Suramya's Blog : Welcome to my crazy life…

June 10, 2021

Using Graphene layers to store 10 times more data in Hard Disks

Filed under: Computer Hardware,Emerging Tech — Suramya @ 5:39 PM

The requirement for data storage has been going up exponentially over the past few years. At the start of 2020 it was estimated that the amount of data in the world was approximately 44 zettabytes (44,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes), by 2025 this number will have grown to 175 zettabytes of data (Source). This means that we need better storage media to store all the information being generated. Imagine having to store this much data on floppy disks with their 1.4MB of storage or the early hard-disks that stored 10MB of data.

New research carried out in collaboration with teams at the University of Exeter, India, Switzerland, Singapore, and the US have replaced the carbon-based overcoats (COCs) which are basically layers on top of hard disk platters to protect them from mechanical damage with 2-4 layers of Graphene. Since we have reduced the thickness of the COC layer the platters can be placed closer together allowing us to have a greater storage density per inch and basically multiply the storage capacity by a factor of ten. Another advantage of using Graphene is that it reduces the corrosion of the platters by 2.5 times thereby making drives more reliable and increasing their lives.

HDDs contain two major components: platters and a head. Data are written on the platters using a magnetic head, which moves rapidly above them as they spin. The space between head and platter is continually decreasing to enable higher densities. Currently, carbon-based overcoats (COCs) — layers used to protect platters from mechanical damages and corrosion — occupy a significant part of this spacing. The data density of HDDs has quadrupled since 1990, and the COC thickness has reduced from 12.5nm to around 3nm, which corresponds to one terabyte per square inch. Now, graphene has enabled researchers to multiply this by ten.

The Cambridge researchers have replaced commercial COCs with one to four layers of graphene, and tested friction, wear, corrosion, thermal stability, and lubricant compatibility. Beyond its unbeatable thinness, graphene fulfills all the ideal properties of an HDD overcoat in terms of corrosion protection, low friction, wear resistance, hardness, lubricant compatibility, and surface smoothness. Graphene enables two-fold reduction in friction and provides better corrosion and wear than state-of-the-art solutions. In fact, one single graphene layer reduces corrosion by 2.5 times. Cambridge scientists transferred graphene onto hard disks made of iron-platinum as the magnetic recording layer, and tested Heat-Assisted Magnetic Recording (HAMR) — a new technology that enables an increase in storage density by heating the recording layer to high temperatures. Current COCs do not perform at these high temperatures, but graphene does. Thus, graphene, coupled with HAMR, can outperform current HDDs, providing an unprecedented data density, higher than 10 terabytes per square inch.

The research was published in Nature: Graphene overcoats for ultra-high storage density magnetic media and has a lot of promise but is still in research phase so it might be a little while before we see consumer products with Graphene layers. A more userfriendly / less technical overview is available at: Phys.org: Ultra-high-density hard drives made with graphene store ten times more data

– Suramya

June 8, 2021

Great book on Military Crypto analytics by Lambros Callimahos released to public

Filed under: Computer Security,Computer Software,My Thoughts,Techie Stuff — Suramya @ 9:58 PM

I find Cryptography and code breaking to be very interesting as there are huge implications on Cyber security. The current world is based on the presumption that cryptographic algorithms are secure, it is what ensures that we can use the internet, bank online, find love online and even work online. Cryptography historically has been a field working under heavy classification and there are multiple folks we don’t know about because their existence and work was classified.

Lambros Callimahos was one such Cryptologist, he was good enough that two of his books on Military Cryptanalytics covering code breaking (published in 1977) were blocked from public release till 1992. The third and last volume in the series was blocked from release till December 2020. It is now finally available for download as a PDF file so you can check it out.

The book covers how code breaking can be used to solve “impossible puzzles” and one of the key parts of the book is it’s explanation of how to use cryptodiagnosis to decrypt data that has been encrypted using an unknown algorithm. It has a whole bunch of examples and walks you through the process which is quite fascinating. I am going to try getting through it over the next few weeks if I can.

Check it out if you like to learn more about cryptography.

– Suramya

June 7, 2021

Why is eating a burger with your hands ok, but eating a naan/ethnic food with your hands not?

