Maldives on Windows Vista!

Most people who use Windows XP can remember the particular set of pictures that comes bundled with the default install - we see it everytime we open the My Pictures folder. Windows Vista comes with a larger number of photos, some for use as Desktop Wallpapers and some just categorized as Sample pictures. I was setting my desktop wallpaper today when I noticed something I hadn't noticed before - an eerily familiar looking picture. A quick look at the photo's properties revealed why it had set off bells in my head - there it was in the photo title: "A dock at sunset on White Sands Island in the Maldives". It was a picture from the Maldives! Specifically, it was a picture from the White Sands Resort, which I had just been to last year.

As a Maldivian, I think we'd all feel warm and fuzzy seeing this picture distributed with Vista and maybe used as a desktop on Microsoft's new desktop range. ;-)

A dock at sunset on White Sands Island in the Maldives - Photographer: Angelo Cavalli.

Microsoft Photosynth

It was only a few days ago that I raved about Microsoft's Vista and here again I am going to rave about another of Microsoft's latest creations: Microsoft Photosynth. The technology is currently development but Microsoft made a public tecnology preview available on its Live Labs pages late last year.

Photosynth is an application where a pool of photographs of a place are analysed and a 3D view is contructed using the 2D world portrayed in the photos. The photos can be of different sizes, quality and can be one of any of the overall picture. The technology allows the user to "Fly" through the reconstruction, zoom in, walk in all directions and is an as immersive experience as it can get. The technology is pretty innovative because it is able to use normal photographs which may very well be taken by different people at different times and then compile them in such a way that a scene is constructed in 3D.

I was pretty impressed when I saw it around the time it was released but it was only recently that I spent sometime reading the technology behind it. Computer vision algorithms calculate the perspectives, pattern recognition methods indentify and tag images on unique features and then all of it is mashed up together to give a smooth viewing experience. Some things are impressive from looks and some become even more impressive when you learn a bit of how it all works!

- Check out the Photosynth homepage
- View the intro video

Windows Vista - my new OS!

People have been bashing Microsoft's latest incarnation of its popular operating system, Windows Vista, ever since its conceptual stages. I don't know what people were expecting of the new operating system but some people claim that Vista is a disappointment. Me? I beg to disagree!

Some of Microsoft's OSes have indeed been dodgy, like Windows 95 or 98. However, of late, their software have been better and a lot more stable. Windows 2000 was pretty solid as a server OS. Windows XP was a decent OS for home and office use. I've used all of Microsoft's OS at some point in time although Windows 2000 and Windows 2003 has served as my main workhorse OS(es) for the past 6 or so years. Windows 2003 Server is undoubtedly the most stable Windows release, atleast in my experience. Despite it being a server OS, I used it for all my work on my laptop and since I keep my laptop switched on throughout the day I can say it goes without crashing or needing a restart for weeks. Since I move around quite a bit, I rely on the "hibernate" feature to retain the machine's state and Windows 2003 do well in that department to help me keep my work uninterrupted. I consider that more than acceptable performance as an OS...

I moved from Windows 2003 to Windows Vista last week after Microsoft included the Vista Business edition DVD in the list of Microsoft software that is downloadable to our university students via the Microsoft Academic Alliance program. I thought I'd jump the chance and grab my own copy of Vista since it comes with my own key so that I can avoid the registration and activation hassles that we, the pirate software ridden Maldivians, usually have to put up with :-P. I chose to go for a clean install rather than an upgrade as Vista has quite a few issues with "older" software. Starting afresh also gave me a chance to get rid of the accumulated mess that I've made now and then. :-P

