befunky: Cartoonize your favourite pictures in a jiffy

Here’s the latest addition to the Web 2.0 bandwagon – befunky – a quick & dirty way to cartoonize your favourite snaps in a jiffy.

The site sports a simple flash interface that allows you to upload your snaps (either from your Desktop or by direct capture through a webcam) and convert them to cartoon caricatures. There are a couple of easy-to-understand parameters like Sketch, Colour, Warp and Goodies which can produce widely varying end-results. You can crop or rotate the picture once you’ve uploaded it, adjust the brightness & colour levels, apply different warp brush sizes as well as do a multiple variations of flipping & layering. You can even add frames, modify facial features (hair, lips, eyes etc.), throw in accessories like jewelry, eyeware & hats and top it up with some custom funky text. The resultant pictures are really cool! Here’s a simple example with the most basic effect applied.

befunky: Before & After

Soon to come is a new feature that’ll allow you to transcend the boundaries of static pictures and apply the same effects to videos as well. Oh Yes! Full-length running videos. Ain’t that awesome?

The site sports a comprehensive Tips & Tricks section which gives you creative tips on how to best utilise the toons you’ve just created, which range from personally branded merchandise to e-cards and ways to spice-up your costume parties. All in all a very easy-to-use and useful web-application that can find a large audience – specially in graphically challenged people, like me 😀 Can prove to be a viable option for those who don’t have access to Adobe Photoshop and it’s plethora of filters.

Found via: System Hacks

QuillPad – Taking English to Indic Transliteration one step ahead

Red PenFor those who have read my earlier posts on Avro Keyboard and Google’s Inidc Transliteration service, here comes a pleasant surprise for you. Tachyon Technologies – an Indian software firm brings to you QuillPad, a really advanced online (and free) English to Indic transliteration tool.

The interface is pretty similar to Google’s Indic Transliteration page. You have this text-box where you key in words of the Indic language of your choice using English (based on the phoenetics of the word) and they instantaneously get converted to words in the corresponding script. Where you’re unsure about how to spell a word in English, Google offers you pop-up suggestions. QuillPad takes this one step further by automatically inserting words that come closest (spelling-wise) to the words you’re trying to type. There’s probably a pretty powerful dictionary search algorithm working silently behind the scene. And then there are the pop-ups too, in case their auto-spelling mechanism cannot spot the right word for you.

Lets take for example, the word ?????¸ which means things or stuff. This would be spelt as jinis in English. Minus the ‘s’, the word would spell as jini (or যিনি) which means who. As long as you’ve typed up to jini, the transliteration tool spells out who, starting with a য. The moment you add the ‘s’ at the end, the য gets magically transformed into the correct জ. This means that you don’t need to follow any hard and fast transliteration rules. You can fire away at the keyboard in a totally casual way and yet come out with a document that gets a perfect A for spelling.

Another cool feature of QuillPad is automatic transliteration of common English words that have migrated to the Indic vocabulary. A sizeable bunch of English words are found in our colloquial tongue and for many of them there aren’t any counterparts in the Indic languages to convey the correct connotation. Such words are used as they are. With QuillPad in action, you won’t have to grope around to figure out the correct phoenetics. The AI engine automatically does that for you.

QuillPad supports a large selection of Indic languages. That includes Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Tamil, Telugu, Bengali & Gujarati. QuillPad also supplies the engine that powers Rediffmail and Rediff Bol.

If you own a site in any of the major Indian languages, QuillPad may be able to help you out on the Searh end. They offer a Indic Search Widget for websites which sure can come in handy.

All in all, this is one awesome example of coding that needs to be checked out immediately.

Stripemania: A free online striped background generator for your site

Stripemania LogoEver felt like giving your site’s theme a cool, striped look but didn’t know how to go about it? Are the graphics tutorials on stripes too complex for you to follow? Here’s you quick and dirty way out. Stripemania is a free online tool that generates striped background images for use with your site’s theme in just a couple of quick, easy steps.

