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.