Dec 29, 2005

Europe launches own GPS system

The European Union has launched the first satellite in its mission to build a GPS (Global Positioning System) of its own, rivalling the existing system offered by the US Military. Named Galileo, the new system will offer more precise navigation with an accuracy of upto one yard, beating the US system which offers only a five yard precision. The system is slated to be operational by 2008.

Other than the technical improvements that it offers, Galileo will offer the European Union an independent navigational system of its own, and unlike the US system, it will be more open to civilian uses. The system was developed in co-operation with China, Israel and Ukraine, and more countries including India, South Korea, Norway and Argentina are expected to participate in the future.

The current GPS system is controlled by the United States, which had recently warned that it would cut off or deny access to countries considered enemies in times of national emergency. The EU said that Galileo will be available at all times except in the case of "direst emergency." What qualifies to be one is left to the imagination.

The launch of Galileo comes at a time when Russia is moving forward with a positioning system of its own known as GLONASS. They have already put three satellites into orbit, and their system is due to be operational by 2010.

Read more on the Galileo program.

Dec 26, 2005

Amazon jumps into Web Search battle

"If you think about it, when you shop online, you're really searching for whatever you want to buy. What would happen if people went to Google or Yahoo instead of to Amazon every time they were looking to buy something on the Web? That thought must scare the bejeezus out of Bezos."
- Erick Schonfeld, Business 2.0

Not a bad piece of observation at all. With Microsoft and Yahoo battling it out to beat Google's domination of the Web Search market, you would think the party is hot enough already. But throw in another Internet heavy-weight, Amazon, and you can expect some fireworks. After all, when people are looking for things to buy on the Internet, going to Google or Yahoo is only a natural thing to do. That will be a good thing for online shops like Amazon, or eBay for that matter when the user sees these sites listed in the top search results. But when they don't, things do look a bit bleak for likes of Jeff Bezos and Meg Whitman and co.

Amazon has unleashed Alexa Web Crawler to the public, which runs on A9 search technology which powers the searches on Amazon. Besides trying to become a major search engine on its own, the opening up of the technology to programmers may see the spawning of many smaller search engines, which may cut into the biggies like Google and Yahoo. And guess what, all of these engines will be using Amazon's database for generating results? I don't think that will hurt Amazon's interests one bit. Smart move, Jeff.

Dec 19, 2005

Creative attacks iPod kingdom

It is kind of hard for a marketer when your competition defines the market; when their brand is synonymous with the product name. And Apple's iPod is definitely synonymous with portable digital music players around the world, much like Google is for Web search. And that is exactly the predicament that Creative Technology faces when they launch their own 30 GB version of Apple's dream machine, with almost the exact same specifications.

The Creative 30 GB Zen Vision:M is almost an exact replica of iPod, and has almost the same user interface. It also features a 2.5 inch screen at 320 * 240 resolution. It is also slightly larger and heavier than iPod too, hinting that Creative has not been able to replicate Apple's finesse. It also will make your wallet lighter to the tune of $30, with a price of $329 against Apple's $299. Frankly, I don't know why someone will buy the Creative machine, when it is bigger and heavier and even costs more.

Dec 17, 2005

Lawsuits against illegal file sharing

Relentlessly waging its battle against music piracy on the Net, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has filed hundreds of lawsuits against users who have been allegedly downloading pirated music from the Internet. The move comes as RIAA steps up its efforts to curb music piracy which has been consistently draining the industry of billions of dollars in lost revenue.

The defendants, the RIAA claims, had been using popular peer to peer file sharing networks such as Kaaza and Gnutella to download music from the Internet. These networks work in a very simple way - Anybody who has bought a music CD can "rip" it and convert the songs into MP3 format and put them in a folder which can be shared using programs like Bearshare or Limewire. Other users in the network can easily search for the song and download it from this user, who in turn can access the files shared by other users. Anybody can share a single song which becomes accessible to everyone else, and the potential size of the library will be enormous. However, copyright laws in many countries forbid such practices explicitly and some even consider it a criminal offence.

The defendants in the latest batch of suits include
students at the University of Southern California and Drexel University, the Boston Herald reports. University students are believed to be active users of the file sharing networks targeted by RIAA.

Dec 13, 2005

Yahoo Mail Beta - Where is it?

It has been really a long time since Yahoo announced that it will be rolling out its beefed up version of web-based email. When I first checked their sign up page where you can submit your email address to be invited to try the program as a beta tester, they said that it was being offered to US users only. A few weeks have passed since that and when I checked it again, it is still the same thing.

Google offered its Gmail as an alternative to Yahoo and Hotmail and I don't know how successful they have been in whisking away users from these services. One thing I know for sure is that I have found it quite useful, although sometimes the site is awfully slow to respond and even times out at times. I don't care much for their thread-type email 'conversations', but a lot of people apparently like it. I use their POP services frequently and it is the one of the few free and reliable services out there.

Yahoo, apparently, needed to respond fast to the Gmail threat and did. They expanded the storage to 1 GB too. (Gmail went one step ahead, and is offering 'infinite storage space', which grows everyday, all the time. Just check their home page.) Their Beta offering is rumoured to look like Microsoft's Outlook email client, with drag and drop functionality and quick preview and everything else. As someone said (I don't remember who), Yahoo's mail service is designed to look like an email client that nobody should be using in the first place. So Yahoo's service better be really good if it intends to fight off Gmail's persistent attempt to siphon off its userbase.

Dec 3, 2005

The Web and open standards

“Anyone who slaps a ‘this page is best viewed with Browser X’ label on a Web page appears to be yearning for the bad old days, before the Web, when you had very little chance of reading a document written on another computer, another word processor, or another network.”

