Suramya's Blog : Welcome to my crazy life…

October 13, 2019

Our Trip to Varkala

Filed under: My Life,Travel/Trips,Uncategorized — Suramya @ 11:01 PM

This last weekend it was a long holiday so we went on a trip to Varkala, Kerala. Its about 700kms from Bangalore and as per Google maps would take about 13 hours to drive there. As I had no interest in driving for 13+ hours and reaching the site exhausted we decided to take an overnight sleeper bus to Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum) and then hire a car to take us to Varkala which is about another 2 hours drive. Initially we did think about taking a TT (Tempo Traveller) as we normally do as that would have come out to be a bit cheaper but then the majority voted for taking a bus so that we get some rest and not reach the resort exhausted as travel in a TT is not the world most comfortable way to travel.

We started from my place around 7:30pm as our bus boarding was at 9:15pm but since it was raining we couldn’t get any cabs so we ended up taking my car where all 7 of us (including the driver) squeezed into the car and even with the traffic we reached the pickup point early enough that we had time to have a quick dinner before boarding the bus. Due to the delay in us booking the tickets we were right in the back of the bus and the road was initially quite bumpy and the driver really loved the brakes. I almost took a header down from the upper berth but thankfully managed to grab a railing before I pitched over fully. The seats were quite comfortable and clean so after playing a round of UNO we crashed (we would have continued playing but the lights were turned off and it made it hard to play. Plus we were all tired as well so we decided to sleep early.

Once we reached Thiruvananthapuram and got into the car the first order of business was food so we went to a local restaurant and attacked the food. It was quite good, or we were just that hungry that we finished the food in record time. Post brunch we drove to Poovar Backwaters and took a 3 hour boat ride through the backwaters. The boat ride was quite fun and I enjoyed the beautiful views. This place is a birdwatcher’s paradise and I can’t remember how many different varieties of birds I saw during the ride. About halfway through the ride we stopped for a snack break at a floating restaurant and it was ok, nothing too special though the juice I had was fresh and tasty. Apparently the tea was one of the worst people have had but since I don’t drink tea I can’t comment on that.


All ready to explore the Backwaters

After the snacks we rode over to the Golden Sands beach which was basically a regular beach between the backwaters and the ocean. They just gave it a fancy name to attract visitors. We had to cut the beach visit short as it started drizzling and in any case we couldn’t get into the water as it was dangerous. We did see a crab and were trying to catch it when a big wave came and the crab escaped in the water. You should have seen how quickly everyone ran when they realized that the crab was MIA in the water.


The place was a bird watchers paradise

After the beach we spent another 1 1/2 hours touring the mangroves and by the time the 3 hours were up we were all more than ready to head back. The last 45 mins or so were esp boring as we basically went round the place in circles and we all were a bit sleepy by this time but Jani and Akanksha were especially hit as they had both taken motion sickness tablets and one of the side effects of this particular table is excessive drowsiness.

Since we were all tired and had no interest in looking at more mangroves/backwater we headed out to the hotel. On the way we stopped at Vizhinjam Light House making it just before the closing time giving us about 15-20 mins to explore the lighthouse. For some weird reason they have a requirement that everyone climbing the lighthouse has to remove their shoes. As it had started drizzling this meant that we had wet feet/socks when we climbed the stairs. The view from the location is spectacular and worth the time to see at least once.


View from the lighthouse

After the light house we drove to the hotel and checked in. We got lucky and got one of the suites giving us a nice place to hang out and chill. The hotel is located at a great location and was a good experience for the most part. The major issue we faced during the stay was that the service is super slow. To give an idea of the slowness it took over an hour for them to serve us dinner after we ordered and I was ready to go to the kitchen to yell at them when they finally served the food. I was happy with what I ordered but the rest of the folks were not super impressed with the food. The other issue I had was that the linen / bed sheets etc were super old and quite rough/uncomfortable.

But the view from the room was amazing. We could see the swimming pool from the window and just beyond that was the beach. We got up early morning the next day to enjoy a swim before starting the touristy things. It was a bit of a surprise when we got down and walked over to the beach and saw the entire beach front area in front of the hotel taken over by Pandits and worshipers for puja (prayer). So we walked a bit toward the empty part of the beach beyond the fishermen selling fresh catch and entered the water.


