Suramya's Blog : Welcome to my crazy life…

May 29, 2022

No, Coding is not a 24×7 brutal job

Filed under: My Thoughts,Tech Related — Suramya @ 2:59 AM

Some guys think that girls can’t do the things they do because only ‘real men’ ™ can do those things. Obviously they are wrong but enough of them exist that it is causing problems for women when trying to be part of the world where they have to work/interact with these folks. These idiots exist in Tech, gaming, Cybersec and pretty much every field out there and folks have to keep proving their worth to these idiots with their artificial view points.
The latest iteration of this stupidity is by @TechLeadHD over at Twitter who recently posted the following gem:

Women shouldn’t code… perhaps be influences/creators instead. It’s their natural strength.

Coding is a brutal 24/7 job, mutually exclusive with motherhood – after 9-months maternity leave, they come back obsolete & outdated. Elon Musk even says birth rate is falling too much

Apparently this guy is not aware that the first programmer in the world was a woman – Ada Lovelace. Other women were crucial in the first few years to get the computers to a state where we could use them in day to day work. Read though this partial list of women who have been influenced the evolution of the computer over the years.

Another thing, coding is not a brutal 24×7 job. If you have to code 24×7 on a daily basis to complete your work then there is something wrong since it looks like you don’t know what you are doing and need to spend all day writing code that others could have completed in a few hours. I have been coding since 1996 (26 years and counting), and while there are times where we have worked round the clock for days or even weeks because we were on a deadline or had a critical issue to resolve that is not the norm. You usually work normal hours and put in crunch time in case of problems or last minute changes.

I do come back home and continue coding or working on personal projects because I enjoy doing that, not because it is mandatory. This guy is making it sound like you are working in a mine somewhere and have a quota of code to be written everyday, where if you don’t achieve the quota then you don’t get food. Sorry most companies don’t work that way. If they try they will not be in business for long.

Coders do take vacations and spend time with people outside the computer. This myth of the lone geek solving all problems is just that – ‘a myth’. In my company I rather have a decent programmer who works well with others than an excellent one who can’t work in a team. In the long term the former is more productive and useful than the latter because people can and do leave a company because of bad teammates.

The part about maternity leave is slightly true but any good programmer will ramp back up quickly after a break. Just because they had a kid doesn’t mean they loose all skills and can’t ramp up. If that was the case then people taking sabbaticals would have the same problem as well. I have had team mates who went on maternity leave and once back they ramped back up quickly. We had to make a few adjustments to ensure things worked out but that is what a good manager/team lead does, you work around the restrictions your team has to ensure that they are able to perform optimally. The more diverse the viewpoint the more potential solutions you can get. Just because you have a way of working or came up a certain way doesn’t mean that others couldn’t have achieved a similar result with a different method. As Perl puts it: There’s more than one way to do it.

We as men need to ensure we object when this sort of comments are made and try our best to ensure that these self appointed gatekeepers are overridden. Imagine if Ada Lovelace had a manager with a similar mindset then we wouldn’t have had a programming language for years maybe decades. Now think of all the other potential Ada’s who are being locked out due to people like this. I mean the guy literally admits to trashing women’s resume’s while at Google: Women still shouldn’t code and I trashed their resumes at Google so they could raise families instead.

It seriously annoys me that we have idiots like this in the tech world in leadership roles. Imagine where we would be if we utilized 100% of our workforce instead of just half?

– Suramya

May 27, 2022

Creating robots with no moving parts or computational ability which can navigate through mazes on their own

Filed under: Emerging Tech,Science Related — Suramya @ 11:34 PM

One would imagine that it takes skill or at least the ability to think to escape from a maze, unless you count running around like a headless chicken as a skill. However, Jie Yin and his colleagues at North Carolina State University have created a contraption that has no computational ability or moving parts but is still able to escape from a maze using trial and error.

The device is shaped like a pasta and is made from a rubber like material impregnated with liquid crystals. When this device is placed on a heated surface the parts in contact with the surface heat up and expand while the rest of the device remains the same this causes a twisting motion that allows it to roll at a speed of up to 3.8 millimetres per second. Even more interestingly this ‘robot’ can navigate a maze, when it reaches an obstacle such as a wall its orientation changes slightly and can sometimes continue moving. If that doesn’t work, then it continues to push against the obstacle which creates changes in the tension in the device allowing it to change the orientation of the arc’s on its surface to another direction, which would enable it to roll in the opposite direction. These two abilities enable it to continually change direction when meeting obstacles, bumping from surface to surface, eventually finding its way out despite lacking any intelligent control.

