22 February, 2005

Ajax: a new approach to web applications
Google Suggest and Google Maps are two examples of a new approach to web applications that we at Adaptive Path have been calling Ajax. The name is shorthand for Asynchronous JavaScript + XML, and it represents a fundamental shift in what’s possible on the Web.

Ajax isn’t a technology. It’s really several technologies, each flourishing in its own right, coming together in powerful new ways.
Instead of loading a webpage, at the start of the session, the browser loads an Ajax engine — written in JavaScript and usually tucked away in a hidden frame. This engine is responsible for both rendering the interface the user sees and communicating with the server on the user’s behalf. The Ajax engine allows the user’s interaction with the application to happen asynchronously — independent of communication with the server. So the user is never staring at a blank browser window and an hourglass icon, waiting around for the server to do something.
IT in India's cruise missile -ZDNet:
IT is being used to integrate the three arms of the defence forces, the army, navy and air force. Take the case of the BrahMos missile, jointly developed by India and Russia(BrahMos-an acronym representing two great rivers, the Brahmaputra of India and the Moskva of Russia) where 70-75% of the cost is accounted for by its IT systems. Earlier, the ratio of weapons system to IT was in the range of 90:10, whereas today it is almost the reverse-the ratio of IT to other components and hardware is in the range of 75:25.

21 February, 2005

Bill Gates and other communists by Richard Stallman -ZdNet
When CNET News.com asked Bill Gates about software patents, he shifted the subject to "intellectual property," blurring the issue with various other laws. Then he said anyone who won't give blanket support to all these laws is a communist. When someone uses the term "intellectual property," typically he's either confused himself, or trying to confuse you. The term is used to lump together copyright law, patent law and various other laws, whose requirements and effects are entirely different.

Software developers are not up in arms against copyright law which entails the developer, the copyright on the program; as long as the programmers wrote the code themselves, no one else has a copyright on their code. Patents are a different story. Software patents don't cover programs or code; they cover ideas (methods, techniques, features, algorithms, etc.)Developing a large program entails combining thousands of ideas, and even if a few of them are new, the rest needs must have come from other software the developer has seen. If each of these ideas could be patented by someone, every large program would likely infringe hundreds of patents. Developing a large program means laying oneself open to hundreds of potential lawsuits. Software patents are menaces to software developers, and to the users, who can also be sued.

A few fortunate software developers avoid most of the danger. These are the megacorporations, which typically have thousands of patents each, and cross-license with each other. This gives them an advantage over smaller rivals not in a position to do likewise. That's why it is generally the megacorporations that lobby for software patents.

When Mr. Gates started hyping his solution to the problem of spam, I suspected this was a plan to use patents to grab control of the Net. Sure enough, in 2004 Microsoft asked the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) to approve a mail protocol that Microsoft was trying to patent. The license policy for the protocol was designed to forbid free software entirely. No program supporting this mail protocol could be released as free software--not under the GNU GPL (General Public License), or the MPL (Mozilla Public License), or the Apache license, or either of the BSD licenses, or any other. The IETF rejected Microsoft's protocol, but Microsoft said it would try to convince major ISPs to use it anyway.
Surgeons remove baby’s second head -TOI

Egyptian doctors said they removed a second head from a 10-month-old girl suffering from one of the rarest birth defects in an operation on Saturday. The head that was removed from Manar had been capable of smiling and blinking but not independent life, doctors said.

18 February, 2005

Software Maintenance Business -Rajesh Jain:
Anybody who is in the enterprise software business knows that the thing we all lust for is not license revenue, it's the maintenance base. In fact, mature software companies will almost always generate more revenue from maintenance than they will from new license sales, because an enterprise license contract is a form of annuity.
Getting to the bottom of bullshit -TOI
Harry G Frankfurt, 76, is a moral philosopher of international reputation and a professor emeritus at Princeton. He is also the author of a book recently published by the Princeton University Press that is the first in the publishing house’s distinguished history to carry a title most newspapers would find unfit to print. The work is called ‘On BullShit’.

“One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit. Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his share. But we tend to take the situation for granted. Most people are rather confident of their ability to recognise (bull) and to avoid being taken in by it. So the phenomenon has not aroused much deliberate concern, nor attracted much sustained inquiry.’’

What is bull after all? Those who produce it certainly aren’t honest, but neither are they liars, given that the liar and the honest man are linked in their common, if not identical, regard for the truth. “It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth,’’ Frankfurt writes. “A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it.’’ The bull artist, on the other hand, cares nothing for truth or falsehood. The only thing that matters to him is “getting away with what he says,’’ Frankfurt writes.