Filed under: My Thoughts — Suramya @ 10:29 PM

When you eat using your hands in any of the western countries a lot of people look down upon you as someone who doesn’t know how to eat properly in civilized company. This is not just in high end restaurants, it in the local diner and other such places (that are not fast food) and for a long time I just took it for granted that this was normal. I use a fork & knife as well as anyone but there are foods that I have to eat using my hand and others I don’t eat with my hands even though others do so. I can’t eat rice with my hands for some reason. I just don’t enjoy it, but Jani does and she makes fun of me for it. This makes it interesting when you are out for a meal and start eating with your hands. People look at you strange.

Then earlier this week I saw this cartoon below and it made me think, even westerners eat food with their hands and they are ok with it as long as it is western food. As soon as there is any other type of food involved it suddenly becomes ‘uncouth’ to eat with your hands. Isn’t this a double standard? Why is it ok to eat a pizza with your hands but not ok to eat a naan or roti with your hands? You eat Fries with your hands so why not pakoda’s?


Eating food using your hands rather than cutlery.

In the end it comes down to the colonial mindset, our food is ok to eat with the hand but if you eat your traditional food with the hands then it is bad since you obviously must ape the western way of doing things. There are reasons behind why eastern civilizations eat food the way they eat. As per the Vedas and Ayurveda the nerve endings of the fingertips are believed to boost digestion. In fact, you become more aware of the textures, taste and aromas as you eat using your hands and engaging the fingertips. In addition, when you eat with your hands if the food is too hot for your fingers, you know it is too hot for your body/mouth. This allows you to ensure the food is not too hot or too cold before you put it in your mouth.

That doesn’t mean that all food should be eaten with your hands. For example, if you are having pasta I really don’t think that it should be eaten with your hands but rather should be eaten with a fork. I think that you should eat food as the natives eat it for the best experience. When I visited China two years ago I couldn’t use a chopstick for the life of me and had to constantly ask for a fork during meals. Then after a lot of attempts I finally figured out how to use chopsticks successfully and then I found that I was enjoying the food more. Plus the locals liked that I was making an effort to follow local custom and tradition. Same when I eat south Indian meals, I am fine using my hands till I get to the rice portion but I do try (unless I can get away with using a spoon) ๐Ÿ™‚

If someone does things differently from how you do it, it doesn’t make it better or worse; It is just different. The more differences we look for the more we will find, similarly the more similarity we look for the more we will find. People who travel to other countries and expect things to be exactly the way they were at their home country are missing the point. The goal is to enjoy the diversity of custom and culture we have in the world.

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

– Suramya

June 6, 2021

Startup company working on ways to get identities of all website visitors

Filed under: My Thoughts — Suramya @ 10:16 PM

There is an important saying that everyone should remember: “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should!” and I use this very often. Latest in the list of companies that need to know this is a Kansas City-based tech startup called Stealth Data LLC. They are using data mining and machine learning to allow websites to uncover “individual names, phone numbers, emails and physical addresses” of the users who visit the websites. To put the cherry on top the co-founder doesn’t see any privacy issues when doing this. I mean how much more private information do you need to disclose before it becomes a ‘privacy’ issue. Once I have the name, phone no and address there are enough databases already leaked that can give all my remaining information including Social Security# / Aadhaar No etc.

The propoted goal is to allow companies to see details of people who visited their site and then cold call them to pitch their products if they didn’t complete a purchase.

Stealth Data’s third co-founder Chad Sneed experienced marketing frustrations firsthand through his family’s dealership, Dennis Sneed Ford in Gower, Missouri. Sneed, who’s a vice president and partner, said the dealership spends a significant amount on marketing, from search engines to third-party advertising. A bulk of the dealership’s website visitors were anonymous, however, which meant it couldn’t follow-up with visitors to try and close a sale. Sneed wanted to unlock that information and started talking to the dealership’s outside marketing firm, Phame Influence, to see if it was possible. Puckett, who co-founded Phame with Paris, also is a trial lawyer.

“My lawyer hat instantly says no,” Puckett said.

But after digging further, he discovered it’s legal and that using the information for cold calling and emailing is fair game.

“We have absolutely traded privacy for convenience,” Sneed said. “People want a customized experience online. They already know that Facebook turns on your microphone, and they say they do it for speech-to-text, but really they do it to serve you customized ads.”

It is a common mindset of people who are pitching such ideas to claim that people don’t care about privacy and would trade it for convenience. I disagree (obviously) and so do a lot of others. I foresee a lot of lawsuits in the company’s future. It is possible that the practice is legal under the current legal framework (in the US) but I doubt it is legal under the GDPR and other such privacy laws. I think that we really need to look at the privacy laws in more detail soon so that such dubious companies are stopped.

