Archive for the ‘Web’ Category

Internet woes

My Internet has been giving me trouble for the past few days. I wasn’t sure what it was at first. It seemed like the connection was acting up. But the I realized. It was the router.

I am trying to make do with the equipment that I have in hand. Since I switched back to the ADSL from DSL I switched back to using an old wireless G ADSL router. And since the signal on that was crap I plugged in my old N band DSL router as a wireless access point.

The one day, during the past rainy season, the N router burned. So I was forced to go back to using the crappy G wireless signal. Not just that it was a g signal it was also an old router. So that explains why I am experiencing a crappy wireless network at home. It really is a pain.

But with my recent obsession with minimalism, I was hellbent on using what I have for as long as I could. But I think now the time has come to retire those equipment and switch onto something that is more reliable and faster. I am going to get me a better router.

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Sri Lanka Telecom has started to block web sites. I think the idea would have been to block out pornography related web sites as there was a new law which was passed in paliament which banned pornography from computers and mobile devices. But in the process SLT has blocked out access to all the domains I own.

I have a couple of domains of my own and another few I manage on behalf of my clients which are mapped to Google Apps for email hosting. These domains have sub domains mapped to enable web access. And now none of these domains can be accessed through their domain names. Luckily for me, as these are google hosted applications, there were alternate URL’s through which they can be accessed.

SLT’s official position has been that SLT IP range has been blocked out from google. This is a bit hard to believe since there are a lot of non google sites that are non accessible as well.

Whatever they were trying to do, SLT should hve done this move more carefully. If they block out a clients email acces in this manner the losses could mount to collossal amounts. In this day and age, cutting off access is the worst kind of outage that can happen to a business.

I discovered this morning that my mobile was disconnected due to my bill exceeding the credit limit. Since I had some things to be done in the office and had no time to go out to make a payment, I chose to pay online through www.dialog.lk web site.

So I made a payment that was adequatete and was waiting for my phone to be reconnected. Since it was taking way too long, I decided to check up with Dialog’s online customer support. (I had no way of calling the hotline as well).

To my horror they told me that they cannot see the payment I have made. It had been about two hours by then and I had recieved a payment confirmation from the dialog website. But unfortunately I had not written down the transaction id nor had I taken a printout.

But since getting my connection up was really critical for me, I made another payment online. Same story, they could not see it on their side. This time I had the transaction id, but still they could not trace it! And guess what, they told me it’ll take 24 hours for the line to get connected!!! 24 Hours??? C’mon, online payments are meant to be instantaneous.

But I guess in our part of the world, online means 24 hours! Man, was I disappointed to hear this from a company touting to be on the cutting edge of technology. But yet, their systems seem to be operating offline!

A word has to be said about the Sampath Bank Payment Gateway that they are using. It is too damn slow! And once after I paid the confirm button to make the payment, there was a time out on the server. So I was lost and had no idea whether my payment had gone through or not. But in any case I went back and made the payment again. Sampath Banks online banking solution is another story. It shows me credit card transactions as of last evening and even in that list, some transactions that I had made days ago are missing. At some point they will suddenly appear on it! You cannot really rely on it for an accuratete picture either!

So now I don’t know whether I have ended up making three payments instead of one. I guess these companies and banks that claim they are on the cutting edge and connected and online, need to look at their systems and their integrations to see whether they are as good as they claim.

I have been busy and it’s not just been my work! I joined an open source project on codeplex. I had this idea to create an application that would sync a Google calendar with a Pocket PC’s Outlook Calendar. Then I was searching around to see whether there were similar applications around and came across GMobileSync which was an open source project on http://www.codeplex.com.

I requested the project’s coordinator to accept me as a developer and I was accepted. Then I took it upon me to fix a few of the bugs that were reported on the bug list. Then Eric, who is the creator of GMobileSync, told me that if I fixed two way sync, which is the most requested feature I will become the ‘hero’ of the GMobileSync world! That prompted me to put in my free-time towards fixing this issue / feature and last weekend, I managed to fix that. I made a release to codeplex and Eric has since released it to about 500 beta testers. And now I am awaiting for beta test results and keeping my fingers crossed that there wont be any bugs!

