Inquisitive Guide – The “new” Facebook : Everything you need to know

Yes, our semi favorite Social Network has changed … again. The fact of the matter is whether we like it or not, the changes are here for a while, until they change are going to change once more. There have been more negative reviews to the redesign than positive ones, the fact of the matter is no matter how much we complain, it is still a free product that we are NOT compelled to use, but we all use during our everyday life. After desperately trying to add in all the features that were unique in the rival social networks like the subscribe feature making the twitter’s main feature available on Facebook and the lists redefined to behave more like Google Circles; Facebook threw their biggest gamble yet. A complete redesign from the profile to the user page.

Yes I liked the previous Facebook better, but I guess we all need to adapt into the new one; so what if I thought someone had a Blue Drink and barfed all over the screen. So I thought I will post some of the most important features of the “new” redesigned Facebook. Some that might need to be known to all. Sigh, I liked Social Networking sites when you did not need a manual to use them. Some humor about the changes first here below.

Changes to the News Feed including the Ticker

This is one of the most noticeable new changes on the new Facebook. Facebook’s new design highlights posts that you’ll likely find important (well what they think you will find important), and prioritizes them at the top of your feed when you log in. The top stories are designated by a blue tag in the upper left corner of the post. Knowing so much about you it might be easier for them to actually “guess” this through their algorithms. Keeping the page open for a while, I did notice that it did not change much if you leave it open.

If you have used Twitter you will know that new tweets are displayed at the top and Facebook has a similar feature for their new recent stories. The ticker in the right is interesting and annoying. This is the place where real time information will be put up. It will always be there and also auto attach to the chat window as well.

Photo Albums

It has been known for a while by all that the largest database of pictures on the Internet is with Facebook. From Albums that people add to Facebook Apps that create its own set of images (for some reason are very popular on Indian Profiles) the entire Facebook is full of pictures. Using the previous theater mode, people who had complaints realized that the way pictures are displayed is now changed. Google Plus users will immediately pick the copy cat. However, the images are provided with good area for commenting and viewing in a theater like view as well.

The Like Button is no more just that

The Like button is one of the social legends of our time. Nearly everyone trying to come up with an equivalent. Google even got the +1 as a competitor, but guess what, like everything else Facebook is going to fix the like button although its not broken. Now you will not only like, but the most requested Dislike will come up as well along with any verb that people can think of. So well with the new redesign developers can come up with their own verb like, “Inquire”, Broke, and stuff. This is an evolutionary step for the like button, lets just hope it does not evolve into extinction. Facebook’s most used feature might just become diluted in the crowd.

Media is coming to Facebook… Big time

When a good friend of mine mentioned a while back, that he is now used to picking up news and interesting information on Facebook first before checking up on it on other sites, I realized that Facebook’s sharing feature had grown BIG. I cannot imaging the last time I searched the web for new trailers, all friends put up something interesting inevitably.

Facebook I guess realized the same thing and has made it possible to now watch TV and movies, listen to music, and read news with your friends — all within Facebook. Starting today, thanks to a whole bunch of partnerships, there are a lot more things you can do without ever having to leave Facebook. You can watch a show on Hulu, listen to a song on Spotify, or check out a story on Yahoo News. The ticker will tell you what your friends are watching, listening to or reading, allowing you to share the experience with them by clicking on a link. Although the video and songs are now US centric, they are going to spread around the world soon.

Now to the two most dangerous and ones you really need to watch out for.

Apps posting information about you

Applications on Facebook used to ask your permission before posting anything on Facebook. Now they dont need to. If you are worried about privacy you need to ensure that you are clear about what Apps you choose and what you dont, cos once an application has access to your profile it can post and access information when ever it wants.

With this move Facebook is slowly trying to kill one of its biggest problems Privacy. How ? Well this is the first step to removing privacy completely. Eventually all information about you will be available freely with your knowledge and you will be OK with it, thats what Facebook is trying to suggest, this could be the very first step in that direction.

But for those worried about privacy, this is something you need to go back and check, all the applications you use and what information they can access and what sites you have logged in using your Facebook Id and what they can do with that information is all something that we need to worry about for the time being.

The TimeLine instead of the Facebook Profile 

In what is the biggest of the changes to Facebook, the entire provide of a person is now going to change into a Digital scrapbook for all of us. With all information we ever put up being physically available to anyone viewing your timeline. Although the feature is going to go live only by the October 1st, I got a preview of the feature and my timeline is available now. Here is how it looks.

