A hands-free automated online backup system called IDrive-E

Bulldog with HeadacheLoss of critical data can prove to be one of the most horrifying nightmares specially if it involves official documents. Worst case scenario could lead to one getting sacked. And even if it’s only personal documents, who would ever want to see years of fond memories (photographs, videos etc.) disappear overnight due to some silly hardware malfunction ! The importance of having a proper backup mechanism cannot be stressed on enough.

Home computer backups are usually consist of burning a couple of folders onto a CD/DVD – but more often than not we burn our data once in a blue moon and maintain an oblivious stance for the rest of the time. Very few of us are able to follow a stringent weekly backup schedule. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have some sort of mechanism which would carry out this job for you all on it’s own ? Something on the lines of Click-Once and Forget-It ? Well, there IS.

IDrive-E LogoJust today I came across this automated online backup system named IDrive-E. This service comes with a pretty intuitive backup software which you’ve to install on your computer. Once done, simply point it to your critical data which needs to be backed-up on a regular basis and that’s about it. Periodic continuous backups (with intervals as low as 10mins.) keep happening on their own. Incremental backups are possible too – and the backup mechanism fires up the moment you modify a file on your computer. The backup account doubles up as a file-sharing and collaboration system too. You can grant access to any file / folder stored on the IDrive-E servers to anyone you wish to. The storage space is also mapped onto your computer as another drive, giving you drag-and-drop restore functionality in Windows Explorer. Incidentally, IDrive-E gives you a rudimentary version control system too, in the sense that you can revert back to any of 30 prior versions of a document.

As for the free part – you heard it right! This service is available free of cost to personal / home users albeit with a 2GB space limit. Unlimited storage quota can be acquired by upgrading your account to one of the paid plans which start around $49.50 annually (about $4.95 a month). A pretty inexpensive deal I’d say.

But is it safe to transmit all your personal documents to a remote storage location like this? Absolutely ! All communication with the backup server at IDrive-E are done through an 128-bit encrypted channel and on the server a 256-bit AES encryption routine secures your files with a key that is generated by you.

With IDrive-E, forgetfulness isn’t a vice anymore.

Get rolling with your free account today…

Top 31 free alternatives to YouTube (video hosting sites)

Here’s a short list of free video hosting sites that you can use to display your streaming video content – apart from YouTube, that is. Most of these provide code for individual videos to enable you to embed them in your site directly. I’ll try and include a couple of lines highlighting the main features & USP (Unique Selling Proposition) of each, wherever possible. The list is alphabetically arranged and not in the order of usefulness or popularity.

AtomUploads Logo A video uploading and sharing service by AtomFilms – which is a division of the MTV Networks. As a result you can find a lot of unique web-shows hosted at this site. Not much information is available about their hosting features. However, as a MTV service you can expect the standards to be quite high. Features channel based organisation and member groups / communities.

blip.tv Logoblip.tv promises to bring to you shows – the kind of stuff you might find on television but won’t. Highly rated by PC World and Business 2.0 magazines this site syndicates its content with the likes of AOL Video, Yahoo! Video, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, MSN Video, Google Video etc. thus effectively multiplying your reach by millions. If you’ve got what it takes to create a great show, it may even get broadcast on this TV channel that blip.tv owns. And if your show’s a hit, they allow you to pick your own advertisers and earn revenue. Flash, QuickTime, DivX, 3gp – more or less all major formats are supported.

BrightCove Logo Brightcove lets you build and launch your own internet TV station. You can have your channel up and running within minutes and retain full control over the program schedule. Videos uploaded by other users can be incorporated into your shows too. Your channel is syndicated with other major players on the net and you can earn revenue through advertising as well as video sales. Features a pretty eye-candy interface.

ClipShack LogoClipShack is a community for videophiles – a place for sharing your videos with the world. Its run by Reality Digital, Inc. – a company with years of experience in catering to the multimedia needs of the corporate sector. Pretty basic interface.

Crackle Logo Crackle (formerly known as Grouper) is a Sony Pictures Entertainment company. It acts as a streaming entertainment network dedicated to the discovery and development of pioneering video creators across a diverse range of genres. Crackle supports multi-platform syndication to Sony devices, IPTV and major social networking sites. Crackle is all about “launching tomorrow’s stars today” and can serve as a serious platform for aspiring directors. There are contests going on all the time to hand-pick the most innovative creators and launch them in collaboration with Sony Pictures and other leading media partners.

