July 26, 2010

Snakes on a video

Ok, here is something cool. Ever wonder why Youtube takes so long to load these days - apparently there is a Easter Egg hidden within every video. A Snake video game. All you need to do is:

  1. Open a video in YouTube, any video
  2. Pause it
  3. Hit the Up and Right arrows together and look out for the tiny snake as it begins running across your screen

A hint - when you pause, look for a relatively dark frame. Will help with visibility of your snake and its food.

Ugliest Website of All Time

Who wants to see the ugliest website of all time? And it needs additional plugins to display all the media on this page. And it is, I think, about wedding gowns.


My eyes!! My eyes!!

Fair use

The DMCA, if you haven't heard already, is a broad and massively restrictive law, that makes it a criminal offense to produce or share technologies that can be used to circumvent copyright measures. Measures like the DRM. While there is nothing wrong in that noble endeavor, the draconian powers invested in, and the broad applicability of the law make it particularly distasteful.

The DMCA is behind the now infamous Cease and Desist take-down notices, that websites regularly have to content with. The DMCA has made it very easy to send out these C&D letters, independent of actual misconduct or potential litigation. Chilling Effects, is a major site, that catalogs some of these C&D letters.

Now in all the disaster that DMCA is, there is a tiny ray of hope. Every three years, the Library of Congress is entrusted with the job of reviewing feedback to the law, and identify uses for circumventing copyright, that has legitimacy. In other words, the LoC makes certain acts of DRM cracking legal. Which of course is valid only for the next three years before it come due for further review.

Today, the Library of Congress issued its latest on “Exemptions from Prohibition on Circumvention of Technological Measures that Control Access to Copyrighted Works”. The big surprise was the rule allowing the removal of DRM to use mobile phones with different carriers - a.k.a legitimizing the jailbreaking of the iPhone. Of course this in no way prevents Apple and carriers from locking/crippling the phone in the first place. Nor does it need Apple to continue to support a jailbroken phone. But if you did need to use the iPhone differently from how Jobs would approve - at least you sleep well at night knowing that the police will not be breaking your door down.

July 25, 2010

Android on my PC

The Android-x86 project is an interesting idea - to essentially port Android to run on the x86 platform (another name for most PCs out there). They publish the latest stable version as an ISO designed to boot and run PC hardware. Of course most of us may not have spare machine lying around. Thanks to the good folks over at UNetbootin, it is possible to take this ISO and create a bootable USB and try Android on your PC without having to install it.

A detailed step-by-step how-to is also available. It turned out to be as easy as it looked on paper - download the two files, run one, find the other and plug in a USB drive. A a couple of minutes later, I was running Android on my laptop.

While it did run, a couple of quick caveats. First of all, the stable release from the Android x86 is the Donut (v 1.6) build. This is two behind the current Android version and does seem a bit old. Secondly, support for the hardware in your PC is a hit or miss. The project, rightly so, focuses on netbooks and not all PCs. If you have the EeePC, you may be able to try the latest build from Eclair (v2.0).

In my case, while the PC booted perfectly, my 'Dell Wireless 1395 WLAN card' was not detected and I could not turn WiFi on. This severely limited my use for it, but it was nevertheless cool to run the same OS as my wife's phone on my PC. The ethernet card seemed to have been recognized, but who carries a network cable around these days?

If you have a spare USB lying around, this is definitely a fun way to see your quad-core crank through a mobile OS.

July 18, 2010

10 Metals in 3 Minutes

Oh this is fun! Raz Ben Ari has a bunch of innovative pieces of rock and metal on his Youtube Channel. This one goes through 10 different Metal Genres in 3 minutes. And it flows pretty well - all the way from Glam Rock through Death to Metalcore.

July 15, 2010

Creative accounting killing creativity

This post is about the broken business models for the music and film industries, and another argument for fundamental reform in the entertainment business. Based on two articles in Techdirt - one dealing with the accounting for Movies (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, to be precise) and the other dealing with profit sharing in Music.

