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February 28, 2010

Names and correct modes of address

Filed under: My Thoughts — Suramya @ 4:38 PM

I was reading the latest post on the Flipkart Blog where they talked about how they lost a customer because they addressed him informally in their correspondence with him and it started me thinking about how important it is to make sure that you address a person correctly. The problem is that the ‘correct’ mode of address changes depending on where you are and who you are addressing.

Till I went to college (before 1999) mode of address was easy, anyone in the same generation as you but older was called Bhaiya/Didi (elder brother/sister), anyone younger than you was called by their name. Any person from the older generation was either called Uncle/Aunty or by their relationship to you. Oh and teachers were called Sir or Mam. Over all quite easy to remember.

When I went to college in the US everything changed and it was a shock. Suddenly I was supposed to call my professors by their name which I felt was rude and when I started working I kept calling my bosses Sir/Mam. It wasn’t me being formal but just showing respect which thankfully they understood. Still I was told to stop doing that and call them by their names. For a person coming from a background where you never call your elders by name it was a big deal and took me quite a while to get used to it.

Then I came back to India and was lost again, because by then I was used to calling everyone by name even when they had kids older than me. In personal interactions it wasn’t that big a problem but professionally it was an issue. If you called someone by their name they felt that you weren’t giving them the appropriate respect. So I ended up calling everyone senior to me Mr xyz or Ms Xmy.

Luckily for me all the companies I have worked for had people who dealt with Americans or had studied in the US so if I accidentally called someone by their first name it wasn’t an issue.

Now I have a simple policy in this regard, if you are my age or 5-10 years older I will call you by your name unless corrected and if you are older then that I will call you by your last name. This is for in-person meetings, for conversations over the phone I take my cue from whoever introduces me to them; if they called the person by their first name I do the same otherwise its was back to formality. (Though I have stopped calling anyone sir or mam and I tell all my juniors to not call me sir.)

The mode of address is a small part of dealing with a customer/co-worker but is quite important. You want to come across as an approachable person but not get too familiar which some people might find offensive and its quite a balancing act.

I sympathize with Flipkart that they lost a customer but in the customer’s defense he told them that he wanted to be addressed formally but they still addressed him informally so its understandable that the person got ticked…

Another way to annoy a person is to get the gender wrong when addressing them. I have made that mistake but thankfully the person I was corresponding with had a sense of humor and corrected me without getting upset. Since then I try to be extra careful when using gender based vocabulary in an email but to my dismay the name doesn’t always tell if a person is a male or female especially when you are dealing with names from another culture. So I rarely use gender specific words when I don’t know the sex of the person I am emailing/chatting with.

The funny part is that my name has been mistaken for a girls name a couple of times so I know what it feels to be on the other side. But still, I think most issues can be overcome if both parties are willing to work for it and have a sense of humor (Yes, I know sometimes humor doesn’t translate well across cultures but that’s for another post)

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

– Suramya

February 27, 2010

How to use UDP Tunneling to avoid hotspot or firewall restrictions

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

A lot of times when you connect to a wireless hotspot or a network there are restrictions in place which prevent you from accessing the web without some sort of authentication or restrict the kind of connections allowed. Usually that’s not a problem but at times you need to be able to bypass the restrictions.

In normal cases the firewalls in place usually allow outgoing connections to pass through but in some cases even outbound connections are blocked or you need to pay for access. In such cases you can use UDP Tunneling to bypass any restrictions.

Keep in mind that using such methods on a network will not endear you to your network administrator and if caught might cause you trouble. You might even end up in Jail. So don’t try to use this for anything illegal or to browse porn at work.

The way it works is that when you try to browse to a website your system sends a request to a name server on UDP Port 53. On a lot of hotspots/firewalls/proxies the system waits for the Name server to respond and when it gets a response it redirects you to a login page or redirects you to a web proxy. What allows us to do a UDP tunnel is the fact that all port 53 UDP traffic is allowed out to anywhere on the web, without any kind of authentication.

