Linked-in delinked! What on earth happened to it?

This morning  a strange sight greeted me when I tried to get on to Linked-in –  a HTTP 500 error!! Never have I encountered such a thing with any major online service that is delivered from a worldwide CDN (Content Delivery Network).

A couple of servers down here and there and minor disruptions in service (slow load-time due to rerouting) is understandable, but a 500 error? As far as I know, this occurs only if there’s something severely wrong with the application’s code causing Apache to hiccup and die while trying to deliver it.

And for Linked-in to be knocked out on this scale, the same code-base must have propagated to all their servers across the world.

Linked-in down

If you ask me it’s outright callousness on part of their dev team to let something like this happen. Even if I were to consider that someone’s been playing naughty with ’em, I can’t imagine on what scale the hacking would have happened to make their whole network behave the same way!!

P.S. By the time I got over with writing this post (11:20am UTC+7), they’re still in the same state. Someone probably needs to stick a finger in their eyes and point it out… they can at least afford to put up a graceful “Maintenance mode” page, till they rectify this.

ebook

Free eBook: The Complete Windows 7 Shortcuts list

ebookThe Windows Club has just released a free eBook titled, “The Complete Windows 7 Shortcuts”.

Apart from an exhaustive list of more than 200 common and new keyboard shortcuts for Windows 7, this eBook contains introductory discussions on basic keyboard usage, organization of keys, typing & editing, creating custom shortcuts, etc.

The actual list of shortcuts covers the following areas:

  • General Windows functions keyboard shortcuts
  • Dialog box keyboard shortcuts
  • Windows logo key keyboard shortcuts
  • Windows Explorer keyboard shortcuts
  • Ease of Access keyboard shortcuts
  • Magnifier keyboard shortcuts
  • Remote Desktop Connection keyboard shortcuts
  • Keyboard shortcuts for MS Paint
  • Keyboard shortcuts for WordPad
  • Keyboard shortcuts for Calculator
  • Windows Journal keyboard shortcuts
  • Windows Help viewer keyboard shortcuts
  • Windows Media Player keyboard shortcuts
  • Internet Explorer keyboard shortcuts
  • Windows Media Center keyboard shortcuts

The eBook has been authored by Nitin Agarwal, a Windows 7 enthusiast and is available in both PDF and XPS formats with fully linked content index.

You can grab the eBook from here.

Google Reader now lets you monitor static websites that do not offer RSS feeds

html-2-rssA new feature in Google Reader now allows you to monitor (and get updates) from static websites that do not offer feeds.

Using this feature is as easy as subscribing to a normal RSS feed – simply enter the URL of the site in the Add Subscription box and hit enter. For a feed-less site, Google Reader will automatically show you a dialog box with an option to Create a Feed.

GReader will setup a monitoring service for the page and intimate you of any changes when they occur.

Earlier on, the only options for monitoring a site for changes were third-party services like Page2RSS, Feed43 etc. – which acted as an intermediary layer between your feed reader and the site and provided you with RSS feeds from the target site’s content. To view the feeds, you were required to subscribe to the URL provided by these services using your feed reader.

With Google Reader, you’re essentially able to bypass this middle layer altogether – as both the conversion of a static site to RSS and the reading of RSS feeds will be handled by GReader itself.

If normal feeds are anything to go by, this service may very well double up as an archiving system for a particular web-page by keeping a detailed record of changes of time.

A smarter Google to provide factual answers to your questions

Pyxle_OTH-01 (1)A smarter Google is out to capture the Next Generation Web with a pledge to provide a better understanding of the web.

Google Squared” – which, so far,  was an experimental effort to automatically identify and extract structured data from the web has been rolled out into the public today. With these algorithmic modifications in their search engine, comes the ability to highlight answers in the search results.

Answer highlighting helps you get to information more quickly by seeking out and bolding the likely answer to your question right in search results. The feature is meant for searches with factual answers… If the pages returned for these queries contain a simple answer, the search snippet will more often include the relevant text and bold it for easy reference.

For example, if earlier on someone was searching for the height of the Empire State Building using the keywords “empire state height”, the most probable results would be…

before-empire-state-height

Not so anymore. With Google Squared working behind the scenes, the same query will now fetch…

after-empire-state-height

As you can see, instead of providing links to articles containing the query keywords, Google now highlights portions of those articles containing to the point answers to the query. The idea is very similar to the quantified results that Wolfram Alpha provides although the presentation still remains in the same old Google format.

This is  definitely a huge step towards the next generation Web as envisioned by Tim Burners Lee (the inventor of the World Wide Web) and will make it much easier  and quicker for end-users to get to the  answers they are seeking. However, ReadWriteWeb expressed concerns over this new feature, stating that this may, in reality, prove to be a deterrent factor in terms of website traffic – as users won’t be required to visit the website anymore to dig through the article for the correct answer. Speculations aside, for webmasters it’s going to be more of a breathless wait-and-watch now.