- Tim Berners-Lee in Technology Review, July 1996

The great thing about great men is that they are able to see and foretell something that becomes obvious to the rest of us only after a few years or decades. Tim Berners-Lee, the father of the WWW, predicted the potential danger that open standards faced from proprietary technologies and we can see it today on some web-sites that proclaim their loyalty to one or two browsers and send the rest away, just like that.

One of the most important factors that made the Web so popular is the universal accessibility that it provided to the users. Regardless of the hardware or software they were using, they could easily access the information without worrying about the operating system, network platform, software versions or whatever. And now, the Web is being threatened by one or two browsers that obviously can't accept the beauty of the system and want to dominate the WWW with their own proprietary technologies. What is even worse is that webmasters and page designers actively encourage this trend just to make their site a bit more flashy than the rest by discouraging other browsers which are far more efficient and HTML standards compliant.

I am glad to mention a site, Viewable with Any Browser Campaign, which is fighting this and I suggest you take a look there too. And speaking of better browsers, see this article, Browser war heats up with Mozila 1.5 which speaks of the Mozilla foundation's effort to break the browser dominance on the WWW.

P.S.: I personally use Mozilla and Opera web browsers because they are definitely more faster, secure and respect the HTML guidelines of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

Nov 29, 2005

Don't count out Microsoft yet

Microsoft, the world's largest software company, has never been known as an innovator. They didn't make the first operating system for the PC. Neither did they bring in the graphic user interface (GUI) concept - along with Apple, they took the idea from Xerox. Yet, the market share of their operating system on the world's PCs is simply absolute. Their Web browser is technically one of the poorest out there, riddled with obscene security holes and buggy programming. Still they hold an unbelievable market share, fighting it out against Mozilla, Opera and others, which are far more superior when it comes to performance. They didn't bring out the concept of gaming consoles, but their new Xbox is slated to beat Sony's Playstation to the No. 1 position. So what keeps them going?

The Redmond giant may not be a breeding ground for new ideas and inventions that have transformed the way how we work and play, and indeed live. But when it comes to playing catch-up and beating the leader, they are second to none. Only Apple can make similar claims (with their user interface, MP3 players and so on, which they didn't pioneer but are the current market leaders), but Apple is indeed thought of as one of the more creative companies out there.

Microsoft, over the years, and with the help of its Windows platform, bulldozed into the computing industry and has retained that lead ever since. They have not been entirely successful in plotting the industry curve and almost blew their chances when they missed the Internet bandwagon. But resilient as ever, they fought their way back into the Web by riding on the browser software they had been bundling with Windows. They crushed Netscape and almost got split up in the process by inviting the wrath of the US Anti-trust laws.

The Web today is dominated by Google and Yahoo when it comes to search and content, respectively. However, both of these giants are battling out for becoming the largest Web service provider. Conventional computing standards and systems are being increasingly replaced by Web services. Microsoft has finally decided to jump into the arena and flex its muscles with Windows Live, available at and Start at

Some people have already written off Microsoft from the race, and have declared it a final battle between Google and Yahoo. But from what we know of Microsoft, they might be in the game just yet.

Nov 16, 2005

Website tracking - The Google Way

If you are a web publisher and you don't have access to data like who is viewing your site and how actively have they been following it, there is good news. Google, adding to its ever-growing portfolio of Web services, is offering Google Analytics. And like everything else from Google, it is free.

Google Analytics is based on Urchin, which was acquired by Google sometime back. Urchin offered its customers access to web-site statistics and user information which would help webmasters and publishers determine who is doing what on their web-site. Urchin offered its services for fee, while Google is offering it for free.

Well, it is free if your web-site has less than 20 million page-views, and if you are a blogger, you should most probably fall in that category. Analytics also comes fully integrated with Adwords, the Google advertiser program.

How to use Google Analytics

Anybody with a Google account can access the Analytics after agreeing to the terms of service. Once you are logged in, you can setup profiles for the different websites you want to track. Once you are done, you will be provided with some lines of Javascript code to be inserted in your pages that you want to be tracked, and that is it. If you are a blogger, insert the code into your blog template, and it will be automatically inserted in every page of the blog.

There are quite a number of options available in Analytics and frankly, I haven't figured them out yet. But I was amazed by the sheer amount of data that a webmaster can collect from a simple page-view. There are a lot of options available and it seems to be a goldmine of information.

There is only one problem though. By Google's usual standards, the site seems to be pretty slow. Browsing around takes quite a while, and the next page takes forever to load. However, to be fair, the interface is quite user-friendly and there is quite a lot of information to be presented in the first place. Maybe these are operational issues and will be sorted out soon.

So, Google has begun to flux its muscles in its fight to retain publishers with its Adsense program. I wonder if Yahoo is watching this.

Nov 11, 2005

The Undelete My Blog Project (UMBP)

If you have read my previous post, Recovering deleted blogs, you would already know that I had deleted this blog on accident a few days ago. However, I didn't want to let my posts go into oblivion just like that and I managed to get all the posts back. Going through that experience taught me that there weren't too many resources out there to help a blogger out of this predicament. To take on the challenge, The Undelete My Blog Project (UMBP), was born.