Dailymotion LogoDailymotion is another humongous hosting cum sharing service. They have the standard set of features wrapped with a strict set of rules that prohibits any kind of adult or explicit content. If there’s one thing that sets it apart from the crowd – it’s the JukeBox feature. Video-Blogging and direct uploads from webcam supported too.

Flick Life Logo FlickLife counts among the handful of revenue sharing hosts that there are. You get to broadcast your own videos to the world at no cost at all and yet get some moollah in return. Features buddy lists. FlickLife is a privately owned company based in Columbus, Ohio.

Flukiest Logo Flukiest is an interactive community for sharing and managing digital media by artists, photographers, designers, musicians, writers, directors, producers, and technologists – which in other words mean it’s a photo and video hosting service. There seems to be a tagging engine at large judging from the humongous tag-cloud you encounter on the front page. Other services include email, buddy list, forums, blog and a separate music video section.

FLURL Logo FLURL allows you to upload and share videos under a set of pre-existing categories. Their rating system consists of a meter that displays the FLURL or HURL rating of a video. Adult content can be found profusely (there’s a separate above 18 section). Adult Filtering options are available but turned off by default for any new visitors.

go fish LogoGo Fish is a largish hosting site which helps you promote your directorial skills. The primary objective of this site is to give you your 15 minutes of fame. Documentaries, comedies, spoofs, pranks, and even episodic dramas – all are welcome here. The interface is pretty dense (and dark) and will particularly appeal to the gamers. It’s pretty easy to use though. If you’re seeking a wide exposure for your work, this could be the host for you.

Jumpcut Beta LogoJumpcut strives to make the uploading & sharing of videos and photos a fun and easy thing. Apart from instant publishing and user communities – Jumpcut has this unique Remix feature using which you can create your own version of someone else’s video without destroying the original work. For this they’ve made available a very easy-to-use and feature rich online video editing tool. At the end of your creative spree, you can let the community decide whether you’ve managed to outperform the original director.

Kewego Logo This is a German service and the interface language is Deutsch. However, the registration process and controls are pretty similar to any of the common video hosts – so you shouldn’t find it too difficult to make your way around this one, even if you don’t know the language. Incidentally, there is a small link right at the bottom of the page that allows you to switch to the English version. Keep in mind though – majority of the audience is German.

LiveDigital BetaA community based video sharing service with specialised channels where you can upload related videos. Consequently jumping channels brings up a horde of thematic videos. Permitted uploads include photos, audio tracks and videos. Features nearly unlimited (?) uploads – which in other words mean that they probably have paid, high-storage plans as well. There’s an inbuilt social networking feature in this and hence they allow you to deck up your profile in your own way using an advanced template creator. Drag & drop functionality for quick setup of photo / video journals.

LiveVideo LogoChannels, Favorites, Subscriptions, Videos, Photos – nothing out of the place that can make this service really stand out. It’s got a good blend of general features including a Hit or Miss rating system. However, it’s probably one of the very few which offer direct recording from webcams (see Viddler and VideoEgg).

Myubo Logo Myubo comes in four linguistic flavours – Czech, Deutsch, English and Slovak. It sports a mechanism to upload, view and share live and pre-recorded video via mobile 2.5G and 3G networks such as GPRS, EDGE, CDMA or UMTS, web and fixed IP networks. Pretty much covers the whole consumer wireless spectrum. Among offered features are channel based organisation, Mobile TV and user communities.

Revver Logo Revver has a clever mechanism that helps it track and monetize the uploaded videos as they spread virally across the internet – so “no matter where your creativity travels, you benefit“. Your uploaded video is paired with a targeted advertisement and the revenue is split 50/50 with you. Those who share and spread the videos get to keep part of the spoils too. 20% of the ad revenue is handed to them. Of particular interest to the developers is the Revver API, which allows one to build a video-sharing site complete with user accounts, uploading, sharing tools and access to the full Revver library of videos. The bandwidth is covered by Revver and the ad revenue is split three ways – you, Revver and the content creator.

Selfcast TV LogoA basic hosting service with standard features and channel-based organisation. Allows adult content and has a SafeSearch filter in place. One upper it has compared to other services is that it allows for direct mobile based uploads through MMS (currently in UK & Europe only).

