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May 19, 2015

Drug use can now be detected using fingerprints

Filed under: My Thoughts — Suramya @ 12:00 AM

Saw this interesting article on Slashdot about research being done in University of Surrey in which they claim to be able to detect the use of cocaine by testing fingerprints using ambient mass spectrometry. As per the paper they do this by spaying solvent on the fingerprint slide and then checking for chemical residue in the print which results from drug abuse.

This will have a big impact in a lot of areas if it is viable to do so cheaply. Companies, cops etc can check for Drug usage in non-invasive fashion and if a positive match is found then they can match the finger print to a person as well making it becomes extremely difficult to fool a drug test. Which is a good thing. Though I wonder how long after a use the chemicals are detectable in the print. I would be surprised if there are there forever but even if they are there temporarily it will reduce the drug abuse at work.

However I am sure there are a lot of legal hurdles etc which will need to be solved if the technology is going be widely used. Currently the test only works for Cocaine, it will be interesting if they can do a similar test for other drugs like Heroine etc.

From the paper:

For their research, scientists sprayed a beam of solvent onto the fingerprint slide (a technique known as Desorption Electrospray Ionisation, or DESI) to determine if these metabolites were present. DESI has found use in a number of forensic applications, but has never been used to demonstrate drug use says lead author Dr Melanie Bailey from the University of Surrey.

Researchers took fingerprints and oral fluid from patients attending a drug and alcohol treatment service. Using a technique called gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GC-MS), they tested the oral fluid of patients for the presence of cocaine and benzoylecgonine. They then employed DESI, which operates under ambient conditions and Ion Mobility Tandem Mass Spectrometry Matrix Assisted Laser Desorption Ionization (MALDI-IMS-MS/MS) and Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry (SIMS), to analyse the corresponding fingerprints.

– Suramya

May 16, 2015

Facebook Command Line (FBCMD) no longer works fully

Filed under: My Thoughts — Suramya @ 7:08 PM

Thanks to FB constantly changing their API the maintainer for FBCMD finally decided to call it quits and shut down the project. I found out about this when I started hitting issues with syncing my blog posts automatically to my Facebook account. I would keep getting an error that the app didn’t have the permissions to post to my wall even though I explicitly granted it permissions again. From the maintainers site:

I am now raising a family and have a demanding job. When I do get precious “free” time, there are other projects I’d rather spend my time on.
I stopped using FBCMD myself. I log in to facebook once a week and lurk around for a bit, but I rarely interact or share anything.
Facebook is moving away from apps that have broad access and permissions.
It was too frustrating to keep up with facebook perpetually depricating features and changing its API.
The straw(s) that broke the camel’s back were: depricating API 1.0, removing offline_access and changing the authentication model.

Now I need to figure out another way to automatically sync my posts to FB. There are a bunch of plugins that people talk about but I still need to decide on which one to use and try them out. Or I could hope that someone decides to pick up the project and fork it.

– Suramya

April 30, 2015

Microsoft is becoming more and more OpenSource Friendly

Filed under: Computer Software,My Thoughts — Suramya @ 8:32 PM

Gone are the days when MS compared open source software as a cancer. If you are wondering what I meant by that statement then here’s a brief history lesson: Back in 2001 Steve Ballmer, then CEO of MS said that “Linux is a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches. He made other similar statements and accusations over the years during his time at the head of MS. Now that he is finally out of the picture MS has suddenly gotten a lot more friendly to the Open Source movement and over the past few months has made major announcements to woo developers back to the Windows eco system.

Today MS made two major announcements at it’s Build Developer Conference that mark another step in the right direction for the company. The first was the Launch of Visual Studio Code, A Free Cross-Platform Code Editor For OS X, Linux And Windows.

This is the first release of a cross-platform code editor from Microsoft as till now all of their offerings required you to be running Windows. Which immediately prevented all developers running Linux or Mac OS from using their software. This is no longer the case, however it still remains to be seen how many folks switch to this new editor from their existing favorites. As you know that arguments/discussions on which editor is the best for development is akin to a religious war for developers. So not sure how many will switch to the new IDE.