The Project intends to be a resource site dedicated to helping bloggers in need. It will offer my very limited knowledge on the subject, but even better, the collective wisdom of all our blogger friends. The blog has just started, but I would definitely welcome any inputs and suggestions that you have on the topic. All helpful suggestions and recommendations will be duly acknowledged. And one more thing. The 'Me' in UMBP refers to all those bloggers who need help in undeleting or recovering their blog. Not just me. :)

Nov 2, 2005

Recovering deleted blogs

The other day, the most terrible thing happened. I was messing around with the Blogger interface, and before I knew it, I had deleted my blog. This blog. Yes, 'Wandering in Elysium' had vanished into thin air.

I was horrified. Shocked. Down in the dumps. Call it what you may, it wasn't a great feeling.

I fumbled around in the site, searching for ways to recover the blog or some magic button which will bring everything back to life. Alas, there was none.

I refused to give up. Then, a thought struck me. I summoned up a couple of search engines and entered a few keywords from my blog and I scanned the results for references to my blog. And there, near the links to the blog address, I clicked on the 'Cached' link. Gotcha!

It took some time, but I had done it. With some meticulous searching and formatting, I had recreated my entire blog, right from scratch. Couple of blog tools like IceRocket also helped me out in ordering the content as in the original one. The only sad thing was that all the comments posted on my blog were gone for good. But still, this is better than being 404'd!

P.S: For people who didn't quite get a grip on what happened till now, here is what happened. The major search engines on the Web keep a local copy of all the pages they have visited in an archive, and this is what they call 'cached copy'. That means that you can still search for content on the engine and find pages that have been removed from original locations, even months after that has happened. Of course, they should have been spidered by the search engine first.

What I did was extract the cached copy from the search engine and recreate my blog, right from the very first post. Do leave me a comment and contact info if you need any help on how I did this. It is pretty simple actually, but I will be only glad to help out a fellow blogger in need. :)

Oct 29, 2005

Google and Yahoo - The clash of the titans

Google is the world's most popular search engine. Yahoo is arguably the world's best portal. And both of these giants of the Web are entering into a battle for supremacy. It is going to be one long struggle.

Yahoo, the oldest of the two (and even then only about ten years old!), started out as a bunch of links to some good sites on the then, sparsely populated Web. Over time, it has become a one-stop shop for the net surfer, offering everything from mail and chat to finance and search. The user-base of the portal is very strong, and growing every day.

Google started out as a project by two Stanford University students. Designed to make sense of the Web using an algorithm of link structures of the pages on the Web, Google provided the searcher with more accurate results than conventional search engines, and its popularity soared in a couple of years to make it the most popular search engine.

Google's efforts to build on its loyal users and convert them into an active user-base with huge potential for revenue generation is only the natural thing for them to do. After all, they have one of the strongest brands in the world and what good is all that brand equity if you can't make some money out of it? Google has been offering advertising solutions to marketers who will be only too happy to pay Google for showing their links near to the search results. Also, using its context-sensitive advertising, Google is even making money out of content of other publishers.

That is all very good, but is Google trying to do too many things at the same time? Gmail, their free e-mail service, is still in Beta stage, and users aren't too sure when it will be final. Google's homepage, which was a clear white screen with a searchbox and a couple of buttons a few years ago is turning into a collection of links to the many services it offers. It is okay for now, but if the trend continues, it won't be soon before the Google home-page will be looking more and more like Yahoo's. Yahoo, on the other hand, is much more experienced in content management and portal design than Google, and the number of visits to their different services everyday proves it.

Granted, Google's services have been delivering, but aren't they really straying a bit too far from their core competency - search? Google is what it is now because of its excellent search engine, and nothing else. Shouldn't they be rather trying to improve the quality of their search results than to give users what they can already get from other sites? After all, the mantra of survival on the WWW is differentiation. If you are just like the rest, who needs you anyway?

Oct 17, 2005

Biometric protection for mobile phones

If you have ever been worried about your mobile phones being stolen in the airport or in the train, fear no more. Finnish scientists have developed technology that will curb the theft of mobile phones which are "smart" enough to know the user by the way he walks, or the gait. They claim an identification rate of over 90 percent, which will improve over time.

The technology works like this: sensors in the phone continuously monitors the gait of the user and compares it with stored values, on a variety of parameters from your speed of walking to how your body swings, and many others. If the phone sees any difference in the monitored data and stored data, it immediately locks up and can be unlocked only by a password.

This is to discourage steal theft in the hope that thieves will be unable to bypass the system, which is essentially biometric in nature and theoretically non-mimicable. However, the system may be triggered when you change your shoes or something else which may change the way you walk. The technology has been patented and is expected to be commercialised in a variety of mobile phones, PDAs and notebooks. Thieves beware - the phone may actually ring up the police and let them know that it has been stolen, and more importantly, where you are right now.

Oct 15, 2005

Geolocation : The new tool in Internet Marketing

If you thought that you were anonymous on the Internet, think again. Your IP address (the unique ID of any device connected to the Net) and your browser (Firefox, Opera, Internet Explorer, etc.) gives the server or anyone interested, enough information about your geographic location, timezone, operating system on your PC, browser configuration, etc. that can be used to identify you as a unique visitor with specific preferences and characteristics. This can be used to target you with specific marketing tools on the Web.

Using geolocation (also known as geotargeting), advertisements can be delivered for users who visit the page from a specific geographic location. For example, a New York computer store can display ads to users from New York alone, thereby filtering out prospects who are more likely to become customers, and thereby incur a lower rate on ads displayed. The users also will get locale-specific advertisements, which is basically information on purchases he is potentially interested in.

Geolocation can also help in redirecting visitors to sites with localcontent automatically, as Google does in its homepage, for instance. A visitor from India typing in '' will first be taken to '' automatically.

