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October 31, 2017

One night (or rather one week) in Bangkok and the world’s your oyster.

Filed under: My Life — Suramya @ 7:13 PM

The lyrics of the 1984 song “One Night in Bangkok” by Murray Head perfectly captures the spirit of visiting Bangkok (and Thailand). I was lucky enough to visit Thailand and experience it myself a few days ago. I was there for 9 days but was working for 3 days in the middle. We (Jani and Me) flew out from Bangalore on Saturday morning which in itself was quite exciting. I had to come home from Whitefield to pickup my luggage and then drive to the Airport. For some reason I couldn’t get any cabs from the office at the time so had to book a shared cab instead which went all over the place and I wasn’t sure if I would make it home on time but luckily I did make it back and was there at the Airport in plenty of time to catch the flight.

The flight was nothing special so not much to say about it. We got to Bangkok early in the morning and since Jani was there for a conference and was a panelist we got the VIP treatment. There was a lady from the conference waiting right outside the flight door and escorted us through the entire process of immigration, baggage pickup etc. Once we collected our luggage there was a car waiting for us to take us to the Marriott Marquis Queenโ€™s Park hotel which was sponsoring a 3D/2N luxury experience for the Panelist (I got to tag along without having to do anything which was great ๐Ÿ˜‰ ).

We reached there early in the morning and once we had breakfast we just crashed for a bit since it had been a long few days before the flight. The hotel was great and the facilities were very comfortable. We didn’t do much the first day except walk around the hotel for a bit but the next day we had some fun activities. I got to make a traditional Thai dish that I couldn’t sample because it had shrimp/Fish oil in it. However the chef did give me alternate ingredients to use when I got home. I can imagine all of you who know me well shaking their heads at the idea of me cooking something but it was an interesting experience.


What we cooked

At lunch since I was the only vegetarian in the group I got served a special meal. I have to say that the staff went out of their way to make sure I had a great experience. Although there were times when I felt a bit discriminated against as you can see in the photograph below where the white bowl at the bottom of the pic is the bowl in which I was served soup and the big silver dish in front of Jani is what the rest of the folks were served in.


What vegetarians got vs what the rest got

On Monday we moved to the Centara Grand and Bangkok Convention Center at Central World which is where the conference was being held. We visited the ‘Uno Mas’ restaurant near the top of the hotel and the views were amazing. Not much happened for the next few days as Jani was busy with the conference and I was busy at work. Below is my ‘office’ during the stay there and as you can see it was an great place to work from. I did consider working from the pool side but that would have been too distracting and too hot to be a feasible option.


My Office in Thailand

The hotel has a great bar/restaurant on the roof called the Redsky and because we had heard such great reviews we decided to have dinner there one night and even though the cost was a bit on the higher side it was worth it because the views were spectacular and the drinks were quite nice as well. We were there for a few hours and the time flew. Plus they don’t have the idiotic shutdown at 11:30 that Bangalore has during weekdays so we could stay there as long as we wanted. I did get Jani to try out Blue cheese and she absolutely hated it. I have a lovely video of her trying to control her expression after eating it but in the end she made such amusing disgusted expressions that I was on the floor laughing. (Ping me if you want to see the video ๐Ÿ˜‰ )


Dinner at Red Sky


Having drinks on the rooftop


Bangkok skyline


Bangkok skyline Part 2

On Friday we took a city tour of Bangkok starting early in the morning which in retrospect was a mistake as Bangkok is a city that is dead during the day for the most part as everyone is sleeping, nights are when the city actually comes alive. Inspite of that the Golden Buddha temple and the other sites were quite spectacular. Unfortunately since we were a bit strapped for time we didn’t stop at the flower market but rather just drove through it. We did but a few souvenirs but for the most part refrained from shopping.


The Golden Buddha


The Golden Buddha

Shortly afterwards we bid farewell to Bangkok to drive over to Pattaya for the remainder of the trip. We got in touch with Sunny from Sunny online Travel who helped us plan out our itinerary for the last few days of the trip. He went above and beyond to suggest things to do and places to see within our budget. Thanks to him we didn’t have to worry a bit about what to do and where to go in Pattaya. If you are in the neighborhood do visit him and he will ensure that you have a great experience at a reasonable cost. To give you an idea of his hospitality he personally picked us up from the hotel and drove us to see the Alcazar Show and then drove us back to the hotel once the show was done. In all my years of travel I can’t remember any other guide doing this without charging a ridiculous price for it.

The Alcazar Show was an amazing experience, and I have to be honest that initially I was a bit skeptical about going to a lady boy show but the show was so tastefully done that I was floored by the experience. I wish I could have taken pics with all the staff but that wasn’t possible. But we did manage to get a pic with one of the main stars and she was super nice about it.


Pic with the leading lady

After the show Sunny dropped us at the Walking Street which is one of the biggest and busiest party hotspots in Thailand so that we could explore the nightlife. There was a ton of great pubs/bars/exotic dancers in the street and it was a very different experience for other such party places in the world that I have seen in the past. We walked around for a while and then it looked like it was going to rain so we started walking back to the hotel and just as we were about a third of the way there it started pouring. As Jani always carries an umbrella in her humongous purse we didn’t get too wet but for a while it felt like someone was pouring water on us with a bucket.


