Tuesday, November 30, 2004

The Usability Of Internal Links

I had half-written a post on Internal Links, which I never got around to completing. Here's what I had written.

Internal links (or the #-links, as some people call them) in a document are wonderful things. You can jump from one point in the document to the other without a page refresh, in a snap - literally. These links are typically used for linking from an on-page index to the relevent part of the document (on the same page). (Example - scroll down slightly to see the Table of Contents which is all made up of internal links.)

However, in some cases, this very benefit of internal links turns out to be a problem. Internal links look just like regular links for all practical purposes. When a user clicks on a link, he expects the page to refresh - afterall, thats how links are used most commonly in the browser. Instead, with internal links, the scrolling level (scroll bars) of the page gets set to a new position within the same document.

The problem is further complicated by the fact that there is no visual clue to the user to tell him where he can find the target of the link he has clicked on. Most browsers set the scroll level such that the target is right at the top of the viewing area. The user has no way of finding this out.

One way around this problem is to style internal links differently. I am sure there must be a CSS way of styling internal links differently using different selectors. But I wouldn't take the route of having differently styled links for different purposes, and then hoping that the user guesses correctly how each differently styled link would behave.

I admit I wouldn't have thought of smooth scrolling. I saw a lovely implementation of this on this site. The links to the right of the headings, saying "About the Site/Code" and "About the Author" or the link that says "Top" are all internal links that visually guide the user to the right target in the document. Great trick to keep in handy. The code in this implementation is also extensible and unobtrusive. Great job!

Monday, November 29, 2004

Proud To Test GMail

I couldn't help laughing when I read this post (via). I know that a GMail invite is rather precious, but is really going too far.

The Future Of Mobile Phones

Here's a cold fact – People don't like to carry a lot of devices. There has been the PDA, the Walkman, the Discman, the MP3 player, stuff like that. All these devices were revolutionary in their own right. However, none of these devices were so great that people would not mind carrying them around all the time, even though that's how they were designed to be.

That was, until the mobile phone came along. Suddenly, people have started discovering that the phone is not really a luxury item, like the other gizmos they've been carrying around before, but is actually a necessity. I know that others expect me to be available at the other end of the line, so I make it a point to keep my phone turned on, available and with me all the time, even though I do not use it to make a lot of phone calls. I am sure this is the way most mobile phone users think.

So, electronics manufacturers have been able to get the common man to carry an electronic gadget with them all the time - just when manufacturers thought it would be an impossible task.

Does this mean we don't mind carrying more devices? I sure mind. I don't want to carry a separate device for say listening to music, especially considering that I'd like to travel or commute light and don't want to stuff my pockets with too many gizmos that don't do too much.

So, what happens then? The smart manufacturers have decided to pack the mobile phone with extra features – the other gizmos that people love, but will never carry. The not so smart ones have followed the smart ones. Suddenly, the mobile phone has started having Contact Managers (or Phone Books), reminder and scheduler tools, XHTML browsers, e-mail, instant messengers, still and video cameras, MP3 players, even something as analog as torch lights!

So, what's in store in the future? I repeat: The mobile phone is the only device that people are willing to carry with them. This little device is only going to get more and more powerful. It will come with more and more built-in devices that we'd need when we are mobile but would never carry separately. I cannot even begin to imagine what these devices would be, but I can tell one thing for sure – the mobile will put the desktop to shame. Very soon. Who knows, Apple might launch the iPhone!


Link Bin

This one's going to be long!

Branding Mozilla

Through the Mozilla Firefox Wikipedia page, I came across a paper written by Steven Garrity in Oct 2002, suggesting that Mozilla should start worrying about the Branding and Visual Identity of Firefox and Thunderbird. That was when Jon Hicks came in to create a Fireworks MX version of the logo. The rest, as they say, is history.

