Hashemian Blog
Web, Finance, Technology

Amazon Fire and Silk

by @ 9:08 pm
Filed under: business,technology,web — Tags: , ,

So amazon finally announced its so-called secret product last week. With much fanfare the world was introduced the new Android-driven tablet called Fire, featuring the Silk browser. Oh, the Kindle is still there too, and at a huge discount to its more glorious days, but who cares about Kindle now.

As usual there has been a self-serving announcement on amazon's homepage alluding to the fact that they work hard to save their customers money via lower prices. Really? If that's the case how come Kindle was going for five times the current price not too long ago. Hate it when businesses pull that phony we-care nonsense when everyone knows money is the main objective and prices are determined based on what the market bears and not some altruistic algorithm. Whatever, amazon.

As for the new keyboard-less tablet, get ready for your every move to be tracked and recorded by amazon. You see, the Silk browser connects to the web via EC2, amazon's vast data network, allegedly to "optimize" user experience. Of course that also means amazon will take a little peep and record what the user does online. What it'll do with that data is yet undetermined.

Note: Author holds a negative bias towards amazon based on previous experience.

IT help Needed, Indian Style

by @ 5:06 pm
Filed under: computers,technology — Tags: , ,

It's such a stereotype, but there's a reason why Indians are associated with IT (Information Technology). Obviously Indians are very active in the field and most likely they are biggest ethnic group in the IT industry.

So where does a company go to hire IT people? In this case they post a giant want ad on an Indian grocery store's window. I snapped this photo recently while passing by a nearby Indian store. The sign had me do a double-take.

While the sign is indeed stereotypical, it's posted in exactly the right place. I'm not Indian but I do shop at the Indian store and I am in the tech field. I bet many more IT people shop there too.

Patents attack Android

by @ 2:29 pm
Filed under: financial,google,law,microsoft,technology — Tags: ,

I'm not naive to the point of believing that Google is all good and no evil, but in this case I side with Google.

What the big patent trolls like Oracle and Apple and Microsoft are doing by burying Android in lawsuits and threats is stifling innovation and taking away choice from consumers.

I'm all for protecting new ideas, but patents are no longer used in the way they were envisioned. They no longer protect ideas and innovation, but are used as weapons against anyone who can be leeched for money. And the leeches are typically not the original patent holders either, but sleazy patent trolls and patent mills.

Official Google Blog: When patents attack Android

Software Patent Sharks

by @ 2:46 pm
Filed under: business,computers,law,technology — Tags: , ,

This is superb reporting by NPR (link at bottom) on the murky business of software patents and how the real spirit of patent and copyright laws have been subverted by patent mills out to make a quick pile of cash.

These days greedy companies get patent protection for the most ridiculous and obscure algorithms. Most developers behind these patents don't even know what the patents actually cover. The patents are then sold to patent mills, which are front companies with a few lawyers and accountants collecting patents.

The patent trolls then go after anyone they deem to be a good target to extort money from, using frivolous lawsuits. From the thousands of patents in their lists, they can cash out with one or two, and that's what keeps this repugnant but lucrative practice alive.

The fact is that just about any idea anyone can fathom is covered in one way or another under one or more patents, mainly in vague general terms. That is why software is under siege now. Any entrepreneur who would dare conceive and implement a new product with a modicum of success, will inevitably be in the cross-hairs of patent lawyers.

And so we give yet another boost to countries like India and China and extinguish innovation in USA. I'd like to see how far these sleazy patent sharks can get in those countries.

Intellectual Ventures And The War Over Software Patents

Oracle Collects on Sun

by @ 11:15 pm
Filed under: business,google,law,technology — Tags: , , ,

Oracle SunBack when Oracle acquired Sun, you really didn't think that it was going to continue with the free open source model, did you? Of course not. This is Oracle, and Oracle is all about business. It has expensive products and even more expensive support and maintenance terms. And if someone like SAP starts to offer cheaper support, Oracle has the legal resources to sue them out of its turf very quickly.

Those lawyers are now busy suing Google over Java license violations in its Android platform. Meanwhile OpenSolaris is seeing its last days in the sun as the focus shifts to its commercial counterpart, Oracle Solaris, where there's money to be made.

