Snap Preview: Good or Bad?

WordPress.com recently started offering Snap Preview for all users and you can see it in action right here. In case you don’t know what Snap Preview is, just hover your mouse over one of the links and you’ll find out. Personally, I really like this and it’s something that I’ve been wanting for quite a while. But it looks like not everyone is happy with this. Fellow WordPress.com blogger Lorelle dislikes Snap Preview saying:

I’ve also stumbled across these link previews and find them not just annoying and distracting but incredibly frustrating. My mouse will drift down as I’m reading and suddenly I can’t read what’s underneath the pop-up window. I move my mouse and it goes away, but why should I waste my wrist action on something I don’t want to see?

In fact, she calls it a blight on the Internet. Now though I don’t quite agree with her exact wording I can understand how this can be irritating. And the points that she makes about load times being increased are certainly valid.

After thinking it over, there are a number of things that come to mind. Firstly it is not an essential feature of a blog or website and it never will be. Is it a useful one? That depends on the user. Personally, I like it. I feel that it gives a slightly more “community” feel. After all, links are the heartblood of the internet and I consider Snap Preview to be a healthy improvement on the existing link system. Another thing that Snap has going for it is it’s customizability. You can turn it off for internal links (links on the same site) and more importantly, you can turn off it’s automatic feature and use it only on links you want to. But you need to have the JavaScript for it handy to do that and unfortunately WordPress.com doesn’t provide that.

If you’re running your own website or blog, you might want to give it a try. Sign up and put the JavaScript in your page headers and keep it there for a week. If you don’t like it or if your visitors complain, you can always remove it. As for this blog, Snap Preview is here for the time being, but I’m open to suggestions. If you have a novel way of using Snap Preview, let me know.

Have a warm Christmas!

    Hello, all. It’s that day of the year again when it’s time to go around spreading good cheer and feeling very happy for no reason in particular. Well I hope you all have a good Christmas and a great new year. For me the next year will be a vrey important one as I’ll be starting college, but I have no idea where (yet). I’m not making any new year resolutions, I never do. But I am restarting my blog from tomorrow (I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve done this) with a nice bright, warm theme. I hope to make this one last as I now have my own computer and internet connection and I intend to make this blog a long term investment.  Of course, it will be a technology oriented blog, along with a healthy dose of my own ideas and other interests. But I’ll leave all that for tomorrow and leave you to your roast turkeys.

Before I go, let me tell all you Tolkien fans out there that you have extra reason to celebrate. According to the Red Book of Westmarch, today was the day that the Fellowship of the Ring set off from Imladris on their quest for Mount Doom and the Cracks of Doom where the One Ring would ultimately. So while you’re all singing your Christmas Carols, take a moment to remember the bravery, suffering and sacrifice of the Fellowship of the Ring.

How I learn to program

Yesterday my friend Rohit asked me (in a comment) how I learn to program, or as he put it, “experiment with languages”. So I’ve decided to pull out my bag tricks and blog about how I learn to program.
There are lots of ways you can learn to program. Attend classes, ask friends, use the Internet, get a book etc. etc. For me, I took on a sort of challenge to learn how to program, without spending any money. So that means paying for classes and books is out of the question. So what do I do?
The first resource I reach for, is quite obviusly, the Internet. The Internet is the greatest repository of human knowledge ever accumulated. So use it. Generally, there should be a .org or a .com site for your language of choice. If there isn’t just Google for it. That itself should turn up enough resources to keep you busy for a week. In case you just want a quick overview of a language, just head over to Wikipedia and look it up. That’ll give you a rough feel of the language and will help you decide if you want to continue or look for another language.
Of course it is very easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of information the net provides you with. A lot of the information you find through Google will probably just confuse you. But there’s a little set of thumb rules that you can use to find the proper resources. Firstly, look for information and tutorials that are put up by people who are actually involved in developing the language. An excellent example would be the Python Tutorial by Python creator Guido van Rossum. Second, don’t look at tutorials that aren’t structured properly. If the document is in a very clumsy and inconsistent format, it will just confuse you. And absolutely avoid tutorials that stress on using a particular IDE, rather than the language itself. You should only worry about IDEs when you know the language very well. Third, a good tutorial or guide should provide a large number of examples and should explain them properly. One of the best ways to learn to program is to read though actual programs. Finally hang around forums, mail lists and the like. Not only are these good places to ask questions, you’ll learn a lot passively, by reading other people’s problems and solutions.
It’s certainly possible to learn programming, at least in popular languages, off the net alone. But in my opinion, if you are really interested in learning a language and are ready to spend some money, go get a good book. For a good book, it’s probably best to ask someone who teaches or uses the language you’re interested in. Still, O’reilly books are generally very good and comprehensive. Once again, try to get books written by people acting involved in the development and use of the language.
Books by Wrox are also quite good. I have read some books, mainly for C++ and Perl, and no, I didn’t buy them, I get them out of a library.
And most, importantly, write programs! You can’t expect to program properly if you don’t have practice. Ask anyone who has programming experience and you’ll learn that every once in a while you write some code which doesn’t do what you think it should do. The only way you’re going to reduce the number of times that happens is to actually write code and make yourself familiar with the language.
Finally, make friends with programmers. Friends are the best resource you can get. Not only will they help you when you get stuck, looking at their code will help you improve your own. Of course you have to find the right crowd, but that shouldn’t be too hard. And when you think that you’re capable of writing a mean piece of code, trying joining an open source project or starting your own. Once again, don’t bite off more than you can chew. Start off small, but do your work well.
After reading all that, if you still feel like learning how to code, go read How to Become a Hacker.