On a side-note, you'd probably be interested to know that according to the Firefox developers, cookies are delicious delicacies.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

XMLHttpRequest Now Made Easier

I came across a post (via) in the SitePoint blog announcing JPSpan 0.4. Here's what the SourceForge.net page has to say about JPSpan:

JPSPAN provides tools to "hook up" PHP and Javascript, for the purpose of fetching data from PHP into a web page which has already loaded, without reloading the entire page. It allows you to call remote PHP objects as local Javascript objects.
Looks interesting. I always thought I'd have to write a wrapper function to use the JavaScript XMLHttpRequest functions with PHP in conjunction with say Web Services, but JPSpan should help me achieve just that. This looks like one of those tools to keep handy.

Stale News

Stale News

Stale News

I have nothing to say in particular about this pic. It was just shot on a lazy Sunday afternoon at home. Well, I think it looks good, and have been meaning to post it for a long time. Here's to a great weekend!


Thursday, November 25, 2004

Things I Want To Do

I've compiled a list of things I want to do in my life.

I wonder what this site is about. Anyway. What do you want to do with your life?

(Yes, I agree I should stop digging up links like this. Sorry.)

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Understanding Users: Site Navigation

In a chat with a friend over YIM:

Me: On most sites, in fact almost all sites, you can click on their logo to go to their homepage.
She: Who will tell me this?
Me: You'd know if your mouse ever comes over the logo. It turns to the 'hand', letting you know that you can click. And if you click the logo, the only logical page to go to is the homepage.
She: Why would I take my mouse there?
Me: Good point.

Link Bin

I know this is one Link Bin too many too soon, but I guess there has just been a lot of activity lately on the Internet that I cannot get myself to dedicate whole posts to.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Browser Trends

Browser Statistics (Jan 2004 - Nov 2004)

Browser Statistics (Jan 2004 - Nov 2004)

These are from the browser stats maintained at W3Schools. In the graph, 'Standards based browsers' includes Mozilla, Firefox, Opera and Netscape 6+. Other browsers are older versions of Netscape Navigator (3, 4).

Can you see the trend?

Link Bin

I'll just list out my links this time again and clear my bookmarks.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Mobile RSS

Russel Beattie has written an interesting post titled The Mobile Web. I must say, it is a great post.

While I was reading the post though, I was wondering why mobile devices haven't already started reading RSS feeds. Now, when I think of it, RSS feeds are ideally suited for information delivery to mobile devices.

  • RSS files are small in size. This is great for mobile devices.
  • RSS doesn't enforce any presentation related rules. Rendering software/hardware can handle RSS how they feel appropriate.
  • Like most of the rest of the Internet, RSS is open and non-proprietary. It's free. No messy licenses to be obtained by mobile companies to add this to their phones.
  • Unlike some parts of the Internet, RSS is standards based (or at least, there are widely accepted and adhered-to RFCs). This is great for mobile devices too. They wouldn't have to worry about inconsistencies in the file format.
  • RSS delivers information as it happens. This is great for mobile devices. In fact, most of the information I would require on my phone are updates - news updates, mailbox updates, weather updates, traffic updates, stuff like that.
  • RSS is gaining popularity. Most modern websites that need to syndicate content are already using the technology. They won't have to change a thing to make their content available on mobile devices if mobile devices would read RSS files.
  • RSS aggregators have matured. Developers know how users like to interact with RSS feeds. Emulating such behavior on mobile devices will not be difficult.
Frankly, on my phone, I don't even have any IP ready services enabled – no GPRS. But that's because there's no application that uses GPRS that I need. However, if my phone would deliver my RSS feeds to me, I would seriously consider enabling IP over my phone.

Now, only if mobile manufacturers would think about adding this to their phones. I could then unsubscribe myself from those messy SMS based services that crowd up my mobile inbox.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Huge Tree

Huge Tree At Vaikom Ferry

This is my second pic from the same point - the first one was shot right behind where I am standing to take this pic. This is an old one, and I was surprised that I hadn't posted it so far, so here it is.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Half Life - 2

Gordon Freeman picks up the crowbar again trying to clean the world of alien scum - something he created by mistake in his high-security high-radiation labs at the Black Mesa Facility.

