Sunday, September 25, 2011

Facebook scare

So I was pretty excited last week (the week of 22nd September, 2011) when facebook held their f8 conference, the annual facebook developer conference.  Since 2007, facebook reveals new features, APIs etc. in this mega event.

2007 had the first f8 held in San Fransisco.  It saw the advent of the Social graph.  It was widely cherished by the developer community.  2008's f8 was a biggie and brought in the New facebook profile and tons of privacy features, along with the famous Facebook Connect, to which all major websites sucked on like a leech.  There was a sort of hue and cry from those who were concerned about privacy; but heck, Zuck gives a shit!

2009 saw the event ommitted, to the utter disbelief of developers.  Then there was 2010, perhaps the biggest one since its inception; the now omnipresent 'Like' button was released accompanying the Graph API and the Open Graph protocol.  And it was a hit!!  The same year, facebook crossed half a billion members.  That was some statistic.

Then there was 22nd September 2011.  I watched the entire f8.  Right from when Sandberg impersonated Zuck, till the end.  Zuck was as usual nervous and lacked the confidence of an adroit presenter.  The video of the presentation is here.  There were three major announcements:
1.  Timeline
2.  Open Graph API
3.  facebook's partnership with more than a dozen music and video streaming services like Spotify, Netflix, Hulu etc.

I was impressed with the Timeline.  It's a wonderful concept, you get to see all your posts, videos and pics in a chronological order.  You can insert it at any period in time.  Facebook claimed to give the user total control of the timeline.  Then Zuck talked about Open Graph API.  It looked awesome at the time he announced it.  But soon it became apparent that facebook is increasingly trying to take control off the users and handing it over to the corporations.  Take this for instance.  Spotify asks you only once, and after than whatever you listen on it will be added to your Timeline automatically, without your permission.  Same goes with Netflix and other services.  WTF facebook?  What makes you think you can sell us?  I, for instance am going to stay away from Open Graph.

Another issue, check this post out.  The guy was literally forced by facebook out of business.  Always remember, "If You’re Not Paying for It; You’re the Product".  And no one does that better than facebook.  They have been, in past, accused of selling user data to businesses.

Did you know that facebook tracks the websites you visit in browser?  It has all your data.  You should remember to remove facebook cookies at least once every two days.  If you are a chrome user, make sure you install the Facebook Disconnect plugin.

Finally, simply remember that facebook is a great place to get in touch with friends, but never ever commit the mistake of entrusting facebook with your personal data, no phone numbers, no credit card info, nothing.  Their architecture is scalable, but in now way secure.  Just be careful while dealing with facebook, for I know it has become such an integral part of peoples' lives that it's probably easier getting rid of a kidney than  facebook.  Be safe.

Edit - A new chrome  plugin for disabling facebook cookie tracking.  Here.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A random post about nothing in particular

How to earn a million dollars in a month....
No, the above statement has nothing to do with what I am about to write (in a way I am trolling).  The question is why am I doing this.  Well, just for the sake of it.  Or in words of Eric Cartman, I am because I can.  This is my blog and I can do whatever god damn I wish to.  But saying that would be rude.  So let's say I did it just for the sake of it.  Why is it necessary to be a conformist and abide by the unwritten law that the blog title should reflect what the post is about?
Hmm....It won't make sense if it doesn't.  I mean someone would come here to know how to earn a million dollars, and then get pissed off for what drivel I scribbling.
So, then, what is it that I am going to talk about?  Let's just say, trolling the Brain.  It's funny how our brain plays tricks with us.  Though we are conscious beings, most of our behavior and decisions are beyond our control.  You may feel shitty sometimes for no apparent reason.  It's been proven, scientifically.  All the yoga, meditation, psychiatry etc. is aimed at understanding how this piece of 1300 odd gram flesh works; having >120 billion neurons (more than the number of stars in the known universe) and >1000 trillion synapses, more than the number of particles in the entire solar system.  Whoa, that's some statistic.  But those are just numbers.  And  I am going to avoid hard core science here.