The interface is pretty simple. To get your desired stripe, you choose the width of the stripes, the distance between each stripe, orientation and a couple of colours and hit refresh. Thats it! Your custom stripe is ready to download. If you don’t like vanilla stripes (alternating coloured stripes) – you can choose multiple gradients for the stripes and get some pretty snazzy effects. There’s a quick full-screen preview option that lets you test your background out even before you download it.

Stripemania Screenshot

Stripemania falls within the recent Web 2.0 genre of online graphics design tools and is one of the better designed tools in this category and pretty much devoid of the ubiquitous AJAX timeout errors. It’s a must-add in any aspiring web-designer’s toolbox.

Google Presently goes live… finally !

Finally the wait is over. Google’s managed to round-up it’s online office suite by launching Google Presentation – the online equivalent of Microsoft’s PowerPoint. However, long standing speculations regarding the name of this application has been proven wrong in the sense that this app. isn’t called Presently – rather this app. doesn’t have a name at all. It’s being referred to as simply Presentation or Google Presentation.

Google Presentations from File Manager The application can be launched from the Google Docs file manager. Click on New and you’ll notice a new addition to the drop-down menu, titled Presentation.

It’s a pretty basic application and the features offered as on now will leave you wanting. You can import PowerPoint files lesser than 10MB in size and work on them directly. It doesn’t offer much in the way of exporting your presentations – except for HTML files with images. Themes and layouts are supported but there aren’t too many available options and no way of importing your own themes either. Short documents can be used to fetch the starting material for the first slide of a presentation. External objects cannot be embedded and transitions are missing altogether.

As it is with other Google Apps – you can share / collaborate the presentations and work on them as a group. To facilitate group-work, there’s an inline group-chat system based on GTalk that lets you communicate with active collaborators and viewers.

Google Presentation Screenshot

All in all it offers far less than the contemporary online presentation creators like Zoho Show and Preezo.

Google will continue to roll out enhancements over the next few months and hopefully soon we’ll have at hand a pretty strong competitor of PowerPoint.

Incidentally, the Google suite of apps. have undergone a minor name change. Instead of Docs & Spreadsheets, it’s now called Google Docs.

Found via: Google Operating System, Google Presentations Finally Launched

Calculate your site’s SEO Score with Website Grader

Website Grader LogoIf you’re a webmaster and run your own site, Website Grader can count as a brand new yet invaluable addition to your SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) toolbox. The site takes your own site’s URL as an input and provides a Percentile SEO Score (on a scale of 100) along with a comprehensive report that tells you the SEO pros and cons of your site.

Additionally, you can enter your keywords/keyphrases along with your competitors URLs to get a relative feedback on your site’s marketing effectiveness.

My blog, Chaos Laboratory, got a score of 96/100. That means my site has a marketing effectiveness that is higher than 96% of all other sites submitted to this service.

A website grade of 96 for chaos-laboratory.com means that of the thousands of websites that have previously been submitted to the tool, our algorithm has calculated that this site scores higher than 96% of them in terms of its marketing effectiveness. The algorithm uses a proprietary blend of over a dozen different variables, including search engine data, website structure, approximate traffic, site performance, and others.

By submission, they mean the first time a site’s URL is entered at Website Grader, following which the data is kept stored in their database and matched against all such similarly submitted sites. This also means that the SEO Score for this site isn’t constant – and may vary from time to time depending on the quality of other sites submitted sooner or later.

The only warning I received was regarding the high number of meta keywords I have in my site header.

We believe that though the search engines don’t weigh keywords as heavily as they used to, they’re still important to get right. By using a high number of keywords, it is possible that you are diluting the effect of your most important keywords. We would suggest keeping the keywords to 10 or less. Currently, this site has 21 keywords in the meta-data.

The site sports a simplistic Web 2.0 AJAX based interface and there’s a membership feature, which helps you keep track of your SEO Score as well as get detailed reports mailed to you.

