Suramya's Blog : Welcome to my crazy life…

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

June 13, 2021

How Goats Could Help Prevent California Wildfires

Filed under: My Thoughts — Suramya @ 7:42 PM

We always seem to be trying to create artificial ways of doing things which nature does in a more efficient way. For example, bee’s are very good at pollinating flowers, but they are endangered. However, instead of trying to save the bees people decided to try creating artificial bees. Another example is using people with axes and wood chippers to clean up the underbrush in the California forests instead of natural means. Obviously that approach is quite labour intensive and expensive so folks have been looking for other options.

In California they finally realized that all they had to do was release a bunch of goats in the forest and they would eat all the underbrush that was a fire hazard. During a test near Lake Oroville in Northern California, between 350 and 400 goats cleared nearly five acres of land which is a lot cheaper and more efficient than using humans. It is ecofriendly, you don’t have any major running costs (other than overseeing the goats) and the output from all the feeding is good fertilizer.

The initiative is part of the state’s “Fuel Load Management Plan,” started in 2012, which is aimed at reducing large patches of overgrowth throughout the state — a major source of fuel to wildfire spread. Originally, the state used boots-on-the-ground crews of people armed with chainsaws and wood chippers to clear brush. But California has decided that in some areas, it’s goats, not humans, that can help the most. “They eat everything,” Kryssy Mache, an environmental scientist at the California Department of Water Resources, told VICE News. And they can also reach up to five feet in the air to nibble tree branches. “It’s just another cool concept that we’re using. It’s not just humans going out and making the difference — we can also use goats.” But the goats are usually just Phase One. In the fall, human crews will come in and trim up area that goats cleared to ensure it remains less vulnerable to fire, according to the DWR.

Humans will still be required for the final clean up but the effort is a lot less than what would be needed without the goats clearing the way first.

Source: How an Army of Goats Could Help Prevent California Wildfires

– Suramya

June 12, 2021

Linus educates anti-vaxxer on Linux Kernel Mailing list

Filed under: Interesting Sites,My Thoughts,Techie Stuff — Suramya @ 4:36 AM

There have been times in the past when Linus’s posts on the Linux Kernel mailing list have been less than polite and he was in fact asked to stop abusing colleagues on mailing lists. He then took a break from maintaining the kernel and took empathy training. Since then his responses have been pretty restrained and polite (for the most part). However, a few days ago someone named “Enrico Weigelt” posted a typical anti-vaxxer message on the Linux Kernel Mailing list:

> And I know *a lot* of people who will never take part in this generic
> human experiment that basically creates a new humanoid race (people
> who generate and exhaust the toxic spike proteine, whose gene sequence
> doesn’t look quote natural). I’m one of them, as my whole family.

This was in response to folks asking if the rising number of vaccinated people meant that the “Maintainers / Kernel Summit 2021″ would be an in-person event or if it would remain a virtual one for now. Linus responded to his message with his customary wit and technical response (though not as ‘colorful’ as his past responses).

I love that he started off his response with a blunt statement:

Please keep your insane and technically incorrect anti-vax comments to yourself.

You don’t know what you are talking about, you don’t know what mRNA
is, and you’re spreading idiotic lies. Maybe you do so unwittingly,
because of bad education. Maybe you do so because you’ve talked to
“experts” or watched youtube videos by charlatans that don’t know what
they are talking about.

Then he went on to explain what mRNA does and how it doesn’t stay in your body for more than a couple of days. You can read the full response below. I am posting a copy here so that I can refer people who send me anti-vaxx nonsense to it. Vaccines save lives. That is a fact. The study that links vaccines to autism has been debunked so many times that it is not even funny. But still there are people who fall for the trap. The problem is that the science is complicated enough that people don’t understand it and the denialist’s use simple language that is easy to understand (even though it is wrong). This makes it easy for people to think they understand the science behind it and become rabid anti-vaxxers.

Dealing with conspiracy theorists is difficult and I usually end up ignoring them or yelling at them. The lovely @OkieSpaceQueen has a great thread on talking to conspiracy theorists that I found very useful, along with their earlier thread focusing on how to talk to Flat Earther’s. They are a lot more patient than what I usually am and I am going to try to use the techniques in the thread going forward.

All that being said, I just want to close with a request to get vaccinated as quickly as possible. It can and does save lives.

On Thu, Jun 10, 2021 at 11:08 AM Enrico Weigelt, metux IT consult
wrote:
>
> And I know *a lot* of people who will never take part in this generic
> human experiment that basically creates a new humanoid race (people
> who generate and exhaust the toxic spike proteine, whose gene sequence
> doesn’t look quote natural). I’m one of them, as my whole family.

Please keep your insane and technically incorrect anti-vax comments to yourself.

You don’t know what you are talking about, you don’t know what mRNA
is, and you’re spreading idiotic lies. Maybe you do so unwittingly,
because of bad education. Maybe you do so because you’ve talked to
“experts” or watched youtube videos by charlatans that don’t know what
they are talking about.

But dammit, regardless of where you have gotten your mis-information
from, any Linux kernel discussion list isn’t going to have your
idiotic drivel pass uncontested from me.

Vaccines have saved the lives of literally tens of millions of people.

