How to hyper activate your USB Thumb Drive

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Nearly everyone of us carries around a flash drive with some of our important information with us. But flash drives have evolved, not only are they now growing in capacity and speed. But with a small push from the software industry the humble flash drive will play an important part in the whole cloud computing phenomenon. As applications move from computers to the cloud, it is quintessential for the applications of the desktop to move around a bit as well, with the user I mean. The applications that cannot (at the moment) be realized from the cloud need to be for the user to be able to use. They also need to essentially provide another important feature i.e. not to leave any files on the host computer once you take them to your friends place. This is essentially something that separates a normal application from a portable application.

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How did I get into this is also an interesting story, I work on a construction site and IT facilities there can be a little poor. Like restricted internet access for an hour a day with ridiculously slow download speeds. Anyway, the company where I work is considerably large and the IT department there had issues with things like virus on machines being transferred from USB drives, people installing malicious software accidentally etc. So they decided to have a restriction on installing anything on the computer. That started some issues with inaccessibility to software, legitimate open source software included. In that scenario I was forced to use only the software on that computer like, internet explorer (of which I am not a big fan) and Office, no image editing tools etc. I had to work on a few image editing assignments as well as could not stand to use Internet Explorer. I wanted either Chrome or Firefox, firefox being the second choice. So like always necessity is the mother of all inventions and finds. Well in that scenario I tried to look for software that I could use without installing it, and walla a whole new world of portable apps greeted me.

The portable application suites that are available are built in such a way that you do not need to actually worry about your information being left on another computer, you plug in your USB into another computer, run the application and once your work is done; remove the USB and you are done. In fact there are applications that keep the data in the USB encrypted so in case you lose the USB drive the person who finds it will definitely not be able to see any information that is on the thumb drive.

If you have not been looking at the portable apps world, you will be surprised to see and know the vast libraries of applications that are already available either official releases from the companies who are making the software themselves, like firefox portable etc, and then there are unofficial releases done by Portable Application enthusiasts. Most of them work like a breeze. Essentially portable apps are available as individual applications but for starters or to better organize the portable apps on your thumb drive, it is better to use an application launcher like portableapps.com, liberkey, or geekmenu. Then there are those that come preloaded onto USB drives like the U3, which comes standard on all Sandisk drives; which although are not open source but definitely free with their drives.

Today not only do you get portable applications but also complete Operating systems that are portable on USB drives called Live USB. In fact windows 7 can be ported into your USB to make a portable windows 7 OS Drive.  Well enough spoken about these nifty tools, let me just add some links for you guys to check them out.

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These flash drives  make a great Holidays present to your geek friend also 😉 Load in one of the above mentioned portable app launcher and some apps for a great surprise. In case you cannot find your favorite application yet, then you can in fact create your own. Package factory is a portable application creator for the U3 launcher system. They claim that they can convert any application into a portable application, let’s hope it works. Check out the Package Factory here. Some of my favorite tools on my USB drive at the moment that I really use would be, Gimp portable, Sketch Up portable, Chrome Portable as well as Firefox portable, VLC portable, Picasa 3 Portable, Keepass portable, Thunderbird portable, Sunbird portable, convert All portable and last but not the least 7-zip portable.  Most of these from the POrtableapps.com launcherAll awesome tools that let me do a lot without having to install them on my machine.  Have also installed recently Opera tor portable which helps me access Flickr at work, which is essentially blocked in the UAE. Although I have to admit, for the one hour of slow browsing, Opera Tor is not really ideal. I hope someone makes a good chrome extension to mimic the performance of tor.

Infographics – Information and Graphical Design

I have a big fascination for information display and design, especially after I started working on the company presentations for my previous employer. During preparing presentations I always would get stuck with that page that needs to have a lot of information within a small space and with clarity. And would always come across these images mostly in newspapers, magazines and in various websites called info graphics which did exactly that. So what exactly are these info graphics ? This is what wikipedia has to say about them :

Information graphics or infographics are visual representations of information, data or knowledge. These graphics are used where complex information needs to be explained quickly and clearly, such as in signs, maps, journalism, technical writing, and education. They are also used extensively as tools by computer scientists, mathematicians, and statisticians to ease the process of developing and communicating conceptual information.

