Suramya's Blog : Welcome to my crazy life…

January 14, 2020

Paris Musées releases Images of 100,000 Artworks to the Public for free

Filed under: Interesting Sites — Suramya @ 1:10 PM

Remember when the Art Institute of Chicago released 52,438 HD art images into the public domain? Paris Musees, a collection of 14 Paris museums, collectively said, “Tiens mon vin” (Hold my wine) and released 100,000 digital reproductions of artworks in the city’s museums as Open Access — free of charge and without restrictions — via its Collections portal. Paris Musées is a public entity that oversees the 14 municipal museums of Paris, including the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Petit Palais, and the Catacombs.

“Making this data available guarantees that our digital files can be freely accessed and reused by anyone or everyone, without any technical, legal or financial restraints, whether for commercial use or not,” reads a press release shared by Paris Musées.

At this stage, images available are of 2D artworks, such as paintings or photographs, that belong in the public sphere under a CC0 (Creative Commons Zero) license, which allows creators and owners of copyrighted or database-protected content to place those works in or as close as possible to the public domain. (Works still in copyright will be available as low definition files, so users can still get a feel for the museums’ collections online.)

It’s nice to see more and more organizations making their work available online for free under CC licenses.

Thanks to Metafilter for the initial link.

– Suramya

January 6, 2020

Using Math to figure out why One Knot Better Than Another

Filed under: Interesting Sites,News/Articles — Suramya @ 3:12 PM

Have you ever wondered why certain knots are more stable than others? Or have you stressed about which knot is the most suitable one to use in your specific usecase and had a disagreement with someone about the best option? If so then fear-not MIT researchers have developed a mathematical model to predict a knot’s stability and now you can argue for your choice with conviction that math supports your choice. From the paper’s abstract:

Knots play a fundamental role in the dynamics of biological and physical systems, from DNA to turbulent plasmas, as well as in climbing, weaving, sailing, and surgery. Despite having been studied for centuries, the subtle interplay between topology and mechanics in elastic knots remains poorly understood. Here, we combined optomechanical experiments with theory and simulations to analyze knotted fibers that change their color under mechanical deformations. Exploiting an analogy with long-range ferromagnetic spin systems, we identified simple topological counting rules to predict the relative mechanical stability of knots and tangles, in agreement with simulations and experiments for commonly used climbing and sailing bends. Our results highlight the importance of twist and writhe in unknotting processes, providing guidance for the control of systems with complex entanglements.

To give some more context, below is an extract from a SciTech Daily Article covering the research. To be honest I had to read the article a few times to understand what they were talking about but it sounded interesting. Not sure how useful it is but is definitely interesting. 🙂

In comparing the diagrams of knots of various strengths, the researchers were able to identify general “counting rules,” or characteristics that determine a knot’s stability. Basically, a knot is stronger if it has more strand crossings, as well as more “twist fluctuations” — changes in the direction of rotation from one strand segment to another.

For instance, if a fiber segment is rotated to the left at one crossing and rotated to the right at a neighboring crossing as a knot is pulled tight, this creates a twist fluctuation and thus opposing friction, which adds stability to a knot. If, however, the segment is rotated in the same direction at two neighboring crossing, there is no twist fluctuation, and the strand is more likely to rotate and slip, producing a weaker knot.

They also found that a knot can be made stronger if it has more “circulations,” which they define as a region in a knot where two parallel strands loop against each other in opposite directions, like a circular flow.

By taking into account these simple counting rules, the team was able to explain why a reef knot, for instance, is stronger than a granny knot. While the two are almost identical, the reef knot has a higher number of twist fluctuations, making it a more stable configuration. Likewise, the zeppelin knot, because of its slightly higher circulations and twist fluctuations, is stronger, though possibly harder to untie, than the Alpine butterfly — a knot that is commonly used in climbing.

The formal paper is published at: Science Mag.
Thanks to Slashdot for the initial link.

– 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

August 14, 2019

Sun Plasma & Solar wind recreated in a Lab

Filed under: Interesting Sites,News/Articles — Suramya @ 6:55 PM

It’s safe to say that without the Sun life would not exist on Earth and this fact was known even during ancient times when the Sun was worshiped as a God. Over the years scientific advances allowed us to learn more about the Sun and we figured out that it was a Star and like all stars made up mostly of Hydrogen and other gases. However the temperature there is so hot that most of the gas actually exists as plasma, the fourth state of matter. (This is not the same Plasma as what’s in our blood) To recap, the first state of matter is a Solid, when that is heated it will convert to Liquid state and then to gaseous state. When gas is superheated atoms break apart into charged particles turning it into plasma.

