As of early Nov 2016, and all sub-domains are now secured better. Earlier this year, HTTPS was setup using the excellent Let’s Encrypt CA. In Nov, I spent a little time setting up the finer bits of web security to move from a 70/100 B to 90/100 A on Mozilla’s Observatory ๐Ÿ˜€

It is pretty hard securing a WordPress website. I sadly couldn’t get a good Content Security policy in place, which would’ve upped the rating to a 115/100 A+! Lot of inline scripts make CSP and Sub Resource Integrity (SRI) a little hard to implement.

Much thanks to the Mozilla Observatory, Server-Side TLS guide, and report-uri!

On culture

What is culture? Culture is a loose grouping of habits or traits generally accepted by a wide demographic. Cultural traits can be local to a small neighbourhood or span across countries.

Unlike common belief, cultures are very alive, organic and continuously changing. Men, women and children do not lead their everyday lives in the manner of their previous generations, forefathers or as stated in religious books. On the contrary, cultures adapt to the needs and necessities of changing times. In fact the only norm in a culture is ironically, change. Every aspect of a culture changes over time. In some cases, those changes happen between a few years (prevalence of smartphone in everyday life) and in other cases, over several generations (the constant decline in the number of nuclear families in Asia). A resilient, or tolerant culture is one that adapts, not necessarily discards, prevalant practices to changing times. For example, the changing role of women in modern society and industry is drastically different from those of previous generations. While it was considered the norm for women to be restricted to managing households, modern women do everything their male peers are capable of.

Changes to culture, as with any aspect of life, are inevitable. It is inherently wrong to believe that cultural habits and traits do not, or should not change. Cultures adapt to people’s changing habits and times. Trying to undo cultural changes on a large scale, unless voluntary, usually does more harm than good (ongoing Middle Eastern crisis). A culture (or a change in any aspect of it) cannot be imposed on a demographic. Such impositions are usually a sign of insecurity and resistance to change. Culture, like society, is also cross-relegion, unlike common belief.

Culture is sometimes incorrectly confused with tradition and custom. Traditions tend to be more rigid in following than cultures. Traditions and customs usually have, or are, a set of rules laid out to be followed. Traditions and customs are more averse to change than culture. Many traditions and customs tend to be set and followed explicitly. Cultures on the other hand seem to evolve and change organically, without explicit guidance. Cultures grow and fade, adapting to a society’s changing needs and habits, by people who enter a society and get carried over by others who leave one and move to another. Some traits remain, some others change, some others fade away.

As with anything changing, there is no definite right or wrong. There are no good or bad cultures. All cultures are equal and belong to the people who are part of it. Different cultures are tolerant, understanding and respectful of each other and the people who are part of them. Those not adapting or rejecting cultural changes usually get left behind by ever-evolving societies.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

HTPC setup

This video sums up our living room experience:

What we have: The Raspberry Pi is essentially just another computer and is far more extensible than WDTV/Roku/Apple TV/Chromecast/… The software (XBMC) plays media off a connected 1TB USB hard disk and also has addons capable of streaming from pretty much any video/photo website. Typically we use our phones to pick a video on say, Youtube and share the link over for the Pi to stream it to the TV. In addition, a torrent client on the Pi can also be used. Netflix/Hulu is not available in India since it is outside their service region. Nowadays popular regional TV shows are made available on official Youtube channels within 12-24h vs. a few months on Netflix/Hulu… This setup also allows iOS devices to stream any audio (no video yet) via AirPlay.The software also catalogues available movies, TV shows and music so that they can be browsed by genre, actors, tags, keywords, IMDB ratings, etc. and keeps track of what has been watched, resumes from last stopped position, online subtitles, auto pause/resume on phone calls, send notifications from phone to TV and a whole lot of other great-to-have goodies!Hardware setup: Our TV is a dumb Samsung 42″ Plasma, made smart by a small device called Raspberry Pi. It’s a general purpose computing board that has an onboard processor, graphics card, 512MB of RAM, USB and ethernet ports. In addition we also have an Ambilight setup for a great viewing experience as well as mood lighting for the living room. The software is controlled through our TV remote (or Android/iOS devices) without the need for any other hardware. The Pi automatically turns the TV on and off on power on/shutdown ๐Ÿ™‚

