Category Archives: General

TVersity: Media Server

I am sharing my experience while finding a good media-server (software that can store, transcode and serves various media formats to devices – computers, mobile, apple-tv, etc).

We all (parents, brother, sister-in-law, sister and myself) stay together, which means we have got more than one TV, various devices (mobile, computers, laptops, etc). We realized, it’s useful to host the media at one central computer.

  • Storage
  • Wiki – to jot down the links and ideas
  • Development and Testing – when we work at/from home
  • Media Server (software that serves media to various devices in home)

Most of the requirements (above) are sorted out except the last one “Media Server”. I looked at various options, some of these are listed below:

I found myself more comfortable with TVersity, though it’s not opensource and only runs on Windows, for following reasons

  • Ease in administration:
    • anyone in my family can add/remove media using it’s easy to use administration interface.
    • admin tool runs using Adobe Flash Player, has been built using OpenLaszlo framework and executable has been created using Zinc like tool.
  • Ease while using:
    • Web based interface for administration – runs on Adobe Flash Player
    • Web based interface for media library
      • Simple HTML
      • Flash based (built using OpenLaszlo) – where media is transcoded and played using Flash Player, awesome, isn’t it?
      • iPhone friendly interface
  • Support for Open DLNA and UPNP
  • Automatically detects (most of) devices, transcodes and serves media, if required
    • That means, ffdshow and other tools can be used to add subtitle and apply various filters before serving the videos.
  • XBMC/Boxee that runs on my macbook and apple-tv worked really well with TVersity

You can find the complete list of features on TVersity website.

So now life is simpler and easier, we all store our media at one place and can see it anytime and on most of our devices. Having web-based access to media makes life easier. I also feel, it’s lot easier to extend web-interface, which I plan to do in sometime.

I would love to post about detailed comparison between various options (media-servers and tools) mentioned above, perhaps in another post, sometime in future. Another post would be there to share how our home network looks like. Hope, I can spend sometime drawing diagrams which would be lot easier to understand.

HR and Payroll for small companies in India

Running a company in India is not an easy task, not because you don’t know what you are good at. One has to know a lot more to do things – laws, acts and statutory requirements. It’s easy for anyone with just technical background to make mistakes (i.e. unintentionally not being able to follow things) unless one is surrounded by people who are either domain-experts or professionals.

For last one year, I have been spending a lot of time reading about basics of accounting, acts, laws and such things. Thankfully, there are some good resources (listed below) which proved super useful to anyone like me (technical guys with hardly any background in accounting, laws, etc). I am listing some websites (forums) below, which really helped me a lot.

Though I missed doing things (programming, development, flash/flex, etc), I love to do, during last one year. But I realize, as an entrepreneur, I would have to learn things sooner or later. I hope, in long term I would feel it was worth spending time (almost an year).

(If you are interested in more resource, keep looking at my delicious bookmarks.)

Anyway, let’s talk about things which are related to the subject of this post.

Towards an attempt to be more organized and productive, we started looking at various software/SaaS options for accounting, HR and Payroll. In a small company like ours, which is located in a city where it’s hard to find many good consultants and professionals in these domains, SaaS might be super useful.

At first, we thought of using and customizing some opensource software like openerp for our requirements. But we know, we don’t have domain experts in these areas (accounting, hr, payroll, etc), hence can not keep changing the software the various compliance and statutory requirements by law/government. On the other hand, the total cost (time, money, etc) of ownership for such things is lot more. We find there is more value to use professional services offered in the form of SaaS . That would allow us to focus on things, we should be i.e. innovating, doing great work, building great team and providing great services to our clients.

We are trying to move to a smart SaaS that helps with our HR and Payroll stuff. I have been playing with following websites that offer SaaS for Indian companies.

There are other companies but they don’t allow you to quickly signup and check out their services, before you can make a decision.

I also found one interesting software (windows desktop application), it’s not expensive and actually allows most of things for small companies like ours. The only issue I see, it’s desktop based  and requires windows.