Walking Street

Once we made it back to the hotel we crashed early as we had a hectic day planned. We started the day with a visit to the Floating market of Pattaya where we were one of the first people to get there and the iconic floating shops were still in the process of setting up. In a way it was good because as the place was still starting up there was not much stink and it wasn’t very crowded either. We started of with a canoe ride to the other side of the market where we checked out some cool shops and interesting items for sale. We walked around the whole market and attended a few shows like a monkey show that kept things interesting. They also had a zipline which looked interesting so we did a round on the lines. Due to the fact that we were there early in the day we didn’t have any queues anywhere which was great.


The Floating Market


All dressed up in traditional dresses

After we were done with the market we went over to Nong nooch tropical Botanical garden which was ok, nothing too special. There was an hour long cultural show which honestly felt boring especially after having been to the Alcazar show. The pots and the garden there was quite nice but in my opinion we could have spent that time at the floating market and enjoyed it more.

After the garden we drove over to the marine Underwater world and it was good. A bit of a let down after having seen the one in Europe in summer but still quite nice overall. If I hadn’t seen the one in Europe I would have def been wow’d by it. Fun fact was that Jani spent most of the time telling me about which of the exhibits she had eaten already, in the end I had to tell her to only tell me about the ones she hadn’t yet eaten and that list was a lot shorter ๐Ÿ™‚

After the exhibit we drove over to Ripley’s Believe it or Not and we did all 7 exhibits. I liked most of them except for Tussaud Wax works which wasn’t too great. The horror rides were great fun though Jani did manage to confuse everyone in the cast by keeping her eyes closed throughout both the haunted ride & haunted house. Unfortunately I listened to her and didn’t get the photo they had taken of us and now regret that decision. Ah well.. The next time I am taking the pics no matter what. This visit concluded our day so we headed back to the hotel and it started raining again… But we weren’t in the mood to do much so we just crashed as the next day we had an even earlier start to go Diving :).

The next day we again woke up early to go diving with the nice folks from the Jomtien Dive Center. They picked us up from the hotel and then we sailed for about an hour and half to get to the first diving spot. The water was a bit muddy but we did manage to see some great sea life. Lots of sea urchins and fishes. After the first dive we had lunch and got to our second spot where we dived again, this spot was a lot better with more sea life and corals etc. I did see some sea horses as well which was quite cool. Both dives were approximately 45 mins each (which is the usual length for a recreational dive). The entire thing took us the most part of the day so once we got back to shore we walked about a bit and then called it a night.


Pic on the boat, on the way to the diving spot


Shot of me in water (I am the one in the center)

On our final day in Pattaya we again got up early (which is something I would like to avoid in future trips) and started the drive back to Bangkok. Since our flight back was at night we stopped at the Jungle safari where we spent the entire day walking around in the heat to see the various animals. It was quite fun but I really didn’t like the heat and would have prefered to be in an AC car or something. Still the birds & animals we saw were worth the effort so… There were quite a lot of shows highlighting the various species so it was fun.


Front row seats for the seals show


Entry to the park (Apparently it was quite stinky)

Once we were done with the safari we drove to the airport and bid adieu to Thailand for a flight back. I would want to go back again for a longer trip so that I can explore the rest of the country but probably will travel to other countries first. I took quite a lot of photos (~600) so I am not going to be posting them, although Jani has posted the highlights on Facebook so if you are interested you can check them out there.

I finally finished this post just about a month after I made the trip which is all thanks to Jani for bugging me everyday about the blog. This is all for now, will write more later.

– Suramya

July 11, 2017

Like XKCD but don’t get the jokes?

Filed under: Interesting Sites — Suramya @ 11:38 PM

Do you like the XKCD Comics, but don’t always get the jokes? Or do you have someone in your life that keeps quoting it but you can’t make heads or tails of it? If so then you should check out ExplainXKCD.com, a website dedicated to explaining the XKCD Comics. e.g. Lets take the following comic from July 3rd 2017:

The site explains it as follows:

In the United States, the 4th of July is celebrated as Independence Day. This comic claims to show the timeline of different activities that are used to celebrate the holiday. One common activity is to watch fireworks displays. With the rise of personal drones there have been several videos of fireworks from drones, including flying the drones through the middle of the display. The comic then purports that starting in the year it was published (2017), fireworks and drones will be at some sort of war with each other, starting with drone pilots leading their drones into the path of the rising fireworks before they explode, leading to fireworks technicians intentionally trying to strike down drones. In 2019, Randall posits that the drones will be weaponized with fireworks and competitions will be held to shoot down your opponents’ drone. This wanton destruction of drones leads them to turn against their pilots and humanity in 2020 (after gaining sentience, presumably by their AI evolving through the competition), and then in 2021, they will be celebrating their Independence Day from the humans.

The title text refers to another popular 4th of July activity in the United States: Barbecues with fare such as hot dogs and hamburgers. But since the drones don’t have mouths or a digestive tract, they simply make a mess by using their rotors as a blender.

Check it out if you have some time to kill. Its a fun and distracting read.