Geolocation services basically work by looking up the country against which the IP address of the visiting user is registered and uses this information for providing localised content or delivering locale-specific advertisements or whatever. The possibilities of using technologies like geolocation and IP mapping to Internet marketing are endless.

However, technical measures to ensure anonymity such as proxy servers can be used to circumvent restrictions imposed by geolocation/geotargeting software.

Refer Geolocation by IP address for more technical information about the subject.

P.S: The script used in this page to identify your location is provided by Geobytes. (I am sorry if your location was not detected correctly by the script; it was alright when I checked from a few places.)

P.P.S: I have removed the script that 'geolocates' your location since my current blog post has changed. There are a lot of GeoLocation services like and that provides these services. Most of them are paid, and some are free.

Oct 1, 2005

Free email: With Flash?

Oh, not another one, you say. Well, this one is quite different. It even has a radically different name. How does Goowy sound to you?

Tired of boring old emails? Need a new look to your inbox? You got it.

The guys who gave us Geocities ( for the uninitiated, Geocities were one of the pioneers of free Web space) are responsible for bringing out Goowy. Now in Beta stage, Goowy already offers free accounts at its home page and I strongly suggest that you get one for yourself and try it now.

Probably the first webmail application built on Flash, Goowy offers an exciting new look to the way you look at your mails. Interactive menus and sound, online calendar and a contact manager all add up to this new Web experience. However, the site recommends a broadband connection on a reasonably fast computer for the best experience. People with dial-up connections need not worry, there is also a lite version, but it naturally will not give you the best.

Macromedia, the guys who made Flash technology, have officially recognised Goowy through a whitepaper they released, on the future of Flash.

Designed to take the boredom out of Web email, Goowy does just that. Providing the ease of use of a conventional desktop email client like Outlook Express, Goowy is anything but conventional.

The service, like Gmail, is in Beta stage. That is the stage where the developers release the product for user testing and it means that the final product will be even better. So we can expect a lot more from Goowy. The only thing I am wondering is how did they come to that name anyway?

Sep 27, 2005

iPod nano - Small and beautiful!

Apple has did it again. iPod Nano - their brand new version of this ultra-cool and hip MP3 player is breath-taking! And they don't call it 'Nano' for no reason. Take a look and you will know what I mean.

At an amazingly impossible dimension of 9 x 4 x 0.69 cm and weighing just 42g, the iPod nano comes in 2 GB and 4 GB models. That comes to around 500/1000 songs, with a battery recharge that will last about 14 hours of music playback, as Apple claims.

The most interesting fact about the iPod nano is that it is meant to replace the iPod Mini. Go to the Apple site and you won't find a single trace of the Mini anywhere, it has simply vanished into thin air. Or rather, has been eaten up by the Nano. It gets even more interesting when you consider the fact that the Mini is one of the most successful music players around. Apple has really taken a bold step to replace the Mini with the Nano. How it will fare with the market is something that remains to be seen.

At the heart of the matter, the Nano is more expensive than the Mini when you consider the price per Gigabyte of storage. A 6 GB Mini would have cost you about $250 whereas the 4 GB Nano costs about the same. It is possibly because of the change in technology. The Mini used a hard-drive for storage, whereas the Nano uses flash memory. That would probably also explain the razor like thickness (or rather, thinness) that it has managed to achieve.

However, the Nano does look a bit flimsy in the photographs ( I haven't seen a real one yet!) and it is hard to tell how easy would the ClickWheel to use. I hope that Apple's obsession for attaining nano dimensions for the prodcut hasn't forced it to make a ClickWheel too big for the user's thumb.

Apple has indeed taken a bold move in taking the Mini off its shelves and putting the Nano in its place and the fact that the Mini accounts for more than half of all iPods sold. Wit the Nano, Apple has stuck to its tradition of pushing technology and customer imagination to the limits. We just hope thinking differently hasn't been a just too different this time! All the best, Apple!

Sep 23, 2005

The new face of the Virus : Digital Evolution - Has it begun?

Sit back and look at your mobile phone for just a second. Ah, you say, just another phone. Okay, maybe a scheduler too. A mega-pixel camera. An MP3 player. E-mail client. Web browser. Geez, it is almost like my PC, only smaller and also mobile. In fact, it is so much like your PC that it comes with a built-in Anti-virus program, to keep all your digital information intact from invasion and corruption.

That's no news, I know it already, you say. Surprise, suprise, there's more! Cardtrap.A, a Trojan horse that infects Symbian operated mobile phones is the first reported mailcious software that can "jump over" from the mobile phone to the PC. The Trojan first writes itself onto the memory card of the phone that it has infected by posing as a pirated mobile phone game. When the user connects the card to the PC and clicks on an innocent looking file, lo and behold! the virus infects the PC and tries to spread further through the network. On some systems, the Trojan propagates using the Auto-run feature in some systems.

This Trojan is not a particularly bright one, it doesn't do any damage unless some unwitting user clicks on the file. But the implications are significant. What if a new Trojan acted more like a worm on a PC, actively searching for victim computers on the network, rather than waiting for user interaction? It would, then, be able to infect both PCs and any connected phones as well, and would spread like wildfire.

We have heard of pig viruses capable of infecting humans and more recently, the bird flu virus crossing over to humans and so on. The virus mutates and infects the new species and causes a similar disease there. What we are witnessing could be a possible digital equivalent of the same evolution process. It is indeed a fact that this Trojan was designed specifically to infect PCs and phones simultaneously. If it had been given the ability to infect other digital devices like PDAs and other phones through Bluetooth or infrared or other means, just imagine the havoc it could have played, had it been more destructive.