Autonomy is crucial for soft robotics that are constructed of soft materials. It remains challenging to create autonomous soft robots that can intelligently interact with and adapt to changing environments without external controls. To do so, it often requires an analogical soft “brain” that integrates on-board sensing, control, computation, and decision-making. Here, we report an autonomous soft robot embodied with physical intelligence for decision-making via adaptive soft body-environment interactions and snap-through instability, without integrated sensing and external controls. This study harnesses physical intelligence as a new paradigm for designing autonomous soft robots that can interact intelligently with their environments, thus potentially reducing the burdens on the conventional integrated sensing, control, computations, and decision-making systems in designing intelligent soft robots.

Soft robots that can harvest energy from environmental resources for autonomous locomotion is highly desired; however, few are capable of adaptive navigation without human interventions. Here, we report twisting soft robots with embodied physical intelligence for adaptive, intelligent autonomous locomotion in various unstructured environments, without on-board or external controls and human interventions. The soft robots are constructed of twisted thermal-responsive liquid crystal elastomer ribbons with a straight centerline. They can harvest thermal energy from environments to roll on outdoor hard surfaces and challenging granular substrates without slip, including ascending loose sandy slopes, crossing sand ripples, escaping from burying sand, and crossing rocks with additional camouflaging features. The twisting body provides anchoring functionality by burrowing into loose sand. When encountering obstacles, they can either self-turn or self-snap for obstacle negotiation and avoidance. Theoretical models and finite element simulation reveal that such physical intelligence is achieved by spontaneously snapping-through its soft body upon active and adaptive soft body-obstacle interactions. Utilizing this strategy, they can intelligently escape from confined spaces and maze-like obstacle courses without any human intervention. This work presents a de novo design of embodied physical intelligence by harnessing the twisting geometry and snap-through instability for adaptive soft robot-environment interactions.

This technology could be used to create cheap robots that can explore environments to take sensor readings and can potentially function inside the human body when made in microscopic scale. Since they don’t have any moving parts and don’t require power sources it would allow them to function for a longer duration than powered alternatives which would eventually run out of power. Plus, since they don’t require batteries it would be safer for people to ingest them without potentially harmful effects because most of the power sources in use today have some harmful chemicals in them.

The team’s findings have been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) Journal: Twisting for soft intelligent autonomous robot in unstructured environments earlier this week.

Source: New Scientist: Pasta-shaped robot with no moving parts can navigate through mazes

– Suramya

May 26, 2022

Visiting Sikkim: Home to glaciers, alpine meadows , Monasteries and lots of wildflowers

Filed under: My Life,Travel/Trips — Suramya @ 11:53 PM

The North east has always been a part of India that is not as well explored as the rest of India and it has been on our list of places to explore for a while now. Last year we traveled to Assam and Meghalaya and over the last week we did a week long trip to Sikkim with Exotic Expeditions and it was an amazing experience. It was our 3rd trip with them and as always Santosh made sure we all had a great time. The trip was supposed to be for 9 days but due to Jani’s exam getting rescheduled to the day after we were supposed to fly out, we had to miss the first day and half of the trip. Thankfully the first 2 days were mostly the shopping and stay in Gangtok which we were ok to miss, as we had another evening in Gangtok half-way through the trip.

The start of this trip was pretty hectic, both me and Jani had our exams (my mid-terms and her 3rd sem) so we barely slept and had to leave home at 2:30am to reach the airport on time for the 5:30am flight. The flight was fairly smooth and we reached on time, But then we had to take a cab from the airport to Dzongu to catch up with the rest of the group. Due to the issues with inner line permits the cab we got from the airport couldn’t go all the way so the driver coordinated and got hold of another guy who would take us the rest of the way. The drive was very picturesque but we both dozed of for the most of it as we had hardly slept for 2 days.

