Category Archives: Technology

Windows 7 – Finally a worthy successor to XP

I installed the long awaited RC to Windows 7 last week, finally upgrading from Windows XP. I didn’t particularly loath Vista as most people did, but I never felt the need to upgrade to Vista. But Windows 7 blew me away in the first few minutes of using it. I’m probably not going back to XP ever again.

I installed 7 on my Dell Vostro 1500, and the first thing that amazed me was that it downloaded and installed all the right drivers. And not generic OEM drivers, official vendor drivers that I had had to manually install in Windows XP.

The new taskbar in my opinion is the best of both worlds; the Mac dock and the old taskbar. Pinning applications to the taskbar is really handy, and now I never have to worry about how many windows I’m going to open.

HomeGroups and the ability to share and stream media across Windows 7 machines is something that I’m looking forward to using on a home server setup. The concept of libraries is also very handy, although perhaps a little unintuitive at first.

Performance, especially hibernate and restore times have been vastly improved, especially if you compare with XP.

Microsoft has been working on some really cool stuff lately. Live Mesh, Windows Live Essentials, IE8, MEDV, and now Windows 7. I’m waiting impatiently for their vision of 2019 to come true. 🙂

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Evolution of the PC – Where are we headed?

I’m reading In Search of Stupidity: Over 20 Years of High-Tech Marketing Disasters these days which talks about some high profile and some not to high profile blunders in the early days of the tech industry. It feels so unreal to read about the early incarnations of the ‘computer’, which supported at most 640KB and were heavy enough to induce back pains.

I remember seeing and touching some of these old dinosaurs, and it’s amazing how fast we’ve progressed. I was wondering what people 20-30 years down the line will think of our Macbook Pros, our Netbooks and our HP Dragons. I wonder how quaint our operating systems and software will look to them.

Even today we can see change happening as the concept of the PC being the sole repository for everything is becoming antiquated as more and more things are getting pushed to the cloud. I’m really impressed by some of Microsoft’s new Live services, particularly Live Mesh. It will be interesting to see what role Windows 7 plays in this transition of everything to the Web and how Windows as an operating system will evolve over the decades.

Exciting times indeed.

Rant ends here. Now I’m going to enjoy spring break!

How many Computer Scientists does it take to setup a Home Network between XP and Vista?!

So far we’ve tried with two. It only worked once, and then stopped working (the very next day). Both machines can ping each other based on IP, but the network doesn’t get established.

I guess this is yet another testimony to the mistake that was Vista. If anyone out there knows how to setup a home network between an XP and Vista machine, please drop a note.

*sigh*

Linux – Never Again

That’s it. I’m done. I’ve given up. No more leaps of faith for me.

When KDE 4 came out, I suddenly felt this urge to install the remixed version of Kubuntu 8.04 with KDE 4 on my Dell Vostro running Windows XP. I looked around the net for a couple of days, and generally saw a positive response, especially on machines similar to mine. There weren’t a lot of driver issues. So I went ahead and did a dual boot.

The installation went smooth enough, and I was impressed. When Kubuntu loaded, sound was working, screen resolution was fine, USB drives were working, and KDE 4 looked very nice. Wifi wasn’t working, but I thought what the heck, I’ll pop in the network cable and download the driver for the wifi. But turns out the NIC wasn’t working either.

So I look around some other options, try out some applications, and stumble upon the desktop effects settings. Although I doubt they’d run without the Nvidia drivers installed for my 8400GS, I still click the ‘enable’ button. Screen goes blank. I wait for a couple of minutes and nothing changes. I restart the X Server. Nothing happens. I reboot and startup Kubuntu and login. I still get a blank screen.

And since that day I haven’t touched Kubuntu. Now I’m forced to wait and select XP in the boot sequence whenever my machine boots. I can’t take the time out to partition and install XP again and remove Kubuntu completely.

