October 30, 2010

Single use websites

I realized I had amassed over a thousand links on my delicious account, thanks in great part to StumbleUpon. Trolling through the list, I realized that there were a number of peculiar tools in that list - single use websites that basically serve one purpose (a very useful purpose at that) and do not do much else. No menus, no registration, very few linked pages and a single purpose is what identifies this list.

Online Conversion Tools

HTML-PDF converter is, as the name suggests, a useful tool to convert web pages to pdf format. Paste the URL, click the "Make PDF" button and wait for the download to appear.

VozMe is a tool that takes some text typed into a text box and creates an text-to-voice mp3 file that can be downloaded for use. Includes options of male or female voices.

Ever had the urge to keep a copy of the funny dog video, only to realize YouTube isn't friendly that way. KeepVid is the solution. Supports YouTube, Metacafe and a ton of other streaming sites.

Media Converter is an online converter of media across a number of formats - both audio and video. In addition it also allows the download of media from a number of online sources.

Zamzar is another great online tool to convert across different formats by uploading an original, or just use an online streaming site and download into a format of choice.

Email Tools

MintEmail is part of the new breed of disposable email tools that allows you to make and use a disposable email id for those annoying websites that need an email from you (you could just use the tools on this list instead). But if you need an email that works for 3 hours only - here you go.

Send Email is a simple anonymous email sender. Need to send a quick note to yourself, but do not trust a public connection - this is the answer for you. You could also choose to annoy a friend, but make sure you check the usage agreement first.

Phone Tools

I can't find my phone, is a tool for you if you have misplaced your phone (at home). Type in the number, and the site will give you a ring. Hope you do not have it on silent though.

File Sharing Tools

SendUIt is an easy to use file upload/download service that allows you to share files with anyone. The files size is limited to a 100MB, and you can set the expiration from 30 minutes to a week.

Wikisend is a similar site that allows upload and download of files up to 100MB.

Webdesign Tools

Color Scheme Designer allows you to pick colors for your website. You can choose the kind of color palette you are looking for and the tool helps you pick the individual colors.

Whats its color is a tool that helps pick the primary and secondary color of an image. Extremely useful when you want to build a color scheme around a photograph.

Web 2.0 Badges is a quick and easy way to generate those glossy badges for use on your site or blog.

Favicon.CC is an online icon editor. In addition to importing an image, the site also works as a standalone editor to create a 16x16 icon image.

Here is a clutch of other tools that generate those useful (annoying?) gif files you desperately need. Loading indicator, Stripe creator, Tabs Generator, Reflection Maker, Quick Ribbon, Glossy 2.0 Button Maker.

Roundpic, as the name suggests, takes any picture and rounds the edges to give you a fresh 2.0 look for your photographs.

Image Manipulation Tools

Resizr is a simple tool to re-size and rotate images. There isn't a lot you can do with this tool, but if all you want to do is re-size, this is the tool for you.

Pixenate is an easy to use web-only image manipulation tool. Along with the crop and re-size functions, the tool also allows basic color management and photo enhancement.

Mypictr is a photo extraction tool that allows you to easily pick out your own face from a snapshot to use on your profile.

Pixlr is pushing the boundaries of simple tools. Nevertheless, it is a one page online photo editor that is pretty powerful yet limited to one page.

Other Random Tools

Cost to Drive is a eco-conscious tool that calculates the cost to go from one city to another based on the type of vehicle you are planning to use. If not anything else, it helps prove that a Hummer is three times as expensive as a Prius.

Let me Google that for you. This is for all those people that find it more convenient to bother you with their question rather than google it for themselves. Once you use it you will realize what you have been missing all along.

Namechk allows you to check if a particular name is taken at a large number of social network sites. Useful if you want to use a consistent name across a number of sites.

Finetune, though primarily for the Wii, is a great way to listen to new music based on a type of song or author, without the complexity (Flash usage) of Pandora. I've written about it before.

October 28, 2010

First Human Photographed

Before a photograph was a photograph, it was called a daguerreotype. Better than a Camera Obscura, the daguerreotype allowed a chemical capture of a stable image on a copper plate. While the quality was in no way comparable to the cameras in our phones today, the daguerreotype became the first success of humankind's efforts to visually capture our surroundings.

The picture above is an example of an image captured by the inventor of the process, Louis Daguerre. What was interesting about the picture above, in addition to it being an early daguerreotype, was the fact that it seems to have become the consensus for the first ever photograph of a human. Unlike the current freeze frame photography, early photographs had exposure times in excess of 10 minutes, and were better suited to landscape and cityscape photography. Which also meant that unless someone was absolutely still they would "ghost" out of the image altogether.

At the bottom-left of the picture is a man apparently getting his shoes shined, and was therefore still long enough to appear on this exposure. Thus, unwittingly, becoming one of the first two humans to ever by photographed.

Luckily, it seems that the art of long exposures to ghost out humans is very much alive and kicking.

October 23, 2010

You Sir, are under Siege

Stumbled upon this simple flash based game over at Armor Games. Sporting a nice physics engine, and a simple game play, this was a good way to waste an hour of one's time.

Sieger is a siege game where the aim is to use projectiles to knock down a castle and kill all the defenders. Sometimes there are hostages that need to be saved, and treasure that needs to be looted. The fewer the shots the better.

I am guessing this is the first of a series of time-wasting activities today. Now if only I can get to the "Brilliant Victory" medal in all of the sieges.

Update: With a bit of perseverance and cheating on 2 sieges later, we have complete brilliance in victory.


Update 2: Apparently I caught the bug for crushing castles. Found another game called Crush the Castle 2 on the same site. This one is a tad tougher and involves the use of a weighted slingshot.

