Bored at home? Take your F16 for a spin with Google Sky

F16The all new Google Sky comes with it’s own share of Easter Eggs. A little known fact is that there’s a fully functional flight-simulator integrated into this galactic browser. According to reports, this feature unlocks and appears as a distinct item in your Tools Menu after you’ve played around for a bit with the latest version of Google Sky. The simulator can be fired up by pressing Ctrl + Alt + A too.

Now don’t go off expecting it to be anything like the Microsoft Flight Simulator – but it’s definitely looks very promising. To start with there are two available aircrafts – the F16 and the SR22. Aileron, Elevator, Rudder, Flaps etc. – all the basic controls up and running. Once up in the air, the cruising can be done through both your keyboard and mouse. Here’s a complete list of keyboard shortcuts. If you’d rather prefer to use your joystick – there’s support for that too.

As of now, there are a list of prefixed fly-by zones (about 27) from which you’ve have to determine your flight-plan. By default, it’s set to Kathmandu Airport (Nepal) and you can get rocking and rolling all over the Himalayas in no time. Here’s a snapshot while banking right outside the airport.

Google Sky Flight Simulator Screenshot

If you need a quick coffee-break, just hit Space to get frozen mid-air.

Our favourite earth-browser just keeps getting funner and funner. Grab yourself a copy and get flying right-away.

Found via: Google Operating System, Google Earth Easter Egg: Flight Simulator

The supercharged Google AdSense Referrals 2.0 ! More choices, more revenue

Just today morning, as I logged into my AdSense account a tiny message flashed below the block that displays your income overview reports.

Google AdSense Referrals 2.0 added to account

Exhilarated at the prospect of something new, I clicked on the link and let out a gasp the moment the Referrals screen finished loading. Last I’d seen of the Referrals was those measly 4 or 5 products that were being offered (for which I wrote the Google AdSense Referral Rotator widget for WordPress sidebars). It’s entirely changed now with a massive list of available referrals that can be chosen either on a worldwide or per country basis.

Banned from AdSenseThis came as a very big surprise to me, since I’d been away from AdSense for a good while. The same day that I was getting married I somehow managed to get myself banned from AdSense. The reason was invalid clicks. Quite naturally I filed an appeal and reasoned with them that it couldn’t have been me who was producing those clicks. I added that I could furnish additional travel documents if required. That seemed to do the trick. My account got reinstated a couple of days back along with the whole prior balance. Sweet !

Anyway, back to the topic. Google Referrals now come with a horde of choices. They’re divided into categories like Google Products, Automotive, Business, Computer & Electronics etc. The coolest part is that you don’t have to hand-pick and generate the referral code for each individual product anymore. Get more revenueYou’ve got this Ad Shopping Cart, where you can place your selected products (15 at the most) or add entire categories (10 at a time). In case you add the categories, the best performing ads are automatically displayed.

The code that is generated from your selections keeps rotating the referrals on its own – making my WordPress plug-in sort of redundant. But an overjoyed at the fact that this auto-rotating feature has been integrated into AdSense – it was long overdue. In effect, the random picks of best performing ads maximises the chances of clicks and referral sign-ups by tenfolds thus earning you a whole lot more revenue than earlier on. The referrals are now available in most of the standard Ad Unit formats of AdSense.

AdSense Referrals 2.0 Setup Screen-shot

From what I figured the new Referrals 2.0 feature is being gradually rolled out to all AdSense publishers. Has it managed to find it’s way into your account yet? And in case you don’t own an AdSense account yet, you can always use the following link to sign-up for one. It’s fast and easy to use, it’s free and it earns you a whole bunch of $$.

Take a space trip with Google Sky

Sun, Earth & SapceYou don’t need to be a billionaire to take a trip through space anymore. With Google Sky (Google Earth v4.2), you can do just that. You’ll be amazed to know that exploration of star constellations, viewing planetary motions or supernova explosions is just a mouse-click away with this new release of Google Earth.

This new feature in Google Sky has been dubbed the “virtual telescope” and can be accessed via View > Switch to Sky in the top menu. This has been made possible through images that were …

stitched together from more than one million photographs from scientific and academic sources, including the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, the Palomar Observatory at the California Institute of Technology and the NASA-financed Hubble.

Another new introduction (though pretty limited in scope as of now) is the ultra-high resolution imagery of select places accessible through Primary Database > Featured Content > Gigapxl Photos.

Source: Google Blogoscoped, Google Sky Released

A whacking Google Indic Transliteration tool at the Google Labs, India page

Google Labs has launched a new page for it’s Indian counterpart where two tools have been listed for trial by the sub-continental users. Incidentally, Google Labs is the place where most of the experimental projects are posted by their engineers.

