A Vacation with Minimum Technology

Phew!! I was so close to forget that I have a blog that needed to be maintained regularly! I didn’t intend to leave my blog for more than two weeks without updating it, but things got out of my hands… sort of!

I had two weeks to spend relaxing in Syria before coming back for my last semester as an undergraduate. For my surprise, my PC there (an old one) wasn’t working properly. I tried to fix it myself but I didn’t have the necessary equipment. I didn’t take to be repaired because I was… too relaxed! I said to myself: “I can survive two weeks without a PC, I only need to go to an Internet café from time to time“.

My first (and only) visit to the café was terrible! The DSL connection was literally slower than a dial-up! I started to panic: “I HAVE TO check my e-mail, publish a post on my blog and update my status on Facebook. I just HAVE TO!“. Then, it hit me: “What if I left everything and tried to enjoy my vacation without worrying about anything related to technology for once?“.

And that was exactly what I did. To tell you the truth, I can’t remember the last time I felt this relaxed before. I admit that catching up will be hard (1000+ unread items in my Google Reader!!), but it was worth it.

Now that I’m back online, I’ll continue blogging regularly. I won’t be publishing posts at the same rate as I did in the summer though, because I have a lot to deal with right now :(


How to Reduce Firefox’s Memory Usage when Minimized

Firefox is my default web browser and I use it a lot. One thing that I don’t like about it though is its memory usage. It is true that I’m using around 20 extensions (some of them can cause memory leaks and crashes), but consuming about 100 MB of memory while only 8 tabs are open is quite irritating.

Maximized Firefox Memory Usage

By default, Firefox doesn’t reduce its memory usage when it is minimized (unlike Internet Explorer). Nevertheless, there is a trick to make it do so. Just do the following:
  1. In the Firefox address bar, type “about:config” and then press Enter.
  2. Right click anywhere in the page and select New -> Boolean.
  3. Type “config.trim_on_minimize” in the box that pops up and then press Enter.
  4. Select True and then press Enter.
  5. Restart Firefox.

Now when you minimize Firefox, its memory usage should drop to about 10 MB.

Minimized Firefox Memory Usage

Although the memory usage will gradually increase even when Firefox is kept minimized, this is a good way to “manually” free some memory out of Firefox’s grip. Hopefully, this issue will be resolved in Firefox 3.

(via FeelFirefox)

Note: For some reason, this didn’t work under Windows Vista! (Currently, I don’t have other operating systems installed to test this trick under them)


A New Approach for Spam Filtering

no-spam.JPGIn addition to being a nuisance, spam (junk) emails waste user time, disk space and network bandwidth. On my way back to KFUPM after the summer vacation, a simple idea regarding spam filtering hit me.


It all began with a simple question: “Why don’t you want to see spam emails?“. The answer was straightforward: “Because I’m not interested in whatever subjects the email is talking about“. Then, I started thinking:

We can’t use the subject header of the email because it can be totally unrelated to the body. So, we have to look at the content itself. How about if we extracted keywords that represent the main subject(s) of the email, and then compared them with keywords that represent the subjects that the user is interested in? After that, we should come up with a predicted “level of interest“. If it is too low, then the user will (most probably) not be interested in seeing this email (i.e. it’s spam).

This idea is now the core of my senior project. It will be a research-oriented, AI-related project. Regarding the first phase (keyword extraction), my teammate and I will most probably use some of the available services. We will focus our efforts on the second phase (keyword comparison). We have to figure out exactly how to do it and how to incorporate machine learning in it. We also might improve it by using Bayesian Belief Networks and/or Functional Network classifiers.

Spam filtering is one of the hot topics in the application of data mining and AI techniques. By working in this project, we hope that we can contribute to the ongoing research and develop an approach that will hopefully be taken as a basis for a new filtering technique or as an addition to existing ones.


Who Said that Muslims can’t be Green?

Every morning, Wasi Ahmed Yousaf, 37, of Manhattan Beach, Calif., puts on his sneakers and helmet and commutes to work on his bicycle. Yousaf ditched his car two months ago in favor of a more eco-friendly mode of transportation.

I realized that global warming, pollution and other environmental issues are something that everyone has to pitch in [and do something about], and it's a serious issue, but we can still resolve it” Yousaf said.

Yousaf has also made many other changes in his life. This includes no longer using those little, white, seemingly harmless Styrofoam cups to drink coffee or water at work. “Styrofoam is one of those materials that doesn't get decomposed even if you leave it in the ground for 50 years” Yousaf said. “It is a non-biodegradable product. So, why are we simply wasting it? I stopped wasting it and took a ceramic cup from home.

