One of the most favorite (and certainly my personal favorite) RSS readers is Google Reader. In cut-throat competition with Bloglines, Google introduced Search functionality in Google Reader yesterday. Read TechCrunch’s take here.
Unfortunately, this has made Google Reader stop working with my favorite browser, Opera. Here’s how it looks in Opera v9.23:
Now, despite Opera being the most W3C compliant browser, it has the lowest market share, and hence has historically had problems with various Google services. This, despite the fact that Opera is the closest browser to Google’s approach towards features and functionality. And this, despite the fact, that the folks behind IE, Firefox, Opera, and Google Reader, announced in April this year, that the browser wars are over.
As of this writing, there is no response yet from Google to this issue being reported in the Google Reader forums.
I sincerely continue to hope that Google – a company that has grown phenomenally by focusing on the W3C-regulated Internet rather than a proprietary OS – respects the most W3C compliant browser in the market. Google’s motto may be “Do No Evil”, but it’s doing the exact opposite!
Update 7th Sep 2007: Google has fixed the problem. Cheers! I Glllooove you, Google!
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Imagine you buy a car that comes with a 2 year warranty on defective parts and 3 free servicing trips. But what if those were valid only if you filled fuel from a specified provider – say Indian Oil or Shell? Or you buy a DVD player or home theater that can only play movies produced by Universal? Sounds ridiculous, right?
I’ve always been surprised how Apple gets away with its restrictive policies while Microsoft gets dragged into court over anti-trust laws for anything and everything. Until recently, you couldn’t run Windows on a Mac, while you could always run even Linux on a PC. You could choose whether you wanted an Intel or AMD processor to power your PC, but no such choice with the Mac, until recently. iPod doesn’t work with anything except iTunes. And the iPhone doesn’t work with any cellular service provider except AT&T.
It was one thing with computers, but another with cell phones. The cell phone market is much, much bigger. How long will this restrictive practice of binding you to a specific service provider work? The reasons why Apple did it are clear. Apple gets a monthly revenue cut from AT&T for each iPhone user. Though some say that there are alleged benefits to this restrictive policy, it just doesn’t cut it for me. After all, these revenues are not comparable to what Apple gets from the actual sale of iPhones.
Well, the inevitable has already happened. The iPhone is now unlocked. What this means is that anyone anywhere in the world can buy an iPhone in the US (or get their friends to buy it for them) and use it in their country. Yes, so you can now use the iPhone in India. Read the original Engadget news here. The second image below shows the iPhone working with the T-Mobile service provider in the US.
Is it illegal in the US to unlock your iPhone? Engadget says no, as long as you’re doing it for your personal benefit, and and agree to forego your warranty and Apple support. Predictably, the second team developing such an unlocking software has already received threatening calls from AT&T’s legal team. Being one of the worst service providers in the US in terms of quality, they need to get their act together quickly!
How will the iPhone be marketed outside the US? How can Apple force consumers in Europe and fastest growing cellular phone markets like India to select Apple’s choice of service provider? I just don’t think it’s possible. And if that’s true, can Apple have different marketing strategies for the US and outside the US?Can the iPhone withstand competition if an equally sophisticated telephone were to offer users their choice of providers?
The Business Standard has just broken a story that has made headlines all over cyberspace. It says the Google Phone, or GPhone, is just two weeks away from an international launch:
Talks are believed to be taking place with Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Essar, respectively India’s first and third largest mobile telephony operators, and state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam.
Sources close to the development said a simultaneous launch across the US and Europe is expected, and announcements would be sent to media firms in India and other parts of the world. US regulatory approval, which is expected soon, is the only hurdle that Google is waiting to cross, they added. Google plans to invest $7-8 billion for its global telephony foray.
TechCrunch gives a nice summary of the history of the GPhone rumors and says that a 3G GPhone worldwide release can be a strong competitor to the iPhone. Also see this ComputerWorld article that quotes the Wall Street Journal. If you’re skeptic about whether Google will indeed foray into consumer electronics, or simply want to know how studying a company’s job listings is being used for competitive analysis, I’d highly recommend this Forbes article.
So, will the GPhone kill the iPhone? I believe it can, provided Google comes up with something comparable to the iPhone. And just like Apple eased its restrictive policies with other products, I think it will soon have to warm up to the competition in this case.
Photo Credits: CNET, Engadget.
