Friday, October 14, 2011

Airtal India 3g/gprs configuration

I have been using the Airtel gprs configuration named Mobile Office for a long time. Today I called them up, and changed my 3g plan. As an "welcome kit" they proactively sent me 3 new configurations. When I used them, I could connect to the Internet - but to my utter disappointment, other applications (like Google Maps) were unable to connect anymore!

I figured out that they have given me a WAP configuration.

After much research, and a lot of time with the customer representatives, I could finally piece together the lost Mobile Office configuration (which the customer rep confirmed to be the one to use for 3g, and he himself came up with the settings).

Below I've attached the configurations screenshot from my phone for others to use. Once you feed in the values like this, you'll have a fully working 3g Internet connection - not an WAP or MMS server that they push for unfathomable reasons.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

To rename Google Map starred landmarks

If you use Google Maps on Android, you may have seen that you can mark new POIs (by tapping and holding a location, and starring it), but there is no obvious way to rename the marked location - it takes the name as whichever address Google could look up for that place. It cannot be done even on Google Maps on the Internet.

It also appears that customers have been requesting Google for this feature, and it hasn't been added for a long time. Chances are that Google will one day add this feature - though at this moment it seems the engineers in Google are busy with implementing other features that they find motivating and challenging.

Well, there is an obscure but moderately easy way to help you change the name. The trick lies in another service provided by Google, called Bookmarks. If you open Google Bookmarks, it will show all your starred locations. You can then from there click the edit link to rename a location, it will be immediately updated, and shown next time you use Maps either on your phone or online!

If you have never done this before, you would find this feature nifty because even though Android maps does not show the starred locations by the name you have given, you will be able to search quickly by these names in the map!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Hack yourself out of jetlag

There are a lot of ways that you may know about to reduce jetlag. Well some of them worked on me partially, some didn't. I will talk about something else which works like magic -

Starve till it is time to sleep, then eat your dinner. That's all.

When you are starving, a mechanism in your body takes over, which does not allow you to feel sleepy. This has to have an evolutionary root. In the early days - when there was no Mc Donalds - if an animal is starving, it had to find whatever food in order to survive, while sleeping would not be as important a task.

So when you starve, you will find that you are not sleepy. Of course you will have to bear with hunger, but personally I think missing a meal is better than trying to suppress yawns all day during meetings. Till you are hungry, your biological clock will be suppressed - and once you eat and sleep - it will kick start and adjust to that timing. Next day onwards you should feel great!

Try it and let me know if it works for you too.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

It is all an illusion

Last week  we considered the repercussions of simulated reality, and we saw that if we live in one of them, we would have no way to figure it out (unless the 'person' who is running the simulation decides to leave hints). I left you saying it gets much worse than that. Well, it gets worse, or more interesting than that, depending on how you view it. Here's the bomb - if you are okay to make certain assumptions, chances are that you are indeed living in a simulated reality.

The argument goes this way. Because of the advances in technology and computer science, humans will eventually gain the ability to simulate full nervous system including the brain in a computer. It could happen within 500 years as some predict, or it could take 5 million years - but if it happens, the astounding conclusion will remain same. Once humans gain the ability to carry out these simulations, they will do so for fun or for research. They will end up running a lot many simulations of their ancestors, to study the past. The number of simulated brains thereby will vastly dwarf the number of real brains in our Universe. Hence chances are if we pick a random brain (or consciousness), it is more likely to be a simulated one than 'real'. You, I, all that you know could be nothing but simulated nervous systems, programmed as a hobby of an advanced being.

Before you start to loose track, let me make one thing clear - even if it is the case, it still means (in a sense) that you are real. What you smell, feel, touch and see, are real - atleast to you. Your thoughts, desires, feelings are still real - just as the brain we discussed was real enough to itself or other brains being simulated with it.

