Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Beam me up Scotty


Space tourists!!

Space travel is the ultimate "ride". Very few civilians have had the privilege of going into space, but, only after spending obscene amounts of money. Now, it looks like it'll be possible for us to make that ride in our lifetime. Burt Rutan and team, are developing a second version of their SpaceShipOne plane that succesfully flew into suborbital space twice, winning the Ansari X-Prize. Richard Branson's Virgin Galactica has already placed an order for a fleet of these planes and will likely start offering the service after testing is done in 2007.

SpaceshipTwo, as the new plane is called will be designed to accomodate 5 - 8 passengers, who will be provided comforts comparable to the first class of commercial airlines. Well, when you pay around $200,000 for a ticket, I don't think asking for some leg room is too much. Although it will cost a bomb initially, prices will hopefully come down to sane levels in the years to come.

Competition is brewing here too. While Paul Allen is a financial backer of the SpaceShipTwo project, Jeff Bezos and his company Blue Origin plan to offer similar sub-orbital space flights.

OK, I'm definitely going to do this......

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Friday, December 24, 2004

2004 Year-End Google Zeitgeist

GoogleThe Google Zeitgeist was released yesterday. This yearly ritual indicates the top searches in the different categories of search provided by Google. The number one search term for the year 2004 was "britney spears". Interesting....

It was also amusing to see that number two in the 'Popular Tech stuff' category was "kazaa" and number four was "spybot". This must definitely indicate that almost everybody who installed the spyware infested Kazaa immediately felt the need for Spybot.

The Zeitgeist would have been much more interesting if Google had also mentioned the actual number of times each term was searched for.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Saving Internet Explorer

In an interview with The New York Times, Gary Schare, director of product management for Windows mentioned that he uses Maxthon and not Internet Explorer. I've been using Maxthon (formerly MYIE2) for a long time now, and feel that it definitely hasn't got the attention it deserves. It's a wrap on IE, i.e, it uses the IE engine, but, adds many amazing features to it. In my opinion it provides the best browsing experience. Yes, even better than Firefox. I won't even go into the "but IE is insecure" argument here, because I believe simple precautions like using a good firewall, disabling ActiveX etc. should make that a non-issue. I am not a web developer and so cannot comment from that perspective, but, for the lay person who just wants to browse the web, the IE + Maxthon combination is excellent.

With Firefox market share increasing rapidly, I guess Microsoft will do something to stem the tide. Waiting for Longhorn to update IE isn't an option, as it isn't due for another two years. It would make sense for Microsoft to just buy out Maxthon and atleast beat Firefox on the features front. I'm sure such a move would slow down the mass exodus that we are seeing now. I think Firefox is a very capable browser and would have been using it right now had it not been for Maxthon.

Maxthon is free and can be downloaded from here.

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Saturday, December 18, 2004

Ten key scientific breakthroughs of 2004

Top ten breakthroughs
Science magazine has compiled a list of the ten key scientific breakthroughs of 2004. The discovery of water on Mars has topped the list. It's surprising that the discovery of a new human species in Indonesia, which is second on the list, wasn't big news at the time. You can read the BBC News report here.

But , I think Science magazine missed out on one more breakthrough of the year. Coca - cola's brand new, highly sophisticated, NASA spacecraft technology based water purification process.



Bug me not!!

Bugmenot
Ever encountered web sites which require free registration to view their content? Well, it's annoying. But, there is a way to bypass it. Just goto www.bugmenot.com and enter the URL of the site that's bugging you and you'll get a username and password. I totally agree with their argument about why its justified (and it's a lot simpler than registering in a hundred sites). You can read all about it in their FAQ page.
I swear I didn't check it, but, I'm pretty sure it won't work with porn all sites.

