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November 24, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks to lifehacker.com for this great link.

– Suramya

November 23, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks to hackaday.com for the story.

– Suramya

November 17, 2014

Microsoft launches free Visual Studio Community 2013

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

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

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

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

Official Announcement: Microsoft Blog
Via Betanews.com

– Suramya

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

November 13, 2014

Stupid people might be stupid because of a virus infection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Suramya

November 6, 2014

The Internet Arcade releases over 900 classic arcade games for the browser

Filed under: Computer Software,Interesting Sites,Techie Stuff — Suramya @ 1:46 AM

If you are like me then you must have spent a ton of money and time playing classic arcade games like Frogger, Pac-man plus etc over many long afternoons. A few days ago (2 days to be exact) over 900 of such games were released online and the best part is that you can play them right in the browser. Say good-bye to the possibility of doing any productive work for the next couple of days. :)

Check it out at: The Internet Arcade.

Of the roughly 900 arcade games (yes, nine hundred arcade games) up there, some are in pretty weird shape – vector games are an issue, scaling is broken for some, and some have control mechanisms that are just not going to translate to a keyboard or even a joypad.

But damn if so many are good enough. More than good enough. In the right browser, on a speedy machine, it almost feels perfect. The usual debates about the “realness” of emulation come into play, but it works.

Obviously, a lot of people are going to migrate to games they recognize and ones that they may not have played in years. They’ll do a few rounds, probably get their asses kicked, smile, and go back to their news sites.

A few more, I hope, will go towards games they’ve never heard of, with rules they have to suss out, and maybe more people will play some of these arcades in the coming months than the games ever saw in their “real” lifetimes.

Well this is all for now. I am off to relive some memories and to try getting the stupid frog across the road without getting squished.

Source: Slashdot.org

– Suramya

November 5, 2014

A ‘Doctor Who’ game to teach kids how to code

Filed under: Interesting Sites,Techie Stuff — Suramya @ 1:48 AM

Those who know me know that I am a big fan of Doctor Who and have been a fan for a while. It is one of the most iconic Science Fiction shows out there along with Star Trek and Star Wars. Now BBC is planning on using that popularity to encourage children to learn coding. Yes, you read that right: “Dr Who is going to help kids learn how to code”. The game is called “The Doctor and the Dalek” and it aims to get children to use logical reasoning, variables and loops and repetition to help the Doctor save the universe from the Daleks, teaching them the basics of programing while having fun.

Unfortunately the game is only accessible if you are based out of UK :( which is not surprising considering this is BBC we are talking about. They are famous for restricting content based on geographical boundaries. But from what I have read about it online, it looks like a lot of fun and even though I know programing I want to try it out. Hopefully they will open it up to a broader audience in the near future as I would love to have my Nieces and Nephews take it out for a spin. (and I will of course be there to ‘help’ them play the game)

If you are located in UK you can check it out at the cbbc site.

– Suramya

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November 4, 2014

The Underhanded C Contest 2014 is open

Filed under: Computer Related,Interesting Sites,Techie Stuff — Suramya @ 11:43 PM

Do you think you have the skills to write code that is as readable, clear, innocent and straightforward as possible, and yet somehow exhibits evil behavior that cannot be seen even when staring at the source code? If so then you should take a look at The Underhanded C Contest. The contest has been running for about 6 years now and it is amazing how easy these guys make it look to create code that does something but looks like it is doing something else.

The 7th Underhanded C Contest is now open.

The goal of the contest is to write code that is as readable, clear, innocent and straightforward as possible, and yet it must fail to perform at its apparent function. To be more specific, it should do something subtly evil. Every year, we will propose a challenge to coders to solve a simple data processing problem, but with covert malicious behavior. Examples include miscounting votes, shaving money from financial transactions, or leaking information to an eavesdropper. The main goal, however, is to write source code that easily passes visual inspection by other programmers.

Check it out at: The Underhanded C Contest.
Source: Slashdot.org

– Suramya

A Cardboard Computer that actually works

Filed under: Computer Hardware,Interesting Sites,Techie Stuff — Suramya @ 12:31 AM

No, this is not a joke or a toy for a 5 year old. In the 70’s the computers were still not in the affordable range for 99% of the population so a bright chap by the name of David Hagelbarger working at Bell Laboratories designed CARDIAC (CARDboard Illustrative Aid to Computation) as an educational tool to give people without access to computers the ability to learn how computers work. Basically it is a micro-processor made out of cardboard.

The CARDIAC computer is a single-accumulator single-address machine, which means that instructions operate on the accumulator alone, or on the accumulator and a memory location. The machine implements 10 instructions, each of which is assigned a 3-digit decimal opcode. The instruction set architecture includes instructions common to simple Von Neumann processors, such as load, store, add/subtract, and conditional branch.

Operating the computer is fairly simple–the cardboard slides guide you through the operation of the ALU and instruction decoder, and the flow chart shows you which stage to go to next. The program counter is represented by a cardboard ladybug which is manually moved through the program memory after each instruction completes.

Even though the CARDIAC is dated and very simplistic, it is still a useful tool to teach how microprocessors work. Although modern processors include multi-stage pipelines, finely-tuned branch predictors, and numerous other improvements, the basic principles of operation remain the same

You can print your own by visiting Kyle Miller’s Site. More information about CARDIAC and how to use it is available at cs.drexel.edu and on it’s Wikipedia site.

Thanks to Hackaday.com for the story.

– Suramya

October 12, 2014

Take Orders From A Cat And Learn Cybersecurity

Here’s an interesting site that teaches Cybersecurity to folks in the form of a game. As you know cyber criminals are getting more and more sophisticated and the best way to counter that is to train more folks on the basic principles of Cyber Security. It is targeted towards children but is good fun for adults as well.

Take cybersecurity into your own hands. In this Lab, you’ll defend a company that is the target of increasingly sophisticated cyber attacks. Your task is to strengthen your cyber defenses and thwart the attackers by completing a series of cybersecurity challenges. You’ll crack passwords, craft code, and defeat malicious hackers.

Check it out at: NovaLabs Cybersecurity
Source: Popsci.com

– Suramya

September 21, 2014

India’s Mangalyaan races to MARS

Filed under: Interesting Sites,My Thoughts,Techie Stuff — Suramya @ 7:30 PM

Did you know that India’s very own Mangalyaan is racing to Mars and about to do the final course corrections to enter Mars orbit? If the corrections work then India will be the first country to successfully enter the Mars orbit on the first try and the first Asian country to make it to mars.

The Indian Space Research Organisation has published a handy slide deck (PDF) explaining what happens next. There’s lots of little chores like uploading of commands going on at the moment, but things get interesting on September 24th. :) The PDF has a breakdown of what is expected when the action starts so do check it out.

I am going to try staying up at night to see if there is live coverage of the event. This is a great day in the Indian Space age. :)

Now, there are a lot of folks who are making comments to effect of “India should spend money on feeding the poor, instead of launching space rockets”. I have seen multiple comments to this effect on various blogs and forums. What these folks don’t realize is that spending money on the poor is all well and good but we need to start spending money on the Space program as well because end of the day we don’t have that much room on earth and the only place for us to go once Earth is full is out in space. There we have a lot more resources, enough space to expand and figure out new technologies that will make it easier/cheaper to feed the folks on earth.

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

– Suramya

Links:

1. India vs America: Earthling invaders in race to MARS
2. India’s MOM Mars mission makes final course correction
3. ISRO Website

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