Suramya's Blog : Welcome to my crazy life…

August 20, 2021

Human Upgrade 2.0: Patch 2/2 (Vaccine Dose 2) Applied Successfully

Filed under: My Life,My Thoughts — Suramya @ 12:26 AM

Finally got the second dose of the Covid vaccine earlier this week. As compared to the first dose this was a super efficient and fast process. We reached Manipal around 1pm and within 20 mins we were done with the vaccination and back on the way home. The staff ensured that there was enough social distancing and the shots were given very quickly.

I am someone who is scared of needles but even then I took the shot. This is because I rather get a quick and painless shot than end up in the hospital and get pumped up with drugs and lots of needles. It is a lot more painful (and scary) to be intubated than it is to get an injection. I know the shot doesn’t give you 100% immunity and there is still a possibility that you can get Covid even after getting vaccinated but in those cases Covid is not as severe and there is a higher probability that you will recover on your own without ending up in the ICU.

I did get a bad headache for a few days after the vaccine (I got it even from the first dose). Basically, my sinusitis got triggered by the shot and it takes a few days for my immune system to adjust to the new information given via the shot. Post that all is well. I know a few others who were sick for a week after the shot but that is still better than the sickness you might get if you get a severe case of Covid.

If you are eligible then you better get the vaccine as early as possible, to protect yourself and others around you.

– Suramya

PS: Am upset that I am still don’t get a better 5G signal!

August 7, 2021

Bypass of Facial Recognition made possible by creating Master faces that impersonate 40% of population

Filed under: Computer Security,Emerging Tech,My Thoughts,Techie Stuff — Suramya @ 9:00 PM

Over the years, there has been a lot of push for Image recognition systems and more and more companies are entering the field each with their own claims of supernatural accuracy. Plus, with all the amazing ‘tech’ being showcased in the movies and on TV people are primed to expect that level of accuracy. Unfortunately, reality is a lot more weird and based on research its pretty simple to fool image recognition systems. In the past people have tricked systems to misidentifying a banana as a toaster by modifying parts of the image. There was another recent event where the Tesla self navigation system kept thinking the moon was a Yellow light and insisted on slowing down. There are so many of these ‘edge’ cases that it is not even funny.

A specific use case for image recognition is Facial recognition and that is a similar mess. I have personally used a photo of an authorized user to get a recognition system to unlock a door during testing. We have cases where wearing glasses confuses the system that it locks you out. Now according to research conducted by the Blavatnik School of Computer Science and the school of Electrical Engineering it is possible to create a ‘master’ face that can be used to impersonate multiple ID’s. In their study they found that the 9 faces created by the StyleGAN Generative Adversarial Network (GAN) could impersonate 40% of the population. Testing against the University of Massachusetts’ Labeled Faces in the Wild (LFW) open source database they were able to impersonate 20% of the identities in the database with a single photo.

Basically, they are exploiting the fact that most facial recognition systems use broad sets of markers to identify specific individuals and StyleGAN creates a template containing multiple such markers which can then be used to fool the recognition systems.

Abstract: A master face is a face image that passes face-based identity-authentication for a large portion of the population. These faces can be used to impersonate, with a high probability of success, any user, without having access to any user-information. We optimize these faces, by using an evolutionary algorithm in the latent embedding space of the StyleGAN face generator. Multiple evolutionary strategies are compared, and we propose a novel approach that employs a neural network in order to direct the search in the direction of promising samples, without adding fitness evaluations. The results we present demonstrate that it is possible to obtain a high coverage of the population (over 40%) with less than 10 master faces, for three leading deep face recognition systems.

Their paper has been published and is available for download here: Generating Master Faces for Dictionary Attacks with a Network-Assisted Latent Space Evolution.

With more and more companies pushing for AI based recognition systems as fool proof systems (looking at you Apple, with your latest nonsense about protecting kids by scanning personal photos) it is imperative that more such research is conducted before these systems are pushed into production based on the claims in their marketing brochures.

Thanks to Schneier on Security: Using “Master Faces” to Bypass Face-Recognition Authenticating Systems

– Suramya

August 6, 2021

Trip to Historic Hampi – Part 1

Filed under: My Thoughts,Travel/Trips — Suramya @ 2:45 AM

Early last month I made my second trip to Hampi with the goal of actually exploring the city this time. My 1st trip was focused primarily on Wine tasting as there are some pretty cool Vineyards around Hampi. I am going to break this writeup into two parts, in the first part I am going to talk about all the regular Hampi monuments that everyone explores. In Part 2 I am going to talk about a historic site that hardly anyone knows about which is about 3000-4000 years old approximately and is similar to Stonehenge. (More details in the next post 🙂 )

Hampi is one of the lesser known historic sites in India and it is better known in the south than in the north. It’s name is derived from Pampa which is another name of the goddess Parvati. I first heard about it when I moved to Bangalore in 2010. It was a popular destination with a certain group of people because of the Hippie island and the easy availability of drugs etc. With the administration looking for better crowd of travelers and less drugs etc along with the desire to remove the encroachment into forest lands, the island was cleared, and a lot of work is being done to restore/maintain the historical monuments.

First Day

Our trip started on 6th July, just after the Evolve Back, Hampi resort reopened their doors to visitors when the Karnataka lockdown rules were eased. We had originally planned to travel on the 29th June but due to the lockdown had to push the trip out by a week. As always, we started early in the morning around 6:30am so as to avoid the Bangalore traffic which has been slowly going back to the pre-lockdown levels. The drive to Hampi was fantastic and the roads are amazing. I had to consciously remind myself to slow down as it was quite easy to go super-fast without realizing it. The highway system in India has really improved in the last few years. We reached the Evolve Back campus without any issues except for a minor funny incident right at the end. When we were less than 1 km from the resort, our GPS told us to turn into a complex which it claimed was the resort, but it turned out to be the Forest Department’s office. When we asked them where the resort was, they looked at us like we were crazy, and the guy told us “This is not the resort”. When we told them that we knew this wasn’t the resort and asked for directions they told us to drive on for another 600-800mtrs and the resort was there on the left side. I think that the issue happened due to the GPS losing satellite signal and thus lost an accurate reading of where we were. In any case we reached the venue and checked in without any further confusion.