Soapbox LogoThis is one service that I probably don’t have much to talk about. It’s part of the reknowned MSN Suite of online applications. Offers all the standard bookmarking, commenting, tagging, rating and sharing features and has it’s own flash-based player.

Spike-ifilm LogoA service by iFILM that has an extensive library of movie clips, music videos, short films, video game trailers, action sports and its popular ‘viral videos’ collection. Since October 2005, it’s a part of the Viacom network – so one can definitely trust this one. Of course you can expect all the latest and hottest of the videos here and can upload your own too. Has clips of daily TV shows from around the world.

Stage6 LogoA video hosting service by DivX for people who love videos. DivX, if you remember, is the group which came up with a similarly named format of video encoding for online distribution. DivX videos can be of pretty high quality and are rendered through a custom player which is available as a plug-in for most famous browsers. According to the Stage6 team, “Anyone can become a publisher, anyone can build an audience and every video available on Stage6 is compatible with over 70 million consumer electronics devices from every major manufacturer, making it easy to play back Stage6 videos on your television or portable device.

Tuberoo Logo Tuberoo and its sister concern Shoutwire – both of which offer video hosting and sharing services. Tuberoo recently opened up the Beta Testing of its mobile video service which will send out one Tuberoo video to your mobile everyday. Adult & explicit content is allowed and there’s no SafeSearch filter in effect.

Userme LogoThe name comes from the German word ??ber – which means “above” or “over”. The word migrated into English as uber and has come to mean. “super something that nothing is better than“. On similar lines, ??berme claims to be the ubercoolest place to showcase you uberific moments through photos, videos & blogs, form like-minded discussion groups to debate on uberhot topics or just chat the day away with your uberbuddies through their instant messenger. In short a high-flung social media site that contrives to capture the uber-elite netizens. Uberwap – a personal mobile portal keeps you connected on the move. Last but not the least – thoroughly customisable profile / homepage. Pretty ubertastic if you ask me !

Visit uVouchAnother site that offers all the standard features – video sharing & organisation, social networking, discussion groups, playlists, customisable profiles etc. There’s rating system in place with which you can vouch for other’s content. Allow for direct importing of videos from other hosting sites like YouTube, Dailymotion, Grouper, Myspace etc. Has a couple of widgets & gadgets for your site / blog.

Viddler LogoA site with simplistic but likable Web 2.0 style interface that allows you to upload, enhance and share your digital videos. Similar to VideoEgg, they offer a mechanism through which you can directly record / upload your videos using your webcam without requiring the use of any third-party recording tool. Viddler employs a mechanism which searches for content inside the videos, thus making your uploads search results relevant. Has their own flash-based player.

VideoEgg LogoVideoEgg features one of the slickest interfaces I’ve come across and offers a bag of really useful online video manipulation tools (cropping, resizing, direct recording etc.). Allows sharing through email, direct HTML embedding and Permalinks. The videos are displayed through their own interactive embeddable flash-based player. High-end sites with > 1 million visitors per month can sign-up for a revenue sharing partnership where ads are displayed beside each video and the revenue handed down to the partner. Employs content-filtering to weed out inappropriate videos.

vidiLife LogoA basic video uploading and sharing site. Has the look & feel of YouTube in it’s teething stages. What’s with the outdated template design and grainy logos? Simplicity is good but eye-candy is the order of the day and in order to survive the web-age, you gotta indulge in it as quick as possible. Has a video rating system (on a scale of 10) that shows badges about the size of the Digg badges beside each video. Sports some pre-categorised sections like Funny, Music, Stupid, Amateur, Crazy etc. Photo uploads permitted too. Claims to allow unlimited uploads.

Vimeo LogoAnother cool video hosting service that has been around since end 2004 and reflects the Web 2.0 genre of web-design. They share helpful pointers with you in case you’re lacking ideas regarding creation of unique video content. In action are a bunch of highly configurable privacy options with which you can create fine-grained access control lists to allow only select group of people to view your videos. In short, you choose who exactly sees which of your videos. Has personalised homepage where you can neatly arrange all of your favourite videos. Allows tagging of videos.

Vume Logo VuMe (most likely pronounced as View-Me) pays you for uploading quality content – video, audio as well as photos. Small banner ads are displayed beside each of these and the revenue generated when visitors watch your content and partly passed down to you. Every hit on your video, image, or audio clip counts.

Zeec Logo Zeec is another German video hosting service that you won’t find so difficult to navigate around. This one too allows you to directly record / update videos off your webcam. The interface follows the Web 2.0 ideal and has a vague resemblance to the Last.FM music cum social networking site.