You can now add a lot more “life events” on your profile, a new banner picture as well. Maps on the profile all in the name of making a complete Timeline. So much so that you will be asked to provide your birth photo as well. I am sure we are going to see quite a few baby photos soon. Timeline is going to reveal everything you wanted to forget and regret about posting on Facebook ever ! And it will tell your friends about it too, if they have time to stalk on you. The further back in Timeline you go, the more Facebook will compress the information so that you’re only seeing the most interesting parts of your history. You can customize this by clicking on a star next to a status, say, or enlarging a picture.

If you would really want to get your own timeline right now, try some of these steps mentioned here.

Probably the most riskiest decisions ever, this redesign might have the impact of driving its users to other sites like Google Plus. And with Diaspora now opening windows to new users, there could be very soon fragmenting of these social networks.

What is Bit coin and why you should bother ? – an Inquisitive Guide

Unlike most people, I had not really heard about the Bitcoin used at large. However, now that I think about it, I think I might have come across the BITCOIN phrase in passing when looking through the internet for some cracks, yes I did search and no I did not find what I was looking for. Getting back to the whole topic of Bitcoins. A couple of weeks back a friend Megha, posted the information about the BitCoins on facebook, and I have been reading about it from then, to get a good idea about BitCoins. Here is what I have found out, simplified for all.

Like everything on the internet, from the internet itself, this is revolutionary. It is a new form of currency, completely online and something that all of us can use. This post is an indepth guide to the Bit Coin and what you can and cannot do with it. Like everything on the internet, there is a major real difficulty among all people to accept it, there are discussions on the god and the bad of the BitCoin all over the internet at this time. So I will not divulge into that for now.

What is BitCoin ?

BitCoin is a new currency – it wants to shake the entire global economy. And some people think it might! It’s online money—an alternative to dollars and euros. Well what’s that mean? It’s complicated, but I will break it down over the next few posts. Yes, there are some simple infographics that help in making it easier to understand, I will add them here below. I will however tell you there is one part which is not so clear and that is how the coins are generated.

Bitcoin is underwritten not by a government, but by a clever cryptographic scheme. For now, little can be bought with bitcoins, and the new currency is still a long way from competing with the dollar.

Again, BitCoin is Digital ..

BitCoin is not real money. It’s an online “currency”—virtual tokens that can be exchanged for goods and services at places that accept it. The list of which is fast growing.

In 2008, a programmer known as Satoshi Nakamoto posted a paper outlining Bitcoin’s design to a cryptography e-mail list. Then, in early 2009, he (or she) released software that can be used to exchange bitcoins using the scheme. That software is now maintained by a volunteer open-source community coordinated by four core developers. Like real money, It does have a market where its value against some real world currencies are mapped against, check it out here http://www.bitcoinwatch.com/, while writing this post the value of a BitCoin was nearly $14.

The programmer Satoshi wanted people to be able to exchange money electronically securely without the need for a third party, such as a bank or a company like PayPal. He based Bitcoin on cryptographic techniques that allow you to be sure the money you receive is genuine, even if you don’t trust the sender.

If you look at the first video above, its from the four core developers and they are thinking big, they are looking at BirCoin as a way to revolutionalize finance, just as how the internet revolutionized publishing.

How do I start. I.e the Basics

Once you download and run the Bitcoin client software, it connects over the Internet to the decentralized network of all Bitcoin users and also generates a pair of unique, mathematically linked keys, which you’ll need to exchange bitcoins with any other client. One key is private and kept hidden on your computer. The other is public and a version of it dubbed a Bitcoin address is given to other people so they can send you bitcoins.

Crucially, it is practically impossible—even with the most powerful supercomputer—to work out someone’s private key from their public key. This prevents anyone from impersonating you. Your public and private keys are stored in a file that can be transferred to another computer, for example if you upgrade.

A Bitcoin address looks something like this: 1H4NSNzoP7eoYnL69HCvehVTZBPJoyMzK9. You can transfer a donation to me on the attached BitCoin Address. YOu can also go to some online stores where you can use these BitCoins to buy real world goods.

