chandanlog

Everything you need to know about cryptography in 1 hour

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A good talk by Colin Percival about cryptography with introduction and common mistakes made while using cryptography in applications.
Recommended for anyone who does anything with cryptographic algorithms and software.


Written by chandanlog

23 Mar 2011 at 11:40 am

Posted in Security

Fast Forward in Time: Flower Bloom

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A lily bloom that lasted approximately 6 hours is compacted to 25 seconds. This was taken with a Canon SLR camera wired to a computer that captured an image every 35 seconds. The photos were combined to form a 30 frame per second video.

Written by chandanlog

3 Oct 2009 at 10:58 pm

Posted in Art

Desktop OS for Personal Computing

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I have been using OpenSolaris as my primary desktop for quite a while – it has been working well, all the devices except blue-tooth work.
Features like suspend-resume and network auto manager have made life easier. With ZFS boot environment and Image packaging system, it has been easier to eliminate unwanted software and services to keep the desktop lightweight. I do not want to waste CPU cycles on fancy cruft that comes with default installation which may not required for desktop usage.

I usually keep upgrading to the latest builds, but noticed that few things have been degrading compared to previous builds I have been running. Mainly it looked like the boot up time had increased to more than a minute compared to something which it look 20-30 seconds previously. Rather than spend time debugging what went wrong, I surveyed a number of available Desktops to see if I am missing anything by running OpenSolaris, looking for something that works well and has a fast neat UI. I use virtualbox extensively to get access to different versions of Solaris as needed. In this Survey I used trial on VirtualBox as the first yardstick, followed by USB or CD booting it on my laptop.

1. Windows 7. A trial version is available for download – It looks like they rearranged few things on Windows Vista, fixed few bugs and called it new – like expired food in a new can. Slow and sluggish and certainly I may not buy it even if they give a 99.99% discount on it. I ran it on Virtual box as well as installed it on a spare partition, to try it.

Rating 2 out of 5.

2. Ubuntu Netbook Remix – the same old Gnome user interface with an additional launcher which looks like was assembled in a hurry. Tried it on VirtualBox but did not consider it worthwhile to try it further.

Rating 1 out of 5

3. Intel’s Moblin – seems promising given it is still being worked on. Interface is much better than other Linux distros out there. It worked on Virtual box, but it panics when booted with USB stick. May be I will giver it a try when they get it working.

Rating 2 out of 5 (would have been higher if only it worked)

4. Live-Android – booted really fast, and has a refreshingly new GUI interface that is years ahead of the Windows 7 and Gnome. The USB booting does not seem to work. Booting from CD works. They are still working on it, and there are hacks to install other Android apps on it.
Working with browser is tough and it doesn’t look like it gives any access to the file system. However it has what I was looking for in my personal computer desktop – a fast and usable interface.

Rating 5 out of 5 (hoping it will mature into a full Desktop)

5. It seems Google is working on an OS called Chrome OS. If it is similar to Android and delivers on speed and usability, I am sure it would replace my existing Desktop. It might also mean the end of Windows Desktop and many other copy cat Linux Distributions out there.

6. Tinycore – offers a neat way to start with a cruft-less operating system that weighs less than 11mb and then add applications like firefox.
Rating 2 out 5 (requires a bit of work to install and to get it working)

7. Webconverger – another distro that launches just the browser, worth mentioning.

There were a bunch of other distributions that I wanted to try like Fedora, Ubuntu and gOS, but looking at their screenshots, my guess is that they aren’t any better than Android at this time so it would be futile to try them. At the moment I may install tinycore on the spare partition and upgrade to a better option if one becomes available.

Written by chandanlog

19 Aug 2009 at 8:16 pm

Posted in Solaris

Netbooks and the end of the Laptop Decade

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If you are in the computer industry, it is not uncommon that friends or
family often consult you to recommend a computer or a laptop. There are
several things that make answering it difficult, especially for an
average consumer who may be buying their first laptop with hard earned
money:

  • A. good $1000 laptop does not offer value-for-money to someone wanting
    to use gmail and Internet
  • B. It will be obsolete in an year and newer software will run slower

When I first heard about the features of OLPC – (One Laptop Per Child)
especially its battery life and networking features etc., my reaction
was that those features should be part of any average consumer computer
– trying to sell it to kids made it look like a scam. If I had 400$ to
spend for a child’s education, there are a dozen better ways to spend
it. A computer would be near the bottom of that list.