ZippyVideos Logo This one offers your own sub-domain under ZippyVideos to host your profile (e.g. profile.zippyvideos.com). Unlimited uploads are permitted pertaining to the fact that no single upload is greater than 20MB. Privacy options, video organisation and social networking are an integral part of the package.

Zoopy Logo Zoopy proudly presents itself as South Africa’s first video and photo sharing social network. It’s a pretty basic service with an easy-going note that can be spotted all over the site. There’s a standing challenge that attempts to coax the hidden director in you to come out into the limelight.

Did I miss out on any of the big ones? Feel free to leave a comment on your favourite one and I’ll add it to the list.

Buy all that you want at substantial discounts with Coupon Kathy

Free CouponsWhile browsing the net I came across this cool site called Coupon Kathy. Initially it looked like just another of those online coupon code sites. But after browsing through the site I was surprised to find lots of wonderful stores and amazing discounts being offered there.

One of the best offers that I happened to see were the ones being offered at Target. Target has a wonderful collection on women’s clothing at their women’s department and as long as we follow the link provided it is possible to get free shipping on any size order for women’s clothing or accessories that are available there. Now you can shop for jeans, trousers, tops, sweaters, dresses, suits and even nightgowns sitting right at home or at office. Along with the garments there are also the bags, totes, belts, sandals, shoes, jewelry, beauty products and sunshades available here. With all the free Target Coupons from Coupon Kathy, you can easily save a substantial bunch on such purchases.

It is not just necessary to buy for oneself. Women's ClothingThe same discounts will be available for anything we buy for ourselves or for our family and friends. With all the different departments for bridals and designers it wouldn’t be too difficult choosing a gift for anyone else.

They have some special offers for students as it is time for schools to reopen. Any back to school items will be shipped to the customers free of cost. So even students can browse to check the cool must haves before returning back to another term at school. Other than the school items free shipping is also available for futons, beddings, games, storage supplies, cookware, electronics and many more such items.

The baby section also should be visited frequently. Even through there isn’t any coupon code or special discount there but special deals are always offered on baby items like cribs, toys, baby clothing etc.

Now it’s almost the whole family that can get over with their shopping online from this wonderful online store called Target which has 1500 store locations and a huge sale through their website too. Remember that for every coupon worth $50 there is a $5 discount available. It’s not just shopping but also saving online. Am off to look for my bargains and fill up the shopping carts. What are you waiting for? Happy shopping.

Ubanimator – Animate your Userbars online …for free

Userbar AnimatorThis one’s meant for the forumers… a simple online tool to create animated Userbars – which are small rectangular images frequently sighted in forum signatures. They usually convey the interests, hobbies, or graphical skills – in short, the personality of a user. Userbars come in a wide variety of flavours including the animated ones. Here are a couple of examples of Userbars…

American Red Cross Blood Donor UserbarLost Userbar

Ubanimator can prove to be a great help in creating animated flicks out of your Userbars. The tool takes up a maximum of 10 different Userbars as input and creates an animated gif file based on the transitions (Fade, Scroll Up, Scroll Left, Door & Squish) and pause between each transition, specified by you. The gif file can then be easily added to your signature. The tools has been designed to provide you with a a hassle-free one-step process. The only major drawback I found is the lack of ability to specify different transitions between different Userbars. Whatever transition you pick is applied globally. But then, the complexity of the tool would have increased quite a bit that way. Here’s how an animated Userbar looks like…

Animated Userbar

As for the actual Userbars used to design the animated flick – you’ve got 3 options. If you’re a skilled enough artist and have got a bunch of pre-created Userbars, simply go ahead and upload them. Or, you can point the tool to the location (URL) of existing Userbars on the net. The third option (for the artistically challenged) involves choosing a set of readily available Userbars from a huge archive at the Ubanimator site. The archive contains Userbars for every conceivable subject from video games to music to TV shows and movies. If you don’t find one of your liking, you can always head over to the popular Userbar forums such as Userbars.com and Userbars.net and check out the collection there.

