June 29, 2007

My iPhone experience

After a long wait, humanity was blessed with iPhone today! I am not much of a gadget lover but I decided to visit the nearby Apple store to get a feel of this thingy. My first gadget was a Palm Visor that I bought several years back. It didn't have a color display but still i was crazy enough to carry it wherever I go, solve crossword puzzles (struggling with graffiti which would always misunderstand the letters) and so on. After a while, the craze went down and I don't even know where it is now :). As I sit in front of computer for the most part of a day, I didn't find much use for a PDA. Later, when everybody started talking about the ipod's quality and storage, I thought I should try an iPod shuffle. It was really nice to pack 100-200 songs in it when we go for a long drive and play them in the car stereo. For a while, I thought I won't be impressed by any new gadget (I chose to skip Zune too). But, once I saw iPhone ads and the way they flipped through photos, I felt my long lost itch for a gadget again.

So, with that flashback, let me tell you what happened today. I rushed my wife and son so that we can be there at the shop by 6 p.m. before they open up. But friday evening traffic delayed us. By the time we reached the shop, people had already started buying iphones. There was a queue but it was not as long as I was expecting (only 30-40 people). Many who had come to the mall were looking at the store wondering what on earth is happening inside. The store staff cheered and clapped for every single buyer and those who accompanied were taking photographs as the buyers walked out of the shop. It was as if they achieved something great! I took a video of the crowd and you can watch it here.

As I didn't want to join a long line, I decided to shop in the mall for some time and come back. When I came back at about 7:30, the line was short. Somebody announced that 8Gig models were sold out and only 4 Gig was available. My wife was repeatedly asking me if I am going to buy it today as she was concerned that it's too costly for a phone. I kept saying I just want to check it out and I might buy it. It was quite funny that they had employed a person to tell jokes and entertain those waiting in the line (he told something with monkeys and cigars which I wasn't really interested in). Finally, we were allowed in and I told them I want to check it out before buying.

My first impression once I held the iPhone in my hand was that it was very light-weight for something that has so many cool features. The screen showed a list of videos from youtube and i pressed one with my finger. It feels less clumsy (and maybe better ergonomically too) to use a finger than a stylus pen. The video started playing.. For a moment, I couldn't believe that I am watching the video in a handheld device and not a TV screen. It was crystal clear! Then i wanted to check out photos and so i clicked the start button at the bottom and it brought up all the nice little icons that mesmerized everyone in TV ad. I clicked on photos icon and experienced how painless it is to browse through photos just like turning pages in a book.

Then, I wanted to check out web browsing with Safari. Once i touched the address bar, the software keyboard popped up with thick and clear letters. I was able to type "hackosphere.blogspot.com" without many retries even though I was using my finger that is as wide as three of those letters put together. I think it is intelligent enough to pick the letter where the most pressure is applied. Ofcourse, my blog showed up with tiny unreadable fonts in that screen :) Before I could experiment the zoom in feature, somebody from the store asked me if I am going to buy it soon. The decision that I was postponing had to be made quickly :) I looked at my wife and she looked at me. Knowing that I would say 'yes' any moment, she pulled me away from the gadget and said "Let's go!". So, that's the end of the story. But, you never know, the shop is not that far from my home!

[Interestingly, I never bothered to try the phone feature. I wonder if anybody buys this thing mainly for being a mobile phone.]

June 27, 2007

Did your navbar re-appear suddenly?

Mine did! Looks like Blogger now adds the following line before /head tag all by itself.

#navbar-iframe {display:block}

As my display:none instruction was sitting before this line, it didn't come into effect. I had to move the line right after body tag as follows.

<style type='text/css'>
#navbar-iframe {display:none;}

You could use this method if you have the same problem. By the way, I am going by Amit's word that it is OK to hide the navbar :)

June 24, 2007

Hackosphere sports a new look!

I thought it's time for a new look for Hackosphere. As I am going to review upcoming websites and products, the new look is a bit more professional (main content to the left, mostly white etc). If you have any comments about the look or find any problems, let me know. If you want me to review any new invite-only or private beta service, drop me a word. I plan to review the technical aspects (wherever possible) in addition to reviewing the features. Believe me, it's gonna be interesting!