I was expecting Zoho might have payroll solution, it seems they are still working on it (I got a confirmation via email). Zoho seems to have HR (HRM, HRIS) stuff:

After spending a lot of time during last week checking out and playing with various services/software (some listed above). I realize,  greytip is the most mature, flexible and smart solution but user-interface in greytip can be improved a lot.

On the other hand, evetan (thanks to Swaroop for pointing me to it) seems to have a simple user-interface and workflow. It can be improved a lot too while keeping the simplicity.

Hopefully, I would choose one very soon and start using it for our company. If I get some time, I would love to post a detailed comparison of these SaaS/Software (listed above).

Job Opening: Flash Platform Developer

We are looking for some smart Flash Platform Developers who can be part of our team in Allies Interactive Services Pvt. Ltd., Kanpur, U.P.

We are a design and development company in Kanpur, though we are small but we are ambitious and have a great vision.

I posted the details on Flex-India sometimes back, pasting the same (edited the typos and formatted) over here:-

I have been meaning to post this for sometime but thought would it be appropriate to do that here?

I am part of a small design and development shop in Kanpur, U.P. Where, we mostly do web development using FOSS, mainly LAMP.

I moved to kanpur around 10 months back with a desire to build a great Flash Platform Team that would work on non-trivial type service projects and some great product ideas.

I could now start doing it, after we have managed to fix a lot of issues mostly a nice office, a good culture and some projects and a product in pipeline.

I need an experienced Flash Platform developer in my team, who can help us to make our vision, desire and dreams a reality.

Since Kanpur is not a metro or fancy place to live, it takes more than just technical aptitude to be here. That is some more strong reason f.ex. A desire to be part of a growing team, desire to be close to family, desire to contribute in the development of IT ecosystem in North and/or a desire to prove, hell yeah we can do great stuff from anywhere, even cities like Kanpur :-)

If you think, you want to help me by being part of my team and understand what I meant above, please don’t hesitate to contact me on [abdul dot qabiz at gmail dot com] off-list i.e. Direct email to me, please don’t reply here on this list.

As far as job description goes, I have already given an idea. However, we are looking for someone who understands web very well that is HTTP and other standards. Fundamentally good at problem solving, the real world ones, ActionScript, Flex Framework, Adobe Flash Player and AIR fundamentals and APIs.

Of course, good experience that says about in your behalf. We would also talk to you so things would get clear, i.e. If we are match for each other.

If you want to know more about company, please check out http://www.alliesinteractive.com

MovableType to WordPress – Migration

Yesterday, this blog successfully moved to WordPress from MovableType 3.2. I have been procrastinating this entire migration work for quite long time, I tried many times but left half way.

Existing posts and comments were easily migrated i.e. export from MovableType and import in WordPress, that’s all. The challenging part was retaining permalinks of posts published using MovableType. I didn’t have to do anything for monthly-archives beacuse the url-format being used in MovableType was exactly same I chose for WordPress so I just removed old directories  (created by MovableType).

Category and individual archives’ permalinks were taken care by putting some code on top of MovableType templates for those archives. So request still goes to old archive pages, where code on top constructs the new wordpress page URLs and redirects there. Which means I am going to maintain old MovableType installation (at least php pages) until I figure out other way. This bit is tricky because MovableType generated filenames (permalinks) in very inconsistent manner, perhaps due to configuration issues back then.

Feed permalinks were taken care by simple rewrite rules in .htacces. Over the time, I would be fixing the look and feel of the blog and other minor issues (line-breaks and all that). Please let me know, if you find any broken links (from your bookmarks) on this blog or any other things. I would appreciate that.

I could share the code and .htaccess stuff here, but it’s not really very clean. I would do it once I am done figuring out a better of doing category and individual archives’ permalinks handling. However, if you really want to see the stuff, please leave a comment and I would send you whatever I have :-)

InfiBeam – Online Store for India

Infibeam is like Amazon for India, I am mostly interested in books and could find most of the books on Infibeam. There are some, which I believe they would import and ship to you.