Since then a number of commercial small low-cost, efficient and Internet
oriented laptops have appeared in the market. These are also called
Netbooks (v/s Notebook)

Number of companies making them suggests that these are becoming popular.
While the hardware used is pretty awesome, the software stack has to catchup. The
personal computer software industry has a long way to go before it is
ready for the average consumer.

Especially focus has to be on making software run faster, simpler and more usable. Bloatware should be avoided and software should be able to run with limited resources.
System should be able to boot in a couple of seconds and response time for any click should be strictly less than 100 milliseconds (except where the network latency comes into picture).

It seem to be a trend that the common software, (such as browsers, mail clients, games and operating systems) get bloated and slower with each revision. The Gnome desktop my OpenSolaris Indiana takes almost as much time to load up as the system takes to boot up.
There is probably one drastic solution to it, that software developers should use old systems which were made 5 or 6 years ago. That way, regressions in performance become visible as soon as they are introduced.

Written by chandanlog

15 Nov 2008 at 1:13 pm

Posted in General

Home Theater Architecture

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At the computer history museum in Mountain view, piles of old machines are displayed row by row chronologically, as if each row represents a decade of design. Computers made in 60’s look like washing machines or dishwashers, while those made in 70’s look like Technicolor typewriters. The machines designed in 80s are black rectangular plastic boxes that look like VHS video cassette players or audio receivers today.
Or is the vice versa?

Majority of home theater equipment today seems to be stuck in the VHS era – they measure like 2 feet in length and breadth, and half a feet in height weighing at least 10 kilograms. If you are in the market for home entertainment electronics, there are hundreds and thousands of gadgets in the market. However finding something that meets my few requirements was challenging. My requirements were:

  • Small size, fewer components – home theater should not make living room like an electronic junkyard – should blend with home decor
  • Support best of technology – HD video and audio from multiple sources such blu-ray disks, cable and over the air HDTV, FM, streaming video and news from Internet.

In terms of inputs and output connections it must have the following:

Home Theater Box requirements

  1. WiFi or Ethernet for streaming Internet media
  2. USB and Firewire for connecting peripherals such as memory cards, external disks, mp3 players, keyboard, camera etc.,
  3. ATSC, DVB tuner with CableCard support to get HDTV from cable or antenna or any PAL/NTSC sources
  4. FM/AM/SW HD-radio tuner and analog audio input from mic, stereo and may be digital audio inputs like optical toslink or s/pdif
  5. Infrared remote control
  6. Should play Blu-ray, DVD and audio CDs
  7. output to HD screen
  8. output to 5.1 surround sound speakers

Surprisingly, there aren’t many (or any) boxes out there in the market that do all the above. Wast majority of the systems you may find at a local electronics store meet only couple of the requirements above. You would need to stack a bunch of them in order to setup a home theater.
it seems like the manufactures making these devices copy each other, even to the price tag, and yet no one ever built a modern system.

One option is called an HTPC (Home theater PC). There are a couple of systems which currently available, some made by Sony (VAIO TP series) are priced at $3000. Another recent one which caught my attention is Dell Studio Hybrid. Mac Mini could have been considered if only it came with a bluray drive and optical audio. One problem is finding a good software for these systems. Last time I evaluated opensource home theater software (such as MythTV), nothing matched the Apple’s frontrow or Sony’s media bar interface.

My current home theater setup (built more than a year ago) looks like this:

Home theater setup

  • Playstation3 caters for requirements 1, 2, and 6.
  • Pioneer HTS surround sound system does 4.
  • Samsung HDTV tuner does some of 3, Cable settop box does others.
  • A Sony programmable remote control takes care of 5
  • 

PS3 is a good and fast blu-ray player, has great potential as an Internet media device. I am eager to see PS3 Life software.
Beware of players which take more than a couple of minutes to load a blu-ray disk, players which cant be upgraded.