He's also stopped drinking bottled water. Bottled water wastes fossil fuels and water in production and transport, and when bottled water is used, its disposal becomes a major source of waste, according to Food and Water Watch. The group said it requires more than 47 million gallons of oil to produce plastic water bottles for Americans each year.

Instead, Yousaf has switched to Nalgene bottles, and even his kids are using them. Nalgene bottles are inexpensive and can be used over and over, and are recyclable. Yousaf has also switched to energy-efficient light bulbs and is more energy conscious in general. For example, he won't do half loads of laundry or run a half-filled dishwasher. And standing by the faucet as the water runs in the sink or taking long showers is a no-no in the Yousaf household.

I'm trying to teach my kids. I am trying to influence them to take responsibility. The big question is what type of a world are we going to leave for our kids? I want to teach them so they can have an example.

Going Green = Islam

Caring about the environment is a large part of the Islamic faith. Sadullah Khan, director of the Islamic Center of Irvine, said there are more than 500 verses in the Qur'an dealing directly with nature, the environment and natural phenomena. Many “surahs” or Qur'anic chapters are titled after animals or natural phenomena. “These references to the natural world around us aim at making us conscious of the Creator of creations, making us cognizant of our inextricable relationship with, and instilling in us a sense of respect for, Allah's creation, nature” Khan said.

Do you not observe that God sends down rain from the sky, so that in the morning the earth becomes green?” [Surah 22:63].

The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, is reported to have said, “Whoever plants trees, God will give him reward to the extent of their fruit.” (Musnad)

The Prophet is quoted as saying, 'When doomsday comes, if someone has a plant seed in his hand, he should plant it' suggesting that even when all hope is lost for mankind, one should sustain nature's growth” Khan said. “He believed nature remains a good in itself, even if man does not benefit from it.

Muzammal Hussain, founder of the London Islamic Network for the Environment (LINE), described creation as existing as “one interlocking system, with human beings a part of it.” He said the concept of creation reflects the principle of oneness or tawhid, which is at the center of the Islamic faith.

By 'going green' and living in harmony with the wider creation, we are honoring this principle, whereas if we live as though we are separate from the rest of creation, we would be going against what Islam teaches us” Hussain said. “Being 'green' is thus at the very heart of Islam. Effort is, however, needed for it to be in the heart of many more Muslims, as well as more Muslim organizations.

It is easy being green

Yousaf believes every little step counts. He also recycles soda cans and tries to reduce waste in general.

Paper or plastic? Yousaf carries his own canvas bag for his grocery shopping. For produce, he steers clear of supermarkets. “I routinely go to the Farmer's Market” Yousaf said. “I'm getting produce fresh from the field, and, somehow, I feel satisfied helping those smaller guys who are not chain stores.

By choosing local and organic products, World Watch's spokesperson Chafe said, fewer chemicals and pesticides will be consumed and kept from entering the ecosystems, local economies will be supported, and the carbon emissions associated with the transport of food minimized.

Chafe said going green” can take many forms, and each person should consider what is appropriate for his or her life and interests. The great news is that these decisions often have positive impacts that ripple far wider than our immediate communities and local environment” Chafe said.

For Yousaf, living green has not required making drastic changes to his lifestyle. He now feels healthier and has a more positive outlook because he knows that for every small change he has made, he is contributing to the greater good of saving the planet.

I believe this is exactly what my religion wants me to do, to take care of everybody, myself, my surroundings. This world, that Allah created so beautiful, how can we mess it up?

(Taken from Southern California InFocus. For the full article, click here)


Mission Impossible: Keeping up with the Web


30: the number of days I set to accomplish the mission.

158: the number of subscriptions in my Google Reader account.

0: the number of unread items I was hoping to reach at the end of the 30-day period.

3780: the number of items I read.

126: average number of items read per day.

255: the number of unread items at the end of the 30-day period.

Conclusion: Keeping up with the Web is impossible!

At first, it was quite easy, but things got complicated as I entered my final exams period. The whole thing fall apart after I spent an entire day without an Internet connection. I tried to make up in the last day, but after reading 316 items, I raised the white flag!

Lifehacker was (and still) the most frequently updated among my subscriptions with an average of 16.5 items/day. It is repeated in the list because I subscribed to their full feed recently.

What should I do now? Maybe I should organize the subscriptions according to their priority.

How about you? How many items do you read per day?


If a Feed is Too Hot, Just Drop it!

a.k.a hit the “Mark all as read” button.


