Jargon Demystified: Dualbooting

>> Thursday, December 31, 2009

Us geeks have a penchant for different operating systems. We always want to get our hands dirty with something new, something faster, something just-out. It's part of the adrenaline rush that's so very essential for our tech-happiness. And the one thing that is essential to trying out new OSes, is dual-booting.

The worst part about wanting to try out a new OS is the fact that moving to a new OS environment is like changing your neighbourhood. And just like it's a bit crazy to get to know people around your new neighbourhood, it's equally crazy to personalize your new OS just as you want it. So, to keep our personalization intact and for that occasional nostalgia, we use something called dual-booting.

Dual-booting is essentially refers to having two operating systems installed on a single computer. The user gets to select his choice of OS at each boot. Simple, right? Not quite. When you actually get down to doing it, dual-booting can be a major pain in the ass. There are a lot of things to consider. Partitioning, filesystems, blah, blah, blah. Below is a simple list of things you need to do to make your experience as smooth as possible.

  1. If any one of your OSes is Windows, then install Windows before you install any other OSes. The bootloaders of other OSes do a much better job of recognising Windows installations than Windows does of recognising them.
  2. Make sure you have atleast one partition, which uses a filesystem that can be read by both operating systems. This way, you can shuttle critical files back and forth without the need to shove in a flash drive each time.
  3. Whatever you do, make sure you have a backup of all, yes ALL files on your system. You don't know when something might go wrong and you'll end up using all your work. Create disk images before you sit down to install another OS.
  4. And last, but not least, make sure you read the documentation for your new OS before you start installing it. You never know when a tip from any John Doe around the world may come to your rescue.

Dual-booting isn't child's play. But it isn't nuclear science either. With the right tools and a focussed head, you can go about it in a very painless fashion!

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WriteMonkey Takes The Monkey Out Of Writing

>> Sunday, December 20, 2009

Free app WriteMonkey makes it really easy to stay focused on your writing endeavours. As a blogger, I frequently find myself getting distracted by different apps when I least need them. The worst past is that more often than not, these distractions make me lose my train of thought. So, I set out to look for an app that'll give me basic text handling (Notepad-esque), without letting any distractions come to the fore. WriteMonkey does that effectively, and a lot more.

Firstly, head on to the WriteMonkey website and get a copy for yourself. It weighs in at a meagre 1.5 MB. Then extract it into a directory of your choice and you are all set to go.

WriteMonkey, by default, opens in fullscreen and hides anything else you were working on, thus serving its main purpose. You'll be looking at a cursor on a dark background. There aren't any toolbars, any buttons, or even a "Close" button. Hit "Esc" and you'll see the actual application window complete with a menu bar. Hit it again and you get back to fullscreen.

For an app that's supposed to be so tiny and basic in its functioning, WriteMonkey does its job very well. It's got a plethora of features that you can customize, and even features a spell checking tool. You won't have advanced features from your favorite word processor, but what you do get is a no-frills platform to get going.

Customization options include:

  • Default Font Properties
  • Default Background
  • Page Width
  • Toggle Autosave
  • Scratchpad (for your random, marked-for-later thoughts
  • Autotext (called "Replacements")
  • Bookmarking
If you are old-school, you can even enable Typewritter sounds for instant typing bliss.

Take WriteMonkey out for a spin and let me know what you feel about it. I've been using it regularly and haven't had any problems with writing.

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3 Timewasters To Make Your Weekend Fun

>> Saturday, December 19, 2009

The weekend is here and most of us like nothing more than to stretch out and engage in our pursuit of trivial nothings. There's nothing better on a weekend than brewing some Sunday coffee, catching up on the week's top stories, checking social networks, and basically doing nothing at all. And to add to that, you now have Technokracy's recommended timewasters on the Internet.

A Timewaster is basically a Flash based game (or similar webapp) that helps you to, well... waste your time. And here's my 3 favorite timewasters to keep you going. Think out of the box, and you'll do very well.

  • Karoshi Suicide Salaryman: This game is about a depressed employee who wants to end his life. Cute, funny graphics and over 50 levels of suicidal fun, you really need to tax your brain sometimes to beat this one.
  • Take Something Literally: You'll be given hints on every level. Take every bit of the hints literally, and you'll be well on your way to beat the game.
  • This Is The Only Level: I could never decide whether a game should contain one loooooong level, or several small ones. This game adds to my confusion. It's got the same level ending in different ways. You need to think up ways in which you can beat the level each time.
You can also find a TON of other timewasters at Armor Games. Post your favorite games in the comments, or even your best score from the three mentioned above.

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Beat Spammers With Disposable Email

>> Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Remember that last time when you really, really wanted that free e-book but were fretting to complete that "one-time, free registration" that promised not to sell your email-id to millions of spammers and businesses worldwide? Remember the feeling of helplessness as you slowly crawled across your keyboard, punching in each key with a growing dread and fearing the worst? Yes, spam can be a terrible, terrible source of headache for everybody. And it's not going to ease up anytime in the near future. Spammers are getting smarter with the techniques they use to get and abuse your email address.

So what do you do when you are faced which such a situation? Clearly, you can't NOT download that e-book because it's critical to your research. At the same time, you are really scared of disclosing your real email id. That's were disposable email addresses step in. Use any one of the services below and grab yourself disposable email addresses.

