Dec 22, 2008

Library of the Human Imagination

Here's a personal library that most of us can only dream of. In fact, most public libraries can also just aspire to.

Stuffed with landmark tomes and eye-grabbing historical objects—on the walls, on tables, standing on the floor—the room occupies about 3,600 square feet on three mazelike levels. Is that a Sputnik? (Yes.) Hey, those books appear to be bound in rubies. (They are.) That edition of Chaucer ... is it a Kelmscott? (Natch.) Gee, that chandelier looks like the one in the James Bond flick Die Another Day. (Because it is.) No matter where you turn in this ziggurat, another treasure beckons you
- Wired News Article (includes more photos)

Here's a fascinating video talk by the owner/curator, Jay Walker:

Nov 28, 2008

Super Obama World

Most would have got over the election fever and be nursing the hangover. The media still hasn't - with president-elect Obama on every magazine cover. But this article from BBC pointed to something truly fun and even interactive:

A new online video game has been developed in honour of US President-elect, Barack Obama. Super Obama World has Obama running round a world modelled on Nintendo's Super Mario World. The game takes a satirical look at US politics, with Obama collecting flags and dodging lipstick-wearing pit bulls, lobbyists and Sarah Palin. The game is free to play online, and the developers plan to add further episodes throughout Obama's presidency.

Some screenshots:

To play the game go to Super Obama World

Nov 10, 2008

Political Tectonics

Political leadership changes are rippling over the world. A global pessimism fueled by "worst recession since the 1930s" is helping to create an anti-incumbency wave.

Australia replaced its 10-year old prime minister, John Howard, with a youthful version.

US elected its first "African-American" American president, creating history after a long line of "European-American" presidents. The chronically demoralized black community will take some time to absorb the shock of happiness and inspiration. US has a blank canvas to redraw its global image.

4 days after US, there were elections here in NZ. And true enough the current government with a 3-term, 9-year serving prime minister, Labour's Helen Clark lost. The new prime minister is National's John Key. National includes NZ's first Sikh member of parliament, Kanwaljit Bakshi.

If has been interesting that in these elections the contestants seemed to be arguing on the same side of popular issues. With more similarities than differences it has been called "a fight for the centre". Perhaps a by-product of the demise of socialism-communism.

The pre-election cartoon (below) of the current PM and the new PM sums up the campaigns


Sep 10, 2008

India - New Zealand confluence

As the New Zealand Governor General Anand Satyanand embarks on his official visit to India, a lot of the media is focussed on concluded negotiations of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) deal. This attention hides another aspect - the growing bilateral business transactions and future potential.

Like so many others around the world, New Zealand is beginning to use India's capabilities in information technology, training and business processes support. Its beneficial that the trade is going both ways. While ambitious but understaffed projects in New Zealand can use Indian scalability, the many innovative products developed in New Zealand, such as Xero, Silverstripe and Greenstone can find customers in India.

There has been a flurry of news recently:

IT courses a passage to India
By TOM PULLAR-STRECKER - The Dominion Post | Monday, 27 August 2007

India has become synonymous with international technology outsourcing. Now Delhi-based training company Koenig Solutions is encouraging Kiwis to go to India to get IT qualifications that are certified by companies such as Microsoft and Cisco.

Koenig offers "boot camp" courses with the option of one-on-one training at a price it claims is half that charged by New Zealand providers.

It pays to be tough to do business in India
The Press | Monday, 25 August 2008

That New Zealand's trade commissioner to India, Paul Vaughan, has survived three years without a single case of "Delhi belly" is either a marvel of human health or extreme good luck.

Either way, when it comes to doing business in India Vaughan says it helps to be tough.

But more than that, he says it pays to be organised.

With a population of more than a billion and an economy that is growing second only to China's for speed and intensity, India can be an overwhelming place to do business.

ANZ National jobs to go to India
Wednesday, 16 July 2008

ANZ National bank has told workers doing back office jobs in Wellington and Auckland that the work done by 238 of them will be done in India in the future.

