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November 25, 2012

Social Media At Work

Filed under: Interesting Sites,My Thoughts — Suramya @ 12:05 AM

There are plenty of companies in the world who have an open policy in regards to social media and a lot of companies which block these sites. Personally I don’t spend much time of Facebook, Google+ etc so for me it doesn’t matter if the sites are blocked or not. However other folks do spend a lot of time of FB and to these folks it does matter if the site is blocked or not. If you spend some time on the web you will see loads of posts for each position but more and more companies are slowly blocking these sites citing productivity losses and bandwidth hogging.

Learnstuff.com has an interesting info-graphic on the Social Media At Work that Kayla Evans shared with me and since the numbers looked impressive I decided to share them with my readers. According to the site the average college student spends three hours checking their various social media sites, but only two hours studying, which is scary. Workers aren’t faring much better, either. Every time someone at work gets an IM, a Facebook message or a tweet, it takes them a whopping 23 minutes to get back on task according to the research.

A little while ago I was part of a focus group for cell phones and we were discussing what do people need in a smartphone and one of the comments other folks in the study made that I found interesting/scary was that Facebook is a lifeline for them and if they can’t check it then they don’t know what they would do. Obviously I am paraphrasing but the sentiment is clear.

A lot of People are spending more time on FB ‘liking’ their friend’s posts instead of actually spending time with them. Go spend time with your friends, if you don’t want to end up like this guy:

Well this is all for now. Will post more later.

- Suramya

October 26, 2012

Amazon delete’s a user’s entire Kindle library, restores it and then starts lending ebooks for free to Prime members

Filed under: Books Related,My Thoughts — Suramya @ 9:28 PM

A few days ago Amazon deleted the entire e-book library of a kindle user without explanation and the internet was in an uproar with multiple people including prominent author’s protesting against the move by Amazon; then a few days later the account was mysteriously re-enabled without any explanation. This is the *one* reason I don’t own a kindle even though its a fantastic device. I almost bought it last month during my US trip but ultimately decided not to because I don’t want the usability of my device to be on the whim & fancy of Amazon. They have deleted stuff from accounts in the past without notification and even after promising not to do it again they went ahead and wiped out this user’s kindle. I anyways don’t support DRM so that is another reason I don’t buy ebooks from Amazon (They are awesome for other stuff but not ebooks/mp3′s/online movies etc).

If you own a kindle I seriously suggest you keep a local copy of all the books you buy ’cause you never know when the book might disappear. There was an article on Lifehacker.com on how to remove the DRM that makes interesting reading as this article was prompted by the same news story as what I am talking about. Check it out, but remember only use it to break the DRM from stuff you own, don’t use it to pirate stuff ’cause that is not cool.

Today while surfing the web I saw an article on the Reg that Amazon UK will lend e-books for free to it’s Prime subscribers. I guess it could be a planned move that just coincidentally came at a time when Amazon was getting a lot of heat for their bonehead move earlier but the timing is suspicious….

Well this is all for now. Will post more later.

- Suramya

Additional articles on the Kindle Wipe: Gizmodo.

July 19, 2012

Sensordrone brings us one step closer to having a real life StarTrek Tricorder

Filed under: Interesting Sites,My Thoughts,Techie Stuff — Suramya @ 10:56 PM

Anyone who has watched Star Trek would love to get their hands on a Tricorder, but till recently Tricorders have been the stuff of Science Fiction. However slowly but steadily the technology to build them is getting there. We have the Tricorder Project which gave us the blue prints to create a basic version of the tricorder. It was cool and let you watch Magnetic field fluctuations etc (among other things) but still required you to build the thing yourself. Now comes Sensordrone, a project that pairs a sensor-heavy dongle with your smartphone and then opens them up for use using different apps. Me Want! :)

Its basically a sensor package that you pair with your phone and then run apps to visualize the various data, with no need to build the hardware yourself (I am more of the software building person.) Sensordrone is a Kickstarter project so its not really a real product yet but since people have pledged $153,655 for the project already (target was $25,000), it does seem like this is going to be an actual release pretty soon. They are aiming for an Oct 2012 release and it would cost about $200 or so. When it comes out I think I probably will end up buying it… Does that make me a Geek? Hell yeah… :)

Excerpt from their website:

If you have a Sensordrone, you can run apps on your tablet or smartphone to monitor carbon monoxide and air quality, find gas leaks, measure your child’s temperature, log the weather, and much more.