What sparked this post you ask ? I was looking for information about plastic bottles and what a big hoax it is (my thoughts about this another time) and I came across this awesome info graphic from onlineducation.net about the bottled water.

They have other interesting info graphics about A day in the internet, talking about the data exchanges over the internet through the social web. There is also this interesting piece about why Americans are fat ? :)

The interest for info graphics has spread wide and far, even to the extent that google made use of infographic (baloon comic) for their launch of Google Chrome. One of the most famous examples of info graphics is the London Metro system. Timelines, Data maps and even recipes … well I think you should check out more info graphics, see below.

If you find this interesting then you should definately try out googling “infographics”, it will bring up great resources for the images.

Check out some of these great videos about infographics as well :

And my personal favourite : The Did you know series

Useful Links apart from the Google search :

Change as an engineer

For the longest time I thought that change is for the good, why would anyone make a big deal of change. Being in an industry where people work for years and years, I would always think of the “Oldies” as some sort of mental blockers in accepting that their landscape is changing. Their reluctance to accept new technology etc is something that we all know of but even people, they would be very skeptical to accept even new people.

On the contrary, they also know that, if we all resisted change all the time, we as designers of course would not be able to improve and advance technology.  Change is, without question, inevitably necessary to evolve our products, procedures, efficiency etc. If the guys making the first car would have never changed or evolved we would have amazing gas guzzlers that would provide 1 km per gallon and would cost a few hundred thousand, wait the American cars still do that. :)

Working in a similar landscape I realized that we engineers go through rigorous scientific process when making decisions.  We rely on experiment, trial, hard data, user experience, cost analysis, potential and future benefit, and product efficiency to evaluate new tools, products, and design flows.  As one can imagine, this often takes a hefty chunk of time and effort.  We engineers decide to put in the time and effort now, and plan on using the eventual choice for many recurring projects.  It is a significant investment for both the engineer and the company to evaluate and make these difficult choices.  The motivation for change must be painfully obvious and very compelling else the inclination towards it is not even there.

Like they say necessity is the mother of all invention, we believe that laziness is the key to all efficiency. Quite frankly. I can state maybe 2 examples to show this. One being my computer, where the shortcuts, look and feel, customization of menus, bookmarks etc are meant to maximize my computer using experience. And when I say that I mean get all my stuff with the minimum effort. Even the routine excel files that I use are all with formulas, etc to ensure that I am able to provide the required reports etc with minimal effort. Maybe that is why most of us DO NOT like anyone to fiddle around with our computers. Even the place where I used to live as a bachelor was a small 8sqm studio which was made up to accommodate most of my whims and fancies at that time. It was also an efficiency masterpiece to be able to enjoy all of my stuff with minimal effort. Again what might seem as laziness to a lot of people is definitely the efficiency of the process.

I also do believe that engineers do embrace change, but it takes  a lot for them to do so. Like it is aptly put there should be painfully obvious to make the change.

Engineers should embrace change if it provides an immediate opportunity to increase their own personal skill sets.   This applies to learning new software, new programming languages, new management techniques, and of course new design methods. In the industrial world, new products and materials can provide unforeseen improvements to high-tech designs.

The long-term gains available should be embraced by the engineer, given appropriate runway and deadlines.  This is where upper-management normally misses the boat. When all is said and done, the goal is to make money.

The Management’s mantra to lower costs is not entirely evil; it should be everyone’s goal to help the bottom line.  Again, the key is balance.  If there is a significantly cheaper option available, whether it be software, tools, or parts, it should be evaluated in detail by the company’s best engineers.  It is up to them to determine the technical capabilities of the new toy.

And these things are something that I am now getting to see while slowly moving up the corporate ladder. I wonder would it have made a difference if someone had spoken to me during my college days I mean made it more management type discussion then I might have adapted accordingly. Well that Is something of a discussion that needs to be taken another time. For the time being it is clear we as engineers are as stubborn as a donkey on some issues. And yes I am admitting it, finally.

Cricket and Technology !