Technology - for good and bad - is advancing so rapidly that what seems like science fiction today could very well be reality tomorrow. With our civilisation becoming more and more dependent on digital information devices and networks for day-to-day functioning, it would be indeed foolish to think that a day will not come when a smart polymorphic virus will just decide that it needs to infect the world. And we can't even treat a cold yet!

Sep 17, 2005

Google launches soft drinks!

Okay, what has the famous Internet search company that has been breaking new ground in Web technology have to do with soft drinks, you might ask. Well, nothing actually. If you were fooled by the title of this blog, then don't worry, you are not alone. This is just one of the harmless pranks that Google plays on the casual surfer.

Google Gulp comes in four distinct flavours, and each one is suited to a different person. The Google Gulp product line explains the flavour in words, but you really have to taste it to know what they mean. At the moment, the product is in "Limited Release" mode. So you will have to get an invitation from somebody who already has the product. (Ring a bell? Think Gmail.)

If you had your share of Google Gulp and need more, here is a few more interesting stuff that only Google can give you.

Google MentalPlex - The only search engine which can read your mind!

Google PigeonRank - Google Algorithm finally revealed (Ah, now I can get my site rank up!)

Google Copernicus Center - Get a job that can really take you somewhere - the moon, no less!

It is nice to know that a company that can provide us with such great stuff as Google Search and Gmail has a funny side to it. As they say, they are only human after all. Thank God they are!Go Google! We love you guys.

Aug 5, 2005

Murphy's Law and the Universe

It is the simplest thing that you can learn from the Universe through that now-extinct skill of observation. It is known as Murphy's Law.

"Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong." This is the most common version of this famous law and it is credited to Major Edward A. Murphy, Jr., a development engineer working for a brief time on rocket sled experiments done by the United States Air Force in 1949. (Courtesy: Wikipedia). He is said to have said this when frustrated with the repeated failures of experiments for testing the human tolerance for G-forces during rapid deceleration.

Some may call this a pessimistic way of looking at things (in fact, one of my close friends does!), and rightly so. But have you ever wondered why it rains the hardest on the only day you forgot to take your umbrella? Or that you get caught in the busiest traffic on the very day your boss's boss is visiting the office? Or why the other line always moves faster, when you are getting the ticket?

Now this is what happened today that made me write all these things about the Law. I normally put my mobile phone on silent mode, with the vibrator turned on, when I am at work. So, today morning, before leaving from home, I put it on the silent mode and at that moment, my mom asked me to get something from the basement. I put down my phone on the edge of the nearest table and went to get the thing. At that precise moment, my friend called me, and the phone's vibrator turned on and propelled itself from the table onto the floor. Thankfully, the Nokia guys have made it so well that it has survived many a fall before this, and it came through this one without any problems either. Now, consider this. My friend could have called me any time in the morning and he chose to call me in the 20 second time-frame when I put my phone in silent mode, at the edge of the table, just before I was to put it into my pocket.

There are a few interesting sites out there specialising in the Law and here is one good site.

Murphy's Laws (with variants)

So the next time you are caught in the rain or waiting in a long queue, remember Murphy's Law. (And by the way, knowing the Law beforehand doesn't put you in a position to change the outcome. - Murphy's Law Variant no. 377 )

P.S: What if Murphy's Law was applied on itself? :)

Jul 16, 2005

A ringtone?? (Minor Earth Major Sky)

Yes, this is a weird post on a blog that usually concerns itself with the thoughts going on in my head. I don't know about you, but I am a great fan of the Norwegian band A-ha (yes, some even call it a boyband, but I really don't care). The trio have been around for some years now, and one of their latests albums Minor Earth Major Sky's title track is one of my favourite tracks ever. It really gives me the feeling that I am floating in space, and everywhere that I look, I see this vast emptiness. It does sound crazy, I know, but then again, I really don't mind being called that. I have searched and scoured the Net for the ringtone of the track for my Nokia 3315 (an obsolete model) but turned up with nothing to show for it. So I finally, boldly, decided to compose one on my own and it goes something like this:

Minor Earth Major Sky

Nokia composer : Tempo : 56

16a2 16a2 8a2 16g2 16g2 8g2 16f2 16f2 4e2 8d2 16- 16c2 16c2 16c2 8d2 8d2 8a1 4a1 8- 8c2 8d2 16- 8a2 8g2 8c2 4d2 16- 8d2 8c2 8g1 4a1

That's it! If you are one of those rare A-ha fans who found this useful, I would like to hear from you. Leave me a comment!!

Jun 27, 2005

Artificial Intelligence : A few observations

"A computer can only do what you tell it to do, not what you want it to do." - Greer's Third Law

Artificial Intelligence - The term has been so widely used, overused and hyped about in pop culture that we think of it as something that has already arrived. But has Artificial Intelligence (AI) really come of age yet?

To define AI, we should first define intelligence itself. Intelligence is normally conceived to be the ability of an entity to be aware of itself, to think and to reason, to undergo experiences of varying nature, and to learn from them in order to make a choice among the varying alternatives it has before itself.

"The question of whether a computer can think is no more interesting than the question of whether a submarine can swim." - Edsgar W. Dijkstra (1930-2002)

Thinking comes to us (well, most of us!) naturally. Getting a machine to think is a different ball game altogether. It involves a lot more than pre-conditioned and pre-programmed responses to anticipated situations. It is much more complicated than adding 2 and 2 to get 4.

