Thursday, December 29, 2011

My teachers: Mr. Chauhan




Teachers come in a variety of types, some who would rather be left alone, others who like to take control and drive things. And there are a few, extremely few who actually like to provide intellectual stimulation and make their students really think for themselves.

Mr. Chauhan was one such teacher. When I was doing my computer course we had a situation when we lost our teacher to another job. This, I should clarify, was a very small institute, owned by one person and usually staffed by one teacher. I was hardly in a position to criticise as the fee was very low and even then we had the option to pay in monthly instalments. If I told you how much it was, you wouldn't believe it, it was so low.

So, we had our computer teacher and suddenly he got another job and decided to leave the institute. The owner/manager of the institute, who also taught some classes, got Mr. Chauhan to fill in. We were learning PLT at the time (short for Programming Logic Techniques). Mr. Chauhan came in, and asked us some questions on what we had learnt so far in computers and in PLT. And he had this infuriating habit of saying "Why?" after every answer we gave him. His contention was that you should know the reason why something was so, not just say "That's what we've been told." This did annoy me because at some point that's what you have to say. No, not really. Now, I understand that the chain of answers should stop not at "So we've been told." but at "It's a fact provable by experiment." But we didn't get into that then.

Next we started on PLT. He started to quiz us first.

Mr. Chauhan: What do you need to write a program?
Class: Computer.
Mr. Chauhan: Wrong!

Oh, God!

But that's the sign of great teachers - their words can change your life, and you NEVER forget those words. He told us the "A program is written on paper, not on computer." This might seem blatantly obvious or even flippant but any computer programmer worth his salt would know exactly what it means. When you start writing programs on computer, you do shoddy work and make more mistakes. When you write a program on paper, you do your best work, and that way lies excellence.

He told us that the best paying job in computers (at the time at least) was a Systems Analyst and he hardly ever needs to go near a computer.

In that same class, he asked us more about programs and I was giving an answer when he stopped me and said, "No, not a program, algorithm." Arrgh! That almost sent me into a rage! They were the SAME thing! No, they are not!

Years later he told me that after the class he told our centre manager to keep an eye on me and forget the rest. Hehe, yes, I am proud of that. No way I am NOT going to mention that! But that day I was pissed off with him. But that was always his style, he never believed in spoonfeeding his students. I did very well in PLT, so what did he do? He didn't praise me or anything, he just gave me MORE problems to solve than other students in the class. The result is that I have very strong PLT skills and love to debate with people on the merits of "OR" and "AND" in a line of code.

After PLT he taught us COBOL. Yes, it was that long back. COBOL was on its way out even then but this was before the year 2000 so it was not completely out yet and did make some programmers rich when the Y2K work came. Alas, I was not one of them. Still, I did very well in COBOL and got 93% in the test,  which was not only the highest in the class, it was my highest score in any computer subject.  A year later the centre owner asked me to teach a batch there and guess what subject he asked me to teach - COBOL.

Then there was the incident when Chauhan Sir taught me MS-Office in 5 minutes.

This was a couple of years later, I was a software faculty by now and was teaching in a small institute other than the one I studied in. I was teaching DOS, Windows and a few other things, but not MS-Office. That was new at that time. It was version 4.3 I still remember very vividly. The nice lady I worked for wanted me to learn MS-Office so I could teach it as well. She and Chauhan sir were friends so I could go and learn with him at his institute which was in the same city.

I remember it like yesterday. I went to the pay phone near the institute and called Ds (that’s my code for him) to arrange for classes. He was in office and we talked. I explained what I needed. Here’s how the conversation went:

Ds: Toh MS-Office seekhna hai? (You want to learn MS-Office?)
Me: Yes, sir.
Ds: Kya karoge seekh ke? (What would you do with it?)
Me: Sir yahan padhaoonga. (I will teach it here).
Ds: Wordstar aata hai? (You know Word Star?) (Word Star was an older word processing software, DOS-based, and quite popular before MS-Word came along.
Me: Aata hai, sir. (I know it, sir.) (I was very confident, I was very good in WS).
Ds: Phir? (Then?)
Me: Sir, MS-Office nahin aata na. (I don’t know MS-Office).
Ds: To MS-Office seekhoge. (So you will learn MS-Office.)
Me: Yes, sir. (I was getting a bit annoyed by now.)
Ds: Phir? Naya aa jayega phir woh seekhoge? Kitne word processor seekhoge? (Then, when the new one comes out you’ll learn that? How many word processors will you learn?).
That shut me up and made me think.
Ds: Usko khol lo, help file kholo saath mein, aur karo. (Open it, and open the Help file, and use it.)

The whole conversation took less than 5 minutes, but he taught me MS-Office in 5 minutes. Alongwith that he taught me all other word processors and all programming languages without a computer in sight! Never felt the need to go for a class to learn a new application after that. And I ended up learning many other software and programming languages after that. I started teaching MS-Office later that week and have taught all versions. I pride myself on my Word and Excel skills and even though they are not my primary tools the knowledge has been extremely useful to me in my career.

That’s the kind of teacher Ds was and is. He knows how to kindle the spark and let the student learn instead of crippling him with spoonfeeding.

I am still in close touch with him. Whenever I go to India half of my vacation time is spent with him, either visiting his business or home, or debating something in technology or society.

One thing I really hate  is that he never taught me Chess. He was a state champion in his time and I really wanted to learn to play better Chess from him. But the only time we played together it was like him playing with only 10% of his mind on the game and he beat me, no, actually crushed me without even bothering to “play”. I hated that. But I haven’t given up, some day I’ll trap him into teaching me. ;)

There was a great time, a wonderful period of my life when I was working in his own company. Even when I had a problem in a technology or language that he didn’t know, I would still go to Ds for solutions. And he would sort me out. Without knowing the language and without learning! His logic is just so strong that he always knows what questions to ask.