The question that I would pose next is how important is it for the simulation to be actually carried out, versus to just set it up and keep it 'paused', to make it 'real'? Little reflection will show us that nothing should change the reality based on whether it is being run or not.

If we think about the brain being simulated on pen and paper - if the entire configuration of the brain's neurons is known, and written down on a paper, how important is really the act of writing the equations and carrying out the operations on paper to make it real? What difference does it make? Once you specify the initial configuration, the remaining is just result of some mathematics which whether you choose to do now, or later, will lead to the same end result. Just like if you know a stone was thrown up, whether or not you do the calculations (know how to do the calculations) doesn't matter, in a sense that stone is destined to come back because mathematics predicts it. If the initial configuration is known, the stone's fate is fixed and is not going to change. Similarly writing the equations down or not does not change the nature of the reality of the brain - actually animating the reality in the computer or not does not change the reality of the world to the virtual characters in the computer. If you simulate, whatever results will be their reality - and that remains a truth irrespective of if you bother to calculate the results or not.

So in a sense, if you specify the initial configurations of a brain (or universe), the resulting world becomes real. Going one step further, you don't even need to provide the initial configuration in meticulous detail - if you describe an initial condition, which is not too weird and can be possible to detail out following laws of physics - someone (or a powerful computer) can fill out the painful details of the configuration of each and every molecule in one of many ways that fits your description. Then it can start simulating it. For example if you say "an universe where a cup is revolving the sun", the computer can fill in all the molecules in the cup, every particles in the sun, and give them the initial velocities so that the cup is in an orbit around the sun - and then simulate that universe and show you the result. Granted the world is not specified uniquely anymore, but what matters is that it can be done in atleast one way. In a sense, just your describing the world makes it real - in the same way as we discussed how describing an initial configuration (in detail) make it real, even though you may not bother to actually simulate it.

Why is it even necessary for you to think or describe the initial configuration at all? Indeed it is not necessary - if a possible initial configuration exists (i.e. it is does not violate any physical laws), it can be in theory simulated - and again irrespective of whether you choose to do it actually doesn't matter - it doesn't change the 'truth' of events that are bound to happen in the universe - and in a sense it's all real

Let's conclude by revisiting what we have seen.
1. The brain when being simulated on pen and paper through mathematical equations, 'feels' it is real
2. Chances are staggeringly high that we are in fact simulations run by some advanced being (even probably advanced 'real' humans) as their toy universe hobby
3. It can even be possible that we are just someone's imaginations, or worse yet nobody even imagined us, but we 'exist' because the initial configuration for our universe exists in a mathematical sense!

Someone once said, "it is all an illusion". Seems there is some truth there after all.

Sunday, October 2, 2011 automatically backed up

If you had a geocities website and you didn't have the chance to retrieve it before geocities died, fear not!

For there is a someone who might have already done it for you -

I was surprised to hear some of my colleagues discover my years old site on geocities, and that's how I got to know about it.

They seem to have proactively backed up all (or most) of geocities before it was taken down. The good news is that your data is still there. Not only did they back up and serving they pages, they also allow google to index them - and that's how I could found them.

You simply need to replace "" with "" and all your old pages will be there. Even the downloads (I tried some .zip files) work!

The bad news is that they do not support modifying anything there yet. So if you want to put a link to your current ventures, you cannot do it. From the FAQ:
For now, we are providing rather an archive and we are not able to give access to our servers for most active sites. But we will be glad to send you your files to enable you to upload and update them somewhere else and to make them available to a bigger audience than here.
You can delete it though, lest you really fear someone will see the embarrassing (ahem) attempts at taming the Internet from a much younger you. To delete something, you simply need to write to them.
We fully respect you copyright and will of course remove your interlectual property from the internet at our earliest convience. Just write a mail to oocities {AT} gmail {DOT} com and it will usually be gone within a few hours.
For me though, it was a nice surprise, and I am happy :) Here's to returning the good old days!

Thank you!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Why Firefox? Why??