View from our room

The water was phenomenal, and the waves were super powerful and a lot of fun. We got thrown around quite a bit and had a blast. We could only go in a few meters into the surf and that was more than enough to chill/fool around. Jani stayed out to keep an eye on us and spotted a dead puffer fish on the beach which is something I hadn’t see before.


Dead Puffer fish we found on the beach

We spent about an hour in the water before we had to head back as we had a tight schedule for the rest of the day. We had a quick breakfast at the hotel and headed out to visit the Jatayu Earth Center/Adventure Camp. The idea was that we would spend a few hours at the adventure camp, visit the statue and then head back.

Unfortunately, by the time we reached the center it was 11:30am and hot enough that you could fry an egg on the road, so we discussed and reached a consensus to skip the adventure sports and just take the cable car to the top to see the statue. We could have taken the steps and trekked to the top but due to the heat none of us dared. The statue was impressive and the 65 acre land around the statue was filled with a forest and looked amazing. After fooling around for a bit and taking a lot of pics we took refuge under some trees and then under the wings of Jatayu.


Us at the Jatayu Earth Center


Sharukh and Ayush trying to copy Jatayu’s pose

Once we got down from the statue it was late enough that we were starting to feel hungry again so we headed out to ‘5 Spoons’ restaurant which was ok. Most of the items on the menu were not available and the dishes we did get were average. However the Chilli Paneer we got was surprisingly good.

Post lunch we headed back to the hotel with a plan to get Kerala massages at the hotel followed by a long and relaxing swim in the pool. Scheduling the massage took some time as the staff was super slow. To make things interesting they could only schedule massages for 2 people at a time. While the rest of the folks went for a swim me and Jani volunteered for the first slot. After we agreed and were about to head in we found out that there was no guy available for the men’s massage so I had to wait for 30 mins while their massage guy came over.

The massage was interesting in a lot of ways. When I got to the room I was asked to strip and wear this strip of cloth the size/width of a thong. The windows of the room didn’t have curtains and I could see houses and folks chilling from where I was standing. I only hope that the women’s side had more protection from peeping toms. The guy giving the massage was quite decent and while it wasn’t the best massage I had it definitely wasn’t the worst either. I felt a lot more relaxed after the massage and went for a swim after the massage.

For dinner we walked over to another restaurant walking distance from the hotel and were joined by 2 other friends who were coincidentally in Varkala at the same time during their road trip. The dinner was fine but it took them ages to get the food. The Veg sizzler was quite nice and apparently the seafood platter was good as well. The rest of the dishes were quite average. Because of the slow service it took us a while to finish dinner and then we retired to our room to chill.

As it was Ayush’s birthday we had planned on a surprise birthday celebration. While Shahrukh kept Ayush busy me, Jani, Sharukh and Shashank blew up balloons and decorated the cake etc. Post cake cutting we proceeded with the traditional beating the crap out of the birthday boy ritual. Fortunately for Ayush both Jani and Akanksha were softhearted enough to stop the beating after only a few hits. We then opened the local wine we had picked up and I can say without any hesitation that it was the worst wine I have had the pleasure of tasting. We only managed to have a few sips each before we gave up and abandoned the rest of the bottle.


Celebrating Ayush’s birthday

Next day we didn’t have much planned so we got up early morning and spent the morning playing in the pool. We stayed in the water till the last possible min and it was great. Unfortunately we had to leave the pool as it was getting late and we had to freshen up before we checked out from the hotel thus we got out, freshened up and walked over to another restaurant for breakfast where the food was a lot better and we had the entire place to ourselves.

Once we were done with food we checked out and then drove over to Kovalam beach. We took the beach road which was quite scenic but in bad repair so the drive took a while. Just as we reached the beach it started raining so we had to run to the nearest restaurant which was right on the beach. Personally I am not a huge fan of Kovalam beach as I think its overrated, crowded and not worth the time. There are other beaches nearby which are a lot better and more friendly but this is a beach that is so famous that everyone wants to visit atleast once. This was the second time I visited and though it was a litter less chaotic than the last time I was there it was still too crowded. The food at kovalam was quite nice and we ended up spending almost 1 1/2 hours there.

