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Showing posts from 2013

Dealing with a friend's death

LinkedIn told me to wish Atanu a happy work anniversary. According to LinkedIn, he completed two years at Florida State University this November.Except that Atanu died in a freak accident a month ago.For those who do not know Atanu, he was a PhD student at IIT Bombay, and he stayed two rooms down from the room I was allocated. The physical proximity does lead to a certain level of friendship that cannot be expressed easily.Generally, PhDs and MTechs at IITB have an estranged relationship with the BTechs, we think of them as dull oldies, and they think of us as arrogant youngsters (the actual terms used are more colourful, but I hope you get the idea). Atanu was an exception to the rule. It's hard to find anyone who could say that he did not like Atanu, or that he was ambivalent or indifferent. Atanu's personality was one that forced you to like him.We had a running joke, I would joke that as a PhD, he would do nothing other than go to his lab and sit in the AC, and he would jo…

A history of computing - My perspective

Because I can publish shitty drawings, and even shittier text.And I have no obligation to be accurate.

Privacy does not imply secrecy

The debate around surveillance, government overreach, NSA, Prism, XKeyScore has been split in two categories. Well, three actually. The first will be the government, which feels that all this is justified, because "think of the children." They justify the stripping away of the civil liberties of not just their own citizens, but those all across the world for the purpose of supposedly protecting their own. Cluck cluck.The other two camps are the people who are subject to this surveillance. One camp argues that they have "nothing to hide." The other camp argues for increased encryption, and these are camps that will create PGP keys, hold keysigning parties, encrypt everything lest the government gets their data. I think both camps miss the point.Privacy is not the same as secrecy. I know what you do in the toilet, that does not mean that you will leave the doors open, or let the toilet walls be made with glass. Humans have evolved to respect privacy, the confidence o…

Don't "think of the children" me

Lately, I've seen a disturbing trend of increasing governmental control with a "think of the children" type justification. By "type", I mean any justification that appeals to irrational (though justified) that we may have, like fear for our children's safety.The British government is planning a nation-wide "porn firewall" that will restrict its citizens from accessing a number of websites, all in the noble cause of protecting children from the horrors of pornography. An admirable move, but think about the consequences. A number of companies selling porn filters will benefit via huge contracts, and citizens who are granted the right to freedom will have the right subtly snatched away from them.Now, you may think that I'm exaggerating when I say that citizens will lose freedom under such a censor-wall, after all, it's just pornography that they seek to block, right? No! If a government gets power to block websites, it can seek to suppress fr…

Why I won't be supporting Ubuntu Edge on Indiegogo

Ubuntu has launched a crowd-funding campaign for its phone, the Edge. I'm not supporting this campaign.The campaign seems to be extremely successful, they raised over two million dollars on the first day which is rather mind-boggling. At this pace, I think that they should have little trouble in reaching their 32 million goal, which means that we should be seeing Ubuntu Edge in a year.For me, pledging $830 for a phone that does not even exist --- something with undecided specs --- is unthinkable. I don't have that kind of money to blow: I'm a grad student after all. I support open source, and I'm looking forward to the Ubuntu phone as a means to get away from Android and the Google ecosystem (more on that in a later post); however, $830 on a phone is a ridiculous bet, given that a netbook costs half as much.I really don't get the rationale behind ever increasing compute power in our phones and tablets. Come on, the average phone today has much more power than NASA …

Thoughts on Security, Surveillance, and Trusted Computing

Last week, a Dutch artist decided to celebrate Eric Arthur Blair's birthday by placing party hats on all the CCTV cameras on the street. Wikipedia describes 1984 as a dystopian novel; yet the constant surveillance described as a work of fiction in that novel now is a reality. If anything, we've become so accustomed to cameras keeping an eye on every move; we've learnt to ignore them. Cameras decorated with party hats should definitely remind us of the surveillance states we live in. With this, I don't mean that the surveillance is necessarily malign; it can be benign, almost innocuous, that we submit to such surveillance willingly, and appreciate the results that such surveillance presents.In fact, everything that we do is tracked and studied. Go to a grocery store and buy stuff using a credit card, and the store tracks exactly what you buy, and knows with great certainty what you'll buy next. Search for something on the net, and Google will hound you with ads for s…

The paradox of government

I'm fascinated by the concept of government, and the paradoxes it presents. On one hand, governments grant us a certain set of rights or liberties. On the other hand, they work to strip us of the very liberties they promise.Now, I don't mean that all governments strip people of liberties, but there are liberal regimes, and there are sufficiently restrictive and dictatorial ones. Both models may have results to show, it does not mean that people in a restrictive regime are unhappy (refer to Dan Dennett's TED talk, where he states that ideas or memes can be dangerous when taken from one part of the world, where they are widespread, and, using the virus analogy, where people are immune to the memes; to a part of the world where they are foreign, where people may not be immune to the memes and where people may get infected). History has shown that people were sufficiently satisfied with autocratic governments with a benevolent dictator, and that people in other parts of the wo…

Looking for alternatives: or, the cloud is fine, but what if it rains

This post stems out of Google's prank today; when they announced that YouTube will be shut down until 2023. Of course, they meant it as a prank, but considering their disturbing trend of shutting down services... well, let's just say that I did not find it the most attractive prank. I've written earlier (during the GMail account fiasco) about Google's model, and why users who don't pay any cash directly for services are useful to Google. In this post, I try and lay out some pitfalls of killing off young services. Google aims to build a moat around it's search and advertisement business. It tries to do so by ensuring that users always use Google for search; which increases revenues through advertisement. Good search results are ones that are personalised, so that the user gets what he wants without a lot of keyword-jugglery that was needed a decade ago. Indeed, a decade ago, I remember going as far as page 10 in search results to find the information I needed, n…

On writing platform independent code (or, why I like the new C++)

I use Linux when I work from home, I'm forced to use a Mac at work (well, I boot up a virtual Linux OS), and I use Windows when I just want to goof around with my computer. So, while most of my work is done on Linux, it's imperative that my code work on all platforms; just because I could use any of the three. Traditionally, C required multiple versions of code, protected by #ifdefs. This often required multiple versions of code to be written, depending on the target system, target OS, and compiler being used. Clumsy and messy system. C++ too had similar shortcomings. When it came to writing multi-threaded code, I had to choose either Win32 or Posix, and once I made that choice, I was bound by it. Since those were the days when Ubuntu was driving me crazy, I chose Win32. Bad decision. Every single action that I attempted was compounded by the fact that Win32 is the worst API ever. How do I lock a mutex? Well, first I declare a handle, then declare a mutex, then define the hand…

On Instant Gratification via Content Consumption

I've often been vocal on this blog about how ours is a generation of creative folk; about how easy it is to generate good content; and about how anyone with a computer and an internet connection can generate content that can take on the best in the business. Well, I'm not sure if I hold that stand any longer. Over the past few months, I've often stumbled upon this question: Do we still have the will to create content? Consider this: I come home tired from work; wherein I sit in front of a computer and write code, or sit in front of a computer and read research papers. Then, I come home, fix myself a meal, log on to some website, and watch TV shows while I eat. It's so convenient. So little effort needed to watch a program, and so much more effort for something equivalent, say, read a book. Now consider something even more tedious; like writing this blog, and you'll realise where I'm going. This particular post has been in the draft mode for over two weeks, and …