  • 10 Minute Mail: Probably the simplest services available. The moment you visit the webpage, you are assigned a disposable e-mail address that lasts for 10 minutes. There is a handy link on the page itself to refresh the time for which the address will be active. On the bottom of the screen is the list of emails that have been received for that address. Go to 10 Minute Mail, and copy-paste the email address into that pesky registration form. [10 Minute Mail]
  • Mailinator: "You are terminated!" You've heard that line in countless terminator movies (just four actually). Now you can hear it all it's glory every time you get spam from spammy sites. The good thing about Mailinator is that you don't have to get an email address from them (although you can) to use the system. You can just type "myspamkillingemailaddress@mailinator.com" (or anything else, as long the part after the '@' is the same) as your email address. And then you can head over to their website and use the same address to access any emails (useful, or otherwise), that you may have there. [Mailinator]
  • GuerrillaMail: Although GuerrillaMail is similar to Mailinator in terms of what it offers, it does require one additional step before you can use your own addresses. You need to head over to their site and register the address you want to use. Once done, you have your own @guerrillamailblock.com email address, which expires after 60 minutes. It's also got a video tutorial on how to use the service. [GuerrillaMail]

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Boost Productivity By Managing Gmail Better

>> Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Internet has permeated our lives in a clinical, ruthless manner. No matter where we are, we need to be connected. It's reached a point where an hour away from one's email inbox can lead to complete anarchy. I, for one, feel that having a cluttered Inbox severely stresses me out. It's like a pile of work that's pending. At the same time, I also realized that I'm using one of the most feature-packed webmail services in the world. So, I came up with a system that enables me to manage my Gmail inbox really well. Along with inspiration from Inbox Zero, I have managed to keep my email at bay, and tell it who's boss inside my inbox.

And today, you get to know all about it. I basically make use of many features inherent in Gmail, along with a few tweaks, to make my Inbox look really clean and tidy. Having a clean inbox lets me focus at the task at hand. Read on to know about my email kung-fu.

  • Use Labels: Labels are a really cool way to deal with emails. It's like folders taken to another level. The difference is that one email can belong to multiple emails. So, in case I have an forwarded email from an important friend, it can go to two labels, one by the name of said friend, and the other that's conveniently named "Forwards". Go to Settings > Labels to create yours.
  • Use Filters: If you haven't done so already, set up filters in your Gmail account. Filters are a really efficient way of sending the correct email to the correct places. Make sure that only the most important email reaches your Inbox. The rest can all be neatly sorted. The best part is that Gmail lets you export/import filters. To do so, just go to Settings > Lab > Filter Import/Export > Enable. My favorite filters are listed below. Create your own by clicking "Create a Filter" near the Search Box.
    1. Forwarded Emails Filter: This filter simply looks for the strings "Fwd:" or "Fw:" in an email subject and applies the label "Forwards" to matching emails. It also archives the emails.
    2. Social Networking Filter: This filter scans the "From:" field of all incoming emails and applies the label "Social Networks" to those, which originate from, well, Social Networks. It also archives these emails.
    In case you don't want to go through the trouble of creating these filters for yourself. You can import my filters file provided below. Play with your filters to really unleash the power of Gmail. My Filters File
  • Use the "+" Operator: What do I mean by that? Well, Gmail treats both "abc@gmail.com" as well as "abc+anywordshere@gmail.com" as the same. Now do you get my point? Suppose, you are signing up for the Technokracy Feed by Email. Then, you can use the email ID "youremail+technokracy@gmail.com" and still receive the emails at "youremail@gmail.com". Once you've done this, just setup a filter to redirect all emails addressed to "youremail+technokracy@gmail.com" to the label "Technokracy".
  • Spruce Up Your Inbox: They say appearances can be deceptive. Well, you wouldn't mind deception once in a while, would you? Especially if you are using the default Gmail theme and have tons of email lying unattended? It just looks plain ugly if you know what I mean. Head over to my previous post about Pimping out Gmail and read how to make the whole interface look like you want it to. Author's Recommendation: Use the Mac OS X Snow Leopard Theme with Stylish.
  • Use Firefox Extensions: This one is specially for professionals who are neck-deep into projects and tasks, but can't be bothered about using PIMs such as Outlook. Install the GTDInbox Firefox extension and see Gmail turn into a professional power-house. NOTE: This sadly just works for Firefox so far.
  • Use Gmail Labs Features: Gmail is working on some really awesome features in their Labs. So head over there and enable the following life-saving features:
    1. Hide Read Labels<: This feature manipulates the Gmail interface to only show those labels for which you currently have unread messages. Helps to draw your attention to the latest email.
    2. Multiple Inboxes: Who needs one Inbox when you can have 5? OK. So five may be overkill. But once you enable this feature, you can head over to Settings > Multiple Inbox and configure more inboxes which will show up next to, above, or below your main Inbox. This way, you can have one inbox for all mail, one for mails from your boss, and one for mails that have attachments.
I have been using all the above tweaks to blaze through my email each morning for over a year now. I am pretty sure that once configured properly, you will be able to the same for your inbox. Go ahead and play some crazy Gmail games! 

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3 Reasons Why I Wouldn't Use Google Wave Yet

>> Friday, December 11, 2009

Google Wave
Google took a jab at redefining email when they opened Google Wave to the public earlier this year. Tomes and tomes of, well... webpages, were filled with how awesome a product Google Wave is. The entire Internet seemed to be waving and blipping with excitement. This was about redefining email. About changing how you and I interact. About being awesome as always, the Google way.