– Suramya

July 6, 2017

Dear HDFC Bank: Please stop making life easier for phishers

Filed under: Computer Security,My Thoughts — Suramya @ 11:32 PM

I recently had to create a HDFC account because I changed firms and needed a HDFC account in order to be paid ๐Ÿ™‚ . Once I created the account I got a few SMS messages from AM-HDFCBK asking me to register online for Netbanking and Mobile Banking which is quite normal (though the no of messages were a bit annoying), what was scary and concerning was that the link in the message was a generic bit.ly URL. (See screenshot below)

HDFC Messages Screenshot

Screenshot of the Messages I got

For those who don’t know, bit.ly is a URL shortening service that allows you to create a short URL that redirects to a different URL. e.g. I have configured http://bit.ly/1MUISmu to redirect to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phishing. The service is most commonly used on Twitter where the max allowed characters are limited and the URL lengths are long.

However since anyone can create a bit.ly redirect there is no way of verifying that the link I got in the SMS was actually created by HDFC and points to a legitimate site and not a website controlled by a cyber criminal who is out to steal my data. The link can point to literally any website in the world that the sender wants including sites that are copies of the legitimate HDFC bank but in reality are storing your credentials to allow people to steal your money or sites that infect your system with a virus/ransomware.

There is a reason why computer security professionals tell people not to click on random links you get via email/SMS/whatsapp.

If you think that since the sender of the SMS is ‘AM-HDFCBK’ the message is legitimate and thus safe to click then think again. There are a ton of websites out there that allow you to spoof SMS sender details to anything you want at a cheap price. In fact you can also code your own software for doing this in bulk using publicly available API’s at ridiculously cheap prices. These are sites I found after a couple of mins of searching on Google, I am sure there are more secure/untraceable methods of sending fake/spoofed SMS messages on the dark web. So the risk of clicking on unknown links that I got out of nowhere is not worth it.

Normally what companies do in similar scenarios if they absolutely have to use a shortner is that they but a short domain name and use that so people getting the messages can identify the link as something pointing to the official site. But I guess someone at HDFC is trying to save money by not registering a new domain that would protect their customers. *Shrug*.

Ah well, looks like I will need to go to their official site and register my account from there.

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

– Suramya

June 16, 2017

Visiting Nagalapuram – Queen of waterfalls

Filed under: My Life — Suramya @ 1:04 AM

This past weekend I took part in another trek organized by the awesome folks at Nature Walkers. This one was to the Nagalapuram Waterfalls and was a little bit easier than the last trek I had done with them (Tadiandamol). From the trek summary:

Nagalapuram is one of the beautiful hill station situated in Chittur District, southern part of Andra Pradesh, around 280 km from Bengaluru. Normally known for the various water falls situated in the hill station. We say Nagalapuram is โ€œQueen of Water Fallsโ€œ, to see why you should come with us to explore

The trek started off on Friday night and was a bit of a crazy start for me as I had to rush home from Whitefield to make it to the pickup point on time. We were a group of 22 folks from different backgrounds and personalities who got together to experience a totally amazing trek. The group was quite diverse with lot of first time trekkers and a few regulars. Unfortunately due to the size of the group and the ridiculous cost of travel permits for large buses we had to break the group into two TT (Tempo Travellers) with 11 passengers in each. That kind of sucked because the group got divided into two and the folks in one TT didn’t get to interact with the people in the other TT as much as I would have wanted. It was an overnight drive to the falls and a few of us (Me, Jani and Shahrukh) were up till late catching up and then talking about jobs and interviews etc. I am sure after a point folks around us were wishing that we would just go to sleep.

We got to the Homestay around 7am and went in to freshen up. The homestay was run by the Andhra govt and more than anything it reminded me of the haunted houses in horror movies because of the look and the surrounding forests. The rooms were fairly basic but since we were planning on staying in tents it didn’t really matter. The rooms were just there so that we had a place to freshen up.


The not so haunted Homestay

We were welcomed by a whole bunch of monkeys and dogs and we offered them tea as a gesture of friendship which was accepted. After tea a few of us decided to go hang out with the monkeys in their native environment and ended up in the branches of a nice and comfortable tree. All this time the remaining normal folks were getting ready and waiting for breakfast.


The Three musketeers monkeys.


Waiting for breakfast.

After a little while the food arrived and we had to climb down since no one was willing to feed us in the tree. ๐Ÿ™ During breakfast we were fortunate enough to witness the declaration of true love and managed to get a photo of the happy occasion ๐Ÿ™‚


True Love!

After food we started off to the base camp to begin the trek in the TT as it was about 30 mins away from where we were staying. On the way we entertained ourselves by dancing (trying to dance in my case) and singing.


Starting the trek

By the time we got to the starting point the sun was up and it was really really hot. In this trek the first half hour is on a plain with no shade so it was like being on a flat plate getting roasted slowly. To pass time and distract ourselves from the heat me, Shahrukh and Anupam started singing and continued to sing till we reached the first stream. I am actually surprised that the others didn’t strangle us after the first 10 mins to get us to shut up. Once we crossed the plains and entered the forest the heat became a lot more bearable. The path was pretty smooth during this part of the trek. After about an hour we reached a stream and all of us took a break. Honestly none of us wanted to continue without a long break to relax and cool down but Manoj convinced us that the first waterfall was just a few mins away and a whole lot better than this small stream so we packed up and started the second stage of the trek.