Yes, you will feel bad about it. Yes, you will miss things that are great, helpful, amazing, interesting, and cool. Still, you will survive (at least I did).

Why should you do it? Think about it: How can you find peace of mind when you are being constantly reminded that you have 1000+ items to read? Maybe you are an information junkie, but information overload can have drastic effects. For many of us, life’s just too short.
1000 plus unread items
Before: Too many items!
zero unread items
After: Peace of Mind

I used to keep good, long articles that needed concentration unmarked to read them on a later time, but the number of unread items kept increasing. Google Reader automatically marks an item as read after 30 days. So eventually, those articles were marked as read and I never got the chance to read them.

Engadget is a great blog, but I only manged to keep their RSS feed in my subscription list for less than a week. It was just overwhelming to receive around 40 posts/day from a single site. Armed with that little button, I will subscribe to it again.

What if you are not comfortable at all with hitting the “Mark all as read” button? You can subscribe to category feed(s) instead of the main one. This will reduce the number of posts you have to read and will help you avoid the ones that you are not interest in.

Lifehacker's tags

If you have 300+ subscriptions and you are able to manage them with ease, or if you don’t mind having 1000+ unread items all the time, then you don’t have to do it. But remember: When things get overwhelming, the “Mark all as read” button will always be there for you (hopefully!).


How to Make Your Web Browsing Useful to Others

[Update: I have added two more ways to make your Web browsing useful to others: Tweet and Email]

You usually browse the Web to find something useful to you, but have you ever thought about making it useful to others? The following methods might be obvious to many “power users“, but there is definitely someone out there who doesn’t know them.

1. Hit the “Share” Button in Your RSS Reader

(Yes, I consider reading RSS feeds as Web browsing!)

In many RSS readers, there is a way to share items that you see “share-worthy“. In Google Reader, you can hit the “Share” button (or Shift+S on your keyboard) to share the current item.

Google Reader\'s Share Button

In FeedDemon, you can create a new clippings folder and enable sharing it as an RSS feed. To share an item, just add it to this folder.

FeedDemon\'s Shared Clippings Folder

All what you have to do now is to give the link to that feed to others (by publishing it on your blog for example). Here is my shared items feed.

Remember: don’t overdo it! Most probably, your subscribers got their hands full with too many feeds, and you don’t want to make it worse for them. Of course, you are free to share whatever you like, but as a general rule, the number of shared items should be less than the number of starred items (your private, favorite items). I usually ask myself before I hit the “Share” button: “Will I write about the topic(s) of this post in my own blog?“. If the answer is yes, this will encourage me to share it (but it doesn’t mean that I’ll definitely do it!).

2. Use Social Bookmarking

Not only can del.icio.us be used to save bookmarks on the Web, it can be used to share links and create networks between users, and that is why it is called “social” in the first place. When you come across a special, important, useful, or even interesting website, and you think that someone else might be interested in it too, bookmark it. If you find a user that has similar interests to yours, add him/her to your network, then follow your entire network via its RSS feed.

Adding someone to your network on del.icio.us

Remember to share your del.icio.us page with others. Here is my page.

Of course, del.icio.us is not the only web site that offers social bookmarking services. Look for similar services and choose the one(s) that suits your needs.

3. Blog

This might be helpful when you don’t have the time to write a long post. Instead of leaving your blog without updates for the week, why don’t you write a short post containing links to some useful websites, blogs, or articles you recently came across? (I know I should do this more often!)

4. Tweet

Are you on Twitter? If yes, make your tweets more useful and interesting by posting links to useful websites from time to time.

A Tweet with a link shortened using Tweetburner

Because of the 140-character limit, you might want to use one of the URL shortening services. I personally prefer Tweetburner because it can be used to track what happens with the links you share on Twitter.

(On a side note, TinyURL is blocked in Saudi Arabia! I was missing a lot of good stuff because of that, but I recently discovered Embiggen TinyURL bookmarklet for expanding those TinyURLs, and it works fine with me!)

5. Email

If you come across an interesting article on some blog and you realize that one of your friends will find it really useful, look around for an envelope icon, an “Email this” link, or a “Send to friend” link and click it to send the link to your friend. Of course, you can send the link from your own email account if you prefer to do so.

Do you have any other tips to make our web browsing useful to others?