Back to square one, what the heck am I going to discuss here?
Recently, I observed a strange thing about myself (let's say one of the many).  Whenever I am about to throw any garbage into a chute or a bin, I get a queer feeling that I am about to mistakenly throw away something important along with the garbage.  Like my cell phone or wallet.  I usually hesitate for a moment before I let it go and it's spontaneous.  It happens every single time, even when there is no forethought about anything related.  That made me wonder, what's wrong with me?  Once, I was conscious beforehand of the impending feeling, even then it struck me and I hesitated before sliding the garbage bag down the chute. I then started looking for other atypical phenomena, within myself or others.  Doing some online search exposed me to a plethora of related literature. 

Strangest of these was the Tourette's syndrome.  It's genetic and the person with this syndrome gets tics.  For example, one person gets tics that makes him open and close his jaws in quick succession and make noises.  This is absolutely fascinatingly terrible. Here's a video of that guy in his own words.  Just how much our brain is uncontrollable is demonstrated here.  But that's too extreme an example.  Let's come down to something simpler, and probably funnier.  I came across this meme recently.  It's amazing how sometimes I do this.  It's like a race against the microwave.  Memes are powerful examples of how the society at large thinks.  This TED presentation about memes explains it quite nicely.

OK, now I am babbling about memes.  What are they?  A simple definition is 'An element of a culture or behavior that may be passed from one individual to another by non-genetic means, especially imitation.'
So net surfers find/get/create a funny pic/video etc. and then embellish it with different jokes etc. and it could be totally independent of the context of the pic/video etc.  What's the use of it?  Fun, that's it.  One of the most famous memes last year was the inception meme.  This for example, or this. Memes are too subjective sometimes.  Unless the context is known, there's no fun.  This for example.  Do check out some other memes, there are millions online.  Have fun with them, or even create one of your own here.


Let me end with that, else there's no bound to how big this post could go.  And as far as getting millionaire is concerned, I would be damned if I knew.  So long.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Me, my God and Science

Modern humans have always been thirsty for knowledge since their dawn some thousand years ago.  Earliest humans looked around and tried to figure out how stuff worked.  They were successful to an extent.  They could control fire, which enabled them to eat literally anything.  Cave paintings show how they perceived nature.  They explained whatever they could, what they could not was attributed to divinity.  (It's still a trait)

Fast forward: the dark ages.  Nothing in human history has proven so impeding to knowledge as the dark ages.  Just to give an example, Islamic world was one of the most advanced societies around the 8thcentury AD.  They discovered a number of celestial bodies and hence most of them have Arabic names.  They established complex mathematical theorems.  The Arabic numerals are the ones we use (base 10).  What happened afterwards?  Why did the rational progress stop?  Why was science scorned upon later?  The answer is in one guy.  Some religious leader declared that any kind of mathematical inquiry was devil worship; that research was a way to question God and was evil.  Instantly, religious fanatics started ransacking science.  Crusades followed.  Since then, very little progress has taken place in their community.

Then came the Renaissance: the age of curiosity.  The church held a firm grip over people's beliefs.  Anything against the Church was labeled heretic and the transgressor was punished severely, even executed in public.  This was enough to prevent most people from countering the 'axiomatic' divine church laws.  Some courageous souls, however, were adamant at finding the truth.  They did not believe in the egoistic Earth centric view, then prevalent, or the view that volcanoes were caused when the Satan got pissed off, or that plague was God's way of punishing us.  It simply did not make sense to them.  A Polish astronomer, Copernicus, based on his study found that the Sun and not the Earth was the center and that contrary to the Church's declaration, the Earth revolved around it.  It was an Aristotle-an thought,  unchallenged since centuries, that was attacked.  The fear was so great that the theory was not published until when Copernicus was on his deathbed.  Even then, many philosophers tried to defend him, stating that this was something Copernicus wondered and not something he proposed (which, by the way, was exactly something he had proposed).

Then came the Newtons and the Galileos who changed the way people thought.  Nothing was taken on belief.  Everything was questioned.  This led to a number of inventions and discoveries.  Printing presses, machines etc. fueled the industrial revolution in Europe.  Humanity was on a roll.  Progress was achieved greatly.  The slumber of the crusades was finally giving way to achievement.  Newton showed that even the most trivial of things, that Aristotle labeled 'natural behavior' could be a complex mathematical and physical phenomena (gravity).

