Sunday, December 19, 2010

Improved IRCTC Ticket Booking - Google Chrome Extension

*Note: This extension does not work anymore and I have stopped updating it. Please do not contact regards to this*

AutoIRCTC! - A Google Chrome extension that helps in speeding up the IRCTC ticket booking process.

Scripting has always interested me and being a reasonably active member of the internet community, i always tried to customize the road of web i travel to my likes and needs. This is one such script that i thought will be helpful if shared. So i have added minimal features to the script i have been using personally for quite a while now. It has really helped me speed up the ticket booking process.

Features include:
  • Automatic Login
  • Swap from and to stations in a single click
  • See all the trains availability in a single screen
  • Pre-fill the passenger details


Download: You can download the extension from here!

Instructions and Screenshots
  • Accept the warning and click on continue

  • Click on Install

  • After the installation is complete, You will see a confirmation like this:

  • Also, you can view AutoIRCTC in the list of extensions in chrome://extensions
  • Now, when you visit www.irctc.co.in, you will see a small icon next to the bookmark star. Clicking on that icon will give you a pop up where you can configure your settings. If you leave the login credentials empty, then auto login will be disabled. Click on "Save Settings" after you have entered your details.
  • Now, when you reload your page, you will be automatically logged into IRCTC. And instantly, you will be able to notice the "Swap from and to" option under "Plan my travel". This button helps you to swap the from and to cities without making an unnecessary server request.
  • Enter your travel city and date. Now you will be able to see the availability of all trains matching your criteria in a single screen. Also, the page has been cleaned up to now show First class AC and First class (if you are making a first class booking, then disable the extension and go ahead as usual). The default class to check availability for can be changed by clicking the page icon near the bookmark star.
  • Now, in the passenger details form, you can see that it has been pre-filled with your data thereby avoiding your need to type your details every time (Note that pre-filling senior citizen is not supported in this version).
  • The quick book form too will be pre-filled with your data.
  • After these steps, proceed as usual for payment options and complete your ticket booking.


Disclaimer
The purpose of this extension is to increase the ticket booking experience of a common man and it no way intended to be commercial. Using this extension does not guarantee your ticket booking. Its just a minor enhancement to the ugly IRCTC user-interface.

Footnotes
I am still a beginner to the world of Google Chrome extensions. So you are sure to find a lot of bugs. In case of any feedbacks/issues, please write to me at vig...@gmail.com (please click to view the full address).

-Vignesh

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Why Computer Science should not be taught with Python!

Every Computer Science student begins his academic travel with the first stop being C. It is really a good language to begin with and it helps the student to grasp the fundamentals of how a computer program works. And (atleast in India) most of the Computer Science courses just revolve around C/C++ almost the entire of the curriculum. All the laboratory classes usually mandates the student to develop programs in C/C++ or Java in some cases.

Any student who has worked for a reasonable amount of time with a language like Python or Ruby will be against this system. He will be frustrated in writing tens of lines of C code when the same can be accomplished in very few lines in Python. I have a strong opinion that this should not be the case and undergraduate courses should insist on students using C/C++ as their primary language on the academic curriculum side.

C is a programming language that requires very verbose form of writing programs which will be highly helpful in learning and understanding the underlying concept thoroughly. Consider an example of quick sort. It is a single line of code in Python. But what does the student really understand out of that single line? Whereas when you write the same thing in C, it really forces you to understand the algorithm line-by-line, thereby making the student more knowledgeable about the actual working of the algorithm rather than just getting the thing done. Getting things done is top priority in an industry. But when it comes to academia, learning the underlying working is more important than getting things done.

Another good example would be writing a simple socket program. In python its a maximum of ten lines. Whereas in C you work very closely (almost with actual system calls) and hence you thoroughly understand the whole process of how a socket connection works.

More the abstraction, better the survival. This definitely holds good, but not when you are undertaking a course to become a computer engineer. Abstraction is good once you have completed the learning process. But when you are in the learning process, less abstraction is more helpful in making a student better.

-Vignesh

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A flaw/feature in Google Chrome Extension design!

I am recently into customizing my road in the web with simple google chrome extensions to get and share content in the web the way i want. After having spent a good amount of time with the Google Chrome Extension Framework and their javascript API, i feel there is a flaw in the design of it. I still am not sure if this is a flaw or an intended feature.

Before describing the exact flaw, let me give a brief overview of things whose understanding is required to understand the flaw.

Browser Actions
Browser Actions are those using which your extension can do things along with the browser. Every browser can include a pop up page (yes the one which pops up when you click on the extension's icon on the top right corner). As of now, the only way to open up the pop up page is by clicking the icon. This point is important. Let me come back to it in a while.

Context Menus
Extensions can add custom context menus (the one that appears when you right click on something within the browser).

The flaw/feature
Now, as of writing this, there is no programmatic way of invoking the pop up page (other than clicking the icon manually as mentioned earlier). This makes sense because if a non-manual initiation of the pop up was allowed then it would be an irritation for users to see the pop up page annoyingly appear just when they install an extension.

Whereas, the restriction now enforced is a bit too strict. The restriction should look something like this, "The pop up page can be initiated only by a manual action", whereas the restriction that chrome enforces now looks like this, "The pop up page can be initiated only by clicking the pop up icon". This restriction is too much because, there are other manual actions than clicking the pop up icon, that might require an user interactive window for processing. For example, consider the case of a context menu. When a context menu is clicked, it completely makes sense for the extension to initiate the pop up with the context based content and enforce user interaction. This is simply *NOT* possible now.

Other options
Though the clean solution is not possible, there are one or two workarounds that i have found out to overcome this problem.

  • If the user-interaction required is really simple, then merely use the javascript prompt('') function from the background page.

  • You can always create a tab and make the user interaction

  • Use a floating div or a jquery modal window to enforce the user interaction (this can be done using the executeScript API function).



-Vignesh

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Android 2.1 USB Tethering in Ubuntu

The worst part about owning an android phone is to wait for updates from your hardware vendor (HTC in my case) to provide OS updates. I am still stuck with Eclair and eagerly awaiting froyo,while the N1 counterparts are eagerly awaiting gingerbread :-P.

Wifi tethering (using the phone as a wifi hotspot) is one of the key features of froyo. Since i don't have froyo, i have to go through a tedious process to setup wifi tethering in my eclair. So, i chose the easier option of USB tethering.

Before i even connected the USB cable, i browsed through the internet and found out there are various methods available for USB tethering. There were many tutorials on how to achieve this. I read all levels of tutorials from rooting the device to installing the SDK to installing a $30 app. Atlast i found a simple app, which could do the trick.

I connected the phone (running android 2.1) and the computer (running ubuntu 10.04 netbook remix) and selected "Enable mobile internet sharing" in the phone. Thats when the miracle happened. A small pop up notification appeared in the top corner saying "Connected to wired network auto usb0". I was surprised. I had just spent half an hour surfing through tutorials to make this work. All of a sudden out of nowhere it works out of the box on just connecting the cable. To ensure i just pinged my blog and it was working like a charm!

So its windows that requires all the crappy drivers and vendor software for USB tethering. In ubuntu it automatically established a LAN (PAN may be) and set the IP, gateways and DNS and works on the go without any manual effort (except for connecting the phone and computer of course ;-))

So for all who want to tether your phone's internet connection, please do not waste your time in reading tutorials and rooting your device. Just boot into linux and connect your phone :-)

P.S.: This post is through the tethered 3g connection :-D

-Vignesh