For example, apps using the capacitance sensor can work as a stud finder, a proximity monitor, or a liquid level monitor. Apps using the pressure sensor can work as a barometer, an altimeter, calculate elevation differences so you can measure the height of a building, be hooked up to a pressure cuff to work as a blood pressure monitor, and more. Humidity sensing is not just for weather, it determines comfort level for infants, finds the optimum conditions for storing foods, and could even help prevent mold from growing in your home

Sensordrone makes any sensor application as easy as running an app!

Thanks to Engadget: Sensordrone lets your smartphone monitor temperature, air quality, inebriation for the heads up.

- Suramya

July 17, 2012

Self destructing book now available for purchase.

Filed under: Books Related,My Thoughts — Suramya @ 11:58 PM

In a release that sounds like a bad April fools joke or a tip off for a spy movie, Argentinian publishing house Eterna Cadencia is now selling a book written in disappearing ink. Basically 60 days after you open the sealed package the print in the book will disappear. I have no idea what the publisher was thinking, (although it would make a great gag book to gift to someone who is a slow reader) I wouldn’t want to purchase a book that I couldn’t go back and read over and over again, I have books that are over eighty years old and some books that I bought in college that I still go back and read at times.

If you want a self destructing book, why waste the paper it was printed on? Why not go for a digital copy which would be far cheaper and use a decryption program that stopped working after a particular amount of time. (I remember reading about a concept encryption routine that used the text of a couple of sites as the decryption code and once the pages changed beyond a certain threshold the encrypted data could no longer be decrypted.)

Would you purchase a book that deleted its text after a fixed time?

Source: One of the Tech Blog sites… Can’t remember which one. Will update when I do remember.
News links:
* Publishing: The book that self-destructs in 60 days – News – Books – The Independent and
* LA Times

- Suramya

July 15, 2012

Got the Jelly Bean Update on my Nexus

Filed under: My Thoughts,Techie Stuff — Suramya @ 10:21 PM

After waiting for a day for the update to show up on my Nexus, I forced the update to download on my Nexus. It was a fairly simple process which I had used before to get the 4.0.4 update as well. The steps are as following

  • Go to Settings -> Apps -> All
  • Click on Google Services Framework
  • Click on Clear Data
  • Click on ‘Force Stop

Once you do this you need to:

  • Goto Settings -> About Phone
  • Click on ‘Check for updates’

You might have to do this a couple of times (I had to do it 3 times) before the update shows up and downloads. The overall process took about 1/2 hour including the time required for the update to download.

Have been using it for about 2+ days so far and wanted to document my reactions/findings:

* System is now extremely fast, the screen switching is about 3-4 times faster and smoother.
* The Google bar on the top is a bit distracting. It had a black background previously, now its grey so is noticeable.
* Love the voice recognition. The system can do voice recognition without being connected to the web (tested in Airplane mode) and is about 90% accurate. Seems like its a bit more accurate when connected to the web, but don’t have any hard data for that.
* Battery life is a lot improved, my phone went about 2 days with regular usage. (I was getting about 1 day+ earlier)
* Camera gives a visual feedback when a photo is taken so people don’t take a million photos thinking it wasn’t taking photos.

Some downsides/issues etc:

* I think my Wireless connects gets disabled a min or so after the screen switches off. Haven’t verified it yet but if that is the case then it will be a major issue.
* The soft buttons feel a bit less reactive on some screens, but again its a bit subjective and haven’t verified it.