This was our third stay at the Evolve Back properties, and I have to say that they outdid themselves with the service they provided. This is from the check-in staff to the waiters, manager, trail guides to everyone. To give an idea of the service level and the personalized service we got here are a few small examples. Jani always takes hot water when we go out and I take ice-cold water, we told the serving staff this during our first meal there. After that they ensured we got a glass of hot water and a glass of cold water every single time without asking. They also remembered that we both liked our food to be spicy so all our meals were custom made to be spicier than the usual. In fact the chef actually came and chatted with us multiple times to ensure that the food was made as per our requirements. Even the room we were allocated was selected to give us great views of the sunrise (which we missed because we were sleeping) and the sunset (which we missed because we were on the trails). But it is the thought that counts. Every single person there was always smiling and working to ensure we had a great visit. I am bad with remembering names and since Jani already did a post detailing our stay and how all of the staff made this a fantastic stay, I am not going to duplicate the work here. You can read her writeup of our trip here, on her blog.


The Room we stayed in at Evolve Back, Hampi


The Room we stayed in at Evolve Back, Hampi


View from the Balcony


Night View from our Balcony


Night View from our Balcony

Since, I had a hectic few days before we started the trip and had gotten up early, we decided to take it easy on the first day and just relaxed. The architecture of the property in Hampi is based on the royal palace in Hampi including the open area in the middle with a water source to help cool the place. As we were planning to stay 3 nights we had 2 full days (and 2 half days) to explore Hampi, which was perfect because they have 4 trails for guests (Raya Trail, Vithalapura Walk, Tungabhadra Trek & Virupaksha Trail) which you can choose to go on. We decided to all 4 of them, doing one trail in the morning and another in the evening.

Second Day

We started off with the Vithalapura Walk, which is a walk through the ancient market and the temples of Vithalapura – a Hampi suburb known for the famous Vijaya Vithala temple that houses the renowned Stone Chariot and musical pillared mantapa. Our trip started early morning post breakfast to avoid the heat, the drive to the Vijaya Vithala temple was short and interesting because Santhosh who was our guide kept us entertained with stories about the historical city. We parked the car at the entrance and then walked to the temple. If we had come a little later, there are electric golf carts that will take you there but as we wanted to stretch our legs we walked the ~1kms distance and I am glad we did that because it gave us the chance to explore the area in more detail rather than watching it from the cart.

The first structure that catches your eye as you are walking is the ‘Kuduregombe Mandapa‘ (Horse riders Pavilion). It is named so because it has sculptures of horses with riders mounting them at its entrance and the word Kuduregombe translates to Horse Riders in the local language. This is a temple for one of the Hindu Gods and was built over 500 years ago. Unfortunately, over the years the idol was removed and much of the temple is in ruins so we don’t know for sure which of the Gods the temple was built to worship. Another theory is that it was used as a prayer place by the horse riders during the annual chariot festival.


Kuduregombe Mandapa (Horse riders Pavilion)

Across from the Mantapa there is the remains of the temple pond which supplied the water to be used for the temple and for the drinking/cooking of the staff and visitors. The pond has steps going down to the water and when we went it was in poor shape as the water had stagnated and a lot of plant growth was there. There is a small structure in the middle of the pond where it is assumed an idol was carried out and prayers were done there before taking it back to the temple. Restoration work is going on in the rest of the compound, but they haven’t gotten around to here yet as there is a lot of work remaining. My sister has been working with various folks to map, photograph and look at rejuvenating step-wells around India as they are a sustainable way of water storage and distribution. (More on water distribution later).


Remains of the temple pond, that supplied water to the Kuduregombe Mandapa

As you are walking down the road you will notice these stone pillars parallel to the road placed about 5-6 feet apart in rows. These are the remains of the market stalls that were placed for the vendors to sell their goods. Only the support structures remain as part the structure was made from wood and has decomposed over the years. The market at its peak was almost 1 kilometers long and had shops on both sides of the road. The market was host to merchants from all over the world, including Rome, Persia etc. At its peak the Vijayanagara empire was compared to the Roman empire by the traders and scholars who visited. It was rich enough that diamonds were used as decorations on the horse’s saddles and reins/bridle. In fact legend has it that Diamonds and other precious stones were actually sold by weight instead of per piece in this market because they were so common. There have been writings about this market (and others in the empire) by famous visitors from across the world. But hardly anyone knows about it.


Remains of the Market stalls

During the walk we also spotted some brightly colored lizards (Agama’s) and other wildlife and plants that Jani found to be a lot more interesting than I did. Still they all looked very pretty 🙂

Another few mins of walk brought us to the entrance of the Vitthala temple and even in it’s current state the word that came to mind when I saw it for the first time was “Impressive”. The Vitthala temple was initially built in 1422AD and expanded between 1509-1529AD out of solid granite rock. The temple is dedicated to Lord Vitthala, who is an incarnation of Lord Vishnu.


Entrance to the Vitthala temple

The temple complex is huge and a lot of restoration work is going on as parts of the temple is in ruins due to the age. Some of you might ask (as I did) why folks are not allowed to drive up to the temple and park right in front as there is enough space available there. This is not allowed because of the fear that the vibrations from the vehicles would damage the structure. Then Santhosh pointed out an ingenious method that is being used to monitor the cracks to ensure they are not expanding. In other countries, I have seen sensors being placed all over such structures to monitor the cracks, here they have taken a very thin strip of glass and stuck it over the crack. If there is any activity or increase in the crack dimension it will break the glass notifying the ASI staff that they need to check for damage. It is cheap, simple and very effective.


Cheap ‘sensor’ to monitor cracks on the structure

Once you enter the complex, the famous The Stone Chariot (Ratha) is right in front of you in the temple courtyard. The Chariot is a shrine to Garuda who is the vehicle mount (vahana) of Lord Vishnu. Garuda is also a dharma-protector and Astasena in Buddhism, and the Yaksha of the Jain Tirthankara Shantinatha. It is one of the three most famous chariots in India with the other two located in Konark and Mahabalipuram. The chariot was built by King Krishnadevaraya of the Vijayanagara Empire during the 16th century. It was created to showcase the beauty and artistic perfection of the Vijayanagara empire. The chariot is made of multiple slabs of granite but due to the skill of the craftsmen it looks like it is made from a single stone. A small example of the skill of the craftsmen is that even though the wheels of the chariot are made out of stone they were crafted in a way that they could rotate freely. (Now the wheels have been fixed in place to protect against damage). Originally the chariot had stone horses pulling it but the statues were damaged and have been replaced with elephants taken from another location.


Us at the entrance of the Temple complex with the stone chariot right behind us


The famous stone chariot

The Maha Mantapa (Great hall) of the temple is behind the Stone Chariot in the in inner courtyard. The hall is built on top of a ornately carved platform from solid granite. The whole platform is covered with images from Mythology, flowers and other designs. The Mantapa was under repair when we visited and still was one of the most impressive structures that I have seen. The hall has 16 musical pillars that have been carved from a single piece of rock, each pillar has multiple smaller pillar carved in it. The carving is done in a way that when you tap on the pillar it creates a musical sound. Each pillar produces a different musical note and there is a carving on each pillar that denotes what sound will be produced when the pillar is tapped. Imagine the skill required to carve these pillars flawlessly. During festivals and events musicians would play music for the dancers by tapping on the pillars with short sticks. The pillars in the hall are curtailed from access to prevent folks from playing music on them to protect them from further damage as they are pretty old.


