Tech and Culture

I bought a new domain !

I bought a new domain – last night through Yahoo! Small Business. They are running a special where you can get a domain registered through an affiliate Australian domain registrar for $1.99 a year. I got mine for 2 years!

I was looking to find something that had to do with a mental struggle, and chanced upon cerebrawl, which sounded kind of interesting to me. I am sure I could think a bit more and dwell upon the word’s deeper significance.

At this moment, I have no concrete idea on what I am going to use my new domain for, but I am sure of using my existing hosting provider TQ Hosting to provide me with bandwidth. I have been really happy with their service for the last year or so.

Finally, here’s hoping that I develop something new and innovative pretty soon !

Tech and Culture

GPS to catch criminals

Yet another Amber Alert has been sounded in NC, this time for a 12 year old girl who was abducted by a 27 year old man. I came to know about this while I was coming back from Burlington on Saturday evening, and saw animated signs about a vehicle registration number near the RBC Center in Raleigh.

This made me wonder; what if there was a way to use the existant GPS network to track runaway vehicles like this Hyundai Sentra. What if we could embed a GPS tracking device into every new vehicle sold? Of course, this raises privacy concerns, but what if the entire tracking system was automated? Law enforcement gets access to it only when they believe a certain car is being used by a criminal.

This would really help in curbing these kind of abductions that involve known convicts. I am guessing that the technological limitation comes in the form of processing the immense raw data that would continuously be generated by vehicular tracking systems. An artless idea that comes to mind has to do with using the already established cellular communications network to signal to black boxes/controllers in vehicles. Each box could have a unique SIM like card to identify the car, and once turned on, the box would transmit its triangulated location data to the associated tower.

I would think that such a seamless network is definitely possible with the current state of the art in cellular communications. It is high time that we deployed them to make the society a safer place to live in.

Some other interesting projects/technologies that I found related to this are Automatic Vehicle Location [pdf], and Automatic Number Plate Recognition. The latter is a really interesting project from Europe, but I doubt it is as cost effective as deploying a GPS based system. A company called TeleType also makes some interesting GPS based tracking devices.

Finally, here’s hoping that the kidnapper gets caught soon.

Tech and Culture

Yahoo! Messenger reveals your IP address

I just realized that the latest version of Yahoo! Messenger suffers from a vulnerability that allows a hacker to get your IP address.

Basically, if both the clients use the latest version of messenger and the victim responds to an IM from the attacker, the former’s IP address is shown in the netstat output of the latter. This is a very old vulnerability that was supposedly patched a long time ago, but has resurfaced in the latest version of the messenger software.

It appears that both the clients initiate a direct end-to-end connection whenever a conversation is begun. I have noticed this behavior when I communicate with some of my friends on messenger. I can see their IP address.

This is a serious issue, and I hope Yahoo! addresses it pretty soon.

Tech and Culture

Konfabulator makes the desktop fabulous !

Desktop screenshot

I downloaded and installed the latest version of Konfabulator yesterday. Needless to say, it is probably one of the best free software that I have ever installed on my Windows machine. Konfabulator is a “JavaScript runtime engine” for both Windows and MacOS that allows programmers to design interactive and visually appealing “widgets” to be placed on the desktop. These widgets run as individual programs and do not consume a lot of system resources.

There are tons of widgets already available for download for both these platforms. The most wonderful aspect of this program is that it allows for both the operating systems to have similar widgets. It is possible to define the transparency of the widgets from 0% to 100%, and also position them on the desktop in a multitude of ways. I am sure Yahoo! is working behind the scenes to build a port for the Linux operating system.

Digg Widget I tried many different kinds of widgets once my initial excitement died off, but have now settled for 3 of them running continuously on my desktop. My favorite is the “Digg Digger” aggregator widget pictured above. It updates every 2-3 minutes and is always fun to read. Another widget I have on my desktop provides me with weather information from, and the third one basically cycles through random Simpsons quotes after some interval.

All in all, I love this software, and after using it for about a day haven’t found any issues with it yet. Truly, one of the best freebies ever!

Life and Personal Tech and Culture

Just listened to my first official PodCast !

I just listened to my first official PodCast at! Nevertheless, I am sure I cannot be branded a slow learner. After listening to this news-piece, I realized that PodCasting isn’t as new as we think it is. Anyone else remember the old CNET Radio 910?!

It used to be a terrestrial radio channel in the SF Bay area during early 2000, and then was downsized as CNET’s media business wasn’t doing so well. As a result, a new audio web delivery service was launched by the name of “CNET Radio Direct” in 2003.

CNET Radio Direct was an innovative free service where the CNET software pulled small 15 minute MP3 files containing a short radio broadcast from the server every evening. Sometimes, the server would push more than one file depending on the content, but the software used Windows Media Player to play the audio.

Come to think of it, this was the first instance of a “PodCast” like service that I ever experienced. So now that I have joined the club, maybe I’ll start my own PodCast station soon!

Tech and Culture

NC State webmail service compromised

One of last week’s major event was the compromise of the NCSU Webmail system by hackers. What is surprising to me is the fact that the hackers had an IRC server running on 2 webmail servers for about 5 days before the IT Department staff noticed that the attackers might have captured user passwords.

The NCSU ITD system news bulletin has more information on the event. The NCSU password change facility was bogged down due to excessive network load after emails were sent to those that might have been affected by the exploit.

