Monday, January 18, 2010

My pencil arts - #6 - Einstein

First and last are scanned ones. The second one is a photo.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Privacy is more and more a concern

I was really taken aback when I read this news this week that the Facebook CEO says "Privacy is no longer a concern" and that "sharing information online is the new social norm"! I'm shocked and I'm not sure if he really thought of anything more than running his own business successfully. I think the reality is "social networking is the new norm and privacy is becoming a concern more and more. Facebook/Orkut should ensure privacy of the information".

That said, I do not under-estimate the complexity of the problem they have on hand. It is not as easy as it sounds (if it did). Bringing up literacy on -- privacy of confidential information, the way the data leaks, do's and dont's, is more than difficult in reality. The fundamental problem as I said earlier in one of my posts is that, the users are mostly common men. No one can blame them; there are many such cases in real life. I still drive my car without knowing how a Common-Rail-Diesel-Engine (CRDI) works -- but there I never had/have to. Hmm, that's not the case with the Internet.

I see so many issues around with more and more social networking platforms coming up with more and more vulnerabilities. Sure, the social networking sites provide a means to collaborate and share info; but how many of us ensure that the info we share reaches "only" the people we intend to share with!! and that's where the problem is. There is so much private info shared all over these sites, that I bet, you can unlock one (out of say 200) of your friends' mailbox using 'forgot password' feature just by visiting their profile. We can't blame the email providers, as if they go any stricter than this, the actual user doesn't remember them too to recover his own password! Still, the email providers are forced to come up with more and more security options. If this is the case with a mailbox, imagine banking!! omg! Don't be surprised if you are asked with a security question like 'who is the best friend of your father-in-law's second sister's husband?' ;)

People are so happy to have more and more online friends. The "count" is all that counts. What they don't think about is that, people whom they don't know are also going to be treated equally with their best friends in terms of sharing info. Sure, the websites offer granularity and options to group friends and control the privacy settings. But how many know it / use it? Not many. Apparently, the ones who are consciously handling the privacy settings are the ones who share the least already! And all this does not happen consecutively for someone to remember. I might add 5 friends this week and I might end up sharing a confidential information after 6 months. I may not remember that I had those totally "online" (and possibly virtual) friends, but they now have the info that I don't want them to know. In spite of the websites (like facebook/orkut) warning the users, it is difficult to enforce this. Users are mostly in a hurry to share and go read what others have shared. At some point, the users only look for an easy way to get rid of that popup and get back to business -- unfortunately defeating the whole idea of those warnings!! but that's reality. Sometimes I feel really odd when I see the privacy setting for 'friends of friends' -- this doesn't make sense to me at all. In spite of you being extra careful on sharing info, this might just screw up the entire deal. To me, a friend of my friend should belong to 'Everyone'. In security, one should consider the worst case as default.

I've read and also realized that there is a lot of encroachment happening into the privacy of the individuals without they knowing about it. It seems there is a concept catching up called 'virtual friends' wherein, bots (computer programs) try to create friendships with unknown people. There was also a study that says many people have the tendency to accept unknown online friends. I can tell you that recently the number of friend requests that I get on both orkut/facebook have increased and believe me, I don't know most of them. With more and more real people having funny names on their profiles, it is obviously getting easier for bots to deceive us. I might have rejected some real friend requests because they sounded abnormal. Maybe someone (or many) somewhere is making the grounds; silently gathering info; or waiting to.

and someone out there says privacy is no longer a concern!! hmmm...

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Various video interfaces and their qualities

There are so many types of video interfaces (ie., cables) that we come across every other day and not everyone understands what they are. It is essential to understand them, so we can use the best option that we have. There is definitely differences in the video quality and because these standards have evolved over time, not all video devices (be it a TV or a video player) have all available options. This has enforced the recent device manufacturers to support a variety of video interfaces, thus they ensure backward compatibility with the other end (a TV or a player). Unfortunately this has brought in confusion to the common people when they just look at the back of their new LCD TVs. Those olden days TV would just have one RF cable input, nothing else!! Gone are those days! Now, if you look at a modern TV, there are whole bunch of outputs (yes, including that RF cable input), and it isn't easy to choose the right cable to use for your need unless you understand what it means. Thanks to all those unique swanky colors, that lets us easily identify them on two devices.

It so happens that if both your devices (player/TV) are recent ones, you will have many choices. At that point, it becomes important to use the right one. Here are the various cables in the increasing order of their quality:

1. RF coaxial cable: This is the old one, that used to run from the Antenna on the terrace. This has the least quality. The TV Tuners for computer are exactly meant to decode this input. Carries both audio and video.

2. Composite (RCA): This is the most popular yellow plug thingy. Composite cable offers more quality than the coaxial ones. This is so very popular that, people still use this for video signals even when they have better options. That said, even today, this is still the most available option (in India). Many lower end DVD players/TVs only support till Composite. Carries only Video.

3. S-Video: The name apparently derives from the phrase 'Separated-Video'. In S-Video, the video signal is mainly separated into two parts: Chrominance (color) and Luminance (light intensity) signals. This offers much better clarity while solving some shortcomes in the composite signal. S-Video cable appears as a single cable, but has multiple terminals within it. Quality better than Composite. Not so commonly seen/used on TVs/players. Carries only Video.

