Contextual Information


I’ve been slow to convert from Firefox to Chrome – despite the fact that Chrome is a lot faster, has more screen-estate and in general provides for a smoother browsing experience.

I’ve finally gotten rid of Firefox altogether though thanks to a great little extension called Apture Highlights. Although Apture works for Firefox too, it somehow fits with Chrome being more ‘new generation’.

What makes Apture absolutely fantastic is how real it has made the “contextual web” for me.  Sure, one doesn’t really need contextual links to save a few clicks. The great thing is that this is how we search for information in the real world — we read something, find something we don’t know about and ask. All without having to do a couple of intermediate steps in the middle.

Take a look at the video below:

Here’s what Venture Beat says about Apture

Perhaps the most coolest thing about this feature is the fact that you can also perform Apture searches within Apture content. I suspect most readers are used to following their curiosity through multiple Web searches and pages. Now you can do that without leaving the page where you started or opening a bunch of new browser tabs. Harris said publishers have found that readers stay on the page two to three times longer after Apture is activated.

Try it, it is awesome!

Firefox Fascination


fx_extensions_icon_275Working has managed to take me away from blogging as often as I once used to.

Its done other things to0 – like rekindle my interest in building, keeping and growing social networks, figuring out a GTD like system that actually works for me both at work and at home.

I call this phase of my existence the “networking-productivity MashUp” phase.

Central to this phase has been reconciling myself to use two separate laptops one for work and the other for my techie misadventures.

The two set-ups have much in common sans the OS and documents.

One of the things that maintains seamless similarity across any laptop/computer I am assigned to for a fairly reasonable length of time is my browser.

My Wakoopa usage tells me I spend a lot of my time in a ‘browser’ (combined for work and home use) and so I try to get it to work the way I like.

Firefox is still my favourite browser despite the existence and obviously faster performance of Chrome (which I use solely for GMail, GReader and so on…), the reason is its extensibility.

Here are my favourite Firefox add-ons with a description of why I like them.

Some are still ‘experimental’ so you’ll need to create an account to make them show up on the add-ons website.

Adblock Plus

Just the most effective way to get rid of ads on the net.

Better Flickr
Better GCal
Better Gmail 2
Better GReader
Better Lifehacker
Better YouTube

I like this set by Gina of lifehacker – and because I read Lifehacker every single day the ‘Better Lifehacker’ add on too is extraordinarily useful.

To use any or all of these you need to get GreaseMonkey.

bit.ly Preview
A little pop up overlay over all shortened url’s (not just Bitly) which is great, if you, ever need to discover what website that great nugget of knowledge came from while you stumbled along the net.

Brief’

A feed reading extension which is probably the simplest one to use!

Calvin and Hobbes

This one puts a new strip of the ‘greatest political philosopher ever’ 😀 in your status bar, comic relief is important!

Clean And Close

Adds a Clean And Close button to your download manager, which is useful if you download a lot and the long list bothers you.

CoLT

Makes it easy to copy link text and locations, especially useful for research where you want text and link sources.

Cooliris

The best description is the official one — “Cooliris (formerly PicLens) transforms your browser into a full-screen 3D Wall for searching, viewing and sharing the Web.” Very pretty indeed!

CyberSearch

I like how this adds to the ‘awesomeness’ of the awesome bar – search results directly from keywords. Cool.

Dafizilla Table2Clipboard

If you ever have had to copy a table from a web-page you will be very happy you found this!

Delicious Bookmarks

Doesn’t require a description does it this one!

Extension List Dumper

“Dumps a list of the installed extensions.” – very useful if you ever wanted to write your own “my favourite Firefox extensions” type blog post.

Fasterfox Lite

“Performance and network tweaks for Firefox but without the Pre-fetching”, which really wasn’t that useful.

– FindThatBand

Sorry!, but Google for this one. It lets you – “Search for a music artist or band on MySpace, LastFM, or Pandora”. 🙂

Fire.fm

Get your daily music fix from Last.fm.

FlashGot

Want downloads? Get FlashGot.
Google Gears

At the minimum you’ll need it to enable gmail offline and a faster loading version of word press.

Google Shortcuts

For keyboard shortcut junkies.

GoogleEnhancer

Adds numbers, highlighting, favicons and ‘search by date’ to Google searches

Image Toolbar

“Provides easy access to common image functions”, IE Style.