Website Grader is a free service (as of now) and I don’t see any mentions of a paid high-end counterpart anywhere on the site. This can definitely act as a free but great alternative to the Sitescore and the SEOMoz Page Strength tools – which have retracted their free services (at least Sitescore did while SEOMoz has reserved the updated analysis feature for premium subscribers only).

Found via: Quick Online Tips, Our Website SEO Grade is 98/100

Now you can get the digital editions of MSDN Magazine and Dr. Dobbs Journal for free

For all the coders – here a piece of good news. The digital editions of MSDN (Microsoft Developers Network) Magazine and Dr. Dobbs Journal can now be subscribed to for free. While the MSDN Mag is all about Microsoft related technologies, Dr. Dobbs covers virtually any and every mainstream programming language & platform. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration if one refers to it as the best (overall) coding mag. I’ve had my eyes on this one ever since I started coding some 14 years back – but the exorbitant subscription rates prevented me from getting them on a regular basis so far.

MSDN Magazine Dr. Dobbs Journal

Subscribing to these free digital editions is as easy as clicking on this link, logging in with your Windows Live ID and following the instructions. If you haven’t come across these magazines earlier on, you can view some samples here and here.

And yeah – if you happen to be an Indian coder – I’d advice you to run for it as there are ongoing XBOX 360 / Zune sweepstakes where your name’s entered automatically, as long as you subscribe prior to October 15th, 2007.

Found via: Digital Inspiration, Get Dr. Dobbs Journal and MSDN Magazine (Digital Editions) for free

HomeCamera: Peace of mind away from home

HomeCamera LogoDo you always keep worrying about your beloved pet while at office? Has the thought of someone breaking into your home started affecting you work? Wouldn’t it be lovely if you had a way of keeping a constant vigilance on your home and be at peace of mind every time you are away?

Now, if you are willing to utilise the technological edge there are plenty of solutions which can help you out in this. And HomeCamera – which is a recent entrant in this field – happens to do just that. It’s a simple, easy-to-setup service that offers you complete remote monitoring facilities for free. No extra (and fancy) equipment required other than a normal webcam. In fact, with this aptly titled home camera based solution you can hook up as many webcams as you like and monitor every square-inch on your house. On the move and don’t have a net connection at hand? No problem with that either. You can share you camera feeds with any of your trusted buddies and let them take over the monitoring task for a while. HomeCamera offers an archive section, in case you ever need to go back and check on any of the earlier feeds. All of this is accessible from any corner of the world using a standard browser. Here’s a screen-shot of their web-interface.

HomeCamera Web Interface Screenshot

Registration with this service is free and requires only a couple of steps. You need to have a valid email address for this. Once registered you’ll have to download their client software, install and enter your registration details in it and you’re good to go. The client auto-detects all the webcams you’ve got attached to your computer and lists them for your convenience. You can assign names & descriptions to each -which show up in the web-interface next time you login. There’s a pretty slick & accurate motion detection feature that automatically turns on the recording whenever there’s some moving object in the camera’s focal cone. That way you don’t waste valuable disk space or bandwidth by sending out a continuous video stream. You can even specify the length (duration) of each footage that is to be sent out to the HomeCamera server. Cool thing is that the recording isn’t limited to videos – it’s also possible to send out snapshots (pictures). Here’s a screen-shot that shows the motion detection in action. I tilted my head just a little bit and you can see the detection frame zeroing in on that region.

HomeCamera Client Interface Screenshot

The motion detection feature also sends out alerts to your email address and mobile phone (if you choose to) along with a link which directly takes you to the video footage. The mobile messaging part is possibly the only feature which doesn’t come for free. When you sign-up first, you start with 25 mobile credits but you’ll have to purchase additional credits once you exhaust these.

Alternatively, you can disable motion detection and specify an interval (say 10 minutes) at which the footages are sent out on a regular basis. This is called time-lapse recording.

