April 30, 2011

GIF redemption

The Graphics Interchange Format (GIF) format has had a checkered history. Introduced in 1987, it has had widespread support in browsers, making it one of the most commonly used image formats on the internet. The format has also had it's share of controversy and patent issues, which led to the creation of free alternatives but never really impacted it's use.

The defining legacy of the GIF is not its ubiquity, or the controversies. Instead it is its capability to show animations that simultaneously made it irresistibly over-used and notoriously hated. Animated gifs, along with the HTML <blink> tag are single-handedly responsible for the seizure inducing pages of the 90's.

Now, the animated GIF is making a comeback of sorts, as nothing less than high-art. The blog From Me to You, has a section called cinema-graphs, which are essentially beautiful photographs, embellished with Harry Potter style animations.

Consider the following:

And this

The blog, which is primarily fashion focused, has a lot more of this. Animated GIF as high-art. Who'd have thought that was possible for redemption.

April 28, 2011

Review: Xobni for Gmail (first look)

Xobni recently announced that they were coming up with a version of their contact management system for Gmail. I promptly signed up; and the invitation came yesterday.

Setting up Xobni

Setting up Xobni was a quick affair. Xobni for Gmail uses a browser extension, and currently extensions are available for both Firefox and Chrome. I installed the beta on Chrome.

After installation, the Xobni shows up as a side bar to the right of your Gmail inbox. The beta comes in just one color - a baby blue palette - which really stands out if you are using a skin in Gmail.

Once you are set up, Xobni connects to your Gmail account and indexes your contacts from your email. For some reason Xobni does not index Gmail contacts today. This does impact the intelligence that Xobni brings to contacts.

Using Xobni for Gmail

Initially Xobni looks like an ugly version of your contacts bar, on the right side of the inbox. The magic begins once you click on an email from a contact. The Xobni bar changes to show you more information about your interaction with that contact.

In a mostly intuitive fashion, Xobni shows you the history of conversations with the contact, recent emails exchanged and other contacts that were part of these conversations.

In the inbox, Xobni displays a "trending contacts". It seems like the trend is a mixture of recent emails and volume, but there is no way to customize that at the moment. The flip side, as expressed by a frustrated user over at Xobni's support, is that you may end up being forced to see the same face you correspond with a lot - even if that is a face you never want to lay your eyes on again.

This is clearly a beta

If you are a regular user of Xobni on Outlook, you know pretty much what to expect from this plugin. But the implementation is clearly a beta at the moment, and not everything works smoothly. I was not able to test the entire "social" aspect of the tool, because Xobni always comes back saying none of my contacts have LinkedIn or Twitter accounts. (cannot test Facebook though).

The contact photos from their Gmail accounts were also not making their way through for me. While this could have something to do with the inability to assign default (or primary) email addresses, it can just as well be an artifact of the tool's beta status.

Xobni, when it came out, was an unbelievably slick addition to Outlook. Compared to the clumsy UI and straitjacketed implementation of the default address-book, Xobni was game changer. But in the search-centric, minimalist, world of Gmail, Xobni is just another way of looking at emails and contacts. Yes, it does more than Gmail contacts, but I am not sure if it adds much to the user interaction model. If and when the social aspect of the tool begins to work, it is worth seeing if that ends up making Xobni a must-have.


  • Quick and easy installation. Indexing a Gig worth of emails took just a couple of minutes.
  • A very useful, contact centric, way of browsing through emails.
  • An extremely powerful way of consolidating contacts if used in conjunction with Xobni for Outlook.


  • Contact pictures, even for the Gmail contacts, are not being displayed.
  • Does not connect to Gmail contacts, or use its' meta-data. Weak analytics for duplicate consolidation.
  • No way to order addresses within a contact. Or delete or reorder contacts themselves.
  • Social does not work (reliably?).

Exercising: A reality check (infographic)

My attempt at making an information-free infographic. All numbers are made-up, imagined or worse - "felt".