So if you have a VPN configured to connect over UDP port 53 instead of the default port 1194 then you should be able to bypass the restrictions.

Basically what you have to do is setup a OpenVPN server on a public server and then configure it to use port 53 instead of the default 1194. Once you do that you can configure your VPN client on a laptop to connect to the server on port 53. Once connected all new connections will go over the VPN connection and you should be able to browser the web without issues or blocks.

Thanks to Adam Palmer for the tip.

I think I am going to set up a VPN server on my desktop so when I am away from home and need web access I can use this technique to get access.

– Suramya

February 25, 2010

School spying on Kids with Laptops provided by the school

Filed under: My Thoughts,News/Articles — Suramya @ 11:31 PM

When we talk about Big Brother most people worry about government’s having the power to monitor what people are doing. Some worry about companies monitoring their staff but that too in the office. No one really thinks about how certain schools have decided to monitor their student bodies.

Recently one of the students at Harriton High , Rosemont Pennsylvania filed a class action lawsuite against the school alleging that Matsko (The Assistant Vice Principal) “informed minor plaintiff that the school district was of the belief that minor plaintiff was engaged in improper behavior in his home and cited as evidence a photograph from the Webcam embedded in minor plaintiff’s personal laptop issued by the school district.”

School teachers/board have absolute power over their student body, not in a physical or legal sense but the power and control is still there. They control the grades and they decide how the education is being imparted to students thus controlling the student’s future. In most cases this is not an issue but sometimes the school goes over-board. In Harriton High they decided that they had the right to watch over their student body even when they were not at school and used the Laptops that the school provided to enable them to do so.

Basically they used a remote-management product called LANrev, which enabled staff members to activate Webcams built into the MacBook laptops to take snapshots of the students without their knowledge. Officially the software was put in to track stolen laptops but as with all surveillance tools it was misused by the school staff.

On most laptops there is a light that comes on when the webcam is in use so that the users know when the webcam is activated. A lot of students noticed that the light came on intermittently and when they complained they were told that this was a ‘glitch’ and the webcams were not actually in use.

The best part is that the Laptop’s were firmware locked to prevent the students from verifying the official story. In-fact if a student jail-broke the laptop it was grounds for immediate suspension. This in itself makes me believe that the laptops were used to spy on the students. In addition it was mandatory for students to use the laptops provided by school for classes instead of using their personal laptops.

Stryde Hax: The Spy at Harriton High has a very nice technical writeup of how the school was spying on students and using the laptop’s webcams to take photos without the student’s knowledge.

Although the school has denied that they were spying on students not a lot of people believe them (including me). Oh I agree that it’s not an official policy but I am 100% sure that one or more staff members used the opportunity to spy on the students.

When I read the story the first thing that came to my mind was that the easiest way to prevent the school from watching would have been to put a piece of opaque tape on the webcam. That’s what I would have done…

Now that the story is out in public the FBI is investigating the case. This is a very scary scenario and if its not stopped immediately and the people responsible are not punished then it will set a dangerous precedent for other school’s and companies. What is to stop companies from using the laptops that they issue to spy on their users? Most users keep their laptops in their bedroom and I am sure they don’t want their company/office/school knowing what they do in the privacy of their own bedroom.

Source: SANS NewsBites Vol. 12 Num. 15.

– Suramya

February 24, 2010

Getting Wireless on my HP Pavilion DV5000 to work on Linux

Filed under: Computer Software,Knowledgebase,Linux/Unix Related — Suramya @ 10:46 PM

I have heard that connecting to wireless networks can give a lot of trouble in Linux. I have even experienced the same when I tried out Debian and Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 5 on my HP Pavilion DV5000 laptop. In Debian I managed to get the card working but on RHEL I couldn’t get it to work.

Actually I could have gotten it to work but lacked the time to spend trying out various solutions. Plus the final solution wasn’t very elegant or portable. Basically what I ended up doing was hardcoding the config file to connect to a particular wireless network. Which obviously wasn’t a very portable solution.