It won't be long before Java, MySQL, and OpenOffice will be history too, at least in terms of their current forms. In Oracle's world if a product doesn't substantially contribute to the bottom line, it's axed. That's an unfortunate hit on innovation and open collaboration.

Oracle has a good track record of successful business ventures and profitable acquisitions. But the company is basically reliant on old legacy systems from itself and acquired companies to drive its earnings. When is the last time you heard of an innovative or exciting product coming out of Oracle? Probably in 1977 when its flagship product, Oracle Database, was conceived. And even then Oracle Database wasn't that novel. It was based on an existing IBM database product.

Google Voice Transcription

by @ 9:46 pm
Filed under: google,technology — Tags: ,

Google VoiceOne of the features of Google Voice that I really like is the transcription service. Anytime a message is left on my number an email with the transcript of the message is shot out to me. That lets me quickly determine the nature of the message and take action.

As good as the service's speech recognition is, it's not perfect, so sometimes it generates hilarious or incoherent ramblings, like this one I received recently:

Hi Larry King, I don't know Michelle about it, but she I'm concerned it be a member of the panel initial back you cat and then they handle the hike so I don't have to do so if you got it. I don't know I said If you look. I think if you gimme a call some time with you and I think it's about. I don't really know close contact, we'll get to know that the back fish. I just got back and I will be at a short of message. Mostly across Hunting with a panic, but I don't know even.

Thankfully a player is also included with the transcript so one could listen to the actual message. Imagine my surprise when I clicked "Play" and heard my mother's voice speaking in Persian. Obviously the transcription service isn't tuned for the Persian language. My mother might get forgetful at times, but I'm pretty certain she wouldn't address me as Larry King 🙂

Google Voice, SMS Texting, and Gmail

by @ 4:52 pm
Filed under: google,technology

It's hard for someone like me who doesn't have a cell phone to stay in touch with people these days. I know, I should just get one and some day I may, but for now I stand on my principles. Besides, I don't really have that many people to stay in touch with, nor that much to talk about around the clock.

But there is one functionality of the cell phone I wish I had, without the cell phone itself - texting. To me texting via Short Message Service or SMS has been a blessing. No longer must we endure endless chatter in the stores, on the trains, or at the airline gates. I have no problem with people quietly texting, as long as the annoying bell is off. And I think texting does have its uses, like when I need to send a quick message to my kids. I could do that with email too, but texting is so much easier. Enter Google Voice.

Google Voice is the old GrandCentral service after Google bought them and ported over the accounts. By itself, Google Voice is a pretty good service. You get your own number and can forward it to another phone/cell number, use it to take messages and even make cheap calls with it.

What I didn't know until recently is that Goggle Voice also comes with SMS texting. Even better, I was able to forward the incoming texts to my Gmail account, and yet better, I can reply to the texts right from Gmail and it's just like texting back the sender. And even yet better, it appears that this service is free, although I still don't have definitive confirmation on that.

What that means to me is that Google Voice has given me another opportunity not to bend my principles to get a cell phone just so I can text a few times a month. At the least it has delayed the dreaded inevitability of dropping a dead-weight in my pocket and making ridiculous monthly payments for the privilege.

SMS Texting in Google Voice

SMS Texting via Gmail


Oracle and Sun

by @ 12:27 am
Filed under: computers,financial,technology

Oracle reported stellar earnings tonight that promises to send the stock up to a 9-year high tomorrow, at least judging by the after-hours activity. The company's latest acquisition of Sun Microsystems, announced back in August, is still pending EU regulatory approval, but the latest signs appear to indicate that it will clear that hurdle soon and complete the take-over. It has already been cleared by the US regulatory bodies.

EU has reasons to be worried about Sun's acquisition by Oracle and it has valid points. I and many others happen to share the same concerns. At the center of this debate is the future of open-source and mostly free products currently offered by Sun and used by millions of users and businesses worldwide. Chief among those products is MySQL, the database engine that powers the majority of Web sites operating on the Internet today. Java, the popular programming language created and maintained by Sun, is another product that's facing an unknown future under Oracle's ownership.

What will happen to MySQL and Java once Oracle takes control of these products? Oracle is playing nice promising innovation and continued support, but can that claim be trusted?