Don't get me wrong. It's still an awesome product. But I still don't and won't use Google Wave. At least not yet. And here's why:

  • It's a void out there: Sure, it's just a selective Beta and there's always the option to use the "with:public" search term to get to the public waves, but do you seriously see yourself talking to a bunch of strangers? Wouldn't you rather just get on and Wave with a friend, or a colleague? The fact that invitations are not being rolled out quickly enough doesn't make the situation any better.
  • If I wanted to crawl, I'd have been a snail: I mean seriously, what happened to all the gigahertz goodness I paid for? The moment you get 30 or above wavers onto a Wave, you start noticing a lag. And the system specs don't help (yours truly ran it on a pret-ty powerfuly rig). The best you can do at the moment is use Google Gears alongside your browser. But that only helps a little bit.
  • It's for collaboration, not one-to-one communication: The idea was to reinvent email. While that was achieved in more ways than one (and you can call me a conformist for what I say next), I still feel that email exchanges are better off in their current state. I mean, I really don't want real-time messages on my screen when I'm writing to just one person, right? In its present state, Wave is best used when there are minutes to be exchanged between teams, technical documents to be written, or maybe even as live counselling rooms. But the bottom line remains that most of us won't move to a different platform just for dropping a line on our loved ones.
Google Wave has still got a lot of distance to traverse before it's ready for mass-market use. And maybe that's the point of the invitation-only Beta. But somewhere, I do feel Google could have tweaked it some more before unleashing it upon us. That could've been done by means of extra features, or maybe even by expanding the invitation queue to accommodate more people.

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Cybercrime. And Why You Need To Know About It

The fact that most computers are vulnerable to malware (viruses, trojan horses, etc.) is no new news. But what is shocking is the alarming rate at which malware is getting more and more sophisticated. The earliest viruses were mere pranks, meant for gags. With time, these viruses started evolving into crazy scripts that did everything from deleting your data, to stealing your identity. Now, more than ever before, we have the dire need to safeguard ourselves against the threats out there.

2009 kicked off with a major crisis for most computer users and anti-virus makers. The Confiker worm was busy creating havoc all around the world. Targetting mostly Windows XP systems, this worm is adept at infiltrating your computer and turn it into a zombie for inclusion into a large number of malicious botnets worldwide. Infected computers are then used to attack different websites. Conficker, however, is a thing of the past now. Anti-virus makers quickly came out with patches that stopped the Conficker virus from spreading rampantly. New-age malware is getting more dangerous with each passing day.

A case in point is the Gumblar virus, which infected close to a 100,000 computers in the first 3 months of its existence. It's very difficult to detect and is dynamic in nature. What that means is that it never uses the same code to infiltrate two different computers. Gumblar's main motive is to steal your private data - passwords, bannking details, surfing habits - you name it, and Gumblar wants it. The worst part? There is no concrete patch available yet.

So, what are the most common ways through which malware attacks your computer?
  • Browser Plugins: Don't you just love those YouTube videos? Well, you won't when you know that bugs in plugins like the Adobe Flash Player (used for serving your videos), and others, are the primary intrusion points for most malware. Video plugins, PDF plugins, Active X plugins, etc. make your computer vulnerable to attack if they contain loopholes. The solution is to keep your plugins updated at all times. Better still, albeit impractical, disable them. If you are a Firefox user, use an extension like NoScript.
  • Open Ports: Ports on your computer are like electric sockets on your walls. Softwares plug into various ports on your computer or servers to provide you with the services you want. The problem, however, comes up when you leave your ports open on your system, which are not being used by any software. Hackers tend to look for open ports through which they can gain access to your computer. The best way to protect against such attacks it to use a Firewall, or to block access to all unused ports using your router.
  • Social Media/Networking Sites: So you thought Facebook is not susceptible to attacks? Think again. Facebook and other social portals are breeding farms for phishing and pharming scams. Phishers masquerade as trustworthy entities by sending you emails/IMs, which appear to be legitimate, but never are. Pharmers gain access to your information by redirecting you to fraudulent websites, when you want to go to some popular site. As of now, the only way to guard yourself against such attacks is awareness (just look at exactly what you are clicking before clicking it). You could also use updated antivirus suites and a Firefox extension called WebOfTrust (WOT). Also, remember that not every familiar face on your social network is a friend.
  • Removable Media: And last, but in no way a minnow, removable media like flash drives, iPods, even cameras and cellphones may contain malicious content. Your best bet against these is to use a regularly updated anti-virus software.
With the rampant growth of the Internet, one can only expect malware to become more sophisticated, and use increasingly complex ways to deceive users. One line of defence is not enough to keep your data and identity safe. It's best to use a combination of different solutions. Staying one step ahead is your best bet against malware. And do remember that you are responsible for the mistakes you make only. If you aren't aware, or updated, then you have yourself to blame for any security failures.


VMWare Working to Virtualize Smartphones

Most geeks have, at some point of time or the other, used multiple operating systems at once. We love our Windows environments, our Linux distros, and our Joliclouds. And we love to have them running at once. Well, if VMWare (the pioneers of virtualization) are to be believed, that same goodness is comin to our phones as well.

