Mar 18, 2007

Cricket Fever - the 2007 World Cup is here!

Cricket World Cup 2007

The World Cup is on, and it's time for all fans to re-juggle their routines to see all the matches. Alas, here in New Zealand, the live telecast is past midnight hours, so we have to stick to the daytime highlights.

Cricket World Cup Mascot - MelloThe current world champs, Australia, took quite a beating in their tour to New Zealand, just before the start of the World Cup. This leads to many saying that, despite a few teams with strong records, this world cups "is wide open". I doubted this at first and I also had my reservations about the inclusion of teams with only semi-professional outfits such as Ireland, Bermuda, Netherlands and Canada.

But the past few days have fully justified the above. Pakistan, the fourth ranked team, has already been knocked out of the World Cup by Ireland and India, perhaps the favourites, are in trouble after losing to Bangladesh. And the tournament hasn't even reached the knock-out stage yet, the teams are still slugging it out withing their groups. Ireland has qualified for the next level and perhaps Bangladesh too. Perhaps the writing has been on the wall, when in the recent ICC Champions Trophy, none of the Asian teams made it to the semi-finals.

The web is covering the World Cup from various sites, official, press and now user-contributed. Google started it off by modifying their official logo acknowledging the first day of the World Cup.

Google World Cup Logo

More coverage at the links below:

Online coverage

Mar 17, 2007

Nurturing Brains

Cartoon showing Bill Gates watering a plant growing Brains

The world is changing (once again). The hangovers of the colonial age and the unequal distribution of knowledge and industry is being corrected, ironically through unbridled capitalism.

It has been over 60 years since the end of the Second World War, and other nations have had time to wake up and smell the money. The realization that money rather than military force is the way to gain prestige and influence, in today's world, has motivated many nations to happily jump into the free-trade market. The Asians are now playing the West at their own game.

Multinational corporations don't have any patriotic allegiances themselves, so they invest wherever they can get greater returns. However, people staffing these corporations are human, and feel the need to express human concerns.

Now the world's wealthiest man, Bill Gates, having retired from active duty at his firm, has time to think along these lines. He has just published an article in The Washington Post - 'How to Keep America Competitive'. He starts with the latest term for research and development - 'innovation' - and all the factors that are not helping it. US primary education in science not producing world level competitors, immigration not being as friendly as possible to higher skilled candidates, retention of skilled workforce not working.

From the rest of the world's perspective, though US is currently the center of innovation, this is not expected to be the future model. Knowledge has no borders these days, and world-class scientific facilities are being developed all over the world. With the lowering of the cost of communications, geographic location is not such a big deal. The world is becoming more open and providing greater opportunities of experience and economic advancement everywhere. The US does not quite have the pull that it used to. Many international US graduates prefer to try out opportunities back home.

It is also a pattern that those who tend to become complacent in their position are sometimes surprised by those who are fiercely and desperately fighting to find their place in the world. Immigrants, by their very definition are pioneers - they have left their known world behind to seek out new territories. They come with a lot of optimism, plans and expectations. They will work much harder to achieve their aims. The pain of leaving their native lands and people has to be compensated for attaining substantial material and economic profit.

After the Second World War, the Unites States acquired a priceless knowledge advantage, from Germans and other European immigrants. People like Wernher von Braun, creator of the Nazi V2-rockets (which bombed London), who should have been tried for war crimes, were instead given amnesty and quietly inducted into US research programs, where he went on to design space rockets for NASA. Albert Einstein fled Europe to live and teach for the remainder of his life in US. Other scientist immigrants of this time also include Niels Bohr, Enrico Fermi, Hans Bethe, Leo Szilard, Edward Teller, Felix Bloch, Emilio Segre and Eugene Wigner. In fact, Americans rarely won Nobel Prizes before 1950.

With all eyes on the money, the value and quality of human beings is regularly underestimated. It's good to see a refocus on this topic.

