My other eight hours

January 31, 2011 by  
Filed under Blogs

Eight hours of my life are spent sleeping and the other eight hours are spent at work. That leaves me with about eight hours of my life left for myself. These I call my other eight hours.

Call me old but I still fondly remember a time when my other eight hours would be time to myself where I could put all my work away and do the more important things in life – spend time with the family, go for a walk or read a book.

Over the years though, the lines between these hours have blurred a bit and the separation between work time and playtime has become less apparent. It isn’t just me though, it’s a similar trend with most people these days. Think about it… how much time do you spend now at work checking your Facebook messages? And on the flipside, how much time do you spend at home looking at your work emails? How much time have you spent playing minesweeper in the office? And how much time have you spent on conference calls from home?

Are mobile phones to blame for this? Or is it the Internet? Or is it just that we now have a much looser definition of time and when to do things?

Productivity gurus will tell you that it’s very important to separate these things. For instance, the biggest problem with people who work from home is that their mind often cannot separate entertainment areas with work areas. For example, if you work from home, you’ll be more prone to slack off and watch the telly than if you were in an office environment.

So then are we less productive if we mix work and play? Probably. You’ll have to excuse me now though; those mines are not going to sweep themselves.

GeekFest Dubai 2011 Coverage

January 23, 2011 by  
Filed under Features, Spotlight

GeekFest Dubai 2011 took place at The Shelter, Dubai on 20th January 2011. The offline gathering for online socializers was packed on the night with geeks checking out gadgets, socializing and attending talks.

The talks this time around included Steve Sosebee, the founder and CEO of the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund speaking about his organization and the charitable work it does; a slightly nervous Mohammad Fikree showed us a short video of his new animation “The Girl and It”; Maya Mahdy who runs Shades and Coffee talked about the fabulous world of fashion blogging; and finally Alexander McNabb, the founder of Geekfest talked about the event and it’s expansion. The highlight of the talks, however, was a rather moving video featuring Sara from Ussa Nabulsiyeh talking about life in Palestine and how members of Geekfest helped 7-year-old Ola Abu Jamous from the Nur Shams refugee camp in Tulkarem get to Florence, Italy for brain tumor surgery .

The talks ended with announcements of GeekFest Ramallah which will be held on 16th February and GeekFest Abu Dhabi which will be held on 3rd March 2011 at twofour54, Abu Dhabi.

On a lighter note, the folks from Eros showcased some of their products including the very handy Flip camera and Middle East Gamers showed off Microsoft’s new Kinect controller. Here are the pictures from the event.

If only my phone could do this

January 17, 2011 by  
Filed under Blogs

Last week, our deputy editor suggested that we all write a blog piece about what we would like to see invented. Asking a geek to put together a technology wishlist is tantamount to asking Willy Wonka for a chocolate wishlist. Where do you start and where do you stop? Would anyone read a 10,000-word blog article? Well, in the hope of keeping this short, here are two showcase videos of mobile phones that I thought were impressive.

The first one is the Pomegranate phone. Turns out this commercial for the pomegranate phone is over a year old but I have just chanced upon it a few days ago and I can’t help but imagine the possibilities if these features were actually available in a real phone. The commercial is a hoax, intended to grab people’s attention and promote Nova Scotia. Regardless, it’s a pretty interesting concept. Here’s the video:

Look besides the shaver/harmonica/coffee maker gimmick and the commercial had a few good ideas. Like, being able to use the phone as a projector for powerpoint presentations. It should hopefully be a reality at some point. I also like the idea of a phone that isn’t perfectly rectangular in shape and an operating system that isn’t Android, Blackberry, iOS or Windows. That Pomegranate phone would have been pretty impressive if I didn’t think I would end up with a phone covered in hair and coffee stains.

The second video is of Blackberry’s new concept which introduces stretchable screens.