Visit Ubanimator and try it out for yourself…

curreX: AJAX Based Currency Converter Widget for WordPress

A brief intro…

Past few weeks I’ve been extremely busy designing a Property Investment site for a client. The primary requirement was a custom CMS (Content Management System) – which I had to build from scratch. While it drove me over the edge at times overall it was a thoroughly curreX Screenshotenjoyable as well as an educational journey for me. Since this is a site that caters to foreign investors, one of the requirements was a Currency Conversion Calculator which could be embedded in any of the articles thus providing the visitors an opportunity to get an idea of the property prices in their native currencies, without having to leave the page. At first I sought the easy way out – i.e. I searched far & wide for a currency calculator service that’d allow me to convert between almost any of the world currencies. Unfortunately the free ones out there are really pathetic and the my client wasn’t willing to shell out any $$ for a paid service. That got me down to designing one on my own. I’ve been dabbling in AJAX for a while now and find the whole idea of RIA (Rich Internet Application) really attractive. So I decided to walk the AJAX way and came up with this cool-tool. Once done with the main project, I was so satisfied with the result that I thought it’d be a really good idea to convert it into a sidebar widget for WordPress. So here I am, with curreX – the Ajax based Currency Converter for WordPress.

Current Version

  • 0.9

Features

  • The widget is very simple and does exactly what it’s supposed to do. It accepts a currency value (integer or decimal) and a source & destination currency and gives you the converted rate once you hit the Convert button.
  • It employs an AJAX back-end, i.e. the conversions are performed without having to refresh the whole page, making the tool really lightweight & fast. Looks cool too.
  • Performs client-side validation of the amount entered – thus cutting out chances of entering an erroneous value and crashing the calc. midway while performing a conversion.

Requirements

Download

[download id=”3″]

Installation

Installation couldn’t get any easier. Once downloaded, simply…

  1. Unzip the archive.
  2. Copy the extracted folder named curreX into your WordPress plug-ins folder.
  3. Activate the plug-in from the Plug-in Manager in WordPress.
  4. Visit the Sidebar Widgets page under Presentation menu to drag & drop the widget onto any sidebar you desire.

That’s it…

For those who’re using curreX with non-widget-enabled themes, you should insert the function
< ? show_currex( default_from, default_to, decimal_places, type, title ); ?>
in an appropriate place. For further details on this function & it’s parameters, refer to the FAQs section of the readme.txt bundled in the distribution.

Demonstration

A live demonstration of this can be found under the Coding section of my blog. Though the implementation of the demo is slightly different (it’s hard-coded into in a page), it should give you an idea on what the widget can do.

Showcase (the widget in action)

  • GoBackpacking
  • Hua-Hin Live – A customised version of the plug-in can be seen in action in the property list pages, once you’ve searched for properties

Subversion Repository

Change Log

  • Version 0.9 (2008-06-22)
    • Added Flash based Widget support. Now one has the option of choosing between the HTML/JavaScript version or the Flash version from the widget configuration panel of WordPress.
    • The structure of the show_currex() function (for non widget-enabled themes) has changed slightly too – to support embedding of the flash widget.
  • Version 0.8 (2008-06-19)
    • While releasing version 0.7 I had made some changes in the path structure (reference to any additional files that were loaded in the background) – and I messed up a bit there. As a result, the core javascript module that fetched the conversion rates and performed the calculations wasn’t loading properly.
    • Fixed some minor CSS issues. Now the look & feel of the widget can be modified in its entirety through the accompanying CSS file.
  • Version 0.7 (2008-05-16)
    • Added the functionality to display curreX in non-widget-enabled themes too (by popular demand). Till version 0.6, this plug-in could only be used in the form of a widget with widget-enabled themes.
  • Version 0.6 (2008-05-11)
    • This is a complete port to jQuery. Decided to finalise on one ajax library and jQuery emerged the winner. No more Protoculous for me.
    • Split out the styling into a separate CSS file. Anyone with even a bit of CSS knowledge, can now easily alter the looks of the widget without having to touch the core code file(s).
    • Implemented BlockUI – a jQuery plugin that blocks the widget interface while performing a currency conversion routine (ajax based).
    • Included a HELP option, that leads directly to the Chaos-Lab Forums (curreX Subforum)
  • Version 0.5 (2007-09-21)
    • Minor fix – but at the same time a major one from the perspective of functionality. The back-end URL for fetching conversion data from Yahoo! Finance had changed from finance.yahoo.com to download.finance.yahoo.com. This caused the plug-in to generate a message saying “Error contacting Yahoo! Finance” and not work at all. Thanks to Lia Johnston for pointing me to the correct URL.
  • Version 0.4 (2007-03-15)
    • Fixed a minor bug that caused incorrect version reporting in WordPress plug-ins management panel.
  • Version 0.3 (2007-03-15)
    • Bundled prototype.js library along with the distribution instead of relying on a theme to have it. This way the latest version of prototype can always be bundled along with.
    • Made some minor changes in the layout for smoother functionality & improvement of looks.
    • Renamed a bunch of plug-in related variables to avoid name collision with other plug-ins.
  • Version 0.2 (2007-03-05)
    • Fine tuned the widget. Now the currency unit values are written off an array instead of the ungainly manual approach that was being used earlier on. This reduced the file-size of the main plug-in considerably despite adding new code.
    • Added the configuration section. One can now set the default currency units to be displayed when the widget loads (from & to).
    • Added a Decimal Place option, which defines the number of decimal places to show in the converted result.