Transactions with BitCoins and how they occur

When you perform a transaction, your Bitcoin software performs a mathematical operation to combine the other party’s public key and your own private key with the amount of bitcoins that you want to transfer. The result of that operation is then sent out across the distributed Bitcoin network so the transaction can be verified by Bitcoin software clients not involved in the transfer. [ This is important as this is the step where the internet and BitCoin software clients perform the function of banks where they confirm the person is you, such that your current value of Bit Coins is calculated and the balance given back to you]

Those clients make two checks on a transaction. One uses the public key to confirm that the true owner of the pair sent the money, by exploiting the mathematical relationship between a person’s public and private keys; the second refers to a public transaction log stored on the computer of every Bitcoin user to confirm that the person has the bitcoins to spend.

When a client verifies a transaction, it forwards the details to others in the network to check for themselves. In this way a transaction quickly reaches and is verified by every Bitcoin client that is online. Some of those clients – “miners” – also try to add the new transfer to the public transaction log, by racing to solve a cryptographic puzzle. Once one of them wins the updated log is passed throughout the Bitcoin network. When your software receives the updated log it knows your payment was successful. It takes a bit longer than banks in this step as the cryptographic puzzle that they solve is also part of the BitCoin universe, more on that later.

The nature of the mathematics ensures that it is computationally easy to verify a transaction but practically impossible to generate fake transactions and spend bitcoins you don’t own. The existence of a public log of all transactions also provides a deterrent to money laundering. The global public transaction register is a register that keeps track of the history of every single Bitcoin through that log, from its creation through every transaction. Yes there is a bit of a problem here.

Identity, since every BitCoin is tracked it would be possible to know how much money each person has in the system and who is performing transactions. I dont really think its a problem, In fact its better. Considering whats happening in India these days with corruption and black money, there will be none. Everyone will have as much money as they are worthy of, so this is really a blessing in disguise. However unlike the real world, it might be an issue to some, as very rich people can be targeted for crimes like kidnapping, extorsion etc. But hey, at least we can keep our blood sucking politicians at bay.

How are these coins created and how can you obtain bitcoins? 

Bitcoins are “mined”. When you set your Bitcoin client to a mode that has it compete to update the public log of transactions. All the clients set to this mode race to solve a cryptographic puzzle by completing the next “block” of the shared transaction log. Winning the race to complete the next block wins you a 50-Bitcoin prize. This feature exists as a way to distribute bitcoins in the currency’s early years. Eventually, new coins will not be issued this way; instead, mining will be rewarded with a small fee taken from some of the value of a verified transaction.

Mining is very computationally intensive, to the point that any computer without a powerful graphics card is unlikely to mine any bitcoins in less than a few years.

Other ways of obtaining BitCoins are exchanges like Mt. Gox, which provide a place for people to trade bitcoins for other types of currency. Some enthusiasts have also started doing work, such as designing websites, in exchange for bitcoins. This jobs board advertises contract work paying in bitcoins.

Money is made to spend right ? So, Where can I spend these coins ?

There aren’t a lot of places right now. Some Bitcoin enthusiasts with their own businesses have made it possible to swap bitcoins for teabooks, or Web design (see a comprehensive list here). But no major retailers accept the new currency yet.

My thoughts

The BitCoin is in its infancy, however it has corrected some of the loopholes that current fixed currencies have. However, at the end of the day this is the first of its kind in this space. However, like most software and services on the Internet (which is what I look at it now) it will evolve, and might come up with a new variation of this concept and that will be the one to look out for.

Current world currencies do not have to be threatened by this new currency. As financial masters and grand masters analyze and dissect this form of the currency they will point out some of its flaws and what will come out of it is a clean workable currency format that all of us can eventually use. For the time being it is a nice to know fact that there is an alternate currency that is not government controlled and neither bank influenced. This might just be the spark for the actual online currency to come into being. Lets hope it does.

Some Resources

BitCoin and What is it: http://weusecoins.com
BitCoin home page: http://www.bitcoin.org
Bitcoin Trade: http://www.bitcoin.org/trade
BitCoin Economy Watch: http://www.bitcoinwatch.com
Bitcoin Exchange: https://www.mtgox.com
Bitcoin escrow service: https://clearcoin.appspot.com
Bitcoin e-commerce platform: https://www.mybitcoin.com
Fun with bitcoin http://witcoin.com – the bitcoin q and a .

