Saturday, March 24, 2007

A personal touch to Google

Can you imagine getting the feel of a beach while you are searching? And obviously, when I say search, I mean Google(though I wished not to make this a 'Google' Blog, but for these innovations !). Google, had introduced the Personalized Google home page long back, on which you could have RSS feeds from hundreds of sites. And as days went by, a growing number of sites, dealing with varied topics, started being available for such feeds. So, this page has become a one-stop update for many people like me. My current homepage includes feeds ranging from the usual Times of India to word/quote of the day to my regular dose of technology news from multiple sites. Of course, a smart move by having tabbed page, thus helping us organizing it better.

On the 20th of this month, Google added one more interesting feature to it - themes! The banner of my home page can now contain images depending on various themes, which currently include only six - city, teahouse, winter scene, sky, beach and bus stop. And to add to this, the banner changes its appearance depending on the time of the day, so that you are in the mood, always! Here's my Google home page's technology tab, with beach as the current theme.

But then, there's always a Googley twist to it. According to tech observers, Google has put in some kind of tweaks in the code(e.g here's the Sweet Dreams xml), which results in the banner changing its appearance everyday at 3.14 AM (Remember pi !!). And that too, is different for each of the themes.

Here are the UFOs that appear in the City Scape and the Pi appearing in Sweet Dreams themes.
(Though I have tried setting my local time to 3.14 am, I have not yet encountered this hidden images :( )

And that's not all, Google is asking its users to suggest many more themes here, so that it can provide other themes in the future. And I assume in the near future, it will also allow users to upload their own images in their homepage. (I can't stop imagining my face beside the famous Google logo!). So now you know where to head, when you want a search engine that knows your mood..

Friday, March 09, 2007

Cats, Dogs & Microsoft !

While following the news about Microsoft's TechFest 2007, which focusses many of its innovations, I came across a peculiar service. Called Asirra (Animal Species Image Recognition for Restricting Access) , it basically plans to provide a service wherein humans would be distinguished from robots by asking the user to identify whether the image is that of a cat or a dog ! Surprising, isn't it? This challenge is often called the CAPTCHA (Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart). And is very important these days to make sure that automated programs are not filling up forms or posting stuff on your website.

Currently such a distinction is established using images, with garbled/corrupted letters that have to be typed in by the user. (Remember all those times when you have been asked to do so on creation of email IDs or when posting on some blogs?). These are being widely used in websites but as Microsoft says are "Unfortunately, such challenges can be difficult and frustrating for people, yet are often easily solved by computers".

So, the solution ,it says, lies in asking users to identify whether a photo (a 'real' photo courtesy is that of a cat or dog. According to Microsoft, "This task difficult for computers, but our user studies have shown that people can accomplish it quickly and accurately. Many even think it's fun!". And then, it will also show an 'Adopt Me!' link below each image, which will support PetFinder's mission of finding home for these animals. And Microsoft aims to provide this as a service to website owners for identification on their website. I just tried the test on Asirra's website, which had 12 images of cats/dogs and 2 out of four times it flashed 'You are a bot!', because I identified one photo wrongly. (This was because the pic was a long distance shot and it was very difficult to identify the hairy animal in that small pic!). Only time will tell how effective, fun (and less frustrating !!) this system is for the visitors. Lets hope we see many cute puppies & kitten everyday on websites !!

(Images courtesy :

Monday, March 05, 2007

Keeping me busy

Last week and days before that, I was a little (did I say little?) busy with my work. Just completed a task this week and felt a little satisfied (being the 'Employee of the month' in my project could also be a reason :)). But nowadays, I am far more busy at home with the online puzzles as part of Transcend (the fest at Symbiosis). And I am solving the 404 Not Found, just like that. For those who have been through Klueless 1 and Klueless 2 (part of IIM-I's Iris), its almost exactly similar to the Klueless. Equally challenging. Equally involving. And equally frustrating! Just try it out, if you find time that is. Because once you start it, you may never want to leave the PC until you finish the last level. And if you ever get stuck at some level, you may realize why I call it frustrating. Lotsa brain-scratching moments ahead.. And yes, don't blame me if you manage to sneak in just 5 hrs of sleep after hours at the computer (like me!!)

PS: You may also try out the 'original' Klueless. But, in both the cases, dont ever think of completing the puzzle without the game's blogs.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Dreams never die

After many days, I took some time off to listen to many songs that I used to cherish last year and earlier. And in my playlist was also the inspiring Aashayen (Iqbal). Those lines are really very inspiring and when Shaan says 'Ab mushkil nahin kuch bhi ..', it sets my mind into the thinking mode. "Can determination really drive a person towards his goals, inspite of the unsurmountable challenges?".

As if to answer my question, the Times of India carried an article today about how Dreams never die. It mentions the story of a paan-wallah Birbal Chaurasia, who fled away from his village 30 years ago with Rs.180 in his pocket and set up shop outside the Indian Express building in Delhi. Earning very little from his paan-shop, he used to prepare pickles and home-made drinks and ensured his daughters got Rs.10 for their bus fare. Last month, his elder daughter became a Chartered Accountant and his younger daughter is about to complete cost accountancy in a year. Surprising? Inspiring? It should be. We have seen many of our friends trying hard for completing the CA exams and cribbing about it being 'one-of-the-most-difficult' exams ever. GIven the fact that we have much of the resources and luxury to help us achieve our ambitions, many of us still falter in our path, and take pride in 'putting up an average show'. Think of all the cases where we hear of physically challenged people earning success in their fields. And still we talk about the many 'challenges', because of which we fail.

When I read of cases like Chaurasia's, I am reassured that determination is the most important thing (and in many cases, the only thing) that will help us out in reaching out to the stars. When you hear him say "I understood (on interacting with women journalists) that progress is linked to education. Which is why I decided to educate my teo daughters along with my son...Without education, women cannot be self-reliant and take independent decisions", you may never realise that this paan-wallah is a class VIII dropout.