The meetings yesterday with workers at the bank's lending services centre in Auckland and customer transaction service centre in Wellington were the start of a two-week consultation period over the outsourcing of the work to India.

Jade does deal with Indian partner
Monday, 23 June 2008

Privately owned Jade Software Corp is hailing a deal to sell a software product in India as the most significant it has entered into in the last five years.

The Christchurch-based company said Indian partner CMC will sell Jade's student management system (SMS) throughout India.

The company did not put any numbers on expected revenue or profit from the sales but said up to 100 centres in India will have the software by the end of the year.

India key to $20m Telecom revamp
By TOM PULLAR-STRECKER - The Dominion Post | Monday, 23 June 2008

Telecom has awarded Indian company Tech Mahindra a contract worth $20 million to $30m to help reshape its retail business, providing customers with more self-service options and cutting costs.

The general manager of retail transformation, Pawel Grochowicz, says that at its peak up to 300 Tech Mahindra and Telecom staff will be engaged on the multi-year project to create the "Next Generation Telecom".

"It is going to be a mix of onshore and offshore resources. We will look to bring some Tech Mahindra staff onshore, as well as having some offshore. It is very difficult to say what the exact number of Tech Mahindra people will be."

Tourism 'failing to milk Indian cash cow'
By NICK CHURCHOUSE - The Dominion Post | Friday, 30 May 2008

Cash-rich Indian travellers are being stopped from taking their dream trip to New Zealand by expensive and inaccessible airlines.

The market for Indians travelling to New Zealand has risen from 19th to 12th since 2003, and, while still small, is a cash cow that is being overlooked by tourism operators, an Indian travel buyer says.

Sep 7, 2008

Digitized Society

A collegue passed a very interesting article from the New York times about the changing dynamics of social relationships when experienced via internet applications and services (i.e. emails, Internet Messengers, Facebook, Blogs, Twitter etc.).

[...] When students woke up that September morning and saw News Feed [on Facebook], the first reaction, generally, was one of panic. Just about every little thing you changed on your page was now instantly blasted out to hundreds of friends, including potentially mortifying bits of news — Tim and Lisa broke up; Persaud is no longer friends with Matthew — and drunken photos someone snapped, then uploaded and tagged with names. Facebook had lost its vestigial bit of privacy. For students, it was now like being at a giant, open party filled with everyone you know, able to eavesdrop on what everyone else was saying, all the time. [...]

Within days, the tide reversed. Students began e-mailing Zuckerberg to say that via News Feed they’d learned things they would never have otherwise discovered through random surfing around Facebook. The bits of trivia that News Feed delivered gave them more things to talk about — Why do you hate Kiefer Sutherland? — when they met friends face to face in class or at a party. Trends spread more quickly. [...]

Social scientists have a name for this sort of incessant online contact. They call it “ambient awareness.” It is, they say, very much like being physically near someone and picking up on his mood through the little things he does — body language, sighs, stray comments — out of the corner of your eye. Facebook is no longer alone in offering this sort of interaction online. [...]

But as the days went by, something changed. Haley discovered that he was beginning to sense the rhythms of his friends’ lives in a way he never had before. When one friend got sick with a virulent fever, he could tell by her Twitter updates when she was getting worse and the instant she finally turned the corner. He could see when friends were heading into hellish days at work or when they’d scored a big success. Even the daily catalog of sandwiches became oddly mesmerizing, a sort of metronomic click that he grew accustomed to seeing pop up in the middle of each day. [...]

This is the paradox of ambient awareness. Each little update — each individual bit of social information — is insignificant on its own, even supremely mundane. But taken together, over time, the little snippets coalesce into a surprisingly sophisticated portrait of your friends’ and family members’ lives, like thousands of dots making a pointillist painting. This was never before possible, because in the real world, no friend would bother to call you up and detail the sandwiches she was eating. The ambient information becomes like “a type of E.S.P.,” as Haley described it to me, an invisible dimension floating over everyday life. [...]