There’s a lesson to be learnt here. Technology is just an enabler, just a means to an end. You should use whatever works for you. Be it XP, Vista, OSX or Linux. We shouldn’t always go after the latest (not necessarily the greatest) thing. Windows XP SP2 works beautifully for me, and now I’m going to stick with it. Even if my Kubuntu install hadn’t borked itself, I still would not have been able to use it as my primary OS because of compatibility issues. There would have been no gain in productivity whatsoever. So until Linux really becomes super awesome, gets mainstream recognition and gives me a long list of compelling reasons to switch, I’m sticking with good old Microsoft.

This thing made me a developer

While doing some spring cleaning some months back (see? I was really busy these past couple of months =p), I came across my old Vtech Pre Computer Power Pad. It brought back so many memories! My dad’s friend got me this from Dubai when I was about 10 or 11 years old. Back then, very few homes in Pakistan had computers, atleast we didn’t have a computer at our place, so I was ecstatic when I got my greedy little hands on it.

It had lots of mini games, mostly educational, like trivia, quizes and whatnot. But the most interesting thing by far to me was the ability to code in the BASIC programming language. I started by reading through the blue instruction manual for the language (I think I still have it stashed away somewhere), which was the only source of reference that I had, and then bit by bit, started to experiment with code. And then I just got sucked into it. I ended up writing so many different programs. The one big downside of it was that you could only store one program at a time in its persistent memory.

The last thing that I remember coding on it was a 2 player text based cricket game, in which players would select a type of bowling action and a batting shot, and based on those combinations, the result of the ball would be determined. I couldn’t make improvements in the game because the code reached the maximum limit of the storage memory, and memory expansion cards weren’t available in Pakistan. And soon after, the power unit of the computer game out or something, and it stopped working.

And now its probably lying at some second hand shop, or being taken apart for spare parts. But it did good in the sense that I found out early on that I had a passion for crafting code and really enjoyed creating stuff on computers. This thing awoke the inner CS techy in me =D

GeniDo – Granting your first wish (Offline Basecamp)

It was rightly predicted that the next big thing on the Web would be offline support from the web applications that we know and love. More and more offline apps keep popping up everywhere. The latest one to roll out is GeniDo (click to see demo video), a product by GeniTeam (founded by LUMS alumni).

I think it’s a great product idea, given the huge user base of Basecamp (more details at G&W). It’ll be great to see similar products for other web applications like rememberthemilk, backpack etc.

Regarding offline support for web apps, Flex and Google Gears have helped a lot in providing the infrastructure. I personally am really excited about Firefox 3’s offline app support (demo). Will finally have a reason to consider building Firefox only apps …

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Working from Home

My Home Office

I’ve been working from home since I joined CDF Software about 2 months ago back in December. Here’s how it’s been:

The Good Stuff

  • Free food (free as in non-alcoholic beer)
  • No IT dept. saying I can’t use YouTube
  • Frequent fridge raids
  • My choice of furniture
  • Duel Masters with my kid brothers during lunch break (I’ve become a super awesome pro)
  • Did I mention free food?
  • Can switch from desk+chair+heater setup to a bed+quilt+heater setup in a jiffy if it gets too cold
  • No waiting in traffic to get home
  • Road trips of the office in Islamabad (haven’t had one yet, looking forward to one though)

The Not So Good Stuff

  • Increasing waistline (did I mention food up there?)
  • No waiting in traffic while going to work
  • Don’t get to see the sun that much
  • General indigestion (too much to eat I guess…)
  • No white boards and markers
  • Work hours can be hazy (really easy to get carried away and pull a nighter…)
  • No colleagues around to bug, poke and generally make miserable
  • No free air conditioning (it’s going to get interesting in the summers…)

Generally you don’t hear too often someone working from home in Pakistan. Although I miss being in the same room with my team, still working from home is great fun. I believe more companies should explore such options, since they turn out to be very cost effective for both the employer and employee. And if the resource you hire is capable enough, the overhead of communication isn’t that bad.

