Tech and Culture

Konfabulator makes the desktop fabulous !

Desktop screenshot

I downloaded and installed the latest version of Konfabulator yesterday. Needless to say, it is probably one of the best free software that I have ever installed on my Windows machine. Konfabulator is a “JavaScript runtime engine” for both Windows and MacOS that allows programmers to design interactive and visually appealing “widgets” to be placed on the desktop. These widgets run as individual programs and do not consume a lot of system resources.

There are tons of widgets already available for download for both these platforms. The most wonderful aspect of this program is that it allows for both the operating systems to have similar widgets. It is possible to define the transparency of the widgets from 0% to 100%, and also position them on the desktop in a multitude of ways. I am sure Yahoo! is working behind the scenes to build a port for the Linux operating system.

Digg Widget I tried many different kinds of widgets once my initial excitement died off, but have now settled for 3 of them running continuously on my desktop. My favorite is the “Digg Digger” aggregator widget pictured above. It updates every 2-3 minutes and is always fun to read. Another widget I have on my desktop provides me with weather information from, and the third one basically cycles through random Simpsons quotes after some interval.

All in all, I love this software, and after using it for about a day haven’t found any issues with it yet. Truly, one of the best freebies ever!

Life and Personal Tech and Culture

Just listened to my first official PodCast !

I just listened to my first official PodCast at! Nevertheless, I am sure I cannot be branded a slow learner. After listening to this news-piece, I realized that PodCasting isn’t as new as we think it is. Anyone else remember the old CNET Radio 910?!

It used to be a terrestrial radio channel in the SF Bay area during early 2000, and then was downsized as CNET’s media business wasn’t doing so well. As a result, a new audio web delivery service was launched by the name of “CNET Radio Direct” in 2003.

CNET Radio Direct was an innovative free service where the CNET software pulled small 15 minute MP3 files containing a short radio broadcast from the server every evening. Sometimes, the server would push more than one file depending on the content, but the software used Windows Media Player to play the audio.

Come to think of it, this was the first instance of a “PodCast” like service that I ever experienced. So now that I have joined the club, maybe I’ll start my own PodCast station soon!

Tech and Culture

NC State webmail service compromised

One of last week’s major event was the compromise of the NCSU Webmail system by hackers. What is surprising to me is the fact that the hackers had an IRC server running on 2 webmail servers for about 5 days before the IT Department staff noticed that the attackers might have captured user passwords.

The NCSU ITD system news bulletin has more information on the event. The NCSU password change facility was bogged down due to excessive network load after emails were sent to those that might have been affected by the exploit.

It seems that the attach was based on an April 2005 advisory posted on the Internet. It is named “Cacti Remote Command Execution Vulnerability”, and basically exposes vulnerability in the Cacti graphing tool. Cacti is a an RRDtool based package that uses mySQL databases to record various statistics about the network/server.

It is amazing to find out in conversations that some people do not change their passwords regularly, or have really funny password management tactics. Some people still use their SSN as passwords. Everyone should follow the guidelines on this website to choose passwords !

Tech and Culture

Using trees to power our cars – Is it a good idea ?

Just read on Yahoo! News that a research group at the College of Natural Resources at the University of Idaho is working on replacing oil with wood as a primary fuel.

Now, the news report lacks substantial technical information, but my guess is that these guys are using Pyrolysis to generate bio-oil from wood. Of course, I would try to gather some more information from their webpages/publications, but for now, going by the article, pyrolysis seems to be the only way this is possible.

This makes me wonder. What is the purpose of even doing this type of research? I can understand using waste bio material to generate fuel, but cutting trees to generate oil, or as the news report puts it, quicken the natural process of crude oil formation seems a little irresponsible to me. Deforestation is a serious issue, and I doubt that using trees to power our SUVs is going to help solve anything.

I wish that more research was done from a practical viewpoint rather than just to get published.

India Life and Personal Tech and Culture

Mobile text messaging as a means of broadcasting information in times of disaster

Mobile cell phone usage is burgeoning in urban India. No matter how much we criticize the lack of disaster recovery systems in our expansive country, it is still noteworthy that inspite of record breaking rainfall and the accompanying destruction, communication services went down for a very limited time in Mumbai. People still had Internet access, as is evident from the “live” blog reports available on the Internet. Apparently, the following SMS message was sent at the behest of the Police Commissioner of Mumbai:

Due to heavy rains, water logging likely in city n suburbs. Pls donot travel unless absolutely essential. Police Commissioner, Mumbai

This made me wonder about the importance of a cellular communication network in times like this. It is much more easier and reliable to broadcast SMS messages than to sound warning alarms across the city. The pervasiveness of cellphones means that a lot more people are likely to read an SMS message than to watch the TV for breaking news.

