Thursday, January 28, 2010

Wearable Computers to have a "Sixth Sense"!

Wearable computers have a Sixth Sense - imagination or reality? Pranav Mistry of MIT Media Lab has created a device to exactly fit this bill!

Pranav Mistry is a PhD student in the Fluid Interfaces Group at MIT's Media Lab. He has invented a wearable system made out of off-the-shelf components that augment the way the wearer interacts with his environment. It consists of a web-cam, a small projector with a mirror, a connection to the cell phone (for internet connectivity) and four different colored finger caps for the gestures. He has named it SixthSense. According to him, it costs about $350 to build the hardware. The source code for the software has been put in the open by him releasing it under GPL.

This brings up a few technical questions:
  • What is the hardware platform that is doing all the intensive computation?
  • What language(s) have been used to create the software platform?
  • How about the battery - all the devices require a lot of juice. Is it feasible to get good battery life over extended periods?
  • What happens in cases where connectivity to internet is lost?
  • Does it have ample local storage & intelligence built in, to work in offline mode and go online only when necessary?
  • Does it sync up it's knowledge (stored locally) to & from the base computer?

And a few questions which are not so technical:
  • Will this device ever be commercially available since the software has been GPL-ed?
  • Will we become so dependant on such devices for our interaction with our immediate environment that we loose our human touch & OUR sixth sense?
  • Would he have been able to create something as good had he continued his education in India?
  • What else lies in future - will we become Humanoids?

It's very difficult to correctly & satisfactorily answer these questions. But while we ponder on the possible answers, check out this video that demonstrates the Sixth Sense Device at TEDIndia held at Mysore, India in November 2009.

The demo is just awesome - imagine what the final device/system will be when it is fully mature!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Creating good HTML emails

Creating good HTML email is a totally different ball game! All the rules/concepts that apply to creating good web pages do not necessary apply to creating good HTML emails at all.

In fact, none of the theories for creating good HTML web pages holds true for creating good HTML emails!
In this article, David Greiner gives a good idea what should and shouldn't be done. Incidentally, this validated most of the stuff that we had already been doing based on our experience with various webmails & HTML email blasts/campaigns that we worked on.

Here are the summary of points given by him:
  • Use tables for layout and as containers for background colors
  • Use nested tables instead of margins & alignments
  • Set the width of each cell instead of at the table level
  • Use pixels instead of percentage widths
  • Use inline CSS always
  • Design with the assumption that images will not be visible by default
  • Use "alt" text for images
  • Aviod spacer images
  • Always use image widths & heights explicitly
  • Prefer JPG & GIF images
  • Test, Test & Test more with various clients...

And now, some more considerations for mobile emails:
  • Keep the total width to less than 600 pixels
  • Be aware & design with consideration that text may be resized
  • Test, Test & Test more with various devices...

Read the full article by David Greiner on for the details and the code here.

Beautiful Forms using HTML5 and CSS

Even though HTML Forms are very boring & repetitive work requiring a lot of effort, they can be made really beautiful using the new features of HTML5 and a bit of advanced CSS.

First off, the Disclaimer:

  • HTML5 is still a Draft and in the "Last Call" state in the WHAT Working Group.
  • Not all browsers support HTML5 equally well - so expect varying results across browsers even for the same element
  • Not all browsers support all elements/features yet
  • Check out the list of differences between HTML4 and HTML5 here
  • Check out the new features of HTML5 Forms here
  • Wikipedia entry for HTML5 is here

Now that we have all those points out of our way, lets start with the actual stuff.
In this article on, Yaili explains in great detail how to use HTML5 and advanced CSS with CSS3 features to create really great looking forms.

Here are the most important points:

  • Use fieldsets to for enclosing and grouping input elements.
  • Use ordered lists to group each label+input pair of elements
  • Use automatically generated counters using :before and :after psuedo-elements
  • Dollops of CSS styling to make the form & its elements look really kewl

Here is the output as I see it in FF3.5.7 and IE7 on WinXP Pro - the differences are clearly noticeable. Also, the placeholder text does not show up at all!

FF 3.5.7
IE 7

Note the missing placeholder text, rounded edges and credit card images Note the missing placeholder text, pointed edges and missing credit card images

Read the full article by Yaili on for the details and the code here.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Full Version of Software for a Buck?!

How would you like to have a licensed copy of a Full version of a software for 99 cents ?!

While scanning SD for deals, saw a post mentioning that the full version of WinPatrol PLUS will be available for just 99 cents on January 29th 2010! This lead me to the blog Bits from Bill written by Bill Pytlovany who created WinPatrol.