In 1998, the anthropologist Robin Dunbar argued that each human has a hard-wired upper limit on the number of people he or she can personally know at one time. [...] Sure enough, psychological studies have confirmed that human groupings naturally tail off at around 150 people: the “Dunbar number,” as it is known. Are people who use Facebook and Twitter increasing their Dunbar number, because they can so easily keep track of so many more people?

As I interviewed some of the most aggressively social people online — people who follow hundreds or even thousands of others — it became clear that the picture was a little more complex than this question would suggest. Many maintained that their circle of true intimates, their very close friends and family, had not become bigger. [...] But where their sociality had truly exploded was in their “weak ties” — loose acquaintances, people they knew less well [...] — maintained via technology. [...]

Psychologists have long known that people can engage in “parasocial” relationships with fictional characters, like those on TV shows or in books, or with remote celebrities we read about in magazines. Parasocial relationships can use up some of the emotional space in our Dunbar number, crowding out real-life people. [...]

What is it like to never lose touch with anyone? [...]

“It’s just like living in a village, where it’s actually hard to lie because everybody knows the truth already,” Tufekci said. “The current generation is never unconnected. They’re never losing touch with their friends. So we’re going back to a more normal place, historically. If you look at human history, the idea that you would drift through life, going from new relation to new relation, that’s very new. It’s just the 20th century.” [...]

Cartoon by Peter Steiner. The New Yorker, July 5, 1993 issue (Vol.69 (LXIX) no. 20) page 61
She laughed. “You know that old cartoon? ‘On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog’? On the Internet today, everybody knows you’re a dog! If you don’t want people to know you’re a dog, you’d better stay away from a keyboard.”

Many of the avid Twitterers, Flickrers and Facebook users I interviewed described an unexpected side-effect of constant self-disclosure. The act of stopping several times a day to observe what you’re feeling or thinking can become, after weeks and weeks, a sort of philosophical act. It’s like the Greek dictum to “know thyself,” or the therapeutic concept of mindfulness. [...]

In an age of awareness, perhaps the person you see most clearly is yourself.

- from Brave New World of Digital Intimacy

Aug 30, 2008

UX Honeycomb

In a well-known blog post on Semantic Studios, Peter Morville defined a guide to evaluate User Experience on online websites. It's called the User Experience Honeycomb and depicted as shown below.

Always interested in visualization of ideas, I thought I'd give it a bit of 3-D touch. I made a Google Sketchup 3D model

User Experience Honeycomb


And then incorporated into a more detailed graphic (click on image to see larger size).

User Experience Honeycomb


Feel free to use any of these.

Aug 20, 2008

Brain checkup

My manager forwarded this interesting game from a japanese site Flash Fabrica, which seems to be reasonably able to tell the age of your brain. If you don't feel as old as you may be, try this.

1. Click 'Start'
2. Wait for the countdown to complete - 3, 2, 1 ...
3. A bunch of numbers will very briefly appear on your screen and then get hidden by circles.
4. Click on the circles to go from the smallest number to the highest.

(The video below requires Flash player and is compatible with browsers Firefox, IE7 or Safari.)

It's also available here.

First time, my brain got 2 years less than my true age . Then kept fiddling with it I got tired and my brain got older. Tried it again after a break and I got 22, 10 less than my first time! Good to know that the brain's age can be adjusted to suit personal satisfaction.

Feel free to enter your scores in the comments and whether you think this is an accurate test.

Aug 3, 2008

It's not as fast as on TV

Products rarely work as well as advertised. Somebody tried out the new iPhone 3G and made the video below comparing it to the ad.

Aug 1, 2008

7x7 Session One, Seven Foundations – Our Reality 2008, Our Future 2028.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Intrigued by anything that claims to be inspired by TED talks, I bought the season tickets to see these 5 sessions. The short 7 minute presentations keep the audience engaged and the talks focussed. Presentation from Professor Hans Rosling playing on a LCD screen outside, a duet song by Dolly Parton and Kenny Rodgers - "Islands in the Stream" playing in the big screen inside, I took my seat.