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Discover the Best RSS Tools and Resources on the Web

RSS Feed Icon

[Update: Added 2 more resources]

Whether you are an RSS beginner, user, addict, or developer, you will find below a list of the best RSS tools and resources available on the Web for you. I’ll update it whenever I discover a new resource, so keep your eye on it! This post is part of my participation in the RSS Awareness Day – an initiative by Daily Blog Tips to raise awareness about RSS. (Yes, I was supposed to publish this yesterday, but it wasn’t ready yet. My bad)

For Beginners

Don’t know what RSS is? Really Simple Syndication is a way to publish and subscribe to frequently updated content such as blog entries, news headlines, and podcasts. If you follow a lot of frequently updated sites and you are not using RSS, then you are probably wasting a lot of time.

The following excellent video – from the CommonCraft Show – explains what RSS is, why it is important, and how to start using it:

Web-Based vs. Desktop-Based

Can’t decide whether to go for a Web-based or desktop-based RSS reader? The following blog posts might be helpful:

For People with RSS Addiction/Overload

Can’t stop subscribing to those feeds? Too much of anything can be bad, and this include RSS! If you are an RSS addict (like me), you are probably trying to accomplish an impossible mission. I tried that too, but I finally decided to hit the “Mark all as read” button. The following resources might help us in our struggle:

For Sites with no RSS Feeds

Arrived at a website that has no feeds? There are several ways to deal with this situation:
  • Dapper: a free web application that helps users in creating a feed for websites that lack one. Dapper is quite advanced and offers many customization options.
  • Feed43: a free online service to convert any webpage to an RSS feed on the fly.
  • Feedity: an RSS generator for web pages without syndication.
  • FeedYes: a service to create an RSS feed from webpage even if they don’t offer them.
  • How to Monitor Websites that don't have RSS Feeds: Make Use Of mentions some ways to get notified about site updates when the site doesn't offer RSS feeds.
  • Page2RSS: a service that helps you monitor web sites that do not publish feeds.

For Developers

Want to develop an RSS-related application? Check the list below for some useful resources:

Miscellaneous tools

Want to use RSS in a new way? There are many innovative tools and services out there:
  • FeedBlitz: a popular RSS to e-mail converters that enables publishers to offer RSS by email to their subscribers.
  • Feed Informer: a professional service that blends and converts RSS feeds to other formats for publishing.
  • FeedJournal: a Web application to generate personalized newspaper-formatted PDFs from RSS feeds.
  • FreeMyFeed: a service that allows you to bypass password-protected feeds.
  • ReadBurner: a website that aggregates popular Google Reader Shared Items.
  • RSS 2 PDF: An online utility that can convert RSS feeds into PDF files.
  • RSS2Image: a service that takes an RSS feed and converts it to an image that can be displayed anywhere on the Web.
  • RSSFWD: a service to deliver updates from RSS feeds straight to your email.
  • RSS Mix: a web service that mixes multiple RSS feeds together into one new feed.
  • SendMeRSS: a free service that lets you read your RSS feeds in your inbox. [Update: NBC has shut down SendMeRSS]


Can’t write a list about RSS resources without mentioning these:

If you got any other useful RSS tools and resources, please mention them in the comments.

If you like this post and want to get more useful content, then please subscribe to my full text RSS feed.

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Discover the Best Ubuntu Resources on the Web

Ubuntu Help

Whether you are trying Ubuntu for the first time or you are a long-time Ubuntu power user, you will find below a list of the best Ubuntu resources on the Web. You name it: websites, forums, wikis, blogs and podcasts. There are many Linux resources out there, but in this post, I tried to only include links to resources that are mainly focused on Ubuntu. I’ll update it whenever I discover a new resource, so keep your eye on it! (Image Credit: Fishbowl Collective)


If it has “ubuntu.com” in its URL, it is official!
  • Ubuntu Home Page – the official website of Ubuntu, where you can get the latest official news and download various Ubuntu releases.
  • Ubuntu Documentation – the official documentation developed and maintained by the Ubuntu Documentation Project.
  • Ubuntu Community Docs – the community documentation for Ubuntu, created by Ubuntu users themselves.
  • Ubuntu Forums – a great place to get help on even the most difficult issues. (forums.ubuntu.com redirects to ubuntuforums.org. So, it is official after all!)
  • Ubuntu Mailing Lists – news, announcements, development and community support.
  • Ubuntu IRC – this page contains information about the Ubuntu IRC channels, where you can ask for (and offer) help.
  • Ubuntu Screencasts – the official video screencast website for Ubuntu.
  • Ubuntu Brainstorm – a website where users can add their ideas and vote for their favorites.
  • Ubuntu Team Wiki – a place for the Ubuntu community to discuss ideas and store team-related information.
  • Ubuntu Weekly Newsletter – “Reporting all of this week’s Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Edubuntu and Xubuntu action.
  • Planet Ubuntu – “a window into the world, work and lives of Ubuntu developers and contributors.