“Do we respond to bullshit in such a different way than we respond to lies? When we find somebody lying, we get angry, we feel we’ve been betrayed or violated or insulted in some way, and the liar is regarded as deceptive, deficient, morally at fault. “Why is lying regarded almost as a criminal act?’’ he asked, while bulls “is sort of cuddly and warm? It’s outside the realm of serious moral criticism. Why is that?’’

16 February, 2005

Hide and seek on the Web: Cloaking -ZdNet:
Jay Allen considered his ex-girlfriend a "rabbit in the pot" stalker for the repeatedly nasty comments she posted to his blog. So he tried passive resistance by drawing a virtual curtain around his Web site. The trick, called cloaking, made his blog appear seemingly abandoned to her, while his regular postings were available to anyone else with a Web browser.

"I found out the Internet Protocol address (of her computer) and delivered her a static page anytime she visited," said Allen, an author and software developer. "That worked really well, until one day she went to an Internet cafe and found a month-and-a-half worth of postings and left a bunch of ugly comments again." Allen added: "Still, it's a really neat idea to be able to cloak a page."

An online retailer, for example, might show one price for a digital camera to the public, and another price 15 percent higher for the same product to its rival. Consequently, the rival might price its product disproportionately and lose customers.

New tools to help companies "cloak" their traffic while surfing the Web are becoming an attractive defense as a result.

Privately held Anonymizer, based in San Diego, began selling a corporate Internet cloaking service in 2003 called the Enterprise Chameleon. The product, a piece of hardware and software linked to a corporate server, will filter all employee traffic through its IP-changing servers and randomly issue untraceable IP addresses.
Sales of the product jumped 500 percent from 2003 to 2004, and this year the company expects corporate sales to comprise 50 percent of its revenue.

"When you're using a cloak, you're trying to avoid this logging of data," he added.

Privacy experts say that pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies are interested in keeping their online moves private, for fear of outsiders' ability to reverse engineer what's looked at in public databases. What companies research and read in the form of white papers could tip outsiders off to future products, for example.

Companies also have reverse engineered IP filtering to target and attract new employees. For example, during the dot-com heyday when hiring was tough, 3Com changed its Web page to highlight employment opportunities when it appeared Cisco employees were visiting. 90% of corporations are mining competitive intelligence from their Web log files. "You give up a tremendous amount of information when you're going to a competitor's site, like what you're working on, what products you're interested in, etc.,

14 February, 2005

The Typo Millionaires -Slate:
For almost as long as the Web has existed, there's been a thriving economy of sites, services, and software vying to grab you as soon as your mistype a URL. During the boom time, a decade ago, there was a woman who'd goosed her income by developing software that took a list of the most-visited Web sites, calculated the most likely typos that surfers would make trying to reach them, and automatically registered those domains if they were available. She then raked it in by serving ads to the accidental tourists who landed on her sites.

Various studies have estimated that 10% - 20% of all hand-entered URLs are mistyped, adding up to at least 20 million wrong numbers per day. Typo traffic supposedly generated a million bucks a year for John "Cupcake Party" Zuccarini, a Florida man who registered as many as 3,000 typos of popular domains. God bless American entrepreneurs, I say, but Zuccarini made the mistake of serving porn to kids who misspelled sites like cartoonnetwork.com. He was arrested in 2003 for "us[ing] a misleading Web address to draw children to pornography."

There's another typo-squatting game that only the big guys can play. In 2001, Microsoft rejiggered Internet Explorer so that if you type in a URL that doesn't exist, the browser will redirect you to a Microsoft page. The current version says something like, "We can't find srate.com," with a tempting search box immediately below it—a blatant ploy to drive traffic to MSN Search.

In 2003, VeriSign, the company in charge of .com and .net domain names, added a wildcard entry to their database that matched any domain that wasn't already registered. Any user who requested a nonexistent domain got a VeriSign page instead, and the company planned to sell links to the correct sites on this landing page. You probably don't remember the episode, because a day later the geeks who maintain the Net's domain-name server software released an emergency upgrade that neutered VeriSign's plans.
Can This Black Box See Into the Future? -RedNova News:
According to a growing band of top scientists, this box has quite extraordinary powers. It is, they claim, the 'eye' of a machine that appears capable of peering into the future and predicting major world events. The machine apparently sensed the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre four hours before they happened and it also appeare to forewarn of the Asian tsunami just before the deep sea earthquake that precipitated the epic tragedy.

'We're very early on in the process of trying to figure out what's going on here. At the moment we're stabbing in the dark.', says Dr Nelson's who is heading the research project behind the 'black box' phenomenon. "Its aim is to detect whether all of humanity shares a single subconscious mind that we can all tap into without realising." Although many would consider the project's aims to be little more than fools' gold, it has still attracted a roster of 75 respected scientists from 41 different nations.