When I decided to try out Backtrack 4 which is a Linux-based penetration testing distribution that is based off Ubuntu I was worried that my wireless card (Broadcom BCM4318) would again cause issues. If you have been using Linux then you probably have heard of this-chip set as earlier versions of Linux had a lot of problems getting this card to work and so I was expecting a lot of work before I got the card to work.

While the OS was installing I did a little search on google and that reminded me of a post on Tech Republic that talked about 10 tools to connect to wireless networks in Linux so I decided to try out each of them to see which one worked for me.

Fortunately for me the first program I tried (wicd) solved my problem. All I had to do to get the network working was: log in as root and then run the following command:

/etc/init.d/wicd start

Once I ran the command all my network cards were automatically detected and I could configure them. However since its a pain to configure the cards manually, I ran the following command to start the GUI based client for wicd:

wicd-client

When you run wicd-client a new icon shows up in the system tray (next to the clock) and if you double click on the icon the Wicd manager starts and allows you to configure any wireless/wired network that the system detects.

Over all, wicd is quite easy and a lot more intuitive than the default KDE Network manager, plus another advantage is that wicd supports WPA which the default KDE Network manager doesn’t.

Now that I have gotten the card working on Ubuntu I am going to re-install RHEL on the laptop and see if wicd can get the card working over there also. But that’s work for another day.

– Suramya

February 15, 2010

Augmented Reality: Tattoo that transforms into a flying dragon

Filed under: Computer Related,Computer Software,My Thoughts,Techie Stuff — Suramya @ 7:52 PM

Augmented reality, the words bring to mind a science fiction world where people wear glasses hooked up to computers that give additional information on the item being looked at. I have read scores of novels where this technology is in use by humans (both in a positive and negative sense) but till date this technology was still in the realm of Science Fiction.

Now this has changed. ThinkAnApp studio based in Buenos Aries has developed specialized software that allows them to create a tattoo that when viewed through a camera gets transformed into a flying dragon. Or anything else you want. Pretty cool eh?

Here’s what the Tattoo looks like when viewed through a camera:

Check out the video demoing the tattoo in action here.

This is just a prototype and isn’t released for public use yet. But it is a step in the right direction and slowly but surely we are moving closer to the day when the virtual world will overlay the real world and open up all the awesome possibilities that entails.

Source: ThinkAnApp – Augmented Reality (tattoo).

– Suramya

February 14, 2010

What a difference perspective makes

Filed under: Humor — Suramya @ 12:01 AM

Found this comic online and thought it was worth sharing. It clearly shows that everything you see depends on your perspective. You might like something because that I don’t because I am looking at it from another angle. That is why having someone else proofread your articles/drawing is a good thing for writers and artists.

Source: Faceless.co.za

– Suramya

February 13, 2010

Determine If Shell Input is Coming From the Terminal or From a Pipe

Filed under: Knowledgebase,Linux/Unix Related — Suramya @ 2:23 AM

Figuring out if the input to a script is coming from the terminal or from a pipe is not something that I have ever had to use but I found the possibility very interesting so sharing it over here:

#!/bin/bash

stdin="$(ls -l /dev/fd/0)"
stdin="${stdin/*-> /}"
ftype="$(stat --printf=%F $stdin)"

if   [[ "$ftype" == 'character special file' ]]; then 
	echo Terminal
elif [[ "$ftype" == 'regular file' ]]; then 
	echo Pipe: $stdin
else
	echo Unknown: $stdin
fi

– Suramya

Source: Linux Journal

February 12, 2010

Strange Laws in the world

Filed under: Humor — Suramya @ 2:02 AM

As promised in my previous post, I have pulled up the list of silly laws from a backup of my old site. Some of the laws might have been repealed since 2001 but I am not too hopeful as that would indicate that politicians gained some common sense.

Here are the laws sorted by region. The stuff in ()’s is my commentary on the laws

Florida

  • In Florida it is illegal to jog with your eyes closed.
    (One too many must have jogged into an obstacle.)