The hot new tools are…

  1. Indic On-Screen Keyboard (iGoogle Gadget) that allows one to perform searches in any of the (available) Indian languages.

  2. Google Indic Transliteration tool that converts any written text in English into Hindi (Devanāgarī characters), the moment you hit space. For example, if you type Google it gets auto-converted to गूगल.

Google Indic Transliteration Tool ScreenshotIf you’ve used Avro Keyboard earlier on for transliterating Bengali, you’ll know what I’m talking about – except that this works for Hindi. In case you don’t get your desired spelling, you can always click on a word to get a drop-down list of suggestions. In the word you’re seeking doesn’t exist in that list, you can always go ahead and edit it using a pop-up on-screen Indic keyboard. From what I saw this is going to serve as an excellent means for typing in DevanāgarÄ« script for those who don’t want to go through the painstaking process of learning the Indic keyboard layout.

There are a couple of issue with font rendering though. The help page for iGoogle Gadgets, says..

Oriya font rendering seems to be broken under IE. Firefox does not seem to support Oriya at all. Bengali (and Assamese) fonts are often too tiny and seem to be placed a few pixels lower than required. Many browsers do not render some of the Malayalam chillus and conjuncts correctly.

Google seems to be finally catching up on offering truly localised services outside of the U.S.

Found via: Google Blogoscoped

Need a guardian angel for your computer? Try the new Google Pack

Google Pack LogoOur old buddy, Google Pack is now all set to cure your PC blues. Apart from the usual bundle (Google Earth, Google Desktop, Picasa etc.) the reconstructed pack sports two new additions:

  • Norton Security Scan from Symantec which detects and eliminates viruses & internet worms. Don’t dismiss this as just one of those useless “free” tools ’cause this version is capable of updating itself regularly as well as can be scheduled to scan your system automatically at regular intervals.

  • Spyware Doctor Starter Edition – another tool which has lately become an inseparable companion of an anti-virus solution. This one takes care of any spyware, adware, trojans and keyloggers that might be lurking around your system and includes smart updates as well as scheduling.

Keep in mind – both these tools are diluted version of the originals and can no way compete with their full-blown Anti-virus / Anti-Spyware counterparts. But till you get yourself one, these will do just fine. Moreover, I’d say you’re getting a pretty good value for money (zilch) since both these tools update without requiring any paid subscriptions.

As an extra perk, the Google Photos Screensaver which is a part of the bundle has undergone a major upgrade. If you’d always drooled over one of those digital picture frames, this is your easiest way out. The new screensaver will continously update and display new pictures from web-feeds generated by the many of the major picture-hosting service.

After all, any sort of prevention if better than cure 😀

Wanna give it a try? Head over to the download page

Source: The Official Google Blog

Google to revamp the translation logic: An attempt to try and win the crown in online instant translations

Google Translation
Ventures into online machine based translations haven’t met with much success so far – at least not to a degree that can be called phenomenal. While smaller words / phrases / sentences translate fine, the translator engines perform rather pathetically when it comes to large chunks of text.

Translation engines have been around since the early 90’s, when AltaVista came out with its famous Babelfish. In general, the online translators are pretty good and are able to convey the essence of the translated text. However, translator engines fair miserably while operating on non-Western languages specially languages which are based on pictograms / ideograms, like Chinese, Japanese etc. Here’s an interesting explanation by stevej on ZDNet blogs.

Pictographs in the Japanese language do not represent words so much as ideas. A pictograph can have many meanings depending on the context it is used in.

Here’s an interesting exercise. Go to any translation site (you now know of at least two) type in a common English sentence. Translate it to Japanese. Then translate it back to English. Surprised? It doesn’t much resemble your original sentence construct, does it?

While for Western languages the results are much more consistent, they’re far from perfect. They glare at you all the more if you go through a complete translation cycle, i.e. translate from one language to another and then back to the source. Take for instance, the first passage of this article. When converted to Spanish and then back to English, this is how it looks:

The companies in translations automated in line have not satisfied by far success until now – at least not to a degree that can be called phenomenal. Whereas words/phrases/smaller orations translate very well, the motors of the translator are made something pathetically when it comes to the great pieces of the text.

Be it Google or AltaVista or for the matter any other online translation engine of good repute, the results are approximately the same. Attempts to perform literal translationsTranslation would have borne disastrous consequences. So that’s an option that is out of question. Thus, these engines rely heavily on contextual translations to dig up the correct meaning of a word or phrase. But then again, every language contains commonly used idioms (even in colloquial speech) which cannot be translated keeping the original meaning or connotation intact – even in contextual mode. While performing such a task may come really easy to humans, keep in mind that the complexity and inner workings of a human mind are virtually impossible to emulate using any algorithm. So far we haven’t been able to identify any distinct patterns in the thought process of human brain that can be coded as mathematical algorithms.