Just for your edification in case you are actually willing to be
educated: mRNA doesn’t change your genetic sequence in any way. It is
the exact same intermediate – and temporary – kind of material that
your cells generate internally all the time as part of your normal
cell processes, and all that the mRNA vaccines do is to add a dose
their own specialized sequence that then makes your normal cell
machinery generate that spike protein so that your body learns how to
recognize it.

The half-life of mRNA is a few hours. Any injected mRNA will be all
gone from your body in a day or two. It doesn’t change anything
long-term, except for that natural “your body now knows how to
recognize and fight off a new foreign protein” (which then tends to
fade over time too, but lasts a lot longer than a few days). And yes,
while your body learns to fight off that foreign material, you may
feel like shit for a while. That’s normal, and it’s your natural
response to your cells spending resources on learning how to deal with
the new threat.

And of the vaccines, the mRNA ones are the most modern, and the most
targeted – exactly because they do *not* need to have any of the other
genetic material that you traditionally have in a vaccine (ie no need
for basically the whole – if weakened – bacterial or virus genetic
material). So the mRNA vaccines actually have *less* of that foreign
material in them than traditional vaccines do. And a *lot* less than
the very real and actual COVID-19 virus that is spreading in your
neighborhood.

Honestly, anybody who has told you differently, and who has told you
that it changes your genetic material, is simply uneducated. You need
to stop believing the anti-vax lies, and you need to start protecting
your family and the people around you. Get vaccinated.

I think you are in Germany, and COVID-19 numbers are going down. It’s
spreading a lot less these days, largely because people around you
have started getting the vaccine – about half having gotten their
first dose around you, and about a quarter being fully vaccinated. If
you and your family are more protected these days, it’s because of all
those other people who made the right choice, but it’s worth noting
that as you see the disease numbers go down in your neighborhood,
those diminishing numbers are going to predominantly be about people
like you and your family.

So don’t feel all warm and fuzzy about the fact that covid cases have
dropped a lot around you. Yes, all those vaccinated people around you
will protect you too, but if there is another wave, possibly due to a
more transmissible version – you and your family will be at _much_
higher risk than those vaccinated people because of your ignorance and
mis-information.

Get vaccinated. Stop believing the anti-vax lies.

And if you insist on believing in the crazy conspiracy theories, at
least SHUT THE HELL UP about it on Linux kernel discussion lists.

Linus

Original thread Linus’s response on Linux Kernel mailing list to Anti-vaxxer message

– Suramya

June 11, 2021

Dangers of online ‘free’ html editing services: Your site is now part of SEO scam for shady services

Filed under: Computer Tips,My Thoughts,Techie Stuff — Suramya @ 10:52 PM

There are a lot of free services available online for various tasks that historically required you to download and install software. For example, if you want to convert a .doc file to pdf or if you wanted to edit your image or even clean up / optimize your HTML files, you can use online free services for it. As with anything you need to take a look at who is running the site before you decide to upload your personal data to it. In addition it might be a good idea to take a look at the privacy policy & data retention policy of any such sites before you use them. If a site doesn’t have a privacy policy/data retention policy and wants you to upload your private data/files to it then it is a red flag.

Most recent case of such a misuse came into my notice a few days ago, where a few of the highly-ranked online tools for editing / cleaning your html code were secretly injecting scam/spam links into the code being edited to push themselves and their affiliated sites up the search engine rankings. SEO or Search Engine Optimization gives extra weight to sites that are linked to from other legitimate sites and when a html cleaner program adds links to their solutions into each site/page that they are editing they get a leg up on every other product because their have a lot more weighted links than their competition. (Links to the site are not the only thing SEO use to raise their profile but SEO optimization is a huge topic that I won’t be covering here in this post).

Caspar over at casparwre.de found this out while trying to figure out why he couldn’t be the top result for ‘online scoreboard’ on Google. You can check out the full write up here

For instance, I saw a blog post from the German Football Association containing a link to Scorecounter. The word that was linked was “score” – yet having a link here made absolutely no sense in the context of the article. What was going on? 🤔

Here are some more examples of links I found on random domains (you need to search for “score” on the page).

Macworld Shop
NBC Washington
RICE University (The link has now been removed)
Intuit Quickbooks (The link has now been removed)


So that was the secret: the creators of Scorecounter also made an online HTML editor which injects links for certain keywords. The beauty of this scam is that by injecting links to their own HTML editor, they have created a brilliant positive feedback loop: the higher the editor rises in the search rankings, the more people use it and the more secret links they can inject.

In one way this is a fantastic (if shady) way to ensure that your product is at the top of any search for a given text/question. But usually it is only a matter of time before people figure it out and then you loose a lot of goodwill and get a reputation for shady practices. How many people will continue to use their product if they knew that their site will be used to hawk products that they personally have not selected/validated?

I took a look at the privacy policy and the general website over at: html-cleaner.com and they don’t have any note letting people know that the site introduces links to it’s own services and other sites into your text. This is shady behavior. Some of the reputable sites that I have seen in the past, let you know that they will be adding a subtext or a note at the bottom of the page being edited stating that it was created using xyz service. Adding the links into the text of the site makes it seem that the owner of the site is endorsing the service, which obviously isn’t the case here.

To close the post, I just want to say you need to be careful where you upload data or what program you are using to edit/create things because if it is created by people with bad ethics they can and often do steal your private data or modify your data or use it for purposes other than what you intended when uploading it.

– Suramya

June 10, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Suramya

June 8, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Suramya

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