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Thursday, December 16, 2004

A library of one book

Google recently announced plans to digitally scan books in the libraries of many major universities. While the immediate significance of this is that, it will give people access to books that are out of print or too expensive, it got me thinking as to how it could be fused with another emerging technology to truly revolutionize one of the experiences cherished by mankind since the times of Gutenberg.
E-books have never really become popular because reading off the screen is not very comfortable. The essence of the experience of reading a book is lost. But, technology more often than not always has an answer, and, in this case that is the electronic paper.
Electronic paper is actually a piece of plastic which thinks it is paper. The main advantage it has over its ancestor is that, its content need not be static or frozen. This immediately brings about a world of possibilities. With advances in technology, e-paper is now at stage where display of, let alone text or images, even video is possible. Miniaturization of hardware components with time is natural and we are at a stage where an entire computer can be crammed behind a monitor, as Apple has shown us. This means that sufficiently high amount of processing power is available in a small footprint. We are also witnessing an exponential growth in the tendency of electronic devices to lose their wired connection to the internet. This brings me to how projects like the one Google is currently undertaking can bring about a sea change in how we access information.
An e-book, in the true sense of the term would consist of a few pages of e-paper and some hardware embedded in the spine of the book. With the emergence of new high speed wireless access technologies like WiMax, such an e-book will not need to be isolated from the vast information resource that is the internet. This will provide people instant access to all kinds of information in the blink of an eye. With all books being available online in digital format, it’ll simply be a matter of downloading it onto your e-book, and of course preferably reading it. The question is, can the e-book provide the same kind of experience a normal book does? This I believe can never happen. But, the e-book will have so much going for it that it cannot be ignored. A normal book can never compete with the flexibility and instant gratification offered by an e-book. And so, as always feared, the very concept of a book will be under threat. The proposition of being able to access any and all information in one place instantly will prove too irresistible. People will no longer need to have huge libraries of their favourite books. Just their digitized versions on a hard drive will do. Feel like reading a technical treatise on the way to work, or rather, some Calvin & Hobbes? No problem. Throw in the latest news as its happening for good measure. If pen input capabilities are also provided, then that would be the definition of a ‘killer app’. In the future, rather than the number of books, we just might find braggarts claiming they have X gigabytes of library!
The picture I’m trying to paint is one of complete freedom with respect to the books one can carry around with them. If Google is successful, then unfortunately the wonderful Gutenberg project will no longer be necessary and people will be able access any book they want anytime. Of course, questions of copyright will arise for newer books, but that is not something that can’t be taken care of by payment. But, the best part is, information and knowledge will no longer be sequestered in the grand libraries of the world.
That is what I like to call 'a library of one book'. That is all it should take for anybody to read any book they want. One book. If there is a hindrance to the realization of such a future, then technology will definitely not be the culprit.
Of course, such a drastic change would lead to many grumpy publishers, but, certainly many happy trees.
Alfred Hitchcock had once said “The paperback is very interesting but I find it will never replace the hardcover book -- it makes a very poor doorstop”. Well Mr. Hitchcock, sadly, that would be the only use for all books in the future.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Microsoft releases desktop search tool

Microsoft has released their desktop search tool and it takes the form of toolbars for different applications rather than one single application. Typical eye candy, but, one disappointment is that PDF support requires an additional download from Adobe. The obvious advantage MS will have is the tight integration with the OS. The suite has toolbars for Outlook, IE and the task bar. The looks of the application are in traditional MS style, top-notch.

You can get the MSN toolbar suite (beta) here.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Game scares away robbers!!

This has to be the best thing I've read in a long time -

"Some robbers tried to burglarize a poor old lady and her 3 grandsons. Her grandsons happened to be playing Grand Theft Auto:San Andreas, and the sounds of the police from the game scared them away! From the article: "The police in the game were saying, 'Stop, we have you surrounded. This is the police.’ The burglar, unknowingly, thought this was the actual police and panicked ... being apprehended by PlayStation." Now, no more saying games are bad for you..."

Source - Slashdot

I wonder why game makers don't advertise these added benefits...

Sunday, December 12, 2004

A wonderful dilemma

For the computer gaming industry the year 2004 has been one of sequels. But, luckily the most anticipated games have lived upto their expectations. There have been other games too, like Far Cry which have become very popular because of it's excellent graphics and open ended game play. With wonderful games like Half Life 2, Far Cry and Doom 3 being released in a short span of time, I'm sure this is one dilemma every gamer wants to face! That is exactly the situation I'm in. Three superb games to play+very little time to play = one wonderful dilemma. I've been trying though.

Half Life 2
Although the Steam content delivery system has it's quirks, Half Life 2 is amazing. The physics in this game is excellent and you have to see it to believe it.

Far Cry
The graphics in Far Cry are absolutely amazing. The best part is that it's not scripted like the other games. The environment is totally open ended and you don't have to approach the same situation in the same way every time. Huge maps make for enjoyable gameplay too. But, the one irritation is the lack of a quick save and quick load mechanism which would have made a world of difference. But still this is the game that I find myself playing more these days (yes, even more than Half Life 2).

Doom 3
I have a pretty high end system and still have to play Doom 3 in the 'medium' graphic detail setting. That's the kind of system requirememt this game has. Played a few levels, but the distraction from Far Cry and Half Life 2 was too much, mainly because I found Doom 3 to be very dark (literally). I'll definitely play it once I finish the other two games though.