Suramya's Blog : Welcome to my crazy life…

August 31, 2020

World Map listing Literal Translations of Every Country’s Name

Filed under: Interesting Sites — Suramya @ 10:57 AM

‘What’s in a name? that which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet.’ a famous quote by William Shakespeare from Romeo & Juliet. When we talk about Country names it turns out that the names incorporate lots of insights into the history and culture of a place. To understand this in more detail Credit Card Compare which is an Australia-based website recently dug into the etymology of place names to create a world map that highlights the literal translation of the world’s countries names.

“We live in a time of air travel and global exploration,” the company writes in the blog. “We’re free to roam the planet and discover new countries and cultures. But how much do you know about the people who lived and explored these destinations in times past? Learning the etymology—the origin of words—of countries around the world offers us fascinating insight into the origins of some of our favorite travel destinations and the people who first lived there.”


Name translations for Asia

Some of the names are obvious and I already knew about them, others were a surprise. For example I didn’t know that Bhutan’s literally translates as “The Land of the Thunder Dragon” or that Brazil literally means “Red like an Amber”. The obvious ones are India which means “Land of the Indus” and Russia which means “Land of the Rus”

Check out the full selection at: World map: the literal translation of country names and details on origin of these names here.

– Suramya

August 30, 2020

How to write using inclusive language with the help of Microsoft Word

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

One of the key aspects of Inclusion is Inclusive language, and its very easy to use non-inclusive/gender specific language in our everyday writings. For example, when you meet a mixed gender group of people almost everyone will say something to the effect of ‘Hey Guys’. I was guilty of the same and it took a concentrated effort on my part to change my greeting to ‘Hey Folks’ and other similar changes. Its the same case with written communication and most people default to male gender focused writing. Recently I found out that Microsoft Office‘s correction tools, which most might associate with bad grammar or improper verb usage, secretly have options that help catch non-inclusive language, including gender and sexuality bias. So I wanted to share it with everyone.

Below are instructions on how to find & enable the settings:

  • Open MS Word
  • Click on File -> Options
  • Select ‘Proofing’ from the menu in the left corner and then scroll down on the right side to ‘Writing Style’ and click on the ‘Settings’ button.
  • Scroll down to the “Inclusiveness” section, select all of the checkboxes that you want Word to check for in your documents, and click the “OK” button. In some versions of Word you will need to scroll down to the ‘Inclusive Language’ section (its all the way near the bottom) and check the ‘Gender-Specific Language’ box instead.
  • Click Ok

It doesn’t sound like a big deal when you refer to someone by the wrong gender but trust me its a big deal. If you don’t believe me try addressing a group of men as ‘Hello Ladies’ and then wait for the reactions. If you can’t address a group of guys as ladies then you shouldn’t refer to a group of ladies as guys either. I think it is common courtesy and requires minimal effort over the long term (Initially things will feel a bit awkward but then you get used to it).

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

– Suramya

August 29, 2020

You can be identified online based on your browsing history

Filed under: Computer Related,Computer Software,My Thoughts,Techie Stuff — Suramya @ 7:29 PM

Reliably Identifying people online is a bedrock of the million dollar advertising industry and as more and more users become privacy conscious browsers have been adding features to increase the user’s privacy and reduce the probability of them getting identified online. Users can be identified by Cookies, Super Cookies etc etc. Now there is a research paper (Replication: Why We Still Can’t Browse in Peace: On the Uniqueness and Reidentifiability of Web Browsing Histories) that claims to be able to identify users based on their browsing histories. It is built on top of previous research Why Johnny Can’t Browse in Peace: On the Uniqueness of Web Browsing History Patterns and re-validates the findings of the previous paper and builds on top of it.