Srinivas Krishnamurti, VMWare's head of mobile phone virtualization, in an interview to Computer World said that they are currently working on various means by which virtualization maybe possible on mobile phones. He went on to add that merely dual-boot smartphones won't be the way forward, and that there must be a way by which multiple operating systems may be run simultaneously. He says,
We don’t think dual booting will be good enough – we’ll allow you to run both profiles at the same time and be able to switch between them by clicking a button,” he said. “You’ll be able to get and make calls in either profile – work or home – as they will both be live at any given point in time.
That single statement shows the kind of potential that virtualization has. VMWare has already demonstrated the co-existence of Android and Windows Mobile on the Nokia N800. Over time, we may see various operating systems slugging it out even more to be the consumer's secondary OS of choice. Of course, this also means that mobile hardware must continue to expand in the way it has been doing over the past few years. The only downside that the consumer may face would be the need to pay licensing fees for using a particular OS. But at the moment, it seems to be a very bright and shiny future for cellphone power users. I, for one, am dying to run the iPhone OS on my last generation Nokia N82.

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Extensions Come To Chrome

>> Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Everyone knows that Chrome is an awesome browser. It's fast, it's free and it's Google! But the one advantage Firefox always had over Chrome was extensions. In fact, that's the only reason why a lot of users (including yours truly) didn't make a permanent switch from Firefox to Chrome. But all that is set to change. Google recently made extensions live in Chrome's developer version, and today, theextension gallery went online.
As of this morning, the extension gallery already has 411 extensions.

And here's how you can get them:

  1. First, upgrade to the latest developer build. This involves opening your current Chrome installation, and going to the Chrome Beta page.
  2. Once you've downloaded and installed the Chrome developer build, you are all set to go.
  3. Just fire up Chrome and visit the Chrome Extension Gallery, and check out all the extension fun available online.
And that's all there is to it. Go ahead and take the new souped up Chrome for a spin! And to help you start out, here's my 3 favorite Chrome Extensions:

  1. Chromed Bird (Twitter Client)
  2. Aviary Screen Capture (Screen Capture)
  3. Stumble Upon (Social Media)

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Setup Google DNS For Your Computers

>> Saturday, December 5, 2009

Holiday season seems to be a time of festivity even amongst Google engineers. Last year, they unleashed a slew of Google Labs features upon the world, each more innovative than the other. It seems like they are upto it again with some useful as well as fun ideas coming through. This year we've already seen the Default Text Styling Labs Feature, Google's initiative to send your holiday card for you (US only), and now they've come up with Google DNS.

I can hear you swearing under your breath. Fear not comrades, for DNS isn't the devil. It's not even half as complex as it sounds abbreviated. I'll delve into DNS today and also show you just how to go about configuring Google DNS for your computers.

DNS (or Domain Name System for those who love it long) is actually one of the cleverest innovations of the Internet. DNS is what enables you to sit your ass in a chair, type a website into the browser, and whistle happily as the browser serves up your page.

This is how it works. When you enter a website into the Address Bar of your browser, the browser is initially clueless about what you want to see. This is because computers are nasty, arrogant dudes who simply fail to understand the finer nuances of human lingual abilities. All they understand are numbers. So when you hit the Enter/Return key on your keyboard, something called a Resolver kicks in and takes the text from the browser. Then, it compares that text to a huge, collosal database that contains numbers associated with the entered text. These numbers, called IP Addresses (Internet Protocol Addresses), make the Internet (or in fact any network) work. This database of IP Addresses is called a DNS Cache, which is stored at with your local ISP (the company that gives you your Internet connection). A website is displayed if the IP Address corresponding to a particular text is found. If it isn't found, the resolver broadens its search and looks for the IP Addresses in nearby DNS Caches until the website is found (now you know what they mean by "Website Found. Waiting for Reply..." in your browser status bars).

So what Google has done, is made a consolidated database of websites, which they've deemed safe (read malware free) and stored it across various datacentres across the world. They have also implemented certain mechanisms that enable the browser to redirect to the nearest DNS when you request a page. What this does is reduce latency and brings up your webpages quicker. So, with a bit of work on their part, Google has made the Web safer and faster.

Now that you have the background, I'll show you how to configure your computer(s) for Google DNS in Windows Vista/7:

  1. Go to the Network and Sharing Center (Start > Control Panel > Network and Sharing Center)
  2. In the sidebar, click on "Change Adapter Settings" or something similar. This will show you a list of network adapters configured on your PC.
  3. Right click the adapter you are using (say Local Area Connection, or Wireless Network Connection) and select "Properties". This opens the Property sheet for that adapter.
  4. In the Networking tab, double-click the "Internet Protocol Version 4 (TCP/IPv4)" entry. This makes another window pop-up.
  5. In this new window, select the General tab and then click the option that says "Use the following DNS server addresses". This enables the two boxes below the option.
  6. In the first box "Preferred DNS Server", enter the value (look at the screenshot left above).
  7. In the second box "Alternate DNS Server", enter the value (look at the screenshot right above).
  8. Click OK for all the windows.
  9. For optimal performance, go to a command prompt (Start > Run > cmd.exe) and type "ipconfig /flushdns" (without the quotes) and press Enter.
  10. That's it! Welcome to the safer, quicker web!
For people who think Google is just a big company trying to get into each of your lives with every product, use OpenDNS. You can also configure Google DNS to work for your entire network of devices by entering the above settings in your router configuration page (usually

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Pimp Out Your Email

>> Thursday, December 3, 2009

Last week, I did a post on making your Desktop look good. If you missed it, read Trick Out Your Desktop To Make It roductive. On a similar, but more vain note, today I am going to talk about making Gmail look good for you. These tweaks, though more of a cosmetic kind, will make your Gmail experience nicer, and more worthwhile.
First of all, switch to Firefox. It's one of the safest browsers around, and some of the tweaks mentioned here work best on it.