He had written books on COBOL that were used in schools as textbooks, but he never mentioned it to brag. I found out just by chance. Same thing about his Chess skills. He never brags, never needs to. But anyone who meets him, cannot forget him. I am very proud and privileged that I met him and that he is still in my life as a guiding spirit.

My dream is to one day collaborate with him on a project! Amen!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Facebook is a waste of time



Sigmund Freud maintained that all energy is sexual energy and if a person uses that energy in anything other than sex he is applauded by the society but if he uses it in pursuance of sex itself he is considered a pervert by the same society.

I am proposing a theory that all energy is Facebook energy. If it is used directly on Facebook then it is a waste of time but if it is directed into some other venture it turns into a useful, productive result.

As usual, let’s look at history, Thomas Edison, Marie Curie, Mao Tse Tung were these great people? Yes, they were. Did they have Facebook accounts? No, they didn’t! On the other hand, George Bush, Paris Hilton, Sarah Palin are all on Facebook.

‘nuff said!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Sachchi Shiksha



[I was planning to do a blog post on this topic (which I still might do later) but when I woke up this morning the inspiration in my head was more towards poetry than prose. Result is this poem. I take no responsibility for what happens if you follow it like a life philosophy. Or if you don’t. ;)  ]





नया ज़माना आया प्यारे इसके नये उसूल,
झूठ के ढोल बजाओ भाई, सच को जाओ भूल,

सच को जाओ भूल यही दस्तूर है प्यारो,
सच की फीकी दाल में यारो, थोड़ा झूठ का तड़का मारो.

बारह आने सच्चाई के चार आने का झूठ,
खुल्ली लूट मची है प्यारे लूट सके तो लूट.

लूट सके तो लूट, बहुत मौके हैं प्यारे,
बेईमानी की चाबी पकड़ो खुल जाएँगे ताले सारे.

दस्तूर जहाँ दस्तूरी का हो, सच्चाई का राग ना गाओ
भाषण तो घर जा कर देना, पैसा फेंको काम कराओ

पैसा फेंको काम कराओ, चाहे नौकरी या हो तरक्की,
चोर चोर मौसेरे भाई, अपनी दोस्ती सबसे पक्की.

सच की राह तुम चलो हमेशा बच्चों को यह पाठ पढ़ाओ,
Admission  का समय जब आए, donation दो entry पाओ.

donation दो entry पाओ. , मत सब को उपदेश सुनाओ,
'खाओ और खाने दो' का तुम नया मूल मन्त्र अपनाओ.

सच्चाई की राह चले तो काँटे ही राहों में होंगे,
बेइमानी की खाद लगाओ, फूल उगाओ खुशबू पाओ.

सूखी रोटी सच्चाई की कब तक पानी से खाओगे,
बेईमानी का मक्खन मारो अपना जीवन सरल बनाओ.


Saturday, December 10, 2011

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Movie Review - Desi Boyz - Rocking it filmy style




When you go to see a Hindi film, especially in the current times, you don't really expect a lot of  common sense and realistic scenes. You expect to be entertained with larger-than-life characters and dramatic scenes alongwith Bollywood style music. If you go with those expectations you'll love Desi Boyz.

Frankly, my expectations were much lower courtesty of Akki's last film Tees Maar Khan. But I was pleasantly suprised. The story as usual is very basic and can be explained in one sentence. Jerry Patel (Akshay Kumar) and Nick Mathur (John Abraham) both lose their jobs in the times of recession and in order to fulfill the dire need of money in their lives, they become male escorts. That's it.

Now, if you gave that premise to a 5-year old (Desi) boy and told him the star cast, he would be able to give you ALL the twists in the story including the type and number of songs.

And yet, the movie manages to not disappoint because of the silly but nice humour and the little twists that have been executed well. The movie manages to keep people on the seats and doens't make them look at their watches. Pace of the story is fairly even.

It's Rohit Dhawan's first film as a director and I think he has done a good job. At first when I heard the name I thought David Dhawan had adopted Rohit Shetty, but later found out that he was David Dhawan's own son. To Rohit (Dhawan)'s credit, the film is much less silly than David's films that he has made with Govinda in the past.

The gigolo part of it is done with brilliant dance and music numbers. Like almost all modern music this won't last long either, but for the flavour of the month the music is very entertaining and hummable, even danceable. Suffice it to say that I have all the songs in my playlist right now.

While we are talking of music, I think at least 2 of the tunes are stoen, excuse me, inspired by other Hindi songs. If you are curious do a comparative analysis and see if they click. Here's the data. The retro type song "Filmein shilmein chalti thiiN, hum gaane waane gaate the" reminds me of that that song about Gandhi in Lage Raho Munna Bhai. The other song - "Jhak maar ke" has starting music that looks exactly similar to "Rookhi sookhi roti tere haathon se kha ke aaya maja bada." I think it's from Nayak. I'd like to hear your opinions on both. But all in all, the music is very good and the singers have done a great job as well.

The kid who plays Akshay's nephew is very cute and has delivered a good performance for a child so young. Unfortunately his name is not in the IMDB credits.

The humour in the film is good and fortunately not much of it is gross male-movie type humour. The dialogues for the most part are clever and suit the characters. The outtakes used in end credits are really funny, best part of the movie in my opinion, though they are filled with *beep*s.

Let's talk more about the star cast. Both Akshay and John have been presented as beefcake and if my friend's reaction is any indication the female audience will love it. Both female leads, Deepika Padukone and Chitrangda Singh, are looking really good and their clothes have been designed to cash in on their beauty. I like both of them, especially Chitrangda so no complaints from me. I might buy the DVD just to watch them. :) No, I will buy the DVD for the extras. There are a big number of female extra's in the songs and there are really sexy. They have done their part quite well too, as I was watching them in the songs, having no interest in either John or Akshay's oiled up bodies. In one song "Subah hone na de", Bruna Abdalah has done an item song like appearance and she's hot, man!