June 23, 2007

Microsoft Popfly - A use-case illustration

From now on, I am extending the scope of my blog from just Blogger hacks to include technology reviews also. I am planning to sign up for invite-only and beta websites/services and write posts describing the usage of the website or service (with illustrations). This is to give you an idea of what they have got to offer early enough. To start with, I am covering the Microsoft Popfly Alpha mashup and website building service for non-techies. As the service is in private alpha, you need to sign-up with your email id and they send you an invitation after some time.

Once you got the invitation and logged in to the website, you will see three options:
  • Create a webpage with the wysiwyg editor (no html knowledge required)
  • Create a mashup using the various web services available (no need to code)
  • Share your projects with others in the community
As WYSIWYG website building is not something new, I will walk you through the mashup creation only.

Microsoft provides a list of pre-built blocks to create mashups. Predominantly there are two types of blocks:
  • Data producer blocks such as Flickr, Facebook, RSS that provide photos, feeds etc as output.
  • Data consumer blocks such as PhotoTiles, Slideshow, NewsReader that take the data produced and display it in a nice way using slideshows, tiled display etc.
Here, the use-case that I am going to demonstrate is to obtain photos from Flickr and show them in a nice tiled fashion. I first select a data producer block by selecting the Flickr block.

I get a red-colored box like this for flickr (which actually rotates upon mouseover!). The message "You have a key" below the box indicates that I have provided an API key from flickr to authorize my usage. Before providing the key, you will see an error "Missing key".

Click on the Missing key message and you will get this lightbox to input the key. You can use my key if you don't want to obtain a new one from Flickr (0659eaf9c8e9830405cd87f5ccfa7dcb).

Once the key issue is resolved, you can click on the tool-like icon to the right of the block to edit the settings of the block. You will get something like this where you can edit the text that you want to search with and the number of photos that you want the block to output. After editing, click the big-size tool icon to go back.

Next, I will add another block that will display the photos nicely. You can search the blocks with the term 'photo' and you will see a few blocks named Photoshow, Photosphere etc. The one I liked (and the one that worked well) is PhotoTiles. So, I selected it.

And the block shows up in the canvas. Ignore the default display in the background (they should fix it, it's annoying!).

And the way you connect them, is by clicking on the blue-colored output point of flickr block and then clicking the yellow-colored input point of PhotoTiles block. A line forms between them indicating that they're connected (I wonder how Yahoo Pipes did the same too! Maybe this is the most logical representation).

Now if you click on "Preview", you can see the final result of your mashup. It will be something like shown below. You can click on any individual photo and it will be displayed bigger. (Clicking on customize at the bottom will take you back to the canvas).

After saving the mashup, you need to share the mashup if you need options like "embed it in your website", "Download as Gadget" etc. It will provide you with an iframe code to embed your creation to your blog or website.

You can see the mashup embedded in my blog in the second column. This is very simple mashup that I created with Popfly. It is possible to combine the data from many services and create complicated mashups. Here are my opinions about Popfly based on my experiments.

  • Stunning user interface using their Silverlight platform.
  • Once you create your mashup, you can create a website also with Popfly to embed the mashup in (I will check if there's anything to write about regarding the website building option).
  • Pages load terribly slowly, maybe because Silverlight is heavy. They should really improve the speed if they expect serious development with Popfly. Even the popfly widget in my blog will load very slowly!
  • I don't see any equivalent for the built-in operations like Sorting, Filtering etc that are supported by Yahoo Pipes.
Coming soon:
  • Review of the beta release of MyLiveSearch, a new search engine effort claiming to be an innovative approach never done before.
  • Review of the beta release of Radar Networks' semantic web services product.

June 11, 2007

Need a favor from all those using my hacks

Dear readers,

Thanks to design guru Aditya's help, we now have promotion buttons for bvibes. So many of you have picked up my hacks for free in the past and improved your blogs. Here's a small favor that you could do for me in return. As part of my efforts to promote my new venture bvibes.com, I found out that advertising in major blogs like problogger.net costs a lot (in the order of $1000 per month). So, I am asking you to add this small button to your sidebar and help me spread the word.