Another big plus point is that HomeCamera virtually works with any given webcam. It also works most CCTV and wi-fi cameras.

As of now, HomeCamera is in it’s open public BETA stage and if you sign-up as a beta tester you automatically qualify for a free lifetime subscription to the HomeCamera Lite service. Moreover, all beta testers are eligible for special subscription rates for various HomeCamera services in future.

I’ve tested out this service thoroughly and as of now they seem to deliver every bit of their promise. This is a far more viable alternative to all the expensive hardware based monitoring systems available in the market. I highly recommend signing up for a beta trial. You can always take a tour of their site/services before you decide on signing up.

As a footnote I’d like to add that while this is a sponsored post, the views expressed here are entirely unbiased and based on personal experience of this service. In fact I’d been explicitly instructed by HomeCamera to express fair and impartial views.

Fresh Badge: Another free online Badge Generator for your Web 2.0 Toolbox

Fresh Badge LogoThis comes in rapid succession of the last review of Web 2.0 Badges. No sooner had I posted it, I stumbled upon another free online Web 2.0 Badge Generator called freshbadge – and this one offers far more in the way of features. The basic idea is all the same – you pick your badge style, add in your text and adjust a couple of factors (text size, color etc.) and Voila ! Your badge is ready to download.

Here’s a brief comparison between the features offered by both of these services…

Badge Templates

Web 2.0 Badges has a much wider selection of predefined templates (different colours & shapes but of fixed sizes) – whereas with freshbadge, you get to start off with 4 basic shapes only. However, the latter gives you the opportunity to adjust the badge & petal widths, the border thickness as well as the gap between each petal.

Badge Boder / Body Colours

With Web 2.0 Badges, you’re pretty much stuck to the colour schemes offered by the site – but freshbadge lets you select both. If you’re one with a good colour concept, this one’s definitely for you.

Badge Text

Not much of a difference here in either. Both let you adjust the textual content, font size, angular inclination and colour, although the variety of fonts offered in freshbadge is a lot more.

Text Effects (Outline, Glow etc.)

This section is entirely missing in Web 2.0 Badges. freshbadge lets you stroke the text with a colour of choice and add a glow to it.

Badge Effects (Background patterns, Gloss, Shadow, Glare)

Once again freshbadge wins in this category hands down. None of these effects are possible with Web 2.0 Badges.

Peel Appeal

Here comes the final touch – the Peel Effect, which can really jazz things up, brought to you by none other than freshbadge. No score for Web 2.0 Badges.

That’s about it – I guess.

Conclusion

Both these services are good – Web 2.0 Badges being the winner in the time-saver category. If you’re in a real hurry, don’t think twice before heading over to them. freshbadge on the other hand, is for the control freaks (and graphics pros) and is a clear winner in the features category.

Got an opinion? Comments are always open for you.

Web 2.0 Badges: A free online tool to generate those ultra-cool reflective Web 2.0 style badges

Web 2.0 Badges LogoNope ! You don’t need any expensive graphics editing tools. Nor do you require to perform painstaking and complicated procedures to generate those ultra-cool reflective Web 2.0 style badges. You can do all of that online under less than a minute and for free with Web 2.0 Badges.

The site offers a whole bunch of pre-created badge templates in the most common formats (rounded/serrated/flowery edges). All you need to do is take your pick, set the colour palette, specify the text and font and hit Apply. Your shiny new badge is ready for download. You can tweak around with several other factors like X, Y coordinates of the text (which is normally centered on the badge), size and colour of the font as well as the angular inclination of the text.

And in case you’re not satisfied with the results, there’s even a box.net drive linked to the site, from where you can freely download PSD (Photoshop) templates of every conceivable kind of badges.

Here’s a quick preview of their interface…

Web 2.0 Badges Interface

Once you’re at the site, you’ll notice a couple of links right at the top pointing to AjaxDaddy and SocialScan. Any web-developer will find AjaxDaddy a royal storehouse of rich, Ajax based effects that you can implement in your sites. As for SocialScan, it’s a link popularity checker for social media networks. These two sites are worth visiting.