Unfortunately the road system in Sikkim is amongst the worst in India beating even Bangalore (which is a hard thing to do). So the drive was not super comfortable as the roads are full of potholes and in some places there are more pot holes than roads. The issue is exacerbated by the frequent landslides which require a lot of repair work. It was raining in Sikkim from when we arrived there due to the weather disturbance caused by the cyclone in the south and this created a high risk of land slides. In fact we were stuck for about 45 minutes during the drive because there was a road slide ahead of us which was still being cleared. One thing I really like about the drivers in Sikkim is how they all follow the lane discipline, when the traffic is stopped due to something hardly anyone will try to drive on the wrong wide of the road to try to skip the other cars waiting. This ensures that when the issue is resolved the traffic starts moving immediately.

After a few scary portions of the road, a drive under 2 water falls on the road, we reached where Google Maps told us the Lepcha Homestay was located and the map showed that we had to walk about 600m to the place, which was true if you don’t mind climbing a vertical hill with luggage, but since we didn’t want to do that we drove another kilometer or so to reach the place. It was still raining when we reached so we quickly scrambled down to the homestay and settled into our room. This place is basically a traditional Lepcha home and the rooms were cozy and quite comfortable. After freshening up, we had Lunch where they served us fried rice and a local specialty soup made from a local cheese with some other stuff. Initially the soup had a very sharp taste and I thought I couldn’t finish it, but after a few minutes the taste settled and combined with the rice I really liked it. Jani wasn’t much of a fan but I loved it.

Done with Lunch, we finally got to meet the rest of the group as they had also arrived just before we had. There were 9 of us in the group including Santosh which made for a cozy group and allowed us to get to know each other easily (which is sometimes difficult in large groups). This place had a really cozy seating area where we all hung out for a while and after getting to know each other we played dumb charades and had some local made wine. The wine was decent, similar to the homemade wines we get in Goa etc.


Enjoying Tea, Wine and snacks at Lepcha Homestay

The interesting drink we got to try was the ‘tongba’, which is made from fermented millet. It is a popular drink in Sikkim and Nepal. The drink is served in a bamboo container also called Tongba which is filled to the brim with the fermented millet seeds and boiled water is poured in it to the brim. It is then left undisturbed for about five minutes after which it is ready to drink. You use a bamboo straw to drink from the container and as the level of water goes down you can refill it with hot water to renew the drink. Each container can be refilled multiple times before you need to replace the seeds. There is a local ‘superstition’ (if you can call it that) that you should never mix the drink with the straw when drinking it. If you do that then you will get drunk very quickly as it will hit you badly. The drink tastes a bit like beer which Santosh liked so he finished it after the rest of us had a taste.


Trying out tongba, a local drink

Dinner was a traditional spread of food which was quite tasty. Post dinner we didn’t have much to do as it was still raining so most of the folks went to bed early while Jani, me, Santosh and Chaitanya sat outside our cottage and chatted till late night. Had a surprise visit by a frog which crossed the sitting area in 3 jumps making us all jump out of our seats when it first appeared. Since Chaitanya and a few of the others were planning on waking up early (~6am) to go to the nearby monastery we didn’t stay up too late. We would have loved to go to the monastery but it was raining (plus we hadn’t had much sleep the past 2 days either) so we decided to sleep in. Got up to lovely birdsongs and had a traditional breakfast (with a few non-traditional items added in) and we were ready for the next portion of the trip.


Group photo outside the Lepcha Homestay

We started the drive to Lachung in high spirits and enjoyed the views while driving. We had to get out of the car in the middle because the road was broken and the driver was worried about damaging the underside. I was planning on making fat jokes but managed to stop myself in time to avoid being beaten up by the three ladies in the car. 🙂 It took us about 3-4 hours to get to Lachung and on the way we stopped at this amazing waterfall for pictures. When we asked about the name of the waterfall we were told that there were too many waterfalls in Sikkim for them to name each one and during the rainy season new ones come up all the time. It was freezing cold due to wind chill so we quickly took some pics and then ran back to the cars to continue on the way.


