Friday, March 26, 2010

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Voice chat on 3G

Over the past week or so, I have tried many IM applications on my mobile (Nokia E63). Apart from exchanging text messages, I also wanted to do audio calls over Google Talk, Skype, etc. There are many native S60 IM applications available for my Nokia E63 phone.

Skype has a mobile version of it's IM application. It is pretty huge - 5 MB download size and 3-4MB memory when application is in use. Also, it supports only skype protocol (no google talk, yahoo or anything else). So, it loses the edge when compared to its competitors here.
Basic text chat, voice chat, skype-out calls all work fine. But the application itself seemed to be a little slow (when compared to others).

This is a small IM application that supports many protocols - Google Talk, Skype, Yahoo, MSN, Facebook, twitter, etc. You can even do voice calls on all these. I did most of my audio calls on skype. There was a wee-bit of delay. Not much, but we could make out that there was about half a second delay between when we talk and the other party hears. Sometimes, it was annoying. But it was mostly OK. And the audio quality was good. Making Skype-Out calls was also very simple. All-in-all a good application. One disadvantage is that it only supports Skype and no other SIPs (like Gizmo or others)

This is one of the best applications I've used. Similar to Fring, it supports multiple protocols - Skype, Google Talk, Yahoo, MSN, Facebook, twitter, etc. It supports text chat as well as audio/video calls on all of these. Unlike Fring, there was no noticeable delay in audio calls over Skype. The audio calls all sounded great. The contact list is also well structured with icons indicating where the contact is from (GTalk or Shype or Yahoo). Nimbuzz also supports other SIPs apart from Skype. You can configure it to connect to Gizmo and other SIPs easily.
One problem I noticed was that I could not make skype out calls easily. On skype/fring, I can call toll free US numbers using skype-out. On Nimbuzz, it told me I had to buy some talktime before I could make a call.. :-(

For now, I have all 3 installed. I use Nimbuzz for most purposes. But if I need to make skype-out calls, I use fring.

On 3G network, the call quality of calls over voice network and the audio calls over skype (data network) are pretty much the same. It costs me 30-40 paise per minute for a skype call. That is cheaper than my local call (40 paise per min). When I talk to my uncle in US, it is way cheaper. An ISD call costs Rs.7.20 per min.
Oh yes, I can do the same skype calls using a computer (maybe for same cost 30-40 paise per min or even lesser). But being able to use my mobile phone anywhere to call via Skype/GTalk is real convenience.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


I just enabled 3G for my number...
I thought I may have to change my sim. But converting from 2G to 3G was as simple as sending an SMS. Yes, one SMS, that's all. 5 minutes later, I was on 3G network!
I assumed that there would be some special settings to access internet from 3G network. It turns out that the same old GPRS settings work. FYI, here's the connection settings:
Access point name:
Username: ppp
Password: ppp

The internet connection on 3G is very fast. I could easily get speeds of over 100kbps. The cost is also about 1/10th of the gprs connection.

In fact, I'm writing this blog post from my phone. :-)

Friday, February 05, 2010

Torrent applications

Over the past years, I have used many torrent applications. There are a number of applications for downloading/managing .torrent files. Here's a compilation of the few applications I have used and my experiences with them.

I have a limited broadband plan and I work from home quite regularly. So, I need to make sure that my torrent downloads don't eat up my bandwidth. Hence I usually schedule my downloads during the "happy hours" when downloads are unlimited. It's from 2AM to 8AM. To utilize this "happy hours" optimally, the feature of scheduling downloads in a torrent application would be very useful, albeit not a necessary one though. If the torrent application does not have scheduling, I can use "at" daemon and cron jobs to start and stop the downloads at appropriate times.

I also want my applications to be lightweight, i.e., light on resources (memory, cpu consumption, etc), small in size and with minimal dependencies. Let us see how the different torrent applications size up to my requirements.

'BitTorrent' client

This is a very simple client with a simple interface. It does not support many features like scheduling, upload/download limits per torrent/connection, etc. But it is pretty much light on resources and gets the job done. (It does have a few dependencies though). There are other applications that are 'lighter' and are more feature rich. So, I wouldn't recommend this.


