CyberNet News – Blog of the Week

CyberNet News describes itself as a technology news website but it reads more like a blog to me which is heavily biased towards Vista, Firefox and cool little applications for Windows.

Part if the reason I love it is because it’s biased towards topics which I love and doesn’t spend too long covering parts of technology which in my opinion, are irrelevent. The blog is well illustrated with images and screenshots and there is a lot of commentary and opinion which is really interesting.

As well as technology news, there is also a daily "CyberNotes" feature which provides an alternative view on technology. Each day, the CyberNote article is on a different topic:

  • Million Dollar Mondays – Expensive technologies.
  • Time Saving Tuesday – Tips and tricks to save time.
  • Web Browser Wednesday – How to get the best out of your web browser.
  • Tutorial Thursdays – How-to guides, etc.
  • Free for all Friday
  • Weekend Warrior – Cool technologies to help you with your travels.

Types of Blogs

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been churning out a lot less blog posts mainly because I’ve been so busy and I’ve not had much to write about – partially because I haven’t seriously coded in a while. I certainly think it’s a good thing to keep a blog but writing a text blog isn’t for everyone. I’ve been experimenting with linkblogs and photoblogs recently.

Linkblogs

If you come across interesting articles and sites on the internet and want to share it with your friends, a linkblog can be a good idea. Sites such as Del.icio.us and Ma.gnolia.com make it dead easy. Just install the Firefox extension or the bookmarklet and you can bookmark the page and add a short comment in a few seconds. It’s almost no effort to maintain a linkblog and it’s fantastic for finding those cool links you came across a few days ago.

I’m probably adding about 8 links a day to my linkblog at http://del.icio.us/khlo. You can subscribe to a RSS feed just like you can do with blogs.

Photoblogs

Sites such as Flickr are perfect for photo blogs. If you carry your mobile phone or camera around with you lot and you just love to capture images or capture the moment, photo blogging can be really fun. I set up a Flickr account a week or two ago uploading a couple of photos and it’s been really nice getting some feedback and comments on the photos.

And of course a picture is worth a thousand words and can record life a lot better than a normal blog could.

You can subscribe to RSS feeds of individual users on Flickr which makes it dead convenient for your friends to keep up with you.

Video Blogs

Not tried video blogging yet but I’m sure it’s great fun. There’s no shortage of video bloggers on Youtube including Geriatric, Lonely Girl 15 and The Pine Cone. Video blogging will require a webcam, a ton of confidence and maybe quite a bit of time but I’m sure it’s quite rewarding and good fun too.

Argggh

If I read another article about the Google purchase of Youtube, I am going to go crazy.

Every single article talks about the same thing and regurgitates the same points – why Google is going to be sued, why YouTube isn’t a great place for advertising and about how Youtube’s videos fit in with Google’s mission of indexing the world’s information.

Google and Youtube are great but is a business deal which has very little short-term effect on end-users really important enough to warrant several posts on every single technology blog and a tons of Digg articles?

I really don’t understand the whole obsession with Google

Finding Primes

I’ve been getting into Project Euler a little bit more recently. I found this puzzle really interesting:

By listing the first six prime numbers: 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, and 13, we can see that the 6th prime is 13.

What is the 10001st prime number?

My Original Solver

To my knowledge, there isn’t anyway of telling if a number is prime except from dividing it by all the numbers between 1 and the number and seeing if they are factors. So I implemented the following in Python: 

# Python Script to find 1001th prime number
# Original Method

import datetime
start = datetime.datetime.utcnow()

print '\nOriginal Method'

i = 0
n = 1

while i < 1001:
    n = n + 1
    fail = 0
    for j in range(2,n):
        if n % j == 0:
            fail = 1

    if fail == 0:
        i = i + 1
        #print str(i) + '. ' + str(n)
        if i == 1001:
            print 'The 1001st prime number is ' + str(n)

print 'Time Taken: '+str(datetime.datetime.utcnow() - start)       

Note the script above calculates the 1001st prime rather than the 10001st prime as the challenge states. When I used a similar script to find the 10,001st prime it took quite a long time on my computer so using the 1,001st to benchmark makes it a lot easier. 

Unscientific testing gives the following output after 3 runs (around 21 seconds to solve):

Original Method
The 1001st prime number is 7927
Time Taken: 0:00:18.344000

Original Method
The 1001st prime number is 7927
Time Taken: 0:00:21.047000

Original Method
The 1001st prime number is 7927
Time Taken: 0:00:25.078000

Stopping

I noticed in the above code that even when the script finds a factor of a number, it’d still continue searching every number above that to see if they were factors. I put in a check:

    for j in range(2,n):
        if fail == 0:
            if n % j == 0:
                fail = 1

This gave the following output after 3 runs:

Original Method + Factor Stop
The 1001st prime number is 7927
Time Taken: 0:00:09.547000

Original Method + Factor Stop
The 1001st prime number is 7927
Time Taken: 0:00:11.813000

Original Method + Factor Stop
The 1001st prime number is 7927
Time Taken: 0:00:13.750000

This halved the time it took to find the 1001st prime number.