Yes, I know. You are thinking about how the computer Deep Blue beat World Champion Gary Kasparov some years back. The press declared that the age of the intelligent machines had come. But was Deep Blue really intelligent? It was only a computer, doing what it had been programmed to do- play chess. And it did play very well too. But it was not thinking as Kasparov was. For every possible move, the computer was doing a trial-and-error computation analysis. Simply using the most potent weapon in its arsenal - brute force calculation.

Kasparov, on the other hand, was thinking strategically and forming and discarding options as the game progressed. He didn't have the luxury of trial-and-error; the human brain is simply not designed that way. The machine was not worried about making a blunder; Kasparov was. The machine did not have to think about what it would do to win the next match; Kasparov had to. So, really, it was not a close match by any means. The result was only inevitable.

It does not mean that AI is not here yet. Some dictation software packages can actually 'listen' to what the user says. The accuracy level increases with practice, as the program 'learns' the speaker's voice pattern. Anti-virus software programs using 'heuristics' technology can stop viruses that have not been yet created, which is impossible using conventional packages that can only identify and stop already known viruses. But even then, they do not meet all the criteria that intelligence demands and cannot be termed really intelligent.

Anybody can program a computer to do a task. But a system can be said to possess Artificial Intelligence only if it can transcend its programming and perform tasks that it had not been instructed to perform, tasks which it had learnt on its own. It is a formidable task. And we can only wish the brave men and women working hard to push the limits of computer science and technology the very best in their endeavours. Maybe we may see AI in our own lifetime. The future holds promise.

You can visit these sites for more information on AI:
American Association for Artificial Intelligence (AAAI)
What is Artificial Intelligence?
The AI Depot

Jun 20, 2005

Time travel

One thing that I have always wondered about is whether it is possible for us to travel back in time. Wouldn't it be just wonderful to be back in the days when you were just a little kid, oblivious to all the problems haunting you? I have wished I had a 'Time Machine' of my own, something I could use to go back and undo all the mistakes I have done in my life as a child. Is it really possible?

Einstein says it is. If we can manage to travel faster than light, beating the mind-boggling speed of 3 * 10^8 metres per second, we really could go back to yesterday. It has not been experimentally proven though, for beating that speed will take something really special than jet propulsion and rocket engines.

But suppose you do manage to travel faster than light, what would happen? Would you go back to yesterday and see yourself or would you experience yesterday all over again? The former case will create two of you, and in the latter, you wouldn't even know that you had travelled back in time. Or would you? It really gets confusing over there.

Another phenomenon that is associated with time travel is what is known as the 'Grandfather Paradox.' Suppose you travel back in time to the childhood days of your grandfather. You take a gun and kill him. Now, obviously he died before your father was conceived. That would mean you wouldn't exist. So who killed your grandfather anyway?

There are a couple of arguments against the 'Grandfather Paradox'. The first says that you just wouldn't be able to go back in time. As plain as that. Another one says that even if you do go back to your grandfather's childhood days, you wouldn't be able to affect it in anyway. You just wouldn't be able to kill him. There are no solid explanations as to why this is not possible though.

As always, science fiction has always tinkered with Time-travel. A number of Star Trek episodes talk about the timeline, and how the information from the future can "contaminate the timeline" and so on. There is also the 'Back to the Future' trilogy, directed by Robert Zemeckis which is also an interesting flick. The 'Terminator' series also has some time traveling associated with it, with machines with artificial intelligence sending an agent into the past to kill off their enemy - a human soldier's mother before he is born and later the soldier himself.

Suppose, for the sake of argument, let us suppose that time travel to the past is possible. Then I wonder why we are not seeing visitors from the future visiting us right now? After all, we are past to them, aren't we? :)

May 29, 2005

UEFA Champions League Final - A tribute to Liverpool

I know that it has been some time since my last posting. (Well, actually only a couple of months, but in Internet time, that is an eternity). Anyway, I had been really busy with my final exams and took some more time to cool off. Hopefully, I will be able to write more frequently from now on.

A tribute to Liverpool

Last night was truly unforgettable. The European Champions League Final between Liverpool FC (England) and AC Milan (Italy) was one of the best soccer matches that I have watched in a long time. Since my favourite team this season, Chelsea, had already been beaten in the semi-finals by Liverpool, I was even more keen to watch Milan win the match.

The match had hardly begun before the Milan skipper Maldini netted the first goal, plunging the Liverpool team, and of course, the fans, into a state of disbelief and confusion. The remainder of the first half witnessed a committed Milan attack flowing into Liverpool bastions, wave after wave. Some incredible play by Kaka' and clean finish by Crespo. It was only inevitable that a couple more goals landed in Liverpool nets. Halftime score: 3-0 Milan. It seemed that the second-half of the Champions League final will be a mere formality, with all possiblities of even a worse scoreline for Liverpool in prospects. Liverpool was dead and buried, or so we all thought.

It is said that great champions come out with their best in times of adversity, when all hope is gone and you are doomed to fail. I don't know what their manager said to the team during the half-time team-talks, but as one commentator rightly put it, it would have been nothing short of 'Churchillian.' To say that when the Reds walked out to face their opponents in the second half, the task facing them was Herculean would be a massive understatement.

I had always liked Steven Gerrard for the great player he is - persistent, tenacious and never willing to give up, never. Skippers are supposed to set the pace for their teams; to lead by example. And that is exactly this hardened English international did for his team. A sidelong glancing header from Gerrard of a long ball from Riise landed in the back of the Milan post. Score : 3-1 Milan

The seemingly invincible Milan defence was not so invincible after all. Little did the players or the millions of spectators worldwide realise that this was the beginning of a fightback. Milan side was exposed, but not definitely disturbed. After all, they still had a 2-goal buffer.