At the start of the day, I was almost sure I was going to write about how the world doesn’t seem like a place that I’m proud to be in.
China, a communist nation, seeks to achieve a nuclear deal with Pakistan, a military dictatorship, which has a proven record of having proliferated nuclear weapons technology.
A group of eight Indian men were attacked violently in what appears to be a racist crime against Indians, not a common occurrence in recent times. But the media headlines in India and the Indian blogosphere continue to be obsessed with whether one Indian, once accused of a crime and now acquitted, gets a visa or not. Controversial racist slurs against Indian celebrities paid to act in shows abroad get wider attention in India than actual racist violence against innocent Indians in a foreign country.
It is at such times, that I feel the world is hopeless. It is not a place where I would be proud to be living. These are the times when I yearn for meaning; I’m yearning for sense, to make it all meaningful, somehow.
My mind becomes very unquiet. That’s when, like rays of sunlight in a darkened room, comes news like this.
NASA Audio Video History on the Web
I used to watch Carl Sagan’s Cosmos series on Doordarshan during the 1980s. I read Cosmos and many other books that increased my fascination of astronomy. I constructed my own homemade telescope in my school days, getting Rs. 75 from my father, and using paper calendar rolls for the tubes. I used it to watch the craters on the Moon and the satellites of Saturn.
With select friends, I used to marvel at the NASA Apollo and Russian Sputnik launches. It was not until 1997 however, that I was able to watch the real action. I used to monitor the Mars Pathfinder’s movement across the Martian landscape with bated breath and indescribable excitement. Every movement of the Pathfinder against a rock, crater, or soil sample was relayed by NASA over the web, and we were enthralled by it all.
For all such aficionados, there is great news. Decades of NASA photos and videos are coming to the web!
The space agency and the Internet Archive said Tuesday that they plan to scan and archive more than 12 million NASA photographs and 100,000 hours of film and video footage for free access online, under an exclusive five-year agreement. As part of the deal, the Internet Archive will host the media album on a new Web site, Nasaimages.org.
Free Home Planetarium: Google Earth is now Google Universe!
This is absolutely wild. I used to have a DOS 3.1 based program in the late 1908s, that depicted the stars in the sky above your actual location, depending on your latitude and longitude. Now, it’s for free. Google Earth has now launched Google Sky! I think it puts the Earth in perspective!
How fascinating and unbelievably true?! Imagine, you can now traverse 100 million stars and 200 million galaxies from your desktop! I’ve spent numerous hours teaching friends, colleagues, and relatives, about the constellations and galaxies, and nebulae during cloudy skies. Imagine being able to do it using your net-connected-PC! Teach your children using Google Sky about astronomy. They might one day become Sunita Williams!
It’s often said that Google Earth and Google Maps took Cartography to the masses. TechCrunch says “Google Sky could well do the same for Astronomy.”
I do not know if this is going to bring Astronomy to the masses. There was once a time, when it was also often said, that looking at the heavens brings mankind closer, as he realizes he’s just a speck of dust on an insignificant planet, on an ordinary sized star in one corner of not just his galaxy, but completely irrelevant as far as the universe is concerned. There was a time when this thought did bring men together, either in the spirit of fear, or in the spirit of science. I don’t know if this is going to mean anything at all in today’s world.
In fact, I’m inclined to think quite the opposite. Rather than studying the stars, mankind will be more interested in how the stars positions affect his or her chances of making it with that other person, how his or her chances with this particular career lie, and so on. Will astrologers use Google Earth to pinpoint horoscopes? Is this going to be the modern panchang or Vedic calendar?
I’m sorry this is a long post. My point is, when such news about such great initiatives by human beings come along, I feel hopeful about this world again. That there are some people who understand what it all means. And then I’m proud to be living in this world again! I’m not sure if anyone will understand what I mean, so I guess I may be writing just for myself.
Images Credit Myself (of objects seen by naked eye myself)
Here’s some interesting news stories from the past few days.
It’s not 42, like Douglas Adams thought it would be. It’s 26. BBC reports that research has proved that a Rubik’s cube can be returned to its original state in no more than 26 moves. A supercomputer took 63 hours to crank out the proof which goes one better than the previous best solution.
The study brings scientists one step closer to finding the so-called “God’s Number” which is the minimum number of moves needed to solve any disordered Rubik’s cube.