While this in itself is a very good deal for those still using Win platforms, the blog post contents got me thinking deeper. His blog points towards a paradigm shift in the Business Model - Songs are being sold for 99 cents a pop from the likes of Amazon, many iPhone apps are being sold for 99 cents each too. This banks on the human psychology/thought process of "what the heck - its only a buck..." to trigger impulsive buying and increasing sales. The same guy would have contemplated a hundred times had the price tag been say even $5! Could this be an industry saving business model?! Only time will tell ...

But in the meanwhile, make the most of it by taking the WinPatrol PLUS 99¢ license only on Friday, 29th January - note the icing on the cake that this license will be good for life! And read more about Bill's views on his 99 cent software experiment, the results of which will also be published on his blog over the weekend. I am all for this software pricing model as it is in the interest of the consumers!

HP USA Customer Service at it's best!

My HP Laptop adapter wire started to fray and then the adapter went bust in less than 10 months of ownership. And then the laptop just shutdown and would not boot up at all. Here is my (scary) experience getting it fixed.

I had a very harrowing experience with HP Support/Customer Service here in the US. Due to the adapter going bust, I suspect that the MoBo & RAM was fried on my laptop which was still under warranty. I called the Customer Support who sent me a pre-paid box to mail in the laptop. I mailed in my laptop & adapter and when called in to check the status, I was told that the adapter was bust due to my mishandling and so I would need to buy a new adapter myself. Also, since the laptop did not boot up with the adapter that I had sent in, it was being sent back to me as nothing could be done! And while we are discussing this, would you like to buy an original HP Adapter?

I just could not believe my ears and was really angry at them for this action. Couldn't they just use one of their adapters and confirm whether that was the only problem? They said that they would use only the items supplied and did not have any other "good" adapters with them. I talked to a few other guys and most of them told the same thing - but a few others did not have any idea at all and just read out the problem statement that I had mentioned in my initial call!

To top it all, all this was happening just a week before I was scheduled to take a 3 week vacation to India and 2 weeks before the warranty was going to expire - arrrggghhh!!!

At this point, I just lost all hope and left it to HIM to perform a miracle. And I was in for a pleasant surprise on Christmas eve - I received the repaired laptop with a brand new adapter in mail! The sheet accompanying laptop mentioned that the MoBo & RAM had indeed been replaced, HDD formatted & re-imaged and a new power adapter had been supplied :D

So, even though the Support/Customer Service did not have much clue, the Tech Service guys did a really good job. They did exactly what they should have done - replaced the busted parts as the laptop was still under warranty!

This is in sharp contrast to my experience with Dell Customer Service where-in everyone consistently told the same (correct) thing and the resolution was spot-on. I had a problem with the keyboard once and the adapter once and both times I was mailed in the replacement parts with clear details on what to do next.

Thankfully all's well - that end's well (atleast for now)!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The case of missing panel items in Ubuntu 9.04

I noticed that the icons/items for battery status & wi-fi signal were missing from the panel in my desktop for Ubuntu 9.04. These had just vanished into thin air without my doing anything at all! Here's how I got them back...

The System > Help and Support > Internet and Networks menu was the first place I tried to glean some info from. It just mentioned that I need to work with the Network Manager icon in the System Notification area which I found out is just another panel in the desktop. This still lead me nowhere on how get the missing panel items back!

So just to try out a hunch, I right-clicked on the panel next to the calendar applet and selected the Add to Panel... option. It showed me a whole lot of items that I could add to the panel and one of them was Notification Area. Adding this to the panel immediately brought up the NetworkManager Applet icon and the Power Manager icon in this area. With this, the missing panel items were back to their respective places.

However, the Power Manager icon kept coming and going at it's own will. So I added another panel item called Battery Charge Monitor which thankfully continued to stick to the panel and did not disappear!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Good to be back!

Feels really good to be back fresh & fully charged up after a 3 week vacation covering 4 cities in India and a short stopover in Dubai (courtesy Emirates Airlines)!

Keeping my New Year Resolution, I have started blogging in earnest! Lets' see how far I can keep up with my resolution ;)

MariaDB drop-in replacement for MySQL

Since Oracle is in the process of buying out Sun & hence MySQL, the creator of MySQL Michael "Monty" Widenius went on to create MariaDB which is a drop-in replacement for MySQL.

Seems that they are working on lots of improvements and cleanup of the legacy code that had crept in. They have a better storage engine to replace MyISAM, speed improvements, more extensions, etc. Check out the differences here.

Some interesting reading on MariaDB & MySQL can be found on Monty's blog.

One of the very interesting things I stumbled across on the Monty Program website was their business model titled "The hacking business model". This is the model on which their company runs. It is very transparent and employee friendly model which works towards a win-win situation for the company as well as the employee. Read more about it here. This is a very good business model for companies that work on OSS - wish my company was based on this model ;)


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