Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Did you download the latest...?

My last post on sharing banking credentials is common knowledge for everyone.  This time, I'm writing about a topic that's more relevant to today's generation - torrents.

Its an open secret that most people pirate online using torrents.  But we shouldn't take it for granted just because a lot of people do it.  Simply because your mom or cousin asked you to download that old Chandrababu song, it doesn't make it legal.  Of course, I'm not going to say that you shouldn't do it or that I've never done it.  But at least be aware of what you are doing and be cautious.  I've seen people send torrent files over e-mail.  Movie/game studios in India are not (yet) suing individuals over pirated downloads, but it happens in US.  Soon, it might happen here as well.  If/when such a day comes, your e-mail can and will be used against you.

Why would gmail or yahoo give your private e-mails to movie studios, you ask?  Well, there are ways a company can ask the government to force another company to give their data about you.  "There is no such law in India", you say.  Well, not now, but in the near future?  As it is right now, the Indian government is applying pressure on companies like facebook and google to open servers in India so that the government can monitor and have more control (laws) over the data.  Indian government already ranks second highest in the number of requests for user information to facebook.

I've also seen people post screenshots of their torrent downloads in facebook.  Some people post that they are going to download a torrent or even link to a torrent.  You may feel that you have a right to do this or that the copyright laws are unfair.  Well, I too feel that way but still, are you ready to go to court with that defense?  There are already instances of ordinary people getting arrested over facebook posts, though that was for political reasons.  Just one step away.

Lets assume that such a future never pans out.  Lets assume that corporate companies never get around to taking action against individuals.  Still, past online activities can also affect your job application.  How?  Well, certain companies research online including social networks about their potential employees.  I've even heard of instances abroad where the company asks for the candidate's facebook password.  But why would the company care if you downloaded Titanic?  Maybe you are applying for a movie studio or maybe its an IT company and wants to see whether you respect copyright laws (which is vital for IT companies).

This may surprise you, but Indian IT companies have started looking into social networks like linkedIn for potential hires.  I first read about this last month but then last week, I met a few people who came for an interview because the company had called them directly after seeing their linkedIn page.

None of this has an immediate impact on anyone's life today, but its worth being cautious about because we can never really predict the future.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Share your money but not your password

Everyone knows what a password is and why we should never share it.  The same applies for credit/debit card details as well.  We often make online transactions and its fine, because banks and online shops take extra care to safeguard their websites and your communication with their websites.  For example, banking sites use https protocol which is relatively more secure.  Now, https is not a fool-proof solution against hacking but the technology is not really the biggest issue.  Like IT companies say, the real crack in the armor is us, people.  All the technology in the world can't save you when you write your banking credentials in a clean white sheet and leave it in the backseat of a call taxi.

Which idiot would do that, you ask?  Well, I've seen a few people send credit card or bank account credentials through SMS.  Say you send the message and immediately delete it from your phone.  Great!  But the person who received your message, might have a fancy android mobile.  He is a bit lazy, like me and so he makes use of an app to sync his mobile messages with his PC so that he can reply to and read SMS from his computer (like me  :D).  Now, after receiving the message with banking details, he deletes it from his mobile.  Smart thinking.  But the message is already synced into the app's online database.  Say, the app was developed by 3 to 4 guys during their free-time.  They don't have the time or money to set-up additional security for their website or database.  Besides, they'll be thinking, why does an SMS syncing app need additional security?  That means, they can be hacked easily compared to your banking website.

All this might sound too complicated, but its not really.  But then you might say, "I haven't heard of something like this happen even in USA".  Not yet, but 5 years ago did you think that you will pay your TV bill online?  We can't guess what'll happen 5 years from now.  You may forget about the SMS that you sent and you may not have even had 100 rupees in the account when you sent it, but 4 years later, that account might have your life's savings and the password will still be the same and that information will still be available out there somewhere.  If it still sounds implausible, what if the receiver didn't delete the message and his mobile gets stolen the next day?  And there are many more possible risks that I can think of and there are a lot more I don't even know about.

So how the hell are we supposed to protect ourselves from these unknown threats, you ask?  Well, its simple, use common sense.  a) don't send passwords and sensitive information over SMS or email.  b) if you have to for some urgent need, change the password by the end of that day.  Now, that's simple, isn't it?  There is no point in being lazy and then blaming the new technology for being unsafe.

This is only part-one; there is more to come..  :P

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Introducing my latest spare-time effort

Since my college days, one my favourite hobbies has been to work on websites.  I started by creating logo and ad banners for an Indian gaming start-up called v-street.  Then I moved into content-creation and gaming event coverage since I was into e-Sports.  After college, I joined another start-up called golive gaming solutions in Hyderabad where I was introduced to flash-game development.

