Suramya's Blog : Welcome to my crazy life…

March 4, 2020

Seti@home project to stop distributing new work to clients after 21 years

Filed under: Computer Software,News/Articles — Suramya @ 1:44 PM

Seti@home has a fond place in my heart. It has been run by the Berkeley SETI Research Center since 1999, and I think I installed it on my machine sometime around Dec 1999 or early 2000 after hearing about it from one of the News websites (possibly Slashdot). Once I had it running on my system I was pushing to get it installed on all the computers in the University computer lab as they were running 24/7 and I saw that as a wasted opportunity for furthering search for ET. I ran it constantly on my computers till about 2009 post which I switched to running Folding@home which is more focused on Science / DNA sequencing / Medical research. Seti was one of the first Distributed computing systems that I know of and the amount of data processed by computers under its umbrella is staggering.

On March 31, the project will stop sending out new work units to users and the project will instead start focusing on analyzing all the blips identified by volunteers’ machines which could be potential evidence of aliens with an eye on publishing a research paper. Once this is completed they might start pushing out work packages again but that will be a while before it happens.

“It’s a lot of work for us to manage the distributed processing of data. We need to focus on completing the back-end analysis of the results we already have, and writing this up in a scientific journal paper,” their news announcement stated.

Looking forward to reading the research paper and conclusions generated by the Seti@home program.

Source: SETI@home Search for Alien Life Project Shuts Down After 21 Years

– Suramya

March 2, 2020

Another magical AI to detect “Inappropriate photos” and block kids from taking them

Filed under: Computer Software,My Thoughts,News/Articles — Suramya @ 11:50 AM

In today’s iteration of people who don’t want to make the effort of raising their kids and explaining the difference between right & wrong and why something might be a bad idea we have a new “magical” AI that will automatically detect when kids are making a bad choice and stop them. I mean why should a parent make an effort to talk to their kids and help them understand what repercussions of a given choice could be wrong when you have AI to make the effort for them? This new AI is being pitched to parents and has an AI-powered “Smartphone Protection” feature that prevents users from shooting or saving “inappropriate” photos (read: naked pictures).

The official Tone Mobile press release hails the TONE e20 as the world’s first phone with an AI that “regulates inappropriate images” through an AI built into the so-called TONE Camera… If the AI recognizes that the subject of a photo is “inappropriate,” the camera will lock up; and if you somehow manage to snap a photo before the AI kicks in, the phone won’t let you save or share it.

Additionally, a feature called “TONE Family” can be set to send an alert to parents whenever an inappropriate image is detected. According to SoraNews24, this alert will contain location data and a pixelated thumbnail of the photo in question.

I give it about 24 hours from when the phone is released till folks figure out a way around it.

The other issue I have with this system is how its going to classify the pics. The article doesn’t go into technical details of how the AI works and if the classification is done locally or on the cloud. If its on the cloud then every pic taken by that phone is being uploaded to a remote server owned by a 3rd party. This is a massive risk and any breach of that server is going to have a lasting and significant impact. Trust me when I say that this server would be a target of all Black Hat hackers as soon as it goes online.

I am not going to go into whether taking nude pics is a good idea or not. Its upto the people involved to take that decision, I am not responsible for what you do with your phone. If you have to take naughty pics just ensure you follow basic rules and don’t share it with anyone you don’t trust 100%.

In summary, Dear parents: Instead of offloading your responsibilities to AI try having a frank and open conversation with your kids about why certain things might be a bad idea. It will give you better results than this snakeoil.

Source: Slashdot.org

– 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

January 3, 2020

Computer made from 32 strands of DNA can now compute the square root of 900

Filed under: News/Articles,Techie Stuff — Suramya @ 4:28 PM

Early this century (around year 2000 onwards) there were three main projects goingon in parallel, each of which promised to be the next great breakthrough in Computing which would change the world. These were: DNA Computing, Optical Computing and Quantum computing. Then, something changed and Quantum computing took over. In the past few years the tech news & papers have primarily focused on Quantum Computing breakthroughs (which to be fair have been quite significant) and Optical & DNA Computers on the other hand seemed to have dropped off the map with hardly any news coming from that front. But that has just changed. Thanks to the efforts of Chunlei Guo and his colleagues at the University of Rochester, New York we now have a working DNA computer that uses 32 strands and can compute the square root of square numbers 1, 4, 9, 16, 25 and so on up to 900. This might not sound like much but is a pretty big deal as now that we can create a system that uses chemistry to compute square roots we can probably get DNA circuits to do anything.

