Hari's Corner

Humour, comics, tech, law, software, reviews, essays, articles and HOWTOs intermingled with random philosophy now and then

Things I'd like to see in blogs

Filed under: Internet and Blogging by Hari
Posted on Mon, Aug 28, 2006 at 21:38 IST (last updated: Thu, Oct 30, 2008 @ 08:12 IST)

Please don't take me wrong - I'm no blogging guru and I'm not pointing fingers at anybody and I gladly agree that my observations are subjective, but for what they're worth, I thought I'd share some of my thoughts on what makes blogsites usable from the perspective of a visitor.

Comment submission without captchas

Captchas are annoying in general and some captchas are so twisted and unreadable that they make me feel like I'm on a visit to the dentist to get my teeth pulled out. There are better ways of spam prevention these days and captchas do absolutely nothing to prevent trackback and referrer spam. Please avoid captchas - at least the unaesthetic ones.

Proper navigation tools

Please do have a good navigation structure in your blog. Please provide archive links because a lot of us care about reading older posts on your blog which we may have missed. Please provide a "back" and "forward" link on your home page as well so that visitors can easily go to older posts.

Permalinks to individual articles

Please use a permalink structure in your blog. A url like http://yourblog.com/index.php?postid=2903 makes it unreadable and less friendly to SE bots. Please have a link structure which gives a unique page for each post like http://yourblog.com/date/category/post-name or similar.

Fluid (percentage) width columns

Please consider using a percentage width to define your post body width rather than a narrow fixed width column. A fluid style is more compatible with different screen resolutions and provides better utilization of browser real-estate.

Proper categorization

Please use categories to tag your posts. Category archives provide an additional intuitive way to browse your blog. If you're using blogger, then you really ought to be using something else. There are plenty of free alternatives to blogger now. Try wordpress.com. Or better still get your own webspace and host your blog. It gives you much more flexibility.

RSS feeds

While most blogging systems have an RSS feed, many blog themes do not provide a link to the RSS feed on the home page of the blog. It's rather inconvenient for many of us to search for the RSS feed link on your blog. Besides the little "Feed" icon provided by browsers like Firefox, we sometimes prefer to get the RSS URL to paste into our feed readers, so it's nice to have an RSS link from your home page as well.

In-page commenting forms (no popups)

Please use the standard commenting system provided by your blog. And please avoid popup comment boxes. It's quite annoying to have to post comments on popup boxes rather than as part of the main post.

Personalization

If you're using one of the pre-built themes for any of the popular blogging tools, chances are that your theme is being used by hundreds of other bloggers. Please do personalize your blog theme. A customized theme gives your blog an identity of its own.
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SMS spam is a menace

Filed under: Software and Technology by Hari
Posted on Mon, Aug 28, 2006 at 10:49 IST (last updated: Wed, Jul 16, 2008 @ 21:15 IST)

I've talked about the growing menace of e-mail spam, forum spam, blog spam, referrer spam and all other kinds of spam we receive in abundance all through the year. Most of the spam we encounter on a regular basis is related to the internet. What I've not talked about so far is the spam we receive in our mobile phones - namely SMS spam. I was completely taken aback at the amount of SMS spam I've received over a period of three or four months when I cleaned out my message inbox yesterday.

What is really disturbing about SMS spam is that the ease with which spammers are able to get hold of mobile numbers and the relative lack of effort required in sending out SMS spam. Worse still, 90% of the spam comes not from third parties but from the providers themselves. Thus, as a Hutch user, I keep getting repeated solicitations to download caller tunes and ring tones, offers to make me rich by answering a simple question, offers to buy certain products and win a lucky prize and so on. To add to this nonsense, I've recently been getting "call spam" - pre-recorded messages which bombard me by calling my mobile number. And all this from the service providers themselves. The latter kind of spam made me curse vehemently using language which would be heavily censored on any family television show.

To me, what makes SMS spam insidious is that there's really no way to protect oneself from this nonsense. There seems to be no effective spam filter mechanism on most of the ordinary cell phones and because the providers themselves are involved in this racket, I'm sure there won't be any cooperation from their side. I'm not sure about the other mobile providers and the situation in other countries but I've found Hutch to send out far too many SMS messages for comfort. Is there a way to protect me from annoying rubbish of this kind? Probably the solution would have to be the consumer redressal forum.

SMS spam is closer to becoming a serious source of trouble than pure e-mail spam because being bombarded with SMS messages all day long can really choke up mobile phone memory which is limited. A mobile instrument is far more accessible and immediate than plain e-mail which magnifies the problem tenfold. Add to this the fact that every time you receive a call or a message there is a significant drain on the battery charge. I think I can safely say that by receiving all these SMS messages the battery life is reduced by a day or two. Again, the time spent in deleting the rubbish from the message inbox is wasteful and unnecessary. The other factor is the annoyance factor. The beeping message tone whenever you receive a message has the potential to be disturbing in the most inappropriate situations possible. Does this mean one just shuts off and turns on the instrument from time to time? How inconvenient is that to a mobile user?

SMS and caller spam is disruptive because it reduces the efficiency of mobile usage by forcing users to turn off the instrument or reduce it to silent mode just to avoid getting message and ringing tones at inappropriate times. It takes up valuable memory space and clutters the message inbox. It puts an incremental drain on battery life by forcing users to have to delete them from time to time. More than anything else, it's absolutely annoying when the source is the provider himself and the theme of these messages is the same over and over again.

One thing I should acknowledge is that mobile providers will be smart enough not to send out too many of these messages in case consumers start protesting actively and bringing an end to the nonsense. They will continue to send out the maximum possible messages they can get away with below the threshold limit though. Which in turn leads me to believe in the fact that there are enough people who respond encouragingly to these advertising messages and help the providers in making money.