Post lunch, we drove to our pickup point near the music college and we reached there almost an hour before our boarding was supposed to start and there was nothing around where we could sit. Finally we sat down in a Gandhi museum near the pickup point, but luck was with us that the bus reached early and we boarded. Once again we were at the end of the bus and had a great & bumpy ride. This bus was via ‘orange tours’ and I didn’t like the bus quality. There were cockroaches in the bus and the blanket they provided was stinking so badly that I had to open the window to get fresh air and avoid throwing up. The driver was quite good though, he got us to Bangalore an hour earlier than we expected so we reached home by 8am and got ready by 8:30 and was on the way to office on time.

Overall the trip was quite fun. The next time we will take Kerela Lines both ways as their quality & cleanliness was much better than Orange Tours. Well, this is all for now. Will post more later.

– Suramya

October 10, 2019

Taxonomy of Terrible programmers

Filed under: Humor,Techie Stuff — Suramya @ 11:58 PM

If you have been in tech for a while you would have had the dubious pleasure of meeting some or all of the types of programmers described in the following post: The Taxonomy of Terrible Programmers

In one of my previous companies I had the pleasure of working with the The Arcanist and trust me it was a painful experience that I still remember more than a decade later. So what is an Arcanist?

Anyone who has worked on a legacy system of any import has dealt with an Arcanist. The Arcanist’s goal is noble: to preserve the uptime and integrity of the system, but at a terrible cost.

The Arcanist has a simple philosophy that guides his or her software development or administrative practices: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – to an extreme.

The day a piece of software under his or her auspices ships, it will forever stay on that development platform, with that database, with that operating system, with that deployment procedure. The Arcanist will see to it, to the best of his ability. He may not win every battle, but he will fight ferociously always.

All change is the enemy – it’s a vampire, seducing less vigilant engineers to gain entry to the system, only to destroy it from within.

The past is the future in the Arcanists’ worldview, and he’ll fight anyone tries to upgrade his circa 1981 PASCAL codebase to the bitter, tearful end.

We had to fight him to move from a system that required you to edit HEX code for making any changes to a web based UI that controlled the system and gave extra functionality. In the end the project was moved to a different team as everyone realized that he was going to kill it just because he was used to the old system and didn’t want to change.

Check out the linked article for details on the other types. If you recognize some of the behaviour’s described in the post as something you might do, I suggest you take a good long look at yourself and seriously think about changing as being classified/identified as one of the types of people in this list is not a great carrier move.

– Suramya

PS: Before you ask, yes this post links to a really old post. The post has been sitting in my draft folder for ages and I finally decided to publish it.

October 8, 2019

The hated font Comics Sans is actually very useful and life changing for people with Dyslexia

Filed under: My Thoughts — Suramya @ 6:18 PM

Comic Sans is the font everyone loves to hate. In fact there is a whole movement to ban the font which is something I didn’t know till today. I don’t really like the font but spending money and effort to ban a font just because you don’t like it seems a bit extreme.

There’s a petition to ban it from Gmail and myriad stories about how terrible it is. Even Weird Al chastises people who use Comic Sans in his music video for “Tacky.” (“Got my new résumé/it’s printed in Comic Sans.”)

A Ban Comics Sans movement began in 1999 with graphic designers Holly and David Combs. In a 2010 interview with The Guardian, Holly said, “Using Comic Sans is like turning up to a black-tie event in a clown costume.” Their manifesto states, “By banding together to eradicate this font from the face of the earth we strive to ensure that future generations will be liberated from this epidemic and never suffer this scourge that is the plague of our time.” Their website sells t-shirts for anyone who wants to drop $26 to make sure their stance on this font plague is clear.

Even though the site bancomicsans.com now redirects to usecomicsans.com its still not because they think the font is ok, it’s because the font is so hated and that makes it cool to use it (Yeah, I don’t get it either but that’s what ‘cool’ people do.). I personally think that the font is kiddish and would never use it for official communications or purposes. But there is an aspect of using Comic Sans that I wasn’t aware of till earlier today and it blew my mind. Basically Comic Sans is a font that makes it easier for people with Dyslexia to read. This is because unlike other fonts which use repeated shapes to create different letters, such as a “p” rotated to made a “q,” Comic Sans has irregular/unique shapes for each letter making it easier for folks to read the text. I personally find comic Sans to be a bit hard to read for long text but that’s probably because I am used to reading text in Calibre/Arial/Times New Roman etc. But for people who have issues reading regular fonts its a lifesaver. In this way using a Kindle is a great thing as I can choose the font I am most comfortable with for reading and it doesn’t need to be a ‘good’ font.