Even though we can see the sun there are a lot of mysteries about how things work in it. For example, we know that Sun has a magnetic field that we think is generated because of the spinning Plasma and this along with the temperature of the plasma creates charged particles that can escape from the Sun’s gravity, which is called Solar Wind and is of great interest because so far, we didn’t know exactly how/why these plasmas escape the sun’s magnetic fields. There are efforts ongoing to directly study the phenomenon directly, for example we have the Parker Solar Probe which was launched in August 2018 which is expected to reach and even dip below the Alfvén surface (The point some distance from the sun’s surface, where the magnetic field weakens and plasma breaks away from the sun) but that is expensive and not always available. Plus we can only observer a limited area at a time due to the sheer size of Space.

So scientists set about trying to recreate the plasma layer & magnetic field in a lab and a research team from University of Wisconsin, Madison has achieved this goal by creating a 3-meter-wide plasma containment chamber called the “Big Red Ball”. In it they placed a permanent magnet about 10 centimeters wide and 10 centimeters long and filled the ball with a plasma made from helium gas and drove an electrical current through it. This created a force on the plasma that made it spin around the dipole. Using this technique, the team was able to successfully re-create the shape of the Parker spiral, as they describe in a paper published today in Nature Physics. With their mini-sun in place, the researchers can take measurements at many points inside the ball, allowing them to study solar phenomena in three dimensions. While this is not a perfect recreation of the sun, it is a significant advancement and will give us a greater understanding of how/why the sun works the way it does.

The experiment was also able to mimic a region around the sun where the plasma hangs in a precarious balance. Within this boundary, plasma’s are contained by magnetic fields, but outside it, centrifugal forces from the sun’s rotation overpower the magnetic fields, and plasmas stream outward. The researchers found that “if you spin [the plasma] hard enough, you can get it to spin out from centrifugal force,” Peterson said. The team believes that the plasma blobs they generated are analogous to those in space that fuel the sun’s slow solar wind.

Some aspects of the model, like the density of the plasma and its proportion of charged and neutral particles, don’t reflect the composition of the real sun’s corona and solar wind. But the experiment is still informative, said Aleida Higginson, a solar physicist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory who works on simulations of the solar wind and was not involved in the study. “We’re talking about lab conditions on Earth versus the sun, so there are obviously going to be some differences. I’m still impressed,” she said. “If they really did get reconnection, and got blobs, I think that’s really cool and promising.”

Overall this is very cool, and I am looking forward to more advances in this area.

Source: Sun’s Puzzling Plasma Recreated in a Laboratory

– Suramya

July 25, 2019

Someone has made a Hurricane Proof House from Recycled Plastic

Filed under: Interesting Sites,My Thoughts — Suramya @ 4:44 PM

Plastic is one of the most popular material for making things and is extremely popular. However there are some significant disadvantages of Plastic that are becoming more and more apparent due to the focus on environment and climate change. Some biggest disadvantages of Plastic are as follows

  • Durability: Plastic is light, mold able, sturdy, and can have countless forms, but one of the most known features is its durability. Plastic can survive for many centuries before nature is able to degrade it
  • Environmental Harm: Since Plastic takes a long time to degrade it continues to clog our waterways, oceans, forests, and other natural habitats. These are consumed by animals who mistake them for food and then die. Recently 9 deer were found dead in a famed park in western Japan after eating plastic bags
  • Choking Hazard: Plastic is one of the most popular building materials for small items. These toys and small plastic objects of many uses can easily get into children’s hands (especially babies and toddlers) that unknowingly put them in their mouth.

So what do we do about it? Banning it is not a great idea till we have replacement options available. For example plastic straws are banned in a lot of places but paper straws don’t last long enough to be useful.

A Canadian company called JD Composites has a potential solution to the problem. They have created a process where they took about 612,000 plastic bottles and shred them. The result is then melted and injected with gas to create a plastic based foam. This foam is them shaped into 5.9 inch thick panels which are then used in house construction. Based on the testing done at a certification facility these panels can withstand winds of over 300 miles per hour (hurricane strength) and as an added bonus they also provide better insulation. If the process becomes mainstream it will keep a large no of bottles (and plastic) out of landfills. While this is a positive step there are still a lot of certifications/studies etc that would need to be done on the process to ensure there are no unexpected side-affects from the process. We don’t want to be in a situation like we were with asbestos where we found out that it causes cancer a few decades after it was put in a large no of homes & offices as insulation.