Recovering from being roasted in the heat

This second portion was a lot more challenging with us entering hillier terrain and narrower trails, but it wasn’t too tough so we made good time to the first falls and reached it fairly quickly. It shows how well organized the Nature Walkers team is and how much they care about safety that they had ensured all the members of the trek had life jackets so that we could enjoy the water without taking undue risks. (This is in addition to banning all alcohol and smoking during the trek) We wasted no time in changing and jumped into the cold waters of the fall. Trust me the water was really cold and it felt amazing after the heat. We all swam around, climbed up the falls and basically had a blast. All too soon we we summoned out of the water so that we could head out to the second waterfall and we did so with a whole lot of grumbling as we were having a ball in the water.


Having a blast in the water

The path to the second fall was even more hilly and the trail was challenging with really steep climbs in parts. There were portions where we had to climb around a rock on the trail by stepping on a ledge that was not more than 2-3 inches wide. Then there was this rock chimney which was interesting to climb.

Unfortunately this is when the trip took a darker turn as we found out that one of the trekkers from another group had gotten injured in the next fall and was being carried back to the head of the trail. On speaking with the members of that group we found out that the guy had jumped in the water and for some reason failed to surface after going under. After 5-6 minutes his body surfaced and that’s when the rest of the group realized that something was wrong and rushed to help him. They did manage to get a lot of water out from his lungs but failed to get all of it out so he was still unconscious and they had to carry him through the hilly terrain back to the start of the trail.

One thing that I felt really proud of while watching and helping them was that *every single person* in the area pitched in to help when they found out about the accident. Not one person refused or ignored them. Its not everyday you see people helping so selflessly. However by the time they had reached where we were it had already been more than an hour. The kid had started bleeding from his nose and his pulse was really thready so we weren’t sure if he would make it or not. After helping them down from a chimney in the trail we continued on to the second pool but it was a much more subdued group that reached the second pool. We broke there for lunch but didn’t get into the water as no one was in the mood.

After a brief rest break the group started off for the third pool but a few of us decided against continuing to the third fall as we were still a bit upset/saddened by the accident. So 6-7 of us stayed back while the remaining folks continued to the last pool which apparently had a really good view along with a place where you could dive into the water safely. The folks who stayed back watched some idiots trying to prove how brave and macho they were by drinking and performing idiotic stunts to impress the girls. Its a miracle someone else didn’t get hurt as well.

The remainder of the group got back with just enough time remaining to allow us to make it out of the forest before dark. By this time we all had recovered our sense of adventure so we had a blast singing, chatting, and getting to know our fellow group members. When we boarded the TT our driver told us that the injured guy was pronounced DOA (Dead on Arrival) by the ambulance and that this was about the 10th death in the past 3 months in that region. It just shows that trekking and alcohol don’t mix. There are calculated risks that are ok to take and then there is being an idiot. At times the line between the two is extremely thin and once drinks are involved, it is non-existent. But there was nothing we could do so we started back

After stopping for Tea on the way we reached the homestay and there was almost a stampede for the bathrooms as everyone wanted to shower and change. By the time we all freshened up dinner was ready and we fell on the food like starving people. Since they gave us the food in buckets along with Pattals instead of plates, we all ate in the traditional style with a few people serving the food and the rest sitting on the floor to eat. Then the order was reversed and the folks serving in the first set sat down for dinner and the rest served food to them.


Having dinner the traditional way

After dinner a majority of the folks decided to crash from the night while a few brave souls stayed up to chat. Initially we had planned to have a bonfire but soon realized that it was too hot for it so just sat out in the open and talked. After a while we wanted to crash but found that the tents were doing a credible impersonation of being an oven. So we came back and slept in the open which was amazing as the moon was full (or near enough) and the the cool breeze made it quite pleasant to be outside.

In the morning we were woken up by monkeys who came over expecting morning tea like the day before and got really upset when they didn’t get any. Like any sensible people we decided that Discretion is the better part of valor and retreated in the face of their anger to the guest house to freshen up. Once all the folks got ready we broke our fast at this small shop where they made fresh dosa’s and puri’s and served them to us piping hot. Post breakfast we all visited Kone Falls and the Temple which was nearby and a few of the folks had a dip in the falls. We had to depart from the location a lot sooner that we wanted to but unfortunately we didn’t have any option as we were anyways way over the checkout time at the homestay.


Group photo taken just before we left

The drive back was again a lot of fun (and more interactive than the drive to the place) as it was daytime and everyone was awake. We played a bunch of games and sang (yes we do seem to sing a lot) quite a bit. All too soon we were back in Bangalore and had to head back home. With heavy hearts we said our goodbyes and went home.

I really enjoyed the trip and like always ended up making a whole new set of friends and am definitely looking forward to the next adventure/trip.
Special thanks to Manoj and Pavan for organizing the trip and managing it so well that all we had to do was focus on having fun.

This is all for now. Will post more later.

– Suramya

PS: In interest of full disclosure just want to let folks know that I am one of the official bloggers for Nature Walkers starting with this trip.