The session was opened by Brian Sweeny, Chairman of Sweeny Vesty, a wellington based international consultancy. He started the 7x7 series along with Jan Bieringa as an ideas forum. Expressing the belief that every New Zealander needs a global edge to their work and dreams, his firm has been involved in work across 80 cities in 40 countries, with "many of the work delivered from Wellington". He advocated that New Zealand companies need to push themselves out into the world to become great. Noting the current tough economic scenario, he pointed to Toyota's market share which has been climbing even during downturns. Their lesson - the 5 Paradox Foundations - Move slowly and take big leaps, Grow steadily and remain paranoid, Be frugal and splurge, Be simple and complex, Set impossible goals and surprass them. Another roadmap referred to was 'FREDA' - Focus, Reinvention, Execution, Distribution, and Accountability. Brian hoped that thoughts and visions generated at this gathering would feed into the nation's political direction. You can also check

Rod Oram, international financial journalist, the chair and moderator at these series also had his 7 minute session. With plenty of humour and wit, he would carry the seminar series well. Going on the theme of 7, he talked about the 7 synergies. First, Reality - need to have a realistic self assessment of our capabilities and goals for succeeding. Opportunity - global economy and technological empowerment enabling small companies from New Zealand to have manage international concerns, leveraging our natural resources - forestry, tourism as well as filmmaking. Creativity - our size allows us to pioneer new business models, skills and relationships. Sustainability - Auckland may have 2.2 million people in 50 years, Pakehas may become a minority, we will need culture, community and business to work hand-in-hand. Commonality - of purpose, that we acknowledge each other's aspirations, but are able to find common ground for action. Leadership - New Zealanders prefer strong leadership, but we need distributed leadership in small groups. Finally, Belief - New Zealand can be a role model, bolder, strong, more certain of world contribution, and more successful. New Zealand can be the distinct attractive alternative. Only if we believe can we achieve.

He was follwed by Dr. David Skilling, CEO of the think-tank New Zealand Institute, who presented an economic analysis of current New Zealand and projected to 2030. Among the several graphs and numbers presented the overall theme was 'absence of change'. Among the OECD countries per-capita-income, we are currently 22 and are at the current rate are to remain so in 2030. However in that time the gap with Australia will increase from 30% to 60%, which can have a major impact. A Wellington Westpac stadium full of people leave for Australia every year, indefinitely or long term basis. However either too negative or positive attitudes don't help much. To make a real difference, the aspirations need to be better defined. There is a need to engage effectively with global economy or New Zealand is going to get run over.

In response came Brian Easton, and independent scholar and columnist. His presentation theme being markedly opposite - 'does material affluence boost well-being?'. Disagreeing with the theory that more products means one is better off, he also questioned the blind faith public has in economists. He gave examples of lack of correlation between well-being and material consumption - rich countries per capita income not relating to their happiness, in U.S. better to be married that have 100,000 dollars extra income. His summary - "don't worry about the economists, be happy".

Michael Field, columnist, author, expert in Pacific affairs, discussed that on his travel to Mumbai he encountered Indian civil servants who dismissed New Zealand due to its low population. Point was that New Zealand sees its much smaller Pacific neighbours in a similar vein. He proposed that perhaps there should be a union that takes away the 'small failing micro-states'. Information Technology and relaxed borders would help sustainability. Michael mentioned Tokelau and despite New Zealand attempts to have them go their own way, they prefer to be part of New Zealand. The arrival of "broadband internet, Bebo, and Sky TV" had "muted their drive of decolonization". He suggested that New Zealand should lead the way in establishing and facilitating a better Pacific union.