Most people do not know that the International Cricket council (ICC) has over 140 member countries and the sport is being played and watched by an ever larger group of audience now than ever before. The 10 larger cricket playing nations are the more famous of the lot, but definitely the audience of cricket considering that India and china are also in the 140 countries means that the audience is now massive. The introduction of technology for the betterment of the viewing experience as well as the training of players and umpires is something that gets majorly overlooked in the context of a cricket match. I have here enlisted a few technologies that have shaped my viewing experience with cricket and look forward to the future with some more innovative technologies.

Instant replay

One of the first change of the cricket viewing experience was the instant replay, today we see the replay of every ball and each and every shot played and great moments in each game, this was one of the “state of the art” introductions to cricket viewing, we now take it for granted to check each ball in the replay as much as possible.


Super slow motion

Well the Instant replay required a real uplift since it is being around for a long time. The latest addition that is not yet widespread used is the super slow motion cameras, showing the frames that are missed out by the regular cameras. The very few executions of these cameras have shown how split seconds are as important in this game as any other.


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Zoomer

The Zoomer is another natural propagation of the camera replays and the super slow motion cameras just to display the accurate position of the ball of whether the ball touched the ground before being caught or the ball hit the bat before hitting the pad and take a catch. There is definitely an inquisitiveness that involves in finding out what actually happened especially if it was a crucial wicket etc.


Eyes and ears of the stump

The next great change for viewing the cricket for the Television audience was the eyes and ears of the stump. I think everyone has seen the stumps being broken either by the bowler bowling the batsman over or the fielder breaking the stumps, all through the eyes of the stump cam. Well there has been more than one proof of sledging between players which are very clear through the microphone in the stump. This microphone also then gave another interesting addition to cricket, which is our next topic.


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Snick-o-meter

With the camera being in the stump, the miniature noises around the stump could be magnified and the image representation of the sound file could be seen, this was instrumental in using the snick-o-meter to specifically check if the batsman had nicked the ball on the way to the wicket keeper. This is a very interesting technology but not without its shortcomings, in very close calls between the bat, ball and the pads, it could not distinguish the sound of the ball hitting the bat or the pad or the bat hitting the pad, even through the snick-o-meter is seen in conjunction with a super slow motion video.


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Reaction time

Reaction timers are something that show the skill of fielders and bowlers with unbelievable proof. I have been awestruck at the fielding of Johnty Rhodes, Herschelle Gibbs and even India’s Yuvraj Singh on how they are able to pick the ball out of seemingly thin air. And the fact that the fielders did it in less than half a second was even as astounding as the catch itself. I think that along with the batting and bowling averages, the fielders need to have statistics as well, with their fastest reaction times shown.


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Speed gun

Radars have been known to most of the western world as a tool used to fine them when they speed up on the highways in their cars, but having them on the cricket field gives people an interesting perspective in the bowlers mind. Especially, when the world has seen the enormous success that T20 cricket has bought to the game, the variations of the bowlers in speed as much in line and length have been praised and appreciated by commentators, players and viewers alike. Its bringing the viewers closer to the game than ever before.


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Run out ruler

People always were of the view that close photo finishers were only for the track and field events, and that was shattered by the introduction of the cameras for cross verifying the field umpires doubts of the run-out decisions. But there was no quantifiable measure to check how much the ball won over the batsman or vice versa. Well Run out ruler to the rescue, although I have not seen too many implementations of this technology in many matches, this seems to be a technology that will grow on users.


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Hawk eye

Hawkeye is different from other technologies used in Cricket, in that it is a predictive tool. The way Hawkeye is supposed to work is, it observes the trajectory of a delivery at various points, till say it hits the batsman’s pads, and then predicts its trajectory past that point based on various additional factors, like speed, how it got off the pitch, etc. Now, I understand that there are limitations to the predictive curves that Hawkeye gives, that it’s not 100% right, and probably won’t be in the near future. But then before a gadget is discarded, we must measure its effectiveness — both absolute and w.r.to. the alternatives! And the introduction of Hawk eye has brought along with it a host of other statistics that are invaluable for statisticians as well as viewers, here are a few below.


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Wagon wheel
The singles, 2s, 3s, 4s and 6s that make up quick-fire 50s or vital centuries are represented by the different colors of the Wagon Wheel, which shows the areas of the field that the batsman has been targeting. Hawk-Eye now has the ability to display wagon wheels over photo realistic or virtual realistic backgrounds, giving broadcasters even more scope to tailor the Hawk-Eye ‘look’ towards the style of their production.


