31 May 2007

A bubble burst!

The past few days have been rather amazing. If you’re not a ‘geek’, then you probably won’t know of all the things happening, but if you are, then I hope you share the same excitement as me! After a rather considerable lean stint in the blogosphere, the general development sphere, things are back to kicking into top gear. I’ll just list out a couple of things that have got me excited and busy the past few days:

Facebook Platform

The biggest and the best announcement :D They opened up their API completely (it existed, but not with so much power) to developers to sit and make applications that interact with Facebook directly, and it’s different components (alerts, groups, etc.). The great thing is that, as a developer, you get to tap into the the best resource which you might need. People!

Facebook’s insanely large user–base opens up to every developer, and all his applications that moment they hit the Application DirectoryI'm glad they screen the applications that are added to this directory, and are avoiding another Firefox extension–type fiasco!.

This afternoon I finished developing my first application for it. It was meant as more of a test than a full fledged commando application like ‘iLike’ or ‘Photos’. You can check it out here, and if you’re on Facebook (why haven’t you added me yet?), add the application and take it on a quick beta spin :) I want to understand the API and all it’s crannies properly before I actually get down to serious app–ing!

Google Gears!

This happened just today, but I think it’s a very good step. From my end, it seems more like a reflex action to all the hype towards making applications for the desktops and frameworks being released to help developers do so. Whatever it is, it is good! The ability for Google services to go offline with you, and then re–sync when you come back online is something that people will appreciate the more that they use, and realise how much they needed this only once they get used to it. Ofcourse, they have a long way to go with this.

What I am thinking about now is that how is this move going to affect Mozilla’s plans to add ‘Offline Web App’ integration and functionalities into Firefox. If Google directly allows people to take things offline, an added functionality in Firefox seems like overkill, and will add to the ‘bloat’ that many people (and in a tiny voice, me) are complaining of everyday.

There are other great things out there now, sure. But these are the one’s that are of immediate ‘Wow’ to me, being a coder and a developer :P Somethings that you might find interesting are things like the new Microsoft Surface, Microsoft’s Live suite (kind of) in Beta, and others doing the rounds!

Great times :)

25 May 2007


‘The Last Word’ has officially hit the 300 subscribers mark :) This is extremely heartening, considering I have not been posting as frequently as I used to. I’d like to apologise for that, and shift the blame a little on a very stagnant blogosphere and my internal examinations (starting tomorrow :( )

The good news is, that I haven’t lost track of things happening (whatever little is happening), and I will begin posting regularly again after these set of exams get over. Thanks for all the reads! You make my day guys! :)


19 May 2007

Making punctuations look good! #

Oops! Comments got disabled by mistake. Re-enabled them ... let me know what you think! :)

Recently, I’ve been rather taken in with smart punctions, rather than the dumb normal ASCII ones. You know, the straight dumbOpposite of ‘smart’ is? ;) quote marks (" and '), or the normal ellipsis made up of full stops (...) ? HTML has predefined special entities to draw these rather nicely, but we don’t use them normally because most of us don’t know about them, and Blogger natively doesn’t convert the characters. Typing them out manually can be such a pain, and you need to remember so much more stuff.

So, I worked up a quick Greasemonkey userscript that adds a nice little link in your row of buttons (in the post editor), which you can use to quickly convert all your punctuations to what they should be. Since there is no way of creating a “plug–in” for Blogger, anything which needs to affect a post directly needs to be tackled at the post editor level.

The script is ‘smart’, as in it understands when to use a left curly quote and a right curly quote. It also changes hyphens to what you want them to be. A single or a double ‘–’ generates an en–dash (–), whereas a triple ‘–’ generates an em–dash (—). To know which one to use where, and other punctuation marks, look up the A List Apart article. I referred to it while making this.

Known Bugs and License

Since this went through an extended testing period, and some live testing (I guess you could call it that) on Userscripts, and there hasn’t been a complaint or a request, I’ll assume there to be no bugs :) Except for some weird behaviour when it comes to apostrophes and quotation marks :P And like everything else, this script is licensed under an NC–ND Creative Commons License.