Professor Jacqueline Rowarth of Massey University came to talk about science research & development in New Zealand. For its size New Zealand has a good amount of research going on. Globally the demand for food is set to grow, but New Zealand does not have more land to farm. Thus farming techniques will need to become more sophisticated. However less graduates are electing to go into Agricultural Sciences and are moving to fields such as creative arts, which Jacqueline coined "the Peter Jackson effect". 26% of tertiary educated go overseas, many don't see a future in New Zealand. The science system in New Zealand needs reform, to be led more by creative 'investigator-led' research rather than 'output-driven research'. A 'Fast Forward' fund of $700 million has been created, under minister Jim Anderton and colleagues, for Science, Farms & Food. This is being matched by industry. It should help put New Zealand back in high-level research. Concluding, "If we liberate the thinkers, then we will have the recruitment that we need, and we'll have better science."

Dr. Morgan Williams, Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment started by talking about astronauts' epiphany. The inexpressible experience of externally observing and realizing the world as an isolated and closed system. He described humanity putting enormous pressure on the resources of the globe including oceans, soil, water. There are eco-system services which we depend on and take for granted, such as bees for pollinating. One solution mentioned was bio-mimcry - taking learning from nature and applying them in the creation of our systems. Such as vineyards in North Canterbury planting flowers around to lift the pollination rates. The education system has to catch up with learning for sustainability.

Savouring an enormous amount of information in a short time span is exhilarating, but takes time to digest. The rest of the seminar series looks promises increase the tempo.

Jul 21, 2008

Work from Home

These days with all the information at one's fingertips and devices that enable mobility, it's inevitable that the possibility of working from home arises. One normally pictures sitting in pyjamas at home tapping away on the work computer keyboard with the kids running around in the background.

When the idea was joked about in our office meeting, there were two groans - and both from guys married with kids. I was one of them. I find it hard to imagine how one can be serious about doing work surrounded by the distractions of domestic bliss.

However it seems one US company has implemented just that plan, potentially saving a lot of money.
Rick Boyd used to spend US$500 (NZ$648) a month on petrol and road tolls commuting between his home and office in New York state. Now Boyd doesn't commute any more because his company, Chorus, which provides clinical and management software for community health centres, has gone virtual.

Chorus closed its headquarters in Hasbrouck Heights, New York in early June and its other office, in Texas, a month later. Now all of the company's 35 employees and full-time consultants work at home. For the most part, they love it.

Chorus CIO Rick Boyd says existing technology made it easy for his company to go virtual.

Boyd says the company decided to close its offices to save money and spare employees the hassle and rising cost of commuting and because it had the necessary technology to support such a move. President and CEO AJ Schreiber says Chorus can continue to serve customers while simultaneously saving US$400,000 a year simply by closing its 15,000 square feet of office space.

There's a catch - the following constraints were implemented to make this work:
  1. employee needs to have separate space in home, separated from rest of house and denizens. (Sorry no TV)
  2. employee needs to have work desk
  3. employee needs to be on desk during work hours, odd hours not allowed
  4. employees provided with computing and telecommunications equipment - laptops, monitors, keyboards, headsets, internet service, IP Communicators, Blackberry/Windows smartphones
  5. employee can buy office supplies (Paper, Ink, Post It notes etc.) and bill it to company
  6. right infrastructure, with backup plans in case something goes down

So in other words - you take your office cubicle and put it at home - no escape, really.

Read more in the Computerworld article.

Jul 20, 2008

Gmail vulnerability being exploited by spammers

I knew something was fishy, when I started getting emails from my father inviting me to Doing a closer inspection of the email properties, I found it was not sent from Gmail, but from

There have been quite a few cases of emails being sent in the name of Gmail (Google Email) users to their contacts which have not been authored by the holders of those Gmail accounts. Known websites that have beeing using this technique are, & These websites send invites and other spam in someone else's name to their contacts. An easy way to spot such a false email is to see the details or properties - it will show the from address as, but the mailed by server will not be gmail, for example it may be

These sites have also been mentioned in a blog post of 'Ill-mannered websites'.

