Suramya's Blog : Welcome to my crazy life…

October 31, 2023

Firefox built-in local translation works quite well

Filed under: Tech Related — Suramya @ 11:59 PM

Firefox recently released Firefox 118 and one of the interesting features in the release was the inclusion of the local translation of websites. Meaning that all the translation was done locally on the machine running Firefox without sending the content to an external service such as Google Translate.

I have been using it infrequently and am impressed with the quality of the translations. Historically the local translation tools don’t seem to be able to translate well and most of the times we end up with a literal translation of each word. Firefox translate is high quality and uses language packs, which the user has to download once to the local system. Post which the system can start translating websites. The supported languages in the initial release were English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Polish and Bulgarian. Support for additional languages is being added in an iterative manner.

The next release of Firefox (120) will have support for new languages: Catalan, Czech, Estonian, Finnish, Hungarian, Icelandic, Norwegian (Bokmål and Nynorsk), Persian, Russian, Ukrainian. You can try them out in the nightly build but the support is still a work in progress and not ready for prime time use. I am waiting for support for the Indian languages to be added along with support for pages which have content in a mix of languages.

You should download the latest version of Firefox and try it out. It is free and doesn’t have all the monitoring tools that Chrome has built-in.

– Suramya

October 30, 2023

Sari as a Halloween costume? Why not if done tastefully

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

Using images/costumes/concepts from another culture as a sort of fancy dress can be a tricky thing and if done incorrectly it can be incredibly offensive but if done with the right attitude and respect it can be awesome. Whenever we travel if there is an opportunity to dress up in the local dress, try the local food etc we both jump on it as it is a way to experience the local culture.

The following was posted in one of the Groups I am part of:

Would you mind if someone wore a sari as a costume to a Halloween Party?

My answer to that is that if it is done in a respectful manner then why not? On the other hand if the person wearing it is playing on the stereotypes and negative connotations then they should be called out on it. You can easily figure out what the person wearing the dress is trying to portray and depending on that they should be called out if needed. Do note that there are times when people will unintentionally make a faux-pas or propagate stereotypes and that should be handled differently by explaining to them why something is not appropriate.

If you are planning on wearing something from a different tradition, you should think about asking a native from that tradition if something is appropriate or not. I have answered multiple questions on Indian ethnic wear when I was in the US and while visiting other countries. If you don’t know anyone from that culture you should do a basic search on the internet to understand/check if a particular costume is ok.

What I find interesting is that in a lot of these cases, the native (people from the original culture) are ok with folks dressing up in their traditional wear but there will be a bunch of people (usually white) who will claim that this is cultural appropriation and create a fuss.

I am not saying that cultural appropriation is not a big problem (It is) but the solution to that is not gatekeeping and stopping people from exploring other cultures.

– Suramya

October 29, 2023

What Happens to a Werewolf if they are on the Moon?

Filed under: Interesting Sites,My Thoughts — Suramya @ 12:15 AM

@SpeakerToManagers shared a very interesting link on Mastodon where Scientific American’s researchers talk about What Happens to a Werewolf on the Moon? assuming a reality where Werewolves are real.

On the other paw, shortly after the monthly sunrise, the entire landscape surrounding our future lycanaut will be lit by the sun, which could then trigger the change; from their view, the entire moon would be illuminated, so it would be, by some definition, full. This could mean that the danger would be hugely amplified because the transformation wouldn’t last a mere terrestrial night but an entire lunar day, which is two weeks in duration. The carnage would be literally unearthly.

The questions raised where quite fun and it is an interesting what if question.

– Suramya

October 28, 2023

New tool called Nightshade allows artists to ‘poison’ AI models

Filed under: Artificial Intelligence,Tech Related — Suramya @ 12:20 AM

Generative AI has burst into the scene with a bang and while the Image generation tech is not perfect yet it is getting more and more sophisticated. Due to the way the tech works, the model needs to be trained on existing art and most of the models in the market right now have been trained on artwork available on the internet whether or not it was in the public domain. Because of this multiple lawsuits have been filed against AI companies by artists.

Unfortunately this has not stopped AI models from using these images as training data, so while the question is being debated in the courts, the researchers over at University of Chicago have created a new tool called Nightshade that allows artists to poison the training data for AI models. This functionality will be an optional setting in the their prior product Glaze, which cloak’s digital artwork and alter its pixels to confuse AI models about its style. Nightshade goes one step further by making the AI learn the wrong names for objects etc in a given image.

Optimized prompt-specific poisoning attack we call Nightshade. Nightshade uses multiple optimization techniques (including targeted adversarial perturbations) to generate stealthy and highly effective poison samples, with four observable benefits.