Working on an open source project has been pretty exiting. For one Open Source projects will give you the largest audience for your applications. Already the release I did has had 88 downloads for the space of one week. All this time the release was not even public. It was the beta testers who were invited to download and test. Hopefully the number will go up once the release becomes public.

GMobileSync has had about 40,000 downloads. Even if 10% were actively using the application, then that would mean 4000 people. You know it feels good to have an application where there is some little contribution of yours, being used by so many people. The difference in the open source world is that people will be appreciative about your work, unlike in commercial software. In commercial software, since they pay for the software, they tend not to show their appreciation!

If you had been looking for a tool that would sync your Google Calendar with your Windows Mobile device, then give GMobileSync 1.3.5 a try! And feel free to let us know your ideas for improvements or bugs!

Finally, thanks to Eric for accepting me into the project and letting me contribute. And to Lushi for tolerating my coding sessions that went into late in to the night 🙂

I thought I was alone in this. But seems now more and more people are Twittering more than they are blogging. They seems to be preferring the option of short bursts of thoughts rather than writing a lengthy blog post.

For me Twitter was a more of a quick outlet for what was going in my mind rather than an outlet for my journalling. I just liked to twitter about how I was feeling or what I was upto at a particular moment. And for me blogging was a way to put my thoughts in perspective and trying to put them into words clearly. Blogging to me is writing a book. Something you want to refer to later. Twitter is like writing to a daily. You just write for the moment. It is not particularly for the long term.

But Twitter is a faster and a more efficient way of getting what’s on your mind out there. I would be more comfortable to Twitter teh fact that i am at a waiting longe in an air port waiting for a flight rather than write a blog post on that short fact. In my mind, a blog post has to have aa certain length. It has to have some depth. But a Twitter needs none of that. After all, you only have 140 characters to play with!

And the other fact is the convinience of posting from your mobile. Just put it on a text message and voila! I know, a lot of blogging services offer mobile blogging, but you need MMS or to send an email from your mobile. But Twitter needs just a plain SMS. That is the power of convinience!

You can follow me on Twitter @ http://twitter.com/sampathd

After sometime found some time to experiment with the new skins on WordPress.com. Finally settled on this one. I liked its minimalistic approach and also the fact that the three column design gives the ability to show a lot of widgets on the default screen space. Hope you like the minimalist look as much as I did.

Bookcrossing

I came across this unique site. It is a great way to share your books, without really expecting anything in return, except for good karma. There are a lot of book exchange or barter sites out there, but this one is unique. With this system, you release your books to the wilderness and you can track the movement of your books. I think it is  a great way to go about it. Check out bookcrossing. You’ll love it. And if more people join this from Sri Lanka, this will take off. So I am doing my bit to promote it here.

Have you heard of Jaxtr? Well now you have! It’s so cool. It allows anyone to call a registered users’ phone. It is a great way to receive calls on your phone, for free. Jaxtr gives you 160 Jax (that’s Jaxtr currency) free when you join and about another 100 a month.

The cool thing about Jaxtr is, it not only allows you to receive calls, but it also keeps your number free. Therefore, it is completely safe to post the Jaxtr widget on your blog or your web site. Also, you can set a setting that only allows the people you approve to call you via Jaxtr.

Thank you Manjula for sending me an invitation to Jaxtr. I know, I haven’t called you yet. But I will pretty soon.

Everybody else, check out Jaxtr

We are having Internet connectivity problems at work these days. Due to lightning, our network equipment has got damaged and hence we are on a very slow Internet connection.

This slow connection made me realize how dependant I have become on the Internet. Without a speedy Internet connection, I am seriously handicapped. Come to think of it, it is not just Internet that I have come to be dependent on. It is overall connectivity that I have come to depend upon.

I feel seriously lost if I step out of the house without my cell phone. It has become a part of my lifestyle so much I feel insecure without it. More than the incoming calls, I need it in case of an emergency. Not that I have managed to come out of many emergencies thanks to my cell phone. I wonder how my mother does without one.