We examine the threat to individuals’ privacy based on the feasibility of reidentifying users through distinctive profiles of their browsing history visible to websites and third parties. This work replicates and

extends the 2012 paper Why Johnny Can’t Browse in Peace: On the Uniqueness of Web Browsing History Patterns[48]. The original work demonstrated that browsing profiles are highly distinctive and stable.We reproduce those results and extend the original work to detail the privacy risk posed by the aggregation of browsing histories. Our dataset consists of two weeks of browsing data from ~52,000 Firefox users. Our work replicates the original paper’s core findings by identifying 48,919 distinct browsing profiles, of which 99% are unique. High uniqueness hold seven when histories are truncated to just 100 top sites. Wethen find that for users who visited 50 or more distinct do-mains in the two-week data collection period, ~50% can be reidentified using the top 10k sites. Reidentifiability rose to over 80% for users that browsed 150 or more distinct domains.Finally, we observe numerous third parties pervasive enough to gather web histories sufficient to leverage browsing history as an identifier.

Original paper

Olejnik, Castelluccia, and Janc [48] gathered data in a project aimed at educating users about privacy practices. For the analysis presented in [48] they used the CSS :vis-ited browser vulnerability [8] to determine whether various home pages were in a user’s browsing history. That is, they probed users’ browsers for 6,000 predefined “primary links” such as www.google.com and got a yes/no for whether that home page was in the user’s browsing history. A user may have visited that home page and then cleared their browsing history, in which case they would not register a hit. Additionally a user may have visited a subpage e.g. www.google.com/maps but not www.google.com in which case the probe for www.google.com would also not register a hit. The project website was open for an extended period of time and recorded profiles between January 2009 and May 2011 for 441,627 unique users, some of whom returned for multiple history tests, allowing the researchers to study the evolution of browser profiles as well. With this data, they examined the uniqueness of browsing histories.

This brings to mind a project that I saw a few years ago that would give you a list of websites from the top 1k websites that you had visited in the past using javascript and some script-fu. Unfortunately I can’t find the link to the site right now as I don’t remember the name and a generic search is returning random sites. If I find it I will post it here as it was quite interesting.

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

– Suramya

August 28, 2020

Got my first bot response to a Tweet and some analysis on the potential Bot

Filed under: Humor,My Thoughts,Techie Stuff — Suramya @ 10:21 PM

Today I achieved a major milestone of being on the internet, 🙂 I finally had a bot/troll (potential) respond to one of my Tweets with the usual nonsense. Normally I would ignore but it was just so funny to see this response that I had to comment on it. The reply was to my Tweet about how we could potentially achieve our target of eradicating Tuberculosis by 2025 because of the masks we are wearing due to Covid-19. You see TB bacteria are spread through the air from one person to another and just like Covid TB bacteria are put into the air when a person with TB disease of the lungs or throat coughs, speaks, or sings infecting people nearby when they breathe in these bacteria. Now that wearing a mask is becoming the new normal in most parts of the world (except for some morons who don’t understand/believe science or believe that politics is stronger than science) there is a high chance that it will also reduce the spread of other illnesses spread through air.


My Tweet & the response to it

Once I saw the response, I clicked on the profile and scrolled through the posting history and saw that a majority of the posts (atleast for the amount I was able to stomach while scrolling down) were retweets of Anti-Masker, Covid denial, Pro-Trump, anti vaccine nonsense. As I needed a distraction I decided to spend a bit of time to try and identify if the account was just a stupid person or a clever bot and did a little bit of investigation on the account.

Looking at the account a couple of things stood out right from the start, the first was that the account was created in July 2020 and the username had a bunch of numbers in it which is usually the case for automatically created accounts. So I ran a query on the account via Botometer® by OSoMe which gave me a whole bunch of data on the account and there was a bunch of data that made it stand out as being a potential bot. In just over a month (5 weeks and a day to be exact) the account had tweeted 6,197 times and 2,000 times in just the past 7 days which equates to about 12 tweets every hour every day. The other data point that stood out was that the account tweeted at almost the same time every day which is usually indicative of a Bot.

Interestingly the Botometer does give the account a low possibility of being a fully automated bot but that could be just because the person running it is manually feeding the responses and having the system spray it out. Or it could be a bored person doing it for LOL’s, which is code for morons who don’t know better and think they are being ‘cool’ or ‘edgy’ or whatever. But if that’s the case then they really need to get a better hobby.

Well this is all for now. Wear a mask when you go out and stay safe.