Maha Mantapa, Vitthala temple


Maha Mantapa, Vitthala temple


Sounds produced by Playing the Musical Pillars

The skill of the carvers is evident from the intricately carved water channels in the platform that are part of the design (see photo below).


Carved water channel to safely channel water from rains into drainage.

Other pillars in the hall are covered with carvings that tell the story of Narasimha and parts of the structure tell the story of Hanuman’s visit to Lanka and Lanka Dahan (The burning of Lanka). What I found very interesting was the carving of the king riding a mythical creature with the parts of various animals each symbolizing a different virtue. Unfortunately I forget what each animal was supposed to represent and I will update the post once I find the details.


Carvings on the temple pillars


Carvings on the temple pillars


Carvings on the temple pillars

Another cool aspect that Santhosh pointed out was something that had never occurred to me even though I was aware of the components. He basically told us that the various avatars of Lord Vishnu tell us that our ancestors were aware of the theory of evolution and his avatars evolved over the ages to show how life evolved from marine life to the current form. Evolution teaches us that we went through the following stages of evolution and each avatar corresponds to that stage:

Marine life -> Matsa (Fish) avatar)
Amphibious Life -> Kurma (turtle avatar)
Simple Animals -> Varaha (boar avatar)
Early humans (like Australopithecus Afarensis) -> Narasimha (man-lion)
Tool Users/Farming (like Homo Habilis) -> Vamana (dwarf-god)
Warriors -> Parashurama (Brahman warrior)
Civilized Man -> Rama/Krishna


Pillar carving showing Hanuman’s Lanka Dahan

Each of the other smaller halls are also covered with carvings and paintings. If I wanted to detail each aspect of the carving this post would end up becoming a book so I am not going to do that as there are others with more knowledge who have written about the temple and what all the carvings mean. By the time we finished the complex, it was starting to get a little hot so we rested for a while next to the 100 year old Temple Flower tree and then headed back.


Ancient Temple Tree

After reaching the resort we rested for a bit. As we had to head out again (and since we were hungry from our outing) we took an early lunch and were ready for our next Trail called the “Raya Trail. This trail started with a visit to the Queen’s Bath. The Queen’s Bath was created by Achyuta Raya over 500 years ago for use by the Royal Women. It is an interesting structure surrounded by a moat on all sides which served the dual purpose of preventing any strangers from entering the building while it was in use and secondly to help cool the building during the summer days by evaporation. The building is designed in an Indo-Islamic style as during the time it was built, there was a lot of cultural exchange happening between the Vijayanagara empire and the Muslim kings (Moguls and their followers).


Carved windows in the Queen’s Bath

The center part of the structure is currently open to the air but it is believed there was a wooden canopy over the structure when it was in use. The halls around the bath have beautifully carved pillars and balconies and it is easy to imagine the splendor of the bath in it’s prime. The bath was supplied with water via ingeniously designed aqueducts and some of that original network is still in service and used to supply water to parts of the city and fields.


Ornate windows overlooking the bath at Queen’s Bath

After the bath we visited the Zanana Enclosure (Women’s Enclosure) which contained the residences of the Queen and her ladies. The enclosure is surrounded by a massive wall built to protect the women against attack while the men were away for war. Due to ravages of time only the foundations and the base of the buildings are left in the enclosure as the buildings are said to have been built using wood which decomposed over the years. The most famous structure in the enclosure is the ‘Lotus Mahal’ which was the primary residence and contains lots of geometric windows and ingeniously designed cooling pipes to reduce the temperature during the summer months.


Lotus Mahal


Carved designs around the cooling piles (that spray water)

Our next stop after the Enclosure was the ‘Elephant’s Stable’, where the king housed his famous elephants. The stable was built in the 15th century and is a massive domed structure. Each dome is a different type such as circular, octagonal or fluted. The structure was covered with plaster and Stucoo ornamentation and the remains of the same can be seen in both the exterior and interior of the stable. The mahout’s (Elephant rider/trainer) residence is right next to the stable so that they could care of the elephants.


Elephant’s Stable

After the stable, we visited the Madhava (Ranga) Temple which is famous for the Hanuman statue inside it which is over 3 meters high. The pillars in the temple are carved with depictions of Garuda, Vitthala, Hanuman and depictions of other Gods & Goddesses.


Hanuman statue inside the Madhava (Ranga) Temple

The final stop of the day was the ‘Royal Enclosure’ which was the core of the capital city of Vijayanagara. It housed over 43 buildings for the civil servants that managed the day to day running of the empire. The main entrance to the enclosure was guarded by a pair of massive gates which admitted visitors to a zig-zag area that took the visitors to the ‘Mahanavami Dibba’ platform. This platform was where the king accepted vows of fealty from his subordinates, showcased their military might and performed prayers for victory before any military campaign. Each layer of the platform is decorated with carvings showcasing the military might of the empire, their cultural achievements, representation of visitors from other nations and the tribute they offered (that included, exotic animals, dancers etc). You can see depictions of merchants and ambassadors from the Chinese, Mesopotamian, Persian and other major empires in the world.


Massive Stone Gate protecting the entrance of the Royal Enclosure


The ‘Mahanavami Dibba’ platform


Ornate carvings on the side of the ‘Mahanavami Dibba’ platform


Carving showing some of the visitors to the empire from around the world with the gifts they brought


View from the top of the Platform

Some of the other structures in the enclosure include grain storage area’s and water storage wells. Interestingly, each block of stone used to build these structures has a maker’s mark on it along with marks that tell the mason where exactly this stone was meant to be placed. In case of damage they would carve a replacement and replace that stone without having to measure the original again.


The main water storage for the Enclosure


Maker’s mark on the stone used to build the structures

The enclosure also had provision for soldiers to camp and right next to the aquaduct supplying water there is provision for the soldiers to have their meals in massive stone plates. (I am trying to convince dad to get some stone plates for home).


Massive stone plates for soldiers to have their meals on

The last stop of the day was the ‘Hazararama Temple’ that is the only temple located in the core zone of the royal Enclosure between the residential and ceremonial enclosures. The temple is dedicated to Lord Rama and is a great example of the Dravida Vimana Temple style. The temple is famous for the carvings and sculptures telling the story of Ramayana in three tiers.