Check out the full article for more insights: Hating Comic Sans Is Ableist

This whole article made me think about how things we take for granted can be huge issues for others and that we should try thinking about things from the other person’s view without judging.

– Suramya

October 3, 2019

Pics composed of as many pixels as there are animals still alive in that species

Filed under: My Thoughts — Suramya @ 11:16 AM

Inspite of what certain people might think, we are at the edge of ecological disaster and species extinction and biodiversity loss is a major threat. As per a UN report published back in May Nature’s Dangerous Decline ‘Unprecedented’; Species Extinction Rates ‘Accelerating’.

The Report finds that around 1 million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades, more than ever before in human history.

The average abundance of native species in most major land-based habitats has fallen by at least 20%, mostly since 1900. More than 40% of amphibian species, almost 33% of reef-forming corals and more than a third of all marine mammals are threatened. The picture is less clear for insect species, but available evidence supports a tentative estimate of 10% being threatened. At least 680 vertebrate species had been driven to extinction since the 16th century and more than 9% of all domesticated breeds of mammals used for food and agriculture had become extinct by 2016, with at least 1,000 more breeds still threatened.

The problem is that the numbers are too big and the species so removed from our daily lives that most people don’t bother thinking about it. An Imgurian user JJSmooth44 decided to make a project that visually shows how scarily low the population of some of these animals is by creating Pics which are composed of as many pixels as there are animals still alive in those Species. You can check out the pics here: These Pics Are Composed Of As Many Pixels As There Are Animals Still Alive In These Species


African Wild Dog. Estimated between 3000 and 5500 remain


Amur Leopard. Estimated about 60 remain


Asian Elephant. Estimated between 40000 and 50000 remain

Some of these animals are endangered because of loss of habitat and encroachment, the others because people think parts of their body have medicinal value or its just the ‘cool’/’in’ thing to have things made from animal organs or tusks etc. The thing is that this needs to change else we will loose priceless parts of our world and once its gone we can’t bring them back.

Think about it.

– Suramya

October 2, 2019

Chinese scientists manage to grow leaves on the far side of the moon

Filed under: My Thoughts — Suramya @ 12:03 PM

As you know there is a new space race kind of going on where a lot of countries are working towards making a habitat capable of sustaining human life on the Moon (and on Mars). One of the key things that humans need to survive is Oxygen and there is only so much filtration and chemical systems can do to produce Oxygen. There are limitations in artificial systems used to generate oxygen and the easiest way to create Oxygen is to use a system that is self sustaining and depending on the type produces edible food as well: Plants.

Till now growing plants on the Moon has been in the realm of Science Fiction but not anymore… well Technically speaking we have grown a plant but we still have a long way to go before we can plant a garden on the Moon. China’s Chang’e-4 spacecraft achieved this milestone earlier when they managed to grow two cotton leaves in the 2.6 KG mini biosphere that was part of the payload on the spacecraft. The leaves lasted a lunar day (14.5 earth days) and died during the first lunar night due to the cold. The experiment continued until May though to test the longevity of the apparatus and all systems were green at that time.

Plants have been grown in low Earth orbit on the International Space Station, but this experiment marked the first time a seed had sprouted on the moon. Xie Gengxin of the advanced Technology Research Institute at Chongqing University, who led the design of the experiment, says he and the team are now writing scientific papers based on the results.

Xie says the team initially wanted to send a species of small tortoise on the voyage. However, the mission constraints were too great. “The weight of the Chang’e-4 probe demanded that the weight [of the experiment] can’t exceed three kilograms,” Xie said. The experiment had a pressure of one atmosphere. It was integrated with the spacecraft two months ahead of launch and spent another month in space before landing. “Even though it is very meaningful to choose tortoise, the oxygen inside the payload can only be used for about 20 days for turtles,” Xie says, in explaining why the idea was dropped.

Obviously there is a lot of work still remaining before we start talking about human colonies on the Moon, but we are a small step closer with this new achievement.

