Suramya's Blog

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June 29, 2015

I have a new niece!!!

Filed under: My Life — Suramya @ 6:13 PM

At 4:32pm Sara Bhansali was born. Both mother and baby are doing great.

Will post pics later when I have a better net connection. For some reason my phone is refusing to upload a pic.

– Suramya

And the wait begins..

Filed under: My Life — Suramya @ 8:34 AM

At the hospital waiting to find out if I will have a new niece or a nephew.

Hopefully this time it will be less of a wait, but I am fully prepared in any case :)

Will keep folks posted.

– Suramya

June 25, 2015

Life in Bangalore’s fast lane with 3.8km/h speedy drives

Filed under: My Life — Suramya @ 11:56 PM

Today just as I was leaving for home Google Now messaged me that it would take me 53 mins to get home if I drove which was 14 mins more than normal. What makes it interesting is that I live 3.4 kms of driving and 1.6 km walking from work. This means that I would have been driving at an amazing speed of 3.8km/h tonight. How is that for a fast drive? No wonder it took me 2 1/2 hours to get back from Whitefield the last time I drove there.

We really need to do something about the traffic situation in Bangalore. The Roads in Bangalore are some of the most haphazard and ridiculously designed roads that I have ever seen. However the situation does seem to be improving a bit thanks to the newly built St Marks road which is very nicely done and for a change seems to be following a logical plan.

In case you are wondering, I decided to spend an hour more at work and then did the trip in 15 mins. Yes, I had the car today. It’s raining and once it rains the ‘sidewalks’ can be re-branded as swamps so I prefer to drive instead of walking.

– Suramya

June 16, 2015

Watch an 8-Bit recreation of Jurassic Park

Filed under: Interesting Sites — Suramya @ 10:30 AM

If you don’t remember the original Jurassic Park movie (or weren’t around when it was originally released) and want a refresher of the movie before you watch Jurassic World then you don’t have to watch the entire movie again (although you should do that anyway because the movie is awesome), you can get the highlights by watching this 8-Bit recreation of Jurassic Park:


Click to watch 8 Bit Jurassic Park on YouTube

Thanks to NerdApproved.com for the link.

– Suramya

June 15, 2015

Winners for the 2014 Underhanded C Contest are announced

Filed under: Computer Security — Suramya @ 10:45 AM

The underhanded C Contest is an annual contest where developers are asked to write code which is clear, readable and as straight forward as possible while doing something evil in a very subtle manner. The goal behind the contest is to make people aware that even code that looks completely benign can be doing something bad either intentionally or accidentally. The contest has been around for 7 years and the solutions people have come up with are amazing. This years winner was Karen Pease and trying to understand their code made my head hurt.

Here’s an extract from the site that explains how Karen gamed the system:

  • We get the cur_time = localtime() and we want to check if
 cur_time->tm_year is a leap year
  • We call __isleap( cur_year = AUDIT(cur_time->tm_year) )
  • this expands into a line of code from nested macros
  • The first thing that happens is a call to check_clock_skew() that calls localtime() on a teensy time interval, overwriting our time structure
  • cur_time->tm_year is now 0, which satisfies all three clauses in the __isleap() macro,
  • Causing AUDIT() code to be evaluated thrice
  • Ow my head, and
  • The year (or rather, the number 0) is written to the audit record three times. This overfills the audit buffer.
  • Thus the final AUDIT call zeroes out a user’s created time, if the user was surveilled.

Looking at this code, it explains how difficult it is to prevent a skilled programmer from adding backdoors or Easter eggs in software and why code reviews are so important.

– Suramya

June 14, 2015

Why cataloging all my books was a bad idea, sort of.

Filed under: Books Related,My Life,My Thoughts — Suramya @ 8:53 PM

A little while ago there was a book sale happening and I wanted to buy a few books but couldn’t remember for sure if I had already bought them earlier or not and I couldn’t check because a lot of my books are in Delhi. I didn’t want to buy the same book twice so I ended up buying a different book but this made me think that I should keep a catalog of all the books I own so that I know which ones I need to buy. So I asked Surabhi to take a photo of all the books in Delhi and over the past few weeks I have been transcribing the names of the books to a text file.

