Harshdeep 2.0

March 30, 2006

Hacking Unjumble

Filed under: Geek — harshdeep @ 8:40 am

One thing I recently discovered about myself is that I suck at Unjumbling words. I discovered this the hard way when Prasun challenged me for a game. A chat bot would give us a jumbled word and whoever unjumbled it first got the points. I was losing 100:10 when I called for time-out. Desperate times call for desperate measures. After some googling I found this text file on the web containing (almost) all english words. After that all I had to do was write a simple program that would take the jumbled letters and search the unjumbled word from the wordlist for me. Now, I can safely say that I can beat Prasun sometimes.

If you wanna rock at Unjumble without any moral hesitations towards cheating and are too lazy to write the program yourself, feel free to drop a message 🙂 You can also use a web service, but that's slower.

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March 28, 2006

The hype about Mobile TV

Filed under: Mobile — harshdeep @ 8:30 pm

Would you want to watch TV on your mobile phone? Irrespective of your answer, thousands of people all over the world are working tirelessly to bring TV to your phone. They have their reasons for this. For telecom operators, a new service means more revenue per user. Content providers are excited about a whole new way of pushing video content to the consumer.

For the consumer, unlike many other mobile services, this one is easy to understand.

But it's gonna be interesting to see how these companies make consumers want to watch video on small mobile phone screens. I, as a consumer, won't be interested in watching entire movies or TV serial episodes on my mobile phone. But news clips, sports highlights and music videos seem to be interesting if I don't have to pay through my nose for that. In India, you can already download clips of Great India Laughter Challenge and Cricket highlights. The existence of such services and the popularity of video iPod means that people are actually willing to watch videos on the tiny screen and even pay for it.

Current Penetration

Broadcast Mobile TV is already available in South Korea. In the less mobile-savvy parts of the world, companies are still testing waters. Cingular, Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel offer on-demand video services. Cingular also provides a live TV service through MobiTV. Report

Finnish broadcast, content and mobile communications companies are pilot testing Mobile TV in the Helsinki Metropolitan area since autumn 2004.

Nokia estimates suggest that around 20% of active mobile phone users are highly interested in Mobile TV service and prepared to pay a realistic charge for it – around 10 to 12 euros a month.

Technology
This is where it gets kinda murky. There's no one standard for providing Mobile TV – different operators are testing different standards that require different hardware and are generally incompatible with each other. Various standards being tried out are –

  • S-DMB and T-DMB (Satellite or Terrestrial Digital Media Broadcasting) Currently being used in South Korea.
  • DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting) Being used by Virgin Mobile UK. It uses the same technology as T-DMB and spectrum available in most parts of the world.
  • DVB-H (Digital Video Broadcasting to Handhelds) Being used by TIM, Italy. The preferred spectrum for this standard is the UHF spectrum but that is taken by analog TV in most of the countries. Nokia is a big supporter of DVB-H.Reasons they mention are – low initial investment, good picture quality, efficient battry and bandwidth consumption, device interoperability and security
  • MBMS (Multimedia Broadcast Multicast Service)
  • QUALLCOM's MediaFLO (Forward Link Only)

It would definitely be better for the penetration of Mobile TV if one of these standards comes out as a clear winner. In any case, it would be interesting to keep an eye on this emerging field.

March 22, 2006

How to sign up with Riya beta

Filed under: Uncategorized — harshdeep @ 7:02 am

Riya, the photosearch engine, went beta today. However, the current sign up page – http://www.riya.com/register does not really let you sign up. You'd think that registration for the beta version is not open for everybody. Actually, it is. You just need the right link – http://www.riya.com/groundTruth

I've just downloaded Riya uploader. I'll upload some pics and check out its features tonight.

They haven't made any huge claims in the intial description of their product. This is what they have to say about their face recognition technology –

Munjal likes to tell people that the technology behind the face recognition at Riya.com is at the same level as his son, Deven, a two-year old. With your feedback and many hours of research and development, our goal is to bring the recognition up to superhuman…but that's a little way off.

Update: Anshul just pointed out that the sign up page of Riya is working now – http://www.riya.com/register

March 11, 2006

Eye OS – the first open Web OS

Filed under: Internet — harshdeep @ 8:03 pm

In my last post, I talked about Goowy. And I mentioned that they should seriously consider allowing third party developers to develop applications for their Web OS.

It’s a repeatedly proven fact – enabling others to develop applications for your platform is a surefire way to success. As more and more developers start writing applications for your platform, it becomes more useful and attractive for a common user. Two most conspicuous examples – Windows and Flash.

While I wish that folk over at Goowy will do this someday, there is another Web OS that already provides an API for developing third party apps – Eye OS. In that sense, Eye OS is the first open Web OS.

Eye OS is Open Source. You can create an account on their public server here or download it and install it on your own server.

Here’s a screenshot of Eye OS in action
Eye OS Screenshot

Applications
While some applications come preinstalled, there is a variety of applications that you can install later. Word Editor, Spreadsheet, Blogger, Chat, Audio Player, Browser, Calculator, Calendar – here’s the complete list.
A lot of applications can be installed only if you are running eyeOS on your own server and not if you have an account on their public server.
More applications are continuously being added by third party developers. Here’s the API if you want to write your own killer app. You can either use PHP or Flash.

File Sharing
An important aspect of a Web OS is the accessibility of data everywhere. You can keep your files on the server – I’m not sure about the storage limit on their public server. However, there is no folder structure to arrange/categorize the files.

And though I could upload/download files from my computer to Eye OS, I could not see them in the Eye OS viewer – it kept saying “You can’t access this file”. Well, it’s just a minor bug, I think 🙂

Bug

Look
A lot of effort has been made to give it a desktop-like look. The theme is configurable – here is a screenshot of the mac theme.