On a similar note, the algorithmic changes introduced by Google Caffeine have started lapping up results from Twitter and related social media & networking sites.

What are you think about G-Squared?

PDFMyURL: One-click conversion of any webpage to PDF format

If you are looking for something that performs on-the-fly conversion of web-pages into PDF format, PDFMyURL may just be the right tool for you.

PDFMyURL User Interface

The service allows for single-click conversion of pages into their PDF counterparts in the following manner:

  1. By visiting their site and entering the URL of the page you wish to convert.
  2. By using a JavaScript based Bookmarklet – that you can drag and drop onto your bookmarks / favourites toolbar and click to convert any active web-page

They also provide a mechanism by which you can embed “download as PDF” style links in your own website. The mechanism is rather simple and involves invoking their service with the target web-page as a parameter. For example, if I want to convert the front page of MindChimes (my wife’s blog) into a PDF, the link I’ll include is:

http://pdfmyurl.com?url=mindchimes.net

PDFMyURL has an exhaustive list of options that can be used to set exact page dimensions, margins, orientation, dpi, quality etc. or add custom cover pages & table of contents or even disable JavaScript in the target web-page. The options can be passed along with the url parameter while polling the service.

Extending the functionality

This can be a handy way of providing PDF downloads of individual posts of a blog and can help you avoid installation of any plugins. In case of WordPress based blogs, just include the following line of code in an appropriate location inside your loop.

<a title="Download as PDF" href="http://pdfmyurl.com?url=<?php the_permalink() ?>">
    Download this post as PDF
</a>

All in all, an useful tool, though it may fail to correctly render sites with complicated CSS layouts and justified text.

[via TechnoSpot]

The collaborative Google Translator Toolkit now sports GTalk chat

Worldwide translationGoogle Translator Toolkit, which is an excellent collaborative translation aid now sports an all new GTalk based chat of the same kind that you have in Gmail.

For those aren’t aware of this nifty add-on to Google Translate, the Translator Toolkit is collaborative workspace where can translate documents (along with your teammates) through a split pane display. Translation jobs can be saved and resumed on demand.

The translation source can be an uploaded document (in a Google Docs supported format), a link to a web-page, a Wikipedia article or a Knol link. Once the document has been processed a rough translation of the same appears beside it in language of your choice. This is the point where all similarities with the mother application (Google Translate) stops and the Toolkit with all it’s collaboration features takes over.

Translator Toolkit split pane display

Active translation jobs can be shared by inviting others the same way it’s done in Google Docs. Apart from that one can also refer to translated blocks saved earlier on or take help of a glossary (that builds up over time) & a dictionary (that suggests alternative translations). Moreover, whenever you enter a more accurate translation in place of a machine based sentence, word or phrase, the same is stored in blocks named Translation Memory or TM. Future jobs draw information from the TMs to provide you dead-accurate translations for repetitive phrases.

For example, if you’re translating the word cancer into Chinese, you will find alternate translations for cancer as a disease and cancer as a quickly-spreading danger so you can find just the right word for your translation:

Translation Alternatives

The addition of the chat feature makes all contacts who can help with with the task available to your in real time – thus expediting the process of translation immensely.

At my workplace, we’ve in the process of translating our entire website into several different languages – and I can foresee what an invaluable aid this will prove to be.

Have you tried the Translator Toolkit yet? What is your opinion?

Via: Official Google Blog

Lunascape 6 Orion – IE, Firefox and Safari – all thrown into one

Lunascape 6 Orion: Tripple Engine BrowserLunascape 6 (Orion) is a brand new browser intended to make life much easier for web designers and developers alike.

Any decent web designer is aware of the pains one has to go through to achieve uniform cross-browser rendering of sites. And that involves a long and tedious cycle of writing appropriate CSS and  HTML while consistently testing the same on browsers used en masse namely, Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari.

So far one had to rely on bits and pieces  software offering disjointed functionality – like MultipleIE (multiple versions on Internet Explorer running simultaneously on the same system), IE & Firefox add-ons like IETab (that toggled the rendering engine between Gecko and Trident) and Chrome Frame (Google Chrome inside IE) or on online services like Browsershots that generates snapshots of a site across a multitude of browsers. What really was missing was a tool that brought all of these under the same roof.

The newly introduced Lunascape version 6 has not only managed to do the same – but also offer side-by-side  (split-pane) view of the same page in all 3 engines – Trident (IE), Gecko (FF) and Webkit (Safari). Throw in it’s Tripple Add-On capability & support for 11 languages – and you’ve got one hell of a testing platform.

It’s only a 10 MB download and definitely worth a try.

Feedburner: When you face a – Your Ping resulted in an Error “Ping is throttled. Please try again in a minute or so.”

Content TheftYesterday I came upon a couple of splogs ripping off my feeds and publishing the content as their own – lock, stock and barrel (if I may), including the ugly SHA1 hash that I was using as a digital fingerprint to detect content theft.

