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November 24, 2014

Answering scientific questions in plain language with ‘Ask Smithsonian’ video’s

Filed under: Interesting Sites — Suramya @ 1:37 AM

Have you ever wondered if lightning can strike twice or if Stress can Turn Your Hair Gray? A lot of us have questions that usually require a whole bunch of scientific language to answer and while that works for adults it is usually not the most useful thing when trying to explain things to a kid. Keeping that thought in mind the Smithsonian has created short videos (about a min in length) that answer such questions in plain English. Check them out at the Ask Smithsonian video archive.

The best part is that you can also submit your questions to the site and if selected a video with the answer would be uploaded to the site. Some of the questions that are currently answered on the site are:

Ask Smithsonian: Does Chicken Soup Really Help With a Cold?
Ask Smithsonian: How Do Noise-Canceling Headphones Work?
Ask Smithsonian: Why Don’t People Smile in Old Photographs?

Thanks to lifehacker.com for this great link.

– Suramya

November 23, 2014

Presenting hack.summit a virtual dev conference Dec 1st – 4th

Filed under: Interesting Sites,Techie Stuff — Suramya @ 11:55 PM

Developer conferences are a great way to meet developers and learn about the latest and greatest technologies and programming skills etc. However most of them happen in places where they are not accessible to a majority of the people in the world, primarily because of cost and time taken to travel there which is quite unfortunate. I know there have been multiple conferences that I wanted to attend but couldn’t because they were in the US or Europe while I was in India.

To fix that problem the nice folks at hack.hands() have created a free, live, online event from Dec 1 – Dec 4th where top speakers from their fields will be available to answer questions and have their brains picked. You can register for the event for free by visiting their website.

The hack.summit() conference is a live, global event put on by the fine folks behind real-time programming assistance service hack.hands(). From December 1 to December 4, a wide range of speakers will present and answer democratically popularized questions over Crowdcast via Google+ Hangouts. Speakers in attendance include wiki inventor and Design Patterns pioneer [Ward Cunningham], Codeacademy founder [Ryan Bubinski], Google Glass creator [Tom Chi], Python Software Foundation’s [Alex Gaynor], and even the inimitable [Jon Skeet].

The goals for this conference are simple and admirable: to educate developers of all stripes about best practices, to encourage mentorship in the programming community, and to spread the joy of coding by supporting coding non-profits.

Thanks to hackaday.com for the story.

– Suramya

November 21, 2014

Uber pricing: Be careful when requesting a car

Filed under: My Life,My Thoughts — Suramya @ 6:23 PM

In the past few weeks Uber has been in the news a couple of times, most recently after one of their VP’s suggested hiring a million dollar team to dig up dirt on hostile journalists and their families but that is a whole different story and not something this post is about. Today I am going to talk about how the price for Uber cabs fluctuates and why you should check the cost before clicking on the Book button. BTW, this is based on an off the fly method of data collection and for Uber in India (Bangalore to be specific). Other places might have a different experience.

First, lets start with a bit of background. I had gone out with my team for an office outing and while we were figuring out the transportation back to the office I looked at the Uber costing to see if it made sense to just get uber instead of waiting for other options. (We didn’t take uber that day but that is a different story). The next day at work I was talking to a team member and I mentioned that the cost for uber would have been Rs 200 min, and about Rs 18/km after that which is quite of for that time at night. She was skeptical so I opened the app to show her the prices and imagine my surprise that the numbers were quite different: Min Rs 250 with Rs 30/km. This started me thinking, and I was curious so I kept a log of the costing for both UberX and Uber Black for the next few days at various times in the day.Basically whenever I remembered to look, which is why this is not a scientific study.