Gmail themes library
  • Use a theme for your Gmail inbox: If you haven't done so yet, head over to the Settings  > Themes tab and select one of the many themes available for Gmail. You can also choose your own colors by clicking Choose Your Own Colors at the bottom. If a fixed theme is not your taste, select Random.
  • Install the Better Gmail 2 Firefox extension: Better Gmail 2 adds a lot of handy features to your Gmail tab in Firefox. It ad various features such as Row Highlights, Attachment Icons, Unread Count on Favicon, etc. Hit the link above to read the whole list and install it.
  • Install Stylish for Firefox: Stylish is a really neat addon for Firefox. It lets you reconfigure the appearance of most websites, and theme it to appear differently. Themes can be installed from Userstyles or just right-click the Stylish icon in the status bar and select "Find Styles for this site". If you are good with CSS and Javascript, you can even code and upload it to the website (in case you do, mention it in the comments below). Mac fans can use the Snow Leopard theme here. Check out the screenshot below.

  • Use Gmail Labs Features: If you have Gmail Labs enabled, you can simply use the Default Text Styling feature by going to Settings > Labs. After you enable it, go to Settings, scroll down and select how you want your text to appear. Do note that the style you set here will also be how your emails will appear to your recipients. So go a little easy on that shade of lavender that you love.
Incorporating these tweaks will surely help to make your Gmail experience droolworthy. In case you've always stuck to the POP/IMAP interface for Gmail because of Gmail's lacklustre default interface, maybe this will convince you to make the switch.

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This Month in Tech History

>> Tuesday, December 1, 2009

As kids, we were always taught that we are shaped by our past. The same can be said about technology. That lovely feeling of nostalgia that fills us geeks when we look back at how technology has evolved over the years can be really moving. I still remember my first mobile phone (a measly Nokia 5110i. I roll with an N82 now. Sweet!), my first (and only) iPod, the iPod Mini 2G, and my first computer, which was made WAY back in 1990 by a company, which has probably ceased to exist.
So, in keeping with our teachings, I'm going to write, on the 1st of each month, about old technological developments (and news) that still makes us shiver, nod appreciatively, and downright overwhelms us with emotion.

Welcome all, to This Month In Tech History - A date-wise listing of what was hot this month, that year.

  • December 1, 1941: Microprocessor co-inventor Faggin is born - Dr. Frederico Faggin was born in Vicenza, Italy.
  • December 3, 1968: CDC Announces 7600 Supercomputer - Control Data Corporation announces the 7600 model, considered by some as the first true supercomputer. It calculated at a measly 40 Megaflops (a lot in those times). Designed by Seymour Cray.
  • December 9, 1916: Cryptologist and Statistician Good is born - Irving John Jack Good is born in London. During W.W.II he worked on both the Enigma and Teleprinter encrypting machines with Alan Turing at Bletchley.
  • December 10, 1815: Lady Ada Lovelace is born - She is widely considered the first computer programmer. She worked with Charles Babbage (the father of the computer) and the language ADA was developed in her honour.
  • December 12, 1980: Apple Computer's IPO - The largest IPO since Ford Motors went public in 1956. The shares were originally prices at $14 but opened at $22. All 4.6 million of them were sold almost instantly. 40 out of 1000 Apple employees turned overnight millionaires.
  • December 18, 1991: IBM and Siemens AG announce 64MB DRAM Chips: IBM and Siemens announced the development of the 64MB DRAM prototype. It was once of the first developments that followed Moore's Law.
  • December 24, 1791: Charles Babbage is born - Born in Teignmouth, Devonshire, Charles Babbage would later be given the title "Father of the Computer".
  • December 26, 1982: TIME Magazine names a non-human "Man of the Year" - For the first time ever, TIME magazine names a machine of the year, the personal computer.
  • December 30, 1987: PC-DOS sees version 3.2: IBM's version of DOS, used on the IBM-PC, was released on this date. The system requirements were 128 KB RAM.
The dates mentioned above changed the technology world as the then-geeks knew it. It would eventually evolve into something total and powerful.

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    Trick Out Your Desktop To Make It Productive

    >> Saturday, November 28, 2009

    The desktop is the first thing that greets us when we log into our computers. And it's also probably the most underutilized aspect of our working environment. Most of us (you too, homie!) just dump all our icons and shortcuts onto the desktop and forget about cleaning them up later. Although that approach gets the work done for most of us, it isn't half as productive as it can be. Luckily, you have me to show you exactly what to do to trick out your desktop with some awesome (yet light-weight) applications.

    Important: Although these can be installed on any post-XP windows system, you get the most out of them when you are using Windows 7 (No. I am not a Microsoft fan-boy!).

