Monday, May 30, 2011

Why Firefox is still my champion (the RockMelt saga)


I have been using Firefox since 2005, and with the exception of about a week in 2008, when I tried out the, then new, Chrome browser, I’ve been a very happy Firefox user for over five years now. I’ve added three extensions to the base installation (DownloadHelper, Firebug, and FireFTP), but for the most part, the browser is pretty much standard.

Last week, however, one of my friends introduced me to the RockMelt browser, which came out a few months back. RockMelt’s “big thing” is that it is a fully social browser, meaning that it, among other things, integrates Facebook functionality into the everyday browsing experience. For example, things like Facebook chat, notifications, messages, etc. are available to you even if you are not browsing the Facebook website.

Now, one thing you have to know about me is, I am a ”Facebook junkie”, so the promise of a browser which lets me be on Facebook whenever I am online definitely peeked my interest! So I gave it a shot.

RockMelt turned out to be a pretty good browser, but it was definitely a little buggy (what do you expect, it is still in beta). Once you install it, the first thing it asks you for is your Facebook login credentials. Well, the first time I entered my Facebook credentials, I didn’t check the “Keep me logged into Facebook” checkbox, and because of that, after signing in, no matter what I did, I could not get Facebook chat to go online. So I uninstalled then reinstalled it, making sure to check the box appropriately, and then it worked. Now that’s a bug, alright!

Also, even something as simple as importing bookmarks from Firefox 4 into RockMelt is not so simple. I actually had to go into Firefox and export the bookmarks into an HTML file, import them into Internet Explorer, and then RockMelt was able to import them properly. Highly annoying!

Anyway, after a few days of playing around with RockMelt, I thought to myself, well, why do I need to get a whole new browser to add the social component? Can’t I get the same experience on my beloved Firefox?

Well, it turns out that you can!

I did a bit of digging, and it turns out that the there is an extension called Facebook Toolbar for Firefox, which gives you almost everything that RockMelt has, except for Facebook chat. However, chat functionality can be added to the Firefox sidebar by following some very simple steps.

Once I got all this working, I waved goodbye to RockMelt! Badda-bing, badda-bang!

I can’t believe I ever doubted you, Firefox! You’re still my champion!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

What I would like to see in Pakistani universities

As more and more universities around the world move towards e-Learning in order to enhance their educational offerings, I, as an e-Learning enthusiast, have noticed a few trends emerging, which I would like to see universities in Pakistan adopt.

Collaboration among students

You often find international undergraduate and graduate students working collaboratively on projects and even assignments using discussion forums, chats, and social networking sites like Facebook. They then turn these discussion forum/chat/social networking site posts as a basis for collaborative websites (wikis) or podcasts, which they then add to their e-Portfolios as proof of their knowledge and experience. This, I feel, is a wonderful way to learn socially, and, contrary to popular belief, it’s not cheating!

Additionally, broadcasts of, for example, live surgeries and other procedures are also becoming commonplace and are being supplemented with the use of virtual worlds, such as Second Life, for a more “hands-on” approach to learning. Though these strategies are resource intensive, with proper planning and budgeting, they can work within the Pakistani context.

Collaboration among faculty

The concept of the stuffy, old faculty lounge, with its stale coffee (or tea, as in the case of Pakistan), is fast becoming obsolete, as international faculty turn towards Web 2.0 tools in order to develop rich, interactive lesson plans, which tend to add a significant technological component into the mix (how significant, of course, depends on the situation).

They also share their experiences by blogging (hey, that’s what I’m doing!) or through social networking sites, particularly LinkedIn, which awards them the additional benefit of getting their name “out there”, as well as offering them the opportunity to learn from others’ successes and shortcomings. This, you could say, is an informal sort of publication, although formal publications may arise out of it too!

Communication with faculty from other campuses of one’s institution and also from partner institutions via Skype (or other VoIP software) is also the norm, and teaching students at multiple sites via “e-classrooms” is quickly gaining popularity.

Breaking the confines of physicality

A university, if it is worth its salt, organizes many educational activities (seminars and conferences) throughout the year, but, due to physical space limitations, the number beneficiaries from these activities is reduced. Fortunately, the Web, broadly-speaking, doesn’t have such limitations. Therefore, you often find international universities broadcasting such events online for a large number of participants, who may join from their homes, offices, or even their mobiles! With regard to this, I am pleased to say that Pakistani universities are doing this, but an increase in the number of these “e-sessions” is needed.

Breaking with tradition

It is my view that Pakistani universities will have to break with tradition and seriously consider adopting as many of the trends which I’ve mentioned above in order to compete with the world.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Surprise, surprise -- Macs are vulnerable to viruses too!

Are you a Mac user? Did you make the switch to Macs because you thought they were so cool and trendy? Did you think they were more reliable than Windows because they never got viruses, and you never had to deal with the dreaded “Blue Screen of Death” again?

Well, my dear friends, do I have bad news for you, at least as far as the virus thing is concerned! Then again, it’s not really news anymore; the malware in question, which goes by the name MACDefender and a variety of others, has been known for the last couple of weeks, and, in fact, Apple even knows about it and plans to make an update available soon to fight it (good luck with that, by the way, Apple, because I really don’t think your proposed measures will make a lick of difference).

