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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Deepfish - a new mobile browser for WM5...

Today, at the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference (ETech) in San Diego, Microsoft's Live Labs arm introduced Deepfish, a new browser for Windows Mobile devices.

Deepfish logo

Deepfish is a new type of mobile information browsing experience, aimed at preserving the rich layout and full form of documents on mobile devices while providing novel ways of effectively navigating that content on small screens. Deepfish's unique interface enables you to zoom in and out of page, quickly getting to the areas you are interested in without screen length after screen length of scrolling. A consequence of Deepfish's multi-resolution approach to browsing pages is that it loads a thumbnail of pages initially and then only what is needed for more detail when requested or in the background as you browse the initial the view, resulting in substantially quicker load times for most pages.

I remember seeing a leaked video of this sometime last year, but an official Technology Preview build is now available on the Live Labs site. I downloaded and tested it on my T-Mobile MDA and Sprint/Palm Treo 700wx earlier today. Here are some screenshots that I took of Deepfish rendering the NY Times front page, with a comparison shot of Pocket IE doing the same:


The first image shows Pocket IE's poor attempt at rendering a page that's not designed for mobile devices. Navigating through this page is a nightmare, even on a touch/stylus-enabled PocketPC device. On the other hand, as you can see in the second screenshot, Deepfish does a great job of compressing the entire page to fit the device's QVGA screen, with help from a server-side service. When you want to zoom into a section, you simply push the middle-button on the D-pad and a translucent box appears on the screen that you can freely move around with the D-pad or your finger/stylus. The last image shows the zoomed-in version of the page that is clearly legible and contains hyperlinks that you can click. The Flash demo video shows how it all works.

Being a Technology Preview, this build of Deepfish is a little rough around the edges. For example, the edges of the screen show distortion lines when the zoom window touches them. Zooming out doesn't always work properly on my Treo 700wx, but is fine on the MDA. Performance is a little slow on my MDA, although that's probably because of the slower OMAP850 processor and EDGE data connection; it works much better on the faster 700wx with Sprint's speedy EV-DO network.

With that said, I think Deepfish is off to a great start. I've tried a number of third-party Windows Mobile browsers, and I think this one has the potential to be the best one by a long shot once all the issues are resolved, and support for cookies/javascript is added in.

If you've got a WM 5+ device, Deepfish is worth taking a look at. This build will only be available to a limited number of testers, so if you're interested, I suggest signing up and getting your activation code soon.

Update: Srinath Vasireddy, a Live Labs Lead Program Manager, has left a comment here, informing me that the band of lines along the edges is not a bug. See the comments for more info on this. Thanks, Srinath.

posted at 7:17:00 PM
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The Road Ahead...

As some of you know, I completed my last quarter at UCLA on Friday last week, and I'm back home for a long vacation. The formal graduation event is in June, and I'm planning to attend since I'll probably still be in the area at the time.

So now that I officially hold a Computer Science degree, what comes next? I've thought about pursuing further studies - either an M.S. or an MBA - sometime in the future, but I feel that I'd like to spend some time out in the industry before I decide which path I want to take. I spent the last two summers working as a software engineering intern, first at Symantec in Santa Monica, and then at Google's Mountain View headquarters. Both those internships were undoubtedly the most enjoyable and rewarding learning experiences I've had during the last four years.

This time, I'll be trying something a little different. Last December, I accepted an offer from Morgan Stanley and will be joining their technology division in the Distributed Systems Development track in August this year. This will be my first opportunity to experience what it's like to work in a software development team at one of the largest investment banking and financial services firms in the world. The headquarters are located at Times Square, right in the heart of New York city, which is all the more exciting to a city-lover like me.

Since I graduated early, I have four months of holidays ahead of me. I was a little too busy last month to make any plans, so during the next few weeks, I'll be figuring out what I'm going to do until I leave California for NYC in July. Fun times ahead! :)

posted at 3:23:00 PM
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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Site layout and design tweaking...

If you're reading this post in a feed aggregator, click through to the site. What you're seeing is the first in a series of long-overdue updates to the site. If you're curious, here's a list of the changes so far:
  • Increased main content area width - the narrow content column before was actually a remnant of the original site design from 2003. I don't think many people are using 800x600 displays anymore. :)
  • Removed all content area borders - I think it looks cleaner and less cluttered this way, and there are no hard lines to obstruct the flow of the page. What do you think?
  • Post titles are now permalinks too - more intuitive, of course. I still need to keep the "Permalink" link at the bottom of each post for legacy reasons; I didn't have post titles for the first few months in 2003.
  • Flavor picker is gone - yeah, I know some of you liked the switchable color schemes, but it was a hassle to maintain 5 different stylesheets. It might return in the future in some other form. "Mint" seemed to be the most popular choice, so it carried over.
  • Cleaner comments display - color, spacing, and alignment changes. Gravatars are now disabled.
  • Sponsored links in the sidebar - more on that in a later post.
Over the next few days, I'll be updating other sections of the site that have been feeling rather neglected lately. :) The photos page, for example, hasn't been updated for seven months.

