Dec 31, 2008

Unfriendly online movie booking websites

In India you do not get a wide variety of websites for booking your movie tickets online.

Here are the most common ones that I can remember from the top of my head:

Of these, the last one ( is the most pathetic website ever created by mankind. For the past five years, I have been unsuccessful in ever getting this site to work. Most of the links and graphics on this site are broken perpetually, and you cannot seem to get anywhere from the homepage. Just this month, I noticed that they've repaired the website so that it is now browseable. However, you can't still book a ticket online. All this is despite the fact that Satyam Cineplexes never fail to advertise this website during the intermission in each show (remember the tagline " The best place to book your movie tickets"?). Shame on Satyam.

My second-best website that rewrote the concept of online booking of movie tickets in India happens to be The site is very well designed, is always up and running, and is easy to use. However, they have tied up with a very limited number of cinema theatres, thereby limiting the customer's choice to a handful of places. The most prominent cinema theatre chains that are accessible for online booking through this website include Wave Cinemas, Fun Cinemas, M2K, G3S etc. Of these, people have posted really bad reviews on Fun Cinemas and M2K all over the Internet, so it is just our bad luck that a perfectly good website is more or less useless for most customers. I sometimes use to book tickets for Wave Cinemas, which are pretty decent (though not as good as PVR).

Which brings me to my favorite online movie ticket booking website of all times -- I love this website because I have almost never faced any issues with this website over the last 3 years since I created my account on it. PVR is a very well managed chain of movie theatres in India, which says a lot about the capability of its management in general, and the one man behind its success -- Ajay Bijli.

However a couple of days ago a very interesting incident happened with me, when I tried booking movie tickets for Ghajini -- the latest Aamir Khan blockbuster -- through website. I first tried to book tickets for Ghajini on Wednesday, 24th December 2008 (the first day the bookings of this movie were opened). However, the website was down the entire day. I tried again a few days later, on Monday, 29th December. This time, the entire website was functional, except the part where you need to login before you can make the payment to book your tickets. For some wierd reason, the website kept on denying my login credentials, saying that the "User ID does not exist." I created a brand new account -- successfully -- and tried logging in with my new account. Ditto. The same error message. Perhaps a small bug by a useless programmer somewhere was costing PVR millions in revenue.

I immediately wrote to the website administrator, notifying them of this problem (click the image for a larger picture):

PVR Cinemas

After sending this message, I checked my mail every half an hour, expecting to find an acknowledgement of the issue, and an ETA for resolving my problem. Nothing happened. Finally, after about 4 hours, I gave up. I went to and booked the tickets for the same movie at Wave Cinemas (my second preference).

Before going back to sleep that night I checked the PVR website again, and found to my utter horror that the problem had been fixed, without as much as acknowledging my message, let alone notifying me / thanking me / sending me a bouquet for saving PVR several millions of lost business :(

Then I figured out the reason behind this -- obviously PVR have outsourced the maintenance of this website to a small time IT services company in India, which did not want to let the PVR management know about this service disruption and the loss that it would have caused to PVR. I sincerely hope that someone in the PVR management reads this blog and takes the IT company responsible for the downtime on their website (and on top of it, hiding it) to task.

Attention: Crunchies Finalist Voting Now Open

Voting for the 2008 Crunchies winners is now open. If you are a startup or individual in the finals, you can get a badge to promote votes here. Voting ends at end of day on January 5.The Crunchies 2008 Logo

Make sure you cast your vote before the deadline :)

Apr 11, 2008

Windows Live Writer: Now Even Better

image Today I was pleasantly surprised to get an updated version of Windows Live Writer through the Microsoft Update on my Windows XP based notebook.

I am an avid user and fan of Windows Live Writer, and I must confess that my blogging activity has really gone up by a order of magnitude ever since I started using Windows Live Writer to author my blog postings.