Please note that this is a Preview release so is not ready for prime time yet and that also means that the software sends data back to MS. From the download site: “When this tool crashes, we automatically collect crash dumps so we can figure out what went wrong. If you don’t want to send your crash dumps to Microsoft, don’t install this tool. “. Don’t think they can be clearer than that about what they are up to.

Visual Studio Code offers developers built-in support for multiple languages and as Microsoft noted in today’s Build keynote, the editor will feature rich code assistance and navigation for all of these languages. JavaScript, TypeScript, Node.js and ASP.NET 5 developers will also get a set of additional tools.

The editor features all of the standard tools you would expect from a modern code editor, including syntax highlighting, customizable keyboard bindings, bracket matching and snippets. It also works with Git out of the box

The IDE is available for download at this site.

The second announcement was the release of their .NET Distribution For Linux And Mac. This is a follow up to their promise back in Nov 2014 to release the core features of their .NET platform for Linux and Mac.

Microsoft says it is taking .NET cross-platform in order to build and leverage a bigger ecosystem for it. As the company also noted shortly after the original announcement, it decided that, to take .NET cross-platform, it had to do so as an open source project. To shepherd it going forward, Microsoft also launched the .NET Foundation last year.

You can download the Preview builds for the .NET core from their site.

Additional details on their announcement and other things in the pipeline are available on their blog: .NET Announcements at Build 2015.

Well this is all for now. I just finished downloading their new IDE so I am going to go try installing it and see how it looks/works. Who knows I might actually like it. :)

– Suramya

April 25, 2015

There is no such thing as a completely secure OS

Filed under: Computer Security,My Thoughts — Suramya @ 1:47 AM

Every once in a while while talking to folks about computer security I am told that I should switch to Mac’s because they don’t have security issues or viruses. I find that very amusing and I think the following comic sums up the ‘apple fanboi’ thinking quite succinctly:

Even though it is funny, unfortunately a whole lot of folks still believe in the Myth that Apple computers/devices are secure/don’t get viruses. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of good points for the Mac OS and they just work for some people. I am not one of them but that doesn’t mean that I ‘hate’ Mac OS or Windows for that matter. I like Linux, others don’t. That is their choice and this is my choice. This post is to talk about computer security and high light some of the major flaws that have hit Apple computers over the past few months:

Firmware Boot kit: Thunderbird

This was discovered by Trammell Hudson back in Jan 2015. It allows a user to quietly, persistently and virally compromise Apple Macs from boot. Since the code is stored in the firmware it is very difficult to detect and remove. It works against all Macbooks released since 2011. Apple has released a fix but it is hard to ensure that your computer isn’t already infected before applying the patch.

Details are at: Thunderstrike shocks OS X with firmware bootkit.

Shellshock: Mac’s are vulnerable

Shellshock allowed attacker’s to insert malicious pieces of code from a remote location and get full system control of a victim’s machine. The scary part of the story wasn’t that Apple computers were vulnerable (plenty of systems were), it was the fact that Apple refused to acknowledge the issue and took over 15 days to release a patch for the problem, even though it was being actively exploited in the wild. Their justification was that “The vast majority of OS X users are not at risk to recently reported bash vulnerabilities… With OS X, systems are safe by default and not exposed to remote exploits of bash unless users configure advanced UNIX services”.

So basically if you don’t use your computer to do anything other than the default configuration you are good. (for the most part) Those of us who use Mac’s to actually code or develop stuff are not a priority for Apple.

Bypassing OS X Security (Gatekeeper & xProtect)

Patrick Wardle, director of research at Synack spoke at the RSA conference a few days ago about OS X security and as per him getting around the restrictions put in by the OS X Security tools is trivial.

