problem of toggling of doors (or light bulbs) by persons each of whom toggles every i-th door. However, there was a minor twist to this problem; the toggles could start from left or from right. The next tier comprised of the classical "Tower of Hanoi" problem with a fourth stick thrown in for added complexity.

The next problem, number 5 was a new one to me and I solved it. Here is the code. This problem mentions a data type "long long int" of which I was completely unaware of before. Later however I crosschecked and found that it is indeed a data type able to store 64-bit int. You can never say that he has completely learnt C.

Problem 6 was a heavyweight problem, i.e. one with high points. Nevertheless, it came across as quite easy to me. Here is the code. Nevertheless, beware that this solution was not a submitted one, and judging by the 400 points associated with this problem, it seems to me that there might be more to this problem than what is apparently visible.

Problem 7 was another well-known one but with a twist. The classic problem was to find the continuous run of numbers with maximum sum within a linear array of numbers containing both +ve and -ve numbers. As usual, here the problem appears with a twist of selecting a run of length ≥L and with highest average value.

I did not find enough time to muse on the rest of the problems (8, 9 and 10). I will come back with them soon. In the meanwhile, if you manage to find a better solution to the problems that I have solved, do post it here. This also applies to the last three problems, which I did not have time to think of.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Static variable initialization

Life's full of surprises and so is C++. I was reading "C - The Complete Reference" today and learnt of the fact that the initialization of a static variable within a function is executed only once for the entire program !! It was logically true no doubt, but was it was surprising to know that I did not know it even after being in C and C++ for 5+ yrs !! Well you can never say you have learnt a language completely.