The Internet too is becoming second nature. If I don’t check my mail for a day, I feel as if something is a miss. It is not that I am expecting anything on the mail. Just that I need to be on top of my mails. I hate to come to my mail box with mails that are several days old and the total running into a few hundred.

There’s another side to emails. You feel a strange loneliness when you haven’t got any mail for a day. But thanks my clients there’s hardly a day that goes without me getting a mail with some lame and sometimes stupid complaint.

What would it be like to spend a week without emails and your cell phone. Unfortunately, I cannot afford to do that while I’m on the job. I am obliged to answer my cell phone as it is a company phone and if I don’t answer my mail within the day I am bound to end up with a few more complaining about the lack of a response.

So has technology made our lives easier or has it made us more connected and tied down and made us slaves to the technology? Can we go home after work and just forget about work? We can’t. If something comes up, we are bound to get contacted over our cell phones. We will have to answer our urgent emails from home. I even work from home over the week ends, responding to client queries and resolving issues.

I think technology has blurred the line between work and private time. We can no longer have a truly private time away from work. If something comes up, by the mere fact that we are connected we will have to respond. So who gets affected? It is our families and the relationships that get affected.

I think we lack a certain level of discipline. Just because we are connected we should not jump to work while you are at home. I had a client once in Singapore who had clearly drawn a line between work time and private time. If you contacted him during off office time even for a small clarification, he would politely tell you that he would answer the query when he gets to work. I think it is a worthwhile discipline or a practice that you should develop, unless of course you are a workaholic.

The ideal Scenario

The ideal scenario out of this connectedness would be an ability to work from home. To have the ability to spend more time at home but still get work done. To be able to remotely work from home. But our mind set and the culture has not come to that stage where our physical presence is not required at work. I think we have not got used to working in that fashion.

But the good news is we are getting there fast. I have seen geographically dispersed project teams working on projects using collaboration tools and thier productivity is no less than them being on the same room.

Taking time off 

I want to take my annual leave for at least 10 days at a stretch and be away from my emails and cell phone during that time. I will dedicate all my time to spend with my family and maybe do some reading. That will be some holiday.

Now if I can sort things that are pending so I can actually go on that holiday…

 

Seems Picasa has upgraded the free storage limit from 250 MB to 1 GB. This is certainly good news as I had already used up my 250 MB limit.  Since then, I had been uploading my pictures to webshots and snapfish.

Now that the storage limits have been upgraded, I can upload a few more of my albums to Picasa. That will be good for me as it will allow me to keep more of my albums in one place. Also, hope Picasa will allow uploading of videos as well.

Wonder how long more I will take to use up my 1 GB space. Hope Google will keep upgrading free disk space on Picasa. Way to go Google!

 

Google’s April Fool

Google is playing the fool this April Fool’s day. What is it that they are doing to pull our legs? Check out Google TiSP!

 

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I am sure most of us who have used Google beyond the searching platform would have had a look at Google Calendar (GCal). I did too and then thought to myself, why would I want to enter my diary again into another application. I mean, not that my schedule was packed, I was already using my Outlook on my Laptop and I had my PDA sync’ ed to it. But the main reason for non-adoption (I am trying out almost all of other Google services), was the the duplicity of data input.

I can across this article on WebWorkerDaily which talks about a program that can synchronize the GCal with the desktop. And it also talks about a few more hacks that you can do with your GCal to make it more usable and helpful.

Now, I should get my schedule on the calendar and start playing with it.

Seagull Softwares was a company that was prmoting a work at home data entry job system in Sri Lanka. They charged a registration fee upfront which was 1.5 times the monthly pay, which meant you become profitable only after you complete two months with them.

But apparently teh work was pretty easy. You could buy work slots and for a computer savvy persona slot was only about 10 minutes of work per day. So this would have become a method of easy money in most people’s eyes.

It also offered a convinience like no otehr earning opportunity. It was flexible and it required not special training. Also, it allowed a lot of those who were unable to work an opportunity to earn. Specially given the fact that part-time work is virtually non-existant in Sri Lanka.