For those who think this is just another computer game, move on. Don't waste my time. For the rest of us, this is the game that started it all. First person action the way it is. 3D visuals and sounds. Gore. Aliens. Mods. Counter-strike. "The bomb has been defused." Everything. This is the one game that has lasted well beyond people's expectations. It has been voted as the best game, and the most selling game ever, and not just once.

I have been waiting for this sequel for a long time now. Valve has had their share of problems too, which I can't be bothered to link to. Anyway, starting today, Half Life - 2 will be available for download/purchase (via). Just enter your buy zone, and then 'Go! Go! Go!'

PS: Are they working on Counter-Strike 2 already?

We Are Like This Only

Today, I am going to talk about security systems.

No, I am not talking about electronic security systems, or network security systems. I am talking about the security guard that stands outside most residential buildings in Mumbai.

Not too long ago, Mumbai had as many problems as we have today. Crime rates were still fluctuating and are as much of a concern today as they were then. However, in those days, going to a friend's place was still a fun exercise.

You'd go up to his building, park your car in the parking lot, and walk up to his house. Simple.

Today, however, you are stopped at the gate first. The forever-suspecting guard assumes you are a thief and asks you where you want to go. You are expected to keep your cool after you listen to a tone that screams out something like "You fucking thief! What the hell do you think you are doing here?" You have to get your host's name and his address absolutely right at this point. If you do, usually you have to fill in a "register" with columns for 'Name', 'Address', 'Whom you want to meet', stuff like that. Then you'd have to fight about where you can park your car. By the end of this ordeal, you are pissed off enough.

The real reason for this being so bothersome is that you were probably "invited" over. Do you know what that means? For us Indians, inviting a guest over is a big thing. Not because it happens once in a while, but because it is genuinely a big thing. Our culture and traditions teach us that athiti devo bhava, which is Sanskrit for "Guests are God." Guests expect to be treated well. Hosts are expected to treat their guests well. When I say 'well', I mean 'like Gods'. And stopping them at the door to ask who they are is not only a pathetically bad idea, it's insulting!

So, why do we have such a horribly insulting system in place in Mumbai, especially considering that things were just fine without it? It is in place because this process has worked elsewhere. Indeed, similar procedures have to be followed in most other countries like the US or UK. If it's so good for them, we could just ape it and it would work. Not.

We have seen this time and again. Every once in a while, a product comes along that dares to defy the Indian cultural and traditional mindset. And fails. This has happened with everything from voicemail to microwave ovens. From toilet paper to breakfast cereal. Though these products are great products by themselves, they disregard the Indian history and cultural ethos. People will never take to them in a big way. Toilet paper is too dirty for us, whatever others have to say about it. Breakfast cereal is probably good for health, but it doesn't substitute the rich and tasty breakfast that we Indians are so used to. Microwaves are probably easier to cook food in – if you never want to eat Indian food again. And if I can't talk to someone over the phone, I'll call him back – what's this voicemail thing anyway?

There are lessons to be learnt from this for businesses that are set up in India or have plans to introduce operations here. India, unlike most other countries, has a very ancient tradition and culture that has stood the test of time for millennia. It is not about to change just because of the Internet or rampant globalization and internationalization. Businesses should appreciate that, and respect it. They should come up with products that will fit into the Indian cultural mindset, not defy it.

We are like this only (as most Indian's would say, in their colloquial English). And we are not about to change.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Camera Testing

My Eye

This image was shot when I was checking out my camera's macro function while casually lying down in bed. I guess it's not such a good photograph, since you can recursively see my camera as a reflection in my eye. But I thought this one somehow looked good anyway.

Of Bombs And Balls

I don't think I can ever forget this story from our first year in engineering during Diwali time.

We were in the 4th block in our hostels. For some reason, the guys were taking some small bombs, lighting it, and throwing it inside the hostel rooms just to scare the living daylights out of the room inmates.

In one such room couple of rooms down the corridor, one guy – let's call him Scott – was sleeping comfortably in his bed. Someone lit a bomb and chucked it in his room. It landed up on his bed, right between his legs. Everyone just gawked in shock, realizing that time is very short before he loses it all. Silence took over for a quick moment.