“Gatekeeper doesn’t verify an extra content in the apps. So if I can find an Apple-approved app and get it to load external content, when the user runs it, it will bypass Gatekeeper,”

More details on the issue are at: Researcher Discloses Methods For Bypassing All OS X Security Protections

iOS WiFi Bug Allows Remote Reboot of All Devices In Area

This one is my favorite. It allows an attacker to cause all iOS devices (iPhones/iPads) in a particular area to Crash and/or reboot. It involves setting up a rogue wireless access point (WiFi hotspot) and manipulating the traffic to it to cause all apps and iOS devices in range to crash. The best part is that there is no fix for it. The only way to resolve the issue is to move out of range of the Access Point. Even putting your phone in Airplane mode doesn’t work. Which is scary on it’s own because that means that even when you are in Airplane mode the phone is still transmitting/receiving data from wireless networks.

Since there is no fix for it yet, the researchers have not released a lot of details on the exploit but once Apple releases a fix they will give more details it. Then I can just imagine someone setting up one of these using a Raspberry Pi at a conference hidden under a table causing a whole bunch of people a whole lot of pain/annoyance.

Additional details of the issue are at: Evil Wi-Fi kills iPhones, iPods in range

There are a whole lot more where these came from. So the moral of the story is that there is no system that is 100% secure. If you want to stay safe, follow best practices, update frequently and pray.

– Suramya

April 24, 2015

Some thoughts on the mails on how folks born in x-y range are the best

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

I am sure that you have received a lot of emails/sms’s/WhatsApp messages that claim that folks of a particular age range were the best and did the most with our lives as opposed to people in earlier/later generations who couldn’t have possibly done anything worthwhile. Today I got this forward and I thought about it and decided to share it and my thoughts/comments on it.

> We, the people born between 1950-1989, are the blessed ones…
> We are d awesome people. Our life is a living proof……….

Ok, if you say so. I am not sure what made us the blessed ones but fine if you think so. I think that is just conceited and egoistical. You might be awesome, but you sure don’t know how to spell or write.

> We were never treated like a pack of animals to carry our books to school.

Hmm, I distinctly remember carrying a lot of books to School. In fact we had 7 classes every day so I had to carry 7 books, 7 notebooks and other assorted stuff to class. I think you have forgotten about the thick math & Physics books that we all had to carry to school everyday.

> While playing and riding bicycle, we never bothered to wear helmets.

I don’t think you need to wear a helmet even now while playing in the field (unless you are playing american football). Being safe is not a bad thing. Unless you are one of the idiots who think that it is cool to ride bikes/scooters without helmets?

> After school time we played until its dusk but never watched t-world (TV) by locking up ourselves in a room.

I know enough people who did that (watched TV all day) when we were kids and enough kids nowadays who spend their evenings in the field, or in the pool, or up a climbing wall etc etc. Don’t generalize.

> We played only with our real friends, not with NET friends.

What constitutes a ‘real’ friend? Actually, before you answer that let’s take a look at What a friend is… Dictionary.com defines a friend as “a person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard. “. You can be attached to a person even when you don’t meet every day. Or do you mean that anyone you can’t meet on a regular basis is no longer considered a friend. If that is true then anyone not in the same city as you automatically is demoted to an acquaintance.

I have friends whom I met online and then became really close to and after we met up in real life we stayed good friends. Just because you are not comfortable with maintaining friendships in mediums other than Face-to-Face, doesn’t mean that those relationships are any less meaningful.

> If we ever felt thirsty, we used to drink tap water but never searched for bottled water.

Ok, however the water was usually filtered. which is what we still do for the most part.

> We never got ill even after sharing the same juice with four friends.

You still don’t. (Unless one of them had the cold/flu)

> We were never put on weight even after eating plate full of sweets and rice everyday.

Umm… Not true. It depended on how much exercise you got playing, which is still the case. Kids who are active don’t get fat, those you are not get fat.

> Nothing happened to our feet even after roaming bare foot.

Not true. You could get blisters, get a thorn. Just that when that happened our parents didn’t freak out and try to wrap us in cotton when that happend.

> We never used any health supplements to keep ourselves healthy.

Speak for yourself. Most kids I knew got to take a ton of Vitamin tablets/cod liver oil etc on a periodic basis. Though we didn’t take as many antibiotics, those have gotten a lot more prevalent nowadays.