– Suramya

PS: I have no paitience for the anti-masker/anti-vaccine/anti-science nonsense so will be deleting any comments/responses or making fun of the comments depending on my mood at the time.

August 27, 2020

Optimizing the making of peanut butter and banana sandwich using computer vision and machine learning

Filed under: Computer Related,Computer Software,Techie Stuff — Suramya @ 12:42 AM

The current Pandemic is forcing people to stay at home depriving them of activities that kept them occupied in the past so people are getting a bit stir-crazy & bored of staying at home. Its worse for developers/engineers as you never know what will come out from the depths of a bored programmer’s mind. Case in point is the effort spent by Ethan Rosenthal in writing Machine Learning/Computer Vision code to Optimizing the coverage of the banana slices on his peanut butter & Banana sandwich so that there is the same amount of banana in every mouthful. The whole exercise took him a few months to complete and he is quite proud of the results.

It’s really quite simple. You take a picture of your banana and bread, pass the image through a deep learning model to locate said items, do some nonlinear curve fitting to the banana, transform to polar coordinates and “slice” the banana along the fitted curve, turn those slices into elliptical polygons, and feed the polygons and bread “box” into a 2D nesting algorithm
[…]
If you were a machine learning model (or my wife), then you would tell me to just cut long rectangular strips along the long axis of the banana, but I’m not a sociopath. If life were simple, then the banana slices would be perfect circles of equal diameter, and we could coast along looking up optimal configurations on packomania. But alas, life is not simple. We’re in the middle of a global pandemic, and banana slices are elliptical with varying size.

The problem of fitting arbitrary polygons (sliced circular banana pieces) in a box (the bread piece) is NP-hard so the ideal solution is practically uncomputable and Rosenthal’s solution is a good approximation of the optimal solution in a reasonable time frame. The final solution is available as a command-line package called “nannernest” which takes a photo of the bread piece & banana as its argument and returns the an optimal slice-and-arrange pattern for the given combination.


Sample output created by nannernest

Check out the code & the full writeup on the project if you are interested. Even though the application is silly it’s a good writeup on using Machine Learning & Computer Vision for a project.

Source: Boing Boing

– Suramya

August 26, 2020

Relaunching Suramya’s Book Review Cafe

Filed under: Books Related,Website Updates — Suramya @ 11:15 AM

In 2010 I created a section of my website dedicated to book reviews but over the next few years that section was removed from the site. I honestly don’t remember why that happened but my best guess is that I was updating the website theme, never got around to migrating the section and then just forgot. I reviewed 71 Books during the time the site was active and looking at my logs if I had continued to review every book then I would have reviewed over 1500 books to date. 🙂

I finally revived the site over the past few days and instead of using the custom website that I had created with a bare-bones CMS system, I have switched over to WordPress as its a lot easier to manage/maintain WP sites. Migrating the old reviews was a painfully manual process where I had to export the data from the DB and then format it correctly for WordPress. Most of it I was able to automate but the Affilate links had to be manually updated and it was painful to say the least. But finally I am done and all the old reviews are imported into the updated site. Going forward I will be adding the book reviews to the site regularly.

You can access the site at: Relaunching Suramya’s Book Review Cafe.

There are some changes to the rating system that I have implemented for the reviews going forward to make the ratings easier to understand and more consistent. In the past I used a scale of 1-10 for the ratings but I will be using a scale of 1-5 (5 being the best) going forward.

Let me know if you have any questions/comments about the site or would like to give feedback on features that I should incorporate.

– Suramya

PS: This notice is duplicated on the Review site as well.

August 25, 2020

Using Bioacoustic signatures for Identification & Authentication

We have all heard about Biometric scanners that identify folks using their fingerprints, or Iris scan or even the shape of their ear. Then we have lower accuracy authenticating systems like Face recognition, voice recognition etc. Individually they might not be 100% accurate but combine one or more of these and we have the ability to create systems that are harder to fool. This is not to say that these systems are fool proof because there are ways around each of the examples I mentioned above, our photos are everywhere and given a pic of high enough quality it is possible to create a replica of the face or iris or even finger prints.