The name for the script is taken from the excellent SmartyPants project, by the oh–so–creative John Gruber. So a big thanks goes out to him for coming up with the idea. I had sent him a mail regarding using of the name and the basic concept. I never got a reply (it’s been about 2 months now), so I took it as a yes and published this :)

Get the script!

Pseudo–SmartyPants for Blogger
All my Userscripts

13 May 2007

The reason behind the action: Your motive

I’ve been looking at various sites the past few days. Sites that keep people like Arrington and Om Malik busy. Sites that keep PostBubble up and running. Sites that we hear about all the time, and just go around to have a look because of all the hype created. There have been quite a lot of these since the ‘startup’ times, but how many do you see still being counted among the ‘big guys’? I think the reason can’t be bottled down to sustainability measures…

Stick to your basics

This whole topic came to mind as I was reading about Facebook’s rise up the ladder these past few years. Out of all the network’s, Facebook is the one which has really caught on. There were networks before Facebook, and there have been attempts after it, but you don’t see mention of them as regularly, do you?

I think one of the reasons for this is that unlike other networks, Facebook is always looking to grow. Not just in it’s user base, or number of page views/hits. They want to grow technologically as well. They want to enter forays others haven’t. For example, the whole concept of a mini–feed is something “extremely” new, and it’s worked so well. Of course, it didn’t start off initially the way it was supposed to, but after a few refinements, it’s something that almost defines Facebook.

An API! When was the last time you saw a social network allow piping out of the data from your account? It’s like the perfect way to build applications that works with the greatest resource — people, based on an established platform which does the hard work of getting you the data. Keeping people together was the only thing Facebook started with, and went on building around that, implementing whatever they thought sounded good. And look at where they are now.

In all facets of development

Whenever you create and develop a project, you always have “something” in mind. It’s that something which you shouldn’t lose focus of no matter what stage of development you are at. Everything you add, implement, should have a purpose, a reason. That purpose or reason should complement your initial “something”. Wonton features won’t help your application, or your time, because just like you, people expect features related to the core reasoning of an application.

So, keeping all those things in mind, next time you come up with a game plan, or are asked to join in the development of the “killer–new–app”, look for one word that probably doesn’t get as much attention as it should — focus!

11 May 2007

Templates for sale!

Seeing as how I have been putting this off for quite a while now, due to various apprehensions, I’m now going ahead with a plan I announced a while back. I’m going to start dedicating more time and energy to something that I love doing. Designing web pages! But not just any web page :) Starting now, I am going to start making some beautiful templates for the new Blogger, which will immediately go on sale (the moment they are through testing) for anyone who wants to use them. This will be ‘almost’ freelancing, and the earnings will go into buying myself a hosting, and get down to some serious web–app’ing! :)

The price for the template will be decided by the amount of effort I have to put to get the template out the door. They will not be high at all, something in–between the range of $10 to $25. You’re gonna simply love the $25 ones, because those will take the longest and come out the prettiest! Now, I am no professional, but I am sure you’ve seen my works in the past. So I’ll let them talk for me :)

Ofcourse, hacks will be included with the templates :) And you get to pick which ones you want! But hacks as much time and effort (if not more) as the actual designing of a template, so if it goes beyond a certain point where I’m having to go out of my way to add something in, I’ll let you know. If you really do want it, a little extra charge will get it for you. The prices will be negotiable for these, so you don’t need to worry about hidden costs anywhere.

I’d like to clear out a few things before you begin mailing me about this.

  • Every new owner of a template will have his/her blog listed on an exclusive page linked to from my blogs, with a short description about the blog. Perfect way to get your blog ‘out there’.

  • I am a busy person, so if I can’t get back to you immediately about a template modification, don’t think I have ditched you. Wait for a few days, and I will surely get back to you. If you can do the necessary changes on your own, nothing like it!

  • My templates will work like they are supposed to only in Opera and Firefox. I have never bothered with Internet Explorer, and never will, so please don’t ask me to fix it for that. As far as Safari goes, I can’t do anything because I don’t own a Apple, so can’t test it on that. If someone is willing to help me port them, however, or buy me an Apple (preferably the latter :P), contact me and we’ll negotiate something. I will also try and make them as resolution independant as possible, but results may vary from template to template.