Overall I like the new update. I think Google did a good job with this update.

- Suramya

July 11, 2012

Are kids nowadays less techie than previous generations?

Filed under: My Thoughts — Suramya @ 1:06 AM

Since I have gotten the Pi (actually even before I got it) I have been keeping an eye on articles/news about the Pi. Found some really interesting projects, idea’s etc but then found this gem on ZDNet: Is raspberry pi a mid-life crisis?. The author’s major point is that people his age (presumably in his late 30′s or 40′s) are more techie than their children. While in some cases its true, in a lot of cases its not. Its very easy to generalize and say that kids nowadays don’t do cool things like we used to… Actually I know a few people who say that a lot and guess what, it doesn’t make you look cool or techie, it just makes you sound like a old fart.

You don’t have to program in assembly to be called Techie. Personally I have programmed in assembly only once and that too for a class I was taking. To me it wasn’t fun, fun was making the computer do stuff it wasn’t supposed to in the fastest easiest way possible. In his Article Simon states: :

When my 14 year old son couldn’t get his iPod touch to work with the wifi he didn’t try very hard, he just threw it at me and said “dad fix it”. My kids and their peers have no interest in how a computer works. Oh, they love what it does, miniclip, facebook, skype. But what makes their applications work or what is inside the black box is as interesting as the washing machine or vacuum cleaner. I’ve long thought that there is a bubble of tech; people of my age are more techie than their children.

His kid might not be a techie, a lot of folks my generation (god that makes be sound old) were not techies. Remember the 12:00 flashers? Now I have juniors working under me who are experts in Perl or PHP. There is a Nine-year-old kid who has created an iPhone application that has been downloaded over 150,000 times, another 12 year old kid has published 7 applications in 2 years. Being techie is not an age thing, its about aptitude.

There are tons of people (including kids) who are still technically inclined and are developing great new stuff. A lot of the new software development is happening in minds of kids. Sure they might not read programming manuals under the sheets (Disclosure: I never did that. I was more liable to read novels under the sheets), but they are techies and will come out with new cool stuff. True that some of the kids act like retards but its not like the previous generations were any better. Every generation has folks that are retards, forks that are average and folks that are awesome. Throughout history people have thought that the kids in that age are useless and they were so much better. Socrates is quoted as saying “The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority, they show disrespect to their elders…. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their
legs, and are tyrants over their teachers.”
. My response to Simon: Grow up, stop living in the ‘good old days’.

Finally, there is nothing wrong in not being a techie. If all of us were techie’s we wouldn’t have any cool movies being produced (’cause no one would be there to act in them) or great music or artists etc.

What do you think?

- Suramya

July 10, 2012

Managing comments/conversations over different systems

Filed under: My Thoughts — Suramya @ 12:01 AM

As some of you know all new posts on my blog automatically get posted on my Facebook wall thanks to a set of scripts that I have created. Now what happens that I have people posting comments in response to the posts on Facebook, some respond using flipbook on the Ipad which sends me an email with the comment and lastly people post comments directly on the blog. So I have three potential places where separate conversations are going on about a post. I want to have one place where all the conversations/comments are logged and there is an easy way to do it technically but the people aspect is the problem. Basically I don’t know if people will be ok with me taking their comment to a post on FB (that was synced from the blog) and sync it back to the Blog. Personally I don’t see the problem but people tend to be a bit funny. I have in the past gotten flack for posting pics on my site and not on FB because its open and anyone can access them (which is one of the reasons I stopped posting pics online. More on that in a different post).

Currently the comments are broken down in the following main categories:

* People who I don’t know personally -> Post comments on the blog [for the most part]
* People with whom I am friends -> Post comments on Facebook. [For the most part]

The second option is to take comments from the Blog and post them on FB, which is not always possible as the people who post the comments might not be on FB (or on my friend list).