April 26, 2017

When traditional stories meet a budding astronomer

Filed under: My Life — Suramya @ 6:21 PM

A little while ago mom, me and Vir (my nephew) were taking an evening walk and mom decided to tell Vir a story to keep him entertained. So here’s how the conversation went:

[Mom] Vir, see there is Chanda Mamma (the moon)
[Vir] No, that is not Chanda Mama, that is Earth’s Moon and other planets like Jupiter also have moon’s. (and he went on about various planets and their moon’s for a while)

At this point mom didn’t know how to proceed so we changed the topic. After a few days she thought she would try again, this time we were driving to get Ice cream and here’s how the conversation went this time:

[Vir] Nani, look there is the Moon.
[Mom] Yes, the moon (Chanda Mama) has come out because Suraj Chacha (the Sun) has gone to sleep.
[Vir] No, Sun doesn’t sleep, It is night because earth rotates and the sun is now on the other side of earth so we can’t see it. The moon is on the same side and so is visible.
[Mom] I give up… All I wanted to do was to tell him a story about the sun and the moon.

I don’t think she will be telling him any more stories about the Moon.

– Suramya

March 8, 2017

My Trek to Tadiandamol

Filed under: My Life,My Thoughts — Suramya @ 7:13 PM

So last weekend I went for my first trek of 2017 with NatureWalkers to this place called Tadiandamol. Don’t ask me to pronounce it because I still can’t manage without sounding silly and it took me 3 attempts to spell it correctly. The trek is a total of 8kms long round trip and the peak which is the highest in Coorg is at about 1748 m high.

Tadiandamol is on one of the most beautiful, noncommercial peaks in Karnataka, it is elevated to about 1748 m and known as the highest peak in coorg/kodagu district. The Tadiandamol trek offers adventurers an opportunity to explore the stunning vegetation, rare mountain birds and pretty butterflies flitting from tree to tree. A panoramic view from the peaks is an eye-candy for the hikers. The trial takes you through the vast expanse of the Shola forest, It is a day trek which makes it even more doable for city folks- whether avid trekkers and hikers. A famous historical landmark โ€œNalknad-Palaceโ€ resides at the foothills of the mountain.

This was my first trek with Nature Walkers and I loved it. A total of 18 of us were there for the trek with a wide range of trekking experience and age groups. The trip started at 10pm from Bangalore and we boarded the bus after donating a lot of blood to the Domlur mosquitoes (while waiting for the bus to arrive). We kicked off the evening with a round of introductions which included telling folks about something crazy you did and man some of the folks had donbe some crazy stuff (including me ๐Ÿ™‚ ) We had people asking their professors to dance, setting fire in the hostel to burn notes and scaring aunts with skulls.

After the intro round ended most of the people went to sleep but a few of us weren’t sleepy so we spent majority of the night talking and after a few hours just as we were winding down and I was about to fall asleep the driver switched on the AC at full strength and played some Kannada music at high volume waking me up. So we kind of half dozed while the driver took a nap and then we were on our way again reaching the Homestay at ~7am. We freshened up and then started for the basecamp after breakfast which was about an hour from the homestay.

We arrived at the basecamp all bright-eyed & bushy tailed and started the trek on a high note. The start of the trek was fairly easy with a shallow gradient so it wasn’t too painful. Though it was bright and sunny so that made it a bit uncomfortable and soon I was sweating enough that I had to remove the cap.


Group photo at the start of the Trek and you can see the energy and enthusiasm

We walked the trek at a fairly slow pace and used the time to talk and learn more about each other, plus take a lot of photos and snapchat videos etc. A large part of the group was 12 friends who had come for the trek together and their enthusiasm was infectious. I haven’t downloaded all the pics yet and can’t post all of them in any case so here are a few pics to give you an idea about the trek and the route.

Selfie on the way to the peak
Selfie on the way to the peak about an hour into the trek


Random spot that looked interesting and was perfect for a break

After a little while the terrain became a lot steeper and it got a bit harder to climb. Since the distance to the peak is only 4 kms it was a fairly steep climb most of the way. About half way through there is a big rock and a stream so we took a break and obviously climbed the rock. ๐Ÿ™‚


Group photo at the rock

The stream was refreshing but with barely enough water to be called a stream. We filled our waterbottels there and I got to use my water purifier to purify the water. Don’t think it was absolutely required but I needed an excuse to play with my gadgets so… In any case we spent about 15-20 mins fooling around and taking pics before resuming the trek.


The Amazingly full stream

It took us another 2 hours or so to climb to the top. Both Manoj and Amrita ensured that we all were pacing ourselves and constantly provided encouragement so all of us reached the peak together and the view was worth the effort spent to climb to the top. Thankfully it was a little cloudy towards the end of the climb and the breeze was very refreshing as well so that made it a bit easier as well.


Thanking the gods of the Peak that I made it to the top while Tejaswani and Amrita look on.


Look at how happy we all look that we made it to the top in one piece ๐Ÿ™‚

Once at the top we all took a break to have lunch, meditate and enjoy the view while Manoj took a nap to recover from the stress of herding all of us to the peak.


Me, Jani and Shahrukh meditating at the peak


Manoj recovering from herding all of us to the peak.

We started back very reluctantly both because we wanted to extend the stay at the top and because our feet hurt ๐Ÿ™‚ The way down was more adventurous as the path was quite slippery and everyone fell at-least once though there was a contest going on to see who would fall the most as well with the winner claiming the throne with 8 spectacular falls.