From what I’ve been told there have already been a few companies at CES showcasing stretchable screens, so hopefully this is something we should see more of in the future. This could finally mean that laptops, tablets and mobile phones converge into one device as you could have multiple form factors on one device.

So, that’s my tech wishlist for this year. Non rectangular phones and stretchable screens. What’s yours?

Reinvention and Nostalgia

January 6, 2011 by  
Filed under Blogs

Chuck Lorre is one of my favourite TV show directors. You may not recognise his name but you’ll surely recognise some of his work. He has directed popular TV shows like Two and Half Men, Big Bang Theory and Mike and Molly. At the end each show, he has a little vanity card that flashes by for a second. It’s usually filled with personal insights, witty remarks and ocassionally a profound message. Here’s an excerpt from vanity card number 316, that I thought fit the description of the latter:

“I believe that there are two forces struggling to dominate. Reinvention and nostalgia. The first seeks to imagine and work toward a better future by changing the status quo. The second insists that things were better in the past and works to undo change.”

These words hold true in many facets of life and even so in the tech industry. You would think that with how quickly things change in the tech industry, reinvention would be a norm. Google reinvented how Internet searches work and managed to take Yahoo’s crown. Facebook reinvented how we interact socially online from the norms that MySpace, Hi5 and Orkut had set. Apple reinvented the mobile phone bringing a better experience to smartphones than Windows CE at the time.

The biggest challenge most large tech companies face now is resigning to nostalgia. This is particularly a problem with big tech giants who’ve used the same technology for a while and having been on top for a long time, cannot begin to grasp that they’ve been outdone by a new competitor and that their once cutting edge technology is now second rate.

So here’s my advice to companies that own outdated mobile operating systems, ageing desktop software or monopolistic telecom companies that cannot see the need to provide better service to its customers — please give reinvention a chance. Those who live in the past cannot survive in the future.

The importance of being beautiful

December 30, 2010 by  
Filed under Blogs

As geeks, the concept of beauty and looking good is generally lost on us. As a personal example, I probably wear the same pair of jeans four times a week, rarely shave and my entire wardrobe now consists of promotional t-shirts from various technology launch events I attend. However, we can tackle my dress sense or rather lack of it at another time. What I want to talk about is the importance of being beautiful.

As human beings, we naturally like beautiful things. If we didn’t, things like paintings would have no meaning at all. Why would we care for colors on a piece of paper? But we obviously do care about it. And if you really think about it, everything around you has probably gotten a bit more beautiful with every passing year. Cars have gotten better looking since the 90’s, websites have gotten prettier over the past few years and soap containers which used to be once white little boxes now come in all kinds of curvy shapes and colors.

In a similar vein, technology has also got more beautiful. Think about mobile phones for instance. My first mobile phone was shaped like a brick and was slightly worse to look at. However, phones now are so beautiful that they can be thought of as fashion accessories rather than a means of communication.

The iPhone for instance is a gorgeous phone. But then again, Apple have always understood the importance of beauty. Everything from their operating system to the fonts they use is just beautiful and they realize it’s a lot easier to sell beauty than performance. Take the Macbook Air for instance. Sure, it’s a capable device but for the same price I could easily get a different laptop with twice the performance. So, why then am I so tempted to buy the Macbook Air? Probably because beauty matters more than brains in this form vs function equation.

Sure, there’ll be those who can look beyond the superficial surface and will want their ugly Linux boxes over a Mac but I for one am liking this trend of everything turning prettier and better looking. Here’s looking forward to a beautiful 2011.

Let’s Save Wikipedia

December 28, 2010 by  
Filed under Blogs

When I heard about the Wikipedia project years ago, I confess that I was skeptical. How on earth could a project where millions of users contribute and are free to edit anything they want ever work? Why wouldn’t someone just edit every article and put “l33t h@x0r” all over the place? What on earth is stopping this site from becoming one big resource for all kinds of male enhancement drugs promotions and inheritance scams?