Source: IEEE Spectrum: China Grew Two Cotton Leaves on the Moon

– Suramya

October 1, 2019

Celebrating 15 Years + 1000 posts

Filed under: My Thoughts — Suramya @ 6:58 PM

This post is a major milestone in my blogging journey as it is the 1000th published post on the blog and its been exactly 15 years since I first started blogging on 1st Oct 2004. I was in two minds about waiting till Oct to make this post as that would mean another 2-3 week gap in the blog but then after talking with Jani I decided to wait as its better to make a combined post about the milestones than two separate posts about similar topics. When I started Blogging it was in the golden age of Blogging where pretty much everyone had a blog, in-fact there was actually a blog that was supposedly posted by a dog and each post was basically ‘woof woof’ repeated a few hundred times.

Initially I was a bit hesitant to start a blog as I had a website that I updated regularly so didn’t really see the use of a blog but then Surabhi created a sandwich that I had to share it with others and my post on one of the most bizarre sandwiches I have seen anyone eat: A Peanut butter + Marshmallow + chocolate syrup + Banana sandwich started my blogging journey. Initially I had a goal of making a blog post everyday and for a long time I did manage to keep that schedule but as I started working and things changed this schedule was harder to keep and there have been months when I didn’t post anything and there have been days when I posted multiple times.

Its been an interesting journey so far and now Blogging is something only very few diehard users do as most people have stopped blogging and instead post on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram etc. I still prefer to use a self hosted service as over here I have complete control over my setup. I decide what to post and what comment to allow, its not on a third party system that might just decide to shutdown or remove my posts or maybe just loose some of it (Refer to the lost music from MySpace). I do post the link to the postings on social media usually using an automated service or hacked together scripts but the main text/post is on a system that I control.

Self hosting was a major criteria for selecting the blogging software I was going to use and the first iteration of the blog was running on Serendipity which is a PHP-powered weblog engine. Initially I was quite happy with the software but then it turned out to be too resource intensive for my barebones VPS setup that was hosting suramya.com at the time and required constant hand holding so in June 2005 I migrated to WordPress and have been a happy user of WP since then. If I remember correctly the migration was done by a collection of scripts that I downloaded and then customized.

Over the years, I have posted about a very random set of topics and to no ones surprise I mostly posted about My Life, Thoughts and Techie stuff. The full breakdown of posts by category is as follows (Please note that a post can be tagged to multiple categories):

Category Post Count
My Life 339
My Thoughts 257
Techie Stuff 129
Interesting Sites 122
News/Articles 108
Website Updates 78
Computer Security 71
Linux/Unix Related 67
Humor 67
Computer Software 62
Knowledgebase 54
Tutorials 44
Funny News 37
Computer Related 36
Security Tutorials 29
Computer Tips 27
Books Related 25
Security Tools 20
Computer Hardware 18
Software Releases 16
Travel/Trips 14
Article Releases 7
Uncategorized 3

It took me 15 years to reach 1000 posts, but my goal is to reach the next 1000 posts a lot faster and now thanks to Jani constantly motivating (read as nagging 🙂 ) me to post regularly I think that I will be making posts more frequently on the blog. One major item in the To Do list for the blog is to install a skin/theme that is mobile friendly. A large population of users is accessing the blog via mobile and the current setup is not the most mobile friendly version as I had selected it when web browsing on mobile was rare and mostly text based.

Well this is all for now. Will post more later.

– Suramya

September 16, 2019

Met Kumar Manikandan, India’s Paralympic climbing champion yesterday

Filed under: My Life — Suramya @ 11:07 AM

Yesterday I had the pleasure and honor of meeting Kumar Manikandan, India’s Paralympic climbing champion. Mani has won 18 global medals: 5 gold,10 silver and 3 bronze medals – highest in the history of sport climbing in India and is the first and only sports climbing champion from India. He received the coveted Tenzing Norgay award from the President last month and has represented India in 5 world championships. We spent quite some time talking and it was humbling to see what can be achieved when you have focus and determination at your side. In addition to competing in international events he is also coaching 2 students who qualified for the national level last week. You could see the pride in his face when he was talking about his students but when it came to his own accomplishments he was remarkably humble and matter of fact.