> We used to create our own toys and play with them.

Kids still do that. Watching my nephew and niece I see that for them anything is a toy. e.g. for my nephew a screwdriver is the worlds best toy. My niece loves playing with my watch and glasses. Older ones create whole worlds using games (both online and in real world). A few days ago I watched a bunch of kids play Lava Lava (the game where the entire floor is Lava and you die if you touch it).

> Our parents were not rich, they never ran behind money and wealth. They just searched for and gave only love.. not any worldly materials.

What makes you think people in past generations weren’t after money? If they were not then we would have a lot more ascetics in the world, instead we got Harshad Mehta, Chara Scam’s, 3g, 2g scams etc etc (these were done by folks our parents age).

> We stayed nearby to them so that they can communicate with us. Just one word by them was enough to communicate. hence we never required any mobile phones to communicate.

Just because people stayed near their parents didn’t mean they communicated, you can stay in the same house and not talk or stay in a different country and still talk daily. Which is why so many properties ended up getting divided. If I am so close to my parents that I need just one word to communicate with them, then I can do that over the phone as well. I don’t need to be in the same room to do that. I talk to my parents on a daily basis (for the most part) over the phone and I know people who haven’t talked to their parents in years even though they are in the same city.

> We never visited doctor when we got ill but the doctor visited us during our illness.

They still do. Just costs a lot more. 😉

> We never used to share our emotions just by emoticons in mobile phones.

Ok. I give you this one.

> We used to listen to the truth and voice of our conscience and used to write those things only in the letters, hence we never used to change our words.

Oh really? You mean to say that no one in our generation told lies, or cheated anyone? If you think that then I have some real estate that I need to sell that you would find very interesting.

> We never had cellphones, DVDs, Play stations, XBoxes, video games, Personal computers, internet, chat but we had many real friends.

So do kids in the current generation. You can have friends even when you have all the gadgets in the world as they are not mutually exclusive.

> We used to visit our friend’s home uncalled and enjoyed food with them. We never had to call them and ask their permission to visit their home.

Umm.. you still don’t have to. I see my cousins, nieces and nephew’s walk over to their friends place to play daily without having to ask for permission. At my sister’s place I see Vir’s friends over all the time and Vir is at their place just as frequently.

We come up with these lists to show how much better off we were as kids but to me they tell a different story. The lists tell me that our parents did an awesome job in raising us and maybe we are not doing that great a job of raising the next generation. If the kids today are anti-social (in your eyes) or don’t go out to play then they are not to blame. I blame us (the parents/previous generations). The kids will do what they get trained to do.

We are the ones who freak out when the kids go out and don’t get back home exactly on time. We are the ones who tell kids not to play in front of the house. We are the ones who protect our kids to the extent that they don’t know how the real world works.

Relax, stop protecting the kids so much. Give them some leeway to make mistakes as that’s how they will learn. If you remember we made our fair share of them, so now it’s time for the next generation to make their mistakes and learn from them. Let the kids know that you are there for them if they need you but give them some space as well and you will see them blossoming.

Well this is all for now, I need to crash for the night so will write more later.

– Suramya

April 15, 2015

Please defend Internet Freedom in India

Filed under: Computer Related,Interesting Sites,My Thoughts,Techie Stuff — Suramya @ 1:34 AM

Not content with watching the US and certain other countries screw around with net neutrality the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has decided to pitch in and make a mess of things (again) in India. These are the same brilliant folks who decided in 2007 that an entire IRC network (undernet.com) should be blocked in India because there are a few channels on it that promoted piracy. It took a few years for the stupid ban to get lifted. Even now a bunch of URL’s are blocked but for the most part things are ok.