It is so named because God would only need the smallest number of moves to solve a cube. Theoretical work suggests that God’s Number is in the “low 20s”.
Did you know that the world record for solving the Rubik cube was 11.13 seconds? And if you’re interested in this kind of stuff, do you know that the game of checkers is solved? I mean really, solved?
An Ohio man charged with statutory rape says he thought a 13-year-old girl was actually 18. He tried to bring in evidence of her MySpace.com page, which falsely said she was. The appeals court rejected the evidence, and convicted him.
On a lighter note, there were many centuries during which mankind used to keep time using the Sun. Now, Sun was itself 5 days late.
Just like every major candidate for the White House has a health care plan, every major technology company has one, reports the New York Times:
The Google and Microsoft initiatives would give much more control to individuals, a trend many health experts see as inevitable. “Patients will ultimately be the stewards of their own information,” said John D. Halamka, a doctor and the chief information officer of the Harvard Medical School.
More importantly, every major Search Engine is capitulating on the healthcare scenario: Ask.com is offering ‘smart answers’, Google is coming up with Google Health! For screen shots of Google Health, see First Google Health Screen Shots.
On another note, I just love Wikipedia, in the sense that it is so transparent! In this context, it is indeed interesting to observe how folks at Fox News and the New York Times have engaged in tweaking and manipulating the content on Wikipedia about themselves and their competitors. This is not just corporate espionage, this is corporate mudslinging!
This shows the empowerment of the public. These corporations or media houses cannot influence the content or description about them in, say, the Encyclopedia Britannica. But when they think they can manipulate Wikipedia, their antics are exposed! Three cheers to open source Wikipedia!
This is the spookiest thing I’ve ever seen on the Internet yet. A revolutionary people-focused search engine, Spock, launched into public beta today.
About 30% of all search traffic is people related – about 20 billion search queries per month. How is it different from Google or other mainstream search engines? If you Google “boxer”, you’ll get the Wikipedia entry for boxer dogs. Spock will give you Muhammed Ali and Mike Tyson.
Spock scans social networks such as LinkedIn, MySpace, Facebook, and other sites like Wikipedia, Flickr, and blogs. It then pulls that information into a concise summary about a person, such as his occupation, interests, age, marital status, photo, religious affiliations, and hometown. A click on the summary reveals related Web sites and known associates.
I decided to check how far I had been ‘spocked’:
Wow. It already knows I work in the IT industry, though it got my title wrong. But, this shows it has already crawled my LinkedIn profile. Since I am virtually a nobody on this planet, let’s check out what Spock comes up with for an Indian sportswoman currently in the news for her stellar performance:
Notice how it has correlated her Wikipedia entry with her photograph on a magazine cover, and with her fan sites. “Disambiguating people, and then collapsing multiple sources of information into a single entry, or entity resolution, is part of the secret sauce of a people search engine.”, says Tim O’Reilly, who seems excited about Spock. That’s not all.
As a community user, I can add my own ‘tags’ to this person. I can, for example, tag her as “stupid” or “sexy”. Me and other community members are able to ‘vote’ a tag ‘up or down’. What is alarming is that even if you “claim your profile”, the Spock community gets the final say in the vote, as per this Time article.
How easily can this be used for snooping, privacy intrusion, and humiliation? Let’s say I’m a male student spurned by a girl in college. I tag her as “easy” on Spock. My friends and their friends vote the tag up. Another college student, who has heard rumors about an easily available girl in college, searches for her on Spock. And gets all the information he needs to start intruding her private life. As a more family friendly experiment, I searched for a female student using a common Indian first name:
(I’ve deliberately obfuscated the last name to respect the person’s privacy). I did not use any special tags, at all. The link to the MySpace site told me more about the person than, in this case, I wanted to know.
Spock has already ‘indexed’ over 100 million people. It doesn’t just crawl and index metadata. It tries to figure out who each document and web page is about.
Spock is not driving around town taking photographs of streets and shooting your pets or living room like Google. But it is driving through each and every narrow street, lane, path and avenue of cyberspace, while looking at you, what you’ve done, your relatives and friends, and trying to understand and make sense of it all. You think such a site will be banned? Forget that, even getting your own profile deleted may be legally difficult, according to Time.
