delinked-in

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.

Introducing the CakePHP SecurImage Component

I’ve just released a CakePHP Component for displaying CAPTCHA images in your CakePHP based applications.

The component is fairly easy to integrate into your projects and displays dynamically generated CAPTCHA images each time the page loads. You can grab the component from here or from its GitHub repository.

The component requires the SecurImage Captcha Library to function properly.

Details about installation and usage of the component (along with code samples) can be found on it’s homepage.

Any comments / suggestions are most welcome.

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 IME: Typing Indian languages made super easy

Typewriter KeysHere comes Google’s latest baby – Google Transliteration IME (Input Method Editor) – a freeware tool that allows you to attain mastery of typing 14 different languages including Indian scripts such as Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Punjabi, Tamil and Telugu.

What makes the job easier is the phoenetic transliteration feature that allows one to type in any of these languages using a roman keyboard.

Users can type a word the way it sounds using Latin characters and Google Transliteration IME will convert the word to its native script.

This is very different from translation – which is conversion of a word or sentence  from one language to another while keeping the meaning intact. With transliteration one converts the sound of words from one alphabet to another.

Earlier on, I had reviewed two very useful transliteration tools – Avro Keyboard and QuillPad. While both these  tools are superb at their respective tasks, they suffer certain limitations. Avro Keyboard – a desktop application, was designed to type only Bengali. QuillPad supports multiple languages – but one has to be online to be able to use their editor.

Google IME is an offline application that transcends these boundaries by providing support for a multitude of languages without being dependent on internet connectivity. The application sports extremely useful features like dictionary support for completion for common and rare words, personalized correction memory, typographic customizations, quick web search etc. A full list of features is available on the Google IME page.

Google IME: Status WindowOnce installed the IME can be fired up via the Language bar or through shortcut keys. It manifests itself in the form of a small floating band (status window) at the bottom right corner of your screen. The leftmost icon denotes the application itself and doubles up as a dragging handle. The second icon represents the input language and can be used to switch back and forth between it and English. The third one is used to launch a virtual keyboard while the last one brings up the application menu.

Google IME: Suggestions

Once you start typing in your favourite editor, a small suggestions window pops-up displaying completion lists based a customizable dictionary which allows addition of new words in case none of the suggestions match with what you want. The correction memory keeps a note of this and next time you start typing in the same sequence of letters, your preferred word will be shown at the top of the list.

The virtual keyboard is mighty useful too and comes to your aid when you just can’t dig up the correct sequence of keystrokes required – specially in the case of complex joint characters –  for a successful transliteration.

Google IME - Virtual Keyboard

As of now Google IME only supports 32-bit Windows 7/Vista/XP. For other platforms, there’s always the online Google Indic transliteration tool. One drawback is that the supported languages are not bundled in together and need to be downloaded individually – as per your requirement. This helps keep the baggage at a bare minimum, though!

So… how about you grab a copy of Google IME and run down your experience by me.

[via The Official Google India Blog]

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Free eBook on best performing Ad placements for Chitika and AdSense untis

Get Chitika PremiumChitika, the search targeted advertisement network is offering a free guide (eBook) for making the most out of Chitika Premium and AdSense.

The book analyzes various medium to large websites and provides valuable suggestions for optimal  & harmonious placement of Chitika and AdSense advertisement blocks on your website leading to greater revenues.

Also provided are tips for customizing the Chitika ads (color palettes, fonts etc.) through code as well as heatmaps of high CTR (Click-Through-Rate) locations.

You can download this free eBook from here.

For those who haven’t tried out Chitika yet, Chitika Premium ads are displayed only to visitors coming to your site from search engine results pages. In contrast with the contextual AdSense ads that depend upon your site’s content, these ads are relevant only to the searched keywords. For example, if you searched for “technology” on any of the major search engines and landed on a post in this site, here’s what you’ll see…

selfmademinds-chitika

On this site, Chitika Premium ads are displayed immediately following a post’s content. However, the target segment is visitors from the US. Hence to see these ads in action, you’ll have to visit this live demonstration link. Alternatively, they can also be viewed by appending a #chitikatest=keyword(s) at the end of any post’s URL.

Get Chitika PremiumIf you’re interested in serving Chitika Premium ads on your website, you can do so by signing up as a publisher with them.