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Now using RSS feeds and Tags

    I’ve addded a new feed for the blog on the top right. The big orange button gives the actual feed itself while clicking on the other buttons will add the feed to the respective newsreader. If your favourite newsreader isn’t on the list, please leave a comment and I will try to add it. If you had subscribed to the old feed please change it to this one.
    Secondly I’ve decided to us Technorati tags in my blog posts instead of cluttering up the sidebar with an umpteen number of categories. I’m using the very elegant Performancing blogging client for Firefox. If you’re a regular blogger and use Firefox, I recommend that you try it out. I intend to post a full review of the client so stay tuned.

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PowerPoint Online: Empressr, Show and Thumbstacks

The online office space is starting to mature. After word processors and spreadsheets it’s time for the presentation tool to go online. Thumbstacks was the first such service to go online and it was followed by Zoho Show some time later. Now there’s a third contender going by the name of Empressr. But Empressr will have to do a lot of work to do if it’s going to be more than a flash in the pan.

Of the three ZohoShow is the most comprehensive and the only one to offer import and export compatability with Microsoft PowerPoint presentations. Unfortunately the limit to upload is just one megabyte, meaning substantial presentations are out of scope for now. I’m not really a presentation maker, in fact I haven’t made a proper presentation in about 3 years, but there are a lot of people who do use presentations a lot. To attract these sort of people being able to import from and export to popular formats is a must (though the facility to view presentations online is quite nice). Online presentation tools still have a long way to go, but they’re getting there. Once again Zoho is strongly making their mark in the online office space and I really hope to see some major new innovations from them in the future.

New Slashdot Look

My favourite technology news website Slashdot has revealed a new look and feel. Unfortunately, I can't say how long the look has been up because I get Slashdot newsletters in the email and usually don't actually go to the site. But now that I have seen it, I like it. Things look more organized and the sidebars and individual posts are better defined than they were before and the site looks far more professional now. Though I must say, I wish they had chosen a lighter colour scheme, maybe with a few blues or greens. One thing that recently struck be about Slashdot is that even in this day of news services like Digg and Reddit, Slashdot manages to remain the electronic Mecca for many thousands of technophiles, without any of the "community" features that newer news services provides. I guess it just goes to show that if you are competent and good at your job, you can do without bells and whistles. More later.

Yahoo! Now you can Google your Notebook!

As the title shamelessly screams, this post is about Yahoo! and Google Notebook. Yahoo has released it's new homepage to public use, and it's a nice change from what it had earlier. However I can't help thinking that it's just a tad more cluttered than what it was before. Personally I don't really use Yahoo! at all. I've almost never used it's search and I only used it's mail briefly. The use of AJAX is quite nice though, but it would be nice if you could customize it, like Netvibes, or even personalized Google homepage. Yahoo! has always been somewhat of an oddity for me, I never really understood why it was around, or what it was used for. I mean, Google's used for searches, Flickr's used for pics, but what's Yahoo! used for? Yes I know it's a portal, but I never really found a use for it and so you could say that I am a bit indifferent to what happens to it.

On to Google. Now that's a company that I see a lot of. Firstly I use Gmail, and firstly as well, I use their search everyday. And my first blog was on Blogger (though I quit that in six months). Now I like Google, despite all the hype about privacy loss etc. etc., for the simple reason that they give me free software and services that really are quite good. But of late, Google has been a bit disappointing. Blogger hasn't had any real improvements (like categories or stat tracking) for ages, the main page deserves a bit of an overhaul and many of it's newer products seem distinctly half-hearted. Take Google Notebook for instance, It appears to be a direct competitor to Del.icio.us, it lets you "bookmark" content on the web, add your note to it, categorize it and save it. But there is no tagging system and you can't place content in multiple categories. Like I said before, half-hearted. Another similar example is Google Calendar, which loses hands down to more mature apps like Kiko or 30boxes.

Maybe it's about time that Google stop rolling out new products and take more care in improving and integrating existing ones. It is beyond me why Google is so keen to roll out clones of existing popular services, when it would be easier to just integrate existing services with ones that Google already has. For example, wouldn't it be great to have Gmail, Blogger, Del.icio.us, Flickr and your calendar app, say Kiko, all seamlessly integrated into one great Web 2.0 interface? Google, slam on the brakes and give your policy a good look through.