Vista installed automatically and uneventfully after a short wizard driven process of collecting the information it wanted. My laptop booted straight into Windows and Vista had picked up and installed all the drivers except for the built-in Bluetooth module. What becomes apparent from the first boot is the shift toward a more graphical user interface. The new Aero skin gives Vista a visibly different feel to that of XP/2003 and the various graphical enhancements make for some good eye candy. Font smoothing, the technology that makes fonts looks so much better, is now enabled by default unlike previous versions - it's something I always had enabled manually in previous Windows'es. But it wasn't the looks of Vista that impressed me - it was the added options, the extra utilities and bits of software that has been integrated and united into the OS that really caught me eye. Windows Explorer, the taskbar, the Control Panel, the administration options etc have undergone changes. The security options have been beefed up - an adequate firewalling solution comes in the form of Windows Firewall and spyware/rogueware protection is offered by Windows Defender. The image viewing program has improved, although it is still not in the same league as ACDSee. Networking has been enhanced - Windows automatically figures out the network, finds nearby devices and has extensive Wifi support. Voice recognition and control is available out-of-the-box and is effective throughout the OS. There is also built in support for mobile devices via the cool new Windows Mobile Device Center which allows me to sync with my mobile phone easily. Fax, scanning and CD burning is available by default. A contacts manager and a calendaring program is also now available with the default install. The boot (and resume from hibernation) time has also increased significantly.

Anyway, enough of sugar-coating Vista. It's been a week since I moved to it, I've had my laptop switched on all the time as usual and Vista has remained stable thus far. If you are looking to move to Vista, do so by all means as long as your computer fits the hardware requirements.


Recover deleted files

Almost all computer users encounter times when they wish they hadn't deleted the file they just did so moments ago. Sometimes files disappear in weird program crashes - something which happened to me tonight. Sometimes it is done accidentally. Sometimes you need to spy on someone. Whatever the occasion, recovering the deleted file can be extremely handy and might save hours of work.

The good news is that deleted files CAN be easily recovered. It is possible to do so even if you deleted the file permanently, even if you emptied up the Recycle Bin and sometimes even if you formatted the disk. This applies for more or less all popular read/write storage systems with the exception of CDs and DVDs. The recovery process requires special software to accomplish the task but fortunately such software is freely available and are quite easy and straightforward to use. Usage typically follows in the form of selecting which disk to try recover files from and then letting the software do a "low level" scan of the disk. After a while, the software will list out the files on the system including any found deleted files. Files can then be selected and saved.

My particular favourite for the task is Handy Recovery 1.0. It is freeware and is available for download from the vendor's website. It has an uncluttered interface, is easy to use and did a good job of helping me recover some (accidentally :p) deleted assignment work tonight!

How to boost and extend Wifi network coverage

An increasing number of people in the Maldives have adopted the wireless networking technology, Wifi, as their preferred mode of computer networking to connect together the computers at office and home environments. The wire-less nature of Wifi allows people to easily and cheaply setup a network that covers their home (and neighbours) for gaming and sharing internet. Sadly, the rich presence of metal constructs (iron rods in buildings, tin roofing etc), tend to scatter and attenuate the signal considerably.

One of the best ways to increase the signal and extend coverage is to use a Wifi antenna. Nevertheless, Wifi antennas do not come cheap and are not usually available in the shops in Male'. I am an avid DIYer and in my experience, constructing a Wifi antenna yourself is cheap and yields results as good as most commercial products.

There are many designs of antennas that are suitable for Wifi use. A Cantenna is a type of antenna for Wifi use that became quite famous a couple of years ago and remains a favourite among the DIY community. My favourite, however, is the Bi-Quad. It is compact and gives about 12 dBi gain in signal. A bi-quad can be made using just a single, small piece of copper plate/sheet and copper rod/wiring - both of which are easily obtained from several hardware stores in Male'. I bought them for less than MRF 100/- total in September this year. Assembling the antenna would require a soldering iron and would take about half an hour at most. You may connect the antenna directly to a wire or have a connector on the antenna so that you can use any commercial pigtail connector to attach it to the wifi card or access point. Remember to double check all dimensions and connections before connecting the final product to the wifi gear. Use NetStumbler to check the signal strength change.

There are many resources on the net detailing bi-quad antenna construction for the 2.4Ghz range. Check out the following links if you are interested in building one:

Have fun ;-)

1ft x 0.5ft copper sheet

Copper rods and a completed bi-quad loop

Free trip to the 8th Asia OSS Symposium in Indonesia

I just got informed today of the upcoming 8th Asia Open Source Software Symposium scheduled to be held in Bali, Indonesia from February 13 to 15, 2007. They are also holding a code fest and a localization workshop along with the conference. They are offering to sponsor one participant to attend the event. More details are to be available on their website soon.