Intense Debate in Google Reader

Enables the Intense Debate comment system in Google Reader.

Link Alert

Changes the cursor to indicate the target of a link.

Linky

Converts text links into genuine, clickable links.

LiveClick

Adds feed reading and notifications to Live Bookmarks.

Morning Coffee
Keeps track of daily routine websites and opens them in tabs.

MovieRating

Lets you view the RottenTomatoes rating for a movie.

Net Notes

Store Notes on Websites in your Bookmarks.

No Squint

Manage site-specific full page and text zoom levels

Open in Google Docs
Open web documents directly in Google Docs

PDF Download

Allows you to choose what to do with a PDF file: download it, view it with an external viewer or view it as HTML.

Previewr

Allows “Easy link previewing”

QuickJava

Allows quick enable and disable of Java and Javascript from statusbar.

ReminderFox

Displays and manages reminders and ToDo’s

Search Cloudlet
More powerful Google search with context-aware tag clouds

Select-n-Go by Cleeki

Select, search, and preview instantly.

Site Launcher

Open websites using special keyboard shortcuts, like Launchy for Firefox

Smarter Wikipedia

Adds a “related articles” box to Wikipedia and allows searching of selected text from context menu

TwittyTunes

Post your tunes to Twitter using FoxyTunes, and more…

Ubiquity

An extension that allows for the use of dynamic commands in Firefox.

Unread Tabs Supreme

“Unread tabs are displayed in italics to indicate that you haven’t read them.

UrlbarExt

“Extends the Location Bar with set of commands to (Make Tiny URL,Copy URL,Search site,Go up,Tag pages easily ,Navigate through sequential URL’s,Unblock filtered websites and Surf anonymously using online phproxy servers)

YouTube Cinema

Play YouTube videos in cinema style.

HTC love


I have now owned an HTC Touch for the last two weeks.

The HTC touch was a rather agonizing choice in the smart phone category, given that I wanted GPS Navigation and 3G to work on my potential ‘smart’-phone and ended up with a phone that has neither.

In hindsight though I believe this was not such a bad idea. To begin with India will have to wait at least till March for established 3G connectivity and there was no reason why I  should need GPS navigation when I don’t drive.

The HTC Touch has a lot of thoughtful features. I particular like the white balance feature on the camera, the tiny mirror to check your looks before you take a picture of your self, the cube which reminds a fair bit of Opera’s speed-dial feature (yes, I know its the other around!), setting transparency levels for background images and so on.

In fact the only thing I don’t like about this phone is Windows mobile 6- which is a badly done mobile OS- but oh well, can’t really blame HTC for that!

Map Trap


I fail to understand why nobody has ever created a bus-route map of Chennai.

Creating a map should be a fairly straightforward business. Chennai buses do operate on time schedules — approximate time schedules yes, but still, time-schedules nevertheless.

Some 72% of Chennai’s population travels by bus thanks to obnoxiously high auto prices and yet first-time travelers or simply unseasoned bus users have no access to the simplest of all transportation information – which bus goes where and where does it stop.

Guaranteed, this is a difficult task and not one that can necessarily remain up to date, Chennai bus routes are plagued with way too many passengers and new diversions every now and then. Despite this, it ought not to be impossible to create a map with bus-stops and common bus numbers! Even if the effort turned out to be only an approximate representation of reality.

Common sense suggests that most rational people need a starting point, a reference or a flag-post of sorts from which they can extrapolate. This is how most decision making works. A proximate guide is as good an indicator as any in this case.

The lack of bus-route maps has nothing to do with the success of spontaneous order, it has to with a market failure of sorts; this is exactly what Hernando De Soto talked about- information is available and stored collectively (say in the minds of daily bus users) and yet for some odd reason there doesn’t seem to be any way to fix this information into a useful form; a map!

In the meantime, I appeared to have picked up one ‘American’ habit- listening to my i-pod on long lonely bus and train journeys to Kanchipuram and Nungambakkam occasionally amused by a cow, goat or a peculiar blade of grass.

PS: Here’s an excellent piece on Reason explaining the connection (actually, the lack of) between the bailout and free markets.

Two Videos and a Service


Two videos I highly recommend watching, if you have the time…

The Aurora video on the future of web user experience is here.

Also check out this lecture debunking myths about statistics in developing countries, its long but brilliant.  You’ll need FLV Player to watch it on your computer – which is available for free here. Or just watch it online.