The numbers are as follows:

Date/Time Service Minimum Cost Cost per KM
12th Nov 11:20pm Uberx 125 Min 15/km
12th Nov 11:20pm UberBlack 200 Min 18/km
13th Nov 12:32pm Uberx 250 Min 30/km
13th Nov 12:32pm UberBlack 200 Min 18/km
13th Nov 7:20pm Uberx 250 Min 30/km
13th Nov 7:20pm UberBlack 400 Min 36/km
14th Nov 5:00pm Uberx 162.5 Min 19.5/km
14th Nov 5:00pm UberBlack 240 Min 21.6/km
15th Nov 1:31am Uberx 125 Min 15/km
15th Nov 1:31am UberBlack 200 Min 18/km
19th Nov 7:20pm Uberx 250 Min 30/km
19th Nov 7:20pm UberBlack 200 Min 18/km

so as per the numbers above the best time to take uber would be around 11:30pm. Worst time is early evening around 7:30pm.

So if you take an uber cab late night one day and pay X then take it again the next day morning to go back to the same place you will actually end up paying quite a lot more than what you were expecting based on the previous fare. Which is why you should check the pricing before you click the book, else you might be in for a rude surprise.

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

– Suramya

November 18, 2014

World’s largest chocolate producer: We are running out of Chocolate!!!

Filed under: My Thoughts — Suramya @ 1:23 AM

I hear <Silence> just before all hell breaks loose as millions of women freak out at the same time after reading this headline :) and no, this is not a joke, Mars, Inc. and Barry Callebaut who are the worlds largest producers of chocolate have the numbers to prove that we (and by we I mean you all, since I don’t really like chocolate that much) are eating more coco than is being produced. Last year farmers produced 70,000 metric tons less than the amount consumed and the trend is increasing. By 2020 this number is expected to rise to 1 million metric ton. Ouch!.

The problem is, for one, a supply issue. Dry weather in West Africa (specifically in the Ivory Coast and Ghana, where more than 70 percent of the world’s cocoa is produced) has greatly decreased production in the region. A nasty fungal disease known as frosty pod hasn’t helped either. The International Cocoa Organization estimates it has wiped out between 30 percent and 40 percent of global cocoa production. Because of all this, cocoa farming has proven a particularly tough business, and many farmers have shifted to more profitable crops, like corn, as a result.

Then there’s the world’s insatiable appetite for chocolate. China’s growing love for the stuff is of particular concern. The Chinese are buying more and more chocolate each year. Still, they only consume per capita about 5 percent of what the average Western European eats. There’s also the rising popularity of dark chocolate, which contains a good deal more cocoa by volume than traditional chocolate bars (the average chocolate bar contains about 10 percent, while dark chocolate often contains upwards of 70 percent).

Looking at this article I am tempted to start stocking up on chocolate and in a few years time I can sell them for 10 times the price… All I will have to do is figure out how to keep my sister and other friends from eating up my stash before I sell them. ;) I believe that will be an impossible task now that I think about it in more detail.

If there was a similar article about caffeine then I would be one of the people freaking out, but since it is ‘just’ chocolate I am fine and not worried. So I will go back and finish my book then go to sleep.

You can read more details about the issue at the Washington Post and Bloomberg.org site.

Story Via: Slashdot.org

– Suramya

November 17, 2014

Microsoft launches free Visual Studio Community 2013

Microsoft is on a roll recently and is becoming more and more active in the open source community by releasing many of it’s core tools and programs as open source, making them free and cross platform. Earlier this week news came out that MS had released a significant portion of their .NET framework under a permissive opensource license on Github. Before everyone had even finished digesting this news MS posted news that it is releasing Visual Studio Community 2013 as a free download for individual and small business use (teams of up to five people).

This is a brilliant move on their part to keep their market share. One of the major issues people had when developing software for Windows using Visual studio was the cost associated with the licenses. When I was in school and wanted to get a licensed copy of Visual Studio for my use I was told to go buy a pirated copy because the original cost was way too high (Rs 60,000 if you want to know). Keep in might that this is before the Dot com and Tech boom so that amounted to a couple of months of salary for most folks. As you can imagine most people went for the pirated version instead which costed Rs 100 or so. Now fast forward a few years to when open-source started taking off, now the development environment could be downloaded off the internet legally for free. A lot of folks including me switched to open source development tools. The only people still using MS Studio were either using their work/university licenses or were on pirated copies.