Anupam Kher has done a great job in his role as the girl's father and they way he has balanced his gay/curious streak in the character is both hilarious and genius. Omi Vaidya the annoying guy from 3 Idiots has a small role, he is annoying in this one as well, but I think that's what he's meant to be. Mohnish Behl, small role that he done with dignity. Sanjay Dutt has delivered a good performance as the Escort Agency Owner.

As for poetry in the lyrics, hah, what poetry, mate? The lyrics are the normal, cheap, rhyming crap you get with most new songs. The chorus of 2 or 3 songs ('make some noise for the desi boys', 'subah hone na de', 'allah maaf kare') is very catchy and will stay with you but the words are almost meaningless.

There are lapses in common sense, but you kinda expect that much. For example, my highly intelligent nephew asked me yesterday, "If they are struggling so much for money why does John not sell his motorcycle?" Yes, John had really expensive-looking bike that he doesn't sell even when they lose the kid because of money. There are other things,

This film reminds me of two other movies. One "Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo" in which Rob Schneider does a hilarious job of being an inept gigolo. Second, "Evelyn" in which Pierce Brosnan delivers a tremendous performance as an out-of-work Irish father fighting for the custody of his children.

This movie doesn't touch either of them but is a good entertainer for a weekend afternoon.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Gotcha!




Btw, that article I posted on the nevative effects of cursing your computer "Be Kind To Your Computer"? Well, it was a fake. I wrote the whole thing just in the fit of a creative spasm. You can take it as a late April fool's prank from me. But I did post the truth as part of that post at the bottom. But only for those who can read invisible text. :)

Actually, it was a good test of my readers after my "Be Safe On The Web" post. If you had followed any of the links in the article, you'd have found that they didn't lead anywhere. Except the Wikipedia links. And as befits a good lie, I mixed it up with a good helping of the true facts.

I hope you enjoyed the post. ;)

Death of a Legend - Dev Anand




Indian film cinema legend Dev Anand passed away in a hospital in London yesterday. To the Hindi film lovers in India, Dev Anand needs no introduction. I just want to use this space to express my deepest sorrow that the industry has lost an icon!

Dev Anand or Dev Sahab as he was known to everybody, was not just a film star, to me he was a symbol of undying passion and indefatigable spirit. He had a very successful film career starting from the black and white era of Hindi cinema all the way into technicolour with so many hits and superhits that they cannot be counted on the fingers. In his old age (I use this word hesitantly for him as he defied the term with his very being), he continued making films, and he kept on making them despite the result on the box office.

There were questions about the quality of his films and that he was so fond of being in the frame himself. Maybe there's something in that, or maybe it's that elusive x-factor that one needed for a box office success in Bollywood. But even his worst enemies cannot say that he accepted defeat. Even after the bad failure of a movie, he'd simply dust himself off, announce his next film and go out in search of his next discovery.

Despite the failure of several of his later films, he launched many successful careers. There are many legends and inspiring stories about him that you can easily find on the web. But I cannot refrain from mentioning the legend of his black shirts. The legend goes that Bombay police had to request him not to wear black shirts as it excited his female fans too much. There is a mention of some girls jumping off balconies. I don't know how true that is but it must have a grain of truth in it based on the facts we know.

Dev Anand was always a well-dressed, debonair star on-screen and off it. Even in his later years this image didn't change. Any time I saw him on screen in a film festival or award function, he was always the well-dressed, well-spoken gentleman who did our film industry credit.

Another inspiring fact about him, for me, is the song "Main zindagi ka saath nibhata chala gaya". In an interview Dev Anand said that he lived his life like that and indeed he did. That song has been an inspiration to me for years.

Dev Sahab was 88 and he worked till his last breath. His latest film is Chargesheet to be released in 2011 (already released?).

I will just finish with the sentiment that Dev Anand will be missed for his contribution to the Hindi cinema and he will live on forever through his work.

General information about him you can read in this news item:
http://www.moneycontrol.com/news/entertainment/dev-anand-bollywoods-stylish-peter-pan-dies_629122.html


Friday, December 02, 2011

Random sher - ilm ka sauda



अश्आर मेरे यूँ तो ज़माने के लिए हैं
कुछ शेर फक़त उनको सुनाने के लिए हैं

ये इल्म का सौदा, ये रिसाले, ये किताबें,
एक शख्स की यादों को भुलाने के लिए हैं.

Be Kind to Your Computer




[Photo: Courtesy worldwidedigitaladvertising.org. Article from external source.]


"Come on, you useless little piece of junk! Print. PRINT! PRINT!!"

Are you one of those people who shout at your computer whenever it fails to please you with its unquestioning obedience and superfast performance? Are you one of the frustrated thousands who look for a hammer when the Control-Alt-Del doesn't work?

Perhaps it's time to rethink your approach. Scientists in a company in Norway have released a research that describes the negative impact that "dysfunctional behaviour with inanimate electronic devices" can have on the human nervous system. Based on a sample of 2200 people from the IT and IT-dependent companies these scientists have developed a profile which they are calling "Electro-Chemical Human Responsiveness Index". This profile, called ELCHER for short, categorizes the range of various responses humans have in a "failure through negative feedback loop" situation.

During the study subjects were told to interact with a computer system as part of the "preparation" phase of research. Typically, they were told to fill out a form in a word processor and print and sign it before bringing it back to the researcher who would then tell them what they were supposed to do as part of the "research" phase.

The computer systems were rigged to produce 3 different kinds of failures in sequence. Examples of failures included - failure to save the file, various error messages during typing, sudden deletion of all text, flickering of display and printer failure.

The scientists claim that depending on a human user’s reaction to a failure condition produces different chemicals in the body. Users who were observed (secretly) to shout at the computer system in a failure situation were later discovered to have a higher level of melatonin in their blood stream than those who suffered patiently. Melatonin is a harmful chemical that increases the electric polarity of the red blood corpuscles leading to an increased chances of cerebral damage.