Digital fingerprints (a unique combination of random characters) happen to be a very good way of nabbing content rippers. 99.99% chances are that these people use automated programs (bots) that scrape content off third-party blogs  (primarily from feeds) and post as their own, which are then used in conjunction with various monetization programs (e.g. AdSense) to generate revenue for the splogger. The scraper bots make verbatim copies of your content and are unable to distinguish between actual content and the fingerprint – hence that too gets published in the splog. Catching such rip-offs can be as simple as doing a Google search for your fingerprint.

Problem lies with that fact that an ugly string of random characters is appended to each of your feed item, which gets displayed to your valid subscribers too. It short, it “destroys” the presentation, creating a nasty impression about your blog. Sploggers on the other hand aren’t bothered by this as all they care about is posting content and making money from it.

While the fingerprint helps you detect content theft, there isn’t much that you can do about it except for going through a lengthy process of serving a notice to the splogger and then informing the web-host (citing the DMCA) in case of non-action. Hence, I decided to get rid of the fingerprint and append a custom copyright message to my feed footers instead – with links back to my post and blog. At least this way it earns me some form of attribution – without making the feed look ugly.  Incidentally, the most suitable plugin I found for this job is Better Feed.

What’s all this got to do with FeedBurner?

Coming to that in a moment. That was a rant that I absolutely HAD TO get out of my system.

Once I was done with my new feed footer,  I tried using the FeedBurner Ping service to update my feed.  That’s when this error message got shoved into my face…

Your Ping resulted in an Error “Ping is throttled. Please try again in a minute or so.”

Googling for it didn’t fetch me any solution – just pages upon pages of complaints to the same effect. Most likely, it’s a problem that’s taken roots in recent times. Whatever, the cause was, it kept me at bay for hours! It simply wouldn’t let me see my updated feed (my blog feed is set to auto-redirect to FeedBurner).

The Solution

Feedburner "Resync now" buttonUse the Resync Now button that’s situated towards lower part of the Troubleshootize page of FeedBurner. When all else fails, hit the big red button 😀

The resync button…

  • Clears our cached version and refreshes its content from your Original Feed
  • Creates podcast enclosures for items that did not previously have them and contain links to podcast content
  • Reports any feed formatting problems encountered during the resync

… Voila! My updated feed appeared rightaway. So, if you’re facing a similar error message, my recommendation is to try the Resync button. It works.

Update: Finally came up with some information on the ping is throttled error message. Indeed, it is an issue that cropped up recently – but, at least now we have an explanation.

Speed up your browsing experience using Google Public DNS

Came across this cool new introduction from Google named Google Public DNS – a set of DNS Servers that are meant to replace the DNS servers that you normally use (most likely handed out automatically by your ISP) and considerably speed-up your browsing experience.

This service leverages on Google’s existing search database and thus accounts for speedy (pre-cached) DNS resolution using their load-balanced servers all around the world – a service that no single ISP can provide. In my experience, the ISP based DNS in Thailand tend to be moderate to horribly slow. Switching to the Google DNS visibly improved page loading time for me. Even in the case of non-existent domains, the browser spent far less time in informing me – rather than waiting around and trying to resolve for a good while. See Performance Benefits for detailed information.

According to the documentation, Google has taken adequate measures to prevent security issues – DNS poisoning, Denial-of-Service attacks to name a few – that arise with such open DNS servers.

Using the Google Public DNS Servers is as easy as opening your TCP/IP Settings panel and keying in the new DNS addresses – which on their own are really short and sweet (and easily memorized). They are:

  • 8.8.8.8
  • 8.8.4.4

A few years back I had reviewed a similar service named OpenDNS. This service generates it’s revenue by displaying relevant advertisement on an interstitial page when a domain cannot be resolved. Surprisingly, Google’s DNS (so far) is an entirely ad-free venture.

For the weak-hearted, i.e. those of you who do not wish to mess around with your DNS settings, there’s this handy little tool named Google DNS Helper (requires .NET Framework 2.0 and above) that performs one-click switch between Google’s DNS and your own ISP’s DNS settings.

In this context, another noteworthy tool is DNS Jumper, which allows you to switch between 16 different DNS servers (configurable). The software comes pre-configured with addresses for a multitude of open DNS servers, e.g. Google DNS, OpenDNS, Comodo DNS etc. This tool will allow for quick switching and benchmarking of the various open DNS services.

So far, I had been supplementing my ISP’s DNS with those of OpenDNS and on many occasions they’ve been able to resolve domains that my ISP’s DNS couldn’t. However, the speed of resolution was at best average. Hence, I never got around to using them as my primary resolvers. With Google – maybe because of the brand name itself – I switched over immediately and voila! Amazing results.

Update (2010-07-12): A new version of DNS Jumper (v1.04) is out.

The eternal question answered…

Came upon something interesting today…

Should I use tables for layout?