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Sunday, October 16, 2011

moving to github

After experimenting for a few weeks with github, have decided to make a switch. This blog moves to qzaidi.github.com

You will see fewer posts here, and more of them on qzaidi.github.com.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Google Encrypted - killing the competition, one step at a time

Today, when I opened google search, it redirected me to a new URL

https://encrypted.google.com/

At the face of it, its an innocuous attempt by google, seemingly a very well intentioned one that provides end to end privacy for search users. But Google no longer looks like a company whose motto is 'Do No Evil' (Ref: Wifi Gate, Google Buzz), so I take this with a pinch of salt.

I think the real intent here is to make sure that Referrer data is not passed along when you click on a search result. For the technically challenged, the REFERER header is an HTTP header sent to the server when requesting a resource, that tells who referred this client. When you click on a search result and go to foobar.com, foobar.com will get a REFERER header that would be google. With the move to SSL, this would not happen anymore, so foobar.com can't tell how many users landed when searching on google. Why would that happen? Because the protocol doesn't allows secure pages to pass REFERER information to insecure pages, and most pages on any search result page would be insecure.

This is not the first time Google has tried to prevent information flow via the REFERER header. Why is this important? When you search on google and then click on a site, that site gets access to the REFERER header, which lets them know you are coming from google, and also provides information on which search terms brought you to their site. The content publisher then knows what percentage of organic search traffic they are getting, and what keywords are important. There are a host of site analytics tools that use REFERER for this reason. But that's not all. Any scripts running on the publisher page will also have this information, and ad networks can use this to build visitor profiles, do keyword targeting for search engine users, and what not.

Bottom line - a lot of third parties benefiting from the presence of the REFERER header stand to lose, and lose a lot. The last time google did something like this (they removed search terms from the REFERER), it generated such a hue and cry and they had to rollback. This time, they will be doing it quitely, and they will get away in the name of Privacy.

I am not arguing in the favor of Behavioral ad networks using that data in the name of relevance and targeting, but a case can be made for site owners and site analytics companies such as omniture. If google itself was not a player in the online advertising industry, I would still have taken them at their word. This change, however, ensures that only Google has access to the search terms, only Google Ads can use this data for targeting, and only Google AdSense can do search analytics. I wouldn't be surprised if SSL search becomes the default pretty soon. Do you think otherwise?

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Iran Trip



I recently undertook a trip to Iran, and it was a great experience. It would be some time before I could write up my experience and advice in a travelogue (for those who are looking to take the road less traveled), but here are some of the pics from that trip.

Isfahan is the jewel of Iran, but its as bad as Tehran when it comes to not following traffic rules.




The entrance of the Grand Mosque in Isfahan, overlooking the Imam Square (Meidun-e-Imam), undoubtedly the best square I have ever seen. For the record, it is the second largest square in the world, beaten only by the Tiananmen Square in China.



Its also known as Naghse Jahan Square (Image of the World), and its not hard to imagine here that you have gone back in time by a century. Very peaceful, very well maintained.



And finally, I leave you with the magnificent Sio-se-pol (the 33 pillar Bridge). More if I manage to write a travelogue ...

Sunday, October 17, 2010

In The Land Of The Ayatollahs Tupac Shakur Is King



[update] I am half way through this book, and its indeed a great read. Beyond a travelogue, it offers a rare insight into the Middle East Nations (Besides Iran, it covers Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and others.)






Buy In The Land Of The Ayatollahs Tupac Shakur Is King: Reflections From Iran And The Arab World, Shahzad Aziz, 0955235928


I found the title of this book intriguing enough to buy it. Its recommended by Lonely Planet, and I hope it would be a good read as I am planning to travel to Iran next month.

Another related book in the same category is Nicholas Hagger's The Last Tourist In Iran. I almost ordered it for the low price, till I read the less than flattering review from Outlook Traveller.


Buy The Last Tourist In Iran, Nicholas Hagger, 8179929604


I only wish there were ebook versions that are cheaper than the price of a paperback. Right now, they are as expensive, if not more. And for all its flashy experience, nothing beats the paperback. So until we start seeing 99 cents ebooks, I will continue to buy paperbacks.

Monday, September 27, 2010

iBooks Local Language support

Why is it that all the eBook bookstores only have English books, and how long before we would see books in local languages? There is quite an opportunity there, for local language publishers.

Well, the good thing is that the epub format used on an iPad has good support for utf-8, so its quite possible to create books in Hindi/Urdu, and read them on iPad. However, the rendering of an Urdu book I created as a Proof of Concept was too slow to be of any use, and while the ePub format supports RTL (Right to Left languages), iBooks doesn't.

Without RTL support, Arabic/Urdu/Hebrew books are ruled out on iPad. Hopefully iOS4.0 would change this. As far as the rendering goes, I had all the content in a single file, so I suppose breaking it down into multiple files might have helped.

If anyone is interested, I used an online service to generate the epub from an html (although Calibre will work equally well). Then I expanded the generated epub file using zip, and edited a few things (including the RTL styling for text, so pages are turned from left to right), and compressed it back to ePub. It didn't work, but at the end of the day, its good to know ePub is only a zip file compressed with a few special options.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

What the phone companies don't want you to know

Every few years, what was once an augmented product would become a commodity. And then, manufactures must look for the next new feature, that could help them sell.

Take the case of cell phones. When mobility was no longer novel, they were being sold on grayscale displays and slimness. Then came color, camera, mp3 playback, video recording, touch screens, not necessarily in that order. Guess what - all of that has been commoditized. (Except for the touch screen, where more can still be done, not on hardware, but on interface).

So one thing that phone's are still being sold on and one feature that has not yet been milked to its full potential is positioning (or GPS). You could argue that GPS has been around for quite some time now, but I would counter argue that the phone GPS is yet to become a tom-tom replacement, in ways that most phone's have mp3 players that could replace iPods. More so in India. Location bases services are still in infancy, and except for one or two cases, turn by turn directions are still not available.

So even as cell phone companies try to extract their piece of flesh from early adopters of GPS, and the iPad version with GPS sells for an extra $129, the fact that you can add a bluetooth GPS to your phone(s), iPad(s) and other devices with only $25 in hardware cost is hidden in obscurity.

With a $25 Bluetooth GPS receiver, you get better positioning, because external GPS works better than the internal ones, which have to be cramped to fit in a phone, and which must be made to work on low power. You get improved battery life. You can use them for multiple devices, as the need may be. And you don't lose on Mobility, because they are small enough, and you are anyway going to put them in your car.

But wait a second, not so easily. Phone companies would do everything to prevent you from doing this. So Google would go to the extent of removing bluetooth support from their Maps software, as if it was never there, and Apple would cripple its own bluetooth profile to stop you from using a bluetooth GPS. Same with Android.

But there is hope. You can jailbreak the Apple iPad/iPhone, and run a $5 app from Cydia (BT-GPS). You can run Bluetooth Mouse on Android. And you can revert from the latest version of Google Maps to version 3.2, the last version with Bluetooth GPS support. And in doing so, save yourself a lot of cash. Trust me - I have learnt this after paying a lot of premium for being an early adopter.

We need Free Software for our phones and tablets, not cripple ware. Is FSF listening?