The last option is to post a comment on every post with the link to the post’s synced copy on FB so anyone who wants to follow the conversation of FB can do so if they have access to the post (i.e. if they are in my friend list).

As all of them will require some work on my side, I am leaving it as is for now… But would love to hear your thoughts/opinions about this.

Well this is all for now. Will post more later.

- Suramya

July 4, 2012

Interesting Troubleshooting step

Filed under: Humor,My Thoughts,Techie Stuff — Suramya @ 11:49 PM

This is a question that has been bugging me for a while and I see most tech support people do this; both here in India and in the US and I can’t figure out how it helps, maybe one of you guys can help me figure this out. Basically if you someone from tech support is working on your computer, lets say installing a driver, or troubleshooting why your net connection is not working, they will minimize all the windows, right click on the desktop and then click refresh. They usually do it a couple of times before continuing with the troubleshooting. Supposedly this helps resolve issues, I did ask them why they do it but didn’t really get a clear answer and it bugs the hell out of me… Any idea what that is supposed to accomplish, other than refresh my desktop icons? I have only one icon on my desktop right now: Trash, which really confuses people and its fun to watch them.

Some of the troubleshooting questions I have heard and the statements people make when I call to complaint about issues are just hilarious. For example I was once told that you can only connect to the internet using a DSL connection if you have windows installed. No other OS’s are supported. I asked the guy to just give me the settings I needed to have and the password to the modem but he kept telling me that since I didn’t have windows it would never work (the conversation started when he asked me to install a software to configure the modem).

It would be interesting to know if others have seen similar behavior when they talk to helpdesk?

- Suramya

June 23, 2012

Experience so far with the RaspberryPi

Filed under: My Life,My Thoughts,Techie Stuff — Suramya @ 10:46 PM

In one word, the experience so far has been awesome! I recently got my hands on the RaspberryPi and as I mentioned earlier I will be blogging about my experience with it. I had to go buy a USB keyboard as I didn’t have any USB keyboard at home (yeah yeah, lot of people ask me about that… My old PS2 keyboards worked fine so didn’t even realize I didn’t have USB). I bought the mouse as well since I didn’t want to disconnect the mouse from my main system every time I booted into X on the Pi. I got the wired version of both because I wasn’t sure if the Pi could support wireless. It does support wireless stuff but it depends on how much power each device pulls and since I didn’t want to take a chance I went with wired.

Set it up, hooked it to my 2nd monitor and booted and it came up perfectly. Initially there was a problem with the display switching of for about 1/2 a sec at random intervals but that was easily fixed with a line added to the config file. Basically the problem was that the HDMI output wanted more power than the board was giving and since that is software controlled I was able to change it by adding the following line to /boot/config.txt

config_hdmi_boost=4

The other, I won’t call it an issue but distraction I had to fix was that when the system started up in full screen, there was an inch of black space around the display on all four sides. This also was easily fixed by adding the following line to the config file (more details on troubleshooting and available config options are available Here):

disable_overscan=1

I added the line, restarted and both the issues listed above disappeared. After that I played around a bit with the system and found that the average boot time is about 10-15 seconds to the login prompt. If I start the GUI interface it takes between 20-30 seconds for it to come up and be usable. Was able to browse the web and install software without any issues at all.

One interesting fact that I noticed was that the system didn’t appear to honor the rcX.d convention. I was trying to get ssh to start be default on the Pi when it booted up so I put an entry in the /etc/rc2.d directory called S25ssh which was a symbolic link to /etc/init.d/ssh and this should have started up SSH everytime the system booted up but for some reason that wasn’t the case. I tried fiddling with the number, made sure the file was executable etc but nothing seemed to work so I finally ended up adding the line in /etc/init.d/rc.local and then it worked fine. Haven’t really debugged it but it felt like it wasn’t supported or something else was overriding the instructions.