Now with .NET opensourced and available for use on Linux, Mac and windows, making a free version of Visual Studio available makes it easier for people to start working on and building software in the MS ecosystem.

I know of a few people who will find this news exciting. For the rest of us, this doesn’t impact us directly but definitely shows which way the wind is blowing in the software world and highlights the fact that FOSS is here to stay. :)

Official Announcement: Microsoft Blog
Via Betanews.com

– Suramya

PS: I know that Visual Studio express has been around for a while but it was a severely limited version as opposed to the Community version just released.

November 16, 2014

Pay for clothes using your social network clout…

Filed under: My Thoughts — Suramya @ 10:38 PM

Finally the day a lot of people have been waiting for has arrived. Now you can pay for actual physical clothes using your social network clout. What does that mean? Basically if you are buying stuff at OnePiece’s pop-up store in New York City anytime before the 17th of Nov you will get $1 off for every 500 followers you have across social networks. Which would give me just about $0.50 discount if I ever shopped there :)

As nice as Klout’s perks can be, they’re infrequent and sometimes have arcane rules. Wouldn’t it be better if you could simply translate your social networking status into cash? OnePiece’s pop-up store in New York City is letting you do just that. Swing by 577 Broadway no later than November 17th and the clothing shop will give you a $1 discount for every 500 followers you have across common social networks, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. While you’re capped at $500 (Hollywood A-listers need not apply), that’s more than enough to score some fresh threads for free. Yes, it’s a publicity grab — but it’s also a genuinely good deal if you’ve spent years cultivating an online following.

I get a ton of ‘friend’ requests on a fairly regular basis but usually I reject most of them outright. For me the only folks in my friend list are folks that I consider friends (apart from a few authors that I want to keep in touch with) and have an interest in keeping up with. This does not include folks I don’t know, just because you are a friend of a friend doesn’t mean we should become friends on FB if we have never met. Or if I took your interview for a job doesn’t mean that it is ok to add me as a friend on Facebook (Yes, this actually happened). For some reason, this small concept seems to be very hard for people to understand. People use the no of friends/followers as a sort of measuring stick for their popularity and if you don’t have many followers then in their mind you are not important enough.

I rarely sign on to my Facebook account and I have posted some 3-4 tweets from my twitter account since I started it a few years ago (those were to complain to Airtel). I am sure if I start becoming active on the network I can easily increase the no of friends I have many fold. But what’s the point?

Anyways, enough ranting about Social media for today. I am going to go finish my book and then crash for the night. Will post more later.

– Suramya

Source: Engadget.com

November 15, 2014

Watched Interstellar today

Filed under: My Life — Suramya @ 1:52 AM

Just got back home from watching Interstellar. If you haven’t seen the movie go watch it. It is one of the best movies I have seen in a long time. A classic like 2001: A Space Odyssey. The science behind most of the movie is amazing. A small part of the logic didn’t make sense and felt contrived but overall the movie plot worked out beautifully.

– Suramya

November 13, 2014

Stupid people might be stupid because of a virus infection

Filed under: Interesting Sites,My Thoughts — Suramya @ 11:37 PM

All of us know stupid people and at times have thought about how could a human be so dumb and still survive. Now after years of research Scientists at the Johns Hopkins Medical School and the University of Nebraska have found a possible reason for some of the folks being so dumb. There is a virus that exists in the green algae found in ponds and lakes that affects cognitive functions in the brain. In their tests 44% of the test subjects had the virus infection and those who tested positive for the virus scored 7-9 points lower on tests designed to measure the brain’s accuracy and speed.

They then ran some tests on mice after infecting them with the virus and found that the infected mice had a harder time exiting from the test maze than uninfected mice.