Today I am going to talk about some of Firefox's strange design decisions. Don't get me wrong - Firefox is a damn good piece of software, I use it everyday. Also what I will talk about can easily be fixed or ignored - it does not affect anything in the browser critically. While these decisions may not be outright controversial, they are definitely weird. Having said that, here are the strange design decisions -

1. Removal of the RSS Icon
Not so long ago, I think back in the days of Firefox 3.5, you used to get an icon when you were reading a blog or a news channel, indicating that you can subscribe to it. It was placed very conveniently in the addressbar, and it used to show up only for posts which had an RSS or atom feed. It looked something like below -

Then they decided to remove it from there, and place it in a button, which would be turned off by default. You can customize the toolbar, and bring it back from the list of available buttons. If you do that, now (since Firefox 4 till Firefox 7 at the time of writing) it looks like -
Which is good, except it takes up more space, and it does not disappear if the URL does not have a feed. It just turns gray instead, and it is much harder than the previous implementation to determine if the site has a feed or not. The good news is Firefox being extensible, allows you to bring it back, you just need to use this addon.

2. Integration of Personas
On 2009, Firefox decided to integrate Personas - a plugin that allows you to skin the browser by painting images in in the background of UI elements like menus. When it happened, there were 10s if not hundreeds of equally if not more (and I would actually argue more) useful plugins. For example, Greasemonkey, Tab Mix Plus, Download Statusbar, Shareaholic, FoxMarks (XMarks now, and they did integrate a different build of it though not with so many features - while XMarks almost died - but that's a long story). Why would you choose to include Personas in the codebase? Wouldn't these other plugins deserve the same? I understand everyone will not need to use these plugins. Well, not everyone needs Personas as well - I tried some of the skins and they look ugly anyway. Well, the good news is if you don't want to use it, it's then just an unnecessary bloat in the code (however small), and you can choose to just ignore it.

But why Firefox? Why??

Galaxy S II vs Nokia N8, Apple iPhone 4, Samsung Galaxy S

Galaxy S2 is probably the best smartphone available to consumers to date. Consequently I did some research on the device, keeping its mind its close competitors. Below I post my review of the phone for me and others as a quick reference.

Pros -
+ Dual Core 1.2 GHz ARM processor. For comparison, Galaxy S has a Single Core 1 GHz ARM processor. This is very fast for programs optimized for Dual Core (eg. web page browser, programs that manipulates/rotates images like Google Map, image browser, etc.). Even for programs which are meant to run on a single core, the phone will supply plenty of power since the single core speed is higher than most other phones.

+ Interface driven by Android 2.3 coupled with the superfast CPU is very responsive for the end users. There is not a moment when the phone feels that it slowed down even a little.

+ NFC, or Near Field Communication. This is right now only one of very few phones that support NFC. NFC is a protocol, through which the phone can communicate with another phone or device which is NFC aware when they are brought close to each other. It is designed to operate without the requirement of having to manually pair with another device. This tech is used by Google Wallet to authorize payments - where instead of swiping a card, you wave the phone in the authorization machine and (type in your PIN in the phone) to authorize a payment.

+ USB to Go - Not only can you connect the phone to computer as a USB device, you can now use the phone to host USB devices. That is if you have a USB pendrive or hard disk, and you want to transfer videos or songs to the disk from the phone, you can do it without needing a laptop.

+ Camera - The phone sports a decent 8MP camera with dual led flash. The picture quality is good, and it is capable of capturing 1080p videos, which also seem to be of decent quality. If you need a camera with more megapixels, Nokia N8 provides you with a 12MP camera. But megapixels don't mean all, and where Samaung trumps Nokia is in the interface. It is worthy to note here that Galaxy S sports a 5MP camera which takes picture of very decent quality, though for some strange reason it has no flash! Here is an indepth review of the camera with picture samples.