However, Wikipedia has turned into what I would consider the single greatest achievement of mankind. Never in the history of mankind have we had one epic encyclopedia where people from different countries have been able to contribute their knowledge freely to one source. The wealth of knowledge available on Wikipedia is beyond extraordinary and is a testament to what we as a people can accomplish when we collaborate.

The academic uses of Wikipedia alone make it indispensible as a website. Face it, if you’re between 15 to 21 years of age, you probably get most of your homework or research data from Wikipedia.

The beauty of Wikipedia is the amount of knowledge available on the site and the fact that Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia has kept it advertising-free for all these years. Jimmy Wales says on the site, “Commerce is fine. Advertising is not evil. But it doesn’t belong here. Not in Wikipedia. Wikipedia is something special. It is like a library or a public park. It is like a temple for the mind. It is a place we can all go to think, to learn, to share our knowledge with others. It is a unique human project, the first of its kind in history. It is a humanitarian project to bring a free encyclopedia to every single person on the planet.”

However, it takes money to keep a site like Wikipedia running. The amount of servers required to cope up with the amount of traffic it gets easily runs into millions of dollars. Wales is hoping that if each of the 400 million users who use the website on a regular basis donate $1 to keep the site alive, they should be in business for a long time.

So, if Wikipedia has helped you to graduate high school or University, or if you’re feeling gregarious enough to help support a project that benefits mankind, I ask that you go donate a dollar (or more) to Wikipedia.

Time Magazine Eds are a bunch of…

December 24, 2010 by  
Filed under Articles, Blogs

Time Magazine have picked Mark Zuckerberg as the Man of the Year for 2010 despite the fact that Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks won the reader’s choice vote. Is it likely that they decided to stay away from Assange given that he’s not the US Government’s favourite person at the moment or in light of the recent sex allegations against him? Or did they just discover Facebook this year and happen to think it’s the coolest thing this year?

Since it was obviously a close battle between Assange and Zuckerberg this year, let’s compare the two Internet evangelists:

1. Both Mark Zuckerberg and Julain Assange started off as Hackers. Zuckerberg hacked into Harvard University’s website to collect photos of students and created FaceMash. At the age of 16, Assange began hacking under the name “Mendax”. He and two other hackers joined to form a group which they named the International Subversives. Assange wrote down the early rules of the subculture: “Don’t damage computer systems you break into (including crashing them); don’t change the information in those systems (except for altering logs to cover your tracks); and share information”. Assange was reported to have accessed computers belonging to an Australian university, the Canadian telecommunications company Nortel, the USAF 7th Command Group in the Pentagon and other organisations, via modem.

2. Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook, a website that collects most of your personal information and then lets corporations use this information to target and advertise to you. Julian Assange founded Wikileaks, which takes information from corrupt corportations and government agencies and makes it available to the public.

3. Wikileaks exposed brutal US tactics in Iraq and Afghanistan. Facebook helps you spy on ex-girlfriends.

So, has Time Magazine made the right choice? Perhaps yes and perhaps it’s better for Wikileaks’ sake that the focus not be on Julian Assange. As much as he deserves credit for founding the site, the website itself and the stories it helps breaks should deserve the limelight.

A geek’s view of The Social Network

December 15, 2010 by  
Filed under Articles, Blogs

Thanks to our wonderful friends at Empire International, who distribute the film in the region, I had a chance to see The Social Network at the cinemas a few weeks ago. I was very excited to see the movie for multiple reasons. Firstly, I’ve watched every episode of the West Wing and I’m a big fan of Aaron Sorkin. Add to that, the fact that the movie is about Facebook, probably one of the biggest success stories of the Internet — it was reason enough to take an afternoon off work to go see the movie.

Before I continue, a caveat – I’m not a film critic and this is not a critical review of the movie. If you were hoping to read a critic’s review of the movie, I suggest you take a look at my colleague, Faisal Hashmi’s review on ME Movies instead. This article is more of a personal view on The Social Network.