Users who silently suffered the malfunctions were measured to have 3 to 5% of increase in their melatonin levels whereas users who shouted at or cursed the system were found to have a whopping 73% to 81% melatonin in their blood. Normally melatonin, known in the scientific circles as the “hormone of darkness” is released in the blood by the pineal gland in very specific situations.

The company, Digichem Research Labs has hinted that they are planning to use this research to develop a highly sophisticated gadget to offset this phenomenon. No design or prototype is  available at this stage but the company spokesman, Druger Balonski confided in the Norway Times that it would be a wristband type gadget that the user will need to wear only in front of the computer to offset the “negative feedback loop effect”. No other details about how the gadget will work have been shared at this time while the company waits for a patent hearing.

Until the gadget is in production though, we would advise you to be kind to your computer!

[Source: Norway Times English Web Edition]


This whole article is a joke. There’s no truth in it as far as I know. I just wrote it to flex my creative muscles.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Google now censoring some websites





[Photo credit: http://www.toonpool.com/cartoons/Do%20no%20evil_5798]

My outspoken disgust for Apple and iPhone does not stem from personal reasons and as such it does not stop as a particular company or product. My objection, vehement and strong objection, is against limiting the users, restricting how they can live their lives. I have never been a big fan of Flash, I have never been a Flash developer and frankly I hate those annoying Flash ads that you have to watch on some websites. But I despise that Apple should decide whether users can have Flash on their devices or not. NO! It's the user's right to decide.

So when Google starts acting like a big brother and starts with censorship, no matter how small, no matter how benign in appearance, I wouldn't stand for  it. As of now, I am looking for a new search Engine. The link below is an article that'll explain why.

http://torrentfreak.com/google-now-censors-the-pirate-bay-isohunt-4shared-and-more-111123/

Copyright Industry - A Century of Deceit


A fascinating article on the copyright lobbying through the 100 or so years.
http://torrentfreak.com/the-copyright-industry-a-century-of-deceit-111127/

Just to add my own 2 bits, I remember one time I was stuck trying to fast forward the anti-piracy warning on a DVD and found that I couldn't. Try it some time, it's programmed so that the viewer has to watch the full track that contains the warning or warnings. At that time I remember musing over the fact that the punishment for the crime of copying a movie seemed unreasonably high, like 10 years of jail time. I mean, that's the kind of sentence that should be reserved for really heinous crimes. Is copying a DVD really at par with rape and murder?


Shayri: Allama's ghazal


Long, long time ago in a different continent, I bought an audio cassette titled "Qawwalis from Films". I do love Urdu Shayri and Qawwalis are a really fun, enjoyable medium of singing the ghazals. There have been many, many qawwali's in Hindi films, some of them based on real Urdu Shayri while others were written just for the film.

This cassette had several of them like "Chaandi ka badan, sone ki nazar", "Yeh mana meri jaan mohabbat saza hai" and of course the famous "Yeh ishq ishq hai" from Barsaat ki Raat.

Sandwiched between two great qawwali's was one that was so slow and boring that I would press fast forward every time it started. Not only was it slow and boring, the music was very uninteresting and the words were in tough Urdu, it just didn't mean anything to me.

But I used to listen to that cassette very often and sometimes I would be late in pressing the FF button on the player. This way I heard the first few words of it. Then a litte more. And then I got curious some time and let it play a little longer. I still didn't like the music but the words piqued my curiosity even more.

Gradually over the years, I pieced together what the words meant and also learn a bit more about the ghazal. It's Allama Iqbal's ghazal and it is indeed in very tough Urdu, but I really one of the shers from it and that made me like it.

With that much ado, here are the two sher's, the first one and my favourite one.

Kabhi ae haqiqat-e-muntzir nazar aa libaas-e-majaaz meiN
Ke hazaaroN sajde tadap rahe haiN meri zabeen-e-niyaaz meiN


कभी ऐ हक़ीक़त-ए-मुंतज़िर नज़र आ लिबास-ए-मजाज़ में,
कि हज़ारों सजदे तड़प रहे हैं मेरी ज़बीन-ए-नियाज़ में,


I'll explain the literal meaning but I am not yet smart enough to explain the real meaning. Might take me another 10 years or so.

The poet says - O much awaited reality, show yourself in the fabric of practical some time, for a thousand prostrations are eagerly waiting in my worshipful forehead.

Yes, of course it sounds a thousand times better in Urdu and I like it even without understanding it fully. But my favourite sher is this:


मैं जो सर-बसजदा कभी हुआ तो ज़मीन से आने लगी सदा,
तेरा दिल तो है सनम-आशना तुझे क्या मिलेगा नमाज़ में.


This one is easier to understand. The shayar says, whenever I prostrated in prayer, the earth started to say, "Your heart is filled with your beloved, what do you hope to get from prayer?"

This of course, has as many meanings as you can get from it. One is that prayer is not real if your mind is not in it along with your body. Another meaning is (as I see it) that when you have found love, you don't need prayer, only love.

In any case I love this sher and I am reminded of it any time someone mentions namaaz or roza or things like that.

And that's enough for a literary discussion. :)

Funny traffic signs

I thought you might be as bummed by Monday morning as I am. So here are some funny traffic signs to cheer us both up. With my comments, of course.

As long as they said please...



Hmmm, that seems like a really intelligent sign.



Gee, thanks for your support. 



Shhh....it's our little secret!


Somebody got their priorities right...:)


We can't make it easier than this for you, can we? 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

PSA: Be Safe On The Web



This is a public service post. Recently I have realized that there has been a flood of dodgy email messages and viruses spreading through emails and Facebook etc. With more than a decade of experience in IT I have had my share of such scam/viruses/trojans and phishing emails. I have learnt from them, having fallen for some of them and then avoiding the rest. I decided to give the benefit of my experience to anyone who might need it. Right at the outset I want to declare that I am not a security expert and not a hacker, my sole qualification is my firsthand experience with such things and my commonsense which has saved me in the past.