Maine

  • It is illegal for a Police Officer to tell a person to have a nice day after pulling that person over in a car
    and issuing them a ticket.

  • After January 14th you can be charged a fine for still having your Christmas decorations displayed.

  • You may not step out of a plane in flight.
    (Like someone would like to…)

New Hampshire

  • You may not tap your feet, nod your head, or in any way keep time to the music in a tavern, restaurant, or cafe.

  • You cannot sell the clothes you are wearing to pay off a gambling debt.

  • It is an offense to check into a hotel under an assumed name.

  • On Sundays citizens may not relieve themselves while looking up.

  • If a person is caught raking the beaches, picking up litter, hauling away trash, building a bench for the
    park and many other activities without a permit, he/she may be fined $150 for “maintaining the
    national forest without a permit.”

New Jersey

  • It is against the law to “frown” at a police officer.

  • It is illegal to delay or detain a homing pigeon.

  • You may not slurp your soup.

  • To keep them from forming bad habits, it is illegal to feed whiskey or offer cigarettes to animals at the
    zoo in Manville, New Jersey.

Oregon

  • It is legal to smoke marijuana on your own property! You just can’t sell it or buy it.

  • Patients do not have the right to know the details about any written or oral discussion of their medical
    treatment that is not recorded voluntarily in their chart by the nurse or doctor.

  • One may not bath without wearing “suitable clothing,” i.e., that which covers one’s body from neck to
    knee.

  • It is illegal to use foul or suggestive language during sex.

  • You may not pump your own gas in service stations.

  • Canned corn is not to be used as bait for fishing.

South Carolina

  • It is a capital offense to inadvertently kill someone while attempting suicide.

  • Merchandise may not be sold within a half mile of a church unless fruit is being sold.

  • By law, if a man promises to marry an unmarried woman, the marriage must take place.

  • All schools must prepare a suitable program for Francis Willard Day so that children may be taught
    the evils of intemperance.

Utah

  • A husband is responsible for every criminal act committed by his wife while she is in his presence.
    (A good way to get your husband in trouble)

  • You cannot have sex in the back of an ambulance if it is responding to an emergency call.
    (Was it such big a problem?)

  • It is illegal not to drink milk.
    (Mother’s would love to live over there)

  • Throwing snowballs is a fineable offense in Provo.

  • Women are prohibited from swearing in Logan.

Washington

  • You cannot buy meat of any kind on Sunday.

  • Lollipops are banned. (What!!)

  • It is illegal to pretend that one’s parents are rich. (Not fair!!)

  • It is illegal to carry a concealed weapon that is over six feet in length. Seattle, WA
    (Just how do we conceal a weapon over six feet on ones body??)

  • Dancing may not occur in the same establishment where alcohol is sold and consumed. Lynden, WA.

Assorted Laws:

  • In Phoenix, Arizona the law states that every man who enters the city limits must wear pants.

  • In Hackberry, Arizona there is a law that prohibits women from eating raw onions while drinking buttermilk on
    Sunday.

  • In some parts of the south USA, a widow or divorced woman isn’t allowed to dry her underwear on the front
    porch or on a clothesline before the sun goes down.

  • In some parts of the south, women aren’t allowed to eat pickles with their feet up on porch railings.

  • It is illegal to mispronounce the name of the state of Arkansas while within the state.

  • The state legislature passed a law that the Arkansas River can raise no higher than the Main Street bridge in Little Rock.

  • In Willowdale, Oregon no man may curse while having sex with his wife.

  • It is illegal to eat oranges while bathing in California.

  • In Kentucky, it is illegal to carry an ice cream cone in your back pocket.

  • In Fairbanks, Alaska it is illegal to give beer to a moose.

  • Venice has a “Pee-Pee” Tax On Tourists :
    In a bid to tap deeper into its rich stream of non-resident revenue, the watery city overtaken
    by millions of visitors has introduced a “toilet tax”- a steep surcharge on the price of using public
    lavatories. Introduced in September, this tax charges non-residents 1,000 lira (US 52 cents) per visit.