  • These templates are not going to be ‘lightning fast’, and they’ll depend quite heavily on pictures/images and scripts (because of my hacks). Which means, they might be a little slow for <56Kbps speeds. Broadband users won’t see any change however. I’ll remove anything which you might not need however, to increase the speed. There will be no reduction in cost for this however.

  • I can’t offer a lifelong maintainance promise for my templates. I will probably quit with this after a certain point of time. Whenever this happens, I will let my users know well in advance.

  • None of the templates will have any built in ads, or any pre–decided place for them. We all hate ads, don’t we? But something can be cooked up for you (no extra cost :) ) Also, except for a small design credit at the end of the page, there will no other mention of my name or my blogs prefit anywhere in the template. All the rights will be transferred to you, with a clause of ‘no re–sale’ of the template or any part of it.

  • All templates will be microformat and CSS standards compliant. I can’t make them XHTML compliant for the reasons I have stated in this post. Nonetheless, I will try my best.

  • Request for clones of templates from other blogs can be shot off to my inbox. I will have a look, and discuss with you the pricing and the other formalities. I leave it to you to get the permission from the owner of the other blog to use (or clone) his/her template.

  • I will try and entertain requests for custom templates, depending on the time and effort again required to come up with it. Throw in a mail with an attached image of what you have in mind, and I will get back to you if I need furthur clarifications.

So, I hope all the terms are agreed upon? I will edit the terms whenever necessary, so keep this post bookmarked for future reference! Cool? Great! So, let’s reveal the first template up for grabs. I call this Dark Cherry. It’s got a mysterious and dark red and black colour combination, with hints of other colours thrown in for a truly amazing contrast effect. It’s got a sidebar, and is divided into a 5 panel layout. The header, the posts (top–left), the main sidebar (top–right), comments / other info (bottom–left) and secondary sidebar (bottom–right). For more info, check out the linked blog for a live demo!

06 May 2007

Getting 'em while they're young

It’s truly rare to see a young coder/hacker. While I started when I was 16, not everyone is ‘geek’ enough to do so. Partly to do with this is the whole not cool factor, but a good part is to do with the fact that languages are many, most of them not being easy to learn. If you target a learning group of say 13–15 years old, try and find me a tutorial on the web which caters to this group, and can get them programming quickly, even basic programs un–helped.

Not rocket science

It’s a known fact that kids learn the fastest when they’re young. So, not aiming for these young kids is making everyone lose out on so many potential coders, we probably cannot imagine. Given the right language, training and a friendly push, everything falls into place. Even if it means starting out with BASIC, or LOGO. It’s not particularly rocket science, and doesn’t take much to understand when someone starts getting interested. Advanced concepts like pure Object oriented programming can be kept for a later date. Don’t tell me they won’t understand int i = 5;

Hackety.org has released a version o.4 of a Ruby starter’s guide. It’s basically a friendly way for kids to learn the basics of programming, using Ruby. Ruby has pretty straightforward reading–English type syntax, so it makes the learning curve flatter. I downloaded the guide for myself, and am mighty impressed by the sheer simplicity (while not compromising power) of Ruby. I’ll surely be looking more into that, later … :)

Get it rolling

We need more efforts like Hackety Hack, which aim to help out and start early with the teaching thing. Once the concepts are in place, other languages become easy to understandNot learn though. I think Ruby is a good language to get started on since the syntax is simple, but not to continue using if you want to progress with learning concepts. Acquiring the knowledge of a language and the basic concept just needs a bit of time and practice.

Kids have more time than grown ups do … sadly!

01 May 2007

The fight for desktop superiority

Unless you’ve been living under a frozen rock in Antarctica, you’d know about Adobe Apollo. Now, welcome Silverlight! Microsoft’s answer to Adobe, but in the other direction. Silverlight is to the Internet, was Apollo is to the desktop. While initially it didn’t seem cut out, features being revealed slowly but steadily are hinting at a pretty decent enough framework for developers to work with to get people moving towards the Internet. The question I ask here is, “Why are Microsoft and Adobe headed in two different directions?”, and “Is it really worth all the trouble?”