A blackbox is nothing but a Random Event Generator (Egg) which generates two numbers - a one and a zero - in a totally random sequence. The pattern of ones and zeros could then be printed out as a graph. The laws of chance dictate that the generators should churn out equal numbers of ones and zeros - which would be represented by a nearly flat line on the graph. Using the internet, he connected many random event generators from all over the world to his laboratory computer in Princeton. These ran constantly, day in day out, generating millions of different pieces of data. Most of the time, the resulting graph on his computer looked more or less like a flat line. But then on September 6, 1997, something quite extraordinary happened: the graph shot upwards, recording a sudden and massive shift in the number sequence as his machines around the world started reporting huge deviations from the norm. The day was of historic importance for another reason, too. For it was the same day that an estimated one billion people around the world watched the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales.

As the world stood still and watched the horror of the terrorist attacks unfold across New York, something strange was happening to the Eggs. Not only had they registered the attacks as they actually happened, but the characteristic shift in the pattern of numbers had begun four hours before the two planes even hit the Twin Towers. What could be happening? Was it a freak occurrence, perhaps? Apparently not. For in the closing weeks of December last year, the machines went wild once more. Twenty-four hours later, an earthquake deep beneath the Indian Ocean triggered the tsunami which devastated South-East Asia, and claimed the lives of an estimated quarter of a million people.

Cynics will quite rightly point out that there is always some global event that could be used to 'explain' the times when the Egg machines behaved erratically. After all, our world is full of wars, disasters and terrorist outrages, as well as the occasional global celebration. Are the scientists simply trying too hard to detect patterns in their raw data? The team behind the project insist not. The data shows clearly that the chances of getting these results by fluke are one million to one against.

It is possible - in theory - that time may not just move forwards but backwards, too. And if time ebbs and flows like the tides in the sea, it might just be possible to foretell major world events. We would, in effect, be 'remembering' things that had taken place in our future. 'And if it's possible for it to happen in physics, then it can happen in our minds, too.' In other words, Prof Bierman at University of Amsterdam, believes that we are all capable of looking into the future, if only we could tap into the hidden power of our minds. And there is a tantalising body of evidence to support this theory.

Dr John Hartwell, working at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands, was the first to uncover evidence that people could sense the future. In the mid-1970s he hooked people up to hospital scanning machines so that he could study their brainwave patterns. He began by showing them a sequence of provocative cartoon drawings. When the pictures were shown, the machines registered the subject's brainwaves as they reacted strongly to the images before them. This was to be expected. Far less easy to explain was the fact that in many cases, these dramatic patterns began to register a few seconds before each of the pictures were even flashed up. It was as though Dr Hartwell's case studies were somehow seeing into the future, and detecting when the next shocking image would be shown next.

Dean Radin, a researcher working in America, connected people up to a machine that measured their skin's resistance to electricity. This is known to fluctuate in tandem with our moods - indeed, it's this principle that underlies many lie detectors. Radin repeated Dr Hartwell's 'image response' experiments while measuring skin resistance. Again, people began reacting a few seconds before they were shown the provocative pictures. This was clearly impossible, or so he thought, so he kept on repeating the experiments. And he kept getting the same results.

Just as we have built mechanical engines to replace muscle power, could we one day build a device to enhance and interpret our hidden psychic abilities? Dr Nelson is optimistic - but not for the short term. 'We may be able to predict that a major world event is going to happen. But we won't know exactly what will happen or where it's going to happen,' he says. 'We're taught to be individualistic monsters,' he says. 'We're driven by society to separate ourselves from each other. That's not right. We may be connected together far more intimately than we realise.'

Thanks Pradeep, for the link.

12 February, 2005

Biometric device can verify age -CNN
A leading security company is exploring technology for verifying whether a user is a child or an adult by analyzing a bone in a person's finger. Of course, bone doesn't change drastically on the day someone turns 18 or 21, so this technology is more useful at keeping younger children - those under 14 - from adult sites that employ the technology. Also, operators of chat rooms meant for kids could use the technology to keep out adult predators.

10 February, 2005

Interned at IBM, Resigned from M$, Fired from Google:

Mark Jen, a blogger whose candid comments about life on the job at Google sparked controversy last month, has left the company. "Mark is no longer an employee at Google," a Google representative said in response to an inquiry Tuesday.

Excerpts from his blog.. that is some of the critical comments made by Jen at his new employer-google:
  • Microsoft's health care benefits shame Google's relatively meager offering....

  • Google demands employees that are 90th percentile material, so what's with the 50th percentile compensation? The packages would've been decent when the company was pre-IPO, but let's be honest here... a stock option with a strike price of $188 just doesn't have the same value as the ones of yesteryear.