Real Estate Investments Made Simple

The Inquisitive Minds, features guest authors who are interested to contribute to the readers of this blog and the author of this article is Ramalingam K, an MBA (Finance) and Certified Financial Planner. He is the Founder and Director of Holistic Investment Planners (www.holisticinvestment.in) a firm that offers Financial Planning and Wealth Management. He can be reached at ramalingam@holisticinvestment.in.  He has been a regular on this blog for a while now. If you would like to contribute something then please let us know on guest [at] melvinpereira.com.

Gold and Real estate are very traditional investment avenues. Gold has evolved from its traditional investing and found its place in the modern sophisticated investment world via Gold ETFs. Similarly Real estate is also emerging as an investor friendly avenue with less hassle via PMS route or private equity route. Have you ever thought of investing in real estate will one day be as simple as investing in mutual funds? If no please read on….

Real Estate as an Investment:

 Buying a dream house or flat to reside ourselves is basically not a real estate investment. Buying real estate with a view to generate income and capital appreciation is considered as Real Estate investments.  Real Estate investments can be further classified into residential, farm house, commercial, retail, leisure. Leisure is a relaxation place where one can spend their free time or vacation.

Depends upon his/her risk tolerance and time horizon one can invest in real estate at different risk levels. It can be at the time of converting a rural land to urban land, or at the time of building development stage or in already developed city area.

Real Estate and Risk:

Most often investors assume real estate prices will not fall down and they only go up year after year. It is not so.  During the mid 2009 some of the real estate investments were quoting below 30% to 40% from their 2007 prices. Real Estate investments are also prone for price fluctuations.

Real estate Vs Stock market:

Real Estate is a complex and complicated investment when compared to stock market.

Non-transparent: There is no transparency in the price. It is not easy for a buyer or seller of real estate to identify the last transacted price in the same locality. There is no price discovery mechanism.

Illiquid Asset: Selling a real estate is a time consuming process. It is not liquidable easily. There is no organized market for the buyers and sellers to meet.

Impact Cost: Stamp duty and registration charges are really very heavy when compared to the other investment products.

No Regulator: There is no regulator for the real estate participants and intermediaries. Anyone can become a builder. Technical qualification is not mandatory. Also anyone can become a real estate intermediary or advisor. There is no certification or training to be completed before practicing.  As there is no qualification requirement for participants as well as the intermediaries, it is very difficult to see best business practices.

Real Estate hassles:

The other hassles with reference to real estate investment are documentation, maintaining the asset without any encumbrances, and genuineness of the title deed.

There are some practical problems with diversification. Normally an investor invests in a real estate in his own locality. It is very rare to find someone in Chennai investing in the real estate properties located at Mumbai, Delhi or Kolkata.  Affordability also limits diversification. An investor may not be able to diversify his investments across various cities with Rs.25 lacs or 50 lacs.

It may not be possible for an individual investor to buy a land and develop a viable project in that land and sell it in the market. Managing the project development need some kind of expertise.  Even if an individual is able to do it, he will be doing it in his limited ways and means.

Is there a solution for this? Of late yes.

There are some collective investment vehicles. These investment vehicles will be promoted by an investment management company. The investment management companies collect money from investors. Being professionals, they will identify good projects and do joint venture with the project developers. They will be able to diversify across various cities as well as various types of real estate investments such as housing, commercial, hospitality and the like. These investment management companies charge a reasonable management fees.

At times they collect money via PMS route and at times via private equity route.  The minimum investment ranges from 10 lacs to 25 lacs. This amount needs to be invested over a period of 3 years. That is they will collect money from investors in 4 or 5 installments. After 3rd year whenever they exit from a project they will repay the principal employed in the project as well as the profit generated out of that project. End of 6th year or 7th year, the investment management company will exit from all the projects.

The advantages of this collective investment vehicle are

  • One can invest into real estate without any hassles. All the hassles will be managed by the professional investment management companies.
  • One can invest in various real estate projects at a time.
  • One can geographically diversify his investments across India.
  • One will be able to apportion his total investment into small sums in large projects like township development, Technology Park, industrial estate, health city…
  • Cost advantage because of economies of large scale operation

This is really an investor friendly investment vehicle. Apart from the regular stocks, mutual funds and fixed deposit investments investors can consider investing in these real estate products also. This will give better diversification to your overall portfolio. Also Investors need to be careful in choosing such investment options. Background of the investment management company and their transparency levels are more important. Investors can seek the advice of the professional financial planners before investing.