Even though Windows Live Writer integrates nicely with so many online blogging services such as Windows Live Spaces, as well as SharePoint, Blogger, LiveJournal, TypePad, WordPress, and Community Server besides several others, there are a few minor edges here and there that show up sometimes.

Since I do almost all my blogging on (I tried WordPress some time back but was horrified to discover that they do not support AdSense-backed ads, so I dumped it pretty soon), I was most concerned with a unique annoyance that I used to face every time I used to embed an image in my blog posting.

image When you insert an image in you blog posting, you typically do not want to insert the entire picture (since it can be big). What people typically do is to insert a small thumbnail of the picture, which the user can click in order to view the full-size (i.e. hi-res) image. Even though Live Writer supports this idiom, the problem happened that when someone clicked on the image thumbnail on you blog posting, then instead of opening the image in the browser (which is the preferred behavior), you got a browser dialog (shown alongside) that prompted them to save the image or open it with an external application.

With the recent patch, this problem seems to have been addressed, even though a new bug seems to have replaced it. Try clicking the image of the dialog on the left and you'll notice that it no longer prompts you with another identical dialog. Instead it opens a hi-res (oops a low-res) version of this image in the same browser window. I am hoping that after reading this posting, someone from Microsoft will patch it pretty soon.

To compare with the effect that you would've got before this was patched in Live Writer, visit this older blog post of mine.

Besides this annoyance, a few other problems (mostly related to have also been addressed with this patch, such as the problem of being unable to add images to your blog postings after you've reached the magical figure of 500 images in all your previous postings combined. Sooner or later everybody would've faced this problem:

File Upload Failed: The remote server returned an error: (500) Internal Server Error.

But what caused this error in the first place? Well as it happens, all the images that you add to your blog on (whether you use Live Writer or not does not matter) end up being uploaded to the Picasa's online image hosting service inside an unlisted album (which is visible to you, but not to others). As it happens, Google has placed a limit of allowing only up to 500 images per album in Picasa. Because of this limit, Live Writer used to return a failure when it tried to upload the 501st image to the unlisted album using the Picasa APIs.

This problem now seems to have been addressed by the Live Writer development team, and in my case, I am fortunate enough to have got the fix before the problem hit me.

There are a few other fixes in this update that you can get details in the Microsoft support knowledge base article. However there are still a number of things on my wishlist that I am hoping Microsoft will soon address in the next major update of Live Writer. Some of these shortcomings are:

  • Lack of full WYSIWYG HTML editing support. If you do not know HTML, you'll not be able to do a number of things such as specifying horizontal alignment of tables with respect to the surrounding content, specifying superscripts or subscripts (such as 501st), specifying background colors in tables rows, columns, cells, or paragraphs, specifying HTML 4.0.1 / CSS based layout and so on. If you are familiar with HTML, you can press Shift+F11 and type the required HTML tags manually.
  • The ability to embed arbitrary objects (like Java Applets or Flash animations) in your blog posts also requires that you manually edit the HTML source of your posting (by pressing Shift+F11).
  • There is no built-in spell checker.

imageFortunately, Windows Live Writer has excellent support for plug-ins that can be used to extend the functionality of the application. You can check out some of the freely downloadable plug-ins for Windows Live Writer at Windows Live Gallery. For example, there is a plug-in that provides better support for specifying table-related properties when inserting a new table in the blog posting.

After you apply this update, you should be able to verify the build number of Windows Live Writer to be 12.0.1370.325.

Update: After feedback from Microsoft Windows Live Writer developer Charles, an update to this posting is now available here. Thanks for your feedback, Charles.

Share this post :  

Apr 9, 2008

How to secure your home wireless network

image If you are even one bit tech savvy, you must have one or more desktop or laptop computers at home. And if you have one more more computers at home, you might have realized the immense joy of being online without being bound by wires.

But did you know that your home wireless network is suspect to a number of security threats -- from neighbors playing peeping toms and using your wireless network to spy on the data that you download from the Internet, to piggy-banking on your airwaves and surfing net for free -- at your cost actually.