But fear not - determination prevailed. In the battle of man vs. Crustania, man won. And all is well with the world.

October 04, 2010

Short and blended well

Blender is one of those tools you hardly ever hear about, and when you do, everything about it seems unreal. Blender is an open source, cross-platform tool for rendering 3D objects. In other words, you can use Blender to produce fully immersive three dimensional worlds. And render them either as stills (photographs) or movies.

From time to time, Blender Foundation releases short movies that showcase the capabilities of this powerful open source software. The latest in the series is called Sintel. The foundation had earlier released two other short movies called Elephant’s Dream and Big Buck Bunny. Sintel is embedded next, and the other two are embedded after the break.

October 02, 2010

Multi-blog blog

Recently I added a new section to the site - reviews. Turns out, we do a lot of watching movies, TV and other media. And I wanted to have a standalone place to document all of it, separate from my blog which has become a sort of a melting pot without too many filters.

This is a quick tutorial on the process I used to add a second blog to my site, and then make sure that the look and feel remained consistent across the two blogs and my original website. If this goes well, maybe I will move my writings over to a blog as well.

Create a new blog

The first step, of course, was to create a new blog. Since my last one was on blogger.com, I created the new one using the same service. There are a number of tutorials on creating a new blog - but it is as simple as clicking "create a blog" on the blogger dashboard and supplying a name and description. Turns out, blogger does not allow you to start a blog hosted on a custom domain, and instead you need to host it initially on *.blogspot.com. This added a later step for me to enable the custom domains.

Synchronize look and feel

Turns out there are three distinct steps to make two blogs look alike in blogger.

First Copy the template over from the old blog to the new blog. To get the full template, go to your blogger dashboard and click Design > Edit HTML and check the box that says Expand Widget Templates. Wait a little while to make sure that all the data has been loaded. Copy and paste into the new blog, making sure that Expand Widget Templates check box is checked in the new blog as well. If you do this right, you are 90% there already.

The second step is to ensure that the settings of both blogs are the same. The best way to do this is to open both blogs in two tabs and going back and forth between the two, sync the settings across the Settings tab. Do this for every page other than the Publishing section under Settings.

The third and final step to making two blogs look the same is make sure that code and settings of the various page elements are in sync. Every element in a blogger page has two components - the element itself (which is captured in the template) and the settings of the element (that are stored separately). Again, opening two tabs with the blogs open to the Design > Page Elements page and going element by element to synchronize components is the best way to do this.

Publish to custom domain

As I discovered, blogger does not allow you to create a new blog hosted on a custom domain. Since I already have a domain, I wanted to ensure that the new blog appeared as a sub-domain of anarchius.org instead of blogspot.com. This can get complicated pretty quickly, but the key steps are as below:

  • To enable the custom domain, head over to Settings > Publishing. Choose Custom Domain, and then click on Advanced Settings. In the box that says Your Domain, add your full subdomain - which for me was reviews.anarchius.org. Ensure that the checkbox below is NOT checked.
  • Next step is to add a CNAME to the recently created subdomain that points to ghs.google.com. Google has helpful hints on how to do this for a number of hosting providers.
  • Wait a bit to ensure the DNS servers communicate the changes, and check the publishing page at Settings > Publishing for the message "Congratulations, your blog is ready!". If you see it, that means everything is good and the redirect is working well. You may still not be able to browse for a short while, while your ISP DNS servers wait for the new records to flow in. But, otherwise, you are up and running.

I had a couple more housekeeping activities to do before I was all done. I had to add the menu item to the menu bar of the site so that I can actually get to the newly created blog. Also, I had to update the RSS feeds to my Yahoo pipe to make sure that the updates from the new blog were also being consolidated. That's it! About two hours in, the new section of the site was up and running.

Commercially useless

A few months ago, The Consumerist ran nominations and voting to identify the worst commercials on Television. The winners have just been announced. You may disagree with the actual order, but I doubt you will contest the fact that these are annoying advertisements indeed.

Taking the top spot was the loud and obnoxious ad from Staples, featuring the stoned, fit inducing loud-mouth that yells "Wow! That's a low price!" as he examines each and every one of the price tags in the store. If you have missed it for some reason, here it is, in all its grating glory.

The winners circle included a number of other gems, including this category: "Most grating performance by a human" which includes the surprise hit from McDonald's - The (not-until-I've-had-my-coffee) jerk.

Which makes you wonder. What is it that reason companies produce advertisements like this? Why do they think that loud, in-your-face ads are better than more subtle ones? And why is it getting worse?

My hypothesis is that this is because of the takeover of advertising by the left brain instead of the right. That is the gradual replacement of the creative by the logical. As companies have started to place more focus on linking costs to benefits, the marketing departments have been impacted. Ad spending may be going up, but it is going with caveats - spend only if you deliver. As a result marketing teams are increasingly becoming short-sighted, literal, non-emotive and defensive. Here is how I imagine the conversation for a new advertising campaign goes:

"Why do our sales suck?"

"I don't think we are making a good enough connection with the customer's needs."

"What do the customers want?"

"Our market research says they want lower prices."

"Ok, but our prices are reasonable and low."

"Yes, but our brand perception is not for low prices."

"So we need to increase the linkage between our brand and low prices. I authorize a marketing campaign to strongly increase this linkage. And I will give you pennies to do it in."

"Ah ok. So, we will feature a small set of national ads that feature s guy alternately yelling - 'company name' and 'low price'"

"That sounds great Bob, now why do our margins suck?"

"I think we need to immediately raise our prices."

"Ok, then that is what we will do."

Lo and Behold, this is how you get funding for the worst at on Television in the United States.