  • Nightshade poison samples are benign images shifted in the feature space. Thus a Nightshade sample for the prompt “castle” still looks like a castle to the human eye, but teaches the model to produce images of an old truck.
  • Nightshade samples produce stronger poisoning effects, enabling highly successful poisoning attacks with very few (e.g., 100) samples.
  • Nightshade samples produce poisoning effects that effectively “bleed-through” to related concepts, and thus cannot be circumvented by prompt replacement, e.g., Nightshade samples poisoning “fantasy art” also affect “dragon” and “Michael Whelan” (a well-known fantasy and SciFi artist).
  • We demonstrate that when multiple concepts are poisoned by Nightshade, the attacks remain successful when these concepts appear in a single prompt, and actually stack with cumulative effect. Furthermore, when many Nightshade attacks target different prompts on a single model (e.g., 250 attacks on SDXL), general features in the model become corrupted, and the model’s image generation function collapses.

In their tests the researchers poisoned images of dogs to include information in the pixels that made it appear to an AI model as a cat. After sampling and learning from just 50 poisoned image samples, the AI began generating images of dogs with strange legs and unsettling appearances. After 100 poison samples, it reliably generated a cat when asked by a user for a dog. After 300, any request for a dog returned a near perfect looking cat.

Obviously this is not a permanent solution as the AI training models will start working on fixing this issue immediately and then the whack-a-mole process of fixes/updates to one up will continue (similar to how virus & anti-virus programs have been at it) for the foreseeable future.

Full paper: Prompt-Specific Poisoning Attacks on Text-to-Image Generative Models (PDF)
Source: Venturebeat: Meet Nightshade, the new tool allowing artists to ‘poison’ AI models

– Suramya

October 27, 2023

Tech Bro discovers Hanging out

Filed under: Humor,My Thoughts — Suramya @ 10:58 AM

The more I read about these so called geniuses or TechBro’s as they are called, the more I feel that they are living in their own fantasy world with little to no contact with the actual real world. Take the following as an example:

Tech Bro discovers Hanging out

What he is describing in fancy words is a group of friends hanging out, something that I have been doing since the late 80’s and others have been doing for millennia. Other such geniuses have re-invented the bus, dorms, Roommates etc etc etc.

They are so out of touch and surrounded by yes-men that they think they are the world’s smartest and have the cure for all ills. Not realized that they are just regurgitating fixes for problems that have been solved for years or rebranding things people have been doing for ages.

– Suramya

October 26, 2023

Its ok to ask questions about basic stuff that ‘everyone’ knows about

Filed under: My Thoughts,Tech Related — Suramya @ 12:12 PM

There is a well known meme where people talk about how the questions they asked were ‘cringe’ and make fun of the questions people ask. One such example is the comic below that showed up in my feed. Here the refrain is that having to read all the questions that someone has posted on Google/ChatGPT about programming is equivalent to Torturing them because of the implication being that the questions were so basic that everyone should know the answer to them. I get that people are trying to be funny but there is a problem with these kinds of posts because it actively discourages people from asking questions, it builds the narrative that people who post ‘stupid’ questions are not smart and their questions are cringe. It actively promotes the imposter syndrome because people start thinking that they don’t know much when they have to search for ‘basic’ stuff.

Let the torture commence. Let’s reveal all the coding related questions you asked on Google and ChatGPT

Instead I prefer the XKCD approach called the 10,000.

In this strip, Randall presents a mathematical argument against the idea of making fun of people for their ignorance.

There are so many things that I know that others don’t, just as there are so many things that you know that I don’t know. This is because each of us has different life experiences/upbringing etc. Expecting everyone to know the same things as you do is super egoistical.

I have been a developer for about 25+ years now and still I look up syntax when I am coding. Knowing the proper syntax for a command doesn’t make you a programmer, knowing what command/logic to use is what makes a programmer. I can always look up the syntax but the basic logic to solve the problem is something that I have to come up with and that is what I usually test when interviewing people. I need people who can solve problems not someone who can regurgitate the syntax for a function in C++/Python.

When I was in high-school (10th Standard) my senior project was to create an address book where we used the locate command quite extensively to make the output pretty (this was in GW-BASIC). So in my preboard exams, during the viva I was asked to give the syntax of the locate command. I always got confused on the parameters for this function and couldn’t remember if it was LOCATE [row][,[col] or LOCATE [col],[row]. I guessed and gave the wrong order so the teacher told me that she doubted that I had coded the program as I didn’t even know the syntax of the command. I responded by telling her that I don’t need to remember the syntax because I can refer to the book when I need to know the syntax but the logic of the program is what I focused on and challenged her to quiz me on that. I remember she was pretty taken aback by this and I did get a good score on the viva but she told me not to be so blunt during the actual board exam viva’s.