It certainly doesn’t have to be official to be helpful!
  • Questions for UbuntuLaunchpad‘s Answer Tracker provides a way to build a knowledge-base through community participation.
  • Ubuntu | HowtoForge – one of the best resources for Ubuntu how-to’s and tutorials.
  • Ubuntu Knowledge – this sites aims to be a unified Ubuntu documentation site.
  • Funnestra Ubuntu How-To – a great collection of how-to’s, from initial setup to restoring GRUB.
  • Psychocats Ubuntu Linux Resources – a collection of essential tutorials, how-to’s and links for users starting with Ubuntu.
  • How to install ANYTHING in Ubuntu! – an excellent graphical guide for installing applications in Ubuntu.
  • Ubuntu Guide – a wiki that contains guides on how to do many basic things in Ubuntu (and some other Linux distributions).
  • Full Circle Magazine – the free independent magazine for the Ubuntu Linux community.
  • Getdeb – provides updates and software that are not yet available on the official Ubuntu repositories.
  • Linux App Finder – a great resource for finding and installing Linux applications. If you like, you can use the filter to only show applications from the Ubuntu repositories.
  • Ubuntu-News.net – a good place for getting daily news about Ubuntu.
  • Ubuntu Story – a promotional website where you can share your story and tell the world why you use Ubuntu.
  • Buntfu – a community based computer vendor with a focus on Ubuntu.
  • Ubuntu Resources – a nice collection of easy-to-follow, up-to-date articles and guides. It was created by Michael Godawski, a member of the Beginners Team in the Ubuntu Forums.


These excellent blogs offer great Ubuntu tips and how-to’s. Remember to subscribe to their RSS feeds (don’t know what is RSS? Check my previous post to learn how it can save your life!).

  • Tombuntu – “News, Tips, and How-Tos for Ubuntu Linux” (my favorite!).
  • Ubuntu Unleashed – “Unleashing Ubuntu knowledge for the open source community“.
  • Ubuntu Tutorials – “How to do almost anything on your Ubuntu desktop, laptop or server. Regular tips on installing, configuring and making your Ubuntu system as effective as you need it to be.
  • Ubuntu Geek – “Ubuntu Linux Tips, Howtos & Tutorials“.
  • Ubuntu OS – “A blog and podcast with everything you want from Ubuntu“.
  • Ubuntu Blog – “Not quite everything about Ubuntu, but close.
  • Ubuntu Switch – “A blog about the experiences of a non-techie, linux noob switching to Ubuntu. Anyone can register and post an experience, tip or other Ubuntu-esq piece with the thought of keeping things as non-technical as possible.
  • UbuntuHQ – “Our goal is to collect all Ubuntu related articles in one place. Here you can find recent news issues, application reviews, howto’s and other stories.
  • Works With U – “We're a media company that will track Ubuntu's strengths, weaknesses and ultimate evolution. And we're here to connect Ubuntu experts with novices who are ready to give Ubuntu a try.
  • Ubuntu Linux Help – “Resources, help, how to’s and tutorials for Ubuntu Linux users!
  • The Daily Ubuntu – “The blog for a featured daily Ubuntu application every day.” (though it wasn’t updated since February 23, 2008)
  • Ubuntu OS – “another blog about Ubuntu Linux. Parts 1-8 are for new users, the rest is just a mix of How to's, Guides and general info.
  • Linux and Microcontroller Tips: ubuntu – “tutorials and useful tips for ubuntu.
  • Ubuntu Extreme – “the quintessential guide to ubuntu hacks.

It is worth mentioning that Ubuntu Blog created a long list of blogs with Ubuntu-related content (and not only English ones). Free Geekery also created an interesting list of the top 25 Ubuntu blogs (by the numbers).


If you only want to listen to podcats about Ubuntu, check out the following great ones:
  • Ubuntu OS – “the home of the first, and longest running, Ubuntu Podcast!
  • Fresh Ubuntu – “a somewhat weekly account about anything that has to do with Ubuntu.
  • Ubuntu UK – “from the newest user to the oldest coder, from the command line to the latest gui.
  • Ubuntu Podcast – “Podcasts and Videocasts brought to you by Georgia and Florida US LoCos.

Do you have other Ubuntu resources? What are you favorite ones?

If you like this post and want to get more useful content, then please subscribe to my full text RSS feed.

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