The ‘Hazararama’ Temple


Carved pillars at The ‘Hazararama’ Temple

With is visit, we concluded the first day of our trails and headed back to the resort where after freshening up we rested for a little while enjoying the cool breeze and then had our dinner in the Specialty restaurant called Bahmani. Continuing with the theme of giving us a really VIP treatment the staff seated us next to a lotus pond near the window where we got to enjoy the nice breeze and watch the rain while staying dry. The food was again fantastic and we really liked the meal and the service.


Pond side seating at Bahmani for dinner

Third Day

The third day of the trip started with a heavy breakfast followed by us heading out to the ‘Virupaksha Trail’. We drove to the beginning of the trail and started with a visit to the ‘Saisivekalu Ganesha’. This is a 2.4 mtrs high statue carved from a single rock which was built around 1506 AD, as per an engraving on the rock next to the pavilion. The statue is in an open pillared pavilion that has been standing for centuries without any mortar/cement being used in it’s construction. The whole thing is balanced to an inch and even falling rocks have not damaged the structure.


the ‘Saisivekalu Ganesha’

Next to the pavilion, there are a lot of rocks which were prepared for construction and here is where I found out how the ancients broke these gigantic rocks into smaller pieces or slabs without using any kind of power tools. First they locate the fault line in the rock and carve rectangular holes in the stone using chisel & hammers. These holes are then filled with hot water and left for a bit, then they immediately fill it with cold water. They repeat this for about 10-15 days to allow the hot & cold water to expand & contract the rock to start expanding the fault line. At times, they also insert wooden pegs in the holes that are wett’ed with water which forces the wood to expand forcing the cracks to widen. Once they judge enough time has passed and the stone is ready, they use a hammer and chisel to strike hard blows at key points on the rock and it everything was done correctly the rock splits apart easily. The process was then repeated if smaller pieces of the rock were required.


Square holes in the rock made to cut the rock


Massive rock cut in half using the method above

The walk from the Ganesha statue to the Virupaksha temple is quite nice and you can see how the temples evolved over the years. In the beginning there Shiva linga is carved into the rock right in the open, then a few years/decades later the first structure is built around the idol/Shiva linga which is a simple room, with rudimentary carvings on the temple. Carvings are not very detailed because the rock is extremely hard and difficult to carve. Then the later temples built a room around the central room with additional carvings and more idols. Around this time other stones were used in the construction along with Granite so the carvings start becoming more detailed as well.


Shiva linga’s carved in the rock in the open


Single room temple


View of the Virupaksha temple from a distance

A short walk down the hill brought us to the entrance of the famous Virupaksha Temple. The Virupaksha Temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and has existed since at least the 7th century as there are records of the temple from the 7th century onwards. The temple was built by Lakkan Dandesha, under the ruler Deva Raya II of the Vijayanagara Empire. It started off as a simple shrine and over the years was built into a a huge complex during the Vijayanagara rule. The carvings of the temple are phenomenal and cover almost all the pillars and roof. The temple base is made from rock with the top portion made from brick. This allowed the architects to create very intricate carvings on the temple as brick is easy to carve and shape as compared to granite.


Inner Courtyard of the Temple complex

The temple has a lot of repeated patterns in it’s design and if you look carefully you can see the patterns demonstrate the concept of fractals. The patterns divide and repeat themselves as they become smaller and smaller. The roof of the temple is covered in beautiful paintings with some of the original colors still visible.


Carvings showing scenes from the Ramayana in original color


Roof Paintings inside the temple complex


Carved pillars in the temple.

One aspect of the temple, which is not known to many people is that it is designed in a way there is a small pinhole camera that shows us the top of the temple as an inverted image within the main temple in a small room off to one side of the main shrine. Things like this were what made it worth going on the trail with the staff from Evolve Back as they show you stuff that you would have missed otherwise.


Pinhole camera showing the top of the temple next to the shrine

The complex had a lot more decorative structures in and around it which were destroyed by the Muslim invaders in the 16th century. Which is extremely depressing when you think about it. How much of India’s culture and history was demolished by these invaders?

While walking around the complex we walked over to see the step well that functioned as the water storage area for the temple use. The structure is still in use and had fishes in it that you can feed. We didn’t but others were feeding them as we watched.

Post that we walked over to the ‘Kadalekalu Ganesha‘ statue, which is the largest Ganesha statue in South India. It towers over you at a height of 4.6 mtrs and is known as Kadalekalu Ganesha because its belly was carved in the shape of a Bengal Gram (Kadalekalu in the local language). The statue sits in a temple hall that is decorated with tall and slender granite pillars carved with various mythological characters and themes. We spent a few minutes resting in the shade here and then started the drive back to the resort.


The ‘Kadalekalu Ganesha‘ statue

On the way we stopped at the Lakshmi Narasimha Statue which is another major tourist attraction in Hampi. It is also known as the Ugra Narasimha or Angry Narasimha. It was built in 1528 AD and is dedicated to Lord Narasimha (an avatar of Lord Vishnu), and Goddess Lakshmi. The statue of Lord Narasimha is sitting sitting cross-legged position on the coil of a giant seven-headed snake Adishesha and originally had a small figure of Goddess Lakshmi sitting in his lap to keep him calm. The statue was vandalized by the Mugals during their attack and the limbs of the statue were broken along with the Lakshmi statue. The damaged Lakshmi statue is now kept in the Archaeological Museum in Kamalapura for safekeeping.


Lakshmi Narasimha / Ugra Narasimha Statue

Right next to the statue is another famous temple dedicated to Lord Shiva called Badavilinga Temple. Badavilinga is a combination of two words – Badva (Poor) and Linga (Shiva) in the local language. It is called so because legend has it that the Shivaling inside the temple was commissioned by a poor farmer lady. In her honor the temple is known as the Badavilinga Temple. The Linga in the temple is surrounded with water to keep Lord Shiva calm and control his destructive dance.


The Badavilinga Temple

Awed by this grand tour we drove back to the resort where we rested for a while before heading out for lunch. Lunch was great as usual and after a short rest we were ready to tackle the next (and the last official) Trail of the resort, the “Tungabhadra Trek“. While we were waiting to head out, Joydeep who is the General Manager for the Hampi property stopped by to check on if we were enjoying the stay. During the conversion he mentioned that they had just completed the recce for another Trail that they were planning on starting in the future which was something that most people didn’t know about. This was to a site (Hire Benakal) that contains structures between 3000 to 4000 years old with rock paintings from the same time. Since both of us love history and wanted to ensure we visited this place, we asked them if they could organize a trip for us to this place (More details in the next post). They agreed to take us out to visit the Hire Benakal but only if we extended our stay by a day because it was a half day trip to visit the location. We immediately asked the staff to extend our stay by a day and then started off for the Tungabhadra Trail.


