Support UNICEF's relief efforts in Myanmar

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Mr. Sunder Iyer graces blogosphere

Another post thats taken its time - but this time under 2 months! :) Sunder hit the blogosphere, finally, last month. He is one of those very few determined go-getters I have come across, extremely creative and a born entrepreneur. We met during our BSc days at MES, Bangalore and since then it has been one fun ride after another. We spent more time loitering in IISc than we did in college, had similar attendance records, got caught bunking classes... the list goes on. His enthusiasm and creativity easily rubs off on everyone interacting with him. For long, he steered clear of blogosphere, but since he got in, its been one awesome post after another.

Here is what he says about himself, his first post on a person we spent hours talking about over the years and the main page of the blog itself. And here are some pictures of us from 4 Thanks-Givings ago.

Welcome to the blogosphere buddy! Keep the posts coming!

The Google clout

A good consolidation of Google's wares has been posted on Wired.

Also here is an excellent video of where the world will be in 2014... I have been meaning to blog this for almost a year now... I guess I will just dump all those "waiting to be blogged" links in one big post. Bala is procrastination's middle name! :)

Am alpha-testing Riya. My first impression - they have lots to do before it hits prime time. More on that in a subsequent post.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Get the stars to sing your song!

And here is an interesting site that will have the stars singing your songs! This service finds existing songs that use the words in the lyrics you write and then concatanates them together to create a new song, a bit off-tune mostly, but, hey, you have the stars crooning your lyrics! :)

WOW! Genius!!!

This service from Google is incredible! Great thinking!!!

Monday, November 07, 2005

The Volcker Report - Guilty or Not?

The Volcker Report - Guilty or Not?

Two of my favorite commentators have slightly different reads of the controversy generated by the Volcker Report - B.Raman (former RAW additional secretary) says the US does not like Natwar Singh and T.V.R.Shenoy (Journalist - remember the insightful last page in The Week) talks about the Congress' idiotic threat to the UN.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Yahoo Maps 2.0 (Beta) - First Impressions!

Yahoo Maps 2.0 (Beta) - First Impressions!

When Y! Maps was launched a few years ago, I was very fascinated with the detailed turn-by-turn information that it dished out, esp since I am extremely spatially challenged and can get lost driving home from work (I blame it on deep thoughts bouncing in my head, but...)! MapQuest didn't do much for me. And then along came Google, brushing aside all the competition with its AJAX-powered, simple, intuitive rendition of global maps! Since that day, I have not been on Yahoo maps again, until today.

With this new release, Y! has shaken up its maps application and enriched it with numerous new and useful features. Here is my first impression of Yahoo Maps 2.0 Beta.

The Good:

  • Page refreshes for every single action has traditionally frustrated users on Y!. GMaps showed why non-intrusion is key for a mapping application, esp when the user wants to move around, zoom-in and zoom-out. Y! has achieved this using Flash resulting in a much better user experience.

  • The most useful feature I liked was the ability to get directions to multiple locations on the same map. All these years, its been maps from Point A to B and back if necessary. I usually have more than one place to go, and would have to look them all up separately. Y! maps does a one-up on Google by throwing in this capability. Not only can I look up directions to n number of locations, but can also move the order of the locations around. Example: Assume I get directions from "Home" to "Best Buy" to "The Mac Store" to "Macy's" To "Groceries" and back to "Home" and my wife comes along to see the itinerary. Doubtless, I will have to move locations around (after a quick well-anticipated stare from her) so we get to Macy's and groceries before we venture anywhere else (if at all). With Y!Maps, I can just drag the locations around and the maps engine reworks the directions for me in no time. WOW!

  • It highlights sections of the path when the user mouses-over the directions. Some good thinking there for poor lost souls like me!

  • Category-based search has a good coverage and allows easy refinement of criteria.

  • Another big plus is the numerous APIs exposed. Provides developers multiple options to integrate mapping into their applications. It imposes similar terms (restrictions) as Google on developers.