Jani and me at the unknown waterfall


Group Pic (Chaitanya, Neha, Saniye and me) near the waterfall

After a bumpy drive we reached Lachung and checked into the Wonder Hill Inn which was where we were staying. That is when we found out that there was a severe rain warning in effect through out north Sikkim and due to the heavy rains all of north Sikkim had lost power. Based on the history of such incidents we couldn’t be sure when the power would be back but we were hopeful. So after checking in and freshening up Jani, me and Neha decided to walk around to the shops nearby whereas Saniye and Chaitanya hiked to the nearby Monastery and Tasneem and family decided to call it an early day as they were feeling the effects of the height combined with motion-sickness. Walking around we bought some good quality woolens for quite cheap and Jani found an interesting new dish made of Yak meat to try out. Apparently it was quite tasty and both Santosh and Jani quite enjoyed the dish. Dinner was at the hotel but only three of us (Santosh, Chaitanya and me) had dinner as the others had decided to skip dinner. We had a candlelight dinner since there was no power and crashed early.

Next day we woke up early and after a quick break-fast headed out to Yumthang Valley followed by Zero point. The hotel had waterproof shoes, gloves and jacket available for rent (for Rs. 250 for the full set, Rs 100 just for the Boots) and because the lady told us that we would need to cross a stream we all ended up getting the boots. However, it wasn’t required since the stream had a small wooden bridge over it. It is very cold there so if you don’t have a proper jacket/gloves I recommend you rent a set. The water proof shoes on the other hand were a waste in my opinion but you might feel differently. The drive to the valley was uneventful and we made good time even with the poor condition of the road. There was a bit of crowd at the valley but it wasn’t too bad.


Jani and Me at Yumthang Valley


Group Pic (Santosh, Saniye, Chaitanya, Jani and me) next to the river

Neha wasn’t feeling too well at the valley due to the altitude (11,693 ft) so she stayed in the car (which was the best thing she could have done) and the rest of us walked down to the river and took pics. Then we fooled around trying to do yoga (All of us), cartwheels (Chaitanya) and hand-stands (Saniye). Saniye even took a Yak ride while the rest of us watched. The view from the valley was awesome and luckily for us the rain had stopped and it was a clear day so we got to enjoy the valley without worrying about getting wet.


The Boy’s posing at the Valley


Trying out Yoga poses


All of us doing different Yoga poses

After a quick discussion we agreed to go ahead to Zero Point, which is called that because that is the last point till which civilians are allowed and after that only the armed forces are allowed access. The area is quite near the Indo-Tibetian/Indo-Chinese border. The drive up took almost 2 hours via a twisty-turny road but we could see an amazing vista around us while going up that kept us engrossed during the drive. We finally reached Zero point which is at 15,300 ft above mean sea level.


Group pic on the way to Zero-Point

We were all excited to go play with the snow but Jani wasn’t feeling too great due to the altitude so after taking a few quick pics she stayed in the car while the rest of us explored. Unfortunately most of the snow had melted so it was a good walk to where the remaining snow was. None of us had the energy to walk over so we just explored the area for a bit and took lots of pics. By the time we were all done, Jani was feeling better so she joined us as we took a break to eat Maggie with Channa (chick pea) and Egg. It was a weird combination but because we were all so hungry it tasted great (plus it had a lot of calories that we needed due to the cold). Me and Santosh also tried the local wine made from Rhododendron flowers which was also quite good and the rest enjoyed hot tea/coffee.


Jani and me at Zero Point


Chaitanya and me with the phenomenal Zero Point view behind us

Due to the altitude we didn’t want to stay for long and just as we were wrapping up it started to snow which gave us additional incentive to rush back to the cars to head back down. Thankfully we made it back before the snow caused problems on the road. Once back at Yumthang Valley we picked up Neha who was feeling better by then and had a quick bite to eat along with some shopping before starting back to the hotel. The power was still not back but was expected to be back by 8pm so we just relaxed and hung out till it was time for dinner. The food at this place was fantastic, even though the folks had to cook it in the dark all the dishes we ordered turned out to be great. Thankfully power came back later in the evening so we were able to charge our phones and power-banks.

Next day, we had an early breakfast and started for Gangtok. It was raining for a good portion of the drive but it had lessened to the point that it didn’t feel like someone was poring buckets of water on the car so we made good time to the hotel (Griffon’s Nest). The drive took almost 6 hours and by the time we reached the place it was time for lunch. We initially thought we would have food that the hotel but they told us that it would take a while because the cook was not there (they had gone out for grocery shopping) so we decided to head down to the market and have lunch there instead.

