Monday, February 08, 2010

Product reviews on the cloud

Finding low-cost, high value tech products that aren’t neutered in anyway is an endless and often fruitless quest.

I should know.

A decade ago, my budget desktop PC would radiate enough heat in my room that I often pondered about fitting an exhaust fan in my window. It was powered by an AMD Duron processor, which never set itself on fire, as some warned me - but it would run so hot, that it required me to sit half naked, in lungi or chuddies. I am sure those in Europe and North America saved a bit in heating bills, but here, back in India, this was not happening at all.

Until 2005, the gigahertz race between Intel and AMD pushed the power draw of desktop processors to outrageous levels - these PCs needed dedicated cooling. That’s until they made the transition to multi-cores. The CPUs chilled out a bit after that.

I am now using a netbook that runs on the same OS that I used a decade ago - but it barely warms my lap - the CPU fan kicks in every once in a while.

But it is designed with a two-year lifespan, and has very limited upgrade options – even the RAM slot has a “warranty void if seal broken” sticker on it. (screw that)

Sadly, most consumers, especially the more hardcore ones, care less about a product’s carbon or environmental footprint, and more about price and brute performance.

But I can imagine that they do care dearly about their electricity bill, and a product’s lifespan.

At some point in the future, I foresee someone coming up with a web site that makes it easy for anyone to calculate or compare the total expense incurred in running a PC over its stated lifecycle. Including power consumption. This information is not available to us currently as it is very difficult to measure, but maybe Google Powermeter will help us out with that. What we need is a cloud based app that monitors a PC’s uptime over its lifespan. Combine something like a hosted version of AIDA with newegg style user reviews and driver update news, and you’ll have a site that provides real value to everyone involved.

Such a site would help measure a computer’s lifespan, as long as the user community volunteers to poll in such data into a single web resource until the product’s lifecycle. With all that data, it should be possible to measure every computers effectiveness and the failure rates of its individual components over its lifecycle. A facebook for computers. Computers that never ping back over time can be commissioned to an eventual virtual graveyard. With all that data, over time, we would be able to tell how long a computer lived, on average.

Technically it would also be possible to measure programs applications are the most CPU hogs, have this averaged out over thousands of PCs so that these apps are weeded out by those running older PCs.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Synchromesh: Synergy, Enso, TabHunter, Mozilla Weave, Opera Unite, Ubiquity

If you have a wireless LAN network at home, there's a ton of cool shit you can do in terms of interoperability and customisation. These are some clever user interface enhancements that are available for free, and things that work well for me.

Mozilla Weave: It allows you to sync your firefox tabs, and reopen them another machine. Opera Unite does the same thing, but I dont use opera because awesomebar remembers everything for me and I dont think all that browsing history can be exported into Opera.
Ubiquity - This is also a very promising project that plans to bring a very natural commandline interface to the browser. It provides a lot of in-browser command line integration and allows for quick recall through a maze of windows.
Enso: Enso is similar to Ubiquity, but for the Windows user environment. The footer says that it was made in 2006, and is dedicated to the memory of Jeff Raskin.
Synergy: Allows me to set up a virtual KVM interface that lets me switch focus between multiple PCs using just one keyboard and mouse. I am partial to my Desktop PC's keyboard, right now.
TabHunter: Another Firefox app, this lets me jump to any of my firefox taps by hitting CTRL & Alt & T.
I also use TinyVNC sometimes to turn my torrent on or off from my iPod Touch.I use Logitech Remote to repurpose my iPod touch a multi-touch trackpad. Apple's Remote software allows me to control my iTunes playlist from anywhere in the house. It has one of the best user interfaces for recall and discovery, and all these apps are free.

That last minte thing that you must absolutely do before you go to sleep

Turn your Utorrent on.
I can now control my desktop PC using Tight VNC Server, just as I am about to doze off in bed, using Mocha VNC Lite on my iPod touch. Tested it out on my home LAN.

'What operating systems are supported by Tegra? | Tegra Developer Thread tells you all

Right now, support for a full Ubuntu filesystem is under discussion but there are no plans/schedule yet. However, support for a Linux kernel with installable X11 is actively being worked on and should be in the short future. Support for Android is coming very shortly.

Richard J. Seis
Mobile Developer Technologies

The coming initial Linux platform support pack is likely to include a 2.6.29 kernel, with a minimal Ubuntu-based busybox filesystem that includes apt-get support for expanding the supported packages easily. The support pack should also support the option to install a minimal X11R7.x server and accelerated drivers into the target filesystem. Other additional packages are being tested as a part of this release, but are not confirmed yet – we will detail those as the support pack continues towards release
Lars M. Bishop:
Developer Technologies Engineer,
NVIDIA Corporation

Thursday, February 04, 2010

A contrarian view of Indian public services

Begin forwarded message:

The Hindu, Jan. 24, 2010


Public services: a positive experience


Those working in the public sector deserve to know that their work is valuable and appreciated

We need to promote public services to counter any unfair criticism of their work

A friend travelling with me recently by the Coromandel Express from Calcutta developed chest pain and vomiting, which suggested a heart problem. The TTE sent a message to Vishakapatnam, the next junction where a Railway doctor examined him and advised us to go to the government hospital. There they took an ECG immediately and sent us to the casualty ward, where he was given immediate medication but cleared for resuming the journey. Lacking onward reservation, my friend was able to get a flight to Bangalore, his home town. Later tests showed that he did indeed have a mild heart attack, though not perceptible in the ECG.