Infibeam is shipping free anywhere in India, that’s another good thing.

I have been buying books from Infibeam for sometime, so far experience has been good except one particular instance.

I ordered a book, everything went well and I was told within one or two week, book would be shipped. After waiting for a week or so, I get an email from Infibeam that since book is out of stock, they would not be able to ship it. I exchanged couple of emails with their staff, asking the reasons and how it should be – if you confirmed the order, you should deliver the book, otherwise you might loose some customers.

BTW! It has been more than a month, I believe, they are yet to refund the money for the order they could not complete :-)

Having said all (positive and negative experience), I feel, overall, it looks good to me. That one instance is out of 10, so I am going to continue trying them

What I am up to?

I feel like posting, what I have been doing, actually a lots of things on business side – hiring, finance, business-development, etc.

We are doing good in business, I believe, it’s because of our diversified service offerings and our team of talented designers and developers, who are agile, quick and fast learner.

A great culture is an important thing, in fact, it’s very important. That’s why, we have been very focused on building the same in our office here. When I look back, I see we have achieved things but there is a long way to go.

We are not perfect, for that matter, no one is. The good thing, we are aware of our limitations and strengths, hence, we are constantly working on it. I hope, a constant effort would improve things day by day.

We are planning to have some more people in our team, so I have been interviewing developers from different parts of country. We acknowledge, it’s hard to get smart guys stay in Kanpur or get developers from outside of city. But we think, if we share our vision and what we want to do and have been doing, a lot of developers do see things differently, then location becomes secondary thing.

BTW! Kanpur is not as great place to live as Bangalore, Pune, Mumbai, etc are. But it does have good things – less hectic life, earning/expenses ratio is higher here, etc.

According to Paul Graham’s essay, bad-location is/could-be one of reasons for startups’ failure. It is true, location does matter for many things (not just hiring), but we have chosen to be where we are now, and I think, we have figured out how to achieve things here, we are just getting better at it day by day. But yeah, we do miss things – events, barcamps, apple-store, crowd, talent, etc. Who knows, someday Kanpur would have all that and who knows, we might have played a good role in that process :-)

A lot of people have asked me, why I am not active lately in Adobe Flash Platform (i.e. Flash/Flex/AIR) stuff? Well, it’s different phase of life, where I am focusing on other things that would enable us to do a lot of great things that include stuff for Adobe Flash Platform.

I am also busy doing a good project, which does have some challenging work (web dev + flash platform). Also busy doing some hacking once in a while, which is trying to use technology to improve my productivity – like home media/filer server, vpn at office, boxee, etc.

We are looking for some smart guys – interaction-designers, flash-platform-developer and web-developer. If you know someone, who doesn’t not mind working from Kanpur, want to work on cool stuff, want to part of our team and help us achieving the visions/goals we have. Please let us know (abdul dot qabiz at gmail dot com). Thanks.

Apple TV + Boxee.tv = Great Experience

I own an Apple TV for quite some time, I just loved the form factor of the device and figured out, it’s really good stuff. I could see all the photographs, watch all podcasts/videos and listen most of music, more often on Apple TV than before.

As we all know, Apple builds innovative products but at the same time, it does suck by keeping it’s platform very closed. Be it iPod, iPhone or Apple TV, it’s just really hard to do anything except the ones Apple wants you to do.

Anyway, thanks to the great community of hackers, who spend hours figuring out things and building some great stuff. Some great hackers came up with various ideas to open the closed Apple TV, well initially it was physically opening up the box but later on smarter solutions appeared. Now it’s so simple, one can patch (enable SSH and install some apps) Apple TV by using patchstick, it doesn’t require you to open the box physically.

I can mount my USB disks and use keyboard/mouse in the patched Apple TV. Well that opens to a lot of possibilities.
With the simpler patching process, a lot of applications for Apple TV started appearing, one of such products is Boxee.tv, which is a media-center application. Of course, Boxee is available for all other platforms (Windows, GNU/Linux, OSX, etc) but I believe, it’s the best companion of Apple TV like devices.