As long as the cost of sending out spam is negligible and there is at least a 10% chance of making money through sending out spam, there will always be people who indulge in it. The only way mobile customers can fight back is by actively protesting to the service providers and threatening legal action. There can be no justification for sending out a battery of regular message spam to mobile users even when the provider indulges in it.
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Linux links removed

Filed under: Site management by Hari
Posted on Sun, Aug 27, 2006 at 12:10 IST (last updated: Wed, Jul 16, 2008 @ 21:10 IST)

Well, I figured that I needn't clutter the sidebar with links to popular Linux sites including official distribution sites which most of you know about. You've probably even bookmarked those in your own browser as well. So there you go - no more Linux links from this blog.

If there is a need for including Linux links in the future, I will probably create a separate "Links" page. All other links will continue living happily in the sidebar. :P
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Darrell Hair needs to be eased out

Filed under: Sports by Hari
Posted on Wed, Aug 23, 2006 at 21:23 IST (last updated: Sun, May 24, 2009 @ 19:18 IST)

It won't be long before the raging fire over the Darrell Hair-Pakistan episode dies down. But it will remain yet another bitter episode in world cricket, constantly remaining under the surface, only to emerge when another controversy of this kind emerges. It's hard to be optimistic about the ICC's handling of such issues.

Everybody knows that the Pakistani cricketers are no angels and Inzamam's temper tantrums will earn him no sympathy. While the ICC is certainly right in punishing the Pakistani team for its refusal to continue the match, I think it's about time the powers-that-be seriously take a look at evaluating their own match officials and see where they're going wrong in managing unfortunate situations that arise during the progress of a match. After all, this is not the first time such a controversy has completely ruined a tour. Remember India in South Africa in 2001 and the Mike Denness issue? It's all very well declaring that the "letter of the law" has to be observed in such circumstances. Too often it's an easy excuse for making a mess of an issue by mishandling it. How about some skillful diplomacy and tact to defuse them? That would take some doing, wouldn't it? Or would that be too much to ask of semi-competent, half-baked amateurish match officials who have no training in professional management? After all, it's not a one-way street. Officials cannot always lay down the law ignoring everything else. The survival of cricket depends on mutual cooperation between players and officials. Yet the ICC continues acting in an authoritarian manner brushing aside all genuine criticism and throwing its weight around. All I can say is that it should wake up to reality before it becomes an irrelevant, orphaned entity and is ruthlessly pushed aside by all concerned.

Darrell Hair

When it comes to umpires involved regularly in controversies, two names come to mind - Steve Bucknor and Darrell Hair. Steve Bucknor's biases are pretty well known throughout the cricketing world. So much so that it's almost an institution by itself. As for Darrell Hair, he's been involved in so many controversies involving the sub-continent teams that it's hard to reject accusations of racism against him no matter how well-meaning his actions might be. Neither are particularly great as umpires. Both are supposed to be "experienced" veterans but neither seem to have benefitted from it. In fact, I would go as far as saying that Darrell Hair has always remained a mediocre umpire while Steve Bucknor has gone downhill at an alarming rate over the past few years. Yet, these umpires continue remaining on ICC's panel of umpires (elite or not) while decent umpires in the sub-continent are continuously being ignored. Fact #1: Ball-tampering is a particularly volatile issue because it's an accusation of cheating - as simple as that. Fact #2: Pakistan have a history of being involved in this issue and are probably more sensitive to it than other teams. Hair cannot pretend that he doesn't know the consequences of bringing up the issue. My only question is - forgetting everything else for the moment - when every other umpire can remain relatively controversy-free over a long career in spite of the pressures of the job, why does Hair seem to revel in it? Is it just his bad luck or is it something more than that?

Nevertheless, it's irrelevant whether Hair did the right thing or not in the incidents where he was involved. The fact is that he's a highly over-rated umpire who's been a controversy magnet over the years. Whether he chooses to attract them by his own over-officious attitude or whether he is a victim of circumstances is beside the point. World cricket simply cannot afford to tolerate prolonged mediocrity and incompetence. This should apply equally for players as well as officials. When players can get thrown out of their national teams for poor performance or due to politics, it's almost logical that officials should face the same music. It's time Darrell Hair gracefully retired or is gently eased out of the system.

Picture Courtesy: telegraph.co.uk
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Theme modifications (again)

Filed under: Site management by Hari
Posted on Tue, Aug 22, 2006 at 19:47 IST (last updated: Wed, Sep 26, 2007 @ 18:00 IST)

I've tweaked my theme to make it brighter and fresher looking while keeping the existing simplicity. Almost all the changes to the previous theme were in the CSS and very little XHTML was changed.

Feel free to leave your thoughts on this theme.
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Storm in a teacup

Filed under: Humour and Nonsense by Hari
Posted on Tue, Aug 22, 2006 at 08:39 IST (last updated: Wed, Sep 26, 2007 @ 18:01 IST)

Here's how you can have your very own storm in a teacup.
  1. Prepare a cup of tea. Wikipedia lists some of the common methods of preparing tea all over the world. Make any kind of tea you prefer.
  2. Pour the tea out into a cup. Keep the cup preferably 3/4ths full.
  3. Now start stirring the tea very, very fast in one direction. Use a stirrer or a spoon.
  4. After acheiving a mini-whirlpool, start stirring the tea in the opposite direction very fast.
  5. Now get some spit into your mouth and hold your head above the teacup. Start spraying into the teacup by using as much force as possible. Alternatively you can use some other sprinkling device.
  6. Repeat the above steps for as long as you want the storm to continue.
  7. Finally pour the tea out or drink it. The choice is yours.

There you have it! Your very own storm in a teacup! :P
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