If you can, block or filter these websites in your email accounts, web servers an any other online channels. If you have become a member on these, I would strongly recommend that you unregister and remove any personal or social contact details. Finally, if you do recieve any email mentioning links to these websites, do not click on any of these links, as that will start a program that attempts to read through your entire contact list and store it for spamming purposes. Simply delete such email, marking as spam may be tricky as that may block the email address.

Gmail vulnerability

Gmail used to carry all the contact address for an account in its active Javascript for a logged-in email account. Other sites found that in today's multi-tab browsers, if a user is presuaded to visit another web page while keeping their Gmail accounts open, it would be possible to extract those contact list addresses from the Javascript using the new web page. There is more information on this vulnerability in this blog post - GMail Vulnerable To Contact List Hijacking.

Though this vulnerability has since been fixed by Gmail, in the time window that was open some spammers had been able to harvest and collect contact lists for many email holders.

Jun 9, 2008

Honking Ears by KAL

When a famous talented cartoonist meets digital animation, delightful new expressions may result. Kevin Kallaugher (aka KAL), who's been creating political caricatures for the Economist since 1978, has now set his sights on giving virtual life to his drawings.

As George Bush's term nears its end, it's probably the cartoonists who will be the most saddened. Meanwhile KAL carries on in a new media ...

And here's another on the democratic nomination race, which has just concluded ..

May 5, 2008

Who moved my chapati?

A furore has been raised in India, due to the recent comments emerging from the US administration:

In India, in many places, it's considered bad etiquette to count what the another person is eating, sometimes it bad to count your own intake as well. So such an accusatory finger pointed at the India food plate is bound to raise strong responses.

Perhaps a good factual counter-response comes in an article that my father sent me.

Total foodgrain consumption — wheat, rice, and all coarse grains like rye, barley etc — by each person in the US is over five times that of an Indian, according to figures released by the US Department of Agriculture for 2007.

Each Indian gets to eat about 178 kg of grain in a year, while a US citizen consumes 1,046 kg.

In per capita terms, US grain consumption is twice that of the European Union and thrice that of China. Grain consumption includes flour and by conversion to alcohol.

In fact, per capita grain consumption has increased in the US — so actually the Americans are eating more. In 2003, US per capita grain consumption was 946 kg per year which increased to 1046 kg last year.

By way of comparison, India’s per capita grain consumption has remained static over the same period. It’s not just grains. Milk consumption, in fluid form, is 78 kg per year for each person in the US, compared to 36 kg in India and 11 kg in China.
Another important point has been raised by one of India's eminent economists, M. S. Ahluwalia:

I don't agree that there is a global food crisis because of India and China. There is an increase in food production too in both the countries."

"The increase in production and use of biofuels might be the cause why cultivable area is limited.
This small blame-game most likely comes out of a larger pattern taking place. Due to the equalization of purchasing powers of the economies worldwide, the perception in the west will increasingly be that their standard of living is falling as it is rising in the developing countries. When balance is found, it will probably be at a disadvantage for the developed world and advantage for the developing world.

The UN and world financial bodies have pointed to an oncoming food crisis. Food riots in vulnerable countries like Haiti, Yemen and even Egypt may become more widespread. The sudden inflation is linked more to the rise in energy prices such as oil than anything else. Countries with self-sufficient food production will try to guard their stock, but higher energy prices will contribute to inflation nevertheless.

Time to tighten your grocery budget even further.

Apr 16, 2008

200,000 books, one Geek with his computers

A very interesting New York Times article covers what is effectively a stupendous mockery of the process of creating a book. But books are produced nevertheless, and some people buy them.

The infinite monkey theorem states that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type a particular chosen text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare.  - Infinite monkey theorem, Wikipedia
Humans cannot deal with infinity, but we can use better assistants than monkeys to reduce the time it takes. In the Information age, Philip M. Parker, has put his name to 200,000 books setting records for being a prolific author. The catch to this inhuman behaviour is an array of assistant computers programmed to fetch information online on any particular topic and compile them into a book. He explains the process in the following video.

It's unnerving to think that this process can be extended to other media like games, audio and video as well. Effectively it establishes the precedent that a person is not required to compile content into human consumption media items like books or movies.