Disclaimer: The ideas and suggestions in this post are mine, based on my own intelligence, skill and experience. They work for me. I don't know if they will work for you or whether they will be good or bad for you. Therefore, I cannot take responsibility for anything you do with them. Read the post, consider the ideas, evaluate each suggestion with your own mind then do what you think is best for you. If you follow any suggestions from this post, you take the responsibility for all results. There, that's done!

There are so many types of such malware (things that want to do harm to you or your computer) around and so many variations on each that it would need a whole book not a blog post to cover them all. Therefore, I would just focus on the things that I think will provide the most benefit to the maximum number of people. I might do supplementary posts on the same topic later.

Attack type 1: Phishing
What is Phishing?
Phishing is simply an attempt to fool a person with fake data to get him to send you his(real) data. It can be done in various ways. Some of the ways are to send a fake official email or create a fake but official looking webpage.

Examples
You receive an email that claims to be sent by the bank NatWest. It tells you that your account has some issues and you should login to your account and check the account activity or something like that.

Another example could be when you by mistake type a URL incorrectly and land on another website which is reserved to trap people who mistype a well-known website, like typing 3 O's in Yahoo.com or an extra O in google.com. The resulting page would look almost exactly like the one you were going to visit but would be fake.

There are different variations of both these approaches including combining the two.

How to recognize the fake
Even though the fakes are getting better and better, it's still possible to recognize them with a few common sense precautions.

1. Check the source of the message. If you regularly receive messages from that source that'd be one thing but if this is the first time, be extra careful. When I say "source" I don't mean just the name of the sender. Dig deeper. On the internet it's ridiculously easy to make an email appear to have come from "NatWest Customer Support" when the email address it was sent from is info@natwestphishingscam.com.
So, when you check the source, look at the actual email address. There's usually a button on most email sites to expand the "To:" field and look at the email address not just the name of the sender. If you know how to check the email headers look at them as well, they tell the real story. (It's just a question of finding the button that say something like Full Headers).

2. Read the message carefully, the spelling and grammar on these emails is usually far from perfect. It used to be terrible, like an instruction manual translated from Japanese to English but it's been getting better. Still, the language would not be as letter perfect as it would be coming from a big corporate like NatWest.

3. Do NOT click on any of the links in the email. Instead, just HOVER your mouse pointer on the link. In most web browsers when you hover your mouse over the link you'd see its target address in the status bar at the bottom of the window. Just like the email address, it's extremely simple to make a link that looks like www.natwest.com/security when it actually it goes to a totally different address that has nothing at all to do with NatWest.

4. When looking at addresses pay attention to the DOMAIN name. In http://mail.yahoo.com the domain name is yahoo.com. In http://yahoo.scam.com the domain is scam.com and has nothing to do with Yahoo. Also understand that http://www.yahoomail.com may have nothing to do with yahoo.com. The address has to be literal not just similar to the correct address. It's not very hard to create a website called www.yahoosecurity.com and make it look like it belongs to Yahoo. A real address would be more like either http://security.mail.yahoo.com OR http://www.yahoo.com/accountsecurity. Get the drift?

(And please for God's sake do NOT go to any of the fake addresses I am using as an example. Not even to the yahoo ones, I am just making them up to make a point.)

What to do
1. First thing for you to remember is that you do NOT have an account at NatWest. Just delete the email. These emails are sent en masse to a huge number of people, on the assumption that some of them will have an account with NatWest. Another similar email may be sent to another million people purporting to be from HSBC.

2. If you do happen to have an account with that bank, do NOT click on any of the links in the email. Think about whether that issue could really be true or you just used your account 2 hours ago and it was fine.

3. If you are really concerned that the problem might be real (it would seem really urgent and serious in the scam email) call the bank directly and ask them about it. Call the regular number you have called before or find it from directory assitance. Do NOT call any of the numbers in the scam email.

4. If for any reason you cannot call the bank and must use the web, do NOT click the links in the email. Instead, open a new browser window and type the bank URL yourself. And still be on the lookout for any suspicious behaviour.

5. For the second type of scam where the web page is fake, remember to type the URL correctly when it's something as important as your bank's online banking URL. Save a bookmark and use it every time if you are prone to tyop's.

6. Delete the scam email, of course. Remove it from the Trash folder as well.

Just this weekend I received an email from Homebase.co.uk that annoyed me. It said "Thank you for confirming your subscription to our weekly newsletter." That, of course, would annoy me since I didn't ask for any such subscription in the first place so how could I confirm it! I knew I would have to unsubscribe. There were a couple of helpful, conveniently-placed links in the email including an Unsubscribe link. Having never asked for this subscription, I was still suspicious although I had never had such a scam tried on me before.

I hovered my mouse over the links first and noticed that the link went to something like homebaselife.co.uk etc. etc. NOT to homebase.com or homebase.co.uk. Now, I don't KNOW of my own knowledge that homebaselife.co.uk is a bad site, but since the email pretended to be something else while being something else, I would NOT click on those links!

Trojans
What are trojans?
The term Trojan comes from the old, legendary Trojan Horse, the wooden horse which was a gift from Troy but had soldiers hidden inside. Trojans are like that as well. They claim to be some workable, usable piece of software but inside is a virus that would infect your computer and cause damage.

The software coule be as simple as a freeware photo viewing tool or as big as "MS-Office - cracked and registered". Yes, I mean illegally downloaded software from the net. No, I am not saying they are all infected, I am just saying that's how trojans are spread in the market.

How to avoid them?
1. Well, one way is to always buy software from known retailers and buy them on disks. Since disks are read-only, they cannot be infected, even if you put them inside an infected computer. That's how we reinstall Windows if a system is infected.