Square Roots

With the remaining prime numbers, the script was still searching every single number between 1 and that number in order to determine whether it was a factor. For example with 13, there is no point in checking whether 8, 9, 10, 11 or 12 are factors because they would have to be multiplied by a number between 1 and 2 to get 13 and obviously there are no integers between 1 and 2.

After thinking about it, I realised that there was no point in searching any of the numbers greater than the square root of the number. With the number 12, this means you only have to search up to 3.46 (ceil to 4). Sure, 6 is a factor but you need to multiply it by 2 to make 12. Any factor above the square root of the number will have to be multiplied by a factor smaller than the square root to make the number.

I changed the script so it’d only search numbers up to the square root:

    n = n + 1
    fail = 0
    for j in range(2,(n**0.5)+1):
        if fail == 0:

This had a drastic effect on the time required:

Stop at square root method
The 1001st prime number is 7927
Time Taken: 0:00:00.313000

Stop at square root method
The 1001st prime number is 7927
Time Taken: 0:00:00.516000

Stop at square root method
The 1001st prime number is 7927
Time Taken: 0:00:00.453000

From 21 seconds to 0.4 seconds – a speed up of 5000%.

The square root method managed to calculate the 10,001st prime in 11 seconds – a far cry from the 20 minutes or so required using the original script. 

Photography

Whilst reading around the blogs of web designers, programmers and webmasters I’ve noticed that quite a lot of them share a common interest in photography. I really enjoy photography too; I’ve snapped over 500 photos on my new camera since getting it about 2 months ago.

I suspect the reason that photography may be so popular with programmers and web designers is that compared to many other forms of art such as drawing and painting, it is in some ways a more "scientific art". It’s dead easy for beginners to start and for more advanced photographers, you can twiddle around with features such as different ISOs, exposure times and F-numbers to get desired effects. 

I’ve managed to get some quite nice effects on my entry-level digital camera by using the Manual shooting mode and turning the exposure time up to 1 or 2 seconds – this gives quite a nice streak/motion blur effect with cars and other vehicles. When taking a photo of the moon, I used the manual shooting mode to decrease the exposure time in order to capture more detail on the moon.

I came across a set of photography lessons at morguefile.com which are kinda nice. It explains some things such as composition, aperture, shutter speeds and provides some tips on how to take beautiful photographs.

Anyone else into photography? Any particular reasons why you prefer it over other arts (if you do)? 

Boing Boing – Blog of the Week

Boing Boing is a blog which describes itself as "a directory of wonderful things". It’s mainly a link to interesting sights and sites around the internet relating to technology, science, current events, videos and DRM.

It’s only slightly related to technology and many non-geeks can enjoy it as a more useful linkdump. 

According to Wikipedia:

Boing Boing was an influence in the development of the cyberpunk subculture. Common themes include technology, futurism, science fiction, gadgets, intellectual property, Disney and political issues.

Boing Boing has twice won the Bloggies for ‘Weblog of the Year’, in 2004 and 2005.

I’ve been really enjoying this blog recently – it’s a ton more interesting to read than a linkdump because the site writes about the links and often has relevant images. The site’s editors also offer their own commentary.

Geekspeek still baffles geeks

BBC News:

Britons are increasingly tech-savvy but are still bamboozled by tech jargon.

According to research from Nielsen/NetRatings, people are buying cutting-edge technology but often don’t understand the terms that describe what their device actually does.

So while 40% of online Britons receive news feeds, 67% did not know that the official term for this service was Really Simple Syndication.

Terms such as podcasting and wikis are still meaningless to many.

Really Simple Syndication!?!

What the BBC article doesn’t mention is that geekspeek still baffles geeks. RSS could stand for 3 things:

  • RDF Site Summary
  • Rich Site Summary
  • Really Simple Syndication

RSS 2.0 always stands for the latter but I guess the second is also acceptable. RSS 0.9 and 1.0 can stand for either one of the first two. Then there is the Atom camp which sometimes defines RSS as "Really Stupid Syndication".

Podcasting

Then there is podcasting. Apple doesn’t seem to want people to use the term anymore as it’s hurting their trademark on the iPod. Microsoft have in the past called it blogcasting. Creative tried to call it Zencasting. And some people insist on calling it an audio feed or a "Personal On-Demand Broadcast

Acronyms for Fun

I dug up an old blog entry of mine where I listed around 200 technology-related acronyms. If you’ve got a spare few minutes, see how many of them you can decipher

Pandora Internet Radio

Pandora is a cool internet radio service where the music you hear is tailored to what you like. I’ve been a member for several months now but I’ve only really been getting into it recently.