I have sat in meetings where people have talked about concepts or used examples I had no clue about and sometimes I would interrupt to ask for clarifications and in other times I would make a note and do lot of research before the next meeting so I understood what we were talking about. I am not saying that people shouldn’t do research or put in effort before asking questions. I am saying that we need to be supportive of new comers into the field who don’t have the experience to know all the things that might be obvious to you. In the past I used to refer folks to the How To Ask Questions The Smart Way by Eric Steven Raymond & Rick Moen when I talked about how to ask questions. However as I have gotten older and more experienced I find that while the FAQ has some good points it is absolutely condescending and not really the right approach to asking questions. So Instead of that I now refer people to Julia Evan’s post on How to ask good questions.

How to ask Good Questions

Teaching people that it is ok to ask questions is an important part of being a mentor and training the next generation.

– Suramya

October 25, 2023

Pepper X crowned the new hottest pepper in the world by Guinness World Records

Filed under: My Thoughts — Suramya @ 12:42 AM

There is a new chili in town that has wrested the crown for the spiciest chili in the world from Carolina Reaper which was the previous record holder. Ed Currie, the creator of Carolina Reaper outdid themselves and after a decade of effort created Pepper X. Pepper X measures an average of 2.693 million Scoville Heat Units whereas the Carolina Reaper averaged ~1.64 million SHUs. Since the Scoville scale is logarithmic that translates to it being three times hotter than a Reaper.

I really really want to try it, but considering that the reaper was almost too spicy for me to eat, not sure if it is a good idea 🙂 When I told Jani about this, she told me that I was crazy to want to eat this and to stay away from her if I am eating the chili.

Although I don’t think I would ever want to eat the chili raw, instead I would make it into a pickle and then eat it just like what I do with the bhut jolokia (Ghost Pepper) which used to be the spiciest chili in the world till 2017 and is now the 4th spiciest chili in the world. Every time anyone I know goes to North East India I ask them to get me some of it which I then send to my mom to make into my favorite pickle. (Indian Pickle not the US Pickle)

I wonder if I can get someone to carry it from the US for me. Not sure that will be allowed because of the bio containment rules. Unless I get it in a dried/powered version which is usually not that good. But lets see…

Source: BBC: Guinness World Records crowns new hottest pepper

– Suramya

October 24, 2023

Blogging Risk vs Reward?

Filed under: My Thoughts — Suramya @ 12:41 PM

There is an ongoing thread on HackerNews talking about why Blogging is not as popular as it used to and asks why people no longer blog for the hell of it. The post itself is interesting but one of the comments on the page caught my eye and prompted this post:

I to some extent agree. A blog can be an attack surface for someone wishing to doxx you, a point of failure for potential employers, or perhaps an opportunity to open yourself up to criticism for the local equivalent of your knitting community when they’re having a purity spiral.

You could, of course, keep to the driest topics, the most tamed opinions, nothing spicier than an animal cracker, but for some this self-censorship of “your most honest, primitive, real thoughts” (to quote Naked Lunch) is tantamount to a sin, just one step up from lying to your diary.

If you are trying to keep it safe, are you truly communicating what is on your mind, or are you pasteurizing your output, homogenizing it, adding a touch of gamma radiation and a run through the freeze-drier, until the final result is palatable pablum, certainly inoffensive and low-residue, but ultimately unworth either consumption or production?

Blogging seems to have shifted on the risk/reward scale and people have responded as such. A pity.

I see that a lot of people agree with this idea that the only way people can blog without being ‘cancelled’ or being called out is to post bland ‘non-controversial’ posts instead of “your most honest, primitive, real thoughts”. In my experience most of the people who are complaining that they can’t write what they want without getting called out or getting into trouble are folks who want to post racist/misogynist/mean posts with impunity and are upset that they are being called out on their posts and are facing the consequence of their actions. In the past week I remember reading about 2 people who got fired because they posted racist crap on the web and got called out for it. These are some of the examples people quote when talking about not being able to post what they think.

Over the past 19 years, I have posted on a lot of topics that can be deemed controversial such as my thoughts on Vaccination, gender equality, race, misogyny etc etc and so far not much splash back has occurred. I have gotten a few folks you have reached out and yelled at me for stuff I posted that they didn’t like but overall that has been rare. (I do have the advantage of being a guy and not someone who is famous so I have managed to avoid the troll farms/targeted harassment campaigns).