There are some very easy and straight-forward steps that you can follow to ensure that your network remains secure, and private -- for your use only. In the examples below I will use some illustrations from my Cisco Linksys WAG200G wireless router's web-based admin console, but the same options are applicable to routers manufactured by other vendors such as D-Link and NetGear.

Change the Default Name (or Network SSID)

The first and foremost step to safeguard your home wireless network is to change the default name (i.e. network SSID) of your network to something else. Each wireless router manufacturer hardcodes the default network SSID to something particular (for example, Linksys hardcode their network SSID name to linksys), making it easy for intruders to discover the esistence of your network. Choose a name that you think might be least likely to conflict with other wireless networks in your neighborhood, but make sure that the network SSID does not contain confidential information like your SSN or PAN number.


Change the Default Admin Password for Your Router

Most routers come with a factory setting for the default administration password. For example, a very typical administrative password used by several router vendors is admin or password. Anybody who has access to your wireless network and the administration password has the ability to remotely connect to your router and modify any settings on it, including, but not limited to, locking you out completely. Therefore, your network is only as secure as the strength of your administration password.


Enable MAC Address-Based Filtering

Most wireless routers manufactured by reputed vendors provide you the ability to configure their device to allow only a fixed, pre-determined list of devices to connect to the wireless network. This ability is provided on the basis of a unique series of numbers and letters assigned to each network enabled device, known as MAC (Media Address Control) address. When you enable MAC address-based filtering in your wireless router, you can supply a list of MAC addresses corresponding to each computer in your home that you would like to be allowed to connect to the wireless network. Keep in mind that this technique is not foolproof, since special software can be downloaded from the Internet and installed on a computer to fool it to assume any MAC address of the hacker's choice.


Clicking the Edit MAC Address Access List button on my Linksys WAG200G wireless router brings up another screen that lets you configure upto 20 unique MAC address that will be allowed to connect to your wireless network.


Enable Data Encyprion

Encryption protects data transmitted over a wireless network. Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA/WPA2) and Wired Equivalency Privacy (WEP) offer different levels of security for wireless communication.

A network encrypted with WPA2/WPA is more secure than a network encrypted with WEP, because WPA2/WPA uses dynamic key encryption. To protect the information as it passes over the airwaves, you should enable the highest level of encryption supported by your network equipment.

WEP is an older encryption standard and may be the only option available on some older devices that do not support WPA.


Besides what has already been told, here are a few more best practices that will help you keep your network secure.

  • Keep wireless routers, access points, or gateways away
    from exterior walls and windows.
  • Turn wireless routers, access points, or gateways
    off when they are not being used (at night, during
  • Use strong passphrases that are at least eight characters
    in length. Combine letters and numbers to avoid using
    standard words that can be found in the dictionary.

Enjoy the freedom from wires!

Mar 16, 2008

Crave for power? Protect your Li-ion battery

Nokia Li-ion Battery Almost all modern electronic gadgets come with batteries. Right from your notebook computer to a mobile phone, a digital camera to an iPod -- all derive their power from a battery. This makes our digital lives so very dependent on these power-packed devices.

How many times have you gone out shopping for a new battery for one of your devices hoping for a longer backup time, only to see it fall short of your expectations within a few months of use?

Welcome to the club. Almost all of us have faced this situation one time or the other. Whether it is a mobile phone or a laptop, I have almost found myself cursing the battery manufacturers for screwing our lives so royally. After 6 to 12 months of constant use, the life of the battery falls down to such pathetic levels, that continuing to use them any more becomes a nightmare. Eventually they need to be replaced.

image Lately I started wondering what is the root cause of this problem and if there is a way I can try to prolong the life of my Lithiom-ion batteries. As it turned out, there is a way. To understand that, you first have to know a little bit of technical detail of how a Lithium-ion battery works.