Incidentally I found this video on the YokWay social network, which is one of the better content geared social networks I’ve seen lately. Its in Beta currently, I have 10 invites to give out though, so comment and let me know if you want one.

Update : Part two of the Aurora video is online now here.

Another Update: All four parts of the Aurora Series are online here, courtesy Lifehacker.

The ‘I Hate Vista Snowball Effect’


Last week I became a part of the Snowball Effect group on Face book. The group is trying a social experiment to illustrate the snowball effect which is the long-standing phenomenon that people follow what others do.

The ‘Mojave Experiment‘ put together by a Microsoft research team illustrates this idea nicely. The “Mojave Experiment” is an attempt to find out –

What do people think of Windows Vista® when they don’t know it’s Windows Vista? We disguised Windows Vista as codename ‘Mojave,’ the ‘next Microsoft OS,’ so regular people who’ve never used Windows Vista could see what it can do – and decide for themselves. …

Results from the experiment indicate that over 90% of users rated Vista much better than they did based on preconceived notions.

For most part, Vista works very well for me- sure it has annoying parts like every Windows system has had in the past, the real question is; Are we all sheep?

The Condom Song


If you haven’t seen it yet, check out the Indian Condom Song on YouTube.

Unlike the comments I find the song more than just funny.

To me – the video illustrates the awesome power of local creativity to spread a vital public health service message.

It is repetitive, which is a good way of reinforcing the message in addition to being amusing and memorable.

For several South Indians its a familiar tune that remains in your head and most importantly it goes a long way towards talking about ‘safe sex’ openly.

Backing Up Stuff Online


If you like the convenience of an online backup system and have access to a fast internet connection I highly recommend SpiderOak.

Unlike Humyo.com, SpiderOak does not promise endless storage and dump you with a PC upload client that refuses to install despite payment, complaints and a lousy attempt at ‘branded’ media.The pricing plans are also much more reasonable at $10 for 20 GB every month, which is a cartload cheaper than $79 that Humyo offers, especially because the space you buy at SpiderOak is more fungible.

SpiderOak gives you a simple 2GB limit to back up important stuff, which you can then choose to share with a ShareID. The upload client works very well, and will the space constraint will make you back up documents and stuff you really need, not oodles of free music you could find again.

Finding Liberty in WALL-E


The Mises blog published a scathing critique of Wall-E, an animated film about garbage and the future last week. In principle I agree with the critique, I enjoyed it much more before I watched WALL-E though. The film does make a statement about lifestyle, consumption and even obesity, I would hesitate to call it anti-capitalist or anti-liberty though.

It is easy of course to suggest that the definition of capitalism relies on the idea that it breeds corporate monopolies like Buy’n’Large. The trouble is with this sort of association. ‘Free Markets’ are not about single large corporations taking over the world, they are about small competitive enterprises. Anti-trust law is a free-market phenomenon to that extent.

To me the homogeneity aboard the axiom, where everyone wore red or blue, drank the same food and had little time to pursue creativity or innovation was as real an analogy as one could get to Stalinist Communism or Communism in China before they ‘opened up’. The problem with centrally planned States is that they decide (representation does not work for the economy as it does for politics) for the people, centrally planned economies choose prices (leading to disastrous consequences) , decide what needs to be produced and also as history tells us- decide what people’s careers, lives and even homes should look like.

The problem is not ideological- its economics. When people vote for communism, they vote for central planning. Look at Zimbabwe (where people have NOT continued to vote for central planning) where one dictator decided expanded public expenditure was a good thing, printed money and drove up the money supply to inflation rates well past the 1500 % mark. People cannot predict the price of bread in Zimbabwe beyond 1 hour.

WALL-E is also a story about love. It is also about how people and in this case robots always gather together to fight authoritarianism. Certainly its message to ‘return to agriculture’ carries an ‘environmentalism’ tag as did the lovely animated movie ‘Happy Feet’; and neither is very pleasing when you know that most environmentalists lie about virgin forests, global warming, bio-fuels and waste!

However I think one could find liberty in WALL-E. What could be more libertarian than a fight for choice, a fight against authority (or authoritative robots)? What could be more libertarian than love?  On balance I think its better to spend an afternoon watching beautiful animation which teaches children to defy authority than to quibble about a film’s political message- when all it takes to change minds on most issues, is a wee-bit of research.