Monday 25 June 2007

Web 2.0? Where do I get it?

With everyone on earth talking about Web 2.0, I decided I needed to at least know what it meant... After some Wiki-ing and navigating around, it all comes down to this: Web 2.0 is a sort of revolution in the Internet where the websites are metamorphosing from mere content delivery tools to interactive user controlled sources of web services.
Phew, that was quite a mouthful. I'll put it in plain English now.
Back in the good ol' days of the Internet, every web page looked like this one: some (hopefully useful) content and a bunch of links. That was all there was to it... Web designing? Who are we kidding? :)
The folks at Netscape decided this was too boring, and introduced Javascript. This was a way to make the web pages lively; it made possible things like menus and other interactive elements(and, unfortunately, pop-ups too) in web pages. Slowly, websites were evolving and using more and more of Javascript and other new-fangled things like CSS.
Then, when nobody was noticing, these new stylish additives came to the forefront. Instead of being just frills and laces on the basic HTML content, they became the important parts of the web pages. Anytime you open Gmail or Google Reader, you see that the pages are entirely responsive to you. It looks more like a desktop program than a web page. That is because they use a (relatively new) technique called AJAX. These types of websites, which look more like desktop programs - which interact a lot with us and change their appearance according to our wishes and whims - are the things that make Web 2.0.
Note that it's not the technology that distinguishes these things. Of course, it is the development of new technologies that made these possible in the first place. But what is important to a Web 2.0 app* is that it is user-interactive.
To make things clearer, let's imagine a 1990's website as a shy child going back to Momma (web server) and asking what to do each time we ask a question (make a click)...
Then, a Web 2.0 app is a sociable teenager (I'll call him W2 from now), ready to converse with you and trying to respond to you by himself. He's a much more interesting person, bubbling with energy and eager to grow more and more. That's a Web 2.0 app - interactive, with lots of decision making made on your own computer (rather than at the server), and very interesting..
However, like every teenager, a W2 has his quirks too. Sometimes he thinks he knows too much, and does things you don't want to. For example, some W2 apps make the 'Back' button of the browser effectively ineffective. This is very annoying for people like me, who click a lot of things and switch back and forth between pages. Also, a growing teenager needs a lot of resources - and so does a W2 app, typically needing more memory and processing than an ordinary (good ol') HTML website. And finally, a teenager crashes and breaks a lot of things (some scientist says it's because their bones are growing too fast for the muscles) - and, sometimes, so do W2 apps. With all their dynamically changing memory requirements and all the jugglery they have to do, sometimes W2 gets too tired and dies - leaving our browser and sometimes our system too unusable..
But when all is said, he's only a teenager, and has a long way to go. Signs are that he'll grow up to be a very smart and sociable person, very much adaptable to the society around him. People say he's going to be the Hero of the Internet; let's hope he remains a user-friendly hero...

Saturday 23 June 2007

Google Talk gets better

Now, when you are talking to a friend using Google talk Gadget and think you need to start a conference, no need to switch to Yahoo messenger or anywhere else. The Google Talk gadget now has a facility to 'group chat'. Click 'Group chat', add other Gtalk friends, and chat away...
As of now, this feature is not available in the Gtalk clients we install and use from the computer. Only the web based version (the 'gadget') has this. But Google promises that the next version of the desktop based Gtalk clients will be much more advanced than it's web-based gadget. Also, only the person inviting others to Group chat needs to be using the gadget. Others can be using the gadget or the desktop Gtalk client or anything else.

Thursday 21 June 2007

Why do you like music?