As of today have a list of 334 books (excluding ebooks) that I own. I still have to go through another 5 shelves so the final count will be about another 125 books. Yes, that is a lot of books, but I did tell you that I read a lot.

During this time I realized that there are books from some of my favorite authors that I don’t have in my collection so I made a list of books that I need to buy to complete the collection. The list is not complete yet but I have already ended up buying 18 books in the past 2 months. Thankfully there were a couple of sales happening so I got a whole bunch of discounts but I need to start controlling my shopping sprees before my credit card files an official complain :) as this is turning out to be a very expensive undertaking.

The good part is that I now have complete collections for some of my favorite authors. The remaining books that I am missing are in my queue to be purchased and I will be buying them as and when I see a sale or a discount on books in any of the stores. Interestingly I found that Flipkart is no longer the cheapest source for books in India as Amazon.in beat their prices almost 90% of the time.

Well this is all for now, I am off to make space for the new books in my bookshelf here in Bangalore.

– Suramya

June 13, 2015

Watch Jurassic World if you haven’t seen it already

Filed under: My Life — Suramya @ 11:27 PM

Went to watch Jurassic World yesterday and I really loved the movie. When I first heard that they are making another Jurassic Park movie I was a bit skeptical but they did a great job. Thankfully it wasn’t a remake but a sequel. This installment is set 2 decades after the first Jurassic Park movie and has homages to the original all over the place. Basically this one manages to remove the bad taste the last installment in the series left in my mouth.

If you like the series and think you know the movies then you should check out the following quiz created by John Scalzi using
trivia from the first three Jurassic Park films. Get all of the quiz questions correct, and you survive. Miss one or more, and you get killed and possibly eaten by a dinosaur. Which dinosaur? It depends on how many questions you miss. Have fun.

After finishing the movie I was reminded why I loved the first one so much and how awesome the books were so I am going to spend my weekend re-reading the Jurassic Park and The Lost world by Michael Crichton.

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

– Suramya

May 23, 2015

Trekkies join the readers of magazines like Linux Journal as potential threats

Filed under: My Thoughts — Suramya @ 11:30 PM

Yes, you read that headline correctly and no, I am not joking. According to the information revealed thanks to a freedom of Information request, Scotland Yard was worried that British fans of Star Trek might turn against society. This was tracked as part of a file called UFO New Religious Movements (NRMs) And The Millennium. In addition to Star Trek they were also worried about people who watch shows like X-Files, Dark Skies, Roswell, Millennium and The Lawnmower Man.

I already knew that I was being monitored by US Intelligence agencies thanks to my reading and occasionally writing for the Linux Journal. In case you are wondering if I have become insane or paranoid. Unfortunately (or fortunately) that is not the case. This is based on the information revealed in the recent intelligence leaks and was covered on various sites and articles :

While that is troubling in itself, even more troubling to readers on this site is that linuxjournal.com has been flagged as a selector! DasErste.de has published the relevant XKEYSCORE source code, and if you look closely at the rule definitions, you will see linuxjournal.com/content/linux* listed alongside Tails and Tor. According to an article on DasErste.de, the NSA considers Linux Journal an “extremist forum”.

Now, thanks to my love for Star Trek and X-Files I guess I must reconcile myself to being tracked by Scotland Yard as well. I did find it really interesting that Star Wars fans are not part of the potential threats they monitor. Could it be because the person who implemented this tracking was a Star Wars fan and was taking the Star Trek vs the Star Wars argument to a whole new level? That is the only reason that could possibly explain why anyone thought this was a good idea. I mean sure fans of these shows are vocal, enthusiastic and sometimes very disturbing (Try searching for Star Trek Slash Fic if you have a strong stomach for some really weird stuff. Fair warning though, the material you will get back is for adult audiences and just plain weird at times.). However that being said it is not correct to classify them as a cult and start tracking the members as if they did something wrong by liking the wrong show.

From the article:

But the police feared British fans of the cult American show might boldly go a little too far one day.

It has emerged that Scotland Yard kept a secret dossier on Star Trek, The X-Files, and other US sci fi shows amid fears that British fans would go mad and kill themselves, turn against society or start a weird cult.

The American TV shows Roswell and Dark Skies and the film The Lawnmower Man were also monitored to protect the country from rioting and cyber attacks.