Probably because of the comfort of the sudden silence, but Scott pulled his blanket over him! The yellow of the sparks of the bomb were still visible through the white blanket he had pulled over him.

Fortunately for him, this other guy jumped on him and put out the bomb before it went off. Very fortunately for him. If not, he would have been ball-less, as a matter of saying.

Every single time I listen to this, I roll on the floor laughing. The way the bomb had to land between his legs, and the way Scott had to pull his blanket over it was impeccable timing. Thank God nothing went wrong!

Not OT: I've heard of three stories of small fires this Diwali itself from among my neighbors and friends. It’s a fun festival, but make sure you play safe at all times. Happy Diwali again! And wish you a great New Year!

Friday, November 12, 2004

100 Posts, And Counting

Just noticed that this is the 100th post on my blog.

I would like to take a moment to remind you that I am only going to do my best to keep this blog going better. I hope you are having as much fun reading as I am having publishing this blog.

Here's to many more posts!

Update: I have really completed 100 posts, even though my profile shows only 79. Blogger's counter is currently broken. I had counted my posts manually!

Link Bin



Thursday, November 11, 2004

1 Day, 1,000,000+ Downloads

Thats right, on its launch day itself Firefox has been dowloaded at least a million times, maybe more. Exact figures should come in soon.

Sorry for talking so much about Firefox here, but I just can't seem to contain my excitement. After all, this is nothing short of revolutionary.

Happy Diwali

The Hindu God Rama was on a 14 year exile into the woods with his wife Sita and his brother Laxman, according to The Ramayana. While on exile, Sita was abducted by the Lankan demon Ravana. Then started the war between Rama and his monkey army on one side and the ten-headed Ravana and his demon army on the other, to get Sita back.

Sita was finally rescued by Rama and his army. Around this time, the exile was over too, and Rama came back to his kingdom of Ayodhya. The people of Ayodhya celebrated his return with music, food, colors and a lot of fireworks.

To this day, this day is celebrated as Diwali - the Hindu festival of fireworks.

Hope you have a good time. Please do. And don't do anything stupid. Fireworks can be dangerous. Play safe.

Rediscovering The Web

This couldn’t have been timed better. I have been thinking of inviting some guest author on my site, so that we can have other perspectives on topics of common interests. As though timed perfectly, a regular reader volunteered to write in about her experiences on switching to Firefox. And just two days ago, the Firefox community launched version 1.0 of the browser. Perfect timing.

Without further ado, let’s hear it for Shilpa – a regular home-computer user, not a geek – on her experiences on switching to Firefox.

Rediscovering The Web

I started using the computer exactly fourteen months ago. Up until then, to me, computers were gadgets used by crazy people who didn't want to read books or use a piece of paper and a pen like God surely intended us all to do. I struggled manfully with seemingly simple, so called 'user friendly' operations, and gave up asking people questions. Computer terms baffled me more and I usually ended up feeling more confused and foolish than I did before. My entire experience of using computers to do research, download information or even communicate with other people was strictly a trial and error affair - a major trial and endless errors.

The early days

At that point of time all I knew was that when you need to "browse" for information you click on the little blue 'e' logo. Then, you keep your fingers crossed and hope that your computer doesn't hang, or crash, especially after you wasted an hour finding the pages you were looking for. Surfing necessarily involved the frustrating routine of dealing with annoying pop-ups that seemed to have a will of their own. I remember waiting endlessly for pages to load up while I cleaned cupboards or filed nails (now that's a very slight exaggeration, but you get the drift).

Sometimes I even got conned by some very genuine sounding pop-ups that declared me to be the lucky 100th browser (yeah, I fell for it), endangering my computer to the omnipresent threat of viruses and ad-ware invasions. I began to assume, mostly from painful mistakes and serious consequences, that one should not click on unknown links when browsing the web. The Internet now seemed like a dark and dangerous world of creepy crawly insects that would munch on something inside the machine and gnaw away at my computer piece by piece. Hence browsing was something I did when I could not collect the information I wanted from books in the local library or when circumstances left me with little or no choice but to knock on the proverbial door of disaster or in this particular case 'window to hell'. This went on for almost a year!

