Sunday, July 27, 2008

Becoming MoGlee from av_2_0

Well, nothing new has happened this week :) I bought a couple of new PS3 games, reaffirming to myself that (for now at least) I am not ditching that platform.

I tried putting AdSense ads on my blog (just for fun), but ended up removing them. This blog used to be the first result when you search for my name, its now moved to the second page. My old JRoller blog is ranked 2nd. I don't think using AdSense would negatively impact search results (conspiracy theorists will say the opposite should be true), but in the meantime, the ads are off. I am making some changes here and there (meta tags, page title), although few if any search engines read meta tags anymore.

I really had nothing new to write about, so instead I decided to talk about my change of online nickname: from av_2_0 to MoGlee. Till just a couple of year ago, I used to used the name av_2_0 everywhere. The name is fairly unique; all uses of it are probably mine. People used to wonder what it meant, though a few friends correctly surmised that it was my initials with a v2.0 :) The disadvantage with this name is simple - its not pronounceable. While at IITM, I had earned the name mowgli, since that is way too common, some time last year, I started to blog under the alias MoGlee. And now if you see, there is little if any reference to my erstwhile "handle" on any page related to me :) My old Yahoo ID still exists, but only because there is no convenient (free) way to port my Yahoo Mail to a new GMail account.

Why did I do that? I dont know... I guess I just got bored with the whole 2.0 thing... Also, in retrospective, while a series of letters and number in l33t might be cool, when the numbers and letters dont make any sense, it becomes just as bad as putting a random number after your name as all other usernames are used up :P (Of course, the WORST thing I have ever seen is people putting _iitm after their name - come on guys dont you have SOME identity outside of your college? I can understandusing this for the job interview, but afterwards?) Then again, many of my college friends are abandoning their nicknames from IIT, so I am definitely not the only one!

The disadvantage with MoGlee is its still too common - I find it used up while registering domain names and while registering for forums and websites :( Of course, the one I really wanted is, unfortunately, short of opening up a company in Estonia, there is little recourse to that. I might find myself using M0Gl33 if things keep up like this - no one seems to be using that! It would also be strangely in synergy with my cousin who uses D34th :)

Saturday, July 19, 2008

PS3 Ranting

I am upset - so upset that I waited till days after the news to post anything. At first I thought I would sell my PS3, but now I am more or less resigned to possibly having to add an XBox to my repertoire of game consoles. Why add an XBox you ask? After all, FF13 is still coming to the PS3. The answer is simple: FF13 on the XBox 360 is an admission of defeat. An admission by both Sony and Square. A lot of people think M$ paid Square a ton of money to make FF13 come to their console. I don't think that was the only factor. M$ know Japan is an RPG market. They have been desperately trying to crack it. If they were paying, Japan would not be getting an exclusive FF13 for PS3. No, partly at least this is simply a realization on Square's part that things are simply not working out for the PS3. Others will soon follow suit. Ergo my assertion that soon I will have to buy an XBox 360. I am not saying Sony is not trying; just that they are not trying hard enough. Having won 2 generations of the console wars mostly on luck and 3rd party exclusives, up against a serious contender, they simply seem to lack the will to fight. At first they seemed to believe that their brand name was all that they would require to help them win the race, once that illusion crumbled, all the fight seems to have gone out of them.

Oh they are releasing this and that action games - action games are not system sellers. A first generation IP is not a system seller. Final Fantasy is a system seller. GTA is a system seller. All of these are third part games that used to be at least timed exclusives in the previous generation that have now gone multi-platform or worse, entirely to other consoles. What make things more ridiculous is Sony execs making statements saying the "playing field" has changed, it's now too expensive to program only for one system. This is a nonsense chicken and egg statement. If you don't have exclusives, you are not going to be the market leader. If you aren't the market leader, you will not be worth making exclusives for.

The other nonsense statement is that the hardware and software teams weren't working together... I am sorry what kind of unprofessional idiotic team management do you guys have? Your "hardware" team created a console so expensive that subsidizing the hardware left you with no money to secure exclusives, and even then the console was overpriced. Saying that the console was then given to the software team to "make software for it" implies that you are pretending to operate in some sort of vacuum where your internal teams are the only ones developing games for the system. Oh well... at least you guys are getting what you wanted...

So while the XBox's cost is going down further, Sony is giving you the privilege of helping improve their "profitability". Great guys! Have you thought that if I have to choose between one megalomaniac corporation and another, I might choose the one which actually seems to have a plan rather than one which is attempting to win a format war by destroying their loyal fan base - and a pyrrhic victory it turns out in the end, what with most people simply opting to legally or illegally download movies rather than buy blu-rays.