Please Note

I offer support for my plug-ins via the Chaos Laboratory Support Forum only. I will NOT respond to support queries left in the comment section below and, in most cases, will also not publish them. Of course, if you’d like to say something nice or helpful, then feel free to leave a comment!

If you find this plug-in useful, please consider making a donation towards further development of this useful little utility.


Alternatively, you can help me by reviewing this post by clicking on the following link. Believe it or not, this will help us both earn some cash from PayPerPost.

Need to build a concrete reputation online? Try Venyo…

Venyo LogoThe lack of trust has always been a big issue on the Internet and with the emergence of new collaborative services revolving around Web 2.0 it has only taken a hike for the worse. With every dawning days more and more people / concerns are stepping into the world of blogging, sharing, publishing or selling online – but there’s virtually no existing mechanism to guarantee the quality and the reliability of the published material and to safeguard the interests of the buyers.

The problem is widely known in the Internet community and consequently a wide variety of methods have been adopted in order to instill sufficient trust in users by reassuring them of the quality of material or of proposed services. A couple of examples of such services would be the Merchant Rating service of eBay, Verisign, BIB (Better Internet Bureau) Certifications etc. However, none of the measures are sufficient to “prevent users from being drowned beneath waves of information, recommendations, suggestions and solutions whose relevance it is no longer easily possible to judge.

In comes Venyo with an objective to establish a free and universal online reputation management tool that would provide a unified and standardised measure of reputation of each active user online. The concept was first introduced at the third annual Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco (Oct 2006) and following up on that, today the first official public beta has been launched.

Venyo plans to achieve it’s objective by assigning a personal reliability index called the Vindexâ„¢, which is based on the evaluation of your web contributions like blog posts, pictures or videos by the community. It sort of acts like the eBay rating system – but spanning the whole web. Your Vindexâ„¢ signature is displayed on all your contributions to prove how reliable you are to the potential readers. The rating will appear in form of a button that looks like this:

Venyo Rating Button

Your readers will be able to vote and evaluate your web based publications. They can also use tags while voting to link you with subjects they find your content most relevant to. The resultant unique combination of quantitative and qualitative expressions of faith will then be analyzed by Venyo’s exclusive algorithm to calculate the global trust index expressed in percentage – the Vindexâ„¢. The rating will not only reveal the level of trust but also the evaluation related to the best tags, reflecting your specific skills.

Venyo Evaluation Module

According to Venyo, while somewhat similar localised systems are in existence – some paid and some for free, they can provide a much more far reaching service with the following benefits:

  1. User-centric – to be transportable on all Web 2.0 sites
  2. Universal – to record ratings for any kind of contributions
  3. Standard – to compare the reputation of any kind of contributors

Since this is in open public beta, you can sign-up for free and try it out yourself. The site uses plenty of AJAX – so make sure you’ve got JavaScript enabled in your browser and no Ad-Blocker blocking the scripts on the site before attempting to sign-up.

Incidentally, this is my Venyo Permalink.

OpenDNS: A free DNS solution that leads to a supercharged but safer internet

OpenDNS LogoDo you often encounter slow page-load times despite using a decent broadband connection? Does you browsing experience often come to a bitter halt with a message like “Looking for xxx.com” or “Waiting for xxx.com“? If you are facing similar problem, it might be indicative of a lousy DNS setup by your Internet Service Provider (ISP).