I have been having good time using Boxee on Apple TV. I can not only play all my media (pictures, videos, music) in much better way but also enjoy online stuff (music, videos, podcasts, pictures, etc), be it recommended by my friends in Boxee social network or various other channels/apps available on Boxee.

Boxee can download movie-subtitles and show with a great ease. It can also fetch a lot of metadata (covert-art, album-art, thumbnails, information, ratings, reviews, etc) for videos/music from various online databases (f.ex. IMDB, etc).

The latest version (still in testing: 0.9.9.5324 build) allows you to easily install various applications made for Boxee by community or Boxee developers?

I even noticed, Boxee can run applications that are based on Adobe Flash Platform, yeah Joost or MTV feeds/apps are Adobe Flash based.

The best thing, Boxee is based on XBMC, an open-source application. I think, it’s worth writing a post about Boxee, hence I just did that. Boxee.tv rocks!!!

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Irresponsible News paper: iNext (by Jagran)

Yesterday, I was in Cafe Coffee Day with my brother and a friend from work. Two girls walked to us, with a camera in hand and id-cards hanging in their necks–suggesting they are journalists for iNext daily news-paper by Jagran.

They asked, if we (three of us) are professionals and would want to be photographed for an article on professionals. Initially, I was very reluctant because I hardly knew them and can’t trust if they are really journalists. Anyway, my brother said, it’s alright and they are from iNext by Jagran (he went on Jagran’s image in India).

Anyway, today we noticed our photographs in iNext in a music-section. Where we are shown praising some music from some movie, honestly I never heard that song and about that movie.

In any case, this is totally wrong reporting/journalism and irresponsible act, where they are not only presenting false information but also lying to people. How irresponsible journalists can be and on top of that, how can a news-paper hire such lame people?

Since morning, I have been asked several times, it’s irritating and I am upset. I have just written an email to editor of the iNext, let’s see what he has to say.

Slowdown or recession – how do you take it?

I am not an expert when it comes to economics and finance, trying to learn things with each passing day. I have been watching and reading news, listening to people who are good at the subject.

After having known the slowdown/recession details, I spent good amount of time thinking, reading the causes and effects. Not sure, if I should have gone into all those details.

I realize, more I read worse it gets, I get concerned, upset and distracted after reading layoffs, dead(dying)-startups and future.

Ignorance is bliss, I guess that fits here, unaware of these details I was far more focused on what I do.

I am going to stop focusing on this whole slowdown/recession thing and just focus on how I can do things better than ever? How can I help my customers by providing better solution to their problems?

I am going to focus on building a team which is technically great, innovative, focused and very motivated.

Future means how well we do today i.e. foundations for tomorrow. If we do things better today, tomorrow is going to be alright. By just reading and spending time discussing, I am not going to achieve much – I would rather spend that time improving processes, practices and culture in my office.

BTW! Our company is doing well and we have good amount of work, perhaps it’s because not many from our team know about what’s going on, hence they are focused.

I am optimistic.

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OpenFiler – an opensource NAS

We wanted to have a scalable storage system. So I went ahead and checked out the cost of buying NAS from various vendors (NetApp, Dell, etc). I figured out, it was going out our of budget. Then I started learning, what it takes to build a NAS for a small teams like ours.

I started evaluating various FOSS NAS options for our office. I checked out FreeNAS and OpenFiler, finally decided on OpenFiler.
I chose OpenFiler for simple reasons – stability and production-quality. Whereas, FreeNAS has a lot more features, than OpenFiler, but doesn’t look that stable. Perhaps, in future I might go for FreeNAS for it’s various cool features (UPNP, iTunes streaming, etc).