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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.

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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?

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IPL 2010: Live on YouTube

ipl_youtube_liveIn light of YouTube’s recent foray into paid content with the likes of Disney and Sundance (and some rotten deals), here’s a bit of news that shines out bright.

YouTube has successfully brokered an exclusive deal with IPL (Indian Premier League) to stream the IPL matches live on the internet – a deal that holds good for the next two years with worldwide broadcasting rights (except in the US, where Willow TV holds the rights).

The deal will entitle YouTube to broadcast 60 matches spanning 45 days during the 3rd IPL season (beginning March 12, 2010) through a dedicated channel at youtube.com/ipl. Full match replays, match highlights, player interviews, wickets of the match, top sixes, pitch reports etc. will also be made available through this channel.

YouTube claims that this is the first major sporting event to be streamed live across the globe.

Good news is that, this content will be available absolutely FREE!

[via The Guardian, instantfundas]

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]

Portable encryption systems – keeping your USB / flash drive data safe

Flash drive securityUSB-based flash drives are a part and parcel of everyone’s life these days. Not only they are dirt cheap, they provide  substantial storage, making them extremely handy tools for carrying around large amounts of data, including personal  and official  information of sensitive nature.

What’s worrisome is that the data on an average flash drive is grossly unsecure and can prove to be a tremendous source of data leakage both from the personal front and an organization network if the drive falls into wrong hands.

Because of their tiny sizes these devices are prone to being lost or misplaced or worse yet – easy targets for thieves.  Both TechRepulic and PCWorld provide lengthy discussions on the kind of damage such an action may cause to an organization.

Good news is that there are numerous commercial and free / opensource solutions (both software and hardware based) to securing your flash drive data. This article attempts to provide brief overviews of the most well-known ones with an emphasis on those which are free and readily available to everyone. In each case, portability is the key criteria, as that’s what USB drives are for.

Hardware

Hardware ChipTo begin with,  hardware-based data protection systems (for flash drives) aren’t all that prevalent yet with not many viable (read inexpensive) options for the mass consumer market. For most part, these devices are targeted towards the SMB (Small and Medium Business) and Enterprise market.

Although dubbed “hardware-based encryption” these flash drives employ a dual layer of software and hardware to secure your files.

These drives come with two partitions – a normal partition for publicly viewable data and an encrypted one for all your sensitive information, with the ability to set the size of this partition (as a percentage of the total flash drive capacity) at will. All data flowing in and out of the latter is encrypted / decrypted on-the-fly using AES-256 by an encoder chip (hardware) built into the flash drive. To access this special partition one needs to provide a password. This authentication mechanism is where the software part comes into play. The whole process is transparent to the end user and doesn’t cause any noticeable loss in data transmission speeds.

Note that the authentication software (in most cases) is Windows compatible only! Hence, on other platforms (Mac, Linux etc.) your encrypted partition cannot be accessed.

Did you know…

even if you ever lose your USB stick it will take someone with a very powerful computer at least 100 years to decrypt the data using brute force?

The drives also sport automated self-destruct systems that securely wipes out  data on the encrypted  partition after a certain number of attempted break-ins. This effectively counteracts any brute-force cracking attempts, although you can give up all hopes of recovering your data. But then again – “Better safe than sorry”.

Some of the vendors offering hardware encryption based USB Flash drives are:

Among these, the drives from Kingston, SanDisk and Verbatim have been awarded the FIPS 140-2 Level 2 certificate issued by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which validates the USB drives for use with sensitive government data. Recently, a potential security hole was discovered in the drives from all three vendors – but that was primarily due to poor coding of the software counterpart. The actual encryption system still remains stands strong. Besides, patches have already been rolled out by all three vendors rectifying this problem.

If you’re the  paranoid kind and / or are strong on security these are the drives for you. But be prepared to shell out a thick wad in the order of $100 – $500 depending on the make and capacity of the drive.

Software

The pure software encryption systems have a couple of distinct advantages over their hardware counterparts:

  • They can transform any given USB disk into a secure storage location
  • Most such systems allow you to set a preferred cipher (encryption routine). Besides the default AES Blowfish, Twofish, DES, Tripple-DES etc. are also offered.
  • And finally, they come much, much cheaper than the hardware variants. The price range starts from “free” and goes up to $50.