Why: The one significant advantage of having a third-party box is the comparatively minimal setup time (open box -> connect -> use).ย  In comparison, the cost of the Pi is far lesser (~Rs. 3000 for the board, Rs. 500 for a case – pick your fav colour/design, ~Rs. 600 for a USB WiFi dongle or a ethernet cable if close enough to internet source). There is more than sufficient documentation for “grandmothers” to have complete the setup. Given the parts are ready, it takes about 30 mins to complete the full setup. I am also not a big fan of “vendor lock-in”, so I prefer being in control of the hardware and software ๐Ÿ™‚


Let’s get this out of the way – I’m a lazy guy. I lead a sedentary WFH life and barely step out of the house in a week. So it is a really big deal for me that today I completed the Couch-to-5K programme ๐Ÿ˜€

C25K Week 9 Day 3
C25K Week 9 Day 3

The biggest sell of C25K for me was it’s simple. Just 30 mins in a day and you take the next day off. That’s it. I started the 9-week programme and steadily kept up with the alternate day runs. I’ve never done anything athletic before. At all. So the first few weeks felt daunting (but very doable). As the weeks progressed, the runs started getting longer and the walking breaks shorter. I was able to work up a decent pace. The last 3 weeks were the most enjoyable –ย  no walking breaks and just a function of stamina.

Through these 9 weeks I’m at awe at how the body copes up to newer challenges. Every run increases endurance that little bit, I’m able to run that much longer. I could not run more than 100m before needing a 10 min break. Now I can comfortable run for 30 mins and can catch my breath in about a min. Of course, there were a couple of bad days where I ran too fast or I hadn’t eaten enough. But I’ve learned how to avoid both of those and unsurprisingly it’s just dumb me ๐Ÿ™‚

I feel bad I couldn’t schedule the programme such that I could participate in the TCS 10K earlier this month. But hey – I’m looking out for the next one ๐Ÿ˜€

Hat-tip to the folks over at /r/c25k for being a great source of information and motivation!

What’re you waiting for? Read the FAQ, tie your shoelaces and RUN!


I switched over from OSX to Ubuntu in July. It has been a few years since I’d used Linux as my primary workhorse and was looking around for editing tools. The last I remember digiKam was popular and Shotwell was up and coming. A quick survey of Wikipedia for photo editing tools turned up with three potential finalists – darktable, Rawstudio and RawTherapee. I commissioned the excellent Pushkar (photographer and my brother) to spend a week with these three and come up with a good comparison as to strengths and weaknesses of each. After taking his sweet time (I was in no rush anyway), he said all the three were quite competent. I searched around and came across an excellent resource that compares all available RAW processors by Elle Stone. This helped narrow my choice down to darktable.

"Lightroom" view of darktable
“lightroom” view of darktable

Out of the box, darktable’s interface feels very familiar to ex-Lightroom users. The grid layout and the side panels are very similar. The similarities are mostly cosmetic. Under the skin, darktable provides a very flexible interface for importing, organising (“collect images”) and bulk image editing (“history stack”, “styles”, “metadata editor”). The interface provides for 0-5 stars and 6 colours to choose from to rate and label photos. I like the filtering capabilities of the “collect images” module a lot. For anybody who understands the power of basic set theory (math), this is joy ๐Ÿ™‚

darkroom provides a lot of very powerful editing tools I’ve not seen in other photo editors. These tools or “modules” (49 of them in v1.2.3) can be added/removed at will. They are well organised as to not interfere with the workflow and I started by picking a set of them I would need the most.

"darkroom" view of darktable
“darkroom” view of darktable

One of my favourite modules is the “zone system”. First encountered in the erstwhile-and-now-resurrected LightZone software, the zone system divides the photograph into multiple exposure zones. The levels in each zone can be manipulated without changing the others by just dragging sliders. This is like playing with different parts of the histogram and not just the shadows and highlights. You can see the outcome in the screenshot above of the split view.

Overall I’m very impressed. darktable is not just “capable” software it does the job and does it well. There is healthy level of ongonig development asd well. I for one am happy that the days of editing photos one-by-one via UFRaw and GIMP are long gone!

Bali and Singapore

Between Aug 24 and Sep 9, Vysh and I visited Bali and Singapore. Vysh was presenting at IEEE TALE 2013 and we thought it would be a great idea to extend that into a two week vacation. We spent the first few days at the bustling Kuta before moving to the serene villages of Ubud, lost in its idyllic beauty, ancient culture and beautiful art. We spent a good part of the two weeks doing nothing. Just lay back and relax ๐Ÿ™‚ While Kuta was crowded along the southern coastline, full of night life and busy until the wee hours, Ubud was full of intricate artwork, right from the Ubud palace to the temples that adorned each home.

