Multi-touch computing: simply amazing!

I was very excited when I first saw the multi-touch-screen technology demo by Jeff Hans on TED Talks earlier this year. Like Jeff said in his talk, it hinted at what new turns the standard human-computer interaction might take in the near future. A lot of different researchers and companies had been working on it for atleast a decade now but Jeff's demo was the first of its kind that I had seen that delivered such an impressive and seemingly feature-complete product. However, since it was just a technology demo I expected to be left to drool at this marvel till the technology is perfected and hit the market in a few years.

It really didn't occur to me that such products may hit the market as soon as this year. So, I was very surprised when Microsoft recently announced their Surface computing device for release in November! Their "Surface" product delivers the full multi-touch computing experience with an interaction surface area that of a coffee table. Apparently, it can track upto 52 touch points and can even recognize objects placed on it. The product essentially follows similar technology to what was demoed at TED Talks by Jeff. But what really astounded me was the technology demos that Microsoft and technology reviewers have published on the product. Microsoft seems to have done a lot of mock applications to show how the multi-surface interface can be used and exploited towards a radically fresh computing experience. This really is a case of seeing is believing (and being impressed) and requires a look at the demo videos.

Sadly though, with the product's supposed price tag of around US$ 5000, it really packs a blow to the wallet. The price will certainly go down as more multi-touch devices from other companies appear on the market. Apple has already incorporated multi-touch technology on their soon-to-be-released iPhone but will deliver the multi-touch experience at a smaller scale.

Check out the video below of Microsoft's Surface - there's more on YouTube. If anyone would like to give me a spontaneous gift for any reason, I surely wouldn't mind receiving one of these babies! ;-)

Why do men have nipples?

The male nipple - it is something most of us take for granted. "It is there because it is there!". Every other part of the human seems to serve some purpose, each specialized to perform a particular function. As a kid, I pondered over many such mundane things and the male nipple was a baffling one. I didn't get a satisfactory answer or rather any real answer, from anyone. It really wasn't the sort of question you could ask just anybody. A Maldivian primary school teacher would most certainly have laughed at a student who asked such a 'silly' question and would most likely not know of a proper answer anyway. I had had some bitter encounters while in the primary school educational system and had learnt to not ask unwanted questions (I remember being ridiculed for stating Newton's third law of motion - for every action there is an equal but opposite reaction - AND being laughed at for saying that all it takes to make a navigational compass is a magnet and that they work on the principle of the attraction to the magnetic field of the earth). Since this was before the Internet was publicly available in the Maldives and knowledge had to be meticulously extracted from books and large encyclopaedias. To my disappointment, none of the latter that I had shed any light on the matter...

It maybe most obvious why women have nipples but why do men too sport those two so familiar dots on their chests? Is it an element of deliberate design? Placed there for aesthetics? Are they left over remnants on the male body from a time when they weren't so redundant? Has it something to do with the specifics of genetics? The male nipple is one oddity that, in my view atleast, deserves an answer. After all, it is such oddities that often shed greater understanding of ourselves and the world around us!

What do YOU think the answer is?

Anyway, if it tickles your interest, here are some answers that may help you put the question to rest.
- Quite a thorough scientific answer at Scientific American: Ask the Experts
- A shorter answer at A moment of science - Indiana University

Maldives Police Service Wanted Person Notice Generator

Google has a "20% time" policy that encourages their employees to spend working on creating something of their own choosing. Me, I spend a little time each day on doing something entirely, horribly and grotesquely useless. Anyway, here is something I whipped up today within a few minutes that I just had to waste while cramming for an exam in the afternoon...

The Maldives Police Service (MPS) website has a web page displaying the people on their "Wanted" list. The MPS was considerate enough to provide a (totally pointless?) facility to let people print out any of the "Wanted" person notices - a page that prominently displays the person's photo and bears the title "Hoadhaa meeheh". My interest in the page, however, is that there is a programming glitch on the page (XSS vulnerability to be precise) that paves the way for some naughty fun. This bug would have been pretty mundane and practically useless were it not on a page as amusing as a "Wanted" persons page on a country's police service website. A demo will better elucidate what I'm talking about: Wanted Notice for MAG at MPS website! (here's a screenshot).

I've created a tiny "Maldives Police Service Wanted Person Notice Generator" that you can use to generate your own "Wanted Person" listing. Copy in the URL of a photo (one of your mates?), type in their name/address/age and hit the "Generate" button. It will show a link that when viewed, crafts the page as you desire right on the MPS website. This (trick) should continue to work as long as they leave the bug unfixed.