Mac Theme

Possible Improvements
Integration with the desktop – to add contacts, all you can do is enter them manually. There is no option to import contacts from other applications or web email sites. Same for other apps like the calendar – it would be nice if it integrates with Outlook calendar for example.

I’d also like to see more applications like To-do lists, rss readers etc. But Eye OS does not have to worry about that. They should be concentrating on providing a smooth development experience. Developers will take care of the rest.

March 9, 2006

Goowy, the Web OS – showing off the power of Flash

Filed under: Internet — harshdeep @ 2:59 pm

The concept of Web OS – having all your applications and data available on the web through the browser irrespective of the hardware and OS of the system you are using – and its requirement is understood for quite some time now. But there haven’t been any good implementations.

Till now.

Recently I discovered Goowy. And I was amazed. Though it is still far from becoming a Web OS, they have done a pretty good job packaging the entire thing with an interesting user experience.

The entire website has been built in Flash. That explains the nifty animations sprinkled around the site. Here’s a screenshot

The applications available currently are –

  1. Email – you get a @goowy.com address with 2GB space.
  2. To-do lists
  3. RSS Reader
  4. Calendar
  5. Lots of Flash-based games
  6. Small applications like Stock ticker, weather monitor, Flickr viewer, Google Search etc.

The Mac-like application bar at the bottom of the website makes the intention of Goowy developers clear – it’s gonna be the web equivalent of a desktop OS.

Flash vs AJAX

The fact that folk at Goowy decided to use Flash instead of AJAX to provide the “rich internet application” experience seems to have paid up.

Goowy has almost bridged the gap between the UI of web and desktop applications. With Flash, creating animations is far easier – that’s the primary thing it is known for. Things like accessing the right-click menu are not even possible in AJAX (yet?) (for example, in Goowy, you can right-click on an email and select the delete option from the menu that pops up – this isn’t easily doable through AJAX)

However, all this doesn’t come free of cost. The load time for Goowy is slightly on the higher side – all those nifty animations need higher bandwidth than what would have been required for a simpler AJAX implementation. There is a lag in entering text while composing an email, even on my super powerful workstation.

Feature ideas

I’m sure the developers at Goowy are working full-steam to add new features to their wonderful app. There is so much for them to do right now.

Some features are already in the pipeline – they are just grayed out on the main page – like sharing files and instant messaging. I don’t know how Techcrunch got the screenshots of IM working in Goowy.
I’d like to see widgets for storing bookmarks. Also, some kinda post-it notes would be very useful.

But the most important feature would be to somehow allow third party developers to develop widgets/applications for their site. I’m not sure how they should be doing that but if they can get the attention of third party developers, the usability and acceptance of Goowy will increase a lot.

And yes, resizable windows for minis would be a nice improvement.

PS: Protopage is a good starting point for a software that could later expand into a full-fledged Web OS, but it seems to have constrained itself to be a Web Desktop only (with online bookmarks, personal notes and RSS Reader)

March 5, 2006

Issues with Virtual Earth Technology Preview – Privacy and Feasibility

Filed under: Internet — harshdeep @ 9:57 am

It’s been some time since you’ve been able to see the aerial view of your apartment building complete with the cars parked in the front and the outline of the jogging track. Where do you go from here?

Microsoft people sent cars covered with cameras all over Seattle and San Francisco to capture the street-level view of these cities. Using the data, they built up this site where you can virtually drive (or walk) around the city, with real snapshots of the buildings around you.

However, I’m not sure how they are going to tackle the privacy issues regarding the people and cars appearing in these pictures.

(Digression – Some time back Indian government had complained against Google Earth for providing easy availability to the layout of high-security regions like airports. Didn’t get to hear what Google had to say about this.)

Another issue is scalability. Right now it’s available only for Seattle and San Francisco. I don’t think the costs involved in shooting every nook and corner of the world can be justified. Add to that the need to constantly update the database as roadside views change quite frequently (what if the Barista store you want to virtually drive to was opened after the camera equipped cars had already driven through the area). Even if they are planning to make it available for major cities (in the US) only and even though they are the richest company ever, I think costs involved are just too high.

Here is a Channel 9 demo video.

March 2, 2006

Web Applications: Hype + Buggy Software = Disaster

Filed under: Geek, Internet — harshdeep @ 8:12 am

Popular wisdom for Web Applications is to make frequent releases with limited features, test the market/get feedback, put more features, get more feedback, … This strategy works because

1. You can release the application sooner than later. Competitors have less chance of sniffing out your idea and releasing the duplicate even before the original.

2. You don’t need to worry about the users installing the updates. Everyone automatically gets the latest release as soon as you update the application on your servers.

3. User feedback/surveys let you better filter and prioritise the features you want to put in your application.

But frequent releases do not give the developers the liberty of releasing buggy applications – even in the beta stage, web applications can not afford to have serious bugs if they want the first set of customers (generally the trend setters) to come back. Greater the hype, higher the risk – more people will check out the application and, if it’s buggy, more people will know about it and few of them will ever come back.

Case in point – BlogMad

I’d read about it on some popular blogs, so I’d registered myself to be intimated about the public beta. I got their mail today morning, and when I tried it out, it simply wasn’t working. They should have avoided this at any cost.

Update: After the initial hiccups, BlogMad seems to be working fine now.

Update 2: Anshul reported a (minor?) BlogMad bug in the comments section – “I tried taking part in the lottery on BlogMad and got myself 2 tickets. However when I refreshed the page, I had been issued 4 tickets and not 2. Not very pissing off but nonetheless irritating.”

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