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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 for the link to the original story.

– Suramya

November 8, 2014

Be careful of software claiming to hide your data on your Phone

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

Yesterday (well, technically today) I was trying to find some data on my old phone to copy to my new phone so I decided to copy over all the folders from the phone to my desktop to make it easier to look through it. While I was going through the data I found a folder called .keepsafe under the Android/data folder so I looked in it cause I got curious and found some interesting data. Actually before I tell you what I found lets take a step back and go over what Keepsafe is: It is an app for both iOS and android that allows you to hide photos/files on your phone and then only people with the correct PIN can view them. From their site: “You lock your rings in a jewelry box. You lock your certificates in a cabinet. Now KeepSafe makes sure your personal files are locked down and hidden, using privacy features such as PIN Pad and Fake PIN.” I had installed this version of Keepsafe a few years ago to try it out but had since uninstalled it as I didn’t find it useful.

Coming back to the folder and what I found. It had two files under it: .local and .email. The .email file had my email address in it but the contents of the .local file were shocking. It had my ‘secret pin’ in clear-text in the file. So anyone with some idea of how apps store data and access to a file browser would have been able to get my pin and view images/data that was supposed to have been protected.

Since this was an older version of the software I downloaded and installed the latest version on my S5 to see if the issue was still there. Thankfully someone at the company figured out that storing the data in clear-text was extremely stupid and in the latest version of the software the same two files are still there but the data is encrypted. Not sure how strong the encryption is because I don’t have the knowledge/skill set to try to figure that out. I did however identify where the files are being stored (they are all encrypted as well) so someone with the original image and an encrypted copy could potentially reverse engineer the encryption and assuming they are using a static encryption key decrypt the remaining files as well.

Moral of the story is that if you want to ‘hide’ data on your phone be very careful of the software you use to do it. Ideally you should avoid storing any data that is sensitive on the phone. There are plenty of ways to get access to the data if someone is interested and has time. This is not an isolated case of a badly written software, There are other cases as well where other software was found to have similar amazing security. So be careful out there.

I did find some more interesting data on the phone that I will take a stab at when I get some time.

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

– Suramya

November 3, 2014

Use Excel to Watch Movies at Work

Before I start, let me make it very clear: I don’t recommend that you do this at work. If you get fired for doing this then it is your fault. I take absolutely no responsibility. That being said, lets proceed. I found this very interesting because it shows that no matter how much you try to secure a system there is always a way around any restrictions people put in the system and the only truly secure system is one encased in a ton of concrete at the bottom of the ocean. In this case a user figured out how to use the VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) functionality in Excel to go around the restrictions placed on his computer by his company’s IT department to watch movies at work.

From a Hacker/ingenuity point of view I love this, but from a work perspective I don’t think this was such a good idea. If you really wanted to watch a movie at work then there are easier and safer options to do so; watching it on your phone or tablet is one option that comes to mind. I seriously doubt that his IT admin or his manager would be amused when they find out about this hack.

Behind the cascade of rectangles and in the land of the Excel macro, [AyrA_ch] took advantage of the program’s VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) functions to circumvent the computer’s restrictions. Although VBA typically serves the more-complex-than-usual macro, it can also invoke some Windows API commands, one of which calls Windows Media Player. The Excel file includes a working playlist and some rudimentary controls: play, pause, stop, etc. as well as an inspired pie chart countdown timer.

Hacking things is fun, but folks need to realize that they need stop being stupid about it. I am sure there is a lot of things I can do at work that I might not be supposed to but just because you can, doesn’t mean that you should.

Check out the original post on Reddit for a link to the file and a more detailed explanation.

Thanks to for the story.

– Suramya

October 11, 2014

Microsoft Research releases Android Wear keyboard prototype

Filed under: Computer Hardware,Computer Software,My Thoughts,Techie Stuff — Suramya @ 5:33 PM

Yes, you read that correctly. Microsoft Research has released the prototype of it’s new keyboard for Android Wear which allows you to input text by drawing letters on the watch face. This is not the first time MS has released stuff of android and I am quite happy with this trend.

The idea of inputting text by drawing characters is not new. If you remember the Palm OS devices they had a keyboard call Graffiti which used a sort of shorthand of letting you input text. I used to love it and had it installed it on my Galaxy Nexus and used it quite often till it got replaced by the voice typing option on the Google Keyboard.

As touch screens are getting smaller, soft keyboards are getting harder to use. For example, on a 1.6” smart watch, a soft keyboard with 10 keys across has keys less than 1/8” (3mm) wide. Speech recognition can be a viable alternative, but unfortunately, speaking into your watch is not always appropriate or even possible (noisy environments).