Finally once everything else was working the way I wanted it to, I decided to try get my Wireless dongle working on the Pi. Unfortunately I could only get it to work partially. The system detected the dongle without issues but gave the following error as the firmware for the dongle wasn’t installed:

zd1211rw 1-1.2:1.0: couldn't load firmware. Error number -2
usb 1-1.2: Could not load firmware file zd1211/zd1211_ub. Error number -2

The fix for this was easy, all I had to do was run the following command to install the firmware:

apt-get install zd1211-firmware

Once the command finished, the card was activated and I was able to see the networks around me including my home wireless network. However for some reason it was unable to get a DHCP lease from the router no matter what I tried, I even tried setting a static IP but it still wouldn’t go out to the net. I think the problem might have been because the dongle was trying to pull more power from the USB than the board supported, but since I didn’t have a working powered USB hub I couldn’t test the theory. Wondering if I should go buy a powered USB hub… Haven’t decided yet but it might be required as the Pi only has two USB ports and already I have three devices that I want to connect (the number will go up as I find more and more uses for the board).

Well this is all for now. Will post more once I play with the board a bit more.

- Suramya

June 13, 2012

Should you comment your code?

Filed under: My Thoughts,Techie Stuff — Suramya @ 11:12 PM

Had a really interesting discussion at work today about putting comments in source code. A while ago someone I know told people not to put comments in any code they create and we were arguing the pro’s and con’s of this. I personally think that good comments are quite useful and should always be added to code, but there is another school of thought that says that code should be written well enough that comments are not required. When I started coding, I was told to always put good comments in the code because it helps the person who is reviewing/debugging your code when you are not around to understand what your logic or thought process was when you created that wonderful collection of code. Assuming that your code is good enough to not require any comments is very egostical. What is perfectly clear and logical to you because you have been working on a system for a couple of years will not be clear to someone who is new to the system. Put another way, code tells you how something is done and comments tell you why.

I have had the joy of maintaining legacy code written in a mix of VB, VB.NET and Javascript with 0 comments in the code. Believe me it was not fun. The best part is when I talked to the guy who had written the code he could understand it perfectly without needing comments.

I am not talking about putting comments like “Here we are checking if the value of Var is more than 5″ for code that reads: if($Var > 5). I am talking about taking a few lines to explain code like (This is an example from one of my scripts to create collages):

	# Repeating the cropping process to get the other half of the image. This reduces the possibility of half empty collages

	for ($i=5; $i>0;$i--) 
	{
		opendir(DIR, ".");
		while ($file=readdir(DIR)) 
		{

I could figure out what this 30 line blob of code was doing after walking through the code in 5-10 mins or I can read the comment and understand the logic in 30 sec’s. If needed I can then look at the code more closely but if I just want to understand how the code works on a high level comments help a lot.

Now lets look at it from the other perspective. Comments take up space in the file and if not well written they just take space and at times if they are not updated when the code changes can provide the user with incorrect information. The idea is that if required any documentation on the code can be auto generated by auto documentation tools. However if my developers are not trustworthy/reliable enough to update comments in code then I am pretty sure they can’t be trusted to follow the format required for the documentation creator software either.

The one point that made sense to me was that at times people put information in code comments that should not be public. For example a developer can comment out a section of JSP code that has the DB connection info for the dev servers but now this information is visible to anyone who views the html code generated. Or other notes/comments that probably should not be openly accessible to everyone that searches.

Last point before I end the post. Code should be clean and readable, you shouldn’t rely on comments to cover for bad coding practices. But I don’t want you to put a comment on every line of code, you should only put useful comments. Comments that help a future coder understand why you did something in a certain way are great.

What do you think? Code comments are good? Bad? You don’t really care?

Additional articles/posts that discuss this:

* Coding horror
* Successful Strategies For Commenting Code
* Don’t comment your code

This is all for now. Will post more later.

- Suramya

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