Nandi Statue at the start of the Tungabhadra Trail

We were joined by Mr Sarath, who is the Associate Director of Conservation and Experiences on this trail along with Santhosh. We then drove over to the start of the trail which has a giant statue of Nandi at its beginning. The statue is looking towards the Vittala Temple and overlooks the entrance. This trail is a little more hiking than the other trails we did till then at Hampi but was a fairly easy climb. Due to the monsoon season starting the whole climb was through some amazing greenery and we could hear a lot of wildlife such as birds and other small animals. The area is wild enough that there have been sightings of panthers and bears at times. Near the trail there was another trail that takes you to a cave that is said to be the location where Sugriva hid from Bali during their fight and his exile. We didn’t have time to visit it, but are planning to do so during our next visit.


View of the Vittala Temple from the trail


Carved image of Vishnu (I think) on the way to the Achyutaraya Temple

A short hike brought us to the Achyutaraya Temple, which looks like the temple from the Jungle Book which is the home of King Louie. As per Santhosh this temple was the inspiration for the ruined temple in the movie. The complex is huge and mostly abandoned with hardly any visitors. There is a way to come to the temple via the river which is where the main entrance used to be. The entrance we came through was the side entrance only used when the river entrance was flooded and couldn’t be used. The complex is covered with beautiful carvings which tell the story of Ramayana. It was built in 1534 AD and is dedicated to Lord Tiruvengalanatha (a form of Vishnu). The main entrance has the remains of a massive market in front of it and traders from all over the world came there to trade.


Achyutaraya Temple, hidden in the forest


Selfie overlooking the Market at the Temple entrance.


Us overlooking the Market at the Temple entrance.


Carved Pillars inside the Achyutaraya Temple


Walking through the Market Stalls at the Temple entrance.

We walked through the complex, and over to the Kodanda Rama Temple on the banks of the Tungabhadra river. The temple overlooks the Chakratirtha, which is is considered to be one of the holiest places in Hampi. Legend says that this is the place where Lord Shiva gave the Chakra Lord Vishnu which is his most powerful weapon. While we were there some shooting was going on for some documentary and due to this we got a highly decorated Coracle instead of a plain looking one. Initially I wasn’t too interested in a coracle ride but then was convinced to go for it as it was the only way to see the ruined temple and the shiva lingas.


Overlooking the Chakratirtha


Coracle ride to the ruined temple

The coracle took us to remains of temples on the bank of the Tungabhadra river and these really detailed carvings of Gods & Goddesses done on the rock itself. A short climb brings you to the highlight of the trek which is a collection of 100 Shiva Lingas in the rock with another set of 1000 Shiva Lingas in the background. Imagine the effort and skill required to carve these without a single mistake on a surface as hard as Granite. After looking at all the amazing carvings we climbed back to the coracle and came back to the Chakratirtha from where we took another trail to the car.


Remains of the temple carvings in the rocks


100 Shiva Lingas carved in stone


1000 Shiva Lingas carved in stone

On the way back to the resort we stopped at another structure that not many people know about, this was the Akhada (a place of exercise/martial practice with facilities for boarding, lodging and training) used by the king’s soldiers and visitors who wanted to compete and show off their skills for hiring. The walls are covered with carvings showing various forms of exercise and fighting forms. Even though the place is a little overgrown it is still impressive.


Tea break at the Royal Akhada

We had a small tea break at the place before we headed back to the resort. By this time the team had confirmed our extension of stay even though we didn’t get the same room we were still glad that we got to stay another day. After a short rest, we went for dinner. Since we had liked the specialty restaurant a lot on the previous day the team again booked us for the specialty restaurant with the same seating location as the previous day. By this time a lot more people had checked in to the resort so the place was full but since we were off in our own alcove we were able to ignore the crowd and felt that we were the only people there for dinner.

Finishing dinner, we headed back to the room and crashed for the night as we had an early start the next day. This completes Part 1 of the write up of my Hampi visit. Part II focuses on the visit to Hire Benakal and will be published shortly.

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

– Suramya

PS: At ~5900 words and 59 pages long with 67 photos this is officially my longest Blog post till date.

July 5, 2021

Trek to Huliyurdurga

Filed under: Travel/Trips — Suramya @ 7:34 PM

Thanks to Covid we have been unable to go for trekking since March 2020. To give some context we normally went for a trek every month, sometimes multiple times in a month depending on how we felt. So it was quite understandable that both Jani and me were eagerly looking for going on a Trek. With the latest lockdown opening up a little, we started looking for options for a day trek. Spoke to Ayush, Akanksha and Shashank to decide a place and when they didn’t have a strong preference I selected Huliyurdurga which is a fort hill and part of the Navadurgas (9 forts) near Bangalore which are said to be erected by Kempe Gowda to protect Bangalore.

The destination is not very popular for the normal tourist crowd but is apparently quite popular with the trekking crowd. The palace is approximately 100 kms from Bangalore which made it a comfortable 2 hour drive. We started from home about 6:45am on Friday (since the weekend was still under curfew). Akankasha, Jani and me were in our car while Ayush and Shashank were on their respective bikes. I personally am not a bike fan but Shashank’s new bike looked impressive and this was a great way to inaugurate the bike.


Pic on the way just after a toll when we were waiting for the bikes to catch up

The drive was uneventful and we made good time. In the past 5-6 years I have seen the quality of roads all over India (including Karnataka) improve quite a lot so I was able to maintain a good speed.

If you are driving to the venue, I suggest that you enter the Haliyurdurga Police station as the destination since the trail is right next to the station. Once you are nearing the end of the route keep an eye on the right side of the road, as you will see the station on the right side of the road even though the map will still insist that you have another 500 mtrs or so to drive. Another landmark is the Haliyurdurga Bus station which is about 100 mtrs from the station. Just before the station on your right you will see a small concrete road take that turn. Google Maps doesn’t show that particular road as connected to the main road you are on, but you can ignore that. As soon as you turn on the road, you will see a cemetery on the right side of the road. Keep driving till you come to a fork on the road. You will need to take the right side road that appears to go through some houses. After about 500 – 1000 meters the road ends and you will see stairs going up the hill. Park your vehicle near the steps and you have reached the start of the trail.

We started climbing immediately as we were eager to start and the steps are a bit steep initially. We made good time and reached the Temple on the end of the steps quite soon. After that the hike becomes a bit more challenging. The best way to climb up is to take a left turn from the temple (there is a faded blue arrow pointing the way). If I hadn’t read about the trek before we started, we would have been sure that we were going the wrong way as the trail is quite narrow and goes through some boulders and you need to squeeze your way through. Since no one had come trekking on this trail since March 2021 due to the lockdown in Karnataka the trail was quite overgrown with a lot of thorny plants taking over the trail.