At the library end, I wonder what this implies for cataloguers. It doesn't make sense for humans to be organizing output that comes from machines. Do cataloguers they have to be human too, or can they just be machines instantly summarizing and deriving overviews from the content?

I found some of these books here on Amazon.

The New York Times article can be found here.

Mar 6, 2008

Books: Richard Herley

Here's another author who is now offering his books (or ebooks) direct to users. A relatively well-known author who's book The Stone Arrow won the Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize. His book The Penal Colony was made into a movie No Escape starring Ray Liotta.

He likens his delivery mode to software shareware - "A model based on trust" :

You are free to download and read each of the books posted on this site. If you enjoy or gain value from it, I ask you to pay me a one-off fee. Just as with computer shareware, the same condition is imposed on recipients of any copies you make.

The fee is related to the length of work as well as to my collection costs, and is comparable to a single royalty from a mid-priced edition. It is much less than the price of a paperback or a commercial ebook of similar quality and length.

In this way you will encourage me to go on producing work you like. I hope that you will also feel a personal interest in the book concerned and a connection with its author.

The books are available on his website .

Mar 2, 2008

Book: Future of Reputations

An interesting book The Future of Reputation, by Daniel J. Solove is now available for free online. It describes itself in the introduction:

This is a book about how the free flow of information on the Internet can make us less free. We live in an age drenched in data, and the implications are both wonderful and terrifying. The Internet places a seemingly endless library in our homes; it allows us to communicate with others instantly; and it enables us to spread information with an efficiency and power that humankind has never before witnessed. The free flow of information on the Internet provides wondrous new opportunities for people to express themselves and communicate.

But there’s a dark side. As social reputation–shaping practices such as gossip and shaming migrate to the Internet, they are being transformed in significant ways. Information that was once scattered, forgettable, and localized is becoming permanent and searchable. Ironically, the free flow of information threatens to undermine our freedom in the future.

These transformations pose threats to people’s control over their reputations and their ability to be who they want to be.
More on this topic
It is often thought that a team of editors or moderators could go through each item of information submitted to verify the veracity. But then the volume of information submitted in an open online environment has the potential to easily overwhelm the resources (particulary human resources) we deploy. Even more difficult are the cases where conclusions submitted online can be a single side in an unresolved debate.

The solutions to these problems probably lie in the very openness of the environment that is setup. First of all a disclaimer can be published that the information given is not necessarily verified. After that, self-assessing mechanisms can be enabled that contributors use to assess and qualify the authority of information objects found online, such as ratings.

There has been the emergence of certain organisations that offer reputation-monitoring services. They keep an eye on every online manifestation relevant to your interest and keep you informed if anything untoward takes place. One such is distilled.

Feb 7, 2008

Windows XP Themes - free and easy

Customizable interfaces that's what we love. Users today spend a large part of the day staring at the same screens, sometimes they want a change but there's not much to have.

Microsoft Vista, window operating system's new avatar, did come out with a lot of that stuff - but it turned out to be something that doesn't go smoothly on your average computer. The result is that many, including me, are now choosing to use the older Windows XP. Seeing the problems in Vista, we are learning to appreciate the relative stability of WinXP, it's compatibility with nearly all popular software products, and ability to get the job done without too much fuss.

Yet, there's still much left to be desired. This blog is about the limited 'themes' in WinXP. By default, you'll find that out-of-the-box you get only 3 themes in WinXP - Windows XP, Windows Classic and 'My Current Theme'. Not very inspiring. 'M themes online...' link never leads anywhere useful.

Now since Microsoft is not very helpful, we end up seeing third party software such as StyleXP. Many of these are not free, which these days is means unusable. Some have custom software to do the configuration. Ideally one should just be able to get themes online and set them using the default WinXP setup shown above.