I never even dreamt that there might be alternatives to the browser I was currently using or that my browsing experience could be any different. None of my so called computer savvy friends ever told me that I had other choices or that I was suffering from the "bad browser syndrome". I was sailing in the same boat of ignorant bliss about the choices available to people about browsers.

Shifting to Firefox

Two months ago, I learnt about Firefox from a friend, who had patiently been initiating me to the world of computers. In one of our "geek-is-not-completely-Greek" sessions he found out that I was using Internet Explorer as my browser. He helpfully suggested that I should download Firefox, after unsuccessfully disguising his horror when I told him how I still juggled so many windows and then even more windows (read that as pop-ups) every time I surfed. "Haven't you heard of tabbed browsing, woman!” he exclaimed. I miserably wondered WTF 'tabbed' was. Rather than further embarrassing myself by displaying my ignorance I decided to download Firefox, install and configure it as my default browser. I was ready to try anything at this point of time to make my browsing life easier.

If you are expecting a sudden revolution with angels playing harps in the background then you couldn't be more wrong. Initially I didn't even notice any change as I didn't really bother to read information about Firefox as any good novice should (I hate reading instruction manuals too!). Yes, I couldn't help but notice that the download was quick and painless, the instructions to install it were easy and even a simpleton like me managed to import all my bookmarks with gleeful ease. Even so, I didn't really shout with joy.

I was already so used to tuning out the irritating pop-ups while I was using Internet Explorer for a year that I failed to notice their sudden disappearance. I was still blank about tabbed browsing. Only much later did I realize that I could open multiple sites on the same window, minimizing the chaos in my mind and reducing the crazy confusion on my screen.

The only thing that first impressed me was the tool bar. Instead of a multitude of confusing bars, which seemed to take unnecessary space on my screen and confuse my mind, I now had to operate a simpler tool bar with very useful tools. Tools which I could relate to and actually use - for example, the Google search built into the tool bar and dictionary.com – were just a simple click away.

But like all good things usually are taken for granted I just took all these features at face value and didn't really gush about Firefox or its cool features. As for the frequent crashes (which had now minimized without me noticing it much), I had already managed to blame it on the guy who sold me the computer anyway. So, though life seemed vaguely easier, I had no particular fondness for Firefox, nor did I give it any credit. As for Internet Explorer, I conveniently dismissed it from my mind like a less than impressive boyfriend with bad breath one dates and forgets.

Then, after that...

One fine day (yeah, here's the twist I have been hinting at all the while) my computer conked off due to some problem with the memory chip, and I was given a substitute computer till my own one was out recovering fast. Getting used to the new PC was a pain. I automatically reached out for the little red icon to browse with and I realized with slight surprise and shock (but no particular dismay) that the only option I had was the blue Internet Explorer logo. Feeling too lazy to download a new browser on a temporary PC, I went ahead and used Internet Explorer to browse.

The first thing that rankled me were the pop-ups that seemed to, well, pop up at every nook and corner. I was so used to not seeing any pop ups at all while using Firefox that I became increasingly impatient with these annoying offers to fix my computer clock. Things started getting progressively more difficult as the evening wore on. I noticed that pages were taking longer to load. Browsing seemed to be taking on the now long forgotten, but once helplessly accepted touch of "nightmare on Browse Street" mode. I struggled with multiple windows alternately swatting pop ups. I found myself restarting my computer more often. The complex tool bar with no Google or dictionary.com dismayed my lazy soul, as did the not-so-efficient or easy-to-use bookmark manager.

Realization finally dawned on me, albeit belatedly, about what I had been missing out for one full year because of a less than efficient browser before I first experienced Firefox. I realize how foolish I had been not to download it immediately on my temporary PC. This disastrous date with Internet Explorer made me realize why the Firefox logo came with a "Rediscover the web" promise.