Lithium-ion batteries (sometimes abbreviated Li-ion batteries) are a type of rechargeable battery in which a lithium ion moves between the anode and cathode. The lithium ion moves from the anode to the cathode during discharge and from the cathode to the anode when charging.

Lithium ion batteries are currently one of the most popular types of battery for portable electronics, with one of the best energy-to-weight ratios, no memory effect, and a slow loss of charge when not in use. Certain kinds of mistreatment may cause Li-ion batteries to explode. Although originally intended for consumer electronics, lithium-ion batteries are growing in popularity for defense, automotive, and aerospace applications due to their high energy density.

image Lithium-ion batteries can be formed into a wide variety of shapes and sizes so as to efficiently fill available space in the devices they power. Li-ion batteries are lighter than other equivalent secondary batteries—often much lighter. Li-ion batteries do not suffer from the memory effect. They also have a low self-discharge rate of approximately 5% per month, compared with over 30% per month in common nickel metal hydride batteries.

However, despite all the advantages outlined above, the Li-ion batteries also have quite a lot of disadvantages. A unique drawback of the Li-ion battery is that its life span is dependent upon aging from time of manufacturing (shelf life) regardless of whether it was charged, and not just on the number of charge/discharge cycles. Under certain temperature conditions, the batteries have a tendency to become damaged and can sometimes never fully recharge again. As batteries age, their internal resistance rises. This causes the voltage at the terminals to drop under load, reducing the maximum current that can be drawn from them. Eventually they reach a point at which the battery can no longer operate the equipment it is installed in for an adequate period.

image Li-ion batteries can even go into a state that is known as deep discharge. At this point, the battery may take a very long time to recharge. For example, a laptop battery that normally charges fully in 3 hours may take up to 42 hours to recharge. Or the deep discharge state may be so severe that the battery will never come back to life. Deep discharging only takes place when products with rechargeable batteries are left unused for extended periods of time (often 2 or more years) or when they are fully discharged so often that they can no longer hold a charge. This makes Li-ion batteries unsuitable for back-up applications where they may become completely discharged.

imageA stand-alone Li-ion cell must never be discharged below a certain voltage to avoid irreversible damage. Therefore all Li-ion battery systems are equipped with a circuit that shuts down the system when the battery is discharged below the predefined threshold. It should thus be impossible to "deep discharge" the battery in a properly designed system during normal use. This is also one of the reasons Li-ion cells are rarely sold as such to consumers, but only as finished batteries designed to fit a particular system.

Given that Liuim ion batteries have so many problems, there are a few guidelines that you can follow to prolong the life of your batteries. Some of these guidelines might be too impractical to follow in everyday life, but they still serve as an advisory towards some practices that are a complete no-no for Li-ion battery users.

  1. Unlike Ni-Cd batteries, lithium-ion batteries should be charged early and often. However, if they are not used for a long time, they should be brought to a charge level of around 40% - 60%. Lithium-ion batteries should not be frequently fully discharged and recharged ("deep-cycled") like Ni-Cd batteries, but this is necessary after about every 30th recharge to recalibrate any external electronic "fuel gauge" (e.g. State Of Charge meter). This prevents the fuel gauge from showing an incorrect battery charge.
  2. Lithium-ion batteries should never be depleted to below their minimum voltage, 2.4v to 3.0v per cell. Most of your devices will handle this automatically. Even the finished batteries that you buy from authentic dealers will have an internal cutoff to prevent a complete discharge.
  3. imageLi-ion batteries should be kept cool. Ideally they are stored in a refrigerator. Aging will take its toll much faster at high temperatures. The high temperatures found in cars cause lithium-ion batteries to degrade rapidly. However, do not freeze the batteries.
  4. Li-ion batteries should be bought only when needed, because the aging process begins as soon as the battery is manufactured.
  5. When using a notebook computer running from fixed line power over extended periods, the battery should be removed, and stored in a cool place so that it is not affected by the heat produced by the computer.
  6. There is some benefits to fully discharging your lithium battery periodically, for laptops this can be especially important. If you start to notice your battery meter is becoming more and more inaccurate, it may be time for some battery calibration. By allowing your lithium battery to fully drain, this will help the battery recalibrate allowing for more accurate measurements of battery life. This should be done once every 30 charges or when you notice battery readings are off.

imageFollowing even some of these recommendations will help you derive the longest possible life out of your batteries and also help you save some money to spend on buying the latest new electronic gadgets.