This investment vehicle is in its primitive form only. It still needs to go a long way. As of now there are only a very few companies in India which specializes in promoting collective real estate investment products. But in a few years time these kinds of products will be available from various investment management companies and in different varieties like our present mutual fund schemes.

Inquisitive Guide – RSS : Best way to visit many websites together

A few years ago, my mentor gave me a quick advice, which in turn has changed my life as clichéd as it sounds. He said I should make it a point of spending time online without using the usual refinements like Facebook, YouTube, email or other form of direct entertainment online. Initially targeted at spending an hour online, now I have some interesting hours online nearly every other day, which I should say has enabled me to even write about these Inquisitive topics. Eventually there are quite a few websites that I was reading regularly, blogs that I was reading and what came out of it was, that I started to spend too much time in visiting those sites / blogs to pick up the information that I wanted to read. Then I stumbled upon RSS.

Rich Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication, the expanded version of RSS is actually a web format that is used to read “feeds” from sites. What it means is that people with RSS feeds on their sites have set up a sort of a radio channel for their websites, where you will constantly pick up any changes or posts that they add, however the advantage over radio is that it shows them by posts, so you can pick to read what you want to, where as you can opt to not read ones that do not really interest you. The video here should help better understand RSS.

Why RSS? Benefits and Reasons for using RSS

RSS solves a problem for people who regularly use the web. It allows you to easily stay informed by retrieving the latest content from the sites you are interested in. You save time by not needing to visit each site individually. You ensure your privacy, by not needing to join each site’s email newsletter.

What do I need to do to read an RSS Feed? RSS Feed Readers and News Aggregators

Feed Reader or News Aggregator software allow you to grab the RSS feeds from various sites and display them for you to read and use. A RSS reader can be web based application, desktop-based standalone application, browser based application or a mobile device based app. Each of these readers has their own features and some are free while others are not. Those who have to access their RSS feeds from multiple computers prefer a web based RSS reader. Those who access RSS from a single computer generally choose the desktop applications. While choosing your desktop-based application, make sure that you are keeping into account the operating system platform that you are using. All recent browser applications also have an inbuilt RSS reader. These browsers also have a finder technology that automatically spots the RSS widget on the website that the browser is visiting. In addition, RSS feeds can be received on mobile phones. What more, you can even connect your RSS feeds with your social network channels like twitter and facebook. The services like twitterfeed and RSS graffiti makes this possible. RSS feeds can also be converted to emails and read from your inbox.

variety of RSS Readers are available for different platforms. Some popular feed readers include Amphetadesk (Windows, Linux, Mac), FeedReader (Windows), and NewsGator (Windows – integrates with Outlook). There are also a number of web-based feed readers available. My YahooBloglines, and Google Reader are popular web-based feed readers.

Once you have your Feed Reader, it is a matter of finding sites that syndicate content and adding their RSS feed to the list of feeds your Feed Reader checks. Many sites display a small icon with the acronyms RSS, XML, or RDF to let you know a feed is available.

As an additional step you can chose to beautify the RSS feeds with these plugins for popular browsers such that you can read the news from these sites easily. A great example of the RSS feed beautifier, aggregator and reader is the Feed.ly plugin for Google Chrome, that converts a boring looking interface into a proper magazine style interface.

At the end of the day the name of the game is pulling information from sites that you want and present it to you in the way you want it. So if Melvin’s Inquisitive Mind is on your list of blogs and or sites that you visit usually and want the information to reach you as soon as it is posted, well go ahead give the RSS a try on this blog. Its on the top right, just below the content slideshow.

What is an LED TV ? Read before you buy one

Before the invasion of the flat screen, flat panel displays in our lives, the only real question when purchasing a CRT (cathode ray tube) TV was how big did you want it and how much space did you have in your room to house it ? Yes there were definitely some quality issues but mostly it was dictated by how many diagonal inches you could get buy. The 14″ and 21″ being the most popular at least in India. While size still matters to add to complexity of buying a TV includes Plasma vs LCD displays. Just when people were getting their mind sets ready for one or the other, Samsung jumped everyone with the ultra thin awesomely thin looking LED TV. And like most electronics that get the oohs and aahs from the public, everyone else followed suite.

People are now thinking what is this new animal in the TV world. To put it simply it is another form of the LCD TV that uses LED lights to provide the required back light and thats about it.

Continue reading What is an LED TV ? Read before you buy one