+ Super AMOLED is Samaung's proprietary technology to provide even crisper display at lower power. The phone also has Gorilla Glass, which can stand its share of torture. However don't push it too much, as it may not be completely unbreakable.

+ Android 2.3 with all its goodies, the phone is bound to attract any gadget freak. The interface is crisp, responsive (even to your tilts and shake!) and intuitive - a feast to behold. It already comes with some great software, and it is easy to get some more great applications installed on the phone based on your liking. The ever  increasing appstore has lots of very good free applications that you can load. This already has better variety than Apple Appstore, primarily because Google designed it to be much more friendly towards software developers - with checks to ensure writing apps for Android is fun and not frustration.

+ Other goodies include 16GB inbuilt memory, digital compass, acceleration sensor, support for viewing running Flash based webpages, predictive input of text through touchscren swype, and more.

Cons -
- Back button seems to give trouble for some people, where it goes back twice when you press the button, instead of once. Though this seems to happen rarely, it appears to be a design fault in some phones.

- Random restarts happen spontaneously on the phone. This has been pretty much traced to SD card, and could be due to the positioning of the SD card which pushes the battery slightly out. To resolve that you may insert a piece of paper to ensure the battery is always connected. This could also happen because of other reasons, like corrupted applications on SD card.

- Google Maps voice guided navigation does not work on many countries(!!). This is very strange and slightly troubling, since navigation is one of the primary usage these days of buying a smart phone. While Google seems to be mute on reasons for this, I surmise that this has to do with managing load on their servers. Unlike most other GPS, eg. Nokia Maps or Sygic, Google's navigation works by requesting Google to plot the route instead of doing so offline on the device. The solution seems to be to install Brut Maps, a free navigation software that uses Google Maps data, though there are unofficial hacks to enable navigation in Google Maps for your country.

- Battery - Many users have reported that the battery life might be much lower than expected. This could be due to requirement of conditioning of the battery which may require using the phone for some time.

Apple - provides a stable phone, interface is practically as good as S2. While Apple offers a good platform for developers, this is where Android excels, and hence you can expect to find more free and paid quality apps and games for Android than iOS. iPhone 4 has higher resolution (960x640 vs 800x480), but lower screen size (3.5" vs 4.3"), kind of defeating the purpose and acting more as a gimmick. iPhone has no external card slot, nor USB2GO. Also it does not have support for NFC. For those conscious about looks, iPhone weighs more and is slightly thicker and bigger. Prices being nearly the same, there is a good difference in the features and looks - which makes me swing much in favor of Galaxy S2 over iPhone 4.

Nokia - unfortunately made many big mistakes and now is paying for it. Symbian, the OS in which this phone runs and on which you develop apps, was no where near as developer friendly as Android. It was clumsy to code in it, and it required you to buy a license to even make your apps install without requiring to get a phone hacked. Also the reviews of Nokia Care are generally pathetic, and it appears that most of the Nokia Care centers hire underpaid executive resulting in unprofessional experience, both in terms of attitude of representatives and in relation with damaging your gadget. They also didn't get any kudos for their decision about a year ago to make navigation free, while completely ignoring customers' plea to support all but recent devices back then. All these are not good sign for a company, and typically mean that the organization is interested more in short term profits rather than long term commitment to the customers. My recommendation will be to steer absolutely clear from Nokia till they can get themselves together to fix their issues, which will take time.

Samsung Galaxy S - would have been a phone I'd love to buy, despite it's much slower and has lower RAM, internal memory and camera resolution (picture quality is very good at 5MP). The price is only half or less than Galaxy S2. However that phone does not have certain features, including any kind of flash for the camera, which is a deal breaker for me! Why, Samsung? Anyway, other features it does not have are NFC, USB2GO, out of the box Flash support in websites (though Youtube has special support).

There are some hiccups (mentioned above), and though they are rare it cautions warranty. But if you are looking for best smartphone now, go right ahead, you wouldn't likely be disappointed!