    So here's what you are going to need:

    1. Rainmeter
    2. Stick
    3. Close All Windows
    4. Jumplist Launcher
    5. 7Stacks
    6. Fences
    7. Blaze: Automated Desktop Experience
    Now that you have all your gear in place, let's get this party started. Below, I am going to explain the basic functioning of each of these apps and how you can use them to make your desktop work the way you want it to.

    Rainmeter: If there's one app that made the Windows desktop totally usable, it's Rainmeter. Rainmeter essentially uses some scripting kung-fu saved in .ini files (that's normal text files saved with the extension .ini). The developers like to call them "Skins", although I prefer to settle for "Widgets". The default installation (make sure that you downloaded v1.0) comes with an ass-kicking number of widgets and you can download more from Customize.org Rainmeter also comes with a default theme, Enigma by Kaelri, which should be able to handle all your needs. Look at the screenshot below to see how it looks. The theme comes with multiple clocks, a basic calendar, a tasks list, a GMail widget, Weather widget, a Twitter widget, RSS Reader, System Monitors, Application Launchers, etc. You can add/remove widgets at will.

    To use a widget you need to place its configuration files (.ini) into "%USERPROFILE%\Documents\Rainmeter\Skins. Then, to add widget, just right-click on the Rainmeter icon on the taskbar and select the appropriate skin from the Configs sub-menu. To remove a widget, just hover over the individual skin sub-menus and select Close Skin. The uber-geeks who are comfortable with playing around with code may modify the .ini files to make the widgets suit their needs. The code is actually quite easy to work with.

    Stick: I don't know about you, but I'm a huge fan of any software that's tab. So the other day, I started thinking why I can't add tabs to my desktop. In my quest for a satisfactory answer, I discovered Stick. Stick enables you to place convenient tabs to the top, bottom, left and right desktop edges. These tabs may be used as a Notebook, a permalink to your most-visited sites, or even a hard-link to your favorite folders. I use Stick to display Notes, Google Calendar and my Documents Folder. You can also assign custom keyboard shortcuts to open/collapse a tab (I use Winkey + C for my Calendar). Its very easy to configure and you should definitely take it out for a spin. My only gripe with it is that it uses the IE8 engine to render web pages.

    Close All Windows: This is one of those little buggers that are best used on Windows 7. Just extract this app into a folder and Pin it to the Taskbar. Next time you are in  a hurry, just click the button once to see all your open apps vanish. Do make sure that all your data is saved though.

    Jumplist Launcher: Another Windows 7 app, which uses the awesome Jumplists in Windows 7 (look at my post Nifty Windows 7 Features for a review). Just run this application and add upto 60 of your favorite files, folders, and applications in the window that pops up. Then pin Jumplist Launcher to the Taskbar and get access to those items within two clicks.

    7Stacks: Mac users use something called a Stack to show them the contents of their favorite directories. Just clicking on a link on the desktop shows an aesthetically-pleasing representation of a particular directory. Windows users can get the same goodness by using 7Stacks. Just install the application and create your stacks from within the window that pops up (TIP: place the stacks as a shortcut on your desktop to really make them work for you). Find a version for Windows Vista/XP here.

    Fences: This one is for the icon-junkies. Install fences to create different containers of icons on your desktop. No more hunting for icons as you will have the relevant ones grouped together. Fences manages these icons once it's running. You can drag the containers around, resize them or delete them altogether. And just so your desktop doesn't look like an ugly mess of icons (thus hiding the lovely wallpaper, or your amazing Rainmeter widgets), you can double-click on the desktop to hide all icons. Do it again to make them visible.

    Blaze: Automated Desktop Experience: This little big-guy is probably the best application launcher that there is presently. Just hit Ctrl+Alt+Space and a cute little box pops up where you can type the name of your program to make it run. It also performs a host of other functions, which can be found here. The best part is that you don't even have to remember the name of your app to run it. If you type in "Moziwa Faiafox" instead of "Mozilla Firefox", Blaze will still launch your favorite browser. Blaze also automates tasks such as renaming files, etc and can open your files and folders.

    All, or some of these apps used together should definitely make your desktop experience a very productive two-click affair. You will most likely forget about having to dive deep into the file-system to get to what you need. I have also been looking for ways make the Windows 7 taskbar as small as possible (for Netbooks), but haven't been able to find anything rewarding yet. Will post something when I do.

    What's your favorite way of getting your desktop to work for you? Tell me about it in the comments. If you liked this article, don't forget to digg it and tweet about it to your friends. Use the share widget below to do the same.


    Technorati Blog Claiming Process

    >> Friday, November 27, 2009

    This post is basically here so that Technorati can verify that I own this blog. I will be publishing more content soon.

    Technorati Claim Code: MVVN3DKYKGKY


    Fishbowl is awesomeness for Facebook!

    >> Thursday, November 26, 2009

    Microsoft recently released Silverlight 4, and they showed off its capabilities to the hilt by showing us a cutely titled Facebook client "Fishbowl". Fishbowl essentially provides you with a view of your Facebook account without the ugly bells-and-whistles (read: Suggestions, Highlights et al). It turns down Facebook into what it was supposed to be before social networking overloaded the Internet. It provides you with a very slick, streamlined interface to manage your Facebook deeds.

    The application starts off with asking for your credentials and then proceeds to make you click a few "Allow" prompts so that it can fetch the data from Facebook. A word of caution though: The data-fetching itself seems to be agonisingly slow. It's nothing compared to the Chrome/Firefox/Safari goodness that you are used to. However, once done, it provides you with a toolbar on top and a sidebar to the left. The toolbar provides a box to update your status, and different buttons for Home, Friends, Profile, Photos, Notifications, Upload, and Sign Out. The sidebar provides you with feeds from all over Facebook.

