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]

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 🙂

Automatic Tweeting – the newly introduced social aspect of FeedBurner

Socialize - FeedBurner to TwitterJust a couple of weeks back, FeedBurner, without much fanfare, stepped into the social arena. As it is with Google, the surprise came as an extremely useful feature: Automatic Tweeting based upon your feed.

Bloggers who use FeedBurner to publish their feeds can immensely benefit from this new addition. It does away with one whole extra step of using a third-party client (or the Twitter website) for publicizing your posts.

How does it work?

Upon publishing a new post…

  1. FeedBurner immediately grabs your post’s title
  2. Shortens the post’s URL using goo.gl (another recent introduction)
  3. Adds any custom messages and hashtags that you’ve set
  4. And posts it to your Twitter profile

… and the while making sure that the tweet doesn’t exceed 140 characters. Pretty cool ay? If required, it can set set to leave room for retweets too.

The tweeting feature can be setup via the Publicize tab of FeedBurner using this new sidebar item titled Socialize.

FeedBurner's Socialize  settings for  Twitter

If required, tweets can be sent to multiple Twitter accounts. For detailed explanation of individual settings, see here.

Is you ask me, this feature is certainly going to obsolete quite a few WordPress plugins offering similar functionality.

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.

Introducing “Shunya”

I take great pleasure in introducing Shunya – a brand new blog of mine.

Shunya is my second blog and is primarily going to be a reflection of my experiences as a webmaster at the Stamford International University as well as some of the choicest picks on numerics & computing.

WordPress 2.6 released… a month ahead of schedule

WordPress Logo Peel Those guys at WordPress are really at it!! They’ve been churning out code like crazy 😀 As a result, the all new WordPress 2.6 has been officially released – a month ahead of schedule!

Here’s a quick rundown of the latest features…

  • Post revisions – WordPress 2.6 features Wiki-like tracking of edits, in effect acting like a version control system. This comes in real handy in case you want to nullify any mistakes and go back to a prior version of the post.
  • Press This! bookmarklet – Inspired by the quick-bookmarking buttons that are a part and parcel of almost all social media / network sites, this new bookmarklet lets you embed blog posts, YouTube videos, Flickr images etc. into your blog post at the click of a button.
  • Google Gears Support – WordPress 2.6 now takes advantage of the Google Gears pack to give you that ounce of extra juice that really speeds up your copy of WordPress while using the admin interface (by caching all CSS and JavaScript files locally). More on this to come in future versions…
  • Live Theme Previews – Earlier on you were required to activate a theme before you could see it in action on your site. Not so anymore. You can preview the theme live, without activating it and letting the world see it concurrently.

Among the lesser (smaller) improvements are…

  • Word count! Never guess how many words are in your post anymore.
  • Image captions, so you can add sweet captions like Political Ticker does under your images.
  • Bulk management of plugins.
  • A completely revamped image control to allow for easier inserting, floating, and resizing. It’s now fully integrated with the WYSIWYG.
  • Drag-and-drop reordering of Galleries.
  • Plugin update notification bubble.
  • Customizable default avatars.
  • You can now upload media when in full-screen mode.
  • Remote publishing via XML-RPC and APP is now secure (off) by default, but you can turn it on easily through the options screen.
  • Full SSL support in the core, and the ability to force SSL for security.
  • You can now have many thousands of pages or categories with no interface issues.
  • Ability to move your wp-config file and wp-content directories to a custom location, for ‘clean’ SVN checkouts.
  • Select a range of checkboxes with ‘shift-click.’
  • You can toggle between the Flash uploader and the classic one.
  • A number of proactive security enhancements, including cookies and database interactions.
  • Stronger better faster versions of TinyMCE, jQuery, and jQuery UI.

Here’s a brief video on the same…

Whew! That’s quite a list. I’m headed for the download page rightaway. I need to try it out, NOW! How about you?

