Gmail Gets A Sleek New Look

Tech

I have used this for a few days now, so I decided to share it.

Gmail has a plethora of different themes and color styles that you can choose from (through Settings -> Themes). Last week, Google added two new themes to this list as a sneak peek, which are called “Preview” and “Preview (Dense)”.

The new themes look pretty sleek. Here are some images from Gmail’s blog, showcasing the new theme.

Viewing the Inbox in Gmail's new theme

The view of Inbox with Gmail's new theme. "Dense" version looks more condensed.

A group of mails viewed as a conversation

Viewing a conversation in Gmail's new theme.

After playing around with them a bit, I chose to have the dense version of the new theme since it is a lot more compact. Which allows you to see more stuff at the same time.

Did you like the new themes? Or which other theme do you prefer?

New Blog Name, com Domain and a New Header

Blog

I’ve been searching for a new blog name for a while now, almost since I exported my blog to WordPress from Blogger. It used to have the name “Slithzerai’s Place” which is more generic and common than you can imagine. I wanted to find a blog name that primarily has the following properties:

  1. Shortness: Less than 10 letters or around 2 words.
  2. Pronouncability: It should be easy to pronounce the name of the website. This in turn helps:
  3. Memorizability: I thought about continuing to use my nickname as a website and domain name but I imagine it is hardly memorizable for people seeing it once or twice (Slithzerai).
  4. Describability: A name that can explain what this website is all about.
  5. Domain: The .com domain of the name should be free.

So, summing it up, I needed a name that is short, pronounceable, memorizable and describable. Which means the name will have a small ratio of number of letters to describability as possible, without sacrificing the other points. I have used the following domain name search tools in order to find a name:

  1. Wordoid: Great tool for searching a domain name, generates readable domain names that optionally contain a word or two of your choice. It also lets you know if the domain is already taken or not (with occasional mistakes)
  2. Domize: Another good tool for searching a domain name, however it makes you do all the imagining.
  3. I have also used other domain name search tools such as Nameboy, however none of them were as useful as the first one. That being said, I came up with the current name myself.

After days of thinking about a new name (and seeing that each short cool domain I though of were already registered) I came up with the current name of the website. “Code” since I’m a software engineer and “elk” since there are some elks here in Sweden that you see sometimes (though usually only their tracks). After some thinking I got the corresponding domain, minus one letter, since I think it looks a lot cooler.

For the final touch, I made a simple new header using Pixlr in which I tried to describe what the name means graphically. Any recommendations are welcome.

Evolving 2D Cars By Using Genetic Algorithms

Tech

Genetic algorithms mimic the process of natural selection and they are mostly used to generate solutions to optimization problems. Such as the problem of building two-dimensional cars to navigate a bumpy race track.

Here you can see an example car that I generated with 3 wheels jumping across the race track. To the top is the current generation, which is 12. It means that our car belongs to the 12th generation and that there were over 200 cars tested before it (since a generation consists of 20 cars).

Go BoxCar Go!

Cars with an extra wheel to the front tend to perform better after hitting a bump and getting airborne.

After the program tests a generation consisting of 20 cars, it considers the cars that belonged to that generation for selections, crossovers and mutations; which is another way of saying that it selects them by considering their scores, it does some crossovers between them and it does a degree of mutation to them. These result in a new generation of cars that may perform better in the racing track.

The cars aren’t perfect to begin with. At the start, they may not even have wheels (reinventing the wheel anyone?) and they roll over in seconds. However as generations pass, the better performing cars are found and the program goes ahead to use them more often since they score a lot more than the other weirdly shaped cars. The race track also gets trickier and bumpier after a while, which helps the further evolution of cars. In the following image you can see the same car slowing down to a stop while trying to ascend a steep slope.

Argh, almost

BoxCar crawling down to a stop, it was a good ride

You can also share a car that performs great with others or see other people’s cars. The algorithm is also explained to a degree for those interested. One problem is that after a while the generations tend to take a longer time since the cars perform better and longer. A solution is to get a bumpier road, by changing the track while keeping your generation.

The name of the program is BoxCar2D, check it out yourself. It’s pretty fun in the beginning, then you can make it run in the background for a while and check it later to see a better generation. Rinse and repeat to find the ultimate car.

Fizy: Streaming Music Website with a Simple Design

Tech

Fizy, with the tagline “easy way to find songs and music videos” is a powerful and simple browser-based music search engine with many awards. Having much in common with Grooveshark and other similar streaming music services, it also has some shortcomings which might not annoy you so much depending on your habits. It is currently displayed in Intel AppUp and it is available in 30 different languages. So here is a short review and comparison of Fizy with other similar services.

First off, the positive points:

  1. It is simple: It has such a simple design that it looks like it was designed for mobile browsing. This minimalistic approach is a safe refuge from some lots-of-images-and ads-on-your-face websites (cough, Grooveshark, cough). It is also ad-free with no pop ups.
  2. It is lightning fast: Fizy can pull music from 50 different APIs (including Grooveshark and YouTube) which gives it access to over 75 billion mp3’s almost instantaneously which really separates it from tons of other similar services. Additionally, it consumes a lot less resources at the browser level, thanks to its simple design.
  3. It is easy to use: All the stuff you’ll ever need is there in one page. You don’t even have to refresh the page for actions like registration or last.fm integration takes mere seconds. Fizy also makes it fairly easy to create playlists, you only need to find a good quality version of the song you’ve just searched. Sharing your playlists is also almost effortless.
  4. Last.fm integration: For people who love scrobbling like myself, this point is a necessity in any streaming or non-streaming music player. Fortunately, Fizy has been scrobbling each track for me. People who are yet unaware of Last.fm might want to consider getting acquainted with it for the wonderful music discovery tool it is.
  5. It is accessible: You don’t need to be registered or logged in to play any song or playlist as long as you have the link to the playlist. This makes it easy for you to access to your music while using any computer without logging in. The link for the playlists aren’t gibberish either, and very easy to remember, such as slithzerai.fizy.com/p/default, slithzerai being the username and default being the name of the playlist.

And now, the negative points:

  1. No keyboard shortcuts: Throughout my experimentation with Fizy, I couldn’t come across any keyboard shortcuts. This is the case with most browser-based streaming music players and can be solved if a desktop extension for Fizy were to be developed.
  2. No artist/album/track information: Not being able to even simply view the albums of an artist makes it somewhat hard to use Fizy to discover new music. Also there are no tags associated with tracks or artists. Fortunately you can use Last.fm or even Spotify for this purpose.

Even with these shortcomings, Fizy is an online jukebox that was made to be simple and easy to use. So if these are the things you are looking for in a streaming music player, Fizy might be a good choice for you. And it looks good too! The only thing you’ll be pondering on is which artists or tracks to search for. So just remember to use another service to discover new music.