I am an RPG gamer. If I go out to buy games today, Sony has one good RPG: Oblivion. XBox: A lot more. I know what RPG games are coming out for the XBox (or I have some idea). M$ is developing new IPs for the XBox. Sony - zilch... nada... no exclusives RPGs... None... Oh wait... We still have FF13 Vs. Regarding that, how many people are willing to bet that M$ and Square's big announcement at the next E3 will be FF13 Vs for XBox? Hell, considering this news item, and the way things are going, we may even have an exclusive FF7 remake for the XBox... M$'s console is now the best current gen one for RPGs. Who would have believed it?

Considering the nightmarish quality issues with the XBox 360 hardware, the PS brand name and fan base, it shouldn't have been this way. But then of course, a commitment to gaming is required for this and Sony it seems cannot decide whether they were selling a media device with gaming capabilities or a game console which can also play some media. They still seem confused. Consider the biggest announcement in E3: a region-locked video store, which won't even hit Europe till next year and god only knows when it will hit the rest of the world... Oh wait... I want to play GAMES on it... What about anything other than God of War? I can watch videos very well on my PC, thank you very much... Sigh...

Penny Arcade as usual strikes a chord...
It's Just Like Being There
As far as I am concerned, right now, the PS3 is a bigger failure than Vista is. It fails on various levels to achieve what I feel it is meant to be - a game console, above all other corporate objectives Sony may want to attach to it. Much like Vista, whether it makes a profit or not, and what market share it garners, has little to do with this fact. Unlike Vista, the reasons for failure are not technical, but simple mismanagement, lack of foresight and an unwillingness to adapt at Sony's end. Way to go guys! At this rate, there may never be a PS4

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Of Yahoo Mail Annoyances

Yahoo mail as it is right now is really annoying. It tries to pretend its a desktop application (Outlook) but runs on the web. Half the time right clicking doesnt work. It wont let you make as many filters as you want. The new version is way too slow, and on occasion, crashes Firefox. And the classic version, takes its name way too seriously.

Even moving away from Yahoo mail isnt easy - in a moment of prescience, the Yahoo people have realized that providing free forwarding will make them lose people to GMail faster. So they ask you to pay for it.

I feel one of two things are the best one can do in this situation:

Option A: Move away from Yahoo mail.
  1. Tell everyone that your mail address has changed and use FreePOPs, YPOPs or Mr Postman to check for the occasional mail that still comes to your Yahoo account
  2. If you are using Thunderbird, you can use the WebMail extension
  3. If you feel annoyed enough, you can use the method described here to automatically migrate all your Yahoo mails to Google
Option B: Pay For Yahoo mail profession

Nothing to say here - simply pay for Yahoo professional and you get access to POP and Forwarding, thus doing away with most annoyances (by letting you use Gmail or Outlook)

Option C: Pray for a Yahoo mail AIR App

An AIR app using Yahoo's mail and address book APIs would add a lot of value to users, and save us from the bad interface design decisions. This has been discussed in detail before, and it seem and app was also constructed, but it has now been taken offline. Yahoo may be blocking the construction of this app for business reasons - less annoyances with the free version means less users for the paid one. (You have to get permission from Yahoo before you build an application with their API). Lets hope they change their mind and allow it sometime in the future... In the meantime, a Silverlight one is more likely if M$ buys Yahoo...

On a side note, here's how you can register a ID if you are interested :)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Why you need paid software