With the Analog Keyboard Project we are exploring handwriting recognition for text input on small touch screens. Handwriting, unlike speech, is discreet and not prone to background noise. And unlike soft keyboards, where many keys have to share the small touch surface, handwriting methods can offer the entire screen (or most of it) for each symbol. This allows each letter to be entered rather comfortably, even on small devices. In fact, it has been shown that some handwriting systems can be used without even looking at the screen . Finally, handwriting interfaces require very little design changes to run on round displays, which are becoming increasingly popular.

Interestingly the developers decided to support lower-case alphabets instead of upper-case in this first release. I would have thought they would go the other way as it is easier to identify upper case letters for the most part than lower-case.

Please keep in mind that this is a prototype (Alpha) release so it possibly has a lot of bugs and is not production ready. Plus it can’t be installed on the watch from Google Play, it has to be side loaded and the process is a bit complicated so might not be the best option for non-tech savvy folks right now.

Project Page: The Analog Keyboard Project
Download: Analog Keyboard for Android Wear

– Suramya

October 8, 2014

Crystal that can absorb all Oxygen in a room and release It later

Filed under: My Thoughts,News/Articles,Techie Stuff — Suramya @ 11:07 AM

Researchers in Denmark have created a crystal out of a cobalt salt that absorbs oxygen and stores it. If the crystal is then exposed to heat or low oxygen conditions it releases the stored oxygen back out. It is efficient enough that just a spoonful of the crystal can suck up all the oxygen in a room. This is an awesome find/creation and I can think of a lot of uses for this of the top of my head:

  • Firefighting/Fire suppression systems in buildings
  • Scuba Diving
  • Underwater Search and rescue
  • Space travel

and a whole bunch of other uses that I haven’t thought of yet.

The crystal is a salt made from cobalt*, and it appears to be capable of holding oxygen at a concentration that is 160 times higher than the air we breathe. The paper notes that “an excess” of the substance would bind up to 99 percent of the oxygen in a room.

But what’s more remarkable is that the crystal can later release the oxygen when exposed to heat or low-oxygen conditions. In a press release, study author Christine McKenzie likens it to the hemoglobin in our blood, which uses iron to bind and release oxygen in the human body.

If you must know, the chemical name of the salt is written out as [{(bpbp)Co2II(NO3)}2(NH2bdc)](NO3)2 * 2H2O, where “bpbp” stands for 2,6-bis(N,N-bis(2-pyridylmethyl)-aminomethyl)-4-tert-butylphenolato, and “NH2bdc2” stands for 2-amino-1,4-benzenedicarboxylato).

Now if you can understand the gobbledy gooke in the last paragraph hats off to you, I will just call it a crystal and be done with it. This is the first findings paper and hopefully the crystal will live up to its expectations. The research paper detailing the findings is available at:

Thanks to for the original story.

– Suramya

October 2, 2014

Celebrating 10 years of Blogging

Filed under: My Thoughts,Website Updates — Suramya @ 1:51 AM

As of 1st Oct 2014, Suramya’s Blog has been online for exactly 10 years and I have spent a lot of time posting random thoughts, tutorials, event analysis etc on the Blog. In my first post I said “I don’t know how often I will be updating this but I will definitely try to update this a little more often than my website.”, if nothing else I know for sure that I did manage to update the blog more often than the main site (which is something I do plan to change BTW by updating the site more often). There were periods where I didn’t post much and the blog just languished and periods where I posted tons of posts.

Here are some stats as of 2nd Oct 2014:

Total published posts : 876
Total Published Comments [1] : 560
Spam Comments Blocked : 438,580
Maximum posts in a Month (Made in Jan 2010) : 81
Media Uploaded : 26MB

I wish I had visitor stats to share but I don’t because the plugin I was using earlier maxed out my DB size allocation and I deleted the data to bring the site back online. I just enabled a new plugin today that is highly recommended and doesn’t use that much space (as per the reviews). Let’s see how that works out.

It is interesting to note that most of the folks who had active blogs when I started no longer blog actively, for some post once every few months others haven’t posted in years. Some of you may wonder why that is the case. Well the answer is that I don’t know. Some folks got busy, some ran out of things to say or just lost interest. I blog because I like to have a way to talk about stuff I have been thinking about, stuff I find interesting or just random things I find online. I think as long as I keep finding cool things I will keep posting about it (Provided I get the time to write posts that don’t sound like they were written by a 5 year old.) Here’s to another 10 years of ‘successful’ blogging.

Well this is all for now, will post more later.