 The biggest  blow to religious doctrines was the Theory of Evolution.  Darwin proposed something unbelievable, that we were not created, but we are just a matter of a chance collection of driftwood; not crafted by an intelligent designer, but assembled by a matter of "luck".  That was a belittling, self-debasing and scary thought.  Our pride of being special in the eyes of "God" was shattered.  Philosophers say that the harshest thing you can do to a man is not actually killing his self-respect, but it is killing the pretense of it.  That is killing something that does not exist.  The consequences of that theory still spooks people (like Wendy Wright) who cannot accept the fact.  It's funny, people find it plausible that God came to earth in the form of a child and picked up an entire mountain on his pinkie, or that God would provide you with 70 virgins if you died for him, or that a 500 year old guy stuffed all the animals in a boat, or that the earth is 6000 years old etc; people find all this acceptable, but when told that we have evolved from monkeys, they say "ridiculous".  Probably if they were indoctrinated on evolution since childhood, they would call religion "ridiculous".  Never mind, that's how it's going to be till humans survive.  Neil degrasse Tyson explains this pretty well.

Since then, one after another, all our misunderstandings about nature have been cleared.  The biggest and hte most humbling blow was the fact that the Earth is nothing but a tiny speck of dust floating in a vast,  incomprehensible universe.  Here's an image of Earth taken by Voyager at a record distance of 6 billion kilometers .  The famous Sagan's Pale Blue Dot. 
Sagan said: "Astronomy is a humbling profession, the photograph shows a pale blue dot suspended like a mole of dust in a sea of sunlight.  All our dreams, all the people we love, all our petty differences, all dictators and leaders, everything is there, on the pale blue dot that we call the Earth."

Modern times have brought a new wave of cognizance.  For perhaps the first time in history reason presides faith, proof presides belief and science presides God.







Thursday, June 16, 2011

Hacktivists

Since last few months there has been a flurry of attacks on prominent websites by 'Hacktivists'.  Calling the victims of these attacks 'websites' is an understatement, they are corporations, government agencies and even banks.  It roughly started after the sensational release of classified US cables by WikiLeaks. 
This was entailed by DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks against PayPal, Visa and MasterCard by a group to retaliate their blocking of payment service to WikiLeaks.  It was perhaps not taken seriously then, as the attacks entailed disabling the websites.  No data was lost or stolen.  The message was clear, though, anyone playing with freedom will have to play the price.  They called themselves 'The Anonymous'.  Their punchline is :  "We don't forgive, We don't forget, We are legion, Expect us".

'Anonymous' launched hack attacks against the agencies that did harm to freedom of speech or challenged them directly.  In one instance they hacked the website of Westbro Baptist Church during a live interview when they were instigated.  Here is the video.  It was pretty cool, the yapping Westbro representative was instantly silenced.  This showed how daring and capable these guys are. 

Later, Anonymous launched attacks against Koch industries, who had earlier sued an African activist when she tried to portray the abject destitution in Africa by an image of a lanky black kid with an ornamental purse in his hand.  Koch argued that the purse looked like their brand and it was harming them.  Anonymous hacked their websites.

Recently a group that calls itself 'LulzSec' (Lulz Security) was in news after they left this message condemning NATO (yes, the almighty US backed North Atlantic Treaty Organization) for taking action against Anonymous and LulzSec.  Perhaps the worst attack was the one on Sony corporation.  They have lost important customer information (including credit card numbers).  The info was posted online.  Lulz hacked them again and again.  The reason that Lulz gave for these attacks where the class action of Sony against a developer who hacked the PS3 that he owned and used it to play XBOX games. 
Sony has so far has had $117 million in losses due to the attack.  This became a serious threat.  But it also exposed the poor security infrastructure of Sony.  They were storing passwords as plain text as opposed to encrypted.  Not all data was on secure networks.  Lulz called it like putting your wallet in a corner of New York subway and then expecting no one to notice it.