Just before joining TCS, I started a website of my own with two other friends, Bharath and Praveen.  The site was a news portal for people interested in Indian eSports.  The site was built from scratch, meaning, no CMS or blog engine was used.  I also had to post at least 3 articles per week and I did so, month after month.  It went on for more than a year and the site had a decent following in the Indian eSports community.  We even received an email from a famous international eSports team's manager encouraging us to continue our efforts.  Sadly though, we lost interest soon after.

Letting go of the website after spending more than an year on it, was very frustrating.  I didn't do any web development at home for an year after that.  A few months ago, I decided to get my head straight and start working on something again in my spare time.  Along came my cousin Sakthi and colleague Vigneshram to help with the coding.  The product of our work:


Its a website to play simple games against another human player.  Think of it as an electronic version of our chessboard.  Instead of playing on a board, we'll be playing from our mobiles and laptops.  To start off, I've created just one game, reversi.  Some of you might remember it as othello from the Nintendo video game days.

So, when you have a friend at home or available for chat over the net and you've run out of topics to chat about, just invite him/her to the link and play a game.  If you find it enjoyable, let me know as it'll encourage me to develop more games.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

I promise to Pay It Forward

Last year, I wrote a blog post about picking up a stranger at night near Pallikaranai.  At the exact same spot tonight, my bike ran into a puddle of water.  I'm used to riding my bike in rain and huge puddles of water but tonight, my bike finally said "no more".  There were some loud thud sounds coming from the engine and the bike came to a halt.  Again, it was around midnight and there was no help around.  I started to push the bike and after more than a kilometer, I reached the Velacherry station.  A called up a colleague who lives near that area and he suggested that I park my bike at the station for the night or wait till he reaches home.

I gave it some thought and then said "na, catching a train or taking an auto is too boring".  "Here's an idea; what if I push the bike all the way home (around 5 kilometers).  I've already pushed the bike more than a kilometer, so, how hard can it be!".  Thanks to my brilliant thinking, I started pushing again.  It wasn't so bad for the next one or two kilometers.  Then a miracle happened.  A guy on a bike stopped, came to me and asked whether I needed petrol because he had some in a bottle.  I said no thanks, I've got plenty and that its an engine problem.  As he left, I noticed his number plate, he was a police!  For the first time in my life, I've met a policeman who actually tried to help someone.  That may seem like a harsh comment but in my life experience, that really was the first.

After pushing the bike for another kilometer, I started feeling tired.  This time, I really did have a decent idea.  I took out my mobile and started playing some music.  I started pushing again powered by soothing music.  Another bike stopped next to me and asked what was the problem.  It was a fellow Avenger this time and this guy seemed to know a thing or two about the mechanisms of the bike.  He tried to start the bike and concluded that the engine coil was toast thanks to water.  He also said that his 200cc model had the same problem which is why he traded it for the 220cc which he had with him at the moment.  Then, he offered to tow me (which is a fancy way of saying that he would push my bike with his right leg).

I was pleasantly surprised and I immediately agreed.  Oh, did I mention that it was raining?  From the moment I left the office, it was raining.  I was wearing a raincoat, but this guy was getting soaked because all he had was a cap.  It was around 12 midnight.  And, to top it all, he wasn't even heading my way.  He simply wanted to help me out and he went out of his way in doing so.  He towed me for a good one kilometer after which I told him that I needed to leave the highway now and that I'll push the bike the rest of the way.  As I thanked him, he made a u-turn & went on his way and my mobile was playing 'anbe sivam'!  Epic, haha!

Then I realized that this was the exact same spot where I dropped off my hitchhiker from the previous blog post.  I had one more kilometer to go and I had just enough strength in me to make it.  That 1 kilometer tow made a helluva difference.  That guy had absolutely no reason to stop and help me, yet, he did.  Its gestures like these that remind us that we live in a civilized society where people help each other.  More than 200 people must've passed by me in my 80 minute walk.  At least two people thought it was worth helping out a stranger in the rain.  I WILL remember this and I will strive to pass on this friendly gesture to someone else one day.  I will try to be that one out of one hundred.

Saturday, April 6, 2013


Paradesi, a movie that I wouldn't recommend to anyone, but I still loved it.  Why?  Because its not really a movie and anyone who walks into the theatre expecting to see a movie will be utterly disappointed.  In my opinion, Bala's latest creations are somewhere between a movie and a documentary.  Its partly movie because the story is fictional and probably slightly exaggerated and unreal even.  Its partly documentary because it gives us a glimpse into the life of a society which exists beyond our eyesight or at least, used to exist.  It puts us in their shoe, makes us feel their pain and resets our perspective forever - exactly what a documentary is supposed to do.

In Paradesi, Bala continues to move away from a character based story to a story about a community.  The main characters are simply a tool.  A tool used effectively to take us through the life of that particular community.  The movie reminds us about people who are less fortunate than us.  It reminds us to be content with our lives because our troubles pale in comparison to theirs.  I'm not suggesting that we are too comfortable or too wealthy or that we should give up our money and go live in a hut.  I'm simply suggesting that we should remember the feeling of being unfortunate in life.  Remember it during sorrow to lessen the burden, remember it during happiness to add to the pleasure, remember it while making decisions so that we make the right choice.