This time I downloaded Firefox not because a friend had shamed me into it, but because I realized from my very own experience how Firefox is a boon for the less than savvy computer users like me. Again, I experienced the smooth and quick download, almost automatic transfer of bookmarks as Firefox took over my browsing world in its now familiar competent and confident hand.

Ever since then I have started experimenting with all the additional features which I never bothered to notice earlier (I still don't read instruction manuals though!). Everyday I stumble upon features like a much more customizable tool bar, better text zooming, better looking web pages, live bookmarks, etc.

I am now a complete Firefox convert and I try to pass my experiences to as many friends and acquaintances as I can so that, like me, they achieve browsing nirvana by using a much smarter and secure browser like Firefox.

Which browser do you use? Did I tell you about Firefox already?

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Firefox and Google?

Why is the Firefox 1.0 start page hosted by Google? I am sure the web will be abuzz about this in no time. I'll be watching patiently as the theories flow. Bring 'em on!

Firefox 1.0 is here!

Firefox 1.0 is here!

The wait is over. Today's day marks the end of the single browser Internet. The web is now free. It's back as it should be.

I am downloading my copy as I am posting this. I urge you to download your's too. Discover a whole new world of surfing comfort. Discover Firefox.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Election Fever

Election Fever

Again from my archives, this pic was shot during the elections somewhere in Tamil Nadu, India.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

It's Coming

Rediscover the web. Discover Firefox.

Link Bin

Some interesting things I came across this week.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

AV Treat

I had been to the Times AV Revolution 2004 at the Grand Hyatt here in Mumbai yesterday to a help a friend decide on his home theater system. It reminded me of the times when I used to work in an audio equipment manufacturing company.

Anyway, the point I really wanted to make (and I am not getting paid for this), is that every time I listen to Bowers & Wilkins (B&W) speakers, I always get blown away. I have been told that there are better speakers than theirs, but I've yet to hear one with such clarity, purity, clean sound, and flat response.

I'm going to buy myself a set as soon as I am rich enough to justify spending so much for the slight but significant quality difference they have to offer. But I'm definitely owning one of those! Definitely!

What are your favourite brands of speakers, amplifiers, players and other audio electronics? I'd like to know.

I'll start with mine: B&W speakers, Yamaha amplifiers, Onkyo players, NAD electronics.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Now Look What You've Done!

You have re-elected Bush? You actually did that? Out of your own choice? What were you thinking?

Have fun, America! Don't say you weren't warned. The world is watching as the stupidest leader (and the most dangerous one, at that) of the world's most powerful democracy gets re-elected. Let the sequel to the show begin!

The End Of Days

The Arctic is getting warmer (via). This means we are slowly finishing ourselves.

I remember this one year when Mumbai was hit by a thunderstorm.

Mom: Rakesh, look outside! Today is doom's day! Go, rush to the shop. Get some ice-cream.
Me: Ice-cream?
Mom: Yes! I want to eat one more ice-cream before the whole world goes up in flames.

Interesting way to prepare for the end of days, don't you think?

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Sunday Nerdy Sunday

Some of my old college friends were catching up this weekend. While we were driving around, talking about the days gone by, cracking jokes about people's RAMs and their video card memories, a friend turned on his 15 GB iPod, connected it to our car audio system using some cassette adapter, and we listened to Bush all along the way.

I couldn't help but realize that I haven't felt nerdier in a long time.

Yahoo! Messenger IM Command

I was chatting up with a friend over Yahoo! Messenger, and accidentally, she typed "s: something" and a couple of seconds later, to our surprise, the IM window displayed the first search result for the "something" keyword from Yahoo! Search.

For example, in your Yahoo! IM window, just type in "s: pieces of rakesh" and you'll get a link to this site in a couple of seconds.

I don't know how useful this is. However, this got me wondering about other similar commands that the IM window might be supporting. I tried Googling (and yes, Yahooing too), but I couldn't find anything that documented these kinds of commands.

Maybe some of you have come across such commands? Please share your experiences or leave URLs that describes this in detail.