Due to the above mentioned shortcomings, scientists are always on lookout for more ways to authenticate and identify people. Researchers from South Korean have found that the signature created when sound waves pass through humans are unique enough to be used to identify individuals. Their work, described in a study published on 4 October in the IEEE Transactions on Cybernetics, suggests this technique can identify a person with 97 percent accuracy.

“Modeling allowed us to infer what structures or material features of the human body actually differentiated people,” explains Joo Yong Sim, one of the ETRI researchers who conducted the study. “For example, we could see how the structure, size, and weight of the bones, as well as the stiffness of the joints, affect the bioacoustics spectrum.”

[…]

Notably, the researchers were concerned that the accuracy of this approach could diminish with time, since the human body constantly changes its cells, matrices, and fluid content. To account for this, they acquired the acoustic data of participants at three separate intervals, each 30 days apart.

“We were very surprised that people’s bioacoustics spectral pattern maintained well over time, despite the concern that the pattern would change greatly,” says Sim. “These results suggest that the bioacoustics signature reflects more anatomical features than changes in water, body temperature, or biomolecule concentration in blood that change from day to day.”

Interestingly, while the setup is not as accurate as Fingerprints or Iris scans it is still accurate enough to differentiate between two fingers of the same hand. If the waves required to generate the Bioacoustic signatures are validated to be safe for humans over long term use, then it is possible that we will soon see a broader implementation of this technology in places like airports, buses, public area’s etc to identify people automatically without having to do anything. If it can be made portable then it could be used to monitor protests, rallies, etc which would make it a privacy risk.

The problem with this tech is that it would be harder to fool without taking steps that would make you stand out like wearing a vest filled with liquid that changes your acoustic signature. Which is great when we are just talking about authentication/identification for access control but becomes a nightmare when we consider the surveillance aspect of usage.

Source: The Bioacoustic Signatures of Our Bodies Can Reveal Our Identities

– Suramya

August 24, 2020

India has the cheapest Mobile Internet in the world

Filed under: Interesting Sites,My Thoughts,Techie Stuff — Suramya @ 2:58 PM

Internet services were launched in India on 15th August, 1995 by Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited and in November, 1998, the Government opened up the sector for providing Internet services by private operators. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Internet’s launch in India and its astounding how much the landscape has changed in the past 25 years. My first net connection in 1998 was a blazing 33.3kbps dial-up connection that cost Rs 15,000 for 250 hours, this allowed you to use graphical tools to browse the internet like Netscape (which was the precursor for Firefox). For students there was a discount pricing for Rs 5,000 for 250 hours but they only got access to text/shell based browsing.

Now, 25 years later the landscape is completely different. Internet connections costs in India are the cheapest in the world as per a recent study done for The Worldwide broadband speed league by Cable.co.uk in association with M-Lab.

Five cheapest packages in the world

The five cheapest countries in terms of the average cost of 1GB of mobile data are India ($0.09), Israel ($0.11), Kyrgyzstan ($0.21), Italy ($0.43), and Ukraine ($0.46).

Conversely to the most expensive, none of these countries are islands. Further, they all either contain excellent fibre broadband infrastructure (Italy, India, Ukraine, Israel), or in the case of Kyrgyzstan rely heavily on mobile data as the primary means to keep its populace connected to the rest of the world.

This is based on sampling done in Feb 2020

Rank Name Plans measured Average price of 1GB (local currency) Currency Conversion rate (USD) (Frozen 27/04/2020) Average price of 1GB (USD) Cheapest 1GB (Local currency) Cheapest 1GB for 30 days (USD) Most expensive 1GB (Local currency) Most expensive 1GB (USD) Sample date
1 India 60 6.66 INR 0.01 0.09 1.63 0.02 209.09 $2.75 14/02/2020

If you compare the costs to prices in the US, you will notice that Internet (data) is significantly more expensive in the US as opposed to India.