We are using an old server based on Intel’s Server Entry Board, Pentium 4 processor, one Gigabyte memory, one IDE drive and two SATA drives. Both SATA drives are under RAID 1 configuration using OpenFiler’s software RAID. I am planning to get RAID controller card so we can use more disks.
OpenFiler boots from USB flash-drive, to make this happen it took some extra effort, Thanks to h@nnes. FreeNAS provides images for flash-devices, so it’s lot easier to boot FreeNAS from USB flash-device. BTW! Booting OpenFiler or FreeNAS from USB flash-drive would save one IDE/SATA port on motherboard, which can be used to plug-in another harddrive for better purpose (not for booting small NAS OS).

Anyway, we are using Intel NAS Performance Toolkit to benchmark our NAS server. We are also doing a lot of tests (semi)manually. The idea is to cover all cases and also come up with disaster recovery strategy.
I would post more details on our findings/benchmark-tests, so it helps you, if you plan to go for it.

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Long time and no post

I just thought to post an update about me, yeah shameless stuff :-)

I am busy doing some interesting flash/flex and web projects. I have been playing with PureMVC, flex parser/compiler code and other stuff. A part of schedule goes in streamlining processes (development, recruitment, HR, etc) in a company, which my brother and I co-founded some years back though it’s known as different name but seed is the same :-)

Whatever time is left goes in building new office space for our team. We would be moving to new office in couple of days. I hope, our team finds this new office relatively better. I hope, we would be more productive and have fun.

You can check out my flickr-stream to see how it looks, photographs are little old. Some more pics from my brother’s photo-stream.

It’s done using limited budget and customized furniture, not modular workstations; unfortunately, we couldn’t figure out a local vendor, for modular workstations, who can do it in our budget. When we do well in coming months, we might put some good modular workstations/cubicles.

Things are not easy in this part, Uttar Pradesh, of country. It seems, government is not really interested to support businesses/entrepreneurs. Corruption seems to be at it’s peak in various government departments, which makes it harder to do things right way (without bribe or favours). Bribing seems like to be an integral part of the system here, but if you are determined and know laws, you can get work done without it, though things might take longer (sometimes very) to get done.

I believe, we are fortunate enough to be in an industry (Software, Internet, Web – in general, IT), where location of business doesn’t matter as long as we have three things – electricity, internet and talent pool. I might be missing something in the list.

We have managed to take care of electricity by having good electricity-generator, though it costs a lot per day, considering we have to pay minimum electricity bill to government even when consistent power supply (around 5-6 hours power cut everyday + random power cuts). Internet is not a problem here, BSNL is doing good job and I find, it’s only goverment department that is relatively better than others.

The last one “talent pool” is something missing here in this city “Kanpur”, or rather entire state “Uttar Pradesh”? I guess, there are not many companies here which can attract and retain good talent. Another thing is temptation to move to better cities like Bangalore, Pune and Delhi for better jobs or life? I think, it’s good idea to do and get more exposure – one must do, it makes you better and allows to see the world outside of the city.

So it’s challenge for us to attract good talent or create talented people. I believe, recruitment of smart people (freshers or experienced) and training are going to be the key. I have stopped expecting to get any experienced person, so I am going to fall back on hiring people with passion, integrity and aptitude. Training is going to be the one of the important things in this company.

I believe, we would be able to build a good, if not great, culture in coming months. I don’t talk about compensation, it might not be the main factor for passionate people but such people should be appreciated in all possible ways (recognition, great work, great compensation and any other thing). We do pay the best in the city, AFAIK, we would keep doing that.

I am learning a lot of things and life is full of challenges now – I feel I am more motivated now than ever. It’s a journey, that’s going to be exciting.
Wait a second, did I tell you what we are doing and plan to do?

We are into graphics-design and development services (RIA/Web-app development and design – logo, identity, user-interfaces, illustrations, web-layouts, promos, flash-animation, etc) right now, but I am personally more interested into products, hence we are going to have a part of budget for R&D activities, where we would encourage people to create reusable libraries (be it code or design), internal-tools, experimental/fun projects using upcoming/existing technologies, etc – these can be used in our service projects. I believe, we would be able to turn some of our R&D activities into products in coming future.

That’s it for now – if you have read this far, thanks for doing that. Please leave your suggestion, those would really help me in this new journey of mine.