The overgrown trail


Interesting Fauna we saw on the way

After braving a lot of thorns we reached a point where it looked like we would have to hack through the overgrowth if we wanted to cross without becoming a pin-cushion. By this time all of us have had enough of the thorns and since the only knives we had were a butter knife and my credit-card knife we had to turn back. I was disappointed that we didn’t get to climb all the way to the top as the view is said to be spectacular.

Once we reached the temple, I remembered reading that there was another trail going towards the right of the temple that was supposed to take you to a nandi statue and a small pond, so we decided to take the trail on the right side. The trail was a bit less overgrown and the view on our right was quite phenomenal. After a bit of walking we reached a point where we would have to bend over in half to continue due to overgrowth and I was willing to do so but the rest of the group chickened out and so we stopped. Just before that section, there was a rock overseeing the view that looked very inviting so we took a break over there before starting back.


View from our break point


Jani Relaxing mid trail

Once we got back to the temple we started looking for somewhere we could setup our picnic and grab a bit to eat. Halfway down the stairs we found a flat section on our left side and when we explored the place we found another Temple which was in the process of being renovated. Just outside the temple there was a nice shaded area so we retrieved our picnic bag from the car and had a lovely picnic.


Selfie in front of the temple


Picnic on the rocks

The entire climb and picnic took us about an hour but with the sun right overhead it was getting to be too hot to stay. The only person comfortable with the temperature was Jani but she was overruled by the rest of us and we started back soon after we finished eating. The drive back was again quite uneventful and we made good time till we entered Bangalore city limits after which we got to enjoy the Bangalore traffic. That is one part that I hadn’t really missed during the last year and half.

Some general notes: The trail can be overgrown if not under use and I would suggest going with someone who is ok to hack and slash through the vegetation if required and in which case you would need the proper tools for the job. I would also recommend that you wear clothing that allows you to cover your body/arms even though that might be hot. This is because of the thorns on the trail, having thorns stuck in your bare skin is painful (obviously) so anything you can do to avoid it is good.

After having traveled a grand total of 24 kms during the March, April and May it was great to go on a long drive. Even though we were unable to climb to the summit it was fun enough that we are planning to visit the other 8 forts over the next few months as day trips. Since we were the only people on the entire hill and didn’t see anyone else during the entire trek we were comfortable in planning the next outing.

Jani also did a writeup of the trek that you can read here.

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

– Suramya

July 1, 2021

Never used foo/bar/baz as variable names, can I still call myself a programmer?

Filed under: Humor,My Thoughts,Techie Stuff — Suramya @ 4:14 PM

Just realized today that in my 24+ years of programming I have never named a variable foo, bar or baz. These are the goto names for placeholders in code & metaphysical variables and have decades of history behind them. Most programmers use them for temporary variables or place holders. Since I have never used them, can I still call myself a programmer? 😀

Jokes aside, you should use good variable names in your code that are meaningful, easy to read and concise. Some guidelines on how to do that are below:

Also, another point to keep in mind is to avoid acronyms that can have a different meaning in a different language or resemble rude words etc. See the screenshot below for an example of a ‘bad’ variable name:

Example of a bad variable name
Example of a bad variable name

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

– Suramya

June 30, 2021

Why Inclusion of all genders, races and people in books is important

Filed under: My Thoughts — Suramya @ 10:20 PM

There are a ton of articles and op-eds out there which talk about how important inclusion in books and media is for people to understand the other point of view and today I just wanted to talk a bit about my personal experience with this. Showcasing other points of view or identities in books is very important. I have a few examples to show how it changed the way I thought (for the better) and made me understand stuff that I was confused about earlier by making me see their point of view.

I went to US for studies when I was 18, and till then I didn’t have much exposure to gays or even knew someone who was gay. Folks in the US at that time were very concerned about gay rights and being called out as gay was a major issue. Some of the things that were normal in India such as friends (of the same gender) holding hands were problematic whereas things which were frowned upon such as friends of opposite gender holding hands were fine. Initially I was very uncomfortable with the idea of people being gay as that was something which was new for me, and I wasn’t 100% comfortable when interacting with Gay folks. Then, I was reading a book by my favorite author Mercedes Lackey called Owlsight and I saw the first reference to a gay couple (or syach as they call it in the book) and I was shocked. I went back to reread the para since I thought I must have misread the gender of both parties. That wasn’t the case and after a bit of time I continued reading the book and their sexual preference was treated as normal throughout the book and in all subsequent books in the series that I read. This got me used to the concept and by the time I finished the series I was quite ok with the concept. It also helped me get over the shock and treat the gay relationships just the way I would treat a heterosexual relationship. The problem is that there is a lot of misinformation out there about how gay people behave and there is no normalization of the fact that there are gay people in the world and that there is nothing wrong with it. When you see a gay couple in a book or a movie having a normal relationship (including fights etc) it removes the stigma of the unknown from the relationship and that is what will make the world a more accepting place. Obviously, you need to have an open mind about things and look at things from the other perspective. There are folks who claim that these books are the devil’s work and are corrupting people. If corrupting people makes the world a more accepting and happier place then so be it.

For me the three books in the ‘Last Herald Mage’ trilogy [Last Herald Mage 01] Magic’s Pawn, [Last Herald Mage 02] Magic’s Promise and [Last Herald Mage 03] Magic’s Price by Mercedes lackey (part of the series I was talking about earlier) were the most useful in understanding the issues folks went through when they had to hide a core part of who they were and when people tried to change them. The protagonist in the trilogy is a boy named Vanyel who is gay but his father is a macho man who fears and hates gay people so he asks his arms master to beat the gay out of the boy. Throughout the first book Vanyel is trying to understand why he is different and trying to please his dad unsuccessfully. Then he meets another boy and is attracted to him which is something he was taught was wrong, so he is obviously torn and has a lot of soul searching to do with a ton of self hatred and anger. Finally he is told by others that this is a normal behavior and not something to be ashamed about. Lackey does an amazing job of showcasing and highlighting the harm we do to people who are struggling with their sexual identity by forcing them to conform to a ‘normal’ behavior. I would recommend everyone read this series at least once so you know how much harm you can cause to someone when you reject who they are. These books along with others helped me quite a lot in opening my mind.