Hope you like the changes so far. Comments are welcome, as always.

posted at 10:51:00 PM
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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Will Pandora survive?

Save Internet Radio

There has been a lot of discussion on the web during the last couple of weeks about a revised fee schedule released by the Copyright Royalty Board, following a lobbying effort by everyone's beloved organization - the RIAA. These increased fees could potentially make it impossible for many internet radio stations to remain in business.

If you're a fan of music, you've probably heard of Pandora, the free internet radio service that lets you discover new music similar to the songs that you already enjoy. Last week, Tim Westergren, Pandora's founder, published a blog post about the effects of the new fees on the service, and how we, as users, can try to help. A follow-up post from this week also includes a link to an online petition.

I'm not sure how effective a petition is going to be, but taking a few minutes to sign it is the least we can do to show our support for a great service like Pandora, as well as numerous other independent internet radio stations that will be affected by this new ruling too. It would be a real shame to see them go away.

posted at 5:04:00 PM
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Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Namesake (2007)...

The Namesake

Last weekend, my parents and I drove down to Hollywood to watch Mira Nair's new movie, The Namesake. It's a brilliant film, and all of us really enjoyed it. My brother has just posted a great review over on his blog, so go check that out.

Although the movie was playing only in New York, Los Angeles, Toronto and San Fransisco this weekend, it has now been released in several other cities across the continent. Head over to the official Namesake blog, where Kal Penn has more information about upcoming release dates and locations.

Undoubtedly up there as being one of the most beautiful movies I've ever watched. Highly recommended! :)

posted at 9:58:00 PM
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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

More amazing speed painting videos...

Remember the speed painting video of John Locke that I posted last week? If you were as impressed with it as I was, you'll definitely want to check out these videos, in which the same artist does digital paintings of Sawyer and Scarlett Johannson, and an oil painting of a Lord of the Rings scene which took ten days to finish.

Fantastic stuff.

posted at 5:31:00 PM
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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Firefox + Greasemonkey: Take back the web...

Get Firefox

Most of you have probably seen the little "Take back the web" Firefox promotional buttons at some point. Firefox is a pretty feature-rich browser by itself, but extensions like Greasemonkey really do put you in control of your browsing experience.

If you've never heard about Greasemonkey before, it's described as an addon that "allows you to customize the way a webpage displays using small bits of JavaScript."

Once you install the extension, check out userscript.org, a massive repository of scripts that you can download and use. I've been using Greasemonkey for a long time now, and I still continue to discover really useful scripts all the time. This one, for instance, automatically backs up any text you enter into a textarea and restores it if it's lost for some reason (a great complement to session saver). Here's one that disables those annoying inline IntelliTXT ads. And here's a really cool one that automatically displays any image links using the "lightbox" effect. That's just a small sample of the many useful scripts out there.

There are similar add-ons for other browsers like IE and Safari too. Just remember that not all scripts in the userscripts.org repository will be compatible with them.

Take back the web, indeed. :)

posted at 12:52:00 AM
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Monday, March 12, 2007

Why Twitter still appeals to me...

The Twitter hype machine has been firing on all cylinders lately. Some people think it's the greatest thing since sliced bread, while others dismiss it off as being a yet another useless time-sink for the Web 2.0 generation. Me? I simply think it's interesting and fun. :)

Back in January, I wrote about some of the things that made Twitter appealing to me. Since then, I've discovered some other reasons why I still enjoy using it.

As Brandon points out, unlike many other social networking services, everyone's Twitter status updates are shared with everyone else (unless you switch to "friends-only" mode). The nice thing about this is that as the network grows, you can start looking at updates from people in your extended network - your friends' friends, whom you might not necessarily know directly. Over the last few weeks, I've made some new "friends" with similar interests and found new blogs with interesting content that I might have not discovered otherwise. Unlike Scoble and Pirillo, I don't plan on befriending virtually the entire blogosphere (1044 friends?! I simply wouldn't be able to keep up and get any real work done!), but for me, Twitter is an interesting way to find new people, new blogs, and get fresh perspectives on things.