2. Install a good, reliable anti-virus and keep it turned on. In that case, it will catch the virus in any other software. If you try to download anti-virus from any but the authorised site, remember that it can also be infected. But there are some free anti-virus software available as well (yes, legally free), AVG and Avast are two of them. These are usually free versions of the full software which can provide you basic antivirus functionality.

3. Whatever software you download from the web, any software, scan it with your antivirus before installing it.

Keylogging
Some malware comes in the form of keyloggers. A keylogger is a little piece of software that can monitor, and store, all the keys your press on the keyboard then it can forward this data to someone else who can then have access to ALL your usernames and passwords. A really, really dangerous and damaging situation.

There is some more information on the link below about keyloggers, how they work and how to avoid being trapped by them.
http://www.securelist.com/en/analysis/204791931/Keyloggers_How_they_work_and_how_to_detect_them_Part_1

Hacking
This is a more active form of malicious behaviour and usually involves someone targeting a particular system or network actively. Although these are usually targeted at big websites and servers including industrial espionage, in some cases individual systems can be used as a victim or a pass-through. I would not go into the details of things like man-in-the-middle attack and Denial of Service attacks, but I would say that it's better to have a firewall running with all unused ports blocked. And a good, up-to-date antivirus system running.


Other threats
1. Downloading movies and videos. Some of the ways people download movies and TV shows are illegal while others are perfectly legal. I am not going to judge how people should do it, but I can give you a few hints that might be handy in any case.
When you download vidoes, be careful what other files are downloaded with the video files. AVI and JPG files are safe enough (at the time of this writing) but any other files like .htm, .html, .com, .exe, .js etc. can all be used to deliver viruses to your system. Delete these.

A really good way (for scammers) to infect your system is by including a "Media Player" software with the video. The media player will actually work but it would also infect your computer.

If the video comes with a text file of instructions and it tells you to go to a certain website, or download a certain software to play the file, do NOT do it. Simply delete the video and all the files it came with.

2. Do not click on links in emails without being extremely sure that they are legit even if the email is from someone you know.
These days there are several viruses that infect your system then send email to all the contacts in your mailbox with a link. Anyone who clicks on that link will be infected as well. And then the virus will send emails to all THEIR contacts with the link. Yes, it is like the Zombie M.O.

These emails used to be very dumb. Just a link in the otherwise blank message. So easy to spot. But these days they have become smarter. Now, there can be a paragraph of text before the link, talking about the link. At once glance it might seem like written by a human, but if you read through carefully, it's easy to spot that it's a fake.

3. An important variation on the above is an email with an attachment. These used to be dumb too, like the link emails, just an attachment with the email with no or little text in the message. Now these come with a message that describes the attachment.

The one I received 2 days ago purported to be from UPS telling me that the delivery of my package had failed, and details were in the attachment. Since I wasn't expecting any UPS delivery I deleted the email. However, if you are expecting a delivery, you can still go to the UPS website directly instead of downloading the attachment and see what it says when you enter your tracking number.

Real official emails are easy to spot if you know what to look for. For one thing, they would quote your name and order number as well as other details about your order. Secondly, the email would be formatted much more differently. Third and most important, you can hover your mouse on the links and check where it leads to BEFORE clicking it.

Best Practices
Firewalls
- Either install a firewall or at least turn on the Windows built-in Firewall.
- If you know how to do it, block all unused ports on your system by creating firewall rules.

Changing passwords
Banking websites and other security experts usually advise changing your password frequently. I don't.
I have my own philosophy about it. Again, it works for me, if you use it, it's at your own risk.
Here's my rationale behind it.
- Any time you type your password it can be captured by a keylogger.
- If the password is saved in the browser, it is encrypted and harder to get at.
- The frequent change can be useful only if you do the change very frequently, like every day. Then you have a risk of forgetting your own password or creating a pattern which can then be guessed by the hacker.

But if you use this method which I do, you need to follow some other guidelines, very, very carefully in order to stay safe.

Physical security
- NEVER, EVER leave your computer unlocked. Not even in your own home if you live with other people.
- Never write down your password. Instead use a memorable password. If you are afraid you'll forget it, write down a hint to the password but not the actual password. Write that hint in a personal code if you can.
- Guard against leaking your password by social engineering. What it means is, if you are talking to a stranger in a pub about computer security don't start giving examples of your own "very secure" passwords. Not even the process you use to derive your password.
- Use passwords that are easy to remember for you, but hard to guess for a computer. For example - "Monty Python is a hoot & and a 1/2". Still guessable but harder than the "1A82$590#" type crap that password generators spew out.

All this discussion about security has reminded me of a scene from "Enemy of the State".

Will Smith is being hounded by the FBI for reasons of their own. They are using all the technology at their disposal from tracking satellites to phone taps and physical cars on the road. Will meets Gene Hackman who knows all this security stuff. Gene gets Will to lose all his sensors that the FBI planted on him. Then he takes him with him. Gene stops at a store on the way to buy some food. Will uses the time to make a phone call to explain to his wife...never mind what. But his home phone is tapped and FBI pick up his lost trail from there.

Gene doesn't about the phone call. He takes Will to his secret hideout. It's a well-hidden cabin where Gene has no outside links, he has no phone, no power lines, he makes his own power and connects to the internet via hardware firewalls only when he needs to.

While they are talking the FBI arrive on the scene. Gene sees them via his monitoring cameras and asks Will, "What did you do?"

Will: Me? Nothing!
Gene: WHAT did you DO?
Will: I called my wife...
Gene: You idiot!

Gene takes the car and both Gene and Will get out in a hurry. Behind them Gene's cabin blows up in a big explosion. Will looks at Gene.

Will: Your cabin!
Gene: I blew it up!
Will: but..but why?
Gene looks at Will and says bitterly, "Because you made a phone call!"