Google seems to have finally realised that, following an incessant barrage of whines and grumbles about it’s own translation service over the past few years. Google envisions that in near future …

people will be able to translate documents instantly into the world’s main languages, with machine logic, not expert linguists, leading the way.

In order to make this happen, Google plans to bring some drastic reforms to the algorithms working behind scene. As is expected of a technology pioneer, they’ve devised a new approach to the whole issue – namely, “statistical machine translation” which differs from any of the past efforts in that it forgoes language experts who program grammatical rules and dictionaries into computers.

Perfect TranslationThe new process involves feeding pre-translated parallel text in various languages into computers and then relying on them to discern patterns for future translations. At the moment the quality offered by this mechanism isn’t perfect either – but there’s a distinct advantage to such a statistical analysis engine. With time, “the more data we feed into the system, the better it gets” said Franz Och, the head of Google’s translation effort at its Mountain View, California headquarters. He further stated that “some people that are in machine translations for a long time and then see our Arabic-English output, then they say, that’s amazing, that’s a breakthrough.

Franz spends his days feeding hundreds of millions of words from parallel texts such as Arabic and English into the computer, using United Nations and European Union documents as primary sources.

However, according to Miles Osborne, a professor at the University of Edinburgh, who has taken an year-long sabbatical to work on Google’s project – while the renewed efforts on Google’s part are thoroughly praiseworthy, there are inherent limitations to the whole machine-based translation endeavour. At the end of the day, software can never overtake humans in areas of expertise such as this. He compares translations to playing chess. Software at best should be used for understanding rather than polishing documents.

Now it’s just a matter of time and hoping – that Google (or any other company) proves him wrong. After all, it’s going to stand testimony to how well humans understand themselves.

Global Language

Source of news & quotes of Franz Och from: Google seeks world of instant translations

Gmail is now officially open for public sign-up

Gmail LogoYep ! At last it has really happened. Gmail is now officially open for public sign-up. No more invites and no more of haggling other’s for those invites either. This was long overdue though.

Past couple of months there’s been an incessant trail of rumours announcing the public release of Gmail – none of which could be verified. Apparently it was being rolled out in phases and for some weird reason Egypt was taken up as one of the first countries ever for the service.

Seems like now it’s been made a worldwide release in one swift stroke. The sign-up page has got this large dark bluish button you can’t miss. Funny thing is that it still shows as BETA. I wonder if any of Google’s services are ever going to get out of the beta phase !!

Those who still haven’t had the Gmail experience 😮 , head for the Gmail Sign-up Page and get yourself an account… today! To those who’re existing Gmail account holders, can you please confirm if the sign-up link is active in your country? I know for one that it’s working in both India & Thailand.

P.S. All thanks to good old Twitch for pointing out the link.

Google’s delivering the AdSense “Logo” more frequently now

This may seem like a very old topic. Rather it IS old. However, with quite a few sightings in hand over the past few days I couldn’t help but write-up a small report about it.

A couple of months back the whole blogosphere went up in an unanimous uproar against Google’s attempt to replace the “Ads by Google” text in AdSense advertisements – with their logo instead. There were objections / grumbling from a lot of quarters saying that this might lead to a decrease in the Click-Through-Rate of the ads. I’d made a post about it too where I’d reported sightings of the same. However, I was probably one of the first to notice that the logo seemed to follow the colour palette of my ads (black text on white background).

AdSense with Black Logo

My doubts were further confirmed when I came across repeated sightings of the same in a slightly different format – but once again adopting to my ad palette.

 

AdSense with Black Logo - 2nd sighting

This was way back around the end of December last year (2006). Then suddenly one fine day the logo stopped showing up – at least on my site. Seems like Google went into pensive phase to deliberate on the whole logo in ads issue. Even the reports stopped flooding in from everywhere. Gradually the whole issue died out and got replaced by bigger and better (more interesting) stuff out there on the net.

Now all of a sudden, once again I see the revival of the logo. Past few days – rather over this last one week, I’ve been sighting it more and more frequently, to the point that now I receive an impression with that logo at least once every day. Here are a couple of screenshots before & after I changed my theme.

Recent Sighting 1 Recent Sighting 2 Recent Sighting 3

That seems to justify my prior conclusion about adopting to your ad’s colour palette. Invariably on each occasion it has turned up in the colour the ad text is in.

Have you seen any more of these?