The prospect of programming molecular computing systems to realize complex autonomous tasks has advanced the design of synthetic biochemical logic circuits. One way to implement digital and analog integrated circuits is to use noncovalent hybridization and strand displacement reactions in cell‐free and enzyme‐free nucleic acid systems. To date, DNA‐based circuits involving tens of logic gates capable of implementing basic and complex logic functions have been demonstrated experimentally. However, most of these circuits are still incapable of realizing complex mathematical operations, such as square root logic operations, which can only be carried out with 4 bit binary numbers. A high‐capacity DNA biocomputing system is demonstrated through the development of a 10 bit square root logic circuit. It can calculate the square root of a 10 bit binary number (within the decimal integer 900) by designing DNA sequences and programming DNA strand displacement reactions. The input signals are optimized through the output feedback to improve performance in more complex logical operations. This study provides a more universal approach for applications in biotechnology and bioengineering.

The paper published in “Small” has more details but is behind a paywall (which sucks) so I don’t have much more details than what the New Scientist article and the paper abstract share. At the price they are asking I don’t think its value for money just so that I can satisfy my curiosity about the breakthrough. If you disagree and download the paper, please share 🙂

Looking forward to more such news (in a accessible journal) in 2020.

– Suramya

October 31, 2019

You can’t have ‘b’, ‘l’, ‘m’, ‘r’, and ‘t in your password if you are using macOS 10.15.1 aka Catalina

Filed under: Funny News,My Thoughts,Techie Stuff — Suramya @ 12:50 PM

Users of Twitter App on macOS 10.15.1 aka Catalina just found out that they couldn’t log in to their account if their password contained any of the following characters: ‘b’, ‘l’, ‘m’, ‘r’. When I first read the news I thought it was a joke but then realized that its an actual issue in the latest version of the MacOS. The problem is showing up on the Twitter app but other programs might be effected as well.

According to Twitter in-house developer Nolan O’Brien, these particular keypresses are gobbled up by a regression associated with the operating system’s shortcut support. Normally, users can press those aforementioned keys as shortcuts within the app to perform specific actions, such as ‘t’ to open a box to compose a new tweet.

Something changed within macOS to capture those shortcut keys, rather than pass them to the password field in the user interface as expected. So, in other words, when you press a shortcut key in Twitter when entering an account password, the keypress is ignored in that context rather than handled as a legit password keypress.

This reminded me of the weird and basic bugs that showed up in older versions of Windows. Apple really needs to work on their quality control if they want to stay in the game.

Source: The Register: You’e yping i wong: macOS Catalina stops Twitter desktop app from accepting B, L, M, R, and T in passwords

– 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

August 12, 2019

LinuxJournal.com: shutdown -h now

Filed under: Computer Related,My Thoughts,Techie Stuff — Suramya @ 10:24 AM

Last week I got an unpleasant surprise in my mailbox, an email from Linux Journal stating that they were closing up shop effective immediately as they had completely run out of money with no hope of resurrection. LJ was one of the first Linux magazines I wrote for and it will always have a special place in my heart.

IMPORTANT NOTICE FROM LINUX JOURNAL, LLC:
On August 7, 2019, Linux Journal shut its doors for good. All staff were laid off and the company is left with no operating funds to continue in any capacity. The website will continue to stay up for the next few weeks, hopefully longer for archival purposes if we can make it happen.
–Linux Journal, LLC

The website is up for the moment but might go down anytime. I do have an archive of all LJ issues on my home computer that I had made the last time LJ was about to shutdown and I will post them to the site in a few days. This archive doesn’t have the latest releases so I will need to download that before I post them online. In addition I am sure there are efforts ongoing to archive the website as well since it had a lot of great content on it. If not then I will kick off something to archive the site once I get home.

Well this is all for now. It was a great run LJ, you will be missed.

– Suramya

December 5, 2017

Dominos Pizza online has stronger password requirements than Citibank India Online

Filed under: Computer Related,My Thoughts,Techie Stuff — Suramya @ 11:59 PM

Today I decided to change my IPIN (Internet Pin) on Citibank as I haven’t changed it in a while and its a good idea to change it on a regular basis. So I logged in to my account and clicked on the password reset link and I got the following text:

The first item there is fairly standard but what really surprised me were items # 3,4 & 6. What do you mean I can’t have any special characters in my password? Why can’t I have a password longer than 16 Characters when the NIST password guidelines recommend that you allow a password of up to 64 char’s in length.

In contrast The Dominos Pizza’s Online portal has stronger security and requires you to have Upper case, Lower Case, Numeric Char and a Special Character in the password. Making it a lot more secure and harder to crack than the Citibank password.

This is not all. The best part is yet to come. I use a password manager and my generated password was 22 characters long this time, so I pasted it into the form and the system accepted the password change. Now since I am a paranoid person I decided to check if the password changed successfully by logging in with the new password. Imagine my surprise when an error message popped up on screen when I tried to log in telling me that my password can’t be longer than 16 chars. I was confused since the password change form took my 22 char password without trouble, so I tried logging in with the old password and that obviously didn’t work. Finally I tried removing the extra 6 characters from my password and was able to log in.

Basically the stupid system truncated my password to 16 and then saved it instead of warning me that my password was too long when I was changing the password which would have been the logical thing to do.

Citibank needs to update its system to follow the NIST rules and start allowing people to choose more secure passwords.

Well this is all for now, 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

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.

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