The moral of the story is that it takes one leak, a single leak to ruin everything. So, don't be silly, don't make that phone call!




Sunday, November 20, 2011

What Android can do


Because Android is open and available for anyone to play with, these kind of things are possible.

A Norwegian company FXI Technologies has invented a dual-core 1.2GHz Android-based computer that is the size of a USB stick and can be plugged into a USB port on an HDTV, a PC, a Mac, or even a tablet. When plugged into a computer, you can run both your PC's OS and Android in windowed mode. Amazing, isn't it?

Full story here:
http://blog.laptopmag.com/usb-stick-contains-dual-core-computer-turns-any-screen-into-an-android-station

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Rahim Cyber Remix




I don't know what got into me, so don't ask. But I felt like writing some dohe of Rahim in the modern context. So here they are. They are absolutely silly and have no purpose other than to entertain (if that). See if you can remember the originals these are based on.

Bandwidth itna deejiye jaa mein kutumb samaay
Torrent bhi chalte rahein, YouTube bhi na rukaay

Aisi email bhejiye man kaa aapa khoye,
Receiver bhi hans hans padhe, sender bhi khush hoye

Server niyare raakhiye, firewall lagaay,
Aisa waisa hacker bhi panga na le paay.

Rahiman yeh ghar chat ka khaala ka ghar naahin,
Naam badal side kare tab paithe ghar maahin

Monday, November 14, 2011

Happy Children's Day!



This is the risk in reading other people's blogs. Bikram has done a great post on the Indian youth who took part in India's struggle for freedom and it inspired me to write something as well on the occasion of Children's day.

Not that I can talk from a grown up's point of view, never having grown up myself. I have grown older but still a child at heart.

Since I have lived in the western world for a few years, and I am quite immersed in the western culture by way of movies and books, I have wondered more than once how my life would have turned out had I grown up in the US or UK. It would have been different!

For example, I would not turn pink every time I talk to a pretty girl since social life even in school days is quite mixed in this culture! But alas, I went to a boys-only high school. There are a lot of other things too, like Indian schools have hardly any extra-curricular programs. Or so it was when I was in school. These days with the sprouting of private schools everywhere and the evolving curriculum things are changing a little.

Then there are other things like learning to drive before you are 18, learning to dance, learning to throw a party etc. etc.

But then there is the flip side. There is no doubt that we had a hard life living in India and in a middle-class family. But that same condition taught me so much that I cannot begin to describe how much it contributed to the development of my character. The adverse conditions and hard life made me stronger physically and mentally. And even at that I cannot use the words "hard life" for my life without feeling a bit ashamed. My life was a patch of clover compared to what my dad started with and what a lot of Indian children didn't have and don't, even today.

Plus, I don't forget the things that I didn't learn not growing up in US. I didn't learn to drink beer, I never learnt to smoke, weed to me is still a form of vegetation that you need to root out, MJ for me was only Madan Jain. Those are some mighty important things never to learn.

So, on Children's Day I just wants to wish all the children in India a happy, healthy life and help them realize that they are really lucky to be growing up in one of the best, probably THE best culture in the world.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Casette and pencil



My nephew recently shared this picture with me which sent me back to the past in a flash. Indeed there was a wondeful world of cassettes and cassette players. Unlike most people I didn't use the cassettes just to listen to music, I loved to record. No, I didn't play any music myself back then (yeah, like I do now!) but I loved to record from the radio, or record conversations, chit-chat anything that took my fancy.

In the name of progress we have moved away from the progress and adopted the CDs into our lifestyles. But is it the same thing? I won't go all nostalgic on you and cry about the "good old days" but as a software professional and a man with experience of dealing cassettes, VHS, CDs, DVDs, DVD-R's, DVD-RW's, hard drives, flash memories and the like, I would argue that cassettes were better. Let's examine the evidence without emotion.

Cassette's were fragile, a spool of reel in a platic casing. But CDs are worse. Not only are they bigger and flimiser but they have to be protected even against stains and dirt. Do you know that the label side of the CD is much more fragile then the shiny side the data is read from? Yes, if you wrote on the label side with a normal pen you could damage the data. On the other hand, a little inkblot on the shiny side can ruin your CD. Compared to that cassettes were much sturdier.

Then, talk about recording. Now there was a question that both I and my brother Anil had to face frequently in our respective cities. Whenever we tried to buy a device to record audio, or tried to buy supplies for it, people would say, "Who does recording these days!" and we both had the same answer - "*I* do!" So before you say the same thing to my objection, keep that in mind, I still record a lot of audio, all kinds of stuff.

But CDs cannot record without special hardware. When was the last time you saw a CD-recorder outside of a computer context? Me? Never. But it was so easy to find a cassette recorder in the same size as as a cassette player. I had one that was very easy to pocket. And I have done all kind of recordings using in-line cable and even speakers-to-mic. Yes, bad quality but oh, what fun.

We weren't rich enough afford VCR and tapes but I had my portable little tape recorder so I used to record movies and TV shows from the TV. I particularly remember recording Raj Kapoor's "Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai". I, my brother Anil and his wife, we were watching it together late at night. My recorder was propped up next to the speaker against our  big, black-and-white TV. (yes, we had only one TV for the whole family, imagine that!)

I listened to that recording many times in the following years. It recorded not only the movie's sounds but also our own comments and laughter in context. That was such an imperfect recording, but it made the recording something special.

I also recorded the Doordarshan serial "Phir Wohi Talaash". I had an almost complete collection of it. I hope it's still there in my room in Delhi where the rest of my cassettes are lying collecting dust as I can't find the video of that show anywhere no matter how hard I look.

The point is nowadays you can't record because you can't record on the CDs that easily and recording on mobile phones is not the same, the quality is not that good.