A sample three bedroom home was created near the Meteghan River in Nova Scotia and is actually up for sale right now. If the builders are unable to find a buyer they are planning to list it on Airbnb and see if that creates enough buzz about the process for it to become mainstream. I hope that this process becomes mainstream quickly so that we can reduce the amount of crap we are putting in the garbage.

Source: This Hurricane Proof House Made From 612,000 Recycled Plastic Bottles Can Withstand 326 MPH Winds

– Suramya

July 17, 2019

Using Machine Learning To Automatically Translate Long-Lost Languages

Filed under: Computer Software,Interesting Sites,My Thoughts — Suramya @ 1:25 PM

Machine Learning has become such a buzz word that any new product or research being released nowadays has to mention ML in it somewhere even though they have nothing to do with it. But this particular usecase is actually very interesting and I am looking forward to more advances in this front. Researchers Jiaming Luo and Regina Barzilay from MIT and Yuan Cao from Google’s AI lab in Mountain View, California have created a machine-learning system capable of deciphering lost languages.

Normally Machine translation programs work by mapping out how words in a given language are related to each other. This is done by processing large amounts of text in the language and creating vector maps on how often each word appears next to every other word for both source and target languages. Unfortunately, this requires a large dataset (text) in the language and that is not possible in case of lost languages, and that’s where the brilliance of this new technique comes in. Focusing on the fact that when languages evolve over time they can only change in certain ways (e.g. related words have the same order of characters etc) they came up with a ruleset for deciphering a language when the parent or child of the language being translated is known.

To test out their theory/process they tried it out with two lost languages, Linear B and Ugaritic. Linguists know that Linear B encodes an early version of ancient Greek and that Ugaritic, which was discovered in 1929, is an early form of Hebrew. After processing the system was able to correctly translate 67.3% of Linear B into their Greek equivalents which is a remarkable achievement and marks a first in the field.

There are still some restrictions with the new algorithm in that it doesn’t work if the progenitor language is not known. But work on the system is ongoing and who knows some new breakthrough might be just around the corner. Plus there is always a brute force approach where the system tries translating a given language using every possible language as the progenitor language. It would require a lot of compute and time but is something to look at as an option.

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

– Suramya

Source: Machine learning has been used to automatically translate long-lost languages

May 27, 2019

Microsoft and Brilliant launch Online Quantum Computing Class that actually looks useful

Filed under: Computer Software,Interesting Sites,My Thoughts,Techie Stuff — Suramya @ 12:14 PM

Quantum computing (QC) is the next big thing and everyone is eager to jump on the bandwagon. So my email & news feeds are usually flooded with articles on how QC will solve all my problems. I don’t deny that there are some very interesting usecases out there that would benefit from Quantum Computers but after a while it gets tiring. That being said I just found out that Microsoft & Brilliant have launched a new interactive course on Quantum Computing that allows you to build quantum algorithms from the ground up with a quantum computer simulated in your browser and I feel its pretty cool and a great initiative. The tutorial enables you to learn Q# which is Microsoft’s answer to the question of which language to use for Quantum computing code. Check it out if you are interested in learning how to code in Q#.

The course starts with basic concepts and gradually introduces you to Microsoft’s Q# language, teaching you how to write ‘simple’ quantum algorithms before moving on to truly complicated scenarios. You can handle everything on the web (including quantum circuit puzzles) and the course’s web page promises that by the end of the course, “you’ll know your way around the world of quantum information, have experimented with the ins and outs of quantum circuits, and have written your first 100 lines of quantum code — while remaining blissfully ignorant about detailed quantum physics.”
Brilliant has more than 8 million students and professionals worldwide learning subjects from algebra to special relativity through guided problem-solving. In partnership with Microsoft’s quantum team, Brilliant has launched an interactive course called “Quantum Computing,” for learning quantum computing and programming in Q#, Microsoft’s new quantum-tuned programming language. The course features Q# programming exercises with Python as the host language (one of our new features!). Brilliant and Microsoft are excited to empower the next generation of quantum computer scientists and engineers and start growing a quantum workforce today.