Another serious attack was against RSA (secure token organization).  Their token algorithm was hacked and compromised.  This meant the hackers could generate the codes and login to otherwise secure networks.  RSA ordered to replace all hard tokens.  Later that week, the CIA website was taken down and a message was posted on Twitter, making fun of CIA and Anonymous.

A kind of civil war started between Anonymous and Lulz when Anonymous called Lulz an immoral organization.  In reality, Lulz is a group of hackers formerly in Anonymous.  Lulz claim that they are everything that Anonymous wanted to be, but could not.  They even hacked the 4chan website on which Anonymous posts its action

Having said all this, I feel it's unethical to hack websites and demand something at gunpoint.  True, the hacker groups are famous among nerds, but they serve little to society.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A stroll into the realms of atheism

Recently, I watched an episode of the animated series 'South Park' wherein one of the characters (Cartman) who is a selfish, foul-mouthed and a modern version of Satan inherits a million dollars from his deceased uncle.  He buys an entire amusement park and keeps it to himself.  He does not allow anyone, especially his friends Stan and Kyle, because he hates them.  He enjoys all the rides alone.


Kyle, who believes in God and is good at heart, angers at this.  To make the matter worse, he contracts  Hemorrhoid and is in immense pain.  He begins questioning his beliefs.  He is angry at God;  he curses Him for treating a bad person like Cartman with riches and him with a hemorrhoid.  He becomes hopeless which worsens his condition.  Doctors say he may not make it unless someone instills his lost faith.  He almost concludes that God does not exist.  His parents try to revive his belief by reading the Bible to him, but it only diminishes his hope.


The story goes on for a while through a series of twists and turns and ends with Cartman losing his million dollars (and ends up owing 16000 dollars to the IRS).  Seeing all this, Kyle's belief reignites as he thinks God punished Cartman.  The story ends with Kyle recovering and thanking God and Cartman cursing God.


That story suddenly made me wonder if this actually happens in real life; are bad people are actually punished by Him, and good people rewarded?  That, in essence, raises the age old question, 'Does God exist?' or 'Is there someone out there who is looking after me?'.  Frankly speaking, I don't know as I don't have proof from either side.  But having been raised in a religious family, deep within, I do believe in God strongly, but my rational mind questions it persistently.  All in all, I am not going to answer the question whether God exists.  


What I do intend to achieve with this post is try and figure out whether bad people are actually punished.  Let's take an example.  When I was in ninth grade, I was a believer head to toe (I still am, but perhaps from head to waist) and thought that a human should live by the word of God,  following the highest level of ethics.  I decided then that I will never ever cheat,  be it in exams or in everyday life.  I have never copied in any test since then, even in the most opportune circumstances.  But still, most of those who did cheat scored better than me.  I had similar experience in college.  But even then, I stood by my beliefs.  As time progressed I came across more and more instances when the bad people were rewarded while the good ones punished.  The good ones were called cowards.  They consoled themselves by thinking that God will avenge for their loss.  It did not happen.  They spent their entire lives thinking they will enter the kingdom of heaven after death for their good deeds and for what they suffered their entire life.  Almost all religions enshrine suffering.  It's a ticket to heaven.  Obviously no one knows for sure if they landed in heaven or just decomposed.  
To my utter disbelief, I saw good people suffering on the same scale as the bad ones.  Effectively, it was random, there was no pattern showing a deliberate crafting of lives of people.  Adolf Hitler lived an opulent life throughout the world war and committed suicide before he was caught.  The common German civilians suffered instead.


For a moment let's assume that there's no God.  An offshoot of this is a moral dilemma.  In absence of  the belief in a powerful entity that monitors our actions some would turn to anarchy and malevolence.   This proves that human beings can only be forced to be good under fear of punishment.


There's no logical conclusion to this discussion.  Scholars have argued for centuries, from Aristotle to Plato to Newton to Darwin to Dawkins.  There are more theists than atheists, and perhaps this will remain so forever. To give this discussion a deceptive conclusion, I only state that one's goodness should sprout from one's ego as opposed to one's fear of punishment.