The posts are now gone, apparently pulled shortly after Google Blogoscope spotted the blog. Jen's past blog during his Microsoft time is here. The Google cached copy of the site is gone - taken out manually by Google? It's odd. It has been up long enough that you'd expect it to have been indexed. Instead, not a page at all from the site is showing as present.
  • I had a bunch of liquid capital in my checking account last time i checked, and now all of a sudden i have nothing....i realized the root problem was that google's relocation process requires the employee to pay all the expenses up front and then get reimbursed for them later....on the plus side, this first paycheck is going to be huge

  • The "benefits" package at google. as i thought about it, i realized that most of the "benefits" actually seem to be thinly veiled timesavers to keep you at work...if you think about the fact that the employee now probably only takes a half hour lunch break and also stays late working, the company actually realizes far more than an $8 gain in employee output. not to mention that most people think this is a great "benefit" and google gets a ton of positive press on it. in short, this "benefit" is designed benefit the company, not the employee.

  • Then look at all these other fringe "benefits": on-site doctor, on-site dentist, on-site car washes... the list goes on and on with one similarity: every "benefit" is on-site so you never leave work. i'm not going to say this isn't convenient for us employees, but between all these devices designed to make us stay at work, they might as well just have dorms on campus that all employees are required to live in.

And here are some Jen's comments on Microsoft...
  • before i left microsoft, i chatted with a lot of people and there was one theme that they always touched on: microsoft knows how to ship software, we know how to turn the crank. at the time i thought, yup you're right, microsoft has shipped many versions of windows, office, visual studio... the list goes on and on. for the past 15 years, microsoft has been a software shipping machine and it has become very good at it. my friends at microsoft argued for me to stay so i could absorb this knowledge and learn the "the microsoft way".

    but i figured something didn't seem right. in the past few years, everyone's seen microsoft's software shipping machine start to break down - schedules have been slipping, features are getting scaled back and there's the need for a huge patching infrastructure. the system isn't working as well anymore and despite the billg's internet memo years ago, the microsoft machine hasn't reinvented itself at all.

  • i remember when i was at microsoft, i'd propose trying new engineering practices: pair programming, unit-test driven development, iterative development. these ideas were shot down quickly and the response was always, "we've been developing software like this for 20 years and look at where we are. $50 billion in the bank, dominance in multiple markets... we're one of the most successful businesses in all of history. why would we change the way we make our bread and butter?"

    contrast that to google, where reinvention is almost in its blood. there's no remorse about throwing away dead code; people work however they feel makes them most productive; and now, another critical part is here: there's a product management core that can help harness that creativity and productivity into products the world loves to use.

Bloglines reproduces all the posts that were on the original site here. Apparently, the blog sent out the full-text of posts in its feed, causing this to happen.

Sources: News.com, Google Blogoscoped, SearchEngineWatch and friend Pradeep for sharing the news.

09 February, 2005

Microsoft to release more source code? -ZdNet:
Microsoft is considering the release of source code for 'Windows Forms' used to build Windows programs. Windows Forms is a programming model used with Microsoft's Visual Studio tools to build the user interface portion of Windows desktop applications.

The software giant continues to add to the list of products that have a license that allows big companies, government customers, partners or academics to view all or portions of the source code. Its shared source program addresses several products, including the Windows CE operating system for devices and other tools targeted at programmers.

In September, Microsoft made the code for FlexWiki--collaborative Web authoring software--freely available and available under an open-source license. Also in 2004, the company released Windows Installer XML, or WiX, to SourceForge.net, following up a month later with the posting of the Windows Template Library, or WTL, project. All three products were released under the Common Public License (CPL).

01 February, 2005

Microsoft search out after 2.5 yrs -ZDNet
Two and a half years in the making, MSN Search will now be the focal point of the updated, lighter-weight site; and it is the subject of Microsoft's newest ad campaign, which includes television, print, Internet and outdoor promotions. 90% of Americans, as well as U.K. and Japanese residents, will encounter the campaign. "They'll be trying to get people to say "I MSN Search'ed it'," said Danny Sullivan, an industry expert, referring to the commonly mentioned practice of "Googling" something or someone.

The change also marks the beginning of a likely end for MSN's relationship with rival Yahoo. Yahoo's Inktomi search technology has powered MSN for more than three years, and its commercial subsidiary Overture Services has provided targeted text ads for several years, too.

MSN will newly make 40,000 articles available free with its search service, in addition to 1.5 million other facts contained in Encarta. It will also play up streaming music, local search called "near me," and a newly added RSS feature that lets third parties syndicate its results. All in all, the project has cost Microsoft well more than $100 million and the company still sees this as only a first step.

2.5 years... googling... search.msn.com ...$100 million.. advertisements....