    The app does a very good job of segregating the overall News Feed into smaller categories. You have different feeds for Comments, Pages, Photos, Links, Videos, and Notes to name a few. It also does a mean job of taking out all the Application spam from your main feed and then giving each application its dedicated location in the Sidebar.

    Windows 7 users can put this app to maximum use as it has support for Jumplists and Taskbar Previews out-of-the-box. The Taskbar Preview can actually be used to directly jump to your favorite Facebook section using the controls provided. There is also a mini-mode, which displays a single item of your news-feed at a time. You can use Next and Previous controls to browse through all your Newsfeed items. And last, you also have theme support in a minimalist kind of way. The themes only affect the Toolbar at the top of the window.

    All in all, its a must-have for the Facebook junkie. Other users can also take it out for a spin if they are tired of the same, bland Facebook interface and its relentless spamming of the News Feed.

    Think it's cool? Or know of a better client for Facebook? Then drop a comment below and get a discussion going!


    3 Things I Miss in Mozilla Firefox

    >> Wednesday, November 25, 2009

    Everyone knows it. Mozilla Firefox is an awesome product, which shines as a bright beacon (read open-source and free), in an otherwise increasingly commercial software market. Recent stats show that if the number of Firefox users around the world were treated as a country, they would form the third largest country by population, preceded only by China and India. After conquering Antarctica and Europe in terms of penetration, it is catching up to Internet Explorer really quickly.

    However, in-spite of being one of the best browsers on the planet and doing that one-handedly, there are certain features that I wish were a part of Firefox out-of-the-box.

    • Domain Highlighting: This is something that the Firefox team can pick-up from Chrome. Chrome, by default highlights the current domain you are on. This acts as a safeguard against fraudulent websites as it automatically attracts the user's eye to the domain name. By doing so, the user more often than not, ends up taking a second look at the domain name. The user can then determine whether the domain being displayed is indeed the domain he/she intended to visit. There is, however, an extension that enables this very feature in Firefox (as well as a lot of other nifty features). It' called Locationbar2 and can be found here. It works well with all versions of Firefox up to 3.6

    • Jumplists: Let's face it. Jumplists are probably going to be the most-used feature in Windows 7. I have talked about it in my post about Nifty Windows 7 Features. Sadly, Firefox users are going to have to wait for Jumplists till Firefox 4.0 is released. There is however, a workaround, which enables you to make use of the yummy Jumplists. It's called Winfox and it's available for both x86 and x64 versions of Windows. Find it here.

    • Quick-start Home Page: Opera has Speed Dial. Chrome has a new tab page that shows your recently viewed websites, bookmarks, and recently closed tabs. Safari has the swanky Cover Flow lookalike. Hell, even Internet Explorer has a lame excuse for a new tab page. And that's exactly the reason why I believe Firefox should have a New Tab page of sorts. It's just something no modern browser can do without. However, like everything else, the extension gallery has a solution for this. You can install the New Tab King add-on to get a handy startup page. Once you got it up and running, you can go here to configure some of your other add-ons to work seamlessly with it.

    And those are the 3 things, which I believe if implemented, can raise Firefox's awesomeness to new heights.

    Do you have any brickbats about Firefox? Discuss them below in the comments section.


    Nifty Windows 7 Features

    >> Monday, November 23, 2009

    We've all hated Windows Vista for every torture that it inflicted upon us. And many of us were very skeptical about Windows 7 and whether it would be able to live up to our expectations. Right from the early Betas down to the RTM (Release-to-Manufacture), Microsoft had taken it upon itself to rollback all the Vista-esque pain and provide us with a leaner, meaner computing experience. On October 22, we finally got Windows 7. We upgraded. We loved it. We hated it. We said every damn thing that we possibly can about it. But the results are in and people like Windows 7. More so than they ever loved Vista. Or any other Redmond OS before that. And to celebrate that fact, we are going to round up some of its best features.

    • Jumplists: Remember the plain-Jane right-click on taskbar buttons? Well, with Jumplists, all that is a thing of lore. Jumplists are handy little lists which pop-up when you right-click on application buttons on the taskbar. Depending on application support, these lists may show the most recent files opened with a particular application or even go on to show some of the most common tasks you can perform with the application.

    • Superbar: The taskbar itself has been revamped and renamed to be called the Superbar. It's been given a fully-transparent Mac-style dock look. It's also much bigger now. The Quick Launch bar has been done away with and the application buttons themselves are mere icons (no text). Show desktop has been replaced by Aero Peek at the rightmost edge of the taskbar.
    • Aero: The Aero engine from Vista has been revamped completely. It now consists of Aero Peek (the live thumbnails displayed when you hover the mouse over an open application in the superbar), Aero Shake (shaking an application window back and forth with the mouse minimizes all other windows and vice versa), and Aero Snap (dragging a window to the left, right and top edge of the screen makes it snap to the left side, right side and maximize respectively).
    • Start Menu: The Start Menu has been pimped out and now features a search box that actually does some searching. Most applications have a button along with their entry, clicking on which shows up the most recently-used files for that applications (kinda like a mini-Jumplist feature). Applications can be Pinned to the Start Menu as well as the Taskbar.
    • Winkey on Steroids: The little Winkey on your keyboard is actually useful with this version of Windows as it performs a myriad of functions now. Here's a little list to get you started:
    1. Win + P: Start projection on additional display.
    2. Win + T: Shift focus to the taskbar and navigate between application buttons using arrow keys.
    3. Win + X: Open the Mobility Center (laptops only).
    4. Win + Arrow Keys: Activate Aero Snap for current application (give it a spin).
    5. Win + Space: View Desktop

    • Media Center: The Vista Media Center wasn't very usable. The W7 Media Center is just the opposite. You'll love browsing through your music collection if you have it properly tagged along with album arts. Plus the Media Center ties in seamlessly with various streaming content providers. There is also good support for TV Tuners.