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Pitch map

Simple yet effective; Pitch Maps make a useful pause for reflection after the frenetic exchanges of the opening overs and highlight a bowler’s consistency or expensiveness, line and length. Hawk-Eye can now display comparative Pitch Maps in a split screen format, as shown in the example to the right.


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Beehive

Beehives show where the ball has passed the batsman. As with the Pitch Map, the colored balls correspond to the number of runs that the batsman has achieved from that delivery. Hawk-Eye Beehives can now be shown against a photo realistic or virtual realistic world, as with the Wagon Wheel feature.



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Ball Speed

Hawk-Eye now has the ability to supply ball speeds as reliably as a radar gun, as demonstrated during the ICC World Twenty20 in South Africa.


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Deviation

Hawk-Eye DeSpin Graphics demonstrate how far a delivery has deviated after pitching. Whilst the blue trajectory below represents a ball that does not spin or seam, the red ‘actual delivery’ shows just how much turn the spinner has achieved.


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Rail cam

The ‘RailCam’ (side view) shot of the VR World can be used to represent differences in speed, bounce and delivery. The trajectories are animated, whilst the speeds provide further evidence of a bowler’s variation or a telling comparison between athletes.


New Technolgogies that are being introduced or are coming around the corner


Hotspot

Heat seeker

In a fascinating and unusual tale of technology transfer, the latest broadcasting device to enrich the armchair fan’s viewing experience is based on a system more commonly found on armoured tanks and fighter jets. Hot Spot, unveiled by Sky Sports during the summer’s first test match between England and the West Indies, uses powerful infrared cameras to detect the distinct thermal signature left when a cricket ball hits a pad, clips the edge or flies off the middle of the bat. Hot Spot technology has also detected a few other distinct heat signatures that viewers have hitherto not been made privy too. If you thought technology was putting the Umpire’s decision making under intense scrutiny, you’re right, but the scrutiny doesn’t end there. Hot Spot, it transpires, can also detect flatulence aka farts. That’s right. The Channel Nine technicians “see” Umpires and Players breaking wind. One can only wonder if they’ve actually been keeping score, as it were. You’d have to imagine baked-beans-on-toast Warney would be somewhere at the top end of the rankings.


Bowling Machine

Bowling gun

A machine that can replicate the spin and swing of bowlers has been developed at a UK university. The robotic bowler has been created at Loughborough University as part of a virtual reality project to improve match training for cricket. “Cricketers want to be able to face bowlers like Shane Warne,” said project lead Dr Andy West. The machine will help us to figure out the science of bowling and the mysteries of spin and swing and that’s for the future spinners to benefit from. The spin and swing is put on the ball by a combination of two spinning wheels and a barrel which uses rifling theory to add side-spin.


Pulse SMS Predictor

Pulse – SMS

With the advent of the web 2.0 revolution and all the great additions of social media, Cricket and sport in general is being trying to find a way to use the wave to its advantage. Pulse is a free online application that connects us the fans with live sporting events. What’s unique about Pulse is that it’s integrated with the live television broadcast. Pulse asks fans questions relating to the event, we then take the answers and broadcast them on television to show the public’s opinion. For fans who like to predict the outcome of the match/race then the Pulse Predictor is for you. Predict on a variety of outcomes and win points if you’re right. Pulse also features live text commentary and live stats giving you a deeper insight into the game. I really enjoyed using pulse this time during the IPL 2009.

Future Technologies for cricket

Technology, however, is constantly improving. Infrared cameras have been tested in place of snick-o-meters; they can pick up friction readings, and are close to 100 per cent accurate in detecting snicks. There are now also balls available with built-in speedometers. Fit a transmitting device on such a ball, and you can have the speed of the ball at any given instant. With so much competition between rival broadcasters, the race is on to maximize the viewing pleasure. One plan is to put wireless tracking devices on individual players. This device would measure and transmit live data during the game, to a central computer. Parameters tracked by this device include the running speed of a player, a bowler’s speed during the run-up, the maximum speed and average running speed, the number of times a player changes direction, distances travelled, heart rates, etc. Very soon, such data relating to the bowler and fielders will be flashed to viewers. Commentators will also have a lot more data about individual players at their disposal. But imagine the pressure it will put on the fielders. Today it is only the umpires who are scrutinized for their decisions. Soon, it will be possible to minutely analyze every player’s activities on the field in real time. Lets take a closer look at some of the changes that are happening now

now continuing the topic from this piece in the age.