There are many implications of such tech, it can be used to identify people who visit porn sites, whistle blowers, sites can use it to target people who might not want their browsing habits to be revealed. For example, criminals (or governments) can setup a site that caters to LGBT folks and then blackmail them about their identities. This would be a gold mine for anyone planning on misusing it and this company seems to be fine with it as long as they get money.

Source: Slashdot: Startup Stealth Data Working To Uncover the Identities of Website Users

– Suramya

June 5, 2021

Some thoughts on Self Taught Programmers

Filed under: My Thoughts — Suramya @ 9:38 PM

There are a lot of posts nowadays that make fun of people who use resources like Stack OverFlow, Udemy, Google etc by implying that they are not ‘real’ programmers because they reference those sites or use the solutions to solve problems and there are others who look down on self-taught programmers. Some of the best programmers I have worked with are self-taught and some of the worst one’s were university taught. It doesn’t matter how you learn to code, it is how you apply it. The cartoon below is just one of the examples I have seen making fun of self-taught programmers.


Self Taught Programmers

Personally I think there is no harm in reusing code or preexisting libraries to solve the problem you are working on. Remember, the goal of a programmer is not to create the most elegant software from scratch. It is to solve business problems efficiently and fast. By not reinventing the wheel every single time, you are saving a lot of time that can now be spent solving the actual problem. Some people think that if you do this then you are not a real programmer. That is not the case, a real programmer is someone who can solve the problem they were tasked to solve correctly, quickly, cheaply and securely. It is ok to reuse code for other projects without rewriting everything.

A little while someone asked a question of Quora (I think) stating “If I can just copy-paste code from Stack Overflow, why do I need to hire a programmer”. The top answer was: “You need to hire a good programmer so they know what to copy from Stack Overflow.” Figuring out what to copy and how to join them together is a skill in itself.

We all build on top of code that already exists: The OS you are running is code, the IDE is more code, the Debugger you are using is code along with the compiler etc. If you really want to do everything from scratch then you should write your own assembly language editor from scratch. Then write an OS, compiler etc from scratch and so on. Actually now that I think about it, the processor you are using is running Firmware. You should create your own CPU and firmware and then write the software to run on top of it.

That doesn’t make sense does it? So why are folks against using other people’s code or getting a hint on how to solve a problem from others? Obviously, you need to ensure that you are not in violation of any license or copyright when copying code but other than that it is ok to look at other people’s code and get ideas or copy it (if it is opensource & allowed).

What do you think?

– Suramya

June 4, 2021

Being a student at 40

Filed under: My Thoughts — Suramya @ 4:22 PM

As some of you know I am currently taking a study break and doing a degree in Cyber Security from EC-Council University. I love what I am doing and the classes are quite interesting. However, it does feel a bit weird when I tell people that I am in college at the age of 40 and the following image best captures the feel of being a student at 40:


How do you feel, my fellow kids?

I mean I am in class with folks who were born in the 2000’s. Earlier I was filling out a form for someone who was born in 2000 and my first thought was that he wasn’t old enough to be vaccinated. Then I realized that the guy was already 21. Man I feel old.

But that being said, I love that I get to work/study with such great students and teachers. I mean, it is an online university and I was expecting really slow responses over email and in chat. But, I have gotten responses to my emails within a few hours even on a Sunday and earlier this semester, I submitted my assignments around 11am on Monday and by 5pm they were already graded and the score submitted. Plus I can always schedule a Skype session with the profs to clear my doubts and they all are very flexible in their timings.

All that being said, I love studying what I enjoy and even though it feels odd being a student again I am enjoying it quite a lot. So, if you want to learn new things or change your career then go for it. There is no age where you are too old to learn new things. All you need is an open mind.

– Suramya

May 30, 2021

You can now run GUI Linux Apps on Windows 10 natively

Filed under: Computer Software,Linux/Unix Related — Suramya @ 10:17 PM

With the latest update of Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL), you can now run Linux GUI applications on Windows natively. This is pretty impressive considering Steve Ballmer famously branded Linux โ€œa cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touchesโ€ back in 2001. In just 20 years, Microsoft has changed it’s stance and started adding more Linux functionality to it’s operating system.