Mar 11, 2008

Amazing RocketDock

To be truthful, I am a Windows / Linux guy. The last time I worked on Mac OS X was about 5 years ago, when I worked as a developer on Adobe InDesign 2.0.

Apple DockThe one thing that really fascinated me on Mac OS X was the Dock. The Dock is Apple's answer to the Start menu in Windows, albeit only a little more stylish.

When I moved to a different product in Adobe, I started missing the Dock that I had so got used to liking on my Mac. And I started searching for a replacement of the Dock on Windows.

RocketDock on Windows XP That was when I stumbled upon RocketDock. RocketDock is free implementation of the Apple Dock for Windows users, only much, much better. Here's how RocketDock looks like.

The RocketDock team describes their product as: The single greatest piece of software. Ever. I am not sure if that is 100% accurate, but it's pretty close. Being an engineer myself, I know the kind of technical maturity and sophistication that goes in to build an application like RocketDock.

Here's a small video that shows RocketDock in action:

As you can make out from the video, RocketDock is as good as any paid dock implementation for Windows (such as ObjectDock). Heck, maybe it is even better.

It has multiple features like different screen placement options, minimize to dock functionality, live window previews (in Windows Vista), transparency adjustment, running application indicators, multiple hover and click effects, autohide functionality, hundreds of skins to choose from, and a lot more.

I highly recommend you to try out RocketDock on your Windows-based computers. To know more about RocketDock, click here.

Mar 8, 2008

Discover Personas for Firefox

Today I discovered upon the most wonderful extension for Firefox that I always wanted but never thought I would get. It's called Personas for Firefox and it has been developed by Mozilla Labs.

What's unique about this extension is that it adds light-weight theming support to Firefox -- which means that it lets you switch between a number of nice looking themes in Firefox without having to restart the browser -- as is the case with the usual themes that you install in Firefox.

Personas in Firefox The way this extension works is that you get a small icon in the browser's status-bar, which you can click to choose from a number of themes that are categorized by popularity as well as by the type of the theme (click the screenshot to enlarge).

Random Selection What's more, you even get to set your theme selection to a random choice from any category of your preference, which means Firefox will use a random theme each time it restarts! I am wondering how much better can this get?

I highly recommend this extension to every Firefox fan. This is something you might have been waiting all along :-)

To know more about Personas, and to install the extension, click here.

Feb 19, 2008

Buying a Laptop from Dell

I recently ordered a laptop from Dell India.

I found a number of problems with the billing, invoicing and delivery of the order in Dell India, which left me very dissatisfied.

1. There was no way to place my order online directly without getting a sales representative involved.

2. Once my order was successfully placed, the sales representative stopped taking my calls and stopped answering my e-mails.

3. The sales representative did not provide me any way to track the status of my order.

4. The expected date of delivery (15 days) was communicated only verbally, not in written.

5. The credit card payment had to be made over the phone. There was no payment gateway however. I was supposed to hand over my credit card details to the Sales Representative verbally. This is a highly unsafe and therefore an unacceptable practice.

6. After making the payment, I was not provided any written record (hard copy / soft copy) as a receipt for the payment.

7. My notebook computer was delivered to me after a long delay (one month after placing the order and making the payment). Such delays are unacceptable, and must be compensated for, if unavoidable due to any reason.

For these reasons, I would never recommend Dell to any friend, relative or colleague in India.