This is the default bittorent client that is being shipped with ubuntu these days. This is a very light weight client with not much dependencies. It also supports all the standard features of a torrent application. There is no scheduler as such, but there is an option for temporary speed limits which gets the job done. It also has a cli mode to download via command line. The configuration options can be passed as parameters or saved in the config file. All in all, this is a great application which I would recommend to everyone. Since this is a GTK application, KDE buffs may not find it very visually appealing, though.

'rtorrent', 'ctorrent' and 'aria2'

These are all command line applications, which are very light weight and feature rich. Rtorrent has ncurses based UI. (It takes a while to get used to the key combinations). Ctorrent and aria2 are purely command line tools. They support all the common features. You can either set the options (like download/upload limits) in the config files or pass them as parameters. None of these have built in schedulers. Just use the 'at' command or cron jobs to start/stop them.
Of these, aria2 is my personal favourite as it supports http/ftp downloads (segmented downloading with resume support) as well as bittorrent and metalink protocols. I would recommend all of these cli tools. The only downside to these cli tools are that they don't display a whole lot of information about the torrent being downloaded (like the GUI apps). For e.g., the no. of connected peers, current and average download speeds, tracker info, percentage of completion of individual files in the torrent, etc, such information may not be displayed in these cli tools.


This is the default torrent application for KDE. This used to be my default torrent application for a long time. I was using this even on Gnome desktop. I wouldn't call it lightweight as it depends on a lot of KDE libs. So, if you are using any other Desktop Environment like Gnome, LXDE, XFCE, etc, you may want to download one of the other torrent applications.
KTorrent is feature rich and supports plugins too.. I used to like the scheduler plugin and used it a lot. But recently when I installed KTorrent, the same scheduler plugin did not work reliably. I had scheduled the download to start at 2:30AM and stop at 8AM. But somehow, the download started prematurely at around 12:30AM or so (which I found out from my usage logs). This caused about 250MB to be billed on my name! Also, a few days later, I saw that the scheduler did not stop at 8AM too. It kept downloading past the 8AM. So, maybe there is a bug. Use the scheduler at your own risk. You can still use cron/at to schedule your downloads.
Overall, KTorrent is a good torrent application for KDE. Beware of the scheduler plugin. People using Gnome/LXDE/XFCE, can use something lighter.


Deluge is a pretty lightweight python+GTK application. The GUI and the daemon are 2 different processes. Apparently you can manage your downloads from a web interface too. I haven't tried it out though. The GUI is simple, unintrusive and is feature rich. Deluge also supports plugins. But there is no scheduling available, either in the application or via plugins. I used to use the cron/at jobs to start/stop deluge. One major problem I have experienced is that often deluge hangs on startup. The GUI would just hang and you have no option but to kill and start again. Most often, kill once and restart would always start it correctly. Sometimes, it would hang everytime the GUI is started. To get it working again, i would kill/restart the 'deluged' daemon and then start the deluge GUI client. That would almost always work and get the application up and running. But as you can see this is quite a problem. I would have an 'at' job to start deluge at 2AM. When I wake up the next morning at 7AM, I see that it has hung on startup and no downloads have begun! This has happened to me innumerable number of times. So, I have given up and started using other applications. [I did search for this problem on google. I could not find others who had the same problem. So, maybe it was just me, maybe something wrong in my environment. Another thing to note is that I have tried deluge for over 4-6 months. Since I kept my archlinux system and all applications upto date, I have used several versions, with no change in behaviour).

Vuze (Azureus)

When I started using this, it was called Azureus. Now it has been given a new name - Vuze. This is one of the heavyweights as it is based on Java. Also, the new interface of Vuze is bloated with lots of unwanted "features" like browsing for "popular" video clips from within Vuze. The new UI of Vuze is quite complicated and overwhelming. The older UI, which was when it was called Azureus was simpler and presented all the information very well. I would prefer the older Azureus to the newer Vuze any day.
In terms of features, it is a very feature rich application. It is an excellent application for downloading torrents. I have always regarded Azureus as very "reliable" and works well out of the box. Prioritisation (of individual torrents as well as files within torrents), scheduling and all other features work well. Overall, it is a very good application that I would recommend, if you are wiling to overlook all the bloat.