When Defensio fails…

Spam FloodFollowing my review of Defensio, Michael Hampton (of Bad Behavior fame) left a comment on the same post assuring that Bad Behavior would run just fine along side Defensio without causing any sort of hiccups for the latter. My thoughts exactly – since Defensio operates more or less on the same principles as that of  Akismet, whereas Bad Behavior’s modus operandi is a bit different.

Instead of filtering spam and diverting them to a hold (quarantine), Bad Behavior entirely denies access to your site to suspicious IPs (the ones from where there are an excessive number of requests within a short period of time). Logically, this shouldn’t hamper Defensio in any way. Michael’s comment had got me wondering if I should enable BB again and today’s incident gave me a hard shove in the same direction.

What happened today? Well… Defensio went for a toss, and that too for a good while (it’s till not back up as I’m writing this post). This is the second downtime I faced ever since I installed it, though I’m not certain of the cause. It may be because of lack of infrastructure to handle such high volumes of network activity or some other temporary server outage. Either ways, what I faced was a massive spam flood – the likes of which I never encountered while using the Akismet + Bad Behavior combination. Luckily, I had comment moderation turned on! End result? Here’s a snapshot of my inbox. See for yourself 😀

When Defensio Fails

Motivation enough to start using Bad Behavior again? I totally think so. Besides, as Michael pointed out earlier, it can’t hurt Defensio in any way other than denying their spam-harvester its share of spam.

Create one-click disk images of USB Sticks & MP3 Players with USB Image Tool

Have you ever felt the need of backing-up your flash drive entirely? I mean keeping a backup of the stuff you’ve got on your USB Disk maybe as easy as just copying it all off to a folder on your hard drive – but how about a nicely compressed single-file image… something similar to the partition backup images created by Norton Ghost, Acronis TrueImage and the likes?

Here’s this tiny (97KB compressed) freeware utility named USB Image Tool that lets you do just that – minus the bulk and complexities of the above mentioned programs. The tool helps you create exact images of your USB memory sticks or MP3 Players (which are mounted as USB drives). Talking of MP3 Players – think of the ability to alternate between pre-defined sets (images) of music with the help of this tool.

Here’s a quick run-down of the features…

  • Create image files of USB drives
  • Restore images of USB drives
  • Compressed image file format (using XZip 1.3 routines)
  • Display USB Device information
  • Maintain a list of your favourtie images
  • Single click backups and restores through an extremely simple interface

USB Image Tool Screen-shot

The tool requires .NET Framework 2.0 to operate  – so make you sure have it installed.

Incidentally, if you are still in the habit of using those frail little floppy disks, you can very well take the help of DiskXS – a similar tool by the same author, to create backup images of your disks before they decide to give up on you.

Get USB Image Tool here.

iSpring Free: Convert your PowerPoint presentations into Flash for sharing on the web

If you’ve ever wanted to share PowerPoint presentations on the web but cursed at the lack of of a way – iSpring Free can do it for you for free! It’s this really cool plug-in that inserts itself into PowerPoint and provides you with a button that creates a flash-based sideshow at a single click.

iSpring Free

And not just that – in case you wanted to incorporate flash animations / movies into a normal PowerPoint presentation, iSpring Free can do that for you as well. The free version doesn’t offer much in the way of choices – for that you’ve to go Pro. iSpring Pro offers a horde of custom transition effects,  animations, sound syncing, embeddable hyperlinks, custom slide-show player etc. However, for our daily use, this is by far one of the best options.

There are quite a few online services like SlideShare which convert as well as host the slide-shows for you – but then again, there’s a question of branding. All such hosted presentations come branded with SlideShare’s logo. With iSpring Free you’re totally free to brand it the way you like…

A quick remedy to speed up / resume your file copy process in Windows

The default file copy method in Windows (any given version) is severely handicapped. First and foremost – it’s SLOW. The probably the worst part of it is that there’s no way to resume on error. Supposing your file copy operation throws up an error (say, due to some problems while reading the source) – you don’t have any method at your disposal to get rid of the problematic files/folders and resume with the rest. On most occasions the error will cause the entire source file list to be deselected and you’ve to start right from scratch !!