– Suramya

February 11, 2010

South Carolina now requires ‘subversives’ to register

Filed under: Humor,My Thoughts,News/Articles — Suramya @ 9:55 PM

I always think that politicians don’t think and most are dumb as a doorknob (Just as an FYI my mom is a politician but is an exception to the above rule ;) ). They just don’t think and make these stupid rules that are supposed to make life better or easier or something.

But once in a while they come up with rules that make so little sense that even a five year old would know better… Which makes me wonder how they survived long enough to become politicians. The latest example of their folly is a new law in South Carolina, US that requires all ’subversives’ to register with the government.

Basically the law states “Every member of a subversive organization, or an organization subject to foreign control, every foreign agent and every person who advocates, teaches, advises or practices the duty, necessity or propriety of controlling, conducting, seizing or overthrowing the government of the United States, of this State or of any political subdivision thereof by force or violence or other unlawful means, who resides, transacts any business or attempts to influence political action in this State, shall register with the Secretary of State on the forms and at the times prescribed by him. “.

Where “subversive organization,” means every corporation, society, association, camp, group, bund, political party, assembly, body or organization, composed of two or more persons, which directly or indirectly advocates, advises, teaches or practices the duty, necessity or propriety of controlling, conducting, seizing or overthrowing the government of the United States, of this State or of any political subdivision thereof by force or violence or other unlawful means; “ To top things off there is even a $5 filing fee for this.

When I first read about this, I thought that it was a joke or a prank. However after a little digging and reading up on it I realized that they are serious and that this is an actual law passed last year. Are the politicians/bureaucrats in SC stupid enough to actually think that any “subversive organization” is going to register with them?

I had a list of other such idiotic laws that I posted on the 1st version of suramya.com back in the early 2000’s. I removed that section when I reorganized the site but this article reminded me of that list. So I will see if I can dig up one of my backups of the site and recover the list of stupid laws that I had. Once I find them I will post them here for your amusement.

Do you know of any other silly laws like this? I wonder if I can find some Indian Laws that are similarly stupid online. (There is no way I am going to try searching for this offline)

– Suramya

Details: Rawstory.com Article
Original Source:

February 8, 2010

Top 50 Funny Computer Quotes

Filed under: Humor — Suramya @ 7:30 PM

Found these quotes online while looking for something else and found them funny so decided to post them here:

50. “Some things Man was never meant to know. For everything else, there’s Google.”
41. “Programmers are tools for converting caffeine into code.”
36. “SUPERCOMPUTER: what it sounded like before you bought it.”
31. “My software never has bugs. It just develops random features.”
30. “The only problem with troubleshooting is that sometimes trouble shoots back.”
24. “If brute force doesn’t solve your problems, then you aren’t using enough.”
22. “Unix is user-friendly. It’s just very selective about who its friends are.”
20. “I’m not anti-social; I’m just not user friendly”
19. The world is coming to an end… SAVE YOUR BUFFERS !”
18. “If you don’t want to be replaced by a computer, don’t act like one.”
17. “Better to be a geek than an idiot.”
14. “The Internet: where men are men, women are men, and children are FBI agents.”
10. “1f u c4n r34d th1s u r34lly n33d t0 g37 l41d”
9. “Helpdesk: There is an icon on your computer labeled “My Computer”. Double click on it.
User: What’s your computer doing on mine?”
8. “I think Microsoft named .Net so it wouldn’t show up in a Unix directory listing.”
7. “If debugging is the process of removing bugs, then programming must be the process of putting them in.”
6. “Computer dating is fine, if you’re a computer.”
5. “Any fool can use a computer. Many do.”
4. “Hardware: The parts of a computer system that can be kicked.”
3. “Those who can’t write programs, write help files.”
2. “You know you’re a geek when… You try to shoo a fly away from the monitor with your cursor. That just happened to me. It was scary.”
1. “Computer language design is just like a stroll in the park. Jurassic Park, that is.”

Source: Top 50 Funny Computer Quotes | TechSource.

– Suramya

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