This beast has only discovered my LinkedIn profile yet. Then it will discover me on Orkut. Once it crawls my blog, it will understand that the ‘About Me’ page really talks about me, and extract tags about my beliefs from it. It would probably guess from the URL of my blog that ‘mahendrap’ is my username on WordPress. It will then be able to link all the comments I’ve ever made in the blogosphere to me. It will crawl Flickr and YouTube and find pictures and videos. And like Mr. Spock, it will be completely unemotional about it all. It will methodically gather, process, and organize everything it finds about me. Can anything ever be spookier?
Photo editing will never be the same again.
In what has been described as a Google approach to understanding digital photos, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have come up with a radically innovative idea to add or remove content from digital photos. The idea is that if you have enough information at your hands, you can act smart without knowing what you’re up to. Sounds familiar? Yes, anyone who has used Google knows that it doesn’t really know the ‘meaning’ of your search query, yet appears to give you ‘meaningful’ search results.
“Whether adding people or objects to a photo, or filling holes in an edited photo, the systems automatically find images that match the context of the original photo so they blend realistically. Unlike traditional photo editing, these results can be achieved rapidly by users with minimal skills.”
Adding Content – Photo Clip Art
This system “uses thousands of labeled images from a Web site called LabelMe as clip art that can be added to photos. A photo showing a vacant street, for instance, might be populated with images of people, vehicles and even parking meters.”
“Instead of trying to manipulate the object to change its orientation, color distribution, etc. to fit the new image, we simply retrieve an object of a specified class that has all the required properties (camera pose, lighting, resolution, etc) from our large object library. We present new automatic algorithms for improving object segmentation and blending, estimating true 3D object size and orientation, and estimating scene lighting conditions. We also present an intuitive user interface that makes object insertion fast and simple even for the artistically challenged.”
Editing Content – Scene Completion
This system “draws upon millions of photos from the Flickr web site to fill in holes in photos. The system looks for image segments that match the colors and textures that surround the hole on the original photo. It also looks for image segments that make sense contextually ? in other words, it wouldn’t put an elephant in a suburban backyard or a boat in a desert.”
“The algorithm patches up holes in images by finding similar image regions in the database that are not only seamless but also semantically valid. For many image completion tasks the system is able to find similar scenes which contain image fragments that will convincingly complete the image. The algorithm is entirely data-driven, requiring no annotations or labeling by the user. Unlike existing image completion methods, the algorithm generates a diverse set of image completions and allows users to select among them.”
The bizarre simplicity of using these systems momentarily shook me. Are there any security or other ramifications? Will they make Photo ID fraud simpler? Will they make it easier to create obscene photos of celebrities or private persons you know? Will they evolve into film editing tools? Only time will tell.
Photo Credits: CMU
Researchers at Xerox’s European R&D Center have developed a new type of search technology, called FactSpotter, which can handle natural human phrases, and search for related results that include synonyms and pronouns within a document.
“…typical search engines dig through only 40% of relevant documents in the course of a search query, simply because the searcher didn’t input all the possible keywords. In a search about statements made by Bill Gates on a certain date, Segond says FactSpotter knows that that ‘Bill Gates’ is the same as ‘Microsoft Chairman’, which is the same as ‘he’, and can distinguish between things said by him and things said to him.”
Wow…this could be really interesting, though they’re only planning to offer it for Enterprise Search, to start with.
From the Guardian:
Pakistani lawmakers passed a government-backed resolution Monday demanding Britain withdraw the knighthood awarded to author Salman Rushdie, condemning the honor as an insult to the religious sentiments of Muslims.
In the eastern city of Multan, hard-line Muslim students burned effigies of Queen Elizabeth II and Rushdie. About 100 students carrying banners condemning the author also chanted, “Kill Him! Kill Him!”
“The ‘sir’ title from Britain for blasphemer Salman Rushdie has hurt the sentiments of the Muslims across the world. Every religion should be respected. I demand the British government immediately withdraw the title as it is creating religious hatred,” Niazi told the National Assembly.
Lawmakers voted unanimously for the resolution although one opposition member, Khwaja Asif, said it exposed a contradiction in the government’s policy as an ally of Britain in the international war on terrorism.
Iran on Sunday also condemned the knighthood for Rushdie.
The British High Commission in Islamabad defended the decision to honor Rushdie – one of the most prominent novelists of the late 20th century whose 13 books have won numerous awards, including the Booker Prize for “Midnight’s Children” in 1981.