Facebook and Twitter share a similar "status updates" feature, but they currently serve two very different purposes for me. Facebook lets me keep in touch with old friends from high school and friends from university, while Twitter seems to have become my network of fellow-geeks and "e-friends," many of whom I've never actually met in person, but who are great people to know nonetheless.

If you read this blog and you're on Twitter, feel free to add me as a friend. And if you're not, why not try it out? :)

posted at 4:44:00 PM
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Saturday, March 10, 2007

Use a Tablet PC to do your homework?

Tracy Hooten from "The Student Tablet PC" has an interesting post about the possibility of classroom bias against Tablet PC printed homework. Handwritten assignments completed on Tablets often look like photocopies when they're printed out, so there's a chance that some TAs/graders could mistakenly think that they're copies of someone else's work.

I've been using my Tablet for all my notes and assignments since the Fall, and never experienced any such problems. Actually, being a CS major, most of my submissions are online, but I did have a few classes last quarter where I had to submit printed copies of handwritten homeworks. Maybe my TAs were just more tech-savvy and had seen or used Tablet PCs before. In fact, printed copies of handwritten notes/assignments look impressively neat and clear, so they probably might have even worked to my advantage. :)

posted at 7:57:00 PM
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Friday, March 09, 2007

Perl scripting using speech recognition...

Don't ask me why you would ever want to do something like this, but the video is hilarious, especially the gradually mounting levels of frustration. :D

Perl scripting using speech recognition

[Hat tip to Omar Shahine for the link]

posted at 6:57:00 PM
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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

How to compress those PNGs (even more)...

I'm a sucker for all kinds of optimization tips, so when I was skimming through my feeds today, Jeff Atwood's post on "Getting the Most Out of PNG" jumped out at me. Jeff points to a great PNG-optimizing utility called PNGOUT, which happens to be written by the guy who wrote the original Duke Nukem 3D rendering engine!

Check out the post for more info. I can confirm that PNGOUT works well, even on images that have already been run through other optimizers.

And while you're at it, you might also want to check out his post on reducing your site's bandwidth usage, which offers some simple and effective tips that I had already been using for a while, but which might be new to some of you.

Good stuff! :)

posted at 11:04:00 PM
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Use Messenger? Join the i'm initiative...

Lots of Windows Live Messenger users have been coming here for the Twessenger add-in lately, so I thought I'd mention Microsoft's new "i'm initiative" for those of you who haven't already heard about it. What is it?

i’m is a new initiative from Windows Live™ Messenger. Every time you start a conversation using i’m, Microsoft shares a portion of the program's advertising revenue with some of the world's most effective organizations dedicated to social causes. We've set no cap on the amount we'll donate to each organization. The sky's the limit.

So any time you have an i’m™ conversation using Windows Live Messenger, you help address the issues you feel most passionate about, including poverty, child protection, disease, and environmental degradation. It's simple. All you have to do is join and start an instant messaging conversation. We'll handle the donation.

If you already have WLM 8.1 installed, all you have to do is add the text code corresponding to the cause of your choice into your display name, and keep IM'ing.

If you have a blog or a site, they also have a bunch of snazzy buttons/banners so you can help spread the word. I've already added a button to the left sidebar of this blog, to the Twessenger page, and to my forum signature. :)

Kudos to the WLM team for this great initiative!

posted at 12:28:00 AM
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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

New version of Twessenger is up...


A new version of Twessenger is now available. This is essentially a bug-fix release that addresses some issues and also adds error logging support for troubleshooting purposes.

If you're using an earlier version, please close Messenger and uninstall the old version before you install the update.

As always, feel free to email me if you have any feedback or run into any problems. :)

posted at 9:16:00 PM
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Monday, March 05, 2007

Watch a Photoshop-God in action...

Check out this video of an artist painting a portrait of John Locke in Photoshop. Three hours of work, compressed into a five minute long time-lapse video.

My jaw hit the floor by the end of the video. Simply amazing.

John Locke

[Thanks to my bro for sending me the link.]

posted at 11:55:00 PM
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Vista shadow copies save the day...

Around six months ago, before Vista was even complete, I blogged about how the "Previous Versions" (aka Shadow Copy) feature could potentially be a great safety net against data loss.

As I was skimming through my feeds earlier today, I noticed this post by James Kendrick in which he writes about how he was able to recover shadow copies of critical files that he accidentally lost. The post is a clear testament to how awesome this feature is. While it's no replacement for regular backups, it can complement an existing backup strategy very well. Best of all, it works out-of-the-box and requires no set up on the user's part, as JK discovered.

It's all these little things together that make Vista totally worthwhile for me, even if it means having to put up with other minor problems now and then.

posted at 11:06:00 PM
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