So they had a great demand. I heard that people stood in queues to register themselves in this scheme. There had been people who had bought hundreds of slots and was employing others to do the work.

Guess what, about a three days ago the Police has busted the place. The scammers have jumped the country. Apprently it was a racket which was run by a couple of Indians. The web site is registered under the name of Raj Sekr in Chennai. They have not made payments to people for the last month or so for the work performed. And there ahd been a lot of people who have registered but who had not completed one mon ths work to become eligible to pay.

Somehow another smart fellow has managed to scam a lot of people and vanish with thier money.

Who said there is free lunch? Or rather easy lunch…

live.com

Visited live.com quite by accident today. Seems they have improved or added in quite a bit from the last time I visited the site. From what I saw, seems MS is following Google’s footsteps. They are building a site that has a lot of similarities to Google.

I never considered MS to be trail blazers. But they are good at one thing, that is emulating things and making them better. In my eye, I am sure MS will take live.com to directly compete with Google. Who can blame them, Google seems to be trying to become the MS of the web. MS just tried to control the Computers based on their OS market share. Google is trying to control the on-line market based on the strength of their search engine. And now Google is building and offering applications for free. But what they are really doing is getting all data into their servers. So in my view, they are going to build a bigger monopoly than MS because when your data is at their control, what good are the applications?

But getting back to my topic, I think live.com is going in a pretty good direction. MS is coming up with services that are all tied together. I like the concept of Live Spaces. It brings the blogs, photos, and friends together into one place. Google also seems to be trying to go in this direction with their Blogger beta, which they have now tied to Google account.

If you take a look at ideas.live.com, you can probably see where MS is heading with live.com. Looks a lot like the path Google tread, but hey I like it. I like the approach they are taking which allows their apps to work with other services, such as the mail client that allows you to bring all your Yahoo, Hotmail and Gmail into one client. Live messenger that allows you to chat with Yahoo Messenger contacts, Writer that allows you post to your blogs in Spaces, WordPress and Blogger, etc. I like this approach coming from MS who usually tried to push out the other players in the markets. I guess MS has finally learned that the winner is who gives the user maximum flexibility.

Way to go MS. I will be watching live.com and its progress with interest.

Since I acquired a digital camera, I was getting a lot more pictures than I thought I would and was increasingly finding these pictures to be residing on my computer or burned to CD’s. Though I had browsed on Flickr I was not seriously considering an online photo sharing option till very recently.

I guess digital camera’s have transformed the way people communicate and record the events in their lives. Earlier, you would take a few carefully thought pictures, and then develop and print them and share them with those who visit you. not you capture the moment freely as digicams can take a whole lot of more pictures and most of the time, you don’t bother printing them. you just mail them to the people you want to share them with!

So I was looking around for an easier way to share the pictures rather than sending them across in emails and sharing them in instant chat sessions. But what I found was that most of the free services are pretty much basic and limiting. But in any case I thought of recording what my little research yielded:

Filckr – By far seems to be the favourite. But I found the limitation on the free service, well very much a limitation. Photo uploading seems to be taking ages and when I upload a few from my 7.1 MP camera, my monthly bandwidth quota is over!

Snapfish – Seems to be my best bet so far! I have not come across any storage or space limitation yet. Uploading is pretty intuitive. The only drawback seems to be in the urls they assign to albums.

PicasaWeb – I uninstalled the last Picasa version I had cos I could not see much use for that. But I installed the latest version when I read about the Picasa web. The most intuitive program and accompanying service I came across. But why am I not surprised? Guess we have come to expect such ease of usability from Google. the only hindrance is the 250 MB space limit Google has imposed on the free service. The only thing I don’t get though, when they give over 2 Gb free on the mail account, why cant they at least give that much on the Picasa account? At least allow us to share our mail box space with the Picasa web?

MS Live Spaces – Just created an account when I realized I could use the space to upload photos. Won’t be blogging there though. Will share more as I start to use it.

Webshots –  Had used this earlier. Seemed like a pretty good service apart from the commercials that they try to push to you. Should start using this more!

