Suramya's Blog : Welcome to my crazy life…

September 16, 2019

Met Kumar Manikandan, India’s Paralympic climbing champion yesterday

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

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

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


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

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

– Suramya

September 13, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Suramya

September 10, 2019

Thoughts on Chandrayaan-2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Suramya

September 5, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks to : Slashdot.org for the original link.

– Suramya

September 4, 2019

RIP: Terrance Dicks – One of the most influential writers in Doctor Who dies age 84

Filed under: My Thoughts — Suramya @ 1:13 PM

Those of you who know me personally know that I am a big fan of Doctor Who. I first came in contact with Dr Who through the novelizations of their TV episodes by Target and one of the most prolific writers of the novelizations was Terrance Dicks, he wrote more than 60 of the 156 books published. In addition he also edited or wrote over 150 episodes of Dr Who making him an important influencer of the programs mythos so I consider him one of my all time favorite authors. So it was a shock to come home after a road trip and find out that Terrance Dicks died last Thursday 29th August after a short illness at the age of 84.

My favorite quote by Dicks is the following:

“No point in being a grown-up if you can’t be childish.”
― Terrance Dicks, Doctor Who and the Giant Robot

RIP Terrance Dicks, you shall be missed.

– Suramya

September 3, 2019

AI Emotion-Detection Arms Race starts with AI created to mask emotions

Filed under: Computer Software,My Thoughts — Suramya @ 2:31 PM

Over the past few months/years we have been reading a lot about AI being used to identify emotions like fear, confusion and even traits like lying or trustworthiness of a person by analyzing video & audio recordings. This is driving innovations in Recruiting, Criminal investigations etc. In fact the global emotion detection and recognition market is estimated to witness a compound annual growth rate of 32.7% between 2018 – 2023, driving the market to reach USD 24.74 billion by 2020. So a lot of companies are focusing their efforts in this space as AI applications that are emotionally aware give a more realistic experience for users. However, there are multiple privacy implications of having a system detect a person’s emotional state when interacting with an online system.

So to counter this trend of systems becoming more and more aware there is now a group of researchers who have come up with an AI-based countermeasure to mask emotion in spoken words, kicking off an arms race between the two factions. The idea is to automatically converting emotional speech into “normal” speech using AI.

Their method for masking emotion involves collecting speech, analyzing it, and extracting emotional features from the raw signal. Next, an AI program trains on this signal and replaces the emotional indicators in speech, flattening them. Finally, a voice synthesizer re-generates the normalized speech using the AIs outputs, which gets sent to the cloud. The researchers say that this method reduced emotional identification by 96 percent in an experiment, although speech recognition accuracy decreased, with a word error rate of 35 percent.

In a way its quite cool because it removes a potential privacy issue, but if you extrapolate from existing research then we have the potential of bigger headaches in the future. Currently we have the capability of removing emotion from a audio recording, how difficult would it be to add emotion to a recording? Not too difficult if you go through the ongoing research. So, now we have a system that can take a audio/video recording and change the emotion from sadness to mocking or from happy to sad. This combined with the deepfakes apps that are already there in the market will cause huge headaches for the public as it would be really hard for us to determine if a given audio/video is authentic or altered.

Article: Researchers Created AI That Hides Your Emotions From Other AI
Paper: Emotionless: Privacy-Preserving Speech Analysis for Voice Assistants

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

– Suramya

Powered by WordPress