We (Jani, Saniye, Chaitanya, Neha and me) had lunch at Nimtho, Mahatma Gandhi Marg where we ordered the Sikkimese thali, Thakali thali and Thukpa. The ambience was pretty nice and we pretty much had the whole place to ourselves since we were having a really late lunch. I liked most of the items in the thali except this dish made of fermented soyabeans which to me tasted like spoiled beans. I don’t think any of us liked that.


Thakali thali (PC: Neha)


Sikkimese Thali (PC: Neha)

Once we were done with lunch we walked down to the Lal bazaar with the intention of lots of shopping, thankfully for the sake of my wallet the market was closed as it was Thursday which is a holiday for the market. So instead we roamed around the MG Marg and did a bunch of shopping. I got some nice jeans and turtlenecks and Jani got some turtlenecks as well along with some other stuff. This took a while and as we were about done we decided to go for a snack since the shopping had made us all hungry, so we walked over to Bakers Cafe where we managed to snag a seat next to the window and had some really tasty Banana pancakes and coffee/tea/hot chocolate. After chilling there for a while we were ready to head back as it looked like it might rain again but thankfully we made it back before it rained.


Group Pic at M G Marg


Chilling at Bakers Cafe

Once back, we (Jani, me and Santosh) decided to hang out at the terrace seating area at the hotel which was quite nice and pleasant. We all sat there till about 2am and Chaitanya joined us as well half way through. It was good to just chill, have a nice drink (we tried some of the local wine and whisky that we had picked up) and chat. We would have stayed up longer but we had to leave early to make good time for the next day’s itinerary so at ~2 am we had to crash for the night.


Night time view from the Terrace at Griffon’s Nest

Next day was again overcast but not as much rain as before, we drove over some really nice terrain to reach Tsongmo Lake which had a phenomenal view. Jani, me, Neha and Chaitanya dressed up in local ethnic dress for photos which was fun. I really liked the cap as it was very comfortable and warm. There was also a cablecar at the place but none of us went for a ride. I was expecting that we could go down to the water and while there was a path we could take down for the most part we were about 2-4 feet above the water.


Chaitanya, Neha, Jani and me dressed in traditional Sikkimese dress

Then we drove to the old Baba Mandir which is located on the road between Jelepla and Nathula Pass.

The temple is dedicated to Sepoy Harbhajan Singh of the 23rd Punjab Regiment who went missing while leading a pack of mules from his battalion at Tukla to Deng Dhukla. A manhunt was organized when he went missing and as per the legend he himself guided the searchers to his grave by appearing to one of the soldiers in his dreams. Soon after solders started reporting that he was appearing in their dreams asking for a samadhi to be built in his memory at the location. He is supposed to still patrol the area and guards the lives of the soldiers posted along the border. The temple is located near the indo-china border and a lot of soldiers come here to pray before heading out to the border.


View from the old Baba mandir

It had been pretty foggy most of the way but we got lucky when the sky cleared up for a few mins and we got to see an amazing vista in front of us. Took a few pics before it got foggy again and then had a quick bite of spicy pasta to eat before heading out. One thing to know about this place, the toilets are perched on side of the hill about 10 mtrs down from the parking and are not the cleanest in the world. If you can hold it I would recommend you do so. 🙂

During the drive down the weather cleared up again so we stopped for some pics, just as we were wrapping up the fog/clouds were back and within minutes we couldn’t see anything again. Phone signals were pretty spotty on this road and none of the carriers work here (Airtel, BSNL or Jio). Interestingly we did manage to connect to the China Phone system partway through for a little while, I immediately switched off data so that I didn’t get charged a ridiculous amount accidentally.


At Tukla Valley


Photo’s taken seconds apart showing how quickly the fog was advancing

We got to the homestay (Khangrri Home Stay, Phadamchen) that was a little difficult to spot as it was above the line of sight from the road but it was really nicely done. The flower beds and plants at the place were really amazing and the hospitality was great. It started raining when we got there so we spent a couple of hours playing Bluff after having some pakoda’s and tea. The food was pretty good and the company was even better so we had a great time. Dinner was traditional food and quite good. I especially liked the local ‘pickle’ though it was more like a salad than what we would call a pickle.


Breakfast at Khangrri Home Stay, Phadamchen

It rained throughout the night to the point that our driver was worried about possible landslides on the way. Thankfully we were lucky enough that there were no landslides on the way and drove all the way to Siliguri. The hotel we were staying at was a bit hard to find since there were two places with almost similar names but we managed to arrive in one piece. Lunch was at the hotel only since we didn’t feel like exploring immediately as we were all very hungry.