Hmm, I hope my bum doesn't get whooped for this...

Update (19 May): They've fixed the bug and left a lovely note for me :-P

Disclaimer: These generated links don't bring any permanent change to the MPS website and are viewable as such only by using these specially crafted URLs. Use at your own risk...

Thank Goat for the milk

Apparently we humans are the only mammalians kinky enough to drink the milk produce from animals other than our own species. Cow's milk is squeezed out of their udders everyday all year around to feed the millions who are hungry for a little bit of milk. I used to be one of those consumers, drinking dairy milk since I was young like everyone else but as I grew older it started making me queasy and vomitish. Eventually, I bid farewell to raw milk, powdered milk, cheese, milk rich cakes and everything else with cow's milk including my beloved yoghurts. I realized that I must have either a milk allergy or had possibly become lactose intolerant.

I had tried a few of the milk alternatives (often used by vegans), namely soy milk and rice milk, but none of it appealed to my taste buds. I had been off milk almost entirely until few weeks ago when I decided to give goat's milk a go. I was pleasantly surprised to find that its actually pretty good! Needless to say, goat's milk cartons have since managed to earn a comfy spot in my fridge. It tastes as good, has almost the same nutrient composition as that which the cows eject out of their mammary glands and most importantly it doesn't give me any bit of trouble. So here's to the goats and their milk. If it weren't for them, I wouldn't be drinking this cup of "kiru sai". Thank you!

Possessed by demons: A true story

Since I wrote about Jinns in my last post, I thought I'd follow up with this...

While at the Centre For Higher Secondary Education (Male', Maldives), I heard of this student who supposedly had been possessed by a jinn/demon and had to spend three months away from school. The school newspaper (called "CentrEye"), for which I was the editor then, immediately took an interest in getting his experiences published (we knew it would be a bit hit - our front page story!). He narrated everything in detail, right from the time that the demon Jinn started harassing him, how the demon eventually took possession of his body and the experiences that he was subjected to and how he came out of it all.

I had listened intently as he recalled the events and we shot questions to clear up this and that. The guy was very sincere in his belief in the events that had happened and had a pretty coherent story to tell. He was in almost all respects the normal sort of guy - friendly, kind and very entertaining. I was very much intrigued by the tale, especially since I was then pretty much accepting of the possibility of the existence of these so-called "supernatural beings"...

His experiences were published in 3 instalments, beginning with the Feb 2001 issue of the paper. Credits go to the original writers - the first instalment was written by Afu but the rest were written by the possessed himself. Here is the first 2 with the original text and has been converted to a PDF with some formatting applied for looks. I can't find the 3rd part but will put up when/if I find it...

- Possessed by Demons: A true story (Part 1)
- Possessed by Demons: A true story (Part 2)

Web Operating Systems: a personal review...

There are Web OSes springing up on the internet left and right these days. The web operating system, in its broadest definition, includes everything from complete browser based operating-system-like environments to terminal access-like services. I've been keeping a keen eye on the developments, partly because I think it will become one the next big raves on the internet and partly because I find such a services quite useful.

The currently active Web OS services all have free sign up available or at least demo versions for try-outs. Here are a few I've jumped through:


I quite liked the looks of Oos although I must say it is very very basic and very much incomplete for the moment. However, their interface loads fast, is clean and uncluttered. They've gone to lengths to copy the Windows looks and styles though and may not settle with die-hard users of other OSes.
- Oos homepage


EyeOS is an open source project towards the development of a web operating system and has the source available for download, allowing you to install it on your own site or intranet. The basic package has office, PIM and some utilities bundled in the download. They have a separate website EyeApps where further "applications" for EyeOS can be found.
- EyeOS homepage


This is one of the more famous of the current bunch of WebOSes despite not being the best. There are a few applications available on it - a text editor, an instant messenger, notes app and a couple more utilities. The interface isn't too pleasing and the menu systems aren't that user friendly either. That said, it is quite usable though if all you want is the very basics.
YouOS homepage


AstraNOS failed to impress me a single bit. The interface was ugly and cluttered and lacked any decent feature. Their approach seems to be more towards amalgamating existing independent web services and applications and provide links for those services. Seems like just another WebOS attempt which totally fails to hit any mark, in my humble opinion.
- AstraNOS homepage