Let me elaborate a bit on this episode. The railway officials were courteous and helpful. The well-equipped free public ambulance service "108" took us to King George Hospital, where the staff and doctors were also prompt in their services. There was no paperwork — the chit from the railway doctor being sufficient for all medical services. We were sleeper class passengers, in a strange town, with no local contacts or influence, and able to communicate only in English. Our train had reached at 03:30, we were in the hospital by five and back by eight, before going to the airport. Except for an altercation with a station porter regarding a wheelchair, the whole experience was essentially positive. Moreover, all this (ECG, injection, tablets) was absolutely free. Nobody even asked for a tip. The kind of service we received was easily worth a couple of thousand rupees or more!

The doctors at KGH rightly concluded that the symptoms and ECG results did not warrant our further detention in Vizag. More knowledgeable acquaintances say that had we preferred to seek private medical care, we would probably have been detained a few days, at enormous expense.

This incident has reinforced my faith in public services. Contrary to popular perception, I noted that officials and staff in the railways, the ambulance service, and hospital performed their duty with competence and application of mind.

I know this is not a 'representative' example. It isn't meant to be one. We routinely hear only the other side of the story. With the same experience, someone else may merely highlight the faults, perhaps complain about conditions in the hospital such as torn sheets and dirty toilets. For a free public hospital, considering the kind of crowds they deal with, I am amazed we got such quick and effective service. These facilities therefore need to be supported and their shortcomings addressed (and not merely condemned).

It is also my impression that the same people who are vocal in denigrating public services will readily pay bribes to 'get things done'! But the same class of people do not complain when paying through their nose for shoddy services from private organisations. The larger private corporations do not care for customers other than those they perceive as important to their business. The small guy invariably has access only to a faceless call centre for making complaints. They make enough profits to run a slick PR system which can handle the few difficult customers without denting their public image maintained by huge advertising outlays.

Though public services routinely attract adverse comments, those working in the public sector deserve to know that their work is valuable and appreciated, though seldom expressed. Despite well-known short-comings like political or bureaucratic interference and organisational inefficiency, there are many who do a sincere job, sometimes with dedication under adverse conditions. It is they who have held this nation together for over 60 years, and their services are available to everyone equally, at least in principle. You will not find private phone or courier services reaching small villages, whereas the government is expected to make facilities like food, shelter, transport, health and education available to everyone, and it can only be done through adequate public funds by taxing "us" who can afford it.

If the well-off do not actively support public services, we will surely descend steadily into chaos. I would urge readers who agree with the viewpoint expressed here to patronise and promote public services as far as possible, and counter any unfair criticism of the work they do in a hostile  

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Social engineering techniques: How to hack gmail

I didn't know people were so gullible. LOL

me: Hey
karthik: Hi Radha
How are you ?
me: Hey, did you know this thing about gmail chat?
If I type in my password in chat, it will show up as *'s at your end.
my password is *******
See that?
Type your password and see
karthik: Which one GTalk
me: No, whereever you are typing
karthik: No
It;s not
My password is kasadakka
me: Just type it and press enter. It will appear as *s to me.
karthik: Are you sure
me: yes
karthik: Radha is it a prank :D
change it now before i ruin your life

Here are some security tips that I wrote up for a small article a month ago:

1) Use Sygate Personal firewall to monitor data if you do not have the latest Windows security updates.You are most likely to be the unwilling recipient of worms, viruses and trojans if you choose to go online on an unpatched, unlicensed copy of Windows XP.

2) If you do have a registered copy of Windows, there's Microsoft's free antivirus which is free to download and use. Security Essentials is both lightweight and effective.

3) Use a secure password. Good passwords are not found in the dictionary. A good password is six to eight characters in length, comprising letters and numbers.

4) You can use Winzip to password protect a folder, but for some heavy duty encryption, use the Open source TrueCrypt, available on

5) Be careful of what you download and run on your computer, especially if you use it for e-commerce and Internet banking. Spyware and trojan viruses could steal your personal data and credit card details.

6) In this age of cheap terabyte drives, you have no excuse. Back up your data. It will save you time and money should your system be attacked. There are many software tools to automate this as well.

7) Exercise common sense. It might feel fine to have your Birth Date on Facebook, but since this is usually a security question used by most banks, you might want to keep it to yourself.

8) If you do feel that your computer is behaving oddly, or compromised in any way, boot into Google's free Chromium OS, which now fits on a 1GB pen drive.

9) Hackers call phone skills and other soft methods of hacking social engineering. Identity theft can be easily done on the phone. As a principle, never reveal your password or account details to an stranger on the phone, especially if you receive the phone call. To resolve any issues, call the bank at their listed numbers.
10) If you have the Google toolbar installed, the page rank feature is a good way of verifying the genuineness of the hyperlink.
11) As a policy, banks seldom include hyperlinks in their email communication. All netbanking URLs support SSL, as do most services where security is important. Use it by typing https:// before entering the website name. .