Rank Name Plans measured Average price of 1GB (local currency) Currency Conversion rate (USD) (Frozen 27/04/2020) Average price of 1GB (USD) Cheapest 1GB (Local currency) Cheapest 1GB for 30 days (USD) Most expensive 1GB (Local currency) Most expensive 1GB (USD) Sample date
188 United States 29 8.00 USD 1.00 8.00 2.20 2.20 2.20 $60.00 24/02/2020

The cheap internet data connections in India is completely due to Reliance Jio. Till Jio launched their services in September 2016 the cost for 1GB of data was Rs 249 for 1GB (Airtel/Idea) & Rs. 251 for 1GB (Vodaphone). After Jio launched all other ISP’s starting loosing customers to Jio at an astronomical rate and had to cut prices in order to stay in business. Now, 4 years later we have the cheapest data in the world at ~Rs 6 per GB. 🙂 This proves that healthy competition is the best way to get good service at a competitive pricing. If there was a monopoly then they can choose the pricing as per their desire and since folks don’t have an alternate option they have to use their services.

Check out the full report at: Worldwide mobile data pricing: The cost of 1GB of mobile data in 228 countries.

– Suramya

August 23, 2020

Mozilla Thunderbird has a ‘Link Mismatch Detection’ feature to protect from Phishing & Scams

Filed under: Computer Software,Techie Stuff — Suramya @ 10:03 PM

Yesterday I was trying to register for a new service and as always I had to share my email address and wait for the confirmation/validation email to verify that the email address I had provided was a valid one. Once I finally got the email it had a clickable link to validate my email address that looked like the screenshot below:


Clickable link for email address validation

Since this was an email I was expecting and wanted to create an account, I clicked on the link and got a surprise. Instead of immediately taking me to the link I had clicked on Thunderbird popped up the following pop-up telling me that the link was taking me to another website than what the link text was indicating. This is new behavior that I believe was implemented in Thunderbird 68 but haven’t found the release notes confirming it. (I didn’t really spend a lot of time searching to be honest)


Link Mismatch Detected

In this case it was a benign reason because the link was taking me to a tracking site before redirecting to the email confirmation page. But the benefits are immediately obvious as this would flag the links on the phishing/scam emails that pretend to come from a bank/email provider/facebook but redirect users to a Phishing site and prompt users to verify if they are going to the correct site.

Unfortunately the fix is not perfect and needs more work as this would include all links in newsletters etc that include tracking links (which is pretty much all of them). If users constantly get the popup then there is a high probability that they will get conditioned to click on the First button to go the site the link is taking you to without reading the text fully.

Some of the users will find this to be annoying and want to disable it, so below are the steps to disable the Phishing checks in Thunderbird (not recommended). Only make this changes if you are absolutely sure of what you are doing and take full responsibility of the fact that you disabled the Phishing checks. I will not be responsible if you disable the checks and then end up with an empty bank account after having your account Phished. Also, I found the instructions on the Mozilla Forum but haven’t tried them myself so like anything else you find on the internet please validate the steps and only follow if you are sure that they are safe :).

There are four phishing preferences.

* mail.phishing.detection.enabled

i.e. Tools > Options > Security > Email Scams > Tell me if the message I’m reading is a suspected email scam

* mail.phishing.detection.ipaddresses
* mail.phishing.detection.mismatched_hosts
* mail.phishing.detection.disallow_form_actions

Try setting the mail.phishing.detection.mismatched_hosts preference to false in the about:config window, then restart and test again.

It’s great that the Thunderbird team is adding more and more features to make email safer. Looking forward to more such features in TB.

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

– Suramya

August 22, 2020

Bangla TV thinks that Scotch Brite scrubs are a valid replacement for defibrillator’s

Filed under: Humor — Suramya @ 11:59 PM

A lot of times TV Serials, moveis take liberties with facts and sometimes even with common sense which is understandable. However there are instances where you see something and go What The Hell did I just see… Case in point is the following screenshot taken from a Bangla TV serial in India. 🙂 I guess they didn’t want to spend the effort to get something that looked like shock paddles of a defibrillator so they used whatever was closest to hand not realizing that people would notice. 🙂


Scotch Brite can now restart your heart and help keep your bathroom clean at the same time.

This is why you need someone to proof watch your shoots before you make them public.

– Suramya

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