After my recent run-in with Ubuntu, I feel a lot like this guy. A lot of times when you look at open source software, you wonder why they seem so asinine.
  1. There are god knows how many office suites and not one decent one between them - KOffice, OpenOffice, what not. Why not work together and make a decent software that everyone can use?
  2. The graphics drivers never work properly - I didnt have much of a good experience with Ubuntu graphics on my home computer's NVidia cards either. I finally got things working only after downloading "restricted" drivers (supplied by NVidia themselved), and even then Ubuntu whined like a propaganda machine
  3. Recently Pidgin developers removed the option to set the number of input lines shown in the chat window by default. Users were angry enough to fork Pidgin, finally the option was returned: instead of dragging the divider to increase the input size, you had to counterintuitively enter it as a setting in a text field
  4. Again, recently Pidgin people decided that the icons in the chat window to insert an emoticon and format text were "a waste(?)" and "improved" the UI by putting ALL the icons into a single dropdown... After users howled, it was returned as an option in the next release.
  5. KDE 4 - Gods... I cant even begin to describe what a nightmare that is...
In many of these cases, the responsible open source devs (particularly the Pidgin people and some of the KDE people too) simply said one of two things:
  1. They developed the software for their own use/as a hobby and they didnt give a damn if there were 10 users for their software or 10,000
  2. Most of the people complaining were those who just used software and had never contributed back any code to the open source community
These are very disturbing statements. I am a developer also, and often we find ourselves fixing bugs in releases 3 releases before the current one. Even besides that, removal of a feature, particularly a popular one in the commercial world is a definite no-no. A product manager with an attitude like the one above will soon find himself looking for a job. And radical, unnecessary UI changes lead to costly user retraining in a corporate environment. If I was a person working in IS who had stuck his neck out to deploy Pidgin in a company, I would certainly learn a hard lesson the moment someone made a statement like the ones above. And its not as if people in corporate environments cannot innovate - look at MS Office 2007's ribbon...

In the end caveat emptor applies - you get what you pay for. If you ask for free stuff, dont expect to be treated like a customer either. The best open source projects are ones which are run by forprofit companies - consider JBoss, MySQL, Alfresco to name a few. The presence of customers and by extension, a profit motive keeps stability and customer satisfaction high on the list of priorities, which is important for any user - whether technical or non-technical.

There are real good points about open source projects - usually their ability to decide which features to develop based purey on merit (coolness/utility) rather than profit leads to the existence of cool stuff (like Pidgin :)) which would never have been available otherwise. Its only when things turn ugly and devs start ignoring users that you get to see the ugly side of things. Fortunately, that doesnt happen very often :) but still, human nature being human nature, (and egos being egos) I dont see an end to paid software any time soon!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Annoying Open File Security Warning in Windows

So I grabbed some files off the net (using Firefox 3) and immediately found a new annoyance:
Open File - Security Warning
(No I am NOT using Vista. This is VTP in action)

On EVERY single file I grabbed, the system will keep showing this annoying "Open File - Security Warning" until I remove that checkbox and open it once (Cancelling will not work). Quite obviously, this is unacceptable. At first, I thought it was because "My Computer" had somehow gotten put into the "Internet" zone. I open up security options, and sure enough - "My Computer" was gone... I soon found that this had happened in Windows XP Service Pack 2. You can bring it back using the method outlined here, but that is NOT the solution to the problem.

A little more exploring led to this interesting finding: Windows XP contains an Attachment Manager. This largely controls the behavior of Explorer in relation to double clicking on files downloaded off the net. If you have access to gpedit.msc (Group Policy Editor), present in Windows XP Professional, you can tweak the settings to make it stop showing this warning for a particular file or entiely for the system.

Attachment Manager can be accessed from Start > Run > gpedit.msc > Local Computer Policy > User Configuration > Administrative Templates > Windows Components > Attachment Manager. Enabling the "Do not preserve zone information in file attachments" will make new downloads stop showing the message, but old ones will still show it until the chckbox is removed. Adding a file type to the list of low risk file types will stop that file type from showing the message, period.

But how does the Attachment manager know about whether a file has been created on your system, or if it has been downloaded? Well this information, along with other meta-data is stored in the NTFS file system (you can see some of it by clicking the summary tab on a file's properties) The information is ONLY stored on NTFS. So one solution to older downloads showing the error is to copy them to a Flash drive (usually Fat32) and then copy them back to remove this information.

Thsi information in Windows parlance is called "Streams." These streams can be used in many interesting ways. For e.g. to store one file inside another. Lets say you have two EXE files, Fresh.exe and Stream.exe. Then you can store Stream.exe inside of Fresh.exe using the following command (in the cmd window):
type Stream.exe > Fresh.exe:Stream.exe
Fresh.exe size will remain the same (it will use more space on the hard disk, but Windows wont tell you that) If you double click Fresh.exe, it will show whatever it used to show before. The only way to access the hidden file is using:
start Fresh.exe:Stream.exe

Massive potential for abuse you say? Well, remember this information is only available on NTFS files. Downloaded files, files from an archive, from a thumb drive etc will normally not have this information. Still the potential for abuse does exist...

You can view the streams inside of a file using this utility. One last point - why did this only start happening to me now? Well I never use IE for downloads, (I always use Firefox) and Firefox I believe did not store zone information into the file system, until Firefox 3. Ergo my annoyance :)