DesktopTwo is definitely one of the better web OSes around. There is a number of simpler web-based applications (e.g. an instant messenger, mail application, address book, mp3 player) available in addition to the full OpenOffice package and Acrobat Reader applications which seem to be instantiated separately via VNC connections. The interface uses Adobe Flash and is quite pretty and usable. They also offer 1GB of storage space for free to get started.
- Desktoptwo homepage


This WebOS is totally based on the Windows looks - Windows XP to be more exact. There are a few applications such as a HTML editor, a text editor and some utilities available already. This is a commercial product, although I can't really see why anyone would want to purchase this... Ahem.
- Fenestela homepage


Glide is definitely one of the better and more feature rich WebOSes around. A text editor, music player, email, calendar, contacts and even a photo editor application are available. They also provide 2 GB of free storage space. I'd use this as soon as I get over my disgust for their appalling interface!
- Glide homepage


An open source project that seems to be producing a quite impressive platform. It is a multi-user web OS software that is available for download and comes complete with user management, access control as well as a content management system. It maintains separate user directories and individual desktop environments. It is quite feature rich with office applications, calender, development applications and has a number of settings for controlling the operations and looks of the desktop environment.
- CorneliOS homepage


Goowy is far from being gooey and sports a pretty and very nifty interface. At the moment is has instant messenger, email, calendar, contacts and files management features available. Sadly, it is missing an office package which I reckon should be essential to any web OS. They have a feature called minis, which are basically widgets/gadgets that perform little utility tasks or as information displays. Goowy makes itself less lucrative thanks to the lack of the office package and may well be gooey for now feature-wise.
- Goowy homepage


One of the worst Web OSes I've come across! It's done in all Adobe Flash, extremely slow and buggy. Nuff said.
- SSOE homepage


DoD takes a different approach to a web OS in that theirs is not browser based but rather provides a remote terminal access to a hosted OS environment - one based on Linux and Gnome. Personally, I think this is the best approach to go for creating a Web OS as browser based OSes can be notoriously slow and makes the mistake of relying on the stateless (and inherently vulnerable) HTTP protocol for communications.

The DoD approach provides access to the OS via any NX client and has the option of using a browser based Java plugin as well. They provide 1 GB of free storage and the data can be accessed without entering the OS by using their web based file manager. NX technology uses compression on its data communications and achieves surprising performance. The DoD desktop was as fast as, if not faster than, using any of the browser based web OSes listed above, atleast on my broadband connection. DoD also benefits from NX's use of SSH encryption for data communications making it a very safe way to browse. It won't leave any discernible logs, can't be sniffed/tapped easily and you can store data and browse/chat without leaving any traces behind on the computers that are used to access it. These are great plus points when considering using a practical web OS that is can be accessed from anywhere and is safe.

There is a useful set of applications available as well: office apps, GIMP, instant messenger, browser, video/music player etc. This is my favourite for now and I reckon many others will like this one - especially the Linux fans!
- DesktopOnDemand homepage


CosmoPOD takes the same approach as DesktopOnDemand by providing remote terminal access to a KDE-based Linux desktop. CosmoPOD provides a lot more applications bundled in with their service: there is the complete OpenOffice package, IRC/IM clients, mail/newsgroup readers, project/money management software, web development package, a programming IDE, raster/vector graphics editors and a bunch of the usual KDE utilities as well. This alone makes this one of the most desirable web/online OS services around!

CosmoPOD also provides 1 GB free storage and an online browser based file manager that can be accessed without using the NX client.

Sad thing is the free offering is annoyingly slow and also shows advertising banners on the desktop. They do offer the option of switching to a premium service that gives fast access, more applications and control.
- CosmoPOD homepage

Enjoy :-)

Eigenvectors behind Google PageRank

Google publishes a whole lot of interesting papers regularly at their Research Publications page. I tend to check up now and then since they do quite a bit of research regarding machine learning and artificial intelligence - my great love interests :-P. Anyway, today I came across a simple paper published elsewhere on the use of Eigenvectors in Google's PageRank algorithms. It is an interesting read - would be more so for anyone with a bigger fancy for mathematics and a crush on Google.

The $25,000,000,000 Eigenvector: The linear algebra behind Google

Abstract. Google’s success derives in large part from its PageRank algorithm, which ranks the importance of webpages according to an eigenvector of a weighted link matrix. Analysis of the PageRank formula provides a wonderful applied topic for a linear algebra course. Instructors may assign this article as a project to more advanced students, or spend one or two lectures presenting the material with assigned homework from the exercises. This material also complements the discussion of Markov chains in matrix algebra. Maple and Mathematica files supporting this material can be found at

Grab the paper at