By the time we reached the base camp we were all ready to be flat on the ground and not move. But still we ended up dancing for a little while in the bus on the way back to the homestay. Interestingly our bus had a laser/disco light setup which made dancing fun. Although initially it was more of moving hands and pretending to dance than actual dancing. Once we got home and freshened up we sat outside and chatted about topics all over the place from weird food people eat to physics to astronomy and horror stories. The campfire made it cosy enough to sit outside and since we didn’t have any portable speakers we got to show off our singing skills instead of our dancing skills. The jam session continued till almost 1 in the morning and we all dragged ourselves to bed quite reluctantly.

Next morning we again made an early start and left the homestay after a lovely breakfast.


Pic with the owners of the Homestay

We were all feeling a bit more energetic after resting over night so we spent a large amount of time playing Mafia which I enjoyed for the first time. The last two times I played the game I found it very boring but with this group it was a lot of fun. I was a cop in the first game and got to play a few turns before getting killed and it was a lot of fun watching the players try to convince each other that they were not mafia. In the second game I was classified as Mafia and was there till the end of the game (We won ๐Ÿ™‚ ) but in the last one I was the first person to be killed so didn’t get to play at all.

In the middle we stopped at Namdroling Monastery which I have visited a few times before but it was still worth the visit. It is a very peaceful place and since we got there just before the afternoon prayers started we managed to see the temple and then watched the monks start their prayers as well. We did avoid the shopping complex as otherwise we would have been stuck there for hours while the ladies shopped ๐Ÿ˜‰ and were on the way back to Bangalore with brief stops for lunch & tea and lots of dancing.

We all enjoyed the trip so much that we didn’t want it to end so most of us got down at Indiranagar for dinner at Copper Chimney instead of heading home directly. The waiter gave us a weird look when the 13 of us were done with just starters and dessert but none of us were very hungry so it was good that we didn’t over-order.

Overall the trip was a great success and I really enjoyed traveling with Nature Walkers. I would highly recommend them to folks looking for a fun well organized trip.

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

– Suramya

PS: For those of you who are wondering about what happened to posting about the previous trips, I realized that the list had gotten long enough that I wouldn’t be able to post about them (15 trips in 2016) and because I was waiting to write about the previous trips I wasn’t posting about the new ones either. So decided to bite the bullet and start with a clean slate. Hopefully this year I will be more consistent with my writing.

September 27, 2016

How to install Tomato Firmware on Asus RT-N53 Router

Filed under: Computer Software,Knowledgebase,Techie Stuff,Tutorials — Suramya @ 11:43 PM

I know I am supposed to blog about the all the trips I took but wanted to get this down before I forget what I did to get the install working. I will post about the trips soon. I promise ๐Ÿ™‚

Installing an alternate firmware on my router is something I have been meaning to do for a few years now but never really had the incentive to investigate in detail as the default firmware worked fine for the most part and I didn’t really miss any of the special features I would have gotten with the new firmware.

Yesterday my router decided to start acting funny, basically every time I started transferring large files from my phone to the desktop via sFTP over wifi the entire router would crash after about a min or so. This is something that hasn’t happened before and I have transferred gigs of data so I was stumped. Luckily I had a spare router lying around thanks to dad who forced me to carry it to Bangalore during my last visit. So I swapped the old router with the new one and got my work done. This gave me an opportunity as I had a spare router sitting on my desk and some time to kill so I decided to install a custom firmware on it to play with it.

I was initially planning on installing dd-wrt on it but their site was refusing to let me download the file for the RT-N53 model even though the wiki said that I should be able to install it. A quick web search suggested that folks have had a good experience with the Tomato by Shibby firmware so I downloaded and installed it by following these steps:

Download the firmware file

First we need to download the firmware file from the Tomato Download site.

  • Visit the Tomato download Section
  • Click on the latest Build folder. (I used build5x-138-MultiWAN)
  • Click on ‘Asus RT-Nxx’ folder
  • Download the ‘MAX’ zip file as that has all the functionality. (I used the tomato-K26-1.28.RT-N5x-MIPSR2-138-Max.zip file.)
  • Save the file locally
  • Extract the ZIP file. The file we are interested in is under the ‘image’ folder with a .trx extension

Restart the Router in Maintenance mode

  • Turn off power to router
  • Turn the power back on while holding down the reset button
  • Keep holding reset until the power light starts flashing which will mean router is in recovery mode

Set a Static IP on the Ethernet adapter of your computer

For some reason, you need to set the IP address of the computer you are using to a static IP of 192.168.1.2 with subnet 255.255.255.0 and gateway 192.168.1.1. If you skip this step then the firmware upload fails with an integrity check error.

Upload the new firmware

  • Connect the router to a computer using a LAN cable
  • Visit 192.168.1.1
  • Login as admin/admin
  • Click Advanced Setting from the navigation menu at the left side of your screen.
  • Under the Administration menu, click Firmware Upgrade.
  • In the New Firmware File field, click Browse to locate the new firmware file that you downloaded in the previous step
  • Click Upload. The uploading process takes about 5 minutes.
  • Then unplug the router, wait 30 seconds.
  • Hold down the WPS button while plugging it back in.
  • Wait 30 seconds and release the WPS button.

Now you should be using the new firmware.

  • Browse to 192.168.1.1
  • Login as admin/password (if that doesn’t work try admin/admin)
  • Click on the ‘reset nvram to defaults’ link in the page that comes up. (I had to do this before the system started working but apparently its not always required.)