Life and Personal Tech and Culture

My thoughts about my website

The proliferation of the Internet and the many businesses centered around it has meant that it is easy for anyone to get a piece of this expansive “virtual real estate” with little investment. One of the main things that fascinates me about the Internet is how easy it is to draw a corollary in the Internet realm from a law/event in the real world. The only difference being that the Internet is, by and large, an anarchy of sorts. You have clusters of peaceful co-existence, and then you have the dark side and the violent side. I would rather not provide hyperlinks to examples 😛

I guess that this peaceful co-existence of good and the bad also provides some philosophical insight to us about why such a co-existence is impossible in the real physical world we get our nutrition from.

As I write this, I am wondering about what having a home on the Internet has done for me. I have had a domain for more than 2 years now. Of course, I was lucky to get a 5 letter .com domain when all the permutations and combinations seem to be running out. I now run two different types of content management systems, a weblog, two different picture galleries, and two FTP accounts for personal purposes. The way I look at it, a domain gives you a definitive address for your home (your http site) on the Internet. The galleries, the weblogs, and the website interface are akin to having an actual home at the address. The FTP accounts and the email addresses are doors and windows to your home. Like the real world, it takes a lot of many things to make your home a sweet home.

I think that my website still does not offer something unique to the community. Like in the real world, on the Internet you gain publicity and/or recognition only when you provide something extraordinary or unique to others. This could be in the form of services, ideas, notoriety etc. In my case, seeing that I do not intend to make money off of my website (I do not even use the Google AdSense program), I have to provide something that is merely interesting. I am not here to change the world or re-invent anything. I am here just to have an identity and to participate in this anarchy by exchange of ideas and experiences that are transformed from the real world into the virtual world.

With this in mind, I think it is time for me to use my website as an outlet for my emotions (this weblog), my experiences (the static pages on my website and even this weblog), my aspirations, my achievements, and my knowledge. I also intend to use this website and the associated address to advertise myself, to communicate and share with friends and family, and to motivate myself.

Hence, my next endeavor is going to be making available all academic material I have assimilated over the years on this website. I also intend to start writing more on topics that I have an expertise in. Isn’t that the purpose of a website anyway ?

Here’s to hoping that I would be able to make these changes very very soon …

Tech and Culture

A cell-phone that receives and sends faxes …

Today’s cell-phones are loaded with features, many of which are almost too trivial or just too modern for a phone. Too much is never enough though, and we keep longing for newer and newer features.

I kept receiving fax calls from a certain number today, probably because they had the wrong number, but it made me wonder if there is technology to be able to send and receive faxes on your cellphone. This does not sound especially weird considering that there are cellphones with huge displays and excellent graphics capabilities. It is but logical to expect a modern cellphone to be capable of receiving faxes and then displaying them on your screen.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find any such device on the market. I was, nevertheless, able to find third party software for smart phones and PDAs that would let me send and receive faxes on an email account.

I wonder how hard it would be technologically to implement native fax support in modern smartphones. If there is a voice call, activate the ringer, and if there is a fax call, simply receive it !

If the user wants to transfer this fax to a computer or to print it out, he/she could just forward it to an email account or simply sync with a computer. I hope something like this hits the market pretty soon !

Economy India Tech and Culture

Why India will never see anything like Kozmo …

I am sure everyone is aware of Kozmo, the first ever e-tailer of sorts that was actually somewhat successful before closing shop in 2001, three years after its inception. Google Answers has a great thread giving background information about this company. was started by Joseph Park, a Time Magazine nominated Innovator in 1997. There is a movie called e-Dreams that chronicles the growth and demise of this innovative Internet based retailer that actually delivered everything from ice cream to video tapes. The idea was to have inventory for common frequently ordered items, and to forge deals with other vendors for the remaining items.

It was ultimately the pricing and the incorrect and somewhat unclear target customer focus that killed Kozmo. The new CEO had lost focus, and was trying to compete with mail order companies citing quick delivery as the only USP for using Kozmo’s services. I would also say that the idea was pre-mature and ahead of its times. There were still no stringent rules and regulations about Internet privacy, and online advertising was still controversial and somewhat monopolised in the hands of 1-2 key players. All in all, a good time to make short-term money but not to write a sustainable business plan. Only a few companies survived the dot-com crash, and hence, I would not blame Kozmo entirely for its own debacle.