DNS or Domain Name Services are the internet’s own version of a telephone directory. Your computer takes help of such DNS Servers to locate another computer every time you type in a web-address / URL in your browser. The process is known as address resolution. By default all the ISPs maintain a set of DNS Servers for usage by their customers. This is done so that all such lookups take place over the local network and thus address resolutions are fast. At least that is how it is supposed to happen. However, in reality many ISPs don’t maintain their DNS Servers properly leading to extremely poor resolution latency.

 

This is where OpenDNS steps in. If you suffer from high DNS latency periods as described above, OpenDNS may be able to help you out. OpenDNS is a free service that provides you with a set of free DNS servers for unlimited usage. In short…

OpenDNS is a better DNS, free to all. OpenDNS uses its distributed network of DNS servers to speed up your Internet experience, increase reliability, improve security and make DNS smarter for users all over the world.

So how does OpenDNS speed up your Internet experience?

OpenDNS maintains a huge list of high performance geographically distributed DNS Servers serviced by several redundant connections. First of all whenever you avail their service, you’re automatically directed to a server that is geographically closest to you thus providing you with a faster response time.

OpenDNS Server Map

Secondly, they maintain a “big & smartDNS Cache. A DNS Cache is a service that temporarily holds a completed address lookup in the memory for a certain period of time. In case a second user looks up the same web-page, the server can directly deliver the address to him/her without having to resolve it again. This causes a massive boost in lookup speeds.

OpenDNS Cache

 

What are the other advantages of using this service?

OpenDNS not only boosts your internet access speed, they provide a couple of cool extras like Phising Protection and Auto-correction of misspelt domain names.

OpenDNS can identify and block Phishing Sites with the help of their own data accumulated over years as well as by collaborating with PhishTank and various other similar organisations. Whenever you try to access such a site unknowingly, OpenDNS will block the site and inform you.

OpenDNS Phish Warning

Apart from that if you misspell a domain name while typing, OpenDNS will correct it on the fly. That means when you are typing fast and type yahoo.cmo instead of yahoo.com you still get there. No annoying pop-ups or evil spyware installed because you made a typo. Things just work.

OpenDNS Spelling Correction

What do I need to download to use this service?

Absolutely nothing. You don’t need to download and/or install any software to avail this service. You simply point the DNS Server IPs of your computer to the ones of OpenDNS and it’ll start working for you. Further information can be found here.

Is this service really free? If so how does OpenDNS survive?

All the services mentioned here in this review are offered for free. There are no hidden costs involved. However OpenDNS might sell “extra” services in future through paid subscriptions.They make money by showing you contextually relevant (but clearly labeled) advertisements along with organic search results when the domain entered is not valid and isn’t a typo we they fix.

Incidentally, if you want to set-up a local DNS Server based on Linux, I’ve got a step-by-step tutorial showing you how to. It might be worth a read.

Visit OpenDNS for further information and availing the service rightaway.

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Free 18-week Online AJAX Course

AJAX On ToiletFor those who want to make some serious headway into the insanely booming technology called AJAX, here’s a golden opportunity. Boston based Sang Shin, who’s a technology architect, consultant, and evangelist at SUN Microsystems offers a free 18-week online course on AJAX.

The course commences on 18th of February, 2007 and covers some hot new topics such as the opensource JavaScript toolkit named Dojo, the NO-JavaScript AJAX Framework called ZK, DynaFaces – the thin application layer that renders AJAX capabilities to JSF, and Phobos – the lightweight, scripting-friendly, web application environment running on the Java platform.

This is the second session of the course in offering. Earlier it was offered as a ten-week course but it’s been extended by eight more weeks to cover all the new & important aspects of this rapidly expanding technology. Literally anyone can sign-up for it by simply sending a blank mail to ajaxworkshop-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. There’s no eligibility criteria as such. However, it is assumed that you’ve got some prior programming experience with the common web programming/scripting languages such as JavaScript / PHP as well as core Java itself. The course will continue on a weekly basis till June 11th, 2007.

One word of advice – don’t take this course lightly. The course is really content rich and if you’re sincerely interested in learning AJAX, you can really reap the benefits. Though the course allows you to progress at your own learning pace, you’re supposed to submit a homework at the end of each week with a maximum grace period of two weeks after the course ends.

Upon successful completion of the course, you’re entitled to an online certificate signed by Sang Shin. Though the certification isn’t through affiliation with any colleges, educational institution, company it recognises you as someone who clearly stands out from the crowd and enlists you in the graduates website.

If you’re interested, you can find further information on the course here.