    As you can make out, after the debacle called Vista, Microsoft has gone out and listened to all the little things that the users wanted. This is probably the biggest factor which has contributed to the runaway success of the OS. You can follow the link below and check out Lifehacker's Complete W7 Guide. Or you can leave comments about your W7 experience.


    Chrome OS: Unveiled

    >> Sunday, November 22, 2009

    2009 will probably be remembered for major software upgrades, be it the much hyped Windows 7 launch, or the Office 2010 Beta, there's been something in it for everyone. But another area that has really taken off over the past year has been Cloud Computing (very simply put, that's living and doing most of your work online). And that's exactly what Google was hoping to exploit when they announced their Chrome OS earlier this year.

    Chrome OS is going to be Google's answer to the large number of Netbooks (that's ultra-portable, low-spec laptops for the uninitiated) that are proliferating in the market. From the looks of the technical preview, which Google provided this Thursday, Chrome OS is going to be an exciting, if not outrageously awesome product. In fact, if the early response to Chrome OS is taken as a yardstick, Microsoft has a lot on its plate regarding its Netbook offerings (especially in light of the unexpected poor performance of Windows 7 on Netbooks).

    What's under the hood, you ask? Well, here goes.

    • The Interface: As largely speculated, the Chrome browser is going to be used as the main interface, be it for traversing the file system, or for connecting to web-apps.
    • Kernel: Chrome OS will be using the Linux kernel at its heart. However, the kernel is expected to have support for a limited set of hardware initially, with support for other hardware expected as it evolves.
    • Application Support: Chrome OS wants you to forget your local hard disk. Like I said, it's about the Cloud, baby! Google's own webapps (namely GMail, Calendar, Reader, Wave, etc.) will be supported out of the box. Other webapps, which want to be part of Chrome OS, will be allowed to install their links onto the OS. The trusty old hard disk will probably only be used as a temporary storage, so that if you ever lose connectivity, you have your information safe. Once back online, the apps will sync again.
    • Speed: Here's the verdict. It's BLAZING fast. In the preview, Google claims a cold boot time of 7 seconds (though exact specifics of the test machine weren't made public).
    • Eye-Candy: Like almost all Google products, Chrome will adopt the minimalist look.

    Google also said that the Chrome OS will be released sometime in 2010. However, it is expected to be a tightly coupled OS (meaning, it will run only with certain hardware), and hence probably won't be available as a download. Google intends to provide minimum hardware specs to manufacturers for the same reason. Developers have been kept interested as the Chrome OS project has now been released as the open-source Chromium OS project.

    So what's in it for the consumer?

    For starters, Netbook prices are going to go down. This is because most notebooks today run Windows as their primary (and probably only OS). What this means is that manufacturers charge the end-user a licensing fee for their copy of Windows. Chrome OS is going to be open source and hence the end-user is going to be spared from huge licensing fees.

    Secondly, very simply, another OS implies more choice. I mean just how long can you keep on staring at the blue XP taskbar?

    Thirdly, it's going to help users seamlessly migrate to the Cloud. When you see that all it takes for you to get online is a 7-second boot time, you know what I mean.

    Do I see you eagerly rubbing your palms to get some Chrome OS goodness between them? In that case, all you need to do to get down and dirty is head over to gdgt.com and download the VMWare Image they've provided. You will need VMWare running on your Windows/Linux/Mac machine. After getting it up and running, all you need to do is sign-in using your Google Account Credentials.



    >> Saturday, November 21, 2009

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    Technokracy is the geek's democracy. It aims to be a blog that brings you quality opinions on existing and upcoming technology. Whether you are a novice, or maybe a Geek-guru, Technokracy hopes to whet your appetite for information. You are encouraged to dive deep into the articles that will be published and start quality discussions on them. Find widgets of interest to the right side of the page and feel free to surf around.

    A final word. This is still a work in progress and you may not find features you are used to on other sites. However, suggestions are welcome and you can go to the Feedback page and post anything that you'd like to see in the future.

    Happy Clicking!


    About This Blog

    This blog was created out of my passionate following for technology. After spending most of my life behind a monitor, and bent over a keyboard, I decided that it would be wonderful if I could pass on a bit of my knowledge to fellow netizens. And with that, I realized that it's time to start my first Blog. I hope that I will be able to keep posting quality content regularly. Please drop your comments about the blog on the Feedback page. I will do my best to respond.

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    I am a final year Engineering student. This blog is my attempt to provide perspective on technological developments (computers and the Internet) from around the world. This is my first attempt at blogging and any feedback (good or bad) is welcome.

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