– Suramya

[1] A lot of the comments were lost when I moved from my old blogging software to WordPress. I had intended to spend time writing a parser to import them to WP but never got around to doing it.

October 1, 2014

Erase Your iCloud Drive by reseting your iPhone settings

This has not been a good month for Tech, we are getting issues across the board on all fronts. First we had the iCloud hack (or fappenning as it was called). Then ShellShock hit followed by this new issue in iOS 8 where if you reset your iPhone settings your backups on the cloud also go bye-bye. Ouch! I hope if you are using the iCloud (or any cloud for that matter) you have a duplicate copy of your data somewhere else or you better not try to reset your phone.

The bug creeps up when you select Settings > General > Reset > Reset All Settings. Typically, this is just supposed to reset your network settings to give your iOS device a clean slate to work with, but it turns out it’s also deleting all your files from iCloud Drive.

The issue was discovered by members of the MacRumors forum. It just shows that no matter how much we try nothing is perfect and there are bugs in every system. The best way to ensure that don’t loose data is to store it in multiple places using multiple types of media/services.

I have a lot of my data backed up on a RAID array and am in the process of setting up a cloud server at home to sync it across different locations. I am not using Dropbox or other such services because I don’t want to trust my data to any external provider. Earlier I used to back up data on DVD’s/CD’s. Before that I used to store the data on Floppy disks.

Fun fact, I was recently looking for some code that I had written around 1998 and ended up searching through my old Floppy disks to find it. Interesting thing was that about 90% of the disks still worked and I was able to read the data without issues. (Well… no issues other then the fact that I had to buy a USB floppy drive as my mother board doesn’t have a connector for floppy drives…) I don’t see the same level of longevity in either DVD’s or CD’s so far. I haven’t tried Blue-Ray disks yet because of the cost and the fact that HDD’s are getting cheaper / larger.

Thanks to for the initial links.

– Suramya

September 24, 2014

India’s Mangalyaan successfully enters Mars orbit

Filed under: My Thoughts,Techie Stuff — Suramya @ 11:00 PM

Yay! India’s low cost Martian mission successfully entered Mars orbit earlier today. The 4.5bn rupee ($74m;) mission is the cheapest inter-planetary mission ever to be undertaken by the world. In fact production of the movie Gravity cost more than the entire mission.

This is an amazing achievement, now my only question is: what are we doing to reward the scientists that made this possible? When India won the world cup, every state in India rewarded millions of rupees to the players who were already well paid and compensated. Why is there no similar prizes being announced for the scientists who made history today? Mr Modi, this is a question for you and your government…

Additional links:
* Mangalyaan: India’s race for space success

– Suramya

September 22, 2014

Project Hieroglyph: Returning to Science Fiction that inspires

Filed under: My Thoughts — Suramya @ 10:13 AM

If you have been following the Science Fiction Genre recently you will have noticed that most of the popular SciFi stories nowadays are about post-apoplectic future where civilization got wiped out by a virus or zombies or some other disaster etc etc. Not many stories are being written that talk about a golden future with new advances etc that would serve to inspire folks to create new stuff like Author C Clarke’s writings on communication satellites that inspired folks to actually create them, or Star Trek Communicators that partially inspired the creation of cell phones. Those items along with numerous other things both small and large were initially created by writers as Science Fiction but then slowly became reality.

Recently Neal Stephenson wrote an article entitled “Innovation Starvation“, where he called for a return to inspiration in contemporary science fiction, this call inspired people and Project Hieroglyph was born shortly thereafter.

The name of Project Hieroglyph comes from the notion that certain iconic inventions in science fiction stories serve as modern “hieroglyphs” – Arthur Clarke’s communications satellite, Robert Heinlein’s rocket ship that lands on its fins, Issac Asimov’s robot, and so on. Jim Karkanias of Microsoft Research described hieroglyphs as simple, recognizable symbols on whose significance everyone agrees.

What science fiction stories—and the symbols that they engender—can do better than almost anything else is to provide not just an idea for some specific technical innovation, but also to supply a coherent picture of that innovation being integrated into a society, into an economy, and into people’s lives. Often, this is the missing element that scientists, mathematicians, engineers, and entrepreneurs need in order to actually take the first real steps towards realizing some novel idea.

While the mission of Project Hieroglyph begins with creative inspiration, our hope is that many of us will be genuinely inspired towards realization.

Here writers post questions or just talk about idea’s that are meant to make people think and speculate on the important question in life “What if?”. The site is a great read not just for authors but for readers as well. It pushes you to think about new idea’s or a different aspect for an existing idea. Check it out and you won’t be disappointed.

– 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


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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