In Template/Page elements tab, click on "Add a page element" and add a HTML/Javascript element with this piece of code:

<style type="text/css">
.bvibes_img {
margin-left: auto;
margin-right: auto;
<a href="http://bvibes.com">
<img class="bvibes_img" src="http://bvibes.com/bvibes_button_ad.png">

Then you can move the button to wherever you want in your sidebar (preferably in a prominent position).

For those who have joined bvibes.com, don't you want to see more people reading your submissions? Here's a bigger button that you could add to your blog.

Just modify the img src line as follows to use this image:
<img class="bvibes_img" src="http://bvibes.com/bvibes_ad.png">

Thank you!

June 10, 2007

This week's top posts from bVibes

Here are some posts that you might be interested in reading.

kundaistreet: Marlo and Horeshio

So Easy to Send Spam Using Google Alerts!

Transformers New Clips

My Blog Log: Copyright Explained

Muse: End of Times? Of Paganism and The Roman Catholic

Here are some updates about the website:
- Google analytics reports 5000+ hits to the website in the last 2 weeks!
- I have added a statistics module to the sidebar showing the number of users, links etc. I have also made the URLs search engine friendly.
- I have disabled anonymous voting as registration takes only few minutes. This week, everyone gets 10 credits.
- Self-hosted blogs are now supported well.

More details in the bVibes blog.

June 6, 2007

Now available: Facebook app for bvibes

I believe many of you are on facebook (if not, you're missing out on the social networking revolution). And the fact that we have a facebook widget for bvibes so soon is a testimonial of how Aditya has geared up to develop for facebook. I just sent him an email this morning asking him if he could develop a facebook application for showing the posts that one has voted for (like they have for digg). He said yes and to my surprise, he had it ready within half a day! So, if you're on facebook, now you can show the posts that you voted for in your profile (including your own posts). This will show up in the news feed of your friends bringing attention to your blog posts (and bvibes could get more users which is again beneficial for everyone). Here's how the application will look like.

And if you are not yet on facebook, I would really suggest you to try it out. It's very easy to find your real world friends there and there are many networks/groups that you can join. Here's the bVibes application link and here's the link to my profile. See you there in Facebook.

June 5, 2007

New Tech news section in bVibes

Here's an addition to make the website more interesting. Previous restriction to allow only posts from blogspot.com, wordpress.com and typepad.com has been removed. You can now submit hot Technology news from any website or self-hosted blog, discuss about them with others and vote. But still the focus will be on blogs and so, these news articles will be separated from blog posts and shown in the "Tech Vibes" section. Here are some articles that I have submitted to start with.

7 iPhone secrets revealed

Guy Kawasaki's experience in building Truemors.com

Google PageRank: How it works?

June 1, 2007

Important announcements about bvibes

With 50 users and 60 links, the website is growing at a healthy pace. For those who have joined bvibes.com, I have two announcements:
1. Now you can display a button in your blog so that your regular readers and visitors can vote for your post. I have enabled anonymous voting (with IP address check) so that they don't need an account to vote.
2. Based on my poll, some people seem to wonder if voting for others will affect their credits. To avoid any confusion, for now, I have decided to give equal number of credits (5) every week to everyone. So, please remember, no more "proportional" credits.

Adding the button to your blog is very simple. Just copy this piece of code and paste it at the end of the post that you submitted to bVibes. Please remember to replace XXXX with the complete URL of the post (start from http://). Also, it's better to goto Edit HTML tab of the post editor in Blogger before pasting this.

<iframe marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" vspace="0" hspace="0" src="http://bvibes.com/evb/evb.php?url=XXXX" frameborder="0" height="80" scrolling="no" width="60"></iframe>

It will show the current number of votes (as shown below) and if the visitor clicks on it, it will take him to the page where he can vote or comment about your post.

Next, I will come up with a feedflare so that all those subscribing to your Feedburner feed can vote directly from their feed readers (thanks to Paula for this great idea).