Paper is not going anywhere

(This post is a response to this Cyprus Blog Network Together!)

Eight years ago or so I had a major argument with my wife about the future of paper. I was an extremely excited Computer Science student back than, and my visions were very polarized. I saw only black and white. And when I looked at printed media and digital media I saw them as mutually exclusive. Of course, I was on the side of digital media. One of my most far taken statements was that all paper will disappear in the nearest future. And by nearest I meant next 10-15 years.

Shocking, isn’t it?

Well, at that time I was rarely seen far away from a computer. Real world meant little to me. And I didn’t have any understanding of office work outside of IT industry. I still don’t, by the way.

Needless to say, my wife was laughing at me. She still does, by the way.

But all these years weren’t in vein. I looked around, I talked to people, I learned. And here is what I came to realize: I was wrong. Paper isn’t going anywhere. At least not in the near future. And by near future I mean 20-30 years.

There are, of course, applications of paper that are being and will be migrated to digital media. Storage of vast amounts of data, with indexing and searching comes to mind (databases). Billing and invoicing (accounting). Reporting (management). Lots of communications (emails, blogs, forums, chats).

And there are also other applications of paper which paper suits perfectly well. Many people prefer paper books to any digital format. Quick note taking and sketching works best of all on paper. Photography is yet another area – no matter how good the image looks in digital, some people would still prefer it printed out, framed, and hanged in the living room (yes, I know about digital photo frames).

Coming back to my statement, as I said, I was wrong. I should have phrased it differently. Paper won’t disappear. And digital media will continue to evolve and improve too. But the two will co-exist for a long time. And they will be helping each other to improve too. Many applications have already been tried with both paper and digital – some were converted instantly, others remained and secured their positions. There is some healthy competition, but there is enough partnership for the whole thing to move into the right direction.

So, I was wrong. And I’m glad I was.

The business card surprise

I was very surprised to find out that a bunch of 500 business cards costs about 30 CYP (much less than a $100 USD). Of course, there are many variations – single side or double side, black and white or color, quality of paper, and so on and so forth. But overall, the price range is quite accessible.

If I knew business cards were that cheap, I would have ordered some for myself years ago. I have a long and foreign surname. I have an email address. The URL to my web site contains my long and foreign surname. I it’s painful to think that I am that silly. I could have get rid of all that pain for mere 30 CYP per 500 contacts. Oh, boy…

This makes me think of all the lost possibilites. I mean, this is just one example of the product so many more people would use if they knew about it. What about other example? How many are out there? How can we find out about them?

Web, and blogging in particular, comes to mind. Web provides the cheap and easy way to tell the world about your products, and without annoying anybody. But I am biased here – my background is in technology. It is really cheap and easy for me to start a web site.

What do you think everybody else should do?

Xperimental 5 – the film festival

Yesterday I went to Nicosia in a company of Vladimir, Michael, and Maria. Our destination was Xperimental 5 film festival.

Pantheon Gallery was quite easy to find, despite my attempts to direct our expedition into the maze of one-way streets and dead-ends of Nicosia downtown. So we even came on time.

The festival was all about experimental film and animation. And so was the setup. In the large empty room there was a projector and a white pulldown screen. For the audience there were a couple of sofas, a few chairs, and some pillows on the floor. Not something you would see in your regular cinema.

In about 15 minutes enough people arrived to occupy all chairs and sofas. Some were already making themselves comfortable on the floor, grabbing the pillows. Overall there were, I’d say, about 50 people in the room. Maybe fewer.

The program of the festival was broken into four parts. 40 minutes of film shows, then 20 minute break, then another 40 minutes of films, then another 20 minutes of rest, then another hour or so, and then some more.

The films were all short. The longest one we saw was 13 minutes. Most of the films were under 6 minutes though.

What can I say about the films? Well, there were a couple that I really liked. There were a few OK ones, and the rest weren’t worth the time. It was tiring to watch so many of them one after the other. They weren’t meant for the large screen, and most of them were shot with handheld camera. The idea behind I guess was “I don’t want to use a tripod, so we’ll mask all shaking into a special effect”. I think that before going into advance techniques of camera shaking one should master the still standing camera. Maybe that’s just me, but I’m sure I’m not alone…

Because it was so tiring on our eyes and brains, we left after the first two sections. We’ve seen enough though. Altogether we saw 16 films in two hours. Not bad.

Which ones did I like? A few.

The best of all, of course, was “Business as usual” by Canadian Joe Hiscott. Excellent idea, great photography and sound, nice special effects, and overall very very pleasant.

“Washing up liturgy” by Leo Earle from UK was second best on my list. Without much philosophy, this film was a nice exploration of macro photography and slow motion. Great compositions, interesting subjects, and lots of color – as close to photography as film should get.

“A little meditation” by Myriam Thyes (Germany) made everyone in the room smile.

I also enjoyed “Beta test” by Greek George Drivas. But it was more of a photosession than a movie. Great images and nice story.

“Disconnected” by Karl Lind (USA) was somewhat cliche, but nicely done. It was very pleasant visually.