Anyway, my friends who are Mac users, you’re in trouble. I hope you take this opportunity to learn a very, very important lesson: no computer (operating system) is ever really safe from viruses. What actually happens is that the bad guys don’t target computers with limited users. Until recently, Macs didn’t have a lot of users. Therefore, the bad guys didn’t target it. Instead, they chose to spend time harassing Windows users. But guess what, that ship has sailed! You are (or soon will be) in as much trouble as Windows users. There’s no way around it!

I’ll take this opportunity to address my fellow nerds (i.e. Linux users) as well: what has happened to Mac users can and will happen to you at some point. Just a heads-up!

Be safe out there in cyberland!

Happy computing!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Letting under-13s use Facebook

I have always felt that Facebook can and should be used as a teaching and learning tool by adults as well as kids. It's not just for all the other stuff we get up to on it -- you know what I'm talking about! Now Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, has shared his similar views on this matter.

You might be thinking, what the heck is wrong with yours truly? What the heck is wrong with Mark Zuckerberg even? Facebook is not an educational tool; it's a social tool! It's for goofing off, not serious stuff like education. Leave Facebook for what it was meant for; i.e. socializing.

There is some truth to this, I suppose; Facebook was not originally meant for teaching and learning. You would know this, if you have ever seen The Social Network (great movie, by the way). In light of the latest research on using Web 2.0 tools for educational purposes, however, we know that social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter do have some pedagogical potential (PDF, 89.3 KB). In other words, there is some educational value that social networking sites can offer. It's not the case at all that learning/teaching and socializing are mutually exclusive.

Even if you concede the point about pedagogical potential, you might still have your doubts as to whether Facebook should be used by kids under 13, and particularly if you want them to use it for educational purposes. On this point, certainly, the United States doesn't think it's a good idea. Hence, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

The argument that is usually made with regard to this usually focuses on privacy issues and online bullying. Fair enough, I say. These are worrying things, but why do we have be so darn restrictive? Why is it an all or nothing scenario?

No age is too young for teaching and learning, right? If a site like Facebook can help a kid learn Math, Science, English, etc. by making learning into a social activity, why do we have to reject this model so quickly and completely? I think that with a bit of proper guidance, kids can be taught "net etiquette" just like adults, and with a bit of parental supervision, we can see wonders in our children's capacity to learn (and even teach)!

There's a quote by Albert Einstein: "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." If we want our kids to be able to tackle the problems that exist in the world today, maybe we can start by changing some of the fundamentals, like the tired, old ways of teaching and learning.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Future of the Internet to be Decided at Upcoming G8 Summit

The controversial issue of regulating the Internet will be decided at the upcoming G8 summit on May 26-27, 2011. This is such an important issue, in fact, that you could even say that the future of the Internet will be decided at this event.

Before the summit, however, a two-day forum between tech leaders from the world's most powerful internet and media companies, including Google, Microsoft, and Facebook, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy will take place in Paris. The decisions reached at this pow-wow will then be presented at the summit.

So what are we, the masses, to make of all this? Should we even care? Well, let's not get into that right now!

On the one hand, this would be the first time in history that the (future of the) Internet is discussed in what we hope would be an open and fair way by the leaders of the wealthiest nations of the world. So, that's pretty cool! I'll give you that. On the other hand, when I think about what is at stake (net neutrality), I must admit, I start to worry.

As an advocate of net neutrality, I have a bit of a problem with President Sarkozy, who clearly has a soft-spot for the opposition, "moderating" the two-day forum. Perhaps "moderating" is not the right word, but that's how it comes across to me. The bottom line is, how can somebody with a bias be counted on to present a fair and balanced view to the world leaders at the summit? Isn't is more likely that President Sarkozy will inject some of his own biases? Time will tell, I suppose. Until then, we wait.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Facebook making a PR move with Microsoft's PhotoDNA technology

Facebook took a positive step forward a couple of days back in order to further shake its reputation for being bad about privacy. Partnering with Microsoft, Facebook is to implement Microsoft's PhotoDNA technology, designed to identify and remove images that exploit or endanger children.

What this means is, every time you upload a picture on your Facebook account (billions of pictures are uploaded each month by Facebook's approximately 600 million users, by the way, onto the social networking site), a search through billions of other images to locate photos with similarly inappropriate features will take place in the back-end. If you're caught uploading something inappropriate, repercussions will undoubtedly follow.

Now you're probably thinking, wow, this is great! Facebook is a hero! We love you, Facebook, for being so socially responsible!

While I applaud Facebook for taking this initiative, my inquisitive side is left wondering about the true motives behind this act. PhotoDNA technology has been around for a while, according to Microsoft itself, which has been using it for its search engine, online storage, and email services. So why is Facebook doing this now?

And then it occurred to me! Unless you've been living under a rock these past couple of weeks, or if you are not a tech nerd like me and therefore do not follow tech news (in which case, I don't know why you are even looking at this blog!), you might have come across a scandal: Facebook was exposed in a smear campaign against its greatest rival, Google.

Now, I'm not trying to ruffle any feathers, but I just think that Facebook's motives for engaging in this initiative may not be altogether altruistic. This may very well be nothing more than a PR move.

I'm just saying....

Friday, May 20, 2011

Welcome to KW Talks Tech

Dear Visitor,

Welcome to KW Talks Tech, a blog by me, Karim Wallani, about my thoughts on the wonderful world of technology!

In addition to sharing what's going on up here *points to forehead*, I will also post tutorials, tips and tricks, and other little technological tid-bits to help you get the most out of technology.

Hope you enjoy the ride!