Configure your new firmware

That’s it, you have a router with a working Tomato install. Go ahead and configure it as per your requirements. All functionality seems to be working for me except the 5GHz network which seems to have disappeared. I will play around with the settings a bit more to see if I can get it to work but as I hardly ever connected to the 5GHz network its not a big deal for me.

References

The following sites and posts helped me complete the install successfully. Without them I would have spent way longer getting things to work:

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

– Suramya

May 2, 2016

My Trip to Sri Lanka

Filed under: My Life — Suramya @ 3:18 AM

How do you summarize a 10 day trip to an island paradise with incredibly hospitable folks that you took with a group of awesome friends? This has been the question that has been annoying me over the past few weeks since I have gotten back from my trip and as you can guess by the lack of posts before this one I haven’t really found a good answer to it yet. However a month is more than enough time to ponder and I realized that because I was avoiding posting anything about the trip I was also not posting anything else on the blog either because that summary had to come first. So without any further ado here we go.

We flew from Bangalore to Colombo via Chennai. If you are ever planning on going to Sri Lanka take a direct flight, the Chennai airport is the worst airport I have had the ‘pleasure’ of flying out of. The duty free shopping area is 2 shops with minimal goods and the ‘food court’ is one shop that didn’t have have the items on its menu available. (this was at about 10pm or so). We got to Sri Lanka at ~2am and took a cab to our B&B which was decent, not great but decent. From there our grand adventure started the next day. We got lucky and got a great driver (Sujeet) who was excellent in guiding us and making sure we had a good time.

The first day we mostly traveled and didn’t really do much but starting the second day the fun started. We did a whole bunch of water sports (Jetski, water-skiing, Banana boat, River cruise etc) and we visited a turtle farm where we saw turtles aging from a few days to one over 150 years old. We also did a river safari where I tried out a fish spa for the first time. It wasn’t as bad as I was expecting and for the cost it was worth it.

The third day started off with me going for Scuba diving and the rest of the folks went snorkeling. Managed to do two back to back dives, one was to a sunken ship and the other was in coral. Got to see some really colorful fishes but nothing too spectacular. Unfortunately the underwater camera at the dive shop was broken so didn’t get any underwater pictures but the memories are certainly great. After we got done with the diving we drove down to Galle and saw the famous clock tower and fort. The tower wasn’t very impressive and was under repair. There was also a nice beach and some colorful nick-knacks to pick up. (Though we ended up not guying anything). The fort was nice and it was obvious that it would have been very impressive during its peak.

On the fourth day we decided to go whale watching and that meant waking up at 5 so that we were there at the port by 7am. The trip was nice but extremely hot and since we were on the deck with no shade all of us got tanned (and slightly burnt) by the time we got back. Unfortunately we didn’t see any whales but we did see a whole lot of dolphins as they were pretty much constantly following our boat. The fact that we didn’t see a whale was disappointing but later in the evening we visited an ancient stupa and prepared for an early morning the next day so that we could go on a leopard safari.

The fifth day started off really early again (before dawn) and though we saw a lot of birds we didn’t see any leopards. This and the fact that we didn’t see any whales earlier made us decide to avoid any further safaris in the trip and focus on other kinds of sightseeing. So on the next day we visited a couple of ancient temples, stupas etc and on the 7th day we went river rafting. The rapids were grade 3&4 for the most part but it was a lot of fun esp the part where we got into the water and swam around.

On the 8th day we visited Sigiriya which is a world heritage site and saw the amazing construction and palaces that had been built so long ago. It was impressive and humbling to see what people were capable of constructing with pure muscle power without any of the modern technology to assist them. If you visit, make sure you request a guide because otherwise you will miss out on a lot of the background information and things you def must see.

The last day was spent relaxing at the Colombo beach after spending some time shopping and seeing the local sites. It was with a heavy heart, amazing memories and a lighter wallet (not that much lighter since things were not as expensive as we thought) we boarded our flight back. I wish we had more time there because we weren’t able to cover any of the northern or eastern part of the country but that gives us an excuse to plan another trip so lets see how that works out.

I have uploaded the photos to Facebook so you can check them out over there.

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

– Suramya

February 25, 2016

Indian Patent office rejects Software patents

Filed under: Computer Software,My Thoughts — Suramya @ 8:00 PM

As you know software patents are something of a scourge in the computer industry and are hated for the most part (except by the companies using them to make money/stifle innovation and competition). There is extensive debate on the topic all of which boils down to the following three questions:

  • Should software patents even be allowed? If they are then how do we define the boundary between patentable and non-patentable software?
  • Is the inventive step and non-obviousness requirement is applied too loosely to software?
  • Are software patents discouraging innovation instead of encouraging it?

The Indian patent office has ruled on 19th Feb 2016 that software patents discourage innovation by using the following three part test to determine the patentability of Computer Related Inventions (CRIs), which precludes software from being patented:

  • Openly construe the claim and identify the actual contribution;
  • If the contribution lies only in mathematical method, business method or algorithm, deny the claim;
  • If the contribution lies in the field of computer programme, check whether it is claimed in conjunction with a novel hardware and proceed to other steps to determine patentability with respect to the invention.. The computer programme in itself is never patentable. If the contribution lies solely in the computer programme, deny the claim. If the contribution lies in both the computer programme as well as hardware, proceed to other steps of patentability.