The researchers were conducting a completely unrelated study into throat microbes when they realised that DNA in the throats of healthy people matched the DNA of a chlorovirus virus known as ATCV-1.

ATCV-1 is a virus that infects the green algae found in freshwater lakes and ponds. It had previously been thought to be non-infectious to humans, but the scientists found that it actually affects cognitive functions in the brain by shortening attention span and causing a decrease in spatial awareness.

The researchers then studied how ATCV-1 affected mice by injecting the virus into their digestive tracts.

They then put the mice into a maze, where the animals infected by the virus had a more difficult time finding their way round and were less likely to pay attention to a new object or notice a new entry that had been previously inaccessible.

ATCV-1 was able to get into the hippocampus pathways of the mice and alter the expression of genes relating to memory formation, learning and synaptic plasticity (an important foundation of learning and memory), as well as how the immune systems of the mice responded to being exposed to the virus.

The full study is is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) journal.

Thanks to Slashdot.org for the link to the original story.

– Suramya

November 8, 2014

Be careful of software claiming to hide your data on your Phone

Filed under: Computer Security,My Thoughts — Suramya @ 11:59 PM

Yesterday (well, technically today) I was trying to find some data on my old phone to copy to my new phone so I decided to copy over all the folders from the phone to my desktop to make it easier to look through it. While I was going through the data I found a folder called .keepsafe under the Android/data folder so I looked in it cause I got curious and found some interesting data. Actually before I tell you what I found lets take a step back and go over what Keepsafe is: It is an app for both iOS and android that allows you to hide photos/files on your phone and then only people with the correct PIN can view them. From their site: “You lock your rings in a jewelry box. You lock your certificates in a cabinet. Now KeepSafe makes sure your personal files are locked down and hidden, using privacy features such as PIN Pad and Fake PIN.” I had installed this version of Keepsafe a few years ago to try it out but had since uninstalled it as I didn’t find it useful.

Coming back to the folder and what I found. It had two files under it: .local and .email. The .email file had my email address in it but the contents of the .local file were shocking. It had my ‘secret pin’ in clear-text in the file. So anyone with some idea of how apps store data and access to a file browser would have been able to get my pin and view images/data that was supposed to have been protected.

Since this was an older version of the software I downloaded and installed the latest version on my S5 to see if the issue was still there. Thankfully someone at the company figured out that storing the data in clear-text was extremely stupid and in the latest version of the software the same two files are still there but the data is encrypted. Not sure how strong the encryption is because I don’t have the knowledge/skill set to try to figure that out. I did however identify where the files are being stored (they are all encrypted as well) so someone with the original image and an encrypted copy could potentially reverse engineer the encryption and assuming they are using a static encryption key decrypt the remaining files as well.

Moral of the story is that if you want to ‘hide’ data on your phone be very careful of the software you use to do it. Ideally you should avoid storing any data that is sensitive on the phone. There are plenty of ways to get access to the data if someone is interested and has time. This is not an isolated case of a badly written software, There are other cases as well where other software was found to have similar amazing security. So be careful out there.

I did find some more interesting data on the phone that I will take a stab at when I get some time.

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

– Suramya

November 7, 2014

Free Intro to Cryptography course for programmers

Filed under: Computer Security,Security Tutorials — Suramya @ 1:34 AM

Security pro Laurens Van Houtven has created a free introduction cryptography course to help programmers, by giving them a bird’s eye view of how cryptosystems work and teaching them to apply the same principles in real software. This is an extension of his talk given last year on breaking crypto.

Comes with everything you need to understand complete systems such as SSL/TLS: block ciphers, stream ciphers, hash functions, message authentication codes, public key encryption, key agreement protocols, and signature algorithms.

Learn how to exploit common cryptographic flaws, armed with nothing but a little time and your favorite programming language.

Forge administrator cookies, recover passwords, and even backdoor your own random number generator.

Check it out at: Crypto 101

Thanks to The Register for the link to this great resource.

– Suramya

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