Mar 7, 2007

Turning point for Browsers

Browser Statistics Graph

Both Microsoft Internet Explorer 7 (IE7) and Firefox 2.0 became available around October 2006. Since then their rise has been fast and steady. At this point, it looks like they are not taking over each other's market share, rather they are replacing their previous versions - Internet Explorer 6 and Firefox 1.5. Internet Explorer 7 may reach a plateau at around 80% at the most, then we'll see if starts going down as Firefox goes up.

These new versions are built to address the evolving changes in the internet. Whereas Firefox has been continuously changing with frequent updates, MS Internet Explorer development had been stalled for the past 6 years. I was able to attend a Webstock conference in May last year, where Tony Chor, the Program Manager of the Internet Explorer 7 team explained the circumstances. After the launch of Windows XP operating system, most of the Internet explorer team had disbanded and there was lack of expertise to pick up the threads again. The start of the Internet Explorer 7 project mostly consisting of bringing these people together again. Tony promised that they plan to issue updates more frequently in the future. Ben Goodger, Google employee and lead designer of Firefox, at the same conference, was focused more on the future, all the way up to Firefox 3 and its possible features.

Ben Goodger and Tony Chor
Ben Goodger and Tony Chor

At Tony's session, one of the participants asked him, "If there was an arm-wrestling match between you and Ben, who would win?". After the laughter had died down, Tony good-naturedly replied, "probably Ben". In the conclusion of the conference, Kathy Sierra remarked that somehow Tony didn't look very sincere when he said it.

Both Firefox and Internet Explorer have implemented a plug-in architecture, where users can find other small programs that can be fitted into the browser to perform 'cool' features. In Firefox, many of these plug-ins go on to become part of the standard installation in the next version. Independent developer enthusiasts contribute these plug-ins. This architecture has already been around in Firefox for some time, and the browser has a large community contributing lots of plug-ins. Internet Explorer has just started on this path, and it's community is minuscule. Microsoft is actively encouraging corporate partners and its developer community to become contributors.

As for Safari, nobody except Apple technology enthusiasts use this, and that's restricted to 5% of the computers market for now.

If mobile phones become a significant platform for access to the internet, then the whole scenario might change. For example, if Apple's iPhone becomes as popular as the iPod, there will be far more people using the phone to access the internet than computers, and the mobile phone browsers will dominate and determine web interface design. A likely scenario is that all models of mobile phones are going to evolve to provide internet access. Whether that access is practical or satisfactory remains to be seen.

The future of browsers is important to us techies as browsers are increasingly the basis of delivering software services, and we have to design the web pages to work on as many browsers as possible. For believe it or not, not all the browsers follow the standards correctly or in the same manner - the same web page will behave differently on different browsers. In taking care of all possibilities, resource and time constraints force us to choose which browser to build for and which browser to ignore.

Looks like it's Internet Explorer 6, Internet Explorer 7, and Firefox 2.0 for now.

Mar 5, 2007

Summer Fiesta in Wellington

South Pacific Carnival

This has been a very busy summer in Wellington, in terms of events we've attended.

On 10th February we had the X-Air games in the morning and the Petone Fiesta in the evening. On 17th February, Petone Fair with the parallel Gypsey Fair carrying on till 18th. I may write about these later, but last weekend, it was the Cuba Street Carnival in central wellington.

A very large crowd including suburbians, converged in central Wellington. There was plenty of fun to go around. With professional performers displaying their skills at various points along the streets. Food vendors sold snacks, roaster nuts, corn, even spanish paella.

Our favourite among the performers were the Pan Pipes group. They seemed to be native South Americans and calling their group, 'The Cherokee spirit' or 'Los Incas' depends where you check. They performed amazing, soul-stirring music on pan pipes of every shape. I never realised that pan pipe instruments were capable of such a range. It sounds so much better live.

Among the other street performers, there was also an acrobatic hulahoop group, the regular juggler, a Charlie Chaplin impersonator (the one who charged our camera), a juggling unicyclist and many others.

There were several stages on various points with music bands programs. The adventurous also took their chances with the thrill rides.

Then at 9:15pm, we had the carnival parade. The pictures and video's below will describe it all.


All the photos can also be viewed at here.

(Note: if the window below says "Want to see more video's from this playlist? Click here", then refresh the page and choose the next video to play.)

All the videos can be viewed at here.