Since then I have grown quite a bit and then a new set of genders came into play and I really didn’t understand what they were. One of the examples of a gender I didn’t understand was when someone was ‘Gender-Fluid’. This was in spite of reading the definitions and articles that people wrote about it, I still didn’t understand it so I ignored it. Then I was reading [Gods of Asgard 02] The Hammer of Thor by Rick Riordan and in the book there is a character called Alex who is gender fluid and while reading the book I finally understood what it meant to be gender fluid.

I feel that I am a better person after reading these books because they made me uncomfortable and forced me to think about my preconceptions and other things. Similarly, after reading books where the primary character is a waiter or a shopaholic or a ditzy blond made these people real to me. Earlier they were people that I interacted with without thinking about them too deeply and these books made them real to me opening my mind to more possibilities and to be honest made me a better person.

There are a ton of other examples where the book is from the view point of a Person of Color or other marginalized folk and it is important that these stories are given voice and we look at stories other than from the ‘White Man’ savior perspective. There is a lot to learn when we look at those other viewpoints. Plus it lets them also know that they can be anything they want to be, they don’t have to conform to the limitations that society puts on them.

If you are interested in reading more books where the characters are realistic and natural then I suggest you check out books by Mercedes Lackey, Rick Riordan, Jim C Hines and John Scalzi (Amongst a ton of other authors). I found their books to be quite useful and fun at the same time.

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

– Suramya

June 17, 2021

Please don’t propose by putting rings in Golgappa / other food items

Filed under: My Thoughts — Suramya @ 8:08 PM

Hiding the engagement ring in food for the other person to find is a weird custom that has been made popular by the media as apparently this is supposed to be romantic. I have always found it to be extremely risky and silly. If someone decided to put an engagement ring in something I was eating there is a very high probability that I would end up eating it. I don’t think a run to the emergency room when your partner is choking is very romantic, neither is waiting for the ring to pass through the digestive system, which can take a couple of days. Once it is out it would need to be cleaned and polished again since the stomach acids would have corroded the metal. Plus I don’t think I would ever want to wear a ring that was literally shit out.

Historically, we have seen rings put in desserts, cakes, even pies. Now, in a new idiotic trend (I can’t think of any other word for this) there are people who are putting the ring in Golgappa’s. For those who don’t know what they are, they are basically a round or ball-shaped, hollow puri (a deep-fried crisp flatbread), filled with a tasty mixture of liquids (sweet/tangy), chilli power, potato, onions and chickpeas. Traditionally they are served live with someone stuffing it with the filling and the water which is then handed to you. You put the whole thing in your mouth immediately because the longer you wait the higher the probability is that the whole thing will disintegrate making a mess. WikiHow has a step by step instruction on how to eat Golgappa’s that you can check out.


Proposing with ring hidden in Golgappa

As you can see, once you get it in your hand there is very limited time to see if something else is there in it. You get it and put it in your mouth immediately after which you chew a little and swallow. If you are really lucky you will bite on the ring before you swallow but the chances of that happening are quite low. Most likely the person will end up swallowing it and there goes your whole ‘romantic’ gesture. Personally I don’t see anything romantic about getting a ring that I have to clean and wash before I can put it on. The only way this makes sense is if the ring is part of the cutlery or hidden in the napkin so that it is easily found and not a potential accident waiting to happen.

Choking on the ring is not romantic and it is not something that we should be encouraging. If you are planning to propose please skip putting the ring in food and just hand it to them when you ask them to marry you. Or like in my case propose and then go buy a ring. (Yes, I did not have a ring when I proposed. It was a very casual question and response for us). Buying a ring before hand does not make sense unless you are already talking about marriage else there is a probability that the other person will say no in which case you have a very expensive ring that needs to be returned.

There are multiple articles, and posts, and death’s that remind you how dangerous it is to put a ring in your food. So, please for everyone’s sake please stop imitating movies/TV and find ways to propose without risking a trip to the ER.

– Suramya

June 16, 2021

New material created that shows zero heat expansion from 4 to 1,400 K

Filed under: Emerging Tech,My Thoughts — Suramya @ 11:53 PM

One of the issues with high performance systems is that they generate a lot of great and heat usually causes the material they are made of to expand. Similarly cold temperatures causes materials to contract and this can cause problems because the constant expansion and contraction weakens the material. Due to this there is a lot of research that is happening to find materials that don’t expand/contract so much with temperature changes.

Researches from Australia have created a material that has zero thermal expansion. The material made out of scandium, aluminum, tungsten and oxygen did not expand or contract even when subjected to changes from 4 to 1,400 Kelvin (-269 to 1126 °C, -452 to 2059 °F). This makes it could make orthorhombic Sc1.5Al0.5W3O12 very useful for devices that need to work in extreme temperatures. This is a phenomenal achievement with a ton of uses. However the components to make the material are not cheap especially Scandium which is one of the most expensive elements currently. According to folks online it can cost about ~$120/gram so unless other elements can be used or we find a easy to mine/extract source of the metal the material is not something that we will see in general use anytime soon.

Zero thermal expansion (ZTE) is a rare physical property; however, if accessible, these ZTE or near ZTE materials can be widely applied in electronic devices and aerospace engineering in addition to being of significant fundamental interest. ZTE materials illustrate this property over a certain temperature range. Here, orthorhombic (Pnca space group) Sc1.5Al0.5W3O12 is demonstrated to deliver ZTE over the widest temperature reported to date, from 4 to 1400 K, with a coefficient of thermal expansion of αv = −6(14) × 10–8 K–1. Sc1.5Al0.5W3O12 maybe is one of the most thermally stable materials known based on the temperature range of stability and the consistent thermal expansion coefficients observed along the crystallographic axes and volumetrically. Furthermore, this work demonstrates the atomic perturbations that lead to ZTE and how varying the Sc:Al ratio can alter the coefficient of thermal expansion.

This material has a ton of uses. For example, this would be very useful in making items or structures in space. Since the temperature in space can vary from ~260 degrees Celsius in the sunlight to below -100 degrees Celsius in the shade we need materials with a low expansion coefficient. Another use case is for a coating on hypersonic jets, recently China has created a Mach 30 wind tunnel which allows them to test prototypes for planes that can fly at Mac 30. At that speed the air turns into plasma due to the friction and requires the planes to be made (or atleast coated with) a material that has low/zero heat expansion. If these planes are coated with this material then the only limitation on the speed would be how much thrust the engines can provide.

I can also see it being used for military jets/missiles etc to allow them to fly faster without damage and on rockets to make them more durable with lesser weight disadvantages.

The paper was published in Chemistry of Materials journal and though the work has a long way to go before it is commercially available it does have some fascinating potential.