Only a couple of minutes had passed that Smicer, who had been brought in to replace Harry Kewell, found himself with the ball a few yards from the box. There were no defenders to put pressure on him and he let go off the ball in a blazing shot. Dida, the Milan goal-keeper, was found wanting as the ball managed to fly past across him into the back of the net. Liverpool strikes again.Score : 3-2 Milan

Liverpool, it seemed, had found their rhythm and started keeping more of the ball possession for themselves, steadily gaining in confidence and control of the game that had been away from them only a few minutes earlier. The renewed confidence transformed their attack plans and they had started asking more questions of Milan defence.

The Liverpool skipper, Gerrard, once again managed to get the ball near the box and he was fouled by Gattuso in the box, and the referee promptly awarded Liverpool a penalty kick. Xabi Alonso stepped in to take the kick and managed to get his kick blocked by Dida, but his quick reflexes caught the ball on the rebound and this time he didn't make any mistakes. Liverpool equalises. Score 3-3

In a span of just 6 minutes, starting from Gerrard's goal to the penalty kick by Alonso, Liverpool was back in the game, and the Milan team and their fans were dumbfounded, indeed, shell-shocked. It was not really complacency from the Milan side; it was more of tough, gritty, committed football from Liverpool and they deserve all the credit for getting back into the game.

And when full-time play and extra-time failed to break the deadlock, the game moved into that heart-breaking ritual, the penalty shootout. Personally, I am very much against this ghastly routine. It is not football skills they are testing, it is just tough nerves and some good old luck that you need to get through this. But since there is no other alternative than play for a tie-breaking goal in open play (the so-called golden goal), which could take anywhere from 20 seconds to all eternity, you just have to accept it for what it is - a necessary evil. The one, and the only flaw that you can point out in this graceful and beautiful game ever created.

It seemed that Lady Luck had quarrelled with Milan after the half-time and was squarely on Liverpool's side, as they won the shootout. I won't describe the shootout myself, as I thoroughly despise the heart-break and the crushing emotions associated with it. But I do admit that it was Liverpool's night all right. They showed that there is nothing like 'unbeatable odds' and 'hopeless situations' in front of persistence, commitment and hard-headed optimism. As the saying goes, 'it ain't over till it ain't over.' You are never defeated till you give up.

Liverpool are the new European champions. And they truly deserve this victory. Hats off!

Mar 27, 2005

The Matrix experience

Let me start my blog with one of my favourite topics that deal with one of my favourite movies of all time - The Matrix (1999, Warner Bros.). I must admit that I don't recollect the exact details about when I saw the movie but I am very sure that I didn't understand a lot the first time. I do remember the breath-taking visual effects, and the cool and stylistic theme in which the movie was set, with the protagonist and his team clad in black leather and sunglasses that would leave you drooling. It was only after I saw the movie on my computer, rewinding the bits that I didn't understand and watching them over and over again that I found what it was all about. And when I did, I fell in love with it.

The idea of creating machines that can think and are also sentient (self-aware) has fascinated man for ages. Hollywood and its sci-fi community are no exceptions to this fact. Movies like 'Terminator' and 'The Matrix' depict a world in which the machines, after becoming self-aware, attempt to take control over the world, till then dominated by the humans. While the 'Terminator' and its sequels portray the machines as a super-intelligent entity that is hell-bent on eradicating humans from the planet, 'The Matrix' movies give a new twist to the terms 'artificial intelligence' and 'virtual reality.' With the basic distinctions in place, let us delve deeper into the Matrix world.

(Spoiler warning: Please don't read the text below if you haven't watched 'The Matrix' and its sequels already as it will surely take the fizz out of it when you see it later. In case you haven't watched them, you don't know what you are missing. And I wonder why you are reading this anyway.)

The movie is set around a computer hacker, Thomas Anderson (a.k.a. Neo, played by Keanu Reeves), a young man disillusioned by the modern world, and working as a program writer for a software company. He is met by Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), branded "the most dangerous man alive" by the authorities. Morpheus offers Neo a chance to know "the truth", about what the Matrix is - a question that Neo is desperately trying to answer. Neo accepts the offer and takes the red pill and the world goes topsy-turvy for him.

What is the Matrix?

As Morpheus explains to an awe-struck Neo, "The Matrix is a world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth." The explanation: The year is actually closer to 2199, instead of 1999, as Anderson believed. Human beings had succeeded in creating machines (computer systems) that had developed the power to think, super-systems with "artificial intelligence". The machines had decided that they would no longer be slaves to humans and a long battle between the machines and humans had started. Human beings, in trying to deprive the machines of solar energy, had "scorched the skies", hoping the machines would give in. But the machines were even more intelligent than their enemies thought.

By utilizing the body heat and bioelectricity generated by the human body and "combined with some form of fusion", the machines had found the source to all the energy they would ever need. But the problem was that the human beings were their enemies and wouldn't let the machines just feed off them. For this, the machines devised an ingenious method.

They created a "virtual world" (referred to as "The Matrix" by the rebels) and linked up the human beings as individuals of this artificial world, while in reality, their bodies were lying in pods, their brains linked to the Matrix, their bodies powering the entire machine world. To someone jacked into the Matrix, the world would seem just as if it was "real". They would be born as babies, grow up into children and adults, and die of old age or whatever. They would be no more aware of this "virtual reality" as you and I would be aware of the artificiality of a dream while we are sleeping. In a way, everyone connected to the Matrix were sleeping all the time, dreaming his or her lives out.