Incidentally, Web 2.0 Badges distinctly reminds me of AjaxLoad, which is a similar free online service that generates those fancy loading icons usually associated with Ajax-based sites.

Zoogmo – A new concept in free & unlimited offsite backups

Zoogmo LogoPast couple of days I’ve been consistently churning out reviews on file and video hostin / sharing services and through the comments left on one such post, I came to know about this brand new concept in distributed offsite backup named Zoogmo.

Almost any given file hosting / sharing / backup service operate under the same principles, i.e. you upload the file(s) to their storage servers under your account name and then distribute it as you wish by granting selective access to your friends, family & co-workers. Zoogmo – which is primarily designed as a backup facilitator – follows a completely different approach. With Zoogmo, you decide who and where your backup server is going to be. It could be anyone from a friend, a relative to a colleague – as long as they have a computer and a decent internet link. More than one person is allowed to participate in this venture and become your backup partner.

How it works

Online BackupWhat both of you need is to register for free at the Zoogmo site and get hold of their backup client. Once installed and run, this software performs a quick scan of your most used & critical documents and adds them to the pending backup list. Files and folders may be manually added too once the client of done with the configuration part. You also need to allocate some free space on any of your drives (HDD, USB etc.) or partitions. This space is going to act as the backup zone for the partner(s) in your network. The last step is to setup a list of your backup partner(s). If you know their nicknames a simple search will suffice. And that’s it. From then on, Zoogmo takes care of the rest silently in the background.

The very first time, a backup may take a good while for completion as there’s a lot of data to transfer (though the Zoogmo client employs a high degree of compression prior to transmitting your data). From then on only incremental backups occur, transmitting only the changes you’ve made to your files. The amount of data you can backup is only limited by the amount of free space allocated by your partner(s) on their computers.

The backups are performed using the idle CPU cycles – so your actual work shouldn’t be hampered at all. If your executable during the backup process, Zoogmo simply waits for it to be restored and resumes from the pending point.

Security

Encryption & SafetyAll you data is encrypted using a combination of Tripple-DES and AES 256 routines – rendering them pretty much useless to the prying eye. In fact, none of your backup partners are able to differentiate between any of the files stored on their computer. The data transmission too occurs through a secure channel between you and your partner(s) thus guaranteeing a high degree of security at all stages.

Chances of Viral Infection

Since all files are encrypted prior to transmission, any kind of file that is prone to a viral infection is rendered useless. Even if your backup partner’s system is infected, logically the infection shouldn’t be able to spread to your files.

Zoogmo recommends that you maintain a list of at least 3 backup partners so that your data is effectively replicated in multiple locations thus providing you with a redundant fall-back mechanism in case one of your partner’s computer goes dead.

Here are a couple of videos that explain the whole process in a lucid manner. Or you can always drop by at their site and go through the FAQs.

While replication servers in themselves aren’t a new concept, the whole idea of a free and open backup network certainly is very innovative.

Am off to find some suitable backup partners. How about you?

Update (15.12.2009): Sadly, Zoogmo is closing down. They will go out of operation end of this year (Dec 31st). I got a mail from them to the effect a couple of days back…

Valued Zoogmo Customer,

We would like to thank you for your loyal support.
Since we launched our backup service in August 2006 we have enjoyed serving you but the time has come for us to close our doors.
We plan to shut down our servers on 31st December 2009 at which point your backed-up data will no longer be available. We suggest that you check out www.mozy.com for unlimited online backup for just US$5/month. If you have any queries about our shutdown, please email us at info@zoogmo.com.

Thank you once again for using Zoogmo,

The Zoogmo Management

Another great startup venture that ‘s going down the drain, most likely because of not enough profitability when compared to the extremely high bandwidth and disk space consumption that a service like this requires.