Starting from scratch

Because quantum computing bridges the fields of information theory, physics, mathematics, and computer science, it can be difficult to know where to begin. Brilliant’s course, integrated with some of Microsoft’s leading quantum development tools, provides self-learners with the tools they need to master quantum computing.
The new quantum computing course starts from scratch and brings students along in a way that suits their schedule and skills. Students can build and simulate simple quantum algorithms on the go or implement advanced quantum algorithms in Q

Once you have gone through the tutorial you should also check out IBM Q that allows you to code on a Quantum computer for free.

– Suramya

May 24, 2019

Science is bringing personal cooling closer to reality with a wearable cooling Patch

Filed under: Interesting Sites,My Thoughts — Suramya @ 6:03 PM

In an announcement that is going to cause a lot of couples to sigh in relief, researchers from University of California, San Diego have come up with a wearable patch that cools the skin temperature down by ~10 Deg C. It is still in research phase but the basic prototype works and I am definitely in queue to buy this when it comes out. I love cool temperatures and my wife is the polar opposite and prefers hot and humid weather (30 Deg + ) so usually one of us is suffering. Its gotten to the point that I know that if I am feeling comfortable then she is cold. We usually end up carrying an extra jacket for her when we travel to moderately cold places and lots of cold water for me if we are going somewhere where she would be comfortable. This would allow us to keep the house warm enough for her without making me miserable due to the heat. According to the press release:

Thermoelectric systems use semiconductors to pump heat from one side of a device to the other, creating a cool zone and a hot zone. Such systems can provide compact, easily adjustable cooling, but getting them to efficiently dissipate heat has proved challenging.

Renkun Chen, Sheng Xu and their colleagues at the University of California, San Diego, addressed this problem by embedding multiple pillars of a semiconducting material between two stretchy polymer sheets. One sheet served as the hot zone, the other as the cool zone. This design conferred flexibility and insulated the hot and cold sides from each other, allowing the hot layer to dissipate its heat into the air.

This system would also have an application in offices. Usually the temperatures in office are kept cool because of research in early 60’s that calculated the optimal temperature taking into account the comfort of a forty-year-old, hundred-and-fifty-four-pound man wearing a business suit, (Learn more about the Sexist history of Office temperature here if you are interested) and this means that women in offices usually freeze and don’t perform at the peak of their performance. Once this patch is released, the office could be kept at a warmer temperature making it more comfortable for the women (and folks not wearing jackets/suits to office) and anyone who dislikes the warmer temperature (like me) would wear this patch and be comfortable as well. Decreasing the cooling required would reduce the load on AC’s and power infra as well.

So in conclusion I hope that this gets a commercial release quickly. 🙂

Source: Air conditioner ‘in a patch’ provides portable cooling –

– Suramya

August 11, 2018

Free Digital Collection of 6,000 19th-Century Children’s Books

Filed under: Interesting Sites — Suramya @ 10:02 PM

Do you like fairy tales? Did you love reading books like Aesop’s Fables, The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe and the Grimm’s Fairy Tales? If so then you should check out this amazing collection of over 6000 children’s books from the 19th and early 20th century. It is available via the University of Florida’s Baldwin Library archive and is pretty comprehensive.

Unfortunately it looks like you can’t download the books for offline reading (at least not that I could find) and the pages of the books have not been converted to text but are rather images. Most are very good scans but still text versions would allow you to search for keywords. I wonder if they would be ok with me downloading the collection and running OCR on the books and then sharing the text versions. Something to think about for my next project


– Suramya

February 13, 2018

Explaining HTTPS using carrier pigeons

Filed under: Interesting Sites,Security Tutorials,Techie Stuff — Suramya @ 7:07 PM

HTTPS is something that a lot of people find hard to explain without going into a lot of technical jargon which frankly just confuses most people and causes them to zone out. However it is an essential service/protocol so understanding it is a good idea. To address this issue Andrea Zanin who is a student created the following primer that explains how HTTPS works using carrier pigeons as the messengers.

Below is an explanation on how HTTP would work with carrier pigeons:

If Alice wants to send a message to Bob, she attaches the message on the carrier pigeon’s leg and sends it to Bob. Bob receives the message, reads it and it’s all is good.

But what if Mallory intercepted Alice’s pigeon in flight and changed the message? Bob would have no way of knowing that the message that was sent by Alice was modified in transit.

This is how HTTP works. Pretty scary right? I wouldn’t send my bank credentials over HTTP and neither should you.

Check out the link for the full writeup.

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

– Suramya

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