As far as modus operandi goes, both hardware-based and software-based systems are virtually alike – except that, for the latter, the functionality of the hardware encoding chip is taken up by an additional layer of software. The same software that handles authentication is also responsible for encoding / decoding of the encrypted partition and a portable copy of the same is usually placed on the USB drive in order to avoid re-installation issues when working on a different PC.

USB EncryptionAnother added advantage is that one can create multiple encrypted partitions on the same USB drive. These so-called encrypted partitions aren’t “real” partitions, per se. Rather they are encrypted files that serve as containers for your data and are mounted as separate partitions by the software on-demand. Hence, it is possible to create as many of these partitions as you wish – each dedicated to a different kind of content (or as you see fit) – the only limitations being the total capacity of the flash drive and the availability of drive letters (on Windows). Like the hardware version, these data can be read from / written to these partitions on-the-fly.

Well-known commercial tools for this task are:

  • Encrypt-Stick – Employs Polymorphic Encryption. $40/license.
  • WinEncrypt CryptArchiver – Can choose between AES and Blowfish. $18 to $50/license depending on edition. A free edition – which limits volumes to 25MB – is also available.
  • I-Secure Key – Pricing and features are not clear from their website, but a fully functional trial version is available for download. This isn’t an encryption software per se and utilizes TrueCrypt behind the scenes to create and maintain the encrypted volumes.
  • Master Voyager – Apart from creating encrypted volumes on USB drives, this tool is also capable of creating encrypted CDs and DVDs. $70/license.
  • Discryptor – A pretty robust application with a strong set of features (and a lot of excess baggage like Parental Control, Employee Monitoring etc.) Licenses can range from $85-$2500 depending on edition. A free but limited Basic edition is also available.

And finally, onto the free and opensource ones.

  • TrueCrypt – Perhaps the best that there can be in this category in terms of features (and pricing). This utility offers support for unlimited encrypted volumes (as long as there are drive letters to mount on) and can encrypt entire existing partitions. The recent versions support something called Hidden Volumes where your actual data resides with a Fake counterpart stuffed with junk data to provide you with “plausible deniability” – in case you are forced to give-up your volume password to an adversary. Supported algorithms: AES, Twofish and Serpent. Probably, the only one to work on both Windows & Linux. Here is an excellent tutorial on using TrueCrypt. Advanced users will benefit from this tool.
  • Rohos Mini Drive – Easy to use portable application targeted at newbies. It creates hidden, encrypted volumes and can run on a guest computer without Administrative rights using File Virtualization technology. Caps the storage volumes at 2GB. Has virtual keyboard for protection from keyloggers. If it’s your first venture into the world of encryption, I recommend this utility.
  • SafeHouse Explorer – Another great utility with a similar set of features as Rohos. This tool presents you with an ever-familiar Windows Explorer like interface which you can use to drag & drop files and folder into the “private storage vaults”. Sports a graphical password strength meter to help you choose a good master password. A cool feature is the creation of self-executing click-and-run encrypted volumes. Recommended for basic users.
  • USB Safeguard – A free, lightweight and portable utility that works in drag & drop mode. Also features a safe-surfing mode that one can use while browsing from an internet cafe. Also a good recommendation for basic users.
  • FreeOTFE – A no frills yet powerful and portable opensource utility that supports numerous hash (including SHA-512, RIPEMD-320, Tiger) and encryption algorithms (including AES, Twofish and Serpent) in several modes (CBC, LRW and XTS) – providing a much greater level of flexibility than a number of other (including commercial!) OTFE (on-the-fly-encryption) systems. Has support for Linux volumes (Cryptoloop “losetup”, dm-crypt and LUKS). Works on PCs without no Administrator rights and has a PDA version too. Intended audience: both basic and advanced users.

Before I end, I’d like to mention this one other way which helps you encrypt data in a similar fashion without the aid of any third party software. This system utilizes the native data encryption mechanism of NTFS and works only on Windows-based computers. Online Tech Tips has a step-by-step tutorial on this. Be advised that this method limits your read / write activities to the encrypted partition on the originating computer only unless you are ready to export and carry around your EFS certificates.

Safe computing 🙂