Now, when I say that an enterprise like is never going to be sustainable in a country like India, I base my analysis on the relatively lower importance of the Internet in an average Indian’s daily life. I will stand up against all refutations who claim that it is only a matter of time when the Internet gains as much importance in India.

India differs culturally and socially from the US in more than a thousand ways. Inspite of the Internet and all that buzz, people prefer to carry on their lives using more personal communication means. The Internet is not personal enough to make any difference in an Indian’s life. Sure, it has already replaced newspapers when it comes to classifieds, and postal letters when it comes to time insensitive communication. People still love to go out with their families to shop, and students know better than to order pizza on the Internet. Very busy professionals can often afford manpower to do their chores for them.

Even then, all it takes is a phone call to your neighborhood super-store to get anything you want delivered free to your doorsteps without any minimums or delivery charges. And this has been in place before the rise of the Internet in India. There are companies like P&G India that have actually started telemarketing operations with free delivery. The prices are actually lower than super-stores or discount stores like Big Bazaar. The delivery times are minutes not hours, and you can order anything from the P&G catalog of products.

With all this aready happening, do you still think that there is a market for services like in India? I certainly don’t, and I might be proved wrong in the coming years. All I know is that it would take a lot to have an average Indian consumer pay more to get what he wants in lesser time and without physical effort.

Addendum: I just came across a similar new service in the NYC area, called

Tech and Culture

Google Earth – Can it be used to find Osama ?

Google Earth was released for free last week. After having bought technology from Keyhole, Google has released a basic version of the Google Earth software for free without any recurring charges. There are enhanced versions available for different needs that feature better satellite images and higher quality printing.

Even in its basic form, the Google Earth software can be used in many different ways, and is highly customizable. Check out this website [] for addon files that can be used to really show off this software’s abilities.

It is still a beta so I guess a lot of features would be added on later, but imagine being able to search for people using the software with only their names or phone numbers. That would be truly mind-boggling. Then, imagine implanting a “geo-tracking” chip inside every human on earth, and being able to pull up their location in real time. We could catch criminals so easily ! Ofcourse, different users would be given a different access level based on their role in society, but in theory this system should be able to curb crimes.

I will have a drink to Google’s success tonight. Let’s hope it changes the cyberscape for the better…

Tech and Culture

Look Ma, I run a blog …

After a not-so-short conversation with Vel, I started wondering about the blogging phenomenon that has swept the cyberworld in complete awe just like current Google stock prices have. The term blogging really caught up with the masses after the 2004 US Presidential election that for the first time featured a faultering conventional media. Blogs run by republican and democratic supporters did a very fine job of bringing “real news” to the world.

One has to wonder; is this phenomenon just a fad? How long is this fad going to last? Is it really going to change how we assimilate information? I don’t view blogs as anything more than a website that is easy to update fairly regularly and is much more interactive than a static website in the sense that it allows for some level of reverse interactivity. A blog is just a website, after all. Throw in a few tools like trackback pings and RSS Feeds, and you have a ring of information.

Is this a fad? A short answer is yes. There are millions of blogs out there. Everyone has a blog. How many of these are actually useful? Very few. I think we’re facing some sort of information overdose at present. The problem lies in actually assimilating all the information out there. This is why search is so hot these days. Then there is this whole issue of trust. A blog is a piece of personal opinion. Unlike traditional media outlets, blogs can not be monitored for factual accuracy. Search engines, especially Google&reg, are designed to assign more weightage to negative information when it comes to ranking pages. Clearly, this is a computer science issue here.

I think we need to learn something from E-Commerce technologies when designing the next generation news and information aggregators. Autonomous trust is a keyword in E-Commerce, and this needs to be adopted in dynamic information search algorithms. So, if you have a network of trustworthy blogs giving a certain repertoire of events, they should be deemed credible. Simply assigning priorities to blogs based on traditional link-based page ranking is not a good idea for blogs.

This fad is here to stay, although we will see shifts in how we actually log our thoughts on the Internet. Podcasting is hot now. Something new will enter the scene later. The bottomline is that the pervasion of the Internet has made all of us information producers in the virtual world. It is our responsibility as citizens of the free cyberworld to make this information flow as trustworthy and reliable as possible.