This is a great step in ensuring that useless/basic idea’s don’t get patented and stifle innovation.

– Suramya

Source: Press Release: Indian Patent Office Says No to Software Patents

February 20, 2016

How to encrypt your Hard-drive in Linux

We have heard multiple stories where someone looses a pendrive or a laptop containing sensitive/private data which is then published by the person who found the drive embarrassing the owner of the data. The best way to prevent something like that from happening to you if you loose a disk is to make sure all your data is encrypted. Historically this used to be quite painful to setup and required a lost of technical know-how. Thankfully this is no longer the case. After trying a bunch of different options I found Linux Unified Key Setup-on-disk-format (LUKS) to be the most user-friendly and easy to setup option for me.

Setting it up is quite easy by following the instructions over at www.cyberciti.biz. However since things on the internet have a tendency of disappearing on a fairly frequent basis, I am using this post to save a paraphrased version of the installation instructions (along with my notes/comments) just in case the original site goes down and I need to reinstall. All credit goes to original author. So without further ado here we go:

Install cryptsetup

First we need to install cryptsetup utility which contains all the utilities we need to encrypt our drive. To install it in Debian/Ubuntu you just issue the following command as root:

apt-get install cryptsetup

Configure LUKS partition

Warning: This will remove all data on the partition that you are encrypting. So make sure you have a working backup before proceeding amd don’t blame me if you manage to destroy your data/device.

Run the following command as root to start the encryption process:

cryptsetup -y -v luksFormat <device>

where <device> is the partition we want to encrypt (e.g. /dev/sda1). The command will ask you for confirmation and a passphrase. This passphrase is not recoverable so make sure you don’t forget it.

Create drive mapping

Once the previous command completes you need to create a mapping of the encrypted drive by issuing the following command:

cryptsetup luksOpen <device> backup2

You can also map a partition to using its UUID (which is what I do) by issuing the following command instead (This works great if you want to script automated backups to an external drive):

cryptsetup luksOpen UUID=88848060-fab7-4e9e-bac2-f9a2323c7c29 backup2

Replace the UUID in the example with the UUID of your drive. (Instructions on how to find the UUID are available here).

Use the following command to see the status for the mapping and to check if the command succeeded:

cryptsetup -v status backup2

Format LUKS partition

Now that we have created the mapping we need to write zeroes to the encrypted device, to ensure that the outside world sees this as random data and protects the system against disclosure of usage by issuing the following command:

dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/mapper/backup2

Since this command can take a long time to complete depending on the drive size and dd by default doesn’t give any feedback on the percentage completed/remaining I recommend that you use the pv command to monitor the progress by issuing the following command instead:

pv -tpreb /dev/zero | dd of=/dev/mapper/backup2 bs=128M

This will take a while to run so you can go for a walk or read a book while it runs. Once the command completes you can create a filesystem on the device (I prefer to use ext4 but you can use any filesystem you like) by formatting the device:

mkfs.ext4 /dev/mapper/backup2

After the filesystem is created you can mount and use the partition as usual by issuing the following command:

mount /dev/mapper/backup2 /mnt/backup

That’s it. You now have an encrypted partition that shows up as a regular partition in Linux which you can use as a regular drive without having to worry about anything. No special changes are needed to use this partition which means any software can use it without requiring changes.

How to unmount and secure the data

After you are done transferring data to/from the drive you can unmount and secure the partition by issuing the following commands as root:

umount /mnt/backup

followed by

cryptsetup luksClose backup2

Creating a backup of the LUKS headers

Before you start anything else, you should create a backup copy of the LUKS header because if this header gets corrupted somehow then all data in the encrypted partition is lost forever with no way to recover it. From the cryptsetup man page:

โ€œLUKS header: If the header of a LUKS volume gets damaged, all data is permanently lost unless you have a header-backup. If a key-slot is damaged, it can only be restored from a header-backup or if another active key-slot with known passphrase is undamaged. Damaging the LUKS header is something people manage to do with surprising frequency. This risk is the result of a trade-off between security and safety, as LUKS is designed for fast and secure wiping by just overwriting header and key-slot area.โ€

Create a backup by issuing the following command:

cryptsetup luksHeaderBackup <device> --header-backup-file <file>

Important note: a LUKS header backup can grant access to most or all data, therefore you need to make sure that nobody has access to it.

In case of disaster where our LUKS header gets broken, we can restore it by issuing the following command:

cryptsetup luksHeaderRestore <device> --header-backup-file <file>

How to remount the encrypted partition?

Issue the following commands in sequence to mount the partition:

cryptsetup luksOpen <device> backup2
mount /dev/mapper/backup2 /mnt/backup

Please note that data encrypted by LUKS is quite obvious with most Linux systems identifying it as an encrypted partition automatically. So if someone examines your system they will know you have encrypted data and can force you to divulge the password by various means (including the use of Rubber-hose Cryptanalysis. )

If you want the encrypted partition to be hidden then you can use Deniable encryption/Hidden Partition or use steganography. I haven’t really used either so can’t comment on how to set it up correctly but maybe I can talk about it in a future post after I explore them a bit more.

Well this is all for now, hope you find this useful. Will write more later.

– Suramya

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