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November 17, 2014

Microsoft launches free Visual Studio Community 2013

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

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

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

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

Official Announcement: Microsoft Blog
Via Betanews.com

– Suramya

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

November 4, 2014

The Underhanded C Contest 2014 is open

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

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

The 7th Underhanded C Contest is now open.

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

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

– Suramya

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 Hackaday.com for the story.

– Suramya

October 10, 2014

Instead of wasting time playing Sudoku you should mine Bitcoins with Pencil and Paper

Filed under: Computer Related,Computer Security,Techie Stuff — Suramya @ 11:58 PM

Do you like to play Sudoko? If so then you should look at using paper and pencil to mine Bitcoins instead and make some money out of your hobby. A bloke named Ken Shirriff who is an engineer at google has created a video and a detailed blog post on how this can be done. Apparently it is a slow process but the algorithms for Bitcoin generation are easy enough to crunch.

Shirriff completed a round of SHA-256 in 16 minutes and 45 seconds at which rate a full Bitcoin block would take about a day and a half, less with more practice, he said.

“The SHA-256 algorithm is surprisingly simple to do by hand,” Shirriff said.

“In comparison, current Bitcoin mining hardware does several terahashes per second, about a quintillion times faster than my manual hashing.

All I can say is, go for it if you like crunching numbers… I know I won’t. :)

Source: Theregister.com

– Suramya

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 lifehacker.com for the initial links.

– Suramya

February 12, 2012

Google Wallet PIN cracked on Android devices

Filed under: Computer Related,Computer Security,My Thoughts — Suramya @ 8:53 PM

The past few days there has been a lot of press around the fact that the Google Wallet Pin was cracked on rooted android phones. Lots of people including computer programmers and technologists (who should frankly know better) have reacted to this by posting messages/comments equivalent to: “rooting is bad”, “rooting causes security holes” etc etc etc… Guess they have forgotten the simple rule of computer security: “physical access is total access”, basically it means that if I have physical access to a device I can get full access to it eventually.

This fact was demonstrated it quite nicely by the news that you don’t really need to root your phone to get your pin hacked, all you need to do is reset the application data.

The problem in both cases is caused by the fact that the Google Wallet’s pin is stored locally on the phone itself instead of online so if you can get access to it you can bruteforce it or if you clear the app data it removes the pin and lets you choose another.

One way of fixing the second issue would be to force the phone to link to the internet after the local cache is cleared to sync the pin with the online secure server instead of just letting a user choose a new one. The fix for the first case is a lot harder because you can’t have a wallet that requires the phone to be connected to the web everytime you use it, and if you store it locally then you are just asking for trouble.

Another way would be for the receiving side to validate the pin sort of line how we do it for credit cards but that doesn’t seem too feasible either. Or we could salt the pin with the user’s account info/do a dual encryption, first one requires the pin to unlock the second one requires the account password.

Now if I can come up with such solutions then I am sure the people at Google and the various banks working on this issue will come up with other more secure options. Its not the end of the world. yet. This is a new technology and like all new tech it has its teething issues and I am looking forward to the final fixed product.

– Suramya

December 30, 2011

Yucky Slime may be what is needed to make the next breakthrough in Biocomputing

Filed under: Computer Related — Suramya @ 11:05 PM

According to Toshiyuki Nakagaki, a professor at Future University Hakodate the lowly slime mold that most of us associate with gym showers and broke college students may be what helps us make the next major breakthrough in Biotechnology and computer algorithms.

Basically, Physarum polycephalum, or grape-cluster slime which looks like mayonnaise when looked at without a microscope has the ability to organize its cells to create the most direct root through a maze to a source of food. During experiments the research team successfully managed to get the molds to form the pattern of a railway system quite similar to the railroad networks of the Kanto region centering Tokyo. If this can be harnessed then we can use the networks in future designs of transport systems. The best part is that the networks created are resistant to unexpected stimulus so if used in real world applications that would make them resilient and fault tolerant.

He says slime molds can create much more effective networks than even the most advanced technology that currently exists.

“Computers are not so good at analysing the best routes that connect many base points because the volume of calculations becomes too large for them,” Tero explained.

“But slime molds, without calculating all the possible options, can flow over areas in an impromptu manner and gradually find the best routes.

“Slime molds that have survived for hundreds of millions of years can flexibly adjust themselves to a change of the environment,” he said. “They can even create networks that are resistant to unexpected stimulus.”

Research has shown slime molds become inactive when subjected to stress such as temperature or humidity changes. They even appear to “remember” the stresses and protectively become inactive when they might expect to experience them.

Sources: Yahoo News & Engadget

– Suramya

December 10, 2011

Thinking about changing Hosting providers. Any suggestions?

Filed under: Computer Related,Techie Stuff — Suramya @ 10:57 PM

I have been using 1and1.com as my hosting provider for a while now (since 2005) and have been happy with the service for the most par, however after their recent pricing change the service is getting to be a bit more expensive than I am comfortable with so I am thinking about changing webhosting providers. What hosting providers do you use and would recommend? I need the following feature sets in the service:

  • PHP4/5
  • MySQL DB: Fairly large no of databases with large storage allocations
  • Full SSH Shell Access
  • Unlimited Bandwidth (Have gotten bit by this a few times)
  • Email Accounts: A fairly high no with large quota’s (I never delete mails)
  • Perl Support
  • Multiple Domains allowed
  • High availability/uptime

Thanks in advance.

– Suramya

October 12, 2011

Virus hits US Drone Fleet: Is Skynet finally ready to take over?

Filed under: Computer Related,My Thoughts,News/Articles — Suramya @ 4:28 PM

I typed an entire post while in flight back to Bangalore and then because the wordpress app for Android requires a netconnection to work and doesn’t allow you to work offline, I lost my entire post and now have to type it all again.

Looks like we are about ready for the end of the world and the start of the robot Apocalypse. A virus has infected the US Drone fleet and so far the admins have been unable to remove the infection. Now all we need is for the US military to hand over control of its entire system to a super AI and we are ready to go. To make things even better we also have early prototypes of HK’s (HunterKillers) in testing in various labs around the world.

Its funny how real life follows fiction at times. When I used to tell people that I was interested in Artificial intelligence, the most common reaction I would get was “are you crazy? Haven’t you seen Terminator?” Now if we have a rogue AI running around its actually possible for it to cause a whole lot of damage, maybe not to the tune of ‘end of the world’ but enough to make life miserable for a whole lot of people.

Maybe its time to stock up on my tin-foil hats and MRE’s :)

– Suramya

February 15, 2010

Augmented Reality: Tattoo that transforms into a flying dragon

Filed under: Computer Related,Computer Software,My Thoughts,Techie Stuff — Suramya @ 7:52 PM

Augmented reality, the words bring to mind a science fiction world where people wear glasses hooked up to computers that give additional information on the item being looked at. I have read scores of novels where this technology is in use by humans (both in a positive and negative sense) but till date this technology was still in the realm of Science Fiction.

Now this has changed. ThinkAnApp studio based in Buenos Aries has developed specialized software that allows them to create a tattoo that when viewed through a camera gets transformed into a flying dragon. Or anything else you want. Pretty cool eh?

Here’s what the Tattoo looks like when viewed through a camera:

Check out the video demoing the tattoo in action here.

This is just a prototype and isn’t released for public use yet. But it is a step in the right direction and slowly but surely we are moving closer to the day when the virtual world will overlay the real world and open up all the awesome possibilities that entails.

Source: ThinkAnApp – Augmented Reality (tattoo).

– Suramya

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