The main issue with the sport that I see after talking to him is that the is not enough exposure or media coverage on these athletes, I mean these are folks who are consistently representing India on a global forum and winning but hardly anyone knows about them. I am sorry to say that even I didn’t know about his accomplishments before yesterday.


Me and Jani with Kumar Manikandan, India’s Paralympic climbing champion

We need to encourage more kids to take part in sports other than Cricket. There is a whole world out there and we have the talent to win it, just need the encouragement and resources for these folks to compete.

– Suramya

September 13, 2019

Apparently knives manufactured from frozen human feces do not work to no one’s surprise

Filed under: Interesting Sites,My Thoughts — Suramya @ 1:58 PM

Let me start this by saying Eww Gross. I have no idea why someone would decide to make a knife out of their own shit but apparently that’s a popular trope in literature. The story goes something like this:

“There is a well known account of an old Inuit man who refused to move into a settlement. Over the objections of his family, he made plans to stay on the ice. To stop him, they took away all of his tools. So in the midst of a winter gale, he stepped out of their igloo, defecated, and honed the feces into a frozen blade, which he sharpened with a spray of saliva. With the knife he killed a dog. Using its rib cage as a sled and its hide to harness another dog, he disappeared into the darkness.”

So a whole bunch of researchers decided to test this story out and basically spent a lot of time freezing crap and then trying to cut things with it. I am really happy that I work with software and if/when I meet any of the scientists in this study I don’t think I will be shaking hands with them 😉 (Yeah, yeah… I know that they don’t touch the stuff with their bare hands but still). Though it is apparently possible though to use frozen feces as a chisel though as shown by the memoir of Peter Freuchen, the Danish arctic explorer. When he was trapped in snow in a pit and unable to get out he used his frozen excrement to make a chisel and get out:

Freuchen (1953) describes how he dug himself a pit to sleep in and woke up trapped by snow. Every effort to get out that he tried failed. Finally, he recalled seeing dog’s excrement frozen solid as a rock. So, Freuchen defecated in his hand, shaped it into a chisel, and waited for it to freeze solid. He then used the implement to free himself from the snow: “I moved my bowels and from the excrement I managed to fashion a chisel-like instrument which I left to freeze… At last I decided to try my chisel and it worked” .

While living off the land with no tools is good and all I would recommend that you try some other ways of making a knife if you actually want to survive instead of freezing your excrement.

Well this is all for now. Will post more later.

Source: Science Direct: Experimental replication shows knives manufactured from frozen human feces do not work

– Suramya

September 10, 2019

Thoughts on Chandrayaan-2

Filed under: My Thoughts — Suramya @ 12:48 PM

Last Saturday, 7th Sept the entire world was watching with bated breath for Chandrayaan 2 to make its final approach and attempt a soft landing at the Moon’s south pole. This was the first time that I remember where even the lay person knew about this attempt and everyone was eagerly waiting for the landing. In this post I am going to talk about the project, people’s reaction to it, and my thoughts. As always all thoughts are mine and not my employer’s. Also, the idea is not to offend/argue with people but to talk about my thoughts on the project and evolution of our space program and some commentary on the reactions to the attempt that we saw.

ISRO was founded in 1969 and put its first satellite, Aryabhata in orbit in 1975. After that over the years things started speeding up at ISRO but it was hardly ever in the public eye. In 2008 ISRO sent a lunar orbiter, Chandrayaan-1 to the moon which was the first probe to discover the presence of water in the form of ice on the Moon. However I don’t remember reading or hearing anything about it in the Media.I only found out about the fact that it was the first one to detect water on the moon when I was researching about Chandrayaan 2. There was minimal coverage for the achievement and ISRO continued chugging along without making waves. When it’s Mangalyaan achieved Mars orbit in 2014 making India the first Asian country to reach Mars the Indian media’s reaction was again quite muted. There were a few articles in the papers and minor coverage on TV. International media was also quite dismissive with several articles making fun of the achievement and asking why India was bothering to pay for a Mars mission when people were starving in the country. Over the decades we have gone from hitching rides in foreign rockets to launching 104 satellites on a single rocket on 15 February 2017 which was a world record and it still stands. This makes India the prime choice for countries wanting to put satellites in orbit bringing much needed foreign currency/business to India. Even in 2017 there was some coverage of the achievement but mostly in specialized sites focused on Space etc and not so much in the traditional media. My sis Surabhi and her family went to Sri Harikota to watch the launch and getting the information on how to watch the launch in person was a painful process and required us to find personal contact in ISRO to get permission.