Anyone keen to represent Maldives at the event should hook up with one of the technology related non-profit organizations in operation. I've forwarded the mail to the Maldivian Linux User Group (MLUG) since they are the only Open Source related entity in the Maldives that I am aware of. Hopefully they can take initiative and help prepare and send someone off to represent Maldives at the event.

Anyway, spread the word! Get someone to hitch on this free trip and make a notable appearance on behalf of the Maldives ;-)

Dear Asia OSS Symposium Members,

It has been a loooong while since the 7th Asia OSS Symposium in KL, Malaysia, hope you all are fine. This is Tomoko Asai @ CICC.

Center of International Cooperation for Computerization (CICC), and Institute Technology Bandung (ITB), together with
Ministry of Research and Technology Indonesia, Ministry of Communication & Information Indonesia, and The Institute of Engineers, Indonesia (PII) will hold the 8th Asia Open Source Software Symposium in Indonesia.

Date will be from Feb 13 to 15, 2007 at Bali for the Asia OSS Symposium, together with the CodeFest from Feb 11 to 12 at Bandung, and Localization Workshop on Feb. 12 evening at Bali.

For the 8th Asia OSS Symposium, we would like to nominate 2-3 participants from each economy (19 economies) ;
1) One Full-Funded participant (supported by CICC). Those who will be entitled only for public or non-profit organization, not for commercial company people.
2) Private participants (supported by own expenses)

The deadline of nominating the participants, as well as the detail of the theme and concept for the symposium, will be announced very soon. Also website will be updated soon.

Thanks & Best Regards,
Asai Tomoko (Ms.)
Center of the International Cooperation for Computerization (CICC)
International Information Technology Lab.
Add: 3 Fl., NBF Ogawamachi Bldg.,
1-3-1 Ogawamachi, Kanda, Chiyodaku, Tokyo 101-0052
Tel: +81-3-5283-0811 Fax: +83-3-5283-0808
mailto:[email protected] /

Self Organising Maps

I got reminded of Self Organising Maps(SOMs) at last week's Neurocomputation lecture. I learnt SOMs last year while on a craze to teach myself about neural nets. They are fascinating little buggers I tell ya!

The knowledge of SOMs had come in pretty handy earlier this year when I designed and programmed a blog analyzer/classifier intended to be contributed to the project. The "classifier" part utilized SOMs to do the magic. However, sadly, I never got around to finishing an "analyzer" (which does the text and language processing) that I was happy with and soon enough my interest waned out and the effort died. I will probably tackle it sometime soon, now that my interest has been rekindled :-P Anyway, onto SOMs...

What are SOMs?
Self Organising Maps, also known as Kohonen networks in honour of its inventor, are a very interesting type of (artificial) Neural Network. It features an input neuron layer that is directly mapped to all the output layer neurons - where the output neurons are represented as being arranged as a grid.

A SOM when presented with training data, is able to train itself in such a way that "similar" data is placed closed together on the grid. By "similar" I refer to the manner in which any number of the attributes of the input data can be represented on the output by mapping the variation of the attributes. Any type of data that can be broken down or converted to a vector of numbers so that it can be mathematically manipulated can be fed to the input of a SOM. Possible input data may include text blocks, books, images, surveys etc. This makes SOMs extremely powerful and useful as a tool for making a simple 2D/3D representation of highly complex, multi-dimensional data.

The algorithm for a SOM is quite simple and very elegant. If you are keen to learn more, try the paper "The Self Organising Map" by the creator Teuvo Kohonen himself. Alternatively, this simpler guide may be more accessible and a shorter read :p

SOM eye candy
One of the coolest demonstrations of an application of a SOM is color classification. In such a setup, a SOM is fed a set of colors - as vectors with components in RGB, CMYK or whatever representation we choose - and set to the task of "organizing" them. At the end of the run, the SOM has the colors all arranged neatly by (mostly) placing similar colors close to each other.

Here is a simple sample case where I fed a SOM a collection of 80 random colors.

Random 80 colors.

I then set the SOM to churn and after 500 ticks the output has the output grid has the colors neatly arranged!

Post SOM run...

Interesting stuff eh?