That’s about my experience with online photo sharing for the time being. I would like to hear some comments from those who are experts on these things. As I said in the beginning, i am pretty new to this whole thing.

This is a very useful resource for anyone who will be making presentations as part of their work or education courses.

whilst most of the tips can be attributed to common sense, it does give some points that you will not think of. It is a simple presentation in itself which is very easy to retain. I hate tips that run for pages. I think tips which are longer than a few short points defy the purpose. You are not reading the tips to remember a long list of tips. You are likely to pickup a few that will stick with you or appeal to you. In that sense this is a very good reading…

The Craig Web Experience: Presentation Tips

IE 7 gets clearance

I wrote about Google whining about IE 7’s default search box having MSN as the default search engine in an earlier post. Seems MS has got the clearance from the US Federal court to go ahead with its plans for IE 7 and that Google has been told to shut up.

As I mentioned earlier, I am a regular Google user, but this complaint was more of a whining than a genuine complaint. Since, Google is earning a lot of revenue from its advertising service, AdWords, it is taking all attempts to guard this revenue.

Google was prepared to fight it out based on the technical superiority of its product. Now that it is no more the underdog, it has climbed to the top, it is trying to rest on its laurels and expects everyone to accept its superiority. MS on that sense is better because it has managed to get out of that mentality. It is still prepared to be humbled on its learning process and challenged by new comers and better technology. I think they learned this lesson after they made their blunder with the Internet.

So, I guess Google should stop whining and get back to what they were doing best; churning out the fastest searching algorithm and work on the next generation. That way they will retain their leadership position and get people to use their search engine over-riding the defaults.

And if they are complaining, then they should get on to the level playing field by playing fair with all other browsers that they are riding on.

News has been traveling around saying that Google is worried about a new feature on IE7, which has a Search Box built in which, by default, passes the search query to MSN search. And quite rightly Google must be worried that this will take away a significant percentage of their search traffic.

But to me, this sounds a bit hypocritic because FireFox has a search box built in which by default searches in Google. Also Google is promoting and offering a Firefox download which has a Google Toolbar built in.

It is funny how differently things are perceived when similar tactics are being adopted by the likes of Microsoft and Google. When Google and the company does it, it is perceived as user friendly innovations. And when MS attempts a similar tactic, it is perceived as an anti-competitive practice.

Now dont get me wrong, I am a big fan of Google. I use their services for the most part and I almost exclusively search using Google. I use GMail and a lot of other services. But I use them not because I have been forced or tricked into using it. I trust my intelligence to choose what is better for me. And if some default option that is provided is not good enough I will seek out and get something that is more appropriate for me.

So why does everyone love to take a shot at whatever MS offers? Is everyone scared? Is it because of their size and their financial capabilities? Or is it because they fear that they are not consistent enough? Or is it because they are so worried about losing their advantages in the market?

The next thing they will go into is to sue web sites that give the option of setting it’s homepages as default pages in the browser!

**Ok, I admit that this may be old news and some of you may be using this already. But if you were not aware of this, you may find this very useful. 

I am sure that most of us are used to carrying our files around in a USB flash disk. I am on my third USB flash now and it is an essential tool that I carry around just like my PDA. But today for some odd reason I decided to look for virtual drives. I remembered my brother using an xdrive.com account sometime back. I also remembered reading somewhere about a person who has coded a personal photo hosting service using Gmail for storage.

Looking around I came across this tool. This is called GMail Drive Shell Extension. Once this is installed this shows your Gmail account as a drive in your PC.

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You have to input your gmail user name and password. Then you can just drag and drop your files to the drive and it uploads the files to yoru gmail account. Then the uploaded files are posted into yoru inbox as a email with the files as attachments. So downloading the files is similar to downloading an attachment.

However, I found the performance a bit erratic. I uploaded a small file, and it uploaded in teh second attempt, but I am still trying to upload a folder with a few files and subfolders and I am getting errors. Also, this is not necessarily supported by Gmail though it is not against the EULA. So the service may break anytime google decides. Also, there’s a 10MB single file size limitation. And a file name cannot be longer than 40 chars. All are limitations imposed by google.

But hey, it is worth a try!