As a geek, what I found mildly offensive about the movie was its characterization of geeks as being anti-social, super smart, terribly greedy and incredibly condescending. Mark Zuckerberg’s character almost seems like an anti-social version of Doogie Howser. While, in reality, most people have come out to defend Zuckerberg after the movie was released stating that he’s generally been shy and slightly nervous at times. Well, Jesse Eisenberg who played the role of Zuckerberg in the movie just got nominated for a Golden Globe award for his portrayal of the billionaire Facebook boy genius, so looks like the stereotyping paid off.

I also thought Aaron Sorkin completely missed out on the most important aspect of Facebook – and that’s the fact that it epitomizes the opportunities afforded by the Internet. Facebook is a company that started with a very small initial investment. It was built mainly on open source software, all of which is available for free and since the business was online, they could work out of the comfort of their own homes with a small team of people to create this site. With very little or no marketing investment, the site became popular just through a network of people online who were using the website and inviting their friends to join. You’ll be hard pressed to find many non-Internet businesses that can start from almost a zero investment and get hundreds of thousands of customers without any marketing spend.

While not a great representation of geeks or the value of the Internet, the movie is still a great watch and Sorkin’s writing is as sharp as ever. If you’ve seen the movie, use the comments box below to tell us what you thought of it.

UAE’s Hottest 5 e-Commerce Websites

December 8, 2010 by  
Filed under Features, Spotlight

For years, people have been skeptical about the fact that e-commerce will never work in the Middle East region. In fact, my colleague Youfef Tukan presented an interesting argument against e-Commerce on Flip Media’s blog. However, the last few years have seen e-Commerce has taken off at light speed and we’re showcasing our picks for the hottest 5 websites in this region that have paved the way for sustainable e-commerce.

Sites on our list include ticketing websites, auction sites, high-end fashion sites, online retail stores and group discount sites. Pretty much every type of big e-commerce venture in the world now has a local counterpart, catering to a hungry web-savvy UAE audience.

For our Hot 5 e-commerce list, we’ve deliberately left out all government websites and have focused on commercial entities. Click on the next page link to see our list of top 5 e-Commerce sites in the United Arab Emirates.

AppsArabia announces Kalimat

December 6, 2010 by  
Filed under Apple, News

twofour54-based mobile applications investment fund, AppsArabia announced Kalimat, a multiplayer word game, at the Dubai World Game Expo. Kalimat, meaning “Words” in Arabic, can be played both in English and Arabic. Announced initially as an iPhone application, the game allows two players to place letters on a board and form sentences. Points are awarded depending the value of each letter and the position it’s placed in on the board. Kalimat has two different gameplay styles so players can challenge friends in local “pass & play” mode or they can challenge friends or random players via the internet.

Dubai based entrepreneur, Farès Fayad, successfully applied for funding from AppsArabia and the app was developed by local app developers Piranha Byte.

David Ashford, General Manager of AppsArabia

David Ashford, head of AppsArabia said, “I am delighted to be able to showcase our first app to consumers and to the industry. Working with an entrepreneur based in the region and local developers to create Kalimat has shown that within the Middle East there is the talent and the passion to create world class content that is relevant to the audience, and most importantly fun.”

Designed specifically for the iPhone, the launch of Kalimat will coincide with an online video campaign, focusing on the story of the two central characters Kali and Mat over several episodes. The campaign, scripted and filmed by UAE based Arab students follows the hilarious ups and downs of Kali and Mat’s relationship, as a result of Mat’s addiction to Kalimat.

Ashford added, “Creating the online video campaign about Kali and Mat was a great experience. We shot the footage in the UAE, using scripts developed by students studying at university here, and the filming was all done using Twofour54 intaj equipment, staffed by the emerging talent which is really beginning to make the most of Twofour54′s grant funding initiative, creative lab.”

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