“Sir Salman’s honor is richly deserved and the reasons for it are self-explanatory,” said spokesman Aidan Liddle.
Irfan Husain writes in Pakistan’s Daily Times:
The entire furore over the Satanic Verses nearly twenty years ago can be seen as the beginning of the growing divide between the West and the Muslim world. The violent reaction among some Muslims over a work of fiction culminated in a fatwa by Imam Khomeni. This forced Rushdie into hiding for a decade, and confirmed the stereotype of Muslims as being intolerant.
Since then, things have only got worse. Growing militancy among a post-fatwa generation has seen rioting and violence over the slightest ‘western’ provocation. Mobs pour into the streets at the incitement of extremist clerics. Governments in the Muslim world deflect criticism of their incompetence and corruption by encouraging extremism.
I had found 270 members in Orkut’s “I Hate Shiv Sena” community when I wrote about Cherishing Indian Democracy. Today, the same community has 555 members. In one week, the strength of the community has doubled!
This is what’s called the ”The Streisand Effect“:
“…has become another victim of the “Streisand effect,” an increasingly common backlash that occurs when someone tries to muzzle information on the Web. When the Streisand effect takes hold, contraband doesn’t disappear quietly. Instead, it infects the online community in a pandemic of free-speech-fueled defiance, gaining far more attention than it would have, had the information’s original owners simply kept quiet.”
The article also shows what a difficult time sites like YouTube are having to respond to true legal violations.
A comment on my previous post generated so many thoughts in response, that I thought it fit to create another post. Text in italics is from the comment on my earlier post.
Orkut is thriving on promotion of obscenity, defamation, anti India sentiments and other illegal activities.
Orkut thrived in India much before it was used for obscenity and defamation. While obscenity and defamation are indeed illegal, Orkut thrives not *because of* these activities, but in spite of it. It is primarily used by majority of Indians (over 8 million) for social networking purposes. The folks who use it for illegal activities are a miniscule minority.
Many users think it is their birth right to use the space for hurting others.
Nothing is wrong in a democracy to express viewpoints that may hurt others. We do have strict laws that prohibit expressions that may hurt private or religious sentiments, and Orkut has assisted Indian authorities in removing such content.
The violators forget that by their action they are disrespecting the privacy and freedom of the victims.
Yes, but that is not Orkut’s fault. It is simply providing the platform for communication and community-formation. Disrespecting freedom of any other person is not against the law as long as there is no cognizable action. With respect to privacy, yes, it is illegal (see my post Indian Women: Beware of Orkut), and Orkut does assist Indian law enforcement (US-speak for police) authorities to take punitive action against those who disrespect the privacy of others.
It is therefore correct to put a reign on Orkut. It is unfotunate that in India we need to take the long winding route of approaching the CERT every time such violations take place.
We do not need to approach CERT every time a violation takes place. Orkut has cooperated excellently with urban police authorities to track down criminals who use it for obsenity or defamation. Wherever Indian law has been violated, Orkut has extended its full support to track down the perpetrators of the crime.
While “banning” may not the ideal solution, it is a necessary threat at least as a measure to remove the incentives available for Orkut to continue promotion of illegal activities.
Orkut has never *promoted* illegal activities. It is simply an enabling platform of communication and social community bonding. Someone can start an SMS campaign maligning a prominent historical figure, and gain thousands, if not millions, of supporters. Then will you ban SMS? If someone starts a newspaper that is highly critical of the Congress, and invites letters and editorials seeking articles and opinions that are anti-Congress, including derogatory statements about our highly revered Prime Minister, will you ban that newspaper?
If your answer is yes, then what does Democracy mean? What is meant by “Freedom of Expression”?
The anti-India communities on Orkut are not destroying thousands of crores of public property in demonstrations, about which nothing is being done. It is a non-violent protest against India. Banning such communication platforms that allow people to express anti-India sentiments and thoughts is a reactive response that smirks of British Colonialism – ban, destroy, and kill everything and anyone anti-British in the hope that the British colonialism will survive. Did it work? If India has not learnt about non-violent protests in spite of its freedom struggle, who can?
The great value being placed on India’s phenomenal growth even if it is nothing compared to China, is that this growth is happening in the world’s most populous Democracy. Our constitution guarantees the fundamental right to speech, and I sometimes feel sad that Indians do not value its worth.