There had to be an easier way, I found it with Multipatcher - here's how to use it:
  • Get the software here (file is, currently it is at version 5.5. Note that this software will only work on Windows XP/SP1/SP2 or Windows Server 2003 (with Themes enabled)
  • Unzip this to get the file UXTheme Multi-Patcher 5.5.exe. Run this program. This edits the Windows dynamic link library file uxtheme.dll, so that it can accept theme files that have not been signed off by Microsoft, otherwise any other theme files will not be recognised.
  • On running you will get the following dialogue widow:

  • click the 'Patch' button to go ahead with the install. Following window will then appear:

  • This checks out your windows system. Click the 'OK' button. A new window will appear:

  • This warns you about the Windows File Protection dialogue appearing. I'll explain about that further, for now click 'OK'. Next window is:

  • To restart the computer after install, click OK. Make sure any unsaved work on your computer is saved before doing so.
  • Before you restart a Windows File Protection dialogue may appear:

  • For which click 'Cancel', or the following may appear:

  • for which you can click 'Yes'
  • If you are uncomfortable with patching your uxtheme.dll file, note that running this program again will un-patch the file.
Installing Themes
  • You can find WinXP themes at varous online locations such as - here and here.
  • To install these, put the *.theme file and any associated folders in C:\WINDOWS\Resources\Themes
  • Then double-click on the file *.theme and it will open in the standard Display properties window shown above. Choose the theme and click 'Apply'.

Feb 5, 2008

Code Poets, Software Engineers

The following article by Jonathan Wise has been resonating online with the Software community. A lot that has been written applies to me and my colleagues everywhere. Our job titles are perhaps deliberately confusing enough to keep you guessing our 'real' work. The following excerpts highlight the best and easiest bits, but you can read the full article here to get the complete description.

  • And believe it or not, I don't fix computers for a living.
  • There's these organizations, some (not all) still stuck in the 70s and 80s, called “I.T. Departments” who's official purpose is to fix computers — but who's actual purpose is to attempt to prevent their users from doing anything dangerous (read: useful.)
  • A software developer must be part writer and poet, part salesperson and public speaker, part artist and designer, and always equal parts logic and empathy.
  • A piece of software starts, before any code is written, as an idea or as a problem to be solved.
  • It is always tied to a human being — their job, their entertainment… their needs.
  • Once you understand what you need to build, you still don't begin building it. Like an architect or a designer, you start with a sketch, and you create a design.
  • Its not uncommon for the design process to take longer than the coding process.
  • You put on a sales hat and you pitch what you've dreamt up… then wait with bated breath while they dissect your brain child.
  • Software that can't be understood can't be used, so no matter how brilliant your design, if your interface isn't elegant and beautiful and intuitive, your project is a failure.
  • To make something easy to use requires at least a basic understanding of human reactions, an awareness of cognitive norms.
  • Only, unlike a salesperson selling someone else's product, you are selling your own work, and are inevitably emotionally-attached to it.
  • Maybe its more like music ...
  • ... the pieces are added up, each in itself a little work of art, they make, if programmed properly, a whole that is much more than a sum. Its is an intertwined, and constantly moving piece of art.
  • ... next comes a Quality Assurance Engineer (or QA) who tries to break your code, question your decisions, and generally force you to do better than what you thought was your best.
  • it takes a true artist, or at least an earnest student, to understand just how brilliant — or how wretched — the work behind it is.
  • As a lead developer on a project, it falls to you to instill confidence, to speak articulately and passionately about the appropriateness and worth of your solution.
  • ... user's are never really satisfied. So you think back to the design process, you remind them when they had a part in the decisions ...
  • And you write and you teach. ... responsibility to educate people on the uses of our technology ...
  • Then there's a party, a brief respite, where you celebrate your victory ... And you start again. ...
  • ... you are only as good as your latest victory.

Jan 14, 2008

Bill Gates's last day

Day is nearly here where the world's richest man retires. Always known as an over-competitive vicious nerd, its good to know he has a sense of humour as well - see the following video.

Some like John C. Dvorak don't believe a word of it and say that the retirement is a joke and Bill will be back.