Then, the question of repairs. When a cassette had problems, you could fix it with the help of a small Philips screwdriver, a pair of scissors and a bit of cellotape. And of course, the pencil. I have taken complete cassettes apart and put them back together when one of my precious recordings was endangered by a bit of problem. I have spliced over a lot of audio jumps like that.

That's where the pencil comes in by the way. When a cassette developed a problem and the reel started to get sucked into the player head, or if it was wrapped the wrong way around by some mechanical issue you took the cassette out and found a pencil. Then, carefully pulling out as much of the tape as you had to, you straighted it out and then used the pencil to wind it back into the cassette by hand.

With CDs, it either works or you throw it away. But, I guess that's the kind of disposable culture we live in these days. Anything that doesn't work is on a direct trajectory to the trash bin.

Anyway, that's the story of the cassette and pencil. As usual, I took way too much space to tell it. :)

Movie Review - Rum Diary - More like crap diary



[The image is not from the movie. I just like Amber Heard.]

Oh my god, what a shitload of crap! 

Okay, let me be clear here first, any time I spend doing a review for this pile of garbage is a waste of my life just as the two hours of watching it were.

But I am still doing it, as a public service, so I can save some other innocent, unsuspecting people from wasting 2 hours of their life on this bilge.

(Hmmm, if I insist on writing this as a full review I will need some more synonyms for crap.)


First step - motivation. Here's a fact list based on the trailers.

I don't Johnny Depp at all.

I didn't think the story had any promise.

I didn't like the backdrop of the story.

I saw a very hot looking Amber Heard in the trailer.

I love Amber heard.



Clear enough? Even on that score the movie disappointed me hugely, and I do mean that..hugely, like in a big way...like I wanted to put a chair through that screen when it finished! And I am not a violent man outside of martial arts classes.


When we entered the theatre, it was almost full to the capacity. So full indeed that I and my friend couldn't find two seats together, the only seats available were across the aisle frome each other.

That wasn't a big deal. Since it was not a girlfriend I went with but a male friend. It was okay. Only it became a big deal, later, when he wanted to ask me if I wanted to leave, but couldn't because we were sitting apart.

Looking back at it, that should have been my first clue. I don't know what it is about this town, but the audience here seems to be stupid. With the exception of Real Steel, the last few times whenever we have found the theatre full, the movie has turned out to be a colossal bore, a huge waste of time, a crapfest. Every time!

Next time I see the theatre full when I walk in, I am gonna walk right out!

So, because of the seats situation and my overall low-expection from the film (and the fact that I would have to watch Johnny Depp) put me in a foul mood and I started watching it with a "Okay-try-and-make-me-laugh" attutide.

And would you believe that in 1 hours 59 minutes of movie it could not make me laugh even ONE time?? The best it got was a half-smile on one dialogue by Aaron Eckhart but that's it. And before you say nobody can make you laugh unless you want to, I'll say you are wrong. I have watched movies and TV shows in worse moods before and a good show can not only make you laugh, it can make you forget what you were upset about. This movie actually put me in a worse mood than I had started in.

Let's get into detail now. And I will discuss the story in detail including climax because I don't WANT anyone else to go see it.

So, the story? Is very simple. A plan by a few poweful people to despoil and dominate an uninhibited island in Puerto Rico.

The plot is unfolded quickly and simply. No surprises.

The acting? Hmm, let's see. I don't know what Johnny Depp thinks he is but he couldn't make me like him. Thoroughly unimpressed by his performance. I really like Aaron Eckhart, but his role was so straightforward and boring that he had no way to do anything special in it. The only performance I liked was the guy who plays sidekick to Depp in the whole film. I am not gonna bother to look up his name.

Amber Heard is a really beautiful girl, but she has like 5 or 6 small scenes in the whole film. Based on the movie's synopsis, I was expecting her to have a role that dominated the film alongwith Depp but here she seems like window-dressing, an afterthought. You can cut her whole role out of the movie and not miss anything. She looks pretty, but I hated her character.

To be fair, audience did laugh in about 4-5 places in the movie but they had come to laugh, and maybe they liked Depp for some perverse reason. The strangers sitting in my row on my right didn't laugh either. The situatiosn that could have been funny had either been used up in the trailer or were so cliched that you needed 5 drinks in you to actually smile at them.

The climax was the clincher. The climax has some good (good as in long) build-up, one lone man against the authorities and all that, but it lets the audience down horribly when the hero just gives up.

No, I am not kidding you. That's exactly what happens. Depp wants to print the paper one last time with help from disgruntled employees, to expose Aaron's plot. The people do not come to support Depp. Aaron comes and takes away the machines of the newspaper before Depp gets there. So, Depp steals Aaron's boat and goes to New York. Credits roll.

What the hell makes a good hero? It's not good looks, it's not physical strength, it's not his charm with the ladies..it's his character. A hero is a hero because he pokes trouble, he fights the good fight.

In Die Hard 4 Bruce Willis explains to the nerdy young guy that he doesn't want to do this but if doesn't nobody else will. "And that makes me that guy!"

Later in a climax scene, when bullets are flying and the villain has the upper hand that nerdy guys saves the life of Bruce's daughter at his own peril.

Later still, when Bruce thanks the nerd for that, he replies, "Hey, what was I gonna do, let her die?"

And Bruce says, "And that makes you THAT guy!"

But this guy is not that guy, he just tucks his tail between his legs and leaves town. That's when I felt like I wanted to pick up a chair and hurl it at the screen. Fortunately for me, they were all bolted down.

If I didn't have an unlimited movie card, I'd have gone to the counter and asked for my money back!

In conclusion, it's a piece of shit, a pile of garbage and a load of crap. Don't go see it. Don't even buy a pirated copy. Tell your friends, not to go see it and to tell their friends not to go see it...

This review will have lots of grammar and spelling problems because I am not going to re-read it before posting. I refuse to waste any more time on this crap of a movie.

'Nuff said.








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