Source: Extraordinary new material shows zero heat expansion from 4 to 1,400 K

– Suramya

June 15, 2021

Prehistoric humans co-existed with Neanderthals in Israel’s Negev desert around 50,000 years ago

Filed under: My Thoughts,Science Related — Suramya @ 8:20 PM

What happened to the Neanderthals is a question we have been trying to answer for decades but no sure answers. One of the questions that a lot of people have been trying to answer is whether there was any overlap with the Neanderthals and prehistoric humans and if so when did that happen. One of the more popular theories is that the modern man would have fought with the Neanderthals and killed them all in a genocidal war. Other theories postulate that there was an overlap and the two inter-bred producing the modern human.

Now thanks to precision carbon dating and secure archaeological contexts researchers have a concrete idea and proof that the two cultures overlapped around 50,000 years ago in Israel’s Negev Desert. This is fantastic news because till now we only had a vague idea of when the overlap happened but now we have proof that both sides co-existed and interacted with each other. Thanks to carbon dating we have a solid timeline of when this happened.

The study, has been published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) journal last week. I can’t find a link to the study for some reason. Will update the post with the link once I find it.

“The dating of the site to 50,000 years ago proves that modern man lived in the Negev at the same time as Neanderthal man, who we know inhabited the region in the same period. There is no doubt that, as they dwelt in and moved around the Negev, the two species were aware of each other’s existence. Our research on the Boker Tachtit site places an important, well-defined reference point on the timeline of human evolution,” said Barzilai.

Written by a large team including Weizmann’s Boaretto and the IAA’s Barzilai, the PNAS article, “The absolute chronology of Boker Tachtit (Israel) and implications for the Middle to Upper Paleolithic transition in the Levant,” describes how recent chronological studies based on radiocarbon dating from other sites in the Levant spurred the team to rethink the previously recognized dating at the Boker Tachtit site, determined from earlier excavations.

So the team, funded by the Max Planck-Weizmann Center for the Integrative Archaeology and Anthropology, conducted new excavations from 2013-2015 and gathered very small individual fragments of wood charcoal. At least a millimeter in their longest dimension, the minuscule samples were analyzed by Boaretto and her Weizmann lab.

The samples belonged to four major species: Pistacia atlantica (a species of pistachio tree), Juniperus cf phoenicea (Phoenician juniper), Tamarix sp. (tamarisk, salt cedar) and Hammada scoparia. According to the article, the radiocarbon dating samples were from clear archaeological contexts that could be associated with significant flint concentrations, which provide a source of typological dating.

The C-14 dates and the optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dates overlap between 50,000 and 44,000 years ago, a range of 6,000 years.

“We are now able to conclude with greater confidence that the Middle-to-Upper Paleolithic transition was a rather fast-evolving event that began at Boker Tachtit approximately 50-49,000 years ago and ended about 44,000 years ago,” said Boaretto in a Weizman press release.

This is very interesting and I am looking forward to reading more about the research and the implications of the same to our understanding of how we came to be.

Source: Prehistoric man lived with and loved Neanderthals in the Negev 50,000 years ago via

– Suramya

June 14, 2021

New technique Lets Users Preview Files Stored in DNA Data Storage

Filed under: Computer Hardware,Emerging Tech,Science Related — Suramya @ 7:45 AM

Using DNA for storage is an idea that has been around for a while with the initial idea of DNA storage being postulated by Richard P. Feynman in 1959. It was mostly a theoretical exercise till 1988, when researchers from Harvard and the artist Joe Davis stored an image of an ancient Germanic rune representing life and the female Earth in the DNA sequence of E.coli. After that In November 2016 (Lot more stuff happened between the two dates and you can read it all on the Wiki page), a company called Catalog encoded 144 words from Robert Frost’s famous poem, “The Road Not Taken” into strands of DNA. Pretty soon after that in June 2019, scientists reported that all 16 GB of text from Wikipedia’s English-language version have been encoded into synthetic DNA.

DNA storage has been becoming easier and cheaper as time goes on with more and more companies getting on the bandwagon. Even Microsoft has a DNA Storage Research project. However, even with all the advances so far there is a lot more work required before this becomes stable, cheap and reliable enough to be a commercial product. One of the problems that we faced with the storage in the past was that it wasn’t possible to preview the data stored in DNA. You had to open the entire file if you wanted to know what was in it. Think of trying to browse an image gallery without thumbnails, you would have to open each file to see what it was when trying to find a particular file.

Researchers from North Carolina State University have developed a way to provide previews of a stored data file similar to how a thumbnail works for image files. Basically they used the fact that when files have similar file names then the system will copy pieces of multiple data files. Till now this was a problem but the researchers figured out how to use this behavior to allow them to either open the entire file or a subset.

“The advantage to our technique is that it is more efficient in terms of time and money,” says Kyle Tomek, lead author of a paper on the work and a Ph.D. student at NC State. “If you are not sure which file has the data you want, you don’t have to sequence all of the DNA in all of the potential files. Instead, you can sequence much smaller portions of the DNA files to serve as previews.”

Here’s a quick overview of how this works.

Users “name” their data files by attaching sequences of DNA called primer-binding sequences to the ends of DNA strands that are storing information. To identify and extract a given file, most systems use polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Specifically, they use a small DNA primer that matches the corresponding primer-binding sequence to identify the DNA strands containing the file you want. The system then uses PCR to make lots of copies of the relevant DNA strands, then sequences the entire sample. Because the process makes numerous copies of the targeted DNA strands, the signal of the targeted strands is stronger than the rest of the sample, making it possible to identify the targeted DNA sequence and read the file.

However, one challenge that DNA data storage researchers have grappled with is that if two or more files have similar file names, the PCR will inadvertently copy pieces of multiple data files. As a result, users have to give files very distinct names to avoid getting messy data.

“At some point it occurred to us that we might be able to use these non-specific interactions as a tool, rather than viewing it as a problem,” says Albert Keung, co-corresponding author of a paper on the work and an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at NC State.

Specifically, the researchers developed a technique that makes use of similar file names to let them open either an entire file or a specific subset of that file. This works by using a specific naming convention when naming a file and a given subset of the file. They can choose whether to open the entire file, or just the “preview” version, by manipulating several parameters of the PCR process: the temperature, the concentration of DNA in the sample, and the types and concentrations of reagents in the sample.

The new technique is compatible with the DNA Enrichment and Nested Separation (DENSe) system that enables us to make DNA storage systems more scalable. The researchers are looking for industry partners to explore commercial viability. If things work out then maybe in the near future we could start storing data in biological samples (like spit). Although, it does sound gross to be handling spit and other bio matter when searching for saved data.

Source: New Twist on DNA Data Storage Lets Users Preview Stored Files
Paper: Nature.com: Promiscuous molecules for smarter file operations in DNA-based data storage

– Suramya

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