I am not saying that I am not careful about what I post online especially when I am being sarcastic or being a smartass, as John Scalzi famously said “Failure mode of Clever is Asshole”, so I try to ensure I stay in the clever part of the equation :). I do run some of my posts past Jani when I think I need a second opinion on how they can be interpreted but that doesn’t mean that I censure what I say. I just ensure that posts come across as clear as possible while remaining non-inflammatory/rude/non-obnoxious. There have been times when I failed in this and there will be times I will fail in the future as well. I just need to ensure that I own up to any mistakes or issues caused by my posts, apologize and ensure that they are not repeated.

What some people call cancel culture, is basically people having to deal with the consequences of their actions and they don’t like that much…

– Suramya

October 23, 2023

HashiCorp CEO attempts to gaslight folks into believing that foundations of Open Source are bad

Filed under: My Thoughts,Tech Related — Suramya @ 10:03 PM

On August 10, 2023, HashiCorp decided to change the license for its products (including Terraform) from the open source under the MPL v2 license to a non-open source BSL v1.1 license, starting from the next (1.6) version. This change was met with widespread vocal opposition from the community and when HashiCorp refused to reconsider, the community decided to take action and forked the last stable version of Terraform into a new solution called OpenTofu (Yes really…) and almost immediately over 100 companies, 10 projects, and 400 individuals pledged their time and resources to keep Terraform open-source and the number is growing fast.

With more and more companies looking at alternatives, The Stack has published an interview with the HashiCorp CEO. I am having a hard time figuring out if this is a Troll piece in line with The Onion or an actual interview, because the quotes in the interview are mind boggling. From the interview:

HashiCorp’s CEO predicted there would be “no more open source companies in Silicon Valley” unless the community rethinks how it protects innovation, as he defended the firm’s license switch at its user conference this month.

Every company I have worked with over the decade has worked with Open Source software and companies and I don’t think a single one would make a statement like what he is claiming.

While open source advocates had slammed the license switch, McJannet described the reaction from its largest customers as “Great. Because you’re a critical partner to us and we need you to be a big, big company.”

Indeed, he claimed that “A lot of the feedback was, ‘we wished you had done that sooner’” – adding that the move had been discussed with the major cloud vendors ahead of the announcement.

“Every vendor over the last three or four years that has reached any modicum of scale has come to the same conclusion,” said McJannet.

Here’s my personal favorite:

He said the Linux Foundation’s adoption of Open Tofu raised serious questions. “What does it say for the future of open source, if foundations will just take it and give it a home. That is tragic for open source innovation. I will tell you, if that were to happen, there’ll be no more open source companies in Silicon Valley.”

Because foundations allow communities to continue with products they love and built even when corporate’s try to lock them in a closed garden, it is apparently a bad thing. Yes, it is a bad thing for folks who want to just take advantage of the community, enshittify the product while making money and ignoring the needs of the community. Open Source allows people to fork the product (which was built with Open Source contributions), keep it free and out of the greedy hands of corporate CEOs. That’s the beauty of Open Source and this article is a poor attempt to gaslight folks into believing that this is a bad thing.

– Suramya

October 19, 2023

How to approach a topic to make learning hard things easy?

Filed under: Interesting Sites,My Thoughts,Tech Related — Suramya @ 7:16 PM

Talking about complicated topics is hard. I remember reading somewhere that if you can’t explain what you do in simple enough terms that a grandmother can understand it then you don’t know enough about what you are doing. Unfortunately I can’t find the original quote but if you think about it, it makes sense. People who don’t understand a given topic in depth will revert to using acronyms or jargon to explain what they do. Folks who do understand will be able to explain it using small words and concepts. The best example of this is the Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words a book by Randall Munroe from the XKCD fame. In the book, things are explained in the style of Up Goer Five, using only drawings and a vocabulary of the 1,000 (or “ten hundred”) most common words. Explore computer buildings (datacenters), the flat rocks we live on (tectonic plates), the things you use to steer a plane (airliner cockpit controls), and the little bags of water you’re made of (cells). My Niece and Nephew love the book and refer to it regularly.

Julia Evans recently gave a talk on Making Hard Things Easy that everyone should listen to or read, since she also gave a transcript. Which was awesome else I would have missed out on this great talk. She talks about how to approach a problem/question/topic to make it easier to understand with examples from her own experience.

Julia is a wiz at making difficult topics seem easy. She publishes Webzines that explain computer topics in easy to understand comic format. I have bought all the ones she has published so far as PDF’s and would recommend you do the same. The site above has samples of her work so do check it out.

– Suramya

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