Post lunch we took an Auto to the Hongkong market which is a place for local shopping along with cheap stuff from China & Hong Kong. It is similar to how the shops are in old Delhi or Palika Bazaar (except that this wasn’t underground). We explored the market for a bit and then as it looked like it was going to start raining decided to head to the Planet Mall which is nearby. The mall was pretty much deserted so we strolled over to ‘Worth the Hype’ to check out if it was indeed worth the Hype. The food there was decent and the drinks were ok. The ambience on the other hand was fantastic though it was surprising that other than our group it was all girls at the place.


At Worth the Hype, Siliguri

Once we were done with the snacks we decided to check out the nearby Baisakhi Mela that we had spotted on the way to the mall. Initially I wasn’t super interested as I thought it would just be a bunch of stalls and a lot of crowd. Inside it turned out that it was a proper mela (fair) with lots of amusement rides and street food to be enjoyed. I didn’t like most of the street food as I found it to be bland but the others seemed to enjoy it. Chaitanya, Saniye and me went for multiple rides and really had a blast. It had been a long time since I have been at an amusement park and now I want to go to one again, with people who enjoy the rides so that Jani doesn’t get tortured riding the rides with me as she really doesn’t enjoy it. The rides were a lot of fun and way better than what I would expect from a small setup like this one. After the last ride where we were suspended upside down we decided to call it a night and headed back to the hotel. Since we had hogged out on junk food none of us wanted to have dinner and ended up crashing early since we had early flights.


At the Baisakhi Mela, Siliguri


Enjoying the Chaat at the Baisakhi Mela


Artsy pic at the mela

On the last day, we got up early to reach the Airport on time. I was a bit worried about the extra weight in the luggage but we just managed to squeeze by (we were about 600 gms over the allowance) without extra charges. The flight back was uneventful and soon we were back in Bangalore with the lovely Bangalore traffic.

Overall the trip was great, I would highly recommend it to others as well as long as they are prepared to rough it out a bit and not expect super high luxury during the travel. I mean it is possible to travel in high luxury places but then you don’t get to enjoy the local specialties and homestays.

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

– Suramya

May 24, 2022

Human Upgrade 2.0: Patch 3 (Vaccine Booster #1) Applied Successfully

Filed under: My Life — Suramya @ 4:56 PM

Got our booster dose today with no side effects so far. The process was quick and easy, walked over to Manipal and were in and out within 20 mins including the time to make the payments etc. Had become eligible mid last week (9 months from the 2nd dose) but since we were traveling at the time, we waited till we were back before having the shot, just in case.

I didn’t have major issues with the last 2 doses but did have a bad headache for a few days. Hopefully I will skip the headache as well this time.

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

– Suramya

May 23, 2022

Please don’t address HR as Dear Mr./Ms. Human Resource

Filed under: My Thoughts — Suramya @ 10:28 PM

Folks, when you are applying for a job please don’t address the cover letter as “Dear Mr./Ms. Human Resource,” it sounds really weird and ridiculous, in fact it sounds like you are addressing the application to a commodity instead of a person. If you don’t know the name of the person, then try to find it out. Else, just say Hello and start the cover letter instead of doing this.

Also, the application and resume should be in English even if the company you are applying at is looking for an applicant in a different location where English is not the dominant language. Your resume just might land at the desk of an expat who would reject the application without further ado if they can’t read it.

And please, do not. I repeat do not, flirt with the HR rep you are talking to. It is creepy and LinkedIn is not a dating service. If you can’t act professionally when you are supposed to be putting your best foot forward why would anyone hire you? It would mean that you will do the same thing once hired and the company could be risking a sexual harassment complaint. Jani gets this all the time and it is annoying. Just because a girl is talking to you doesn’t mean they want to go on a date with you. Be professional. (If you don’t know what that is, then look it up).

– Suramya

May 14, 2022

Using algae sealed in a AA battery to generate enough electricity to run a microprocessor for 6 months

Powering computers and all our devices requires us to use batteries if they can’t be connected to a power source/electrical socket. For the most part this means that we use NiCa or Lithium batteries. The problem with this is that they require us to use rare earth metals that are hard to find and process, which makes them expensive and mining the metals are potentially bad for the environment. The other problem is that they need frequent replacement and create a lot of waste. Due to this a lot of effort is going on to find better ways of generating power.