Living in a browser

Weren’t we hailing Web OS, rich Internet applications, stable and asynchronous data flows just a few weeks (or months) back? There were talks of how the only application a person may need on his/her PC would be a decent enough browserMy constant advocation of Firefox might get a little annoying, but in this case, it is necessary because if people argue that Internet Explorer is a decent browser, they will not be half wrong. But IE is a very good RIA killer if you ask me., and Internet applications will help perform the daily things that people presently depend on desktop applications for. Google Office, aims to provide a useful and feature–full online office suite as an alternative (a.k.a replacement) to Microsoft Office. There are countless online image editors (with Adobe’s Photoshop for the web on the way), and many other applications which we have been so used to using on our comfortable desktops. So then why going back to desktop applications, and why not push the Internet application scene further? I’ll try and answer why …

To say the least, the Internet still offers many restrictions when it comes to privacy concerns. When people start bellowing down the doors to a bot scanning one’s mail for ‘contextual’ advertising purposes, you know you’re close to seeing everything. How can these people then trust services with really sensitive documents that may contain goodness knows what from their personal or official lives. The moment you put something up on the Internet, you’ve given away a good part of the privacy away. That is a well known fact. What depends is how is that loss being put to use. But that is not the point here. The point is that people will probably never be able to trust a web service (even with the name Google) enough to let it handle their data. The name ‘Microsoft’ will not help reduce their concerns.

The online storage scene is only now beginning to gain widespread acceptance with services like DivShare coming up which offer a lot of leash when it comes to uploading and storing/sharing files. Google’s rather liberal storage spaces for their different services shows exactly how cheap it has become to save large volumes of data. This will still take some time. There were forecasts of a time when the online copy of your file is the one which is under regular use, and local copy (on your hard–drive) is actually your backup, instead of the other way around. That prediction is a little far away as of now.

Apart from privacy restrictions, the Internet as a platform is in quite a tough spot. There are too many people trying to standardise it in their own way, and failing miserably. The whole XHTML concept is the best example of this. The everyday user wants something that works, and doesn’t care (usually) about how it works. Also, development for the web has only recently hit a peak (as the aftermath of the Web 2.0 boom), as small time desktop developers, seeing the easy and forgiving nature of Internet development languages decided to try their hand at it. If you bring that same ease to the desktop, which is what people are ‘used’ to develop for, why won’t they come back? With that, give them the option of keeping their applications (desktop and online) in sync with each other, and you have a sure winner. That said, Microsoft’s move might tilt the scale, because like it or not, Microsoft happens to define standards wherever it goes. However, the Internet is not really Microsoft domain, so who knows …

That doesn’t mean …

I’m not saying that no–one should develop for the web. Heck no! Without Internet applications, we are all pretty much doomed as the Internet is. What I ‘am’ trying to say is that people'People' here are not alpha–geeks, but everyday users, who use Outlook to check mails and a browser to just search and surf much rather work with their desktop applications rather than try and make a shift to their online counterparts. It takes the local geek to introduce them to that world, and show them the advantages of getting used to it. Everyone has their preferences and their individual comfort levels. Companies like Adobe and Microsoft understand this, but they are trying to go two different ways because they both see this differently.

Internet companies should try and bridge the gap between online apps and local ones, so that whenever someone tries to shift, they aren’t disappointed by the lack of features and shift back. When Google’s Spreadsheets came out, complaints of severe disappointment were ringing loud and clear through the corridors of the web, with people saying that Google was losing their touch and (…wait for it!) … they were out of creativity! If Google has made the first impression, things would have been on a different peak today. They are recovering though, and more and more people are beginning to use Docs and Spreadsheets as collaboration tools, and easy access to their files from anywhere I’m glad they are :)

What’ll be interesting to see is if Adobe can actually beat Microsoft at it’s own game, and get a definite upperhand on it’s operating system by having the majority of the applications being developed using their framework, and having them running on Windows. Or will Microsoft gain Internet dominance as well as desktop superiority, and truly change things to a true monopoly. I’d just love that! :)