The Bad:

  • Category search could have been simpler. Too many categories have been buried on a small panel on the left. Usability suffers as a result. Google does better on this front.

  • Ability to move locations around on the description/directions panel is real nice. It would have been better if it allowed the user to drag the whole text box around instead of just the "balloon".

  • The translucent bird's eye map with the zoom control should have been minimized by default so it didn't overlay on the main map.

  • It would have been good if the addresses collapsed when locations are moved around. Else it tends to fill up the directions panel pretty fast.

  • I am not sure what the "Live Traffic" option is for. It does nothing to the map. I must be missing something. Anyone know what it does?

The Ugly:

  • "Send to phone" only sends a link to the map. I would have liked to see step-by-step driving instructions in the message. Often times I call friends for directions. It would be so much simpler, if they could look up directions and text them to me via the "Send to phone" option.

  • I tried to add a smart keyword for Yahoo maps in Firefox, but was not able to. One, the URL doesn't show the parameters and so I can't use %s to set the keyword. Two, right-clicking in the directions field doesn't give me the "Add smart keyword" option. This is a big negative. I have "map" set up as my keyword for GMaps and can get to any place in an instant on GMaps (example: map 97209 or map pdx). Without smart keywords for Y!Maps, I will turn to it only if GMaps cannot get me to someplace (not happened in all the time I have used it) or if I am looking for directions to multiple locations.

  • Zooming could have been a lot better. It is jarring when it first zooms deep in a little more than required and then steps back a bit to settle at the required zoom level.

  • The tool-tips are redundant.

  • I know this is a beta, but they could have done better QA with it. I ran into some basic bugs in the locations panel with locations being duplicated, lost, etc.

A missing feature (I think) is the ability to look up directions to multiple locations from one central point, ie, A to B; A to C; A to D; A to E... Lets say I am planning a trip to the coast and I have 3-4 beaches to choose from. I would like to see, on one map, the paths to each of the end points so I can make an "intelligent" decision. Assuming, "Live Traffic" does what it is supposed to do, it would enhance my decisioning process! :)

I may have more bullets under Bad and Ugly, but some of these can be easily overcome or addressed thru minor fixes. Also, remember, this is a beta. Overall, IMHO, this is a real good response to GMaps and sets the tone for improvisations by the other players. Very good job Y!

For the geeks!

For the geeks!

Here are some utilities that I find very useful:

  • mp3tag: I have been using this for more than a year now and this is, by far, one of the best mp3 tagging utilities I have come across. It allows a very intuitive and easy editing of ID3 tags for audio files and supports more than just mp3s. Not only does it allow you to derive ID3 from the file name, but once you have the ID3s refined, you can derive the file names using the ID3. Must try utility! Thanks to mp3tag, my audio library is as good as it can get. Link to the website.

  • MKS Toolkit: UNIX on Windows! Guess that says it all. grep and make to your heart's content! Link to the website.

  • cURL, WGET: Ever wanted to save multiple images or songs or other files from one website. cURL or WGET is the tool you want. These are command line utilities that spider out into the web to retrieve files/web pages for specified URLs. You can decide how deep you want to go into a site. It can stop at the first level or follow links from the first level to the next one and so on.

    Here is an usage example. Lets say you are an Aishwarya Rai fan and you come across a site such as this one. Instead of right clicking on each one to do a "Save As...", use cURL or WGET to recursively run through the site to retrieve the files.

    The command to accomplish this is a single line:
    cURL[01-10].jpg -o "Ash#1.jpg".

    This will recursively pull the files Aishwarya01.jpg, Aishwarya02.jpg... and save them in the local machine as Ash01.jpg, Ash02.jpg...

    For the Ash fan, my example pulls only 10 images, but the site has over 60 Aishwarya images! For the music fan, if you come across a site with plenty of mp3s (non-copyrighted), here is how you can easily get them. ;)

    Link to the websites: cURL, WGET and WGET for Windows.

Plenty more such as Slickrun, but I will leave that for another day!

   Copyright 2005
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