Now in 2019, the situation is so much different that its like night and day, the process is very different and there is an actual observation gallery at ISRO launch site and people are encouraged to watch launches. (I was actually planning on going in person for Chandrayaan 2 launch but was traveling during the launch and couldn’t make it). During the runup to the launch I saw multiple posts about it in social media, in the newspapers and on TV. The launch was carried live on multiple TV channels and there was a dedicated media campaign to publicize the launch. ISRO and the government used this opportunity to get school children excited about space and show them the possibilities. I watched the launch live on Twitter in office and when the rocket took off successfully the mood was quite celebratory. Even on social media you could see the outpouring of love and pride in ISRO and India during and after the launch.

On Saturday when Chandrayaan 2 was supposed to attempt a landing it was late at night but almost everyone I knew was awake and watching this historic attempt. My 7 year old Nephew and 4 year old niece was amongst the watches as well even though it was way past their bed time. Vinit took a pic of them watching and you can see how sleepy they both are but still refusing to go to sleep.

Unfortunately in the last mile (2.1kms) above the surface ISRO lost contact with the lander and we could see how tense and worried the staff at mission control was and how professionally they tried everything possible to reestablish contact. The anchor on National Geographic (sorry can’t remember his name) was almost in tears when we realized that there was a high probability that the attempt had failed.

ISRO chief K Sivan was understandably choked up when he made the formal announcement “This is Mission Control Centre. Vikram Lander descent was as planned and normal performance was observed up to an altitude of 2.1 km. Subsequently, communication from lander to the ground stations was lost. Data is being analyzed.”. PM Modi was there on site for the landing and he consoled the scientists saying “Don’t lose hope. Be courageous”. The next morning at 8am PM Modi was back at ISRO and commended the scientists at ISRO and was positive & supportive in his speech (extracts below):

“Friends I could feel what you were going through a few hours back, your eyes were conveying a lot. You live for India’s honour, I salute you”
“To our scientists, I want to say India is with you. Your hard work and efforts ensure a better life for citizens and nation. It was your zeal that several people had access to a better life, better education and health facilities. There will be more opportunities to rejoice and pride”.
“You are exceptional professionals who have made an incredible contribution to national progress. You have always given your best. We will give you several more opportunities to smile,”

At this point K Sivan broke down in tears and PM Modi can be seen hugging and consoling Sivan in a now viral video/photo. Across the globe people commended his action and noted that his hug was on behalf of a grateful nation.

Unfortunately, we have people in the world who believe in toxic masculinity and think that any display of emotion by a guy is shameful. This was the view of Gaurav Pandhi who posted:

I know. A person who can’t control his/her emotions and cries at the time of crisis can’t be fit to lead a team; more so for someone who is heading ISRO, India’s premier space agency.
— Gaurav Pandhi गौरव पांधी (@GauravPandhi) September 7, 2019

I was expecting better temperament from the @ISRO chairman. Failures happen and are stepping stones for the success ahead. ISRO’s achievements and efforts are applauded by the entire world. A man of his stature crying like a baby because of shortfalls looks idiotic to me.
— Gaurav Pandhi गौरव पांधी (@GauravPandhi) September 7, 2019

Sivan was the consummate professional while the crises was going on, he coordinated with all the relevant parties to reestablish contact and only after it was clear that nothing else could be done immediately he allowed his heartbreak to show and gave in to tears. When you spend a decade of your life on a project and invest your heart and soul into it, its quite natural to want to cry when faced with failure. If he had started crying during the crises and not worked to resolve it, I would have felt differently but in this case he worked through his heartbreak and then broke down after the immediate crises was over. I feel sad that people still think that its unmanly to cry. It is a stupid stereotype that causes a lot of harm.