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Team Pakistan (AVRiL) – Imagine Cup 07

The 2007 installment of Microsoft’s premiere student technology competition, the Imagine Cup (check out the ad @ YouTube), will be drawing to a close later this year in August when finalists for the Software Design invitational congregate in Seoul, South Korea to determine who will take home the Cup.

The team representing Pakistan this year in the Software Design category hails from LUMS. The 4 man Team AVRiL’s (Automated Video Recording of Lectures) project is about “promoting distance learning programs by reducing the cost of recording lecture videos by removing the human element from the process”. (team profile)

Check out their promo on YouTube:

They’re up against 55 other finalists in the Software Design invitational, so they’ve got their work cut out. Last I talked to one of the team members, they were working on adding the final bells and whistles, as the main core is mostly complete. I’ve had the opportunity of working with a couple of these guys in the past at LUMS; with Yahya during the CodinGuru 2006 and a couple of courses and met Tayyab during Softech ’06, and I think they’re the best bunch from the 2007 batch at LUMS to be representing Pakistan at the Finals.

I wonder if they’ve got bigger plans for their project after the Imagine Cup. It would be great if they work with LUMS on a customized solution for the campus. During my Senior year at LUMS, I had a course that was having its classes recorded, and having an automated system would be a lot better (and cheaper). Maybe LUMS could provide lecture videos and course material at subsidized rates (or free) to online users (something along the lines of OCW) or provide this material to other schools and colleges for people who can’t afford that quality of education, or maybe strike a partnership with VU or AIOU. I hope team AVRiL can shed some light on their plans.

Good luck for the Finals guys!!

I Wii

Nintendo WiiToday I bought my kid brothers a Nintendo Wii (yes, not the most enthusiastic of post beginnings, but I’m tired from all that Wii Tennis, Baseball and Boxing).

Words cannot describe fully the Wii experience. Before I had even seen or played a Wii for real, I’d gone over many articles and reviews on the Web and on TV about how it provides a truly unique gaming experience. But none of that prepared me for my first forehand in Wii Sports Tennis. It was a truly amazing experience. I’d put it right up there with when I played Gears of War for the first time. Maybe(Probably) even better than that.

With titles like Resident Evil 4 and Soul Calibur Legends, I’m really looking forward to trying out new games on the Wii.

Well Done Nintendo!

Dust and Graphics Cards – A Tragedy

Dust.

It’s everywhere.

After losing two of my Nvidia graphics cards to it, I know all too well that it’s everywhere. Nothing stops it. If it wants in, it gets in. It doesn’t care how expensive your graphics card is. It doesn’t care how high end it is (mine are typically mid range =p). It doesn’t care. Period.

The first card I lost was the great Ti4600. Gem of a card. One of the best in its time. 4 years after I bought it, its fan got completely swamped in dust bunnies.

Just today I found out that my 6600GT‘s fan had stopped working. I hadn’t played any graphics heavy game in a year so I have no idea how long it’s been kaput. I got to know when I installed CnC Tiberium Wars and the PC started hanging and restarting during the game. I had a closer look at the card and lo and behold, the fan wasn’t spinning.
I pull out my trusty air blower and have at the PC for a good couple of minutes, making sure that no more dust is coming out.
I check again. It isn’t spinning.

Amer tells me that taking apart the fan and cleaning it should fix it. I take out the card and try and remove the dust as best as I can. Due to lack of a small screwdriver at my disposal, I’m unable to take the fan apart. Hoping for the best, I install the card back in. I boot up the PC.

It isn’t spinning.

Just then I get Zeeshan’s message that he lost a fan to dust some years back too, the motor burnt due to excessive load because of the dust. Dejected, I check one last time.

It isn’t spinning.

So that’s my sob story guys. As Saad rightly pointed out at a dinner some days back, the weapon of tomorrow is Dust. Forget nukes. Forget your Navy. Forget your Air Force. Just pump lots and lots of dust into your enemies atmosphere, and watch them grind to a halt.

So how do YOU protect your computer from Dust? (recommend a new card while you’re at it)

Dust.

It’s everywhere.