Available for consultancy, training and development

I am available for consultancy, training and development services. Following is the rough list of things, I can provide consultancy, training or development services for:-

  • ActionScript 1.0, 2.0, 3.0
  • Adobe Flash/Flex
  • Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR)
  • Training on Adobe RIA technologies
  • Architecture for RIA
  • Web Application Development
  • Design and Architecture
  • Development for LAMP
  • Integration Services for Flex/AIR with existing Web Apps
  • Development Setup for small teams
    • Subversion Version Control
    • Bug Tracking System (Trac, Wiki)
    • Training on Development Life Cycle
    • Backup Strategies
    • Development Sandbox Setup for RIA development

    JFYI! You can check out my linkedin profile to know more about me. I am based in India and have around ten (10) years of experience, during this period I have worked for Macromedia/Adobe, Yahoo!, Mixercast and TIS and worked as independent-consultant, freelancer, trainer and co-founder. I have been working on various technologies/platforms (some listed above).

    I am a programmer who enjoys solving users’ problems whatever it takes (technology is no constrain). Having said that, I am passionate about ActionScript/Flash/Flex/AIR and Web (in general) which happen to be my core competencies.

    PS: Do you think, this is a shameless sales pitch :-)

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    Development Setup

    I have been thinking a lot about a good and scalable development setup for small teams.That means, as team size grows, things don’t have to be changed.

    Server machine(s):-

    I am planning to have all of these one server machine (IBM) in virtualized environment. Subversion and Trac can go in one VM, perhaps under Apache. Second VM can have Apache for web-apps, third VM can have mysql, fourth VM can have MailServer and ActiveDirectory/LDAP?

    Do you think above makes sense?

    Developer/Designer workstations:-

    Though there should not be any restrictions on using a development IDE of choice, but I have realized if entire team uses same IDE things get far easier. The development workflow is easy, knowledge sharing and management is easy. Eclipse, which Aptana is based on, can be used for variety of projects.

    Ubuntu is good operating system, I have been using for over one year, not regularly but quite often. There might be Windows/OSX boxes for designers.

    Why do we need Apache and MySQL on each workstation?

    I think, developers are more effective if they have their own sandbox. They can play with code freely, take certain risks and innovate. There is no harm done. We do face issues, when it comes to sync mysql data into local mysql instances, I think it can be done via some scripts.

    Virtualization can be done on client and I am thinking to do it, specially for folks who are not comfortable with Linux, so they can be on Windows while they also have access to Linux VM, they are encouraged to use Linux VM. They can use Windows box (Host), if something is messed up in Linux VM and there is strict timeline that doesn’t allow to fix VM.

    Over the period, these developers would be comfortable with Linux and that is the time they can start using real Linux box :-)

    These are some thoughts, I might be missing something here. I hope, I would write more in another post.

    As you know, I have been on break and been thinking on all these things. BTW! I don’t work with Yahoo! anymore, once I am done with break I have to figure out what to do. Perhaps, time to be in my own city and do something my own (consultancy, startup or something like that). Heh, that’s news, if you have read so far :-)

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    Whereabouts

    It’s almost two months, I have not posted anything here as well as on mailing-lists (flex and others).

    In case you are wondering, where am I? What I am up to? First of all, thanks for being concerned. I am doing well and currently taking a break while spending time with my family. This is the only such a long (a month or perhaps more) break in last five years, where I am taking time to be with my family. Even in summer of North India, which is not that pleasant compared to that of Pune/Bangalore, I am feeling good.

    I think, I need some more time to relax, but I wish I could do that. I have to get back to work and resume things.

    During this break, I am not away from programming, I am reading and sometimes writing code. I took break from IMs and emails, I would need to catch up with emails and online buddies when I get back.

    If you have sent an email to me and still waiting for response, hope you understand now and don’t mind the delay or no response from my side. Please accept my apologies.

    In the end, I would like to share my excitement about Adobe Flash Player 10, which would have some kick-ass features, that it rocks.