Grab your free Backupify (online backup) account before January 31st, 2010

Backupify is a new cool service that automatically performs secure, unlimited and scheduled backup of your data from most of the common online services like Flickr, Twitter, FaceBook, Gmail etc. to a server cloud (Amazon S3)  for a nominal fee.

However, till the 31st of January, 2010 they’re offering these accounts for free to anyone who cares to signup with them. Following this date, they’ll revert back to the paid pricing plans – but those who have signed-up before this date will continue to enjoy unlimited free services (for good).

The list of currently supported services include:

  • Gmail
  • Twitter
  • Google Docs
  • Flickr
  • Facebook
  • Basecamp
  • WordPress
  • Delicious
  • Photobucket
  • Blogger
  • FriendFeed

… with YouTube, Tumblr, RssFeed and XMakrs coming soon.

Backupify creates daily / weekly (your choice) automated backups from all of these services using a “Set it and forget it” mode.

While providing extremely useful services, quite a few of the online services in this list do not employ adequate security measures. As a results they’re coming under direct attack by various hacker groups. Incidents like this invariably end up in huge loss of data – data consisting of pictures, videos, documents, blog posts that are an integral part of your lifestream. Hence, one cannot adequately stress on the importance of maintaining a regular backup of this data. Moreover, most tech-savvy folks subscribe to a multitude of these services and maintaining individual backups of each profile can prove to be a nightmare.

So hurry and grab your free account before we hit Jan 31st. Spread the light as you see fit, as this can prove to be a cool gift to share with your family and friends this New Year.

Besides, as Whitson Gordon states, “It can’t hurt — after all, it doesn’t get much cheaper than free.”

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 next Web!

Tim Berners Lee, the inventor of the web talks about his visions for the next generation web where all raw units of data (and not just textual information or pictures and video) are linked together. This could very well make way for a new paradigm on how data is retrieved and used.

If you haven’t got the slightest clue on what he’s talking about, take a look at Wolfram Alpha – they’ve pretty much achieved the goal. However, what’s been done here in a single web-site (drawing from it’s own in-house data store), Tim envisions for the entire web.

A look at this side-by-side comparison of a conventional search vs. a search on Wolfram Alpha should help clarify it further.

The eternal question answered…

Came upon something interesting today…

Should I use tables for layout?

Determine the readability level of your blog

ReadabilityEver wondered who reads your blog or how easy (or complicated) is it for your visitors to understand your blog’s content? The Blog Readability Test, is one of those odd-but-fun-and-cool tools that analyses your content and based on the topics & linguistics (types of words used, terminology etc.), names the minimum level of readers who are able to decipher the content. I’m not really sure about the parameters used to come up with the readability score, but I’m simply making a wild guess on the most logical choices.

Using the tool is outright simple. You enter your blog’s URL and hit the Check Readability Now button. On an average it takes about 2-5 seconds to analyse the content (depending on your home-page size) and spits out a badge stating the readership level. My blog got tagged as College (Postgrad).

Chaos Laboratory Readership Level

Although I can’t vouch for the accuracy level of their algorithms, it may give you a decent idea on how much you need to perk your content up to get to the desired level.

What’s the Readability Level of your blog?

Quick Tip: Uncompress / defalte your zip archives online with WobZIP

WobZIP LogoWobZIP is a cool new (and free) solution to bypass any sort of installation restrictions that your sysadmin may have placed on your school computers thereby limiting your ability to unzip certain types of archives. WobZIP lets you upload and uncompress files on-the-fly.

The service is very easy to use and can come in handy not only in the situation mentioned above but wherever you’re in need of quick decompression and a desktop based decompression utility is not ready at hand. It could be your friend’s computer, at a cybercafe – virtually anywhere. Just select the file you wish to decompress and hit wobzip.

WobZIP Screenshot

The decompression procedure is pretty fast and you’re presented with the list of files which you’ve to individually click to download. This can prove to be a pain specially in case of large archives with a whole bunch of files – but then again, one can’t grumble given the scenario in which you are forced to use WobZIP. Password protected archives are also supported and there’s a virus scanner running behind the scenes that ensures that you don’t accidentally download and execute infected files.

The service supports a wide variety of file formats like, 7z, ZIP, GZIP, BZIP2, TAR, RAR, CAB, ISO, ARJ, LZHCHM, Z, CPIO, RPM, DEB and NSIS – though there’s a file-size limit of 100MB (for the archives).