Player Equipment: the modern player is spoiled when compared to his forbearers light weight pads that offer more protection then ever before. The modern batting helmet which is light and much cooler than the enervating motorbike helmet that Tony Greig wore during WSC (Greig still annoyingly refers to the modern batting helmet as a “Crash Helmet”). The dynamically designed bowling boots, which are light but offer much more support than the heavy military style boots that Lol Larwood had to wear.

But it is the modern bat that technology has had the greatest impact, light weight and ‘all middle’. Even the handle which was once just a turned piece of cane, is now anywhere from a two to a 12 piece cane handle with multi-rubber insertions bound with synthetic glue. Modern bats themselves are around three pounds and pick up like toothpicks. The pitch will also have a large impact on which bat the modern player will choose. For a slow wicket the bat will have a lower swell anywhere from four or five inches from the toe. For a faster wicket the swell will be about seven to eight inches from the toe. The face of how the bat looks is also changing at a very rapid pace, the infamous Ricky Ponting bat using carbon fiber was center of great controversy, have a look at what else might be in the pipeline. Read about the bat that could change cricket forever. And a bat that has a lot more technology built into it. Check out the work by the MCC and closer universities.

The cricket ball is not to be left behind in the technological revolution, after especially proving that cricket balls are not consistent during manufacture even being from the same make and company there has been a great need to include technology into cricket balls as well, to try to make it consistent. So lo and behold, the cricket ball that measures its own speed featuring one which is patented in china and also the new pink colored cricket balls to avoid the visibility issues with the red balls as well as the white balls which get dirty quickly.

Augmented Reality – The possibilities are endless !

What is the future of search, some people might say it is fetching results faster, more relevant and as close to what you expect to find. But like me there are those who think otherwise. This is a look at the hottest new technology on around called augmented reality. Here is the Wikipedia for those who need a textbook definition of the technology.

For the past couple of years I have been following this awesome technology called augmented reality, what is it ? and how is it going to shape our next world is the question that I keep finding myself trying to find the answer for. It is strange, for something that was a concept this technology is now seriously changed the way we might be doing our work in the next few years. It is going to change the way we search for information !! A few years back when Google earth, Android OS and Google images was in its inception, Google announced that they wanted to make a technology that a person using a camera enabled phone would click a picture and Google would fetch information about the place or event. Well you don’t really need to “fetch” information anymore. Augmented reality, provides all the information you need when you see through the camera of the phone.

This was something that I was very interested to see in reality, since I had seen the first application the wikitude demo. When I visited the GE website, looking for information about their eco friendliness. I came across the world’s first large scale implementation of augmented reality. It blew my head off. I started to see the future that Google spoke about in the background. In fact you could start picturing the uses. A few months later, there are numerous tests being done worldwide for augmented reality based applications. There was this unbelievable futuristic vision pointed out by petit inventions that started people thinking in very open ways. Nokia has an application that runs on their phones that does some searching based on pictures called Nokia point and find. You can also see a demo on youtube here. Apart from the above few demo’s, there are now within a few months a lot of applications that people have worked on and come up with. There are applications ranging from Advertising, entertainment, gaming, medical training  etc that are now in labs as being tested.

The Bionic Vision lens
The Bionic Vision lens

The only hindrance of extreme wide spread use of this technology is the fact that it needs an external device for the technology to work well, including the camera, processing, and display. Now think of this technology being used in conjunction with another technology that is the Bionic vision. Check it out here.  The possibilities by connecting these two technologies are endless. Let me know if you think of any others.

Infotainment = Information based Entertainment

Amazing 3D Movies

Advertising

Magazines

Gaming demos

Hands on training and instructions [BMW Car Service]

Education – Encyclopedia

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Architectural design and presentation