When I had first stopped making excuses for not working out, I confess my expectations were rather rosy. I had both underestimated the neglect I had heaped upon my person over time, and had easily overestimated the turnaround time required to undo said neglect.

I had heard about the 30-day rule, and figured that would be the least I owed myself. But what the rule does not tell you is that there are legitimate reasons to quit exercising within that period. Legitimate because your body vehemently disagrees with the need for exercise and tends to protest rather persuasively. Getting through the first 30 days is like trying to impress a teenager. If you get so much as an imperceptible nod, you can call that a resounding success.

The second source of perpetual disappointment was the weighing scale. It first inched up, then decided it liked the higher perch and refused to come down. Yeah I felt better, but that was no measure of success. It is as if one came to work for the satisfaction and not the money. Maybe the analogy is not perfect, but you get the point.

But as they say, there is a silver lining to every cloud of misery that is exercising. Mine was that I got to make an infographic. And for once, I did not have to bother with collecting information for it.

April 27, 2011

Movie Barcode

Movie Barcode is a fascinating look at movies. Basically each frame of the movie is shrunk down to a line, such that eventually the entire movie begins to look like a bar-code. What is fascinating is how some of the more visual movies still manage to retain and display their style.

Blade Runner, one of the more visually specific movies, is up first. The movie is about a dystopian future, and is shot under artificial lights, with a heavy blue-green cast. The dingy, cold, steel-like visual style comes right through in its bar-code.

Jaws is all about the terror under blue skies. Look at the alternating bands of the black of fear and the baby blue of a clear summer day. Notice also the scene at night towards the end of the movie.

Green and black - if ever there was a movie that epitomizes that palette, it is The Matrix. That white band a quarter of the way in is Neo's training.

Pan's Labrynth is a fantastic movie, symbolized by a deep rich color palette. Alternating between a blue reality of war and a golden-brown fantasy, the two colors represent different aspects of Ofelia's world. Captured beautifully in it's bar-code.

Dusty, dirty and hazy, Apocalypse Now, the quintessential war movie and cliche-dialog fest, is dominated by browns. This was surprising for me as I was expecting a bit more green. But going back to the trailers proved me wrong, there was always the promise of green beyond the frame, but never any in it. The blue band in the middle seems to be the night journey up the Nung river.

The trippiest for the end. 2001: A Space Odyssey. True to its nature, there is no limiting the palette of the movie, it wildly swings from one end of the spectrum to the other. Notice the black band at the end. If you have seen the movie, you know exactly what that represents.

April 23, 2011

Airline Passenger Protection (infographic)

Recently DOT announced new rules, effective September, designed to increase protection to passengers, particularly as a reaction to passenger complaints. This infographic is an attempt to provide context to the proposed changes, along with the key impact the changes will have for the average air-traveler.

This is also an attempt to make an infographic on black.

April 06, 2011

Bubble 2.0 (infographic)

Got the idea from a recent foolish post about the potential of a bubble in the web 2.0 space. If you stop and think about it, well, it does make some sense. Tools without a proven revenue source with billion dollar valuations? Given the media's preoccupation with Facebook and its ilk, the hype can only get worse.

Here is a prediction: the moment this recovery begins to take off in earnest, there is going to be a spate of IPOs by the social networking companies, with some interesting valuations.

April 02, 2011

India's Quest for the World Cup (infographic)

Woo Hoo! Congratulations to team India for bringing the World Cup back to India, after 28 long years.

There is something about superstition when you talk about Indian cricket. Especially if it is the title match of a tournament. More so if the tournament in question is the Cricket World Cup. I went back to my lucky bathrobe after the two wickets fell at the opening of the Indian chase. The wife made sure she sat on my correct side. Brother skipped watching the match with a group, because he had to make sure he sat at the exact same place as the successful quarter & semi finals. Hey - whatever works!

Here is an attempt at putting together an infographic depicting India's performance in all the Cricket World Cups. Go, India! Go!