As negative and sad as Bala's movies are, I see it as positive.  Take Paradesi for example.  The ill treatment, the lack of means to make a decent living, the lack of social and civil rights.  This was once the status of a lot of societies; not all societies, but many.  For all we know, such societies still exist, but far less than before and in a far better state than this.  As a society, we have come a long way forward; we are of course not perfect, but we are far better than we were before.  The very fact that we live in a society that feels that this is awful to watch even in a movie, should be proof enough that we have come a long way.

There was another surprising element in the movie.  It made me realize what Independence meant to the real people.  Independence wasn't about who was the head of the country or which anthem we sang in the schools.  Independence was simply a step forward in the long road to better rights and a fair society.  We are still travelling in that road, but this movie reminds us that we have come a long way.  Taken in the right perspective, it should remind us to keep moving forward.

P. S. To the few who have seen the movie, the last shot was just mind-blowing!  Not the beauty of the scenery but the meaning of the shot.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

New Rule: Everyone must read this blog, except me!

Have you noticed how we (civilized people in general) are so good at passing rules from which we are exempt?  Say for example, I am the transportation minister; I'll propose/pass a new speed limit rule on all state highways, reducing it to say 40 kph.  I'll pass it without a moment's notice, because I am exempted from it. My parade of cars and security personnel will take me down the road at 100 kph even though I passed the rule restricting everyone else from doing the same.

I'm not pointing fingers at the government here, that was just an example.  Take a look at all the rules around you.  How many of those rules were created by people who were exempted from it?  A student is banned from bringing mobiles to college but the staff who created or is enforcing, the rule is exempted from it.  Employees are ordered not to take a vacation or not to work from home but the people who made the rule....

If its not a straight forward exemption, then its a loophole.  Say for example, the government increases the price of petrol but the ministers who made the decision never actually pay for petrol because the government pays for their travel expenses.  I'm sorry for circling back to the government but hey, they govern us.  Then there is the case of enforcers who give a damn about the rule that they are enforcing.  Near my office, traffic police catch people for driving on the wrong side of the road.  Two days ago, I saw how the traffic police gets to that spot.  They drive in the wrong side of the road, same as the people they fine.  How is their big white Innova less dangerous than someone else's Hero Honda Splendour?

Now, hey, I'm not saying that the hike in petrol price is the government's fault or that driving in the wrong side of the road is acceptable.  In fact, I hate it when people (including me) drive on the wrong side of the road and from what I heard, in US, raise and drop of petrol price is not even considered a big fuss.  But the fact that the people who come up with these rules and enforce these rules are somehow not affected by them is just ridiculous.

We should probably make it a rule that whoever creates a rule should be the first one to get affected by that rule.  That way, when a leader declares war against a country, he should be the first man on the ground shooting the first bullet.  And when a terrorist leader orders a suicide attack, strap the damn thing on him first.  Now I truly understand what Achilles meant, when he said in Troy "Imagine a king who fights his own battles.  Wouldn't that be a sight!".

Those scenarios are high level pictures and perhaps even vague concepts, I admit.  But its still worth thinking about in our day to day life.  The next time we order a kid at home or our subordinates at work, we could spare a second to check if we are exempted and if we are, then maybe we should think twice before forcing it on them.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Fame shouldn't be used to undervalue Skill

An athlete uses drugs (which are  clearly illegal) to enhance his performance over other hard working athletes. He has a remarkably successful career & thus inspires a whole band of athletes to follow suite (cheat). After years of fame, fortune & ruining the sport, the truth is revealed & he admits it. Now, he gets invited to a show that's famous around the world & probably got paid a good sum for it as well. Then, some people go to the extent of praising him for admitting the truth. Sorry but am I the only one who feels that something is wrong with this story? Ok, let me try another.

Some people leave their families behind & travel to cities to join the film industry. Some take up any role that they can find so that they'll gain some experience. Some go to film schools & art colleges to improve their skills. Suddenly, a rich guy shows up, uses his money to take a movie & acts in it even though he has no skill. Its clear to everyone that he has no skill & yet, they praise him for whatever reason that's beyond my comprehension. Is it just me or has fame become an acceptable excuse for lack of skills?

We sometimes forget that skill is not something that develops naturally when we are in the womb. Skill comes from not hours, but years of hard work. Skills are developed through sweat & sometimes blood. Even if its not physically challenging, think about the mental ability needed to practise something again & again & again till you perfect it. People work hard to not just be good but to become the best in whatever it is that they do. They dedicate their whole life to developing their skills. Yet, someone comes along & makes a mockery of the whole thing & we accept it. By accepting it, we set a bad example for others to follow.