links for 2009-10-30

links for 2009-10-29

links for 2009-10-28

  • Handy career advice from Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert:
    "If you want an average successful life, it doesn’t take much planning. Just stay out of trouble, go to school, and apply for jobs you might like. But if you want something extraordinary, you have two paths:
    1. Become the best at one specific thing.
    2. Become very good (top 25%) at two or more things."
  • A commentary on the social experiment conducted by Washington Post.
    "…the young man finally started playing his violin. He was quite good … He played continuously for 45 minutes and during that time few, pitifully few people actually stopped and payed attention to the stranger. Some not sure of what they should do gave him some coins and walked away in a hurry.
    After playing a total of 6 musical pieces, he paused and looked at his money case. Inside there was a small pile: All he had made was 32$. He picked up his pride, packed his violin and with a quick gait, he exited the L'Enfant Plaza Metro Station.
    He then did something bizarre: He took a cab.
    The real reason behind his decision to spent his money like that, was his violin's price-tag: A staggering 3.5 million dollars. … Joshua Bell is one of the finest classical musicians on this planet and to get a seat at one of his violin concerts, would cost you at least 100$ given that your seat was in the back of the concert hall."
  • An interesting social experiment. How many people do you think recognize true talent in the mad rush of our lives? Not many it seems as one of the top violin players found out a couple of years back. Not to forget that he played a $3.5 million violin to make $32 in 45 minutes.
    "No one knew it, but the fiddler standing against a bare wall outside the Metro in an indoor arcade at the top of the escalators was one of the finest classical musicians in the world, playing some of the most elegant music ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made. His performance was arranged by The Washington Post as an experiment in context, perception and priorities — as well as an unblinking assessment of public taste: In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?"
  • Bogus copyright and trademark complaints have threatened all kinds of creative expression on the Internet. EFF's Hall Of Shame collects the worst of the worst.

links for 2009-10-27

  • A handy way to order food online. I guess it was only a matter of time before someone did it in India. Only Ahmedabad & Mumbai at present. Gotta try it out some time. Description:
    "Started by 3 IIM students, the site features number of restaurants and allows you to place orders online. It has an intuitive user interface that makes ordering a breeze and a search engine that helps you quickly find your favourite dishes.
    Subway, Shaolin, Gary's Menu, Mings, Food Planet are some of the restaurants that now deliver to your door step."
  • Some simple tips to revive yourself ranging from plain deep breathing to going outside.
    "Recent research confirms what world travelers and adult-education addicts already know: New experiences give you a rush."

links for 2009-10-26

Return of the daily links from delicious

By now you have probably noticed that I’ve reverted to posting daily links from delicious to my blog (this time with more description hopefully) even though I had thought at one point in time that they were cluttering up my blog. One of the main reasons I did this was to keep the blog active as I seem to be bookmarking & twittering a lot more nowadays, and don’t make the time to come up with lengthier blog post.

Quite a lot of water has flowed under the bridge during this period, of which the most notable change is the new delicious interface going live. The other handy feature is the ability to post to twitter and email contacts while bookmarking through the firefox extension. I also refreshed my memory for posting from delicious through this blog post on posting to wordpress from delicious and also noticed that Steve Rubel had recommended daily links post as an essential blogging hack (too bad I gave it up for over a year and a half). So, now the daily links posts are here to stay.

delicious blog posting settings

Another thing I noticed while setting up the delicious service was that they’ve tweaked the interface slightly. Now the password field is no longer plain text (whatever made them do that in the initial phase is a mystery to me), and there is a way to effectively utilize the category field to keep the bookmark posts organized. All you need to do is figure out the category id by going to the wordpress blog dashboard –> Posts –> Categories to view the list of categories in the blog. Each category is hyperlinked (something like … and the last portion of the URL gives the category id (out_cat_id in delicious). In my case, 4360 is the id for the “bookmarks” category that I had created for such posts. The setup is pretty convenient & should help keep the blog active in some way till I finish my Management course next year.

links for 2009-10-25

links for 2009-10-24

links for 2009-10-23

Text to movie with Xtranormal & State

I created the above video as an introduction to HarIT, the Green IT event of Avenues 2009, the annual B-school fest of SJMSOM, my B-school. I used the text to movie service – Xtranormal. It is a handy and innovative service that allows you to make movies by literally placing words in the mouths of characters. It has been around for a few months now and it recently launched a desktop software for making movies called State.

So, there are now two ways to make movies – one using the online service and two using the State software. The service is available in a basic and premium version. The basic version limits the number of actors, scenes & voices available. There are numerous worlds available online (see pic below) while the desktop software limits the worlds available but provides more actors, scenes & voices. The software is in beta and so is likely to change to be consistent with the online version.

Xtranormal worlds

The desktop software, State, requires you to have an account on Xtranormal and login before you can start using it. This is likely to regulate features available to free and premium members. It can be a bit of a problem to use the software if you are behind an authenticated proxy like me, as it does not load without logging in. It seems to use the proxy settings from Internet Explorer, but doesn’t prompt you for authentication. Due to this, it almost became a non-starter. However, I managed to find a workaround using a HTTP tunnel client that removes the need for authentication and sets up a local proxy address instead.

State Login

Since the software is in beta there are frequent updates, and upon logging in, you may find yourself facing an update window. When I was using the software the day before, it was prompting me for updates, but failed to download any of the files and later on, the prompts went away.

State Update

However, the software is quite easy to use (though pretty unstable – crashed many many times) and I managed to put together the video you saw on top in half a day. Not bad for a first time user eh? 🙂 It seems to support movie exports in 3 formats as of now (I used only the AVI option). It has support for background scores, character expressions, postures, movements, looking and lots more. There also seem to be a few placeholder elements in the interface indicating that there’ll be support for inserting videos and pictures along with the option of recording audio (or are those premium features?). In absence of these features as of now, I just exported an AVI file and then did some editing in Windows Live Movie Maker (another easy to use & handy product) to create the final piece.

Here’s a screenshot from the software:

State screenshot

One of the things that struck me while making the video was the level to which text to speech has progressed. Earlier, I remember the text to speech convertors spelling out words in case it did not have it built in. In State however, the words were handled phonetically. There were some limitations of course with the default spellings for some of the Indian words, but I solved them easily by going in for phonetic spellings. For example, HarIT was being pronounced as Har-I-T rather than Har-eet, and the latter is the spelling we used in the script to get the desired result. Similarly we also had to split facebook to “face book” to get the right pronunciation.

Overall, the service holds a lot of promise and if you look into the future, it’s only a matter of a few years before we’re able to create high quality animated movies from our personal machines. Just imagine directing well known characters yourself. That said, the online version seems to be having load issues as the number of users seems to have expanded quite a bit. The desktop version does addresses the availability problems of the online version, but the feature sets are not same across the two.

You can also check out the Xtranormal youtube channel to catch their latest movies.