What Morpheus had done was to free Neo from the Matrix, by "waking him up" from his slumber. Morpheus tries to convince Neo that he is "the One", somebody who has the power to overthrow the Matrix and free his fellow humans. He tells Neo that the Matrix is just like a computer system: "some of its rules can be bent; others can be broken." Morpheus tells Neo that he can defeat the Agents and free his people because the rules of the Matrix do not apply to him. As he puts it when Neo asks cynically whether he can dodge bullets, "When you are ready Neo, you won't have to."

A word about the Agents: Agents in the Matrix are computer programs, that try to keep order in the system, a kind of control and the first line of defence against the human rebels, like Morpheus and his friends. They are computer programs and hence, faster than the humans. They are so fast that they can even dodge bullets shot at them by the human rebels. Agent Smith is the lead agent in 'The Matrix'.

Following a dramatic turn of events, Morpheus ends up in the custody of agents and it is upto Neo to rescue him. With the help of Trinity (Carrie Ann-Moss), Neo does succeed in rescuing Morpheus but gets trapped in the Matrix before he can get out. He chooses to fight Agent Smith rather than run, and almost defeats him the first time. But Smith, being the computer program that he/it is, escapes and kills Neo. Neo had begun to believe that he is the One, but his belief was not complete (he couldn't see through the Matrix fully yet) and that cost him his life.

Trinity had fallen in love with Neo and she kisses and tells the dead Neo that she loves him and since the Oracle had told her that she would fall in love with The One, Neo can't be dead. Miraculously, Neo does come back from the dead, and this time, he is invincible. Smith and the other agents shoot him and Neo stops the oncoming bullets with a gesture of his hand. He destroys Smith and comes out of the Matrix, this time, a free man.

Perception is reality

As the movie emphasizes from time to time, the "reality" of the Matrix is so great, its impact so profound on those who are jacked in, that their experiences do become reality. Morpheus tells Neo that if you die in the Matrix, you die in the real world because "your mind makes it real." If you are connected to the Matrix and you are being fed the signal that a man sitting next to you shoots you with a gun and you actually "feel" that the bullet has struck your heart, then it may kill you, "really" kill you.

"There is no spoon"

Morpheus and his friends, with the exception of Neo, are aware of this fact and this is why they can do things that normal people (still jacked into the Matrix) can't, like jumping over skyscrapers and escaping from agents. However, Neo is aware of this fact to such a degree that he sees the Matrix for what it actually is, a virtually real world, but in the end, it still is all virtual; a sensory deception. That is why he knows that the bullet coming at him is just an electric signal sent to his brain by the Matrix, and by choosing to exercise his free will over the sensory input, he is able to dodge, and later, even stop the bullets. (Technically speaking, he is able to send a reverse, more powerful signal to the Matrix from his brain that ends up as "stopped bullets" to others in the Matrix.) He gets this realization from the yogic boy in the movie who tries to reveal the truth to Neo that it is all in your mind. If you think there is a spoon, there is; if you don't, there is actually none.

Referring back to the point mentioned earlier, some individuals are said to have the rare gift of lucid dreaming (conscious dreaming). This means that they are actually aware that they are dreaming and hence can take control of the dream and turn it into anything they want. To take a well-quoted example, suppose you dream that you are falling from a tall building and then suddenly realize that you are dreaming and yet you don't wake up, you can do miraculous things in your dreams. You can suddenly grow wings and fly away or just freeze in mid-air and stop the fall and what not. Neo, in a way, has this gift, as he knows that he is actually in a dream-like state and thus can take control of the dream, which is of course, the Matrix. His friends (Morpheus, Trinity and other rebels) are also aware of the fact but they just can't let go, as the "reality" of the Matrix is just too much.

The science part of the Matrix may be a bit flawed. Case in point: To provide life support facilities to all the people connected to the Matrix will perhaps consume more power than that is being generated using the "fusion method" described in the movie and to keep the humans in this sleep-induced state is almost impossible without some kind of medication or hypnotism (I am not quite sure about this, so please correct me if I am wrong here.) Also, the amount of computing power needed to create this virtual world and make it "feel real" to all the persons inside will be simply enormous. Just think about this simple illustration: You and your friend are standing in the Matrix world and you take up a pile of sand in your hands and let it go from a height above the ground. The computers of the Matrix would have to simulate every single grain of sand with all its aspects correctly; its size, shape, velocity, dynamics, trajectory, and what not so that you will actually believe that you are doing what you are doing. Ditto for your friend who is watching from a different position. Now imagine all the processes going on simultaneously, and, most o f them are infinitely more complex than the process just described and it will give you some idea about what amount of data processing tasks I am talking about, to say nothing of the thought process of every individual connected to the Matrix. There are lots more, but this article wouldn't go there.

However, the underlying theme of the human race "waking up" from the maya (an illusion, according to the Hindu concept) is illustrated beautifully using technology as a medium. And perhaps that will be the reason why the movie will remain as one of my all-time favourites.

This blog has intentionally left out the numerous references of the movie to mysticism and many religions through symbolisms because there are many well-referenced and better articles out there on the Web, written by better authors. (Just a hint: Did you notice that Neo is supposed to be the "savior" of the world and he comes back after dying to save the world?)

For more interesting ideas, visit the Official Matrix site

Feb 14, 2005

The wandering begins

Hello there,Although it has been a few months since I have been hearing about the latest Internet phenomenon known as 'blogging', it is only today that I have decided to start one of my own. I truly don't know how long this is going to last, but I am sure that I will enjoy it as long as it does!You will be hopefully hearing from me soon enough on topics that I would love to share with the world, everything from AI (Artificial Intelligence) to Just in time management. Till then, take care fellas!Regards