    Why do you like music? I think our brain's urge for survival is the reason.
    What is there in music that attracts everyone? And what is special about some songs that everyone everywhere gets hooked to them?
    One thing that every song has is a rhythm; some amount of predictability. Human brain likes this... So, one ingredient to a good song is some amount of predictability.
    But every song (except in very rare cases) has a rhythm. What is it that makes a 'great' song? One thing I noticed was that, in a good song, there were repeated, subtle changes to this basic rhythm. These changes were scattered throughout the song. The basic rhythm contained a short syllable, but a few times, just quite a few times, the singer drags it quite long. This kind of altering makes a song more appealing.
    Predictable, having a rhythm, but having subtle variations.. Where do these strange rules for good songs arise from?
    After a few days of 'research' into this, I now have a theory of why it is so. I could call it 'Music as an Evolutionary Survivalistic Aid - an Information Theoretic analysis'. But I'd rather call it the 'better than ya, buddy' theory here.
    When we hear a song, our brain tries to store it. If there is a rhythm and predictability in the song, it (probably) makes this easy for the brain. So, that gives us the first rule.
    The second rule comes in because of our brain's desire to prove itself better than others.
    Everything in our body is optimised for survival. When you demonstrate in public that you are capable of something non-trivial, you increase the chances that the opposite sex finds you attractive; and, in the end, that your gene survives in the form of your kids. Whether we are consciously trying to get this attraction or not, our brain continuously does it. It is something wired in to our very brains, in order to assist in survival.
    Now, the second rule tells that there are near-random variations in the song's basic rhythm. This means that storing the song is non-trivial - you need to remember exactly where variations happened and what the variations were. So, as long as the variations don't get too difficult to remember, our brain likes these kind of songs. It thinks(?) that this will help us in our evolution. It's as if 'proving' that we can do this will raise our image in public. So, the brain takes extra efforts to remember these songs. Later, when the song is played when you are among friends, brain remembers and retrieves the song. As long as you sing it right, evolutionarily you are doing the right thing, so more of 'happiness chemical' is released in your brain. This, in effect, encourages you to sing the song right and makes it a 'happy' experience. And guess what? You tell everyone that you 'looove' the song. When this becomes a collective experience, the song becomes everyone's favourite.
    And in the same way, when the song becomes too popular, some of us (our brains) decide that knowing the song has become a trivial thing, and lose our interest in it. A newer song has a lot more variety and will be a lot more appealing then...
    Note: All this is just my own theory of how all this works, obtained by making interpretations of what I saw at work in my own mind. YMMV...

Tuesday 19 June 2007

My system is piracy free! :)

How would you feel if $1800 worth of software was given to you free of cost? By the company that makes them?
That's how I feel today. Months ago, I registered for Imagine Cup. I just thought it was yet another software contest. The front page talked about "valuable downloads". I didn't imagine that meant getting:
  • Microsoft Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 2
  • Microsoft Visual Studio 2005
  • Microsoft Vista Business Edition
  • Microsoft Office 2007 Standard
free of cost. Free to download, install and use. Given by Microsoft themselves.
May be you are skeptical; Asking me 'Where's the catch?'. It seems there's none. May be they believe they can get a few of us buy future versions of Microsoft software by this. May be they don't want us to surrender to the Linux World Domination efforts. Whatever! I don't actually give a damn what the reason is. Look, I've got a Genuine copy of XP! The validation check actually tells me 'Ok, you're doing fine'... Wow! Did I tell you this feels great? :)
Ok, now, back to reality.. To get a workable system, I need a lot more than just an OS. I decided not to use pirated software anywhere. This can get tough. It means not installing a cracked copy of Zone Alarm Pro or AVG Internet Suite; using AVG free edition and Sygate Personal firewall instead (hoping that they haven't made it too much of a crippleware). It means not getting a keygen for Getright and instead using Free Download Manager. But, let me tell you, it feels wonderful. And I'll bear with anything for this peace of mind...
So now, thanks a lot to Microsoft and all the other software developers who have spent countless hours of work and perhaps sleepless nights in making great software, and then have given it away for free to the public. Whether this was a business tactic or a genuine Good Samaritan-ness, this will be a great service to the public, and thou shalt be rewarded for it. Wish you good luck (do remember me when your lottery ticket wins $
76000000 :).
Love all...

Sunday 17 June 2007

Here we go...

So, this is the grand new start of our blog... By the way, The Tao (the title of the blog, in case you didn't notice..) means The Way (way with a capital W). It is based on the concept that there is a natural way of living for each of us, and the closer we get to that way of living, the happier we will be. This natural way is what is called the Tao.
I have no plans for this blog (in fact, I have no plans for almost anything in my life :) But I shall try to keep this entertaining and informative. I'll tell you the things I come across, things that matter to you and me, things that matter only to someone out there in Somalia, things that don't matter at all... anything you might find interesting.