Michael Brynntrup’s “The Hong Kong Showcase” had nice atmosphere and stability. As boring as it was, I wasn’t bored at all. I don’t know. It was one of those films which are hard to describe. It reminds me of dancing leaf and dead bird clips from the “American Beauty”.

Overall, I’m glad that we went to the festival. It was a refreshing experience. It also gave me some food for thought. But I’ll post about it later…

Things that I love about Google Calendar

This post started as a comment to Andrey’s post about self organization and time management. I just wanted to list a few things that I particularly love about Google Calendar, and then decided to do to it here instead, for the benefit of greater public.

As I mentioned some time earlier, I’ve been using Google Calendar for a few month now. I started playing with it for this and that, but now it is the only tool I use to manage my time. Here are the features that make it so useful for me:

  • SMS reminders. I am one of those people who need a reminder for practically everything that needs to be done. Google Calendar is about the only web service at this time which supports non-USA mobile numbers. SMS reminders mean that I have to duplicate and synchronize that much less data.
  • Sharing. Google Calendar has great sharing facilities. I can have a private calendar, allow certain people to read my calendar, have a public calendar, etc. I can sent invitations and get confirmations to people who don’t even have Google Calendar account. And I can allow those people to invite other people to my events, and I know when they do so too. No username and password hassle. Also, calendars are available in iCal format, RSS feeds, and even can be easily integrated into web sites.
  • Multiple calendars. I can have several calendars of my own, and I can subscribe to a whole lot of other calendars. Holidays from different countries, sports events, cultural happenings, calendars of my friends – all these can be added to my subscriptions. And I can manage them easily hiding and showing only those parts that I want to. And I can assign different colors to events from different calendars. And I can easily copy events between calendars.
  • Interface. I am among those people who absolutely love the interface of Google Calendar. Almost everything is perfect – from the quick add event form to the default view which can be customized. There are a lot of small things which make it so much easier to use. For example, when specifying the time of the event, starting time defaults to know, and ending time defaults to 1 hour from now. And it works nicely with events that span across the midnight too. Although the display of such events needs some more work, I think.
  • Integration. I do enjoy the integration of the Google Calendar with GMail. When inviting people, I get name completion from my address book. When someone emails me the invitaion to some event, GMail recognizes it (in most of the cases) and provides an easy way to add it to my calendar. Daily agenda emails and reminders have this nice formatting with links to appropriate parts of my calendar. And so on and so forth.
  • Secure HTTP. I wrote about it earlier, but it’s worth another reminder. In order to encrypt all communications between your computer and Google servers, simply change “http” to “https” in the URL. It will work out of the box, and you won’t even have to login again.
  • Reoccuring events. Google Calendar has some flexible and easy ways of configuring events which happen more than once. Year, month, weekly, or daily; weekdays or weekends or selected days, by date, or by day of week, or by day of month – all these and much more are configured in a couple of mouse clicks. I’m using plenty of these to control my daily and weekly routines.

There is plenty more of course. But the above list is something that I can’t live without.

The only thing that I’m missing now is a tasks or TODO list manager. Everything else is in.

The shortest Christmas wish list ever

We are have the Christmas wish list Together! at Cyprus Blog Network. Although, I’m admitably late for last week’s topic, I figured I’d have something written before the new topic is posted.

My Christmas wish list is short and generic this year. Not like always. Usually I’d join the shopping rush on the net – surfing from shop to shop, converting currencies, comparing prices, and estimating delivery dates. But not this year.

This year is very different from many other years in my life. There is so much stuff going on that I don’t have the time or the will to sit down and dream about Christmas. I’m having tonnes of fun already.

But since I promised you my wish list, here it goes:

  • Time. I want to have a break. I want to take a few days away from any work related activites and spend them with my family and friends.
  • Money. I want to have just enough money to have a nice Christmas. I don’t want millions or anything like that. Just enough money not to think about them at all, even if for such a short period of time. I’ll earn more later. I know.

As much as these wish list looks generic and cliche, this particular year it’s not so for me. I never wanted those two things so much as I want them now, and I probably won’t want them so much ever again. But this year, this year is different.

Three more Flickr goodies

Flickr – the best tool for sharing and managing photos ever – has recently announced three more goodies.

First of all, they introduced a simple and easy way to share private pictures with people who don’t have Flickr account. There is this thing called Guest Pass.

Secondly, they introduced mobile-friendly version of Flickr. You can read more about it here.

And, thirdly, they created Camera Finder, which is a tool that one can use to compare and learn more about cameras that Flickr members use.

All in all, great stuff and much wanted. I myself am particularly glad about the private photos sharing with non-Flickr members feature. Mobile version is nice to have, but with GPRS prices in Cyprus, it’s almost useless to me. Camera Finder will come handy when I’ll be looking for an update to my aging Canon 300D Digital Rebel.

How not to visit a dantist

This is a quick and simple guide for all those people who don’t hate visiting a dental office. If you don’t want to go to the dantist… simply don’t. That’s it. As simple as that.

That’s exactly what I was doing for the last 15 years or so. I had a few really bad experiences in the childhood (they almost killed me a couple of times), so my enthusiasm in this area is pretty obvious.