Another rocking feature of WobZIP is the ability to unzip remote URLs – which in other words means instead of uploading a zip file, you can make WobZIP read it off another webpage directly. This can prove to be a very powerful tool for previewing the contents of a zip file prior to download, selectively downloading a couple of files (that you require) from an archive… the list of possibilities is quite large.

Try WobZIP and see for yourself.

Found via: TheySay

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.

Chawt (free SMS service) isn’t so ‘unlimited’ after all

Following my review of Chawt – the free SMS service – a couple of weeks back, I decided to swing by again and check out the improvements (if any). To my surprise I saw a new message below the message typing box which states that your are now limited to sending at the most 15 messages per day. Poooof !! So much for the ‘unlimited’ part.

Coming to that, I really don’t get why these services (mostly start-ups) invariably try to make it sound big using the ‘unlimited’ catch-word and then never manage to live up to their claim. It’s a known fact that any such service provider has to shell out a fat packet to the SMS Gateway on a monthly or by package basis. Behind the scenes, internet to mobile texting doesn’t come for free – AT ALL. Unless you’ve got a very strong source of ROI (either through advertisements or by some other brilliant marketing tactic that you’ve come up with) – you can never hope to offer unlimited free service for long. Besides, the market for mobile ads isn’t as widespread as the internet yet and neither is the revenue generated from it. So why make the claim in the first place?

Problems with Chawt

The second problem I face was while trying to send a message. Every time I composed my message (well within their 80 character limit and in English) and hit Send, I kept getting an error message that said “Multilanguage message too long”. Multi… what? Since when did pure unadulterated English become multilanguage? And what’s with composing your message carefully to keep to their character limit!

And just to think that I had given them such a positive review last week… Sad performance on their part – in fact extremely sad performance considering it claims itself to be a Web 2.0 start-up.

BlogSpot is blocked in Thailand… once again!

BlogSpot blocked in Thailand againOnce again the ISP’s in Thailand are at it – All BlogSpot based blogs are being actively blocked here. This came to my notice about 5 days back when I tried to access a friend’s blog and got a Network Timeout. I gave up thinking it was some temporary ISP hiccup – but the situation has continued to be the same for past 5 days. My suspicion was confirmed when I came across this forum thread today. Reports are pouring in from internet users around the country regarding the block.

The last time this had happened was around the middle of last year (May 2007). The ban was subsequently lifted sometime in June 2007. The reasons cited were political – which is understood, following the military government’s out lash against any liberal blog on politics that dared to speak favourably about deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

I’m scouring for further reports to figure out which all ISP’s are playing along, but I can say for sure about the one I use – i.e. TRUE INTERNET. By nature I believe it’s a simple domain block and the blogs can still be accessed using web-proxies, though apparently this is punishable by law (if caught). The BlogSpot blogs which use their own domain are still accessible.

As for the reason this time – I’m totally clueless.

Does anyone have any further information on this to share with us?

How to send executable (.exe) files as attachments in Gmail

Encrypted Email AttachmentGmail (and many of the major free email service providers) normally don’t allow you to attach executable (.exe) files and send them over to someone, because of security reasons – i.e. by barring this file type, they restrict the spread of various Worms and Trojans to a large extent. Even script files like .bat are blocked. This holds true even if you  rename such files, zip  them all up and try sending – because even zipped archives can be scanned.

However, there are genuine cases where you DO need to send over such files to your contact in a hurry, but due to the restrictions you’ve to opt for third-party file-hosting solutions like RapidShare or Box.net. And… invariably every time you’ve wished how convenient it would have been if you were able to zip them all up and send along with your mail. Would have kept everything in one place and to the context.

Well… here’s a quick tip that’ll put you right on track. As I’ve pointed out earlier zip files can be scanned and renamed .exe files can easily be caught by examining the file header. So how do you go about it?

Have you ever utilised a feature called Encrypt in WinZip? This is meant for storing sensitive and confidential data in the archive and locking it up with a password. What WinZip essentially does is to employ a industry standard encryption algorithm (you can take your pick) and entirely encrypt the contents of the archive using your password as the key phrase. The encryption renders the contents of the zip file unreadable and such encrypted files cannot be scanned properly by Gmail – thus letting your executable files slip through normally. All you need to do is send along the password in your mail to your recipient – so that he/she can successfully unzip the archive and extract the contents.

WinZip Encrypted Email Attachment

This trick hold true for almost any zipping software (other than WinZip) – for these days 99% of them come with the option of encryption. Say bye bye to attachment hiccups. Give it a shot yourself and see 🙂

Update: Google’s grown clever and now can see through this. However, if you use 7-Zip instead of WinZip you can still pull this trick off. Thanks to ces for providing this tip.