Firstly the movies. All movies are set up as a separate company. This company takes all of the film's costs, while giving up 35% of everything the movie makes as fee to the parent studio. So while the studio starts to make a fee off every cent the movie brings in, the movie itself continues to run at a loss unless it is super hit like, say, Avatar. As Planet Money found out, the movie Gone in 60 seconds, that everyone in the world has seen - is losing $212 million. After the break is the leaked income statement for the Harry Potter movie that originally prompted this post.

The music industry follows a similar model. Here instead of the separate movie company, the impacted party is the artist themselves. All costs borne by the artist while 63% of everything the album makes goes to the Record Label before it is offset against the costs. Apparently Courtney Love did a great job breaking down the accounting almost 10 years ago.

There you go - no wonder the MPAA and RIAA can find numerous examples of loss-making movies and albums. It is because they are designed to lose money in the first place.

Symbolically INR

A new symbol for the Indian Rupee has been announced. Back in March of this year, the Indian Finance Ministry announced a contest to crowd source designs for the Indian Rupee. Unlike other currencies like the Euro, Dollar, Pound etc, the Indian Rupee was always referred to as INR and did not have a symbol. The contest ended on April 15, and we now have a winner.

Designed by a student of IIT Bombay (starting as a faculty in IIT Guwahati), the new symbol is a play on the Devanagri letter for 'Ra' and the Roman letter 'R', while reflecting the Roman letter 'e' as well. (Re was also used in place of INR to refer to the Indian Rupee).

The best part about the symbol, is that it looks so natural. Almost like something I would have designed. But did not. And I think the way it beautifully straddles the familiarity of concept with the clarity of design, is what makes it work.

July 13, 2010

Condemned to browse

Slate magazine has an awesome science section. Found this article in the section. Now I finally understand why I love Stumbleupon so much, even though I do not always spend time with the results of the stumble.

Research, as quoted in the article, has identified two distinct types of stimulation centers in the body - one that deals with seeking/wanting and another that deals with liking.

Seeking or wanting is the dopamine-based ultimate mammalian motivational engine. It is what makes us want to get up, seek, be curious, forage, crave, expect etc. Scientists have found that this is distinct and different from the opoid system of experiencing pleasure and satisfaction. In other words, the seeking system stimulates us to hunt, and the pleasure center makes us happy after success.

In human beings, the stimulation of the seek is stronger than the pleasure of success. Which makes evolutionary sense. Any animal with the pleasure center stronger than the seeking center quickly dies out, though completely satisfied. Humans, along with many of our contemporary mammals love the stimulation of seeking more than the satiation of success.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I love to stumble so much. And you like to use Facebook, or twitter, or Google. Our evolutionary seek centers are driving us to distraction with the easily availability of the 'seek'.

July 12, 2010

The real life Social Network

Came across this really informative post via Slashdot, on a Google researcher's presentation on Social networks. 216 slides and worth it. Paul Adams, the author of the piece, has a few compelling ideas that he introduces as part of the pitch - focusing on how Social Networks have got social networking wrong.

Paul starts off by showing how, by their very nature, social networks lump different types of acquaintances together under the umbrella of “friends” creating an inherently awkward atmosphere. By referring to everyone as friends, social networks (*wink* facebook *wink*) ignore the reality that people have distinctly different groups of friends.

Secondly, social networks also do a poor job of differentiating between strong and weak ties. Not everyone in a given group of friends is equally close to us. Instead social networks take the Twitter approach of treating everyone the same - giving rise to overload of trivial updates.

Thirdly, users care about privacy. But privacy is not a two-state concept or private or not private. Instead it is a much more nuanced state of private, public and publicized across different groups and strength of ties.

The entire presentation along with the speaker notes after the break.

July 10, 2010

The Egg of a Story

Came across a good short story while stumbling today that I really liked. Small, simple and well written. The Egg by Andy Weir.