Unfortunately that is not going to be the case for long if the telecom lobbyist’s have their way. They want to break up the internet access to Paid and free access with the Telecom’s deciding what content should be available to a user. If a site doesn’t pay then they would either get blocked or get put on a ‘slow-lane’ where traffic to the site is artificially slowed down to give more bandwidth to paying sites. In short they want to take away net neutrality. So what exactly does net neutrality mean? In short it means:

  • All sites on the internet must be equally accessible (that means that no site’s traffic is given priority)
  • The same access speed at the telco/ISP level for each (So assuming all else is the same then all sites will be accessible at the same speed)
  • The same data cost for access to each site (per KB/MB). (No reducing of data cost to sites that pay Telecom’s money)

TRAI has released a consultation paper with 20 questions and wants you to send them an e-mail by 24th of April, 2015. Please visit Save the Internet to submit your responses to TRAI. It is as simple as going to the site, reviewing the email with the answers and then sending it out. Your 5 mins just might save the net in India.

More information on this issue is available at the following sites:

Once you have emailed your responses please help in spreading the word to others via Social Media/Email/Smoke Signals.

– Suramya

April 8, 2015

Hacking is unrealistic in TV shows and Movies… No really?

Filed under: My Thoughts — Suramya @ 9:02 PM

Over the past few months I have seen multiple posts/comments/rants about how Hacking is not portrayed realistically in media. Is it really that big a surprise that like all things, Hacking is also portrayed unrealistically in TV & Movies? Or did you really think that this is how cars are driven or that people can run around after getting shot multiple times with a machine gun without bleeding to death? TV/Movies are meant to entertain, and sometimes that requires stretching the truth a bit ’cause guess what, real life doesn’t look that great on the screen.

Now I am not saying that some shows don’t take it to such an extreme that you are left wondering what on earth just happened but for the most part it is ok to stretch the truth. If I really wanted to look at a someone spending hours trying to figure out why some piece of code is not working then I don’t have to go to the movies for it, I can just go to work and look at the folks around me. (Not that watching them is not entertaining at times 😉 ).

All that being said, at times you do feel like finding the director or producer of a particularly WTH depiction of technology and smacking them on the head. Few of the gems that stand out in my memory are:

  • In Scorpion, the heroes need to get a backup for the ATC software from a plane which has the only non-corrupted version of the software (apparently the IT admins there haven’t heard of multiple backups). The only way to get it off the plane is to dangle an Ethernet cable from the plane to a laptop in a car racing under the plane.
  • In Bones, a genius hacker creates marks on bone that when scanned to create a 3D model of the body somehow automatically convert to code and make the CPU fry itself. The best part is that they can’t replace the burnt boards and be back up and running because apparently backups are for wimps.

Some of the others are listed here and here. There are a ton of such instances, but for the most part I don’t care as I am watching to be entertained. As long as they don’t get to a point where the issues distract from the show I am fine with it.

That is not to say that I don’t appreciate movies/shows where they do research and the techno-babble makes some semblance of sense. Those are a treasure and need to be appreciated like fine wine. This site has a list of some of the more realistic hacking portrayals in the media.

After talking about all this I feel a desire to go watch Wargames again. Or maybe Hackers. 😉 So this is all for now, I will write more later.

– Suramya

April 1, 2015

But we Indians never follow rules…

Filed under: My Thoughts — Suramya @ 11:52 PM

A couple of days ago I was told, you might follow rules, but we are Indians and we Indians never follow rules. This is a statement that never fails to annoy the hell out of me when I hear it and for some reason I seem to hear it quite often, usually from folks who should know better.

I will admit that there are folks who don’t follow rules and drive on the wrong side of the road and ultimately end up as road-kill. However to say that all Indian’s are that way is wrong. I know enough people who will go out of the way to follow the rules, will be at a place on time, behave like normal human beings that use the brains that god gave them. Some of them are Indians, some are Americans, some British etc etc. On the flip side I also know people who don’t think twice about driving drunk, jumping red lights and thinking that they are Gods gift to mankind. Guess what, some of those idiots are Indian’s, others are Americans, a few are Russian and a few British etc etc. India doesn’t have a monopoly on idiots.