Now, Christopher Howe and other researchers from the University of Cambridge have managed create a power source using blue-green algae to generate enough electricity to power a processor performing calculations (to simulate load). Using a type of cyanobacteria called Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803 sealed in a container about the size of an AA battery, made of aluminum and clear plastic they were able to generate the 0.3 microwatts of power to run the CPU for 45 minutes followed by 15 minutes of standby, which required 0.24 microwatts of power.

The system ran without additional intervention for 6 months and the computer was placed on a windowsill at one of the researchers’ houses during the test and the ambient light was enough to power the processor. There are indications that this can be scaled up to generate more power for more resource intensive applications but even if that doesn’t work out, the current setup could potentially be used to power IoT devices that don’t require that much power to run such as sensors/monitors deployed in the forests/cities for monitoring.

Sustainable, affordable and decentralised sources of electrical energy are required to power the network of electronic devices known as the Internet of Things. Power consumption for a single Internet of Things device is modest, ranging from μW to mW, but the number of Internet of Things devices has already reached many billions and is expected to grow to one trillion by 2035, requiring a vast number of portable energy sources (e.g., a battery or an energy harvester). Batteries rely largely on expensive and unsustainable materials (e.g., rare earth elements) and their charge eventually runs out. Existing energy harvesters (e.g., solar, temperature, vibration) are longer lasting but may have adverse effects on the environment (e.g., hazardous materials are used in the production of photovoltaics). Here, we describe a bio-photovoltaic energy harvester system using photosynthetic microorganisms on an aluminium anode that can power an Arm Cortex M0+, a microprocessor widely used in Internet of Things applications. The proposed energy harvester has operated the Arm Cortex M0+ for over six months in a domestic environment under ambient light. It is comparable in size to an AA battery, and is built using common, durable, inexpensive and largely recyclable materials.

Their research has been published in the Energy & Environmental Science journal and work is ongoing to build on top of it to look at commercial applications.

Source: A colony of blue-green algae can power a computer for six months

– Suramya

May 13, 2022

Artist draws 100+ sketches at the same time!

Filed under: Interesting Sites,My Thoughts — Suramya @ 9:14 PM

Art requires skill to be able to do it well. However, when people talk about skilled artists, some of the examples look like the artist took a bunch of paint and threw it at the canvas, but when that painting is displayed in a gallery there will be 100’s of people talking about the energy, passion and whatever else shown in the painting, which is basically paint thrown on the canvas.

Alexis Bantiles on the other hand is simultaneously drawing 100 different sketches at the same time! using a customized pole that holds 30+ colored pens and I have trouble drawing one… I am in awe of the skill, practice and effort required to achieve this.


Drawing 100 different sketches at the same time.

Source: @nowthisnews

– Suramya

May 12, 2022

Thoughts on Star Trek Picard & Strange New Worlds

Filed under: My Thoughts — Suramya @ 9:51 PM

It’s been a good few months for Star Trek, with the Season 2 of Picard wrapping up and the new Strange New Worlds show kicking off. Yes, I know Star Trek: Discovery has also been going on but for some reason I never enjoyed the show so haven’t been watching it.

The last episode of Picard, kind of explained how the internal continuity of the show worked and made it all make sense. But what they didn’t explain is how the presence of two Borg queens in the universe changed things and why history turned out the same way even though things should have changed drastically due to the events in the show. For all they talk about not changing the past the show was quite free with doing things that would change the future.

Coming to Strange New Worlds (SNW), I usually don’t like prequel shows that are too close to existing shows because there is not much mystery there as you can’t do something new and exciting without breaking continuity. SNW seems to have avoided this (so far at least) and the first two episodes have been interesting. I am looking forward to how they resolve the dilemma Captain Pike is facing now that he knows his future. (From one of the episodes in Discovery). I like the portrayal of Pike and most of the characters are interesting even though they could use more fleshing out. I guess that will happen over the course of the season. This is an interesting look into what Star Trek could have been if the pilot episode “The Cage”, starring Jeffrey Hunter as Enterprise Captain Christopher Pike had not been rejected back in the 60’s.