When you first start out, it’ll ask you for the name of a song or artist which you really like. It can sometimes be quite hard trying to think of one artist or song but you can specify a few if you wish.

Pandora 

I’ve been getting really into Nightwish and DragonForce recently so I used these two bands as the initial input for my radio station. Pandora then found similar artists who made similar music and played them on my radio station – often bands who I’ve never even heard of but make some pretty decent music. It’s a great way of discovering new music.

The Pandora interface tells you why it decided to play the song which just came up e.g. "hard rock roots", "subtle vocal harmony", "electric guitar riffs". There seems to be quite a lot of musical stuff behind the scenes to find similar music, but it seems to work really well.

In some ways, it’s similar to Last.fm and Yahoo’s Launchcast. In my experience Pandora is the best out of three.

Last.fm requires you to install a plugin to your media player to "scrobble" your music. The Last.fm player will then play music which it thinks you will like. In my experience it hasn’t worked too well and Last.fm keeps on playing me some random foreign music.

Launchcast used to be pretty good but the limited skipping and adverts became annoying. Additionally, it didn’t work in Firefox (I’m not sure whether things have changed). 

Pandora is really great – it’s flash so works in any browser, it’s ad-free and sounds great (I believe it streams at 128k mp3 quality). You don’t have to rate music; You don’t really have to do anything but to leave it running in a tab and to enjoy the music. Strongly recommended. 

Free Winks and Animated Avatars for MSN Messenger

One of the sillier features of MSN/Windows Live Messenger are the winks and animated display pictures. Winks especially can be quite funny and quite a nice way of saying happy birthday or congratulations to someone. Along with dynamic display pictures (which are animated) , they also have a bit of the "wow, how did ya do that?" effect.

Winks 

Via Mess.be, Kiwee (requires IE) is now offering all of it’s content for free (probably for a limited amount of time). This includes:

  • Dynamic Display Pictures which can be customized to your look and which react to the emoticons you use in your instant messages. They animate too!
  • Winks some of which you can customize and add your own message. Some of them you can upload your own photos too!
  • Custom Emoticons, Backgrounds and Regular Display Pictures – these are normally free to use anyway.

So why not: download a few winks and annoy the hell out of your friends!

P.S. I had to think long and hard about the social implications of this post. I trust that this information will not cause the collapse of civilization as we know it from the amount of junk which is going to be flying around on MSN in the next few days. 

Blogs Replacing Forums?

One thing I’ve kinda noticed over the last few years is how I’ve begun to use forums less every day and blogs more every day. There was a time where I’d be an active member of about 10 forums and I’d spend over an hour every day reading posts and adding my thoughts. Today, I probably spend under 10 minutes a day reading forums and over an hour reading blogs through my feeds and updating my blogs.

In some ways, blogs and feeds have replaced forums for me. Instead of reading forums where I can find out what random people think about random things to do with technology, I choose a few blogs about focused subjects I enjoy reading about – PHP, Linux, Windows, etc. And instead of posting my thoughts or complaints on forums, I now tend to post my thoughts on my blog.

With blogs and RSS feeds to easily consume a lot of blogs, blogs turn the web into one big discussion forum. 

So are blogs really democratizing the web and broadening our horizons? I think not.

  • I tend to read blogs only about PHP so I haven’t a clue what is happening in the ASP or JSP communities. On forums I used to visit, I might have occasionally glanced threads and discussions about ASP and JSP.
  • Blogs are generally focused on the opinions of one person whilst forums are that of the community. With forums, we learn the opinions of the whole community rather than just one person with blogs. It’s possible that we can subscribe to multiple blogs and therefore read multiple opinions but people tend to only read blogs of those people they strongly agree with. Thus, blogs could actually turn a moderate into an extreme fanboy.
  • With blogs, it’s a ton harder to get an audience. You can sign up for a Blogger account and write down your thoughts but no one will be reading it. On a forum, you’ll immediately get an audience because your post and opinion is treated equally with everybody elses posts. On a forum, it doesn’t really matter whether your a first day newbie or seasoned poster. If you’ve been blogging for a long time and you have an audience, your post carries a lot more weight on a blog than a forum.

It’s been said many times that blogs are making it a lot easier for people to share their thoughts giving everybody a level playing field. I wonder whether by replacing forums blogs could also be doing the reverse – making it harder for people starting out to get an audience for their thoughts and easier for seasoned posters (therefore creating a hierarchy). And have blogs really allowed us to expand our horizons or are they doing the exact reverse?