The situation is quite different from a couple of years ago when Sun itself acquired MySQL. Sun didn't have a competing database product and it had a track record of commitment to open-source and free products, namely Java. But Oracle is a different kind of company. Sure, it has solid products, chiefly the Oracle database and it has a proven history of successfully absorbing other companies' products into their mix. But it charges exorbitant prices for its products and its expensive maintenance contracts are legendary in the business. Oracle offers very little, if any, in terms of open-source and free products, and there is no reason to believe it will do so in the future.

What that means is that most likely Oracle will kill MySQL and Java in their current forms and integrate them with the rest of their expensive products. Once it has removed the potential threat, what's the incentive to continue with the free format? At best it may offer watered-down, crippled versions of MySQL or Java that will be useless to most, except perhaps for hobbyists and students.

In the end Larry Ellison will get his wish and Sun will be rolled into the Oracle's collective. The Sun's take-over challenges harken back to 2003 and Oracle's take-over of PeopleSoft. Back then Ellison came out swinging, steamrolling PeopleSoft's board and the regulatory agencies and eventually got his wish. This time around the damage to the industry will be worse, and the only beneficiary will be none other than Oracle itself.


Cloud Computing Pitfalls

by @ 11:47 pm
Filed under: computers,internet,technology,web

From a development standpoint, cloud computing is a flexible and elastic computing environment. Sort of a server with unbound resources capable of running infinite programs for infinite users, with infinite processing power, memory, storage, and bandwidth.

Cloud computing is a dream for people like me who are developers at heart but spent much of their time as involuntary administrators, be it on Web servers, database servers, file servers, firewalls, networks, or whatever.

Of course everything good must come with something bad. Cloud computing is no exception. There is the lack of complete control over the resources, the risk of unforeseen outages and the risk of data leaks and data loss. And being at the mercy of the cloud vendors may not be good either. They could just shut you down by mistake or because of some bogus reason.

But one aspect I hadn't given much thought about is cost, specially the unexpected ones. Last weekend at work an unforeseen condition awoke a piece of bad code in our data access layer causing CPU thrashing on our database server. The systems still worked, albeit near a denial-of-service condition. By Monday we identified and patched the code and everything was back to normal. No cost was incurred as a result, other than perhaps some extra heat generated by the server.

If our systems were hosted on a cloud we might have been faced with a large invoice from the provider for the processing and bandwidth used. Or the provider might have just shut down our services to protect their other clients. The results could have been catastrophic.

When you operate your own servers, you may be able to get away with some mistakes. But in the cloud mistakes could cost you a lot, even your job. That risk is something we should be keenly aware of, as the computing landscape slowly shifts to the cloud. Like it or not, cloud computing will eventually usurp customized systems. It'll come with many benefits, but we must recognize that it won't be as easy as dumping in the applications and calling it a day.


Google Translate, Persian

by @ 12:30 pm
Filed under: google,technology

Google TranslateGoogle Translate has been around for some time. you paste in a block of text or a URL, set the source and target languages and off it goes, translating.

Aside from the omnipresent Spanish, German, and French translations, Google had been steadily adding other languages to its list, save one, Persian (known as Farsi in Persian language,) until now.

It's a well-known fact that Iranians are one of the most active Internet users in the world, certainly far and above the others in Middle East. That is more noteworthy given the censorship and restrictions by the government. I wonder what the activity level would be if people are given complete freedom of expression. Then again, it may just be the political situation that has given rise to the Internet-savvy generation who has been pushed into harnessing technology for its causes, but I digress.

It seems that the interest surrounding the post-election turmoil in Iran finally pushed Google into adding Persian to the list of their languages. They should have done it a long time ago, but better late than never.

The Persian translation page is in alpha mode (read, crude), but it's a good start. Being fluent in Persian, I tried the translator for a number of sites and text-passages, and I give it a barely passing grade translating to and from English. In most cases it was coherent enough to get the main concepts across. Of course, translation technologies as a whole still have a long way to go, and they may never reach human proficiency.

As an example, this Persian sentence:
?? ???? ????? ????? ?? ??? ???? ? ??? ???? ???? ?? ??????? ???? ????? ????? ??? ?? ?? ???? ????? ?? ???? ??? ????? 🙂

is translated from:
With Google translating Persian now, you no longer need to call your Persian friends to translate Iranian government propaganda for you 🙂

Not exactly a perfect translation.

Here's the Persian translation of this blog's home page.


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