But I am happy to state that the internet didn’t take kindly to Gaurav’s statement and immediately people (both men and women) posted messages supporting Sivan and condemning Gaurav’s statement. I haven’t checked if he recanted but I doubt that it would happen. (Please correct me if I am wrong here). Majority of India and the world also supported ISRO during this time and posts/comments commending the effort and praising the scientists poured in from all over the world. The general attitude was that yes we failed this time but will be back stronger than ever and succeed in our next attempt. It would have been great if the same was true for our political leaders but that wasn’t the case and case in point is Mamta Banerjee, who couldn’t resist bringing politics into the picture and said in a statement:

“It is as if Chandrayaan launch is the first such happening in the country. As if before they came to power, no such missions were taken up. It is an attempt to divert attention from the economic disaster,”

Thankfully, she is in the minority and most political leaders read the nation’s mood correctly and are supportive in public. The twitter trolls also couldn’t resist pitching in either and I saw a few posts to the effect that Modi was only there to take credit and blah blah blah. One comment that caught my eye just because of the sheer nonsense in it, was from someone named Atul who posted:

@atul_aga: He came to take credit.
He was informed that Vikam’s landing is failed.
Got annoyed and returned to his hotel.
Next morning again he returns with his camera crew to do theatrics to steal the show.
Many so called liberals melted for his drama.
Mission successful.

If Modi attended the launch it was to take credit, if he hadn’t then it was because he was not giving the ISRO folks enough importance. If he went back to his hotel it was because he was annoyed, never mind the fact that there was nothing for him to do at that time. ISRO was still working on reestablishing contact, all sitting there in the mission control would have accomplished would have been to put extra pressure on the folks trying to work. When he consoled the ISRO staff, promised support for the next attempt and told them how proud the nation was of their effort it was a “PR stunt”. Just because historically Indian politicians have not been around or supportive when their nation take a literal moon-shot doesn’t mean that we pull down the one person who made the effort. If you think this is grandstanding, please look up videos of Obama, Nixon, and other world leaders who were with the staff when they attempted to reach the impossible and supported them when they faltered.

Bringing politics into this is shameful, this was something that India did and as someone commented, “India is the brain behind the mission but it is on behalf of all humans”. We need to come out of our cocoon and look at a world outside of politics and pulling Modi down.

In any case, as of today it looks like Vikram survived the landing and is in one piece. But we still don’t have connectivity with the lander and efforts are ongoing to reestablish contact. Even if we don’t the orbiter is still functional and 95% of the experiments planned for the mission are aboard the orbiter and will proceed as planned.

In conclusion, I am happy how the general public is supporting ISRO in this time and how many people are getting motivated to go into science or space after watching this historic attempt. Hoping for the best here’s to ISRO, the nation salutes you.

– Suramya

September 5, 2019

Criminals use AI technology to impersonate CEO for a $243,000 payday

Filed under: Computer Security,My Thoughts,Techie Stuff — Suramya @ 10:46 AM

Over the past few years AI has become one of the things that is included in everything from cars to lights whether it makes sense or not and criminals are not behind in this trend. We have AI based systems testing computer security, working on bypassing checks and balances in systems etc and now in a new twist, AI is being used in Vishing as well. Voice phishing or vishing as it’s sometime referred to is a form of criminal phone fraud, using social engineering over the telephone system to gain access to private personal and financial information for the purpose of financial reward.

Anatomy of Vishing Attack
Anatomy of Vishing Attack. Source: https://www.biocatch.com/blog/detect-vishing-voice-phishing

In this particular instance criminals used commercially available voice-generating AI software to impersonate the CEO of a German Company and then convinced the CEO of their UK based subsidiary to transfer $243,000 to a Hungarian supplier. The AI was able to mimic the voice almost perfectly including his slight German accent and voice patterns. This is a new phase of crime and unfortunately will not be a one-off case as criminals will soon realize the potential then these kind of attacks are only bound to increase in frequency. Interestingly it will also make the biometric voice authentication systems used by certain banks like Citibank more vulnerable to fraud.

To safeguard from the economic and reputational fallout, it’s crucial that all instructions are verified via a follow-up email or other alternative means i.e. if you have an email asking for a transfer/detail call the person and if you get a call asking for transfer follow up via email or other means. Do not use a number provided by the call for verification, you need to call the number in the company address-book or in your records.

Well this is all for now. Will post more later.

Thanks to : Slashdot.org for the original link.

– Suramya

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