– Suramya

May 11, 2022

Apple discontinuing iPod after 21 years run

Filed under: My Thoughts — Suramya @ 6:55 PM

The iPod was a massive game changer when it released. I love music and when the iPod 2nd gen released I was using a Rio mp3 player that had 32 MB of storage which meant that I could put ~8 songs on it. So everyday I would decide what 8 songs I wanted to listen to that day and copied them over. It was annoying but still amazing because I didn’t have to carry multiple cassettes/CD’s around.

Then I was gifted the iPod 2nd Gen by my sister and brother-in-law and suddenly I could store up 16GB of music (~3,500 songs). I no longer had to decide which songs I wanted to carry around, as I could copy all of them. It was a game changer and I used it constantly till about 2012/13 when the battery died and I couldn’t replace it at a reasonable cost. Also by then I had a smartphone could use it listen to music instead so didn’t need to carry another device just for songs.

Found out yesterday that Apple is going to discontinue the iPod after the current stock is sold out. It had a good run from 2001-2022 and it revived Apple as a company so kudos to the team that created it and the marketing team that made sure that it became the ‘must-have’ accessory for most of the hip crowd.

Source: BoingBoing: iPod, RIP (2001 – 2022)

– Suramya

May 10, 2022

Using ancient techniques for adding secret images in bronze mirrors to hide images in Liquid Crystal displays

Filed under: Emerging Tech,Interesting Sites,Science Related — Suramya @ 1:28 AM

There are a lot of things that were accomplished by our ancestors that seem like they should be impossible and this is why the theory that aliens were involved in our past to give us a boost is so popular. People don’t realize that just because it wasn’t possible in the western world doesn’t mean that others in the world couldn’t do it. In this post I am going to talk about Chinese/Japanese Magic mirrors that were first created ~200BC but modern science was only able to explain how they work in 2005 when M V Berry published an paper describing the optics of how this would work.

The Magic Mirror is a type of mirror that was popular in ancient china, specially the Han dynasty (206 BC – 24 AD). The specialty of these mirrors is that they were made out of solid bronze with the front side polished brightly so that it can be used as a mirror whereas the back would have a design cast in the metal. When a bright light was reflected by the mirror and shone against a wall the pattern on the back of the mirror would be projected onto the wall.


Example of how the Magic Mirror reflections look (Pic credit: Faena.com)

As you can imagine this is extremely hard to do. Due to trading with the Chinese, folks over in Korea and Japan have also been known to create these mirrors which are known as Makyō (magic mirrors) over there. One difference between Makyō and the Chinese mirror is that a Makyō doesn’t reflect the image on the back on the mirror when light hits it, nor does it have any obvious irregularities on its reflecting surface. But still it creates these fantastical images where nothing should be there. More details on how the mirrors were constructed and the history behind them are available here.

It took western scientists over 2000 years to figure out the science behind these mirrors, kind of.. as evident from the explanation below.

Although the surface of the mirrors is polished and seems completely flat, it has subtle convex and concave curves caused by the designed. Convex curves (outwards) scatter light and darken their areas of reflection. For their part, concave curves focus light and illuminate their areas of reflection. Mirrors are made of forged bronze, and the thickest parts are cooled at a different speed than the thin ones. Since the metal contracts a little as it is cooled, the different ranges of cooling “stress” or slightly deform the metal. The thin areas are also more flexible than the thick parts, so the polishing process, which should smoothen the metal until uniformity is achieved, exaggerates the slight differences in thickness. While we cannot see the pattern on the surface of the mirror, photos very clearly delineate it, so when they are able to bounce off the mirror’s curves, the pattern emerges.

Using the understanding gained from Berry’s paper Felix Hufnagel and his colleagues from the University of Ottawa in Canada to create a modern version of the magic mirror using liquid crystal which is a different state of matter (their molecules are both fluid and arranged in patterns). By applying an electric current to the liquid crystals they were able to tailor the orientation of the molecules which allowed them to create an image which would only show up when a particular combination of current/amplitude was applied. The images created using this technique look clear even when viewed from different angles which can be used to improve projectors for 3D images.

Their paper was published in Optica earlier this month and is an interesting (if confusing read).

Interesting links:
Wikipedia: Chinese Magic Mirror
Secret images hidden in mirrors and windows using liquid crystals

– Suramya

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