Pioneer HTS series audio system when I bought it was the only few its kind in the US, where a compact audio receiver is built into the subwoofer and hardly noticeable compared to 2ftx2ft beasts. The speakers are off white and blend with my wall and floor and aren’t conspicuous.
These days Sony also makes such compact audio systems.
Beware of or avoid systems often called as HTIB which are DVD players with 5 speakers, but cant receive surround sound audio from other devices such as Cable TV STB.

A Sony programmable universal remote switches devices/functions can learn signals from various remotes. You can packup all the original remotes to reduce clutter. It operates all the devices transparently except Playstation. Beware of or avoid remotes that don’t have “programmable” or “learning” feature.

All the devices and a Mitsubishi HD projector are hidden in a ventilated side table next to sofa in the living room. The projector projects a screen 9ft in diagonal on the opposite wall. A subscription to netflix provides a supply of high quality blu-ray movies to watch in the evenings. We see life size news anchors and weather experts walking across our living room. This setup caters to most of the requirements, however getting streaming video from Internet like Reuters news or Hulu or youtube requires a DLNA server. Watch this space for future posts discussing HTPC architecture.

Written by chandanlog

10 Sep 2008 at 7:42 pm

Posted in General

Can you lend me your iPhone for a minute?

with one comment

A recent news item about Google Chrome bowser’s license terms (the phrases “publicly perform, publicly display”) reminds me of this legal trivia:

Can you lend your iPhone to a friend for making a call?
If you read the iPhone terms of use [pdf], it clearly says:

3. Transfer. You may not rent, lease, lend, sell, redistribute, or sublicense the iPhone Software …”

in other words, if you handout your iPhone to friend, and he or she uses the software, you have committed a crime (of license violation)! As per the same terms, if you have violated any terms of the license, you are required to cease all use of the software.

By the way, can you show or display your iPhone or MacOS X desktop to others?
Suppose you are making a presentation to a group of people, before your slideware takes up full screen, portions of the default wallpaper or other software get displayed on a projection screen, or the copyrighted ringtone music gets ‘performed’ in front of passengers in a metro train.

The corresponding licenses and terms of use do not grant you the right to publicly perform and publicly display the software or hardware to others. While it does not explicitly say “you can’t perform nor display”, the license terms don’t say you can!

Interpret it in what ever way you want, publicly displaying a copyrighted work without a permission is called copyright infringement! If a thief steals your money, you having not given any explicit right to take that money, it is still called theft.

Anyway Sun’s lawyers had done their homework and CDDL opensource license explicitly grants you the permissions to display or perform. See also this license comparison.

Written by chandanlog

3 Sep 2008 at 3:58 pm

Posted in General

Doing the same thing again and expecting different results

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I was shooting a herd of Wapiti which were jumping into freezing white waters of Athabasca river near the Ice Fields parkway in Canada. My Canon SLR stopped working and gave the dreaded Err 99.

Later Canon service folks diagnosed and asked me to parcel the dead camera to their factory service center in Irvine, California along with a copy of original receipt.

Not having preserved the original receipt, I went to the electronics supermarket chain I bought the camera. The customer service specialist there took my creditcard and worked for about five minutes on the LCD screen and said “Sorry! you will have to try at the shop you bought your camera… We cant print your receipt here”. Then I drove ten miles to the shop where I had purchased it.

Customer service specialist there took more time, couldn’t figure out how to print a duplicate receipt. The boss in that store came down. He gave his experienced gaze at the terminal and he suggested something. The service specialist then went inside and came out with a printout of an excel sheet containing all the purchases I had ever made with that company.

Then I called Canon, to check if that spreadsheet is acceptable, but they insisted on giving the original proof of purchase. I went to the nearest store again, but this time the customer service person there swiped my credit card, and my duplicate receipt came out the printer in matter of seconds!!

Someone defined insanity to be doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, but might work for you when you call for customer service help.

By the way, Canon replaced my SLR camera’s shutter assembly and sent it back in a week.

Photos from Canada are here

Canada
Vancouver

Written by chandanlog

25 Aug 2008 at 1:12 pm

Posted in General

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