Suramya's Blog : Welcome to my crazy life…

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

June 7, 2021

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

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

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

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


Eating food using your hands rather than cutlery.

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

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

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

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

– Suramya

June 6, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Suramya

June 5, 2021

Some thoughts on Self Taught Programmers

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

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


Self Taught Programmers

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

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

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

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

What do you think?

– Suramya

June 4, 2021

Being a student at 40

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

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


How do you feel, my fellow kids?

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

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

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

– Suramya

May 30, 2021

You can now run GUI Linux Apps on Windows 10 natively

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Microsoft doubles down on Windows Subsystem for Linux

– Suramya

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