Engravings of Rama and Sita on the doors of a temple, Besakih
Engravings of Rama and Sita on the doors of a temple, Besakih

We had a wonderful getaway, one that we will cherish for the rest of our lives. Here are our pictures! We hope we can share our experiences with you through these pictures.

– ashvysh

Indian passport instruction booklet

The Ministry of External Affairs have a very good website for everything Indian-passport related. Buried in the FAQ is a link to a handy instruction booklet that serves as a ready reckoner while filling up the passport form(s), list of documents under various circumstances, etc. Here is the link to the booklet, as on Aug 5 2013. Hope this helps someone. Do let me know if the link doesn’t work or if the PDF has been updated (the one I have was created on Wednesday 10 April 2013 11:00:49 AM IST).

On privacy

Last week, I sent this out as an email to some close friends. As an afterthought it occurred it to me that this was better served as a blog entry. So here it is:

The larger need for privacy is to secure a citizen’s fundamental rights. I’ll take India as an example. Unlike the US, India does not consider privacy a fundamental right. There is oddly (or not) no real recognition for the need of, say, larger anonymity in public processes. Why do we not put our names down while voting in an election? We’ve all seen/heard this – why don’t people report information about hit-and-run cases to the police? Why don’t many people, even you and I stand up to a local corporator for not executing his duties? In all cases, we fear misuse of power and excesses of state. RTI applicants routinely get *murdered* for gaining information for the sake of the public good! Can you imagine how much better and secure their lives would have been if the RTI form did not require any identification? How better our lives would be if we did not, at all stages, hesitate to step up to those in power?

The right to privacy, freedom to stay anonymous grants common people a lot of power. In that context it is not surprising to see why a government would not want/guarantee that. Our judiciary had taken enough care in the past to ensure there are locks in place for such far-reaching abilities. That is why we have and demand search warrants or a warrant to tap a phone line or to open registered mail. Bypassing judicial oversight for surveillance (Central Monitoring System) will surely pave a comfortable way for misuse. I would not write this email to you putting myself in trouble (and everybody on this list as an extension since you are all recipients and hence partners in crime :)). We could meet over a coffee and hopefully there aren’t anybody listening in… You get the idea.

This is a question of life-and-death. RTI applicants in India have been frequently killed for requesting information which would trouble those in power. There are no safeguards, you cannot request information anonymously. Imagine the number of scams which would have come into the fore if people such as you and me were not scared to question those we elect to power!

As I mentioned previously, imagine the difference it would have made in hit-and-run cases if bystanders did not fear to report to the police those who committed a crime!

Again, none of this should come at a cost of security to the nation and its people. We live in a country where anonymous threats are issued frequently, many times just to prank. I can understand why the state would not want to “encourage” such anonymous behaviour. However the state must recognise that there is a much larger good that can be gotten by granting people the right to their privacy. More importantly there is much more harm that can be done by a corrupt/bad government. With no legal oversight and no recourse for ordinary citizens, it is easy to turn against people (historically many such events have happened, it is not to fail from repeating).

Mass surveillance has not stopped bad events from happening in the past, neither will it in the future. That is quite common sense. If I know my mails are searched, my phone is listened to, I simply won’t use those. The tall bearded Afghan evaded the world by being a ghost… Our neighbours who wrecked havoc in Bombay used satellite phones. Large scale events are entirely dependent on the success or failure of state intelligence and related agencies. Mass surveillance only endangers more lives than it would protect.

The right for ordinary citizens to protect themselves must be matched with the duty of the state to protect the country as a whole. I trust the police but I have double locks on my doors. Privacy and safety are paramount and one can be gotten without sacrificing the other. Think about it…

“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” – Benjamin Franklin

Update: [2013-06-05] The Centre for Information and Society, India has put up their draft of the Privacy Protection Bill 2013. This is a good read and if implemented in whole, would be a big step up for the country and our future.

Monitor for silence

screen, amongst the most versatile of all linux utilities, has a nify monitor for silence mode. Waiting for a script to complete running inside a window? Want to know if a script dies during a long run? Monitor it for silence ๐Ÿ™‚ The default keybinding is C-a _, whereas monitoring for activity is C-A M.