Arguably, one of the biggest, and surely the most exciting update to the Windows 10 WSL, Microsoft has been working on WSLg for quite a while and in fact first demoed it at last year’s conference, before releasing the preview in April… Microsoft recommends running WSLg after enabling support for virtual GPU (vGPU) for WSL, in order to take advantage of 3D acceleration within the Linux apps…. WSLg also supports audio and microphone devices, which means the graphical Linux apps will also be able to record and play audio.

Keeping in line with its developer slant, Microsoft also announced that since WSLg can now help Linux apps leverage the graphics hardware on the Windows machine, the subsystem can be used to efficiently run Linux AI and ML workloads… If WSLg developers are to be believed, the update is expected to be generally available alongside the upcoming release of Windows.

The feature is still only available in Windows 10 Preview Builds but is expected to be released for general use in the near future.

I would love to see the reverse being developed. The ability to install and run Windows applications on Linux natively / officially. There is Wine/Crossover but they don’t support 100% of the applications yet. It would be cool if MicroSoft contributes to either of the tools to allow people to run windows software on Linux.

I personally use Crossover to run the Office Suite and it works great for me (For the most part). The latest version supports Office 365 and most of it works fine except for Excel which still has a bit of a problem with large files but works otherwise. Which is why I also have Office 2007 also installed where Excel works without issues even with large files.

Compatibility with MS Office suite is why a lot of users don’t want to switch from Windows to Linux or Mac. OpenOffice/LibreOffice is great but the UI sucks and the files are not 100% compatible (atleast the last time I tried it, it wasn’t) so the files might not look the same as you expected when you share them with Office users.

Source: Microsoft doubles down on Windows Subsystem for Linux

– Suramya

May 29, 2021

Post Vaccination Day 6 update

Filed under: My Life — Suramya @ 11:28 PM

I had my 1st Vaccine shot on Monday and it’s been 6 days (if you include Monday) with no side effects as of now. I did have a severe headache for the last 2 days but that could have been due to a sinusitis attack or could be a reaction to the shot. I don’t know for sure.

The other thing that both me and Jani saw was that we both kept feeling very sleepy for some reason. Which is why I slept for the majority of the past few days. I did wake up early (6am) but by 12 I would be extremely sleepy and doze off again. Which was fun. I haven’t done this (slept as much as I want everyday) in a while. The downside of that is that I broke my 14 day streak of posting daily on the blog. This is the longest I have blogged continuously in a very long time.

On the negative side, ๐Ÿ˜‰ I still don’t have a better 5G connection and I still have to pay for my Microsoft license. ๐Ÿ™ Maybe they will fix that in the next patch release (2nd dose).

Well this is all for now. I need to get back to my assignments now since I slept most of the week. Will write more later.

– Suramya

May 24, 2021

Human Upgrade 2.0: Patch 1/2 (Vaccine Dose 1) applied successfully

Filed under: My Life — Suramya @ 1:52 PM

Got my first dose of Covishield vaccine today which has finally connected me to 5G! and I do have a weird urge to install Windows on my computer…
I think once I get the second dose I will be able to connect wirelessly to 5G networks and type with my thoughts. But am scared that the chip implanted by Bill Gates will force me to use windows going forward.

– Suramya

PS: In case it is not clear, the above is sarcasm. There is no connection between the Covid vaccine and 5G or Bill Gates. If you think there is, please reexamine your life choices.

May 23, 2021

Rapid Prototyping by Printing circuits using an Inkjet Printer

Filed under: Computer Hardware,Emerging Tech — Suramya @ 10:50 PM

Printing circuits using commercial inkject printers is something that is becoming more and more convenient and affordable day by day. In their 2014 paper Instant inkjet circuits: lab-based inkjet printing to support rapid prototyping of UbiComp devices Prof. Kawahara and others showcased several applications from touch sensors to capacitive liquid level sensors. If you are interested in trying this out (I am sorely tempted), then checkout this Instructable.com: Print Conductive Circuits With an Inkjet Printer post that walks you through how to modify your printer.

The Ink to print these circuits is available for purchase online at novacentrix.com. You need the following to start printing circuits:

  • A low-cost printer such as EPSON WF 2010
  • Printing substrates like PET and glossy paper
  • Oven or hot plate for sintering & drying the ink
  • Empty refillable cartridges

A good area for experimentation would be for wearable circuits on clothing and other such places. But there are a ton of other applications especially in the embedded electronics market.

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

Thanks to Hackernews: Rapid Prototyping with a $100 Inkjet Printer for the link.

– Suramya

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