I have this mental image of a spy/program monitoring all websites/conferences where Star Trek is discussed, items/props sold or just links to these kind of sites. Once you visit this site, you are automatically added to a database of potential troublemakers and if you actually buy something then you get a higher grade. The more you buy and the more involved you are in fandom the higher your perceived threat level gets.

If the people of the world insist on being idiotic, then there is nothing I can do to stop them. Unfortunately these are the folks in power so they can cause a lot of damage by creating these fictional enemies. I will end this post with the following quote taken from a book by one of my favorite authors (Mercedes Lackey) which is really relevant here :

When those in power intend to abuse that power, they look to an outside enemy in order to trick their people into pressing the means to their own abuse into the hands of the abusers. If an enemy does not exist, it will be manufactured, and all manner of horrors attributed to it, so that anyone who demands truth and accountability is set upon as being unpatriotic. And so that, when someone said to be an enemy is found, there will be few questions asked about guilt or innocence, and many faces averted when he is taken away.

We are setting ourselves up for disaster, stop turning your faces away… Else you soon will be saying “Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”.

Sources:
* Slashdot
* The Telegraph

– Suramya

May 19, 2015

Drug use can now be detected using fingerprints

Filed under: My Thoughts — Suramya @ 12:00 AM

Saw this interesting article on Slashdot about research being done in University of Surrey in which they claim to be able to detect the use of cocaine by testing fingerprints using ambient mass spectrometry. As per the paper they do this by spaying solvent on the fingerprint slide and then checking for chemical residue in the print which results from drug abuse.

This will have a big impact in a lot of areas if it is viable to do so cheaply. Companies, cops etc can check for Drug usage in non-invasive fashion and if a positive match is found then they can match the finger print to a person as well making it becomes extremely difficult to fool a drug test. Which is a good thing. Though I wonder how long after a use the chemicals are detectable in the print. I would be surprised if there are there forever but even if they are there temporarily it will reduce the drug abuse at work.

However I am sure there are a lot of legal hurdles etc which will need to be solved if the technology is going be widely used. Currently the test only works for Cocaine, it will be interesting if they can do a similar test for other drugs like Heroine etc.

From the paper:

For their research, scientists sprayed a beam of solvent onto the fingerprint slide (a technique known as Desorption Electrospray Ionisation, or DESI) to determine if these metabolites were present. DESI has found use in a number of forensic applications, but has never been used to demonstrate drug use says lead author Dr Melanie Bailey from the University of Surrey.

Researchers took fingerprints and oral fluid from patients attending a drug and alcohol treatment service. Using a technique called gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GC-MS), they tested the oral fluid of patients for the presence of cocaine and benzoylecgonine. They then employed DESI, which operates under ambient conditions and Ion Mobility Tandem Mass Spectrometry Matrix Assisted Laser Desorption Ionization (MALDI-IMS-MS/MS) and Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry (SIMS), to analyse the corresponding fingerprints.

– Suramya

May 17, 2015

Penn Libraries Launches Digital Resources Online Platform

Filed under: Interesting Sites — Suramya @ 11:04 AM

In an effort to make information more freely available and answer the growing demand for open data Penn Libraries have made some of their cultural heritage materials available for free downloads as high-resolution images along with machine-readable descriptive and technical metadata about the images via their OPenn digital resources website. Looking at the site I see that they are not kidding about the images being high-resolution, I downloaded one of them just to see how it looked and it was a 3400×4444 image file 45MB in size.

From their press release:

Images from items such as a 16th-century Portolan Atlas and a unique book of Ciphers made for Pope Calixtus III in the 15th century are available on OPenn.

More datasets, including manuscripts from Penn’s own holdings and items from other institutions, will be added in the near future. Historic diaries from a variety of Institutions belonging to the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries are next in line for inclusion on OPenn. Many of these documents are unknown while others are celebrated, such as the Union League of Philadelphia’s Tanner manuscript, a unique firsthand account of the events surrounding the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

”Allowing all those who wish to use data from the site to do so, in whatever way they desire and without requiring them to ask for permission, creates boundless possibility and an exciting unpredictability surrounding the outcomes,” said Will Noel, director of Penn Libraries’ Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts.

It’s good to see more and more libraries making their works available online for free. It can only help with spreading the knowledge.

– Suramya

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