This gets particularly nasty when you’re copying a particularly complex selection of files and folders. Upon aborting it’s invariably that same Ctrl / Shift + Click routine all over again. This is where two nice little freeware utilities can help you go a long way. Both the tools create hooks onto the default copy operation of Windows and automatically takes charge whenever you’re copying or moving files.

The first one is TeraCopy – a freely downloadable tool from Code Sector. I came to know about this tool while discussing about CubicExplorer. Now that I’ve brought it up, CubicExplorer is this awesome , feature-rich tabbed file explorer that I’ve been using for a long while now. It can do about a hundred different things that you’ve always wished in the default Windows Explorer but never got. This brings to light a very important question – has MS entirely stopped on furthering the development of their file explorer?? Through all these versions of Windows I never saw a single change except for the eye-candy! Anyway, more on CubicExplorer later – as it deserves it’s own post. Back to the topic.

TeraCopy Compact View
TeraCopy – Compact View

TeraCopy Expanded View
TeraCopy – Expanded View

Here’s what TeraCopy can do for you…

  • Copy files faster. TeraCopy uses dynamically adjusted buffers to reduce seek times. Asynchronous copy speeds up file transfer between two physical hard drives.
  • Pause and resume file transfers. Pause copy process at any time to free up system resources and continue with a single click.
  • Error recovery. In case of copy error, TeraCopy will try several times and in the worse case just skips the file, not terminating the entire transfer.
  • Interactive file list. TeraCopy shows failed file transfers and lets you fix the problem and recopy only problem files.
  • Shell integration. TeraCopy can completely replace Explorer copy and move functions, allowing you work with files as usual.
  • Full Unicode support.

None of the features, I believe, require any further explanation. Code Sector has a Pro version of the same too – available for a nominal licensing fee – but with a horde of extra features.

Point to be noted here. While TeraCopy does significantly boost the file copy speeds – this is applicable only to the larger files and folders. There’s this added overhead of firing up TeraCopy’s engine (everytime you copy/move a file), which actually degrades performance for smaller files and folders. At least that’s how it behaved on my system.

Now comes the other contender – Copy Handler, the free and open source sibling of TeraCopy. I came across this much later although it came as a very pleasant surprise. It can do everything that TeraCopy does, PLUS MORE. It’s simply packed to the core with tonnes of features and tweaks.

Copy Handler - Small View
Copy Handler – Small View

Copy Handler - Full View
Copy Handler – Full View

And here’s a list of the main features…

  • Copying data at rates up to 6-7 times faster than standard MS Windows copying (when copying data from one partition to another on the same physical hard disk).
  • Allows full-control over the copying/moving process by pause, resume, restart and cancel features.
  • Fully customizable – over 60 detailed options – from setting language (multiple languages) through auto-resume on error, shutting down system after copying finished to very detailed and technical (customizing copy/move thread – buffer sizes, thread priority, …) ending on sounds on specific events.
  • Multi-lingual support – with more new languages appearing everyday, since the translation process is quite easy.
  • Provides detailed information about copy/move process (current file, buffer sizes, priority, progress by size and visual bar, status, current and average speed, time elapsed/left etc.)
  • Can automatically resume all unfinished operations when system restarts.
  • Limits the number of simultaneously processing tasks (copies/moves) thus reducing system overhead. Instead, tasks are set into a queue and are processed in order it was inserted into queue.
  • Integration with system – adds additional commands to context menus of folders and drag & drop menus.

Phew! That’s quite a list of features. I wonder what the creator(s) haven’t thought of including yet! I used these tools for a week each and my conclusion is that Copy Handler does perform a lot better than TeraCopy – both for small and large files. And with all the tweaks you can make it turbo-charged – which isn’t really possible with TeraCopy.

Why don’t you give both TeraCopy and Copy Handler a try – and share your views with us?