Today, though, I decided that I should go. Yesterday I broke one of my front teeth. No pain, as the tooth is dead for a long time now. But the looks of my mouth and instantly acquired speech defects suggested that that I should get this fixed.

Luckily I managed to find a good dantist quickly. She came recommended, and her office is not far from my place…

It took her about an hour and me about 70 CYP and loads of not so pleasant memories to get my smile back to normal. The new teeth is as good as, well, new.

I was suggested to come back for tonnes of work that would improve my smile and health even, and lessen my finanical wealth even further. I said I’ll think about it. And I will. Some time…

Disagreeing with Sharon Housley on Google

It’s been a while since I jumped on someone here. That’s because I don’t like jumping on people. And because I don’t care that much about what people who I don’t know personally say. But sometimes I just get in the mood and do it non-the-less.

Today I am in such a mood, and the person in focus is Sharon Hously with the article “Free Website Content – My Google Wish List“.

Yes, we’ll be talking about Google again. I’m not a big fan of theirs, but I like what they do. That was my disclaimer. And now we start…

Continue reading “Disagreeing with Sharon Housley on Google”

Typosquatting hack

I’ve been hearing a lot about typosquatting recently. Typosquattting is a method bad guys use to make money on the Internet. What they do is they get a list of popular domain names, like Google.com and Yahoo.com, then figure out which are the most common ways people mistype these addresses, and then they register those mistyped domain names and use them for making money by displaying advertising banners and redirecting to other web sites.

If you think about it for a second, there are a few types of typing mistakes which are easier to make. Missing a character, typing a couple of characters in the wrong order (‘teh’ instead of ‘the’), typing a sticky character (‘nn’ instead of ‘n’), or hitting a wrong key on the keyboard (‘u’ instead of ‘i’). All these mistakes are easy to predict and, thus, use for typosquatting.

While I was thinking about it, I decided to try it out – write a small script that will check how many mistyped domains are there and how many of them are already registered. It turned out, the script was extremely easy to write – I started with it with my morning coffee and finished it before the coffee got cold. It took about altogether about 8 minutes, so don’t jump too hard on it.

domain_finder.pl

Requirements

You won’t need a lot to try it out – perl interpreter, Net::Domain::ExpireDate module (get it from CPAN), and Internet connection.

How to use

In the simplest form you can just run the script like this:

./domain_finder.pl google

You’ll see a whole bunch of variations on how to mistype “google”, and the status of .com domain for each of these variations.

For more control, check the script’s source code. You can easily make it more silent or more verbose, check domains in other TLDs, and create your own rules for typing mistakes.

How does it work

The script takes a single parameter – the domain that you want to check, without the TLD part. It then creates all variations of this domain with the following mistakes:

  • Missing character. For each character in the domain, the script will generate a variant without it.
  • Swapped characters. For each character in the domain, the script will generate a variant with this character and next character changing positions.
  • Sticky character. For each character in the domain, the script will generate a variant with this character entered twice in a row.
  • Wrong keyboard key. For each character in the domain, the script will generate variants with all characters-neighbors on a QWERTY keyboard.

All these variants will be sorted and dups removed. After that, each variant will be checked with (pre-configured) TLD part appended to it. If the resulting domain is registered, than the expiration date will be printed out. If the domain is not registered, it will be indicated as such.

Conclusion

With this tool in my hands, I tried a whole bunch of domains – from “google” to “mamchenkov”. What can I say? I suspected that typosquatting is a big problem, but I could never imagine how big it was.

Here are some numbers to give you an idea (we all love stats, don’t we?):

  • “google” generates 48 variants. All registered.
  • “yahoo” generates 41 variants. All registered.
  • “microsoft” generates 78 variants. All registered.
  • “slashdot” generates 68 variants. 42 registered.
  • “digg” generates 33 variants. All registered.
  • “cnn” generates 17 variants. All registered.
  • “wikipedia” generates 80 variants. 78 registered.
  • “linux” generates 39 variants. 28 registered.
  • “blogging” generates 62 variants. 24 registered.
  • “cyprus” generates 51 variants. 18 registered.

NOTE: I’ve been checking these only in .com TLD and I used pretty simple typing mistakes. For example, hax0r-style typing is not included in my rules.

The tool turned out to be quite handy. I might even convert it into a web service, so that domain owners could easily check if they are victims of typesquatting or not (yet).

Feel free to use the script for good causes.

Killing the Apache load with KeepAlive

Over the weekend, Apache web server went nuts and bolts, pushing server load average to 10, 11, 12, 14, 15… I even got the notification from the hosting company that they see some abnormal behaviour on my node. Looking for a quick fix, I scrolled through default configuration looking for some way to instantly improve performance. Gladly, I found it. I had to uncomment three lines:

KeepAlive On
MaxKeepAliveRequests 100
KeepAliveTimeout 15

What these lines do is they tell Apache to keep the connection for another 15 seconds after the request was served, waiting for more requests from the same client. And just for garbage collection reasons, the maximum number requests over the same connection is set 100.

It turned out that this does magic for my setup.