It seems that the attach was based on an April 2005 advisory posted on the Internet. It is named “Cacti Remote Command Execution Vulnerability”, and basically exposes vulnerability in the Cacti graphing tool. Cacti is a an RRDtool based package that uses mySQL databases to record various statistics about the network/server.

It is amazing to find out in conversations that some people do not change their passwords regularly, or have really funny password management tactics. Some people still use their SSN as passwords. Everyone should follow the guidelines on this website to choose passwords !

Tech and Culture

Using trees to power our cars – Is it a good idea ?

Just read on Yahoo! News that a research group at the College of Natural Resources at the University of Idaho is working on replacing oil with wood as a primary fuel.

Now, the news report lacks substantial technical information, but my guess is that these guys are using Pyrolysis to generate bio-oil from wood. Of course, I would try to gather some more information from their webpages/publications, but for now, going by the article, pyrolysis seems to be the only way this is possible.

This makes me wonder. What is the purpose of even doing this type of research? I can understand using waste bio material to generate fuel, but cutting trees to generate oil, or as the news report puts it, quicken the natural process of crude oil formation seems a little irresponsible to me. Deforestation is a serious issue, and I doubt that using trees to power our SUVs is going to help solve anything.

I wish that more research was done from a practical viewpoint rather than just to get published.

India Life and Personal Tech and Culture

Mobile text messaging as a means of broadcasting information in times of disaster

Mobile cell phone usage is burgeoning in urban India. No matter how much we criticize the lack of disaster recovery systems in our expansive country, it is still noteworthy that inspite of record breaking rainfall and the accompanying destruction, communication services went down for a very limited time in Mumbai. People still had Internet access, as is evident from the “live” blog reports available on the Internet. Apparently, the following SMS message was sent at the behest of the Police Commissioner of Mumbai:

Due to heavy rains, water logging likely in city n suburbs. Pls donot travel unless absolutely essential. Police Commissioner, Mumbai

This made me wonder about the importance of a cellular communication network in times like this. It is much more easier and reliable to broadcast SMS messages than to sound warning alarms across the city. The pervasiveness of cellphones means that a lot more people are likely to read an SMS message than to watch the TV for breaking news.

Life and Personal Tech and Culture

My thoughts about my website

The proliferation of the Internet and the many businesses centered around it has meant that it is easy for anyone to get a piece of this expansive “virtual real estate” with little investment. One of the main things that fascinates me about the Internet is how easy it is to draw a corollary in the Internet realm from a law/event in the real world. The only difference being that the Internet is, by and large, an anarchy of sorts. You have clusters of peaceful co-existence, and then you have the dark side and the violent side. I would rather not provide hyperlinks to examples 😛

I guess that this peaceful co-existence of good and the bad also provides some philosophical insight to us about why such a co-existence is impossible in the real physical world we get our nutrition from.

As I write this, I am wondering about what having a home on the Internet has done for me. I have had a domain for more than 2 years now. Of course, I was lucky to get a 5 letter .com domain when all the permutations and combinations seem to be running out. I now run two different types of content management systems, a weblog, two different picture galleries, and two FTP accounts for personal purposes. The way I look at it, a domain gives you a definitive address for your home (your http site) on the Internet. The galleries, the weblogs, and the website interface are akin to having an actual home at the address. The FTP accounts and the email addresses are doors and windows to your home. Like the real world, it takes a lot of many things to make your home a sweet home.

I think that my website still does not offer something unique to the community. Like in the real world, on the Internet you gain publicity and/or recognition only when you provide something extraordinary or unique to others. This could be in the form of services, ideas, notoriety etc. In my case, seeing that I do not intend to make money off of my website (I do not even use the Google AdSense program), I have to provide something that is merely interesting. I am not here to change the world or re-invent anything. I am here just to have an identity and to participate in this anarchy by exchange of ideas and experiences that are transformed from the real world into the virtual world.

With this in mind, I think it is time for me to use my website as an outlet for my emotions (this weblog), my experiences (the static pages on my website and even this weblog), my aspirations, my achievements, and my knowledge. I also intend to use this website and the associated address to advertise myself, to communicate and share with friends and family, and to motivate myself.

Hence, my next endeavor is going to be making available all academic material I have assimilated over the years on this website. I also intend to start writing more on topics that I have an expertise in. Isn’t that the purpose of a website anyway ?

Here’s to hoping that I would be able to make these changes very very soon …

Tech and Culture

A cell-phone that receives and sends faxes …

Today’s cell-phones are loaded with features, many of which are almost too trivial or just too modern for a phone. Too much is never enough though, and we keep longing for newer and newer features.

I kept receiving fax calls from a certain number today, probably because they had the wrong number, but it made me wonder if there is technology to be able to send and receive faxes on your cellphone. This does not sound especially weird considering that there are cellphones with huge displays and excellent graphics capabilities. It is but logical to expect a modern cellphone to be capable of receiving faxes and then displaying them on your screen.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find any such device on the market. I was, nevertheless, able to find third party software for smart phones and PDAs that would let me send and receive faxes on an email account.

I wonder how hard it would be technologically to implement native fax support in modern smartphones. If there is a voice call, activate the ringer, and if there is a fax call, simply receive it !

If the user wants to transfer this fax to a computer or to print it out, he/she could just forward it to an email account or simply sync with a computer. I hope something like this hits the market pretty soon !