It’s possible now to check inbound links (backlinks) through Google Webmaster Tools

Google Webmaster ToolsWebmasters who use the Google Webmaster Tools (formerly known as Google Sitemaps) will be pleased to know that now it’s possible to get a list of the incoming links to your site right from the Webmaster Tools control panel.

Earlier on, you could glean some information about your site’s inbound links using the Google search engine’s link: operator. It works even now. All you need to do is go to the Google Search Page and type..

 

link: youdomain.com

and you’d get the list of sites linking to you. However, the resulting list of linking sites known as backlinks in Web site parlance, is only a small sampled subset of the actual inbound links. Google doesn’t reveal the full list of backlinks to prevent search engine manipulation by the ubiquitous SEO firms, let alone the spammers.

However, according to the Official Google Webmaster Central blogs, Google has decided to be a little more lenient on that policy. While the entire backlinks list is still now available to you, you’re entitled to download a list of upto a million External Links. If you’re confused as to what External links are, they’re the links that point to you site from pages that do not belong to your domain. For example, if I am viewing links for http://chaos-laboratory.com/, all the links that do not originate from pages on any subdomain of chaos-laboratory.com would appear as external links to my site.

So how do you view the backlinks?

It’s simple. If you follow the instructions provided on the Google Webmaster Central blogs, all you need to do is log into your Webmaster Tools account, select a verified web-site that you own and click on the Links tab at the top. Once done, you’re presented with two options to choose from – Internal & External Links. Choosing either will show you the corresponding list of links.

For further detailed information on what else you can do with the newly introduced section, refer to the article on Google Webmaster Central blogs.

Source: InformationWeek

Is an online Presentation Manager the new memeber of the Google Docs family?

Google Docs LogoToday I came across this entry in ZDNet Blogs, which directs you to dig up the localisation files (or in other words language files) of Google Docs to find hints of a possibly upcoming online Presentation Manager.

Go through the following snippet from the Docs localisation file and see if you can spot any of it…

var MSG_VIEW_PRESENTATION=”View presentation”;
var MSG_PRESENTATION_SETTINGS=”Presentation settings”;
var MSG_DOC_TO_PRESENTATION=”Convert document to presentation”;
var MSG_DOC_TO_PRESENTATION_HINT=”Once your document is converted to a presentation, you can insert slide breaks using Insert > Slide from the main menu.”;
var MSG_PRESENTATION_TO_DOC=”Convert presentation to document”;
var MSG_POPUP_BLOCKER=”Presently is unable to launch your presentation in full-screen mode. Check your pop-up blocker settings.”;
var MSG_NEW_SLIDE_TITLE=”New Slide”;
var MSG_UNSUPPORTED_BROWSER=”Unsupported Browser Presently doesn’t support Opera and will not function properly. Would you like to continue anyway?”;
var MSG_SLIDE_INDEX=”Slide %1 of %2: %3″;
var MSG_NEXT=”Next”;
var MSG_NEXT_HINT=”Space, Enter, N”;
var MSG_PREV=”Previous”;
var MSG_PREV_HINT=”Backspace, Del, P”;
var MSG_ZOOM_IN=”Zoom in”;
var MSG_ZOOM_OUT=”Zoom out”;
var MSG_ZOOM_RESET=”Zoom reset”;

var MSG_TOGGLE_AUTOFIT=”Toggle AutoFit”;
var MSG_PICK_THEME=”Choose theme:”;
var MSG_THEME_BLANK=”Blank”;
var MSG_THEME_GOOGLE=”Google”;
var MSG_THEME_LIQUID=”Liquid”;
var MSG_THEME_MONOCHROME=”Monochrome”;
var MSG_TOGGLE_TOOLBAR=”Hide/show toolbar”;
var MSG_EXIT_PRESENTATION=”Exit presentation”;
var MSG_END_OF_PRESENTATION=”End of presentation. Are you sure you want to exit?”;

In fact all the messages are indicative of a Presentation Manager interface. Notice the lines I’ve emboldened for you. They clearly spell out that …

  • You’ll be able to convert your Google Docs based documents to Presentations & vice-versa.
  • Opera won’t be supported.
  • There’ll be Zoom In / Out capabilities.
  • There’ll be an inbuilt Theme Chooser i.e. support for presentation themes.

The application will probably support documents created by Microsoft PowerPoint and OpenOffice Impress.

Now the question remains as to WHEN do we actually get to see this product and what it is going to be NAMED. Speculations are up. Once again, if you refer to the snippet above, you’ll notice that at one point it’s being referred to as Presently. Incidentally, Google’s online Word Processing software is called Writely and I guess they’re following a thematic approach in naming all tools in the Google Docs suite.

What are your thoughts?