4. Component: As it's name indicates, component video carries various components of the video separately. It is an enhancement over S-Video, by splitting the video signal into Chrominance (color) and 2 Luminance (light intensity) signals. And the luminance signal carries the subtraction of luminance and the Chrominance (Y). The signal is carried via 3 cables (Green, Blue and Red). The component video input/output is usually marked with Y, PB/CB, PR/CR. The second and third channels are actually B-Y, and R-Y respectively. This subtraction method reduces the bandwidth requirement and offers much more clarity than any earlier ones. This is becoming increasingly available these days (my Tata Sky Plus STB has component out). The clarity is apparent (against Composite/S-Video) when the size of the display is bigger and when the source of the signal is digital (note: Component signal is not digital, it is analog; I'm talking about the source of the signal, say MPEG2/4 as in DTHs). There is also a RGB Component video, which carries the R, G and B signals separately in 3 cables; but unless qualified with RGB, a Component video means the normal one. Quality better than all the above. Carries only Video.

5. DVI: Acronym for Digital Visual Interface / Digital Video Interconnect. Provides really high bandwidth to transfer high quality video including full-HD (1080p @ 1920x1080). DVI uses a single high quality cable with a number of internal lines. DVI has a quality much superior than that of component video too. DVI does not carry audio signal -- usually a preferred interface for computer to high resolution LCD monitors.

6. HDMI: Acronym for High Definition Multimedia Interface. There are various revisions on this video standard and this is the state-of-the-art video interface standard as of today. Unlike DVI, HDMI carries both video and audio. The video quality is just the same as DVI, and it also has provision to carry signals for 8 audio channels!! In addition it also carries a commanding control line (called CEC - Consumer Electronics Control) which allows the HDMI devices to communicate and command each other. To quote an example, when I turn off my LCD TV, it automatically turns off my Home Theatre (yes, both are connected by HDMI). HDMI-CEC is usually called in different names by different TV/Home theatre manufacturers. For eg., LG calls this SIMPLINK. This is a really high-bandwidth interface and requires a good quality cable for best results -- the cable is pretty costly; as of this writing a good HDMI cable of 3m length costed me Rs.800 in Bangalore. An interesting note is that: DVI and HDMI are compatible with each other at signal levels too, so it is pretty easy to get converters between them -- obviously HDMI-to-DVI will result in loss of information on audio, CEC on the receiving end.

The bottom line is: If you ever have a means to connect via HDMI, just do it! else, follow this ordering by quality and choose the right one. In my home, I have my home theatre connected to my TV via HDMI (I can watch full HD movies with Dolby Digital audio, with just that one cable running between them) and my Tata Sky Plus STB connected to my TV via Component.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Avatar 3D @ Fame Lido

I watched Avatar 3D at Fame Lido, Ulsoor, Bangalore. I took enough time before I went ahead to watch this film, so that I can get enough feedback on the 3D experience from the people who have already watched it. This was essential in Bangalore, because this is the first 3D film screened in commercial screens. Someone had reported bad experience on INOX, Jayanagar; There were lots of negative criticism on Fame Lido Shankarnag (MG Road, Bangalore) -- these were useful and I avoided these two. If not positive review on Fame Lido, at least I didn't read any negative comment on this one - so went ahead.

At the end of the movie, I realized there were various factors involved that affected my movie experience yesterday. So I would have to rate in three different ways:

Avatar 3D:

It was an awesome experience. This is first time I saw a full length 3D movie with 3D effects. The creativity on the various creatures, plants, trees, sceneries was jaw-dropping!! The concept slightly reminded me of The Matrix though. I believe, James Cameroon has consciously stayed away from making funny 3D effects, but concentrated more on making a real 3D film. 3D has been utilized as a tool to make the audience perceive the depth and details of the frame than anything else. I liked that. At some point, we get so involved in that 3D mode; removing the 3D glasses would show you how dumb the movie looks otherwise!

Fame Lido:

The theatre is located in Lido Mall, Ulsoor, Bangalore (near Trinity Circle). Due to the rail bridge construction for namma-metro, finding the mall and getting into the parking entrance is not easy for the first time. What's more? The Box office is on the ground floor and the screens are in 2nd and 4th floors. No indication or whatsoever. I went to the 4th floor directly (thanks to those notices inside the lift), just to learn that I had to collect the tickets at the ground floor. The automatic ticket kiosk was the only rescue. There are just 2 lifts of medium size, no escalator. If you reach the theatre just on time, you are going to be in soup. Parking is very very limited and a big mess. Specially if you reach there on a time when a previous show ends (which is usually the case), you may or may not get a lot. I was fortunate to reach there for the first show. But, it took me at least 20 mins to get out of the parking space. The ticket cost, snacks were all costly to the standards of other high class theatres in Bangalore, but I'm not convinced on the quality front. There was always a long queue in the snacks counter; the restrooms were like caves (albeit clean). The mall is still not complete and there is almost nothing other than the Fame Cinemas and a Coffee Day. I would never go there again, unless there is a compelling reason. There is a fundamental problem with the space and infrastructure, which I'm worried they can't resolve.

Avatar 3D @ Fame Lido:

The experience of watching a 3D movie, definitely changes based on the theatre. I've not watched Avatar 3D in any other theatre, so can't really compare against anything. But overall the experience was not disappointing. I could sense the 3rd D; the sound quality was good. The 3D glasses weren't of great quality, bit heavy; my nose bone was paining for a while after the film. The biggest issue in Fame Lido (Screen 3) was that the screen was small. When you look at the screen, it does not cover your complete view. This definitely makes a negative impact on a 3D movie -- lacking a complete 3D effect. That said, the quality of projection was good (unlike Fame Lido Shankarnag -- as per comments on the net). Ignoring everything outside the movie hall, the overall movie experience was not bad; but not a first choice theatre for Avatar 3D!