This is one of the lightest torrent applications with almost no dependencies whatsoever. It is less that 250KB and is feature rich, very easy to use. I would highly recommend this for it's features, lightweight, simple UI and excellent performance. So, what's the downside? It is a windows application and has no native Linux port! Well, disappointing as it is, the good news is that it just works great with wine. It supports prioritisation, scheduling and other features


There is no one application that is for everybody. Try out all of them and use what you like. If you don't mind running it in wine, µtorrent would be the simple, robust and excellent lightweight torrent application that I recommend. KDE folks can stay with KTorrent. For a lightweight torrent application, use one of the cli apps - aria2, rtorrent, ctorrent, transmission-cli. If you want a lightweight GUI application, use transmission/deluge.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Where's my money?

A simple exercise: Calculate how much you have earned till date (including your salary, gifts, return on investments and all types of income). Just an approximate amount would do. Find out how much money you have in your savings (SB accounts, any other investments like stocks, Mutual Funds, etc). How do you find your savings with respect to your earnings? Are they substantial or very meager?

To drill down, calculate how much you have spent till date. Start with all your major expenses (like education or buying a vehicle/house/site). Find out how much you approximately spend monthly on other things like fuel, snacks, dining, clothes, telephone bills, etc. Put all of these together and get an approximate amount of how much you have spent so far (after you started earning).

Then do the math, "Calculated Balance" = Earnings - Expenditure. Are your actual savings same as the "Calculated Balance"?
If yes, congratulations! In most cases there will be a noticable big difference between the two. If so, where did your money go? Hard to explain!

I was in the same situation about 3 years ago. I had worked for over 2 years and I had a relatively small balance in my bank account (equivalant to about 2 months of my salary). My father helped me realise this. I started wondering where all my money went. I calculated all my major expenses and did the same exercise I explained above. I could account for about 60-65% of my expenses. Where did I spend the rest? I had no idea!

In order to prevent such accounting anamolies, I started keeping tabs on all my transactions, income and expenses. I started using a personal finance manager and found it very helpful in managind my money and accounting for it. In the past 3 years that I have been using GnuCash and KmyMoney I have been able to account 98-99% of my money.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Distro Hopping

I'm somebody who gets bored pretty soon. This is very true with the different Linux distros atleast. I keep on hopping distros every now and then. I take a lot of pain to install a distro, then tweak and install the programs I want and everything. But once I feel everything is installed and the desktop is good enough for my daily uses, I get bored and want to try out some other distribution. Maybe I just like trying out new distros, installing and configuring them. Or maybe I'm searching for that perfect distribution for me.

For the moment, I have puppy linux and 2 different installations of arch linux (on different hard disks) on my desktop. I have Ubuntu and Debian on my laptop. My previous (very recent) distributions on my desktop are - Gentoo, Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Debian, LightHouse Pup, Sabayon, etc.
I don't even remember all the distributions I've tried (installed and used) in the past 9 years. There are just so many. Red Hat, Suse, Mandrake (these 3 have now changed to Fedora, OpenSuse, and Mandriva), Caldera, ELX Linux, Slax, Elive, DSL, Vector, Slackware to name a few. And I have a huge collection of CD/DVDs of most of these Linux distributions over the past 9 years. Linux has truly come a long way since then.

Out of so many distributions, I keep coming back to 3 of them - Arch Linux, Puppy Linux and Ubuntu.

Arch Linux does everything right. They follow the KISS principle and an arch system is really very simple and elegant. It is the perfect distro for anybody who knows a little about linux, is not afraid to use the command line and has heard of config files. It allows you to build a very minimal system with no bloat whatsoever. You can (and will) build YOUR perfect system using arch. The package manager is great. And their wiki is excellent. It is one of the best I've seen.

Puppy Linux is something I would recommend to everyone, not just newbies to Linux. It is just about the perfect system which has everything but the kitchen sink. It's minimal footprint, ability to run in RAM, support for everything (browsers, IM, multimedia, doc/image viewers, and just about anything you can name), excellent community, make it a perfect choice for everybody. It has applications for just about everything. The CD/DVD recording/burning software is the best I've ever used. The downside to puppy is it's package management (something that Barry is already working on. Check out puppy 5.0 / dpup).

Ubuntu is the community's favourite distribution. I keep coming back to it because of the apt package manager. It is THE best out there. But I always feel Ubuntu is very bloated.

For now, it's Arch and puppy for me. Who knows, next week, I could try out some other distro. :-)