TrueCrypt: A Free Opensource On-the-fly Disk Encryption tool

Usage of file / disk encryption has been long prevalent – but never like that of the present times. With the explosive growth of the internet and consequently ever-increasing risk of hacking, protection of one’s private / sensitive data has gained utmost importance. There are hundreds of methods of encryption which can be used for this purpose – all with varying degrees of flexibility – but broadly they can be categorised into File based or Disk based methods.

TrueCrypt is a disk-based encryption system which allows you to create & maintain on-the-fly encrypted volumes. On-the-fly means that the data is automatically encrypted / decrypted right before loading & saving – without any human intervention. In effect, you allot a storage area on your hard drive to TrueCrypt, which then creates a dynamic encrypted volume there that acts like a separate drive. Whatever data you write to this drive get automatically encrypted. Likewise it is auto-decrypted when you try to load it.

The process is so transparent and quick that you don’t even feel the presence of such a system. However, such drives are protected by master password(s) / key file(s) specified by you and no data stored on such an encrypted volume can be read (decrypted) without using the correct password / keyfile(s).

The advantages are apparent immediately. First and foremost, you won’t have to remember to encrypt your confidential data separately (file-by-file). Whatever you write to the volume is automatically encrypted. Secondly, files can be copied to and from a mounted TrueCrypt volume just like they are copied to / from any normal disk (for example, by simple drag-and-drop operations).

I’d used similar licensed software earlier on and a notable one among them was Stealth Disk. However, TrueCrypt beats all of them hands down any day as it’s a completely free product and it offers a far wider array of features and stronger encryption algorithms.

Apart from that, the encrypted volumes can be made to be portable or created directly on removable storage like USB flash drives. This greatly aids you in carrying sensitive data around, guaranteeing that it can’t be misused if the flash drive gets stolen / falls in the wrong hands.

TrueCrypt even has a Linux version, making it an almost platform independent solution. Soon to be announced – TrueCrypt for Mac OS-X.

TrueCrypt main interface

Features:

Among the prominent features of TrueCrypt are …

  • The ability to create a virtual encrypted disk within a file and mounts it as a real disk
  • Encryption of an entire hard disk partition or a storage device such as USB flash drive
  • Automatic, real-time (on-the-fly) and transparent encryption process
  • Two levels of plausible deniability, in case an adversary forces you to reveal the password. Now this is a really ingenious feature. They’ve taken into account the fact that you might be held at gunpoint and made to reveal your password to your TrueCrypt volume. For this they allow you to create a hidden volume inside an outside volume. It’s the hidden volume that contains your actual data and is enclosed in an outer volume along with some decoy files to throw your attacker off. In case you’re forced to reveal the password – you open up only the outer volume to your antagonist and thus lead him to the decoys. Your actual data is still safe.Moreover, it is impossible to identify a TrueCrypt volume. Until decrypted, a TrueCrypt volume appears to consist of nothing more than random data (it does not contain any kind of “signature”). Therefore, it is impossible to prove that a file, a partition or a device is a TrueCrypt volume or that it has been encrypted.
  • Support for a wide variety of encryption algorithms like AES-256, Blowfish (448-bit key), CAST5, Serpent, Triple DES, and Twofish for encrypting the volumes as well as the ability to re-encrypt a volume with another algorithm at a later point of time.

This is one really useful tool to have in your collection …any day any time.

Download TrueCrypt and try it out … today !

Avro Keyboard: A terrific English to Bengali Phoenetic Typing (Transliteration) Software

Avro Keyboard by OmicronLab is a really terrific Bengali typing software that performs on-the-fly phoenetic transliteration of typed text in English – which means that those who require to type in Bengali, but are unfamiliar / uncomfortable with the layout of the Bengali Keyboard can simply zip ahead and type the Bengali text as they’d spell it in English and Avro would insert the corresponding Bengali characters for them automatically. Cool, eh ?

Avro has been designed to work with literally any UNICODE compliant text-editor. When you set it to Avro PhoneticTransliteration mode and start typing, a tiny window pops-up allowing you to enter the text in English. Once you hit Space/Enter/Tab it’s converted immediately to the corresponding Bengali text and pasted in your editor.

For example, if you type “ami banglai gan gai” – the output you’d get is: Ami Banglai Gan Gai

It also has this continuous parsing method where you needn’t press Space/Enter/Tab – the parsing occurs for every character as you type.

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