The same people who make such statements are the ones, who when visiting other countries will follow their rules exactly. That proves that they can follow rules, they just don’t want to. I am sorry but if you are an idiot who believes that following rules somehow makes you weak or something then please do me a favor and don’t club me with you. It is not a matter of pride that you break rules. It is not something that makes you great. Actually, scratch that. It does make you great… a great moron.

You know what the worst part is? The fact that these people proudly make such statements in front of foreigners. It just shows that you don’t have any pride in your country and if that is the case then you are more than welcome to migrate to a different country. Goodbye and good riddance! Don’t let the door hit you on the way out. A person who is doesn’t take pride in his country, his people is not someone I want around me. However we do need to be careful that we don’t become so proud of ourselves that we go to the other extreme where we think that we are the only people who can do anything correctly. That is what starts wars and is the cause of a major part of the world problems right now.

I am proud of being an Indian, that doesn’t make me blind to our faults. But the only way we can ever think of fixing these faults is if we first admit that there is an issue and start working on it. Making our faults a matter of pride is one of the most idiotic moves that I can think of and it will cause no end of trouble.

Before you complain about folks jumping red lights or driving on the wrong side of the road, ask yourself a question. Do I do this? If your answer is yes then you have no right to complain about others doing exactly the same thing as what you do. All we need to improve things is for each person to look at themselves and stop taking the easy way out. If even a fraction of people start doing this then improvements will be obvious and slowly over a period of time others will follow as well. If nothing else you will be a good role model for the next generation coming up.

Well this is all for now. I am done with my rant and will go back to trying to fix my computer.

– Suramya

March 2, 2015

RIP Mr Spock

Filed under: My Thoughts — Suramya @ 2:07 AM

He did live long and prosper but unfortunately it wasn’t as long as we would want it to be. He will be missed by all his fans.
Leonard Nimoy the actor who played Mr Spock died on 27th Feb at the age of 84.

– Suramya

December 29, 2014

Kids these days….

Filed under: My Thoughts — Suramya @ 11:19 PM

I was surfing the web and found yet another post by some ‘genius’ who claims that people below 40 can’t fix anything and just consume. Considering I am 34 right now I must be one of those people who can’t fix anything. So I guess the tooth fairy must have come and fixed all the stuff I have repaired over the years and the same must be true for things that my friends fixed (or permanently broke in some cases), or created or improved on.

Every few years a post or an article will come out stating something to the effect of “Woe is me, the kids nowadays don’t know anything. They refuse to learn and just want to play on ‘gadget x’ and not listen to their elders (me)”. Here’s a quote that most of these folks will agree with “The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.”. Can you guess who made this quote? It was made by Socrates in Greece. Yes, that Socrates. Every generation thinks that the next generation is useless, they don’t do enough, they have it easy whereas the previous generation had so many hardships that they barely had any fun.

One of easiest ways to put down someone is to make such baseless statements that ‘kids nowadays don’t fix anything’. Guess what, plenty of them do fix stuff, or build new things. If that wasn’t the case then all new inventions will have stopped in another 30-40 years because anyone capable of making new stuff would have died by then. Just because they don’t fix stuff/or work on things the same way you did doesn’t mean that they don’t know what they are doing.


I am tired of the kids these days posts

If you still think that is the case, visit the nearest hackerspace or checkout sites like hackaday.com. There are plenty of folks out there who are pushing the limits of both hardware and software. For example this virtual machine in Excel was created by a highschool student. If folks weren’t out there pushing the limits then event’s like Hacking for Kids, rootz etc would not exist and companies selling electronics/hacking tools for kids would go out of business.

Keep in mind that not everyone has the same aptitude, take my dad and my mom for example. Dad loves to take things apart and fix them while mom prefers to write articles and read. The same is true for my nephews/nieces as well, some of them are technically inclined and others are not. It is human nature. Think of how boring it would be if everyone was interested in the same thing.

Please do me a favor, stop publishing this nonsense, all you are doing is telling people that you are an idiot (I wanted to use a much stronger word but…) who is stuck in their ways and is scared of the next generation so goes out of their way to put them down. I am going to close this post with two words for these folks “Grow up…”.

– Suramya

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