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Saturday, July 8, 2017

A world without Free Software

I have mentioned multiple times in my previous blogs that the term Free Software stands for Freedom and not necessary zero cost software. In late 1970s and early 1980s when proprietary software was taking over Richard Stallman was not happy with the situation and started the GNU project in 1983. To build a Unix like operating system. At that time UNIX was not a free operating system. 

Two years later he started the Free Software Foundation, to support the free software movement, it promotes study, distribution, modification and creation of software that is free. 

Had the GNU project and FSF not been started the world of Computer Software would have been much different from what it is today. Many of you in India, China and in the developing world who are reading this blog know that most of the computer users in these countries use the software without paying for it. Most of you windows users in this countries never payed for the copy of Windows and the MS office installed on most of the home systems are pirated. 

However with GNU/LINUX the users have an option, but due to marketing of Microsoft and ignorance of most users software like GNU/LINUX and LibreOffice remain unused. Had there been no Free Software Movement, the GNU/LINUX, OpenOffice, LibreOffice, GIMP etc won't have come into existence as a result users would have to be dependent on Windows, MS Office, Photoshop. However in absence of option the developers of the software would have place strong software locks in the software and would have made it almost impossible for users to use the software without paying for it. So if you are able to use a pirated copy of Windows, MS office or photoshop it is all due the existence of GNU/LINUX, LibreOffice and GIMP. 

There would have been far lesser innovation in the consumer and business software space. Since the number of coders who would have contributed to the code of your software would have been limited by the companies that develop the software. 

You entire computing experience would have cost you much more. You probably won't have had Android, Sailfish, Ubuntu touch, Firefox like mobile operating systems till now. The world of computer software would have been very very boring. 


Thursday, May 25, 2017

Indian EVMs misused

In the recent elections of Delhi MCD, Punjab, Goa and UP the first generation Electronic Voting Machines were used. We all thought that the utilization of electronic voting machines would bring down the cost associated with the elections giving the results faster. However we were wrong. It did deliver results, but at the same time it did not save costs as this machines cost well over Rs 12,000 per unit in today's money. The worst part of it being it is highly susceptible to hacking. 

      There have been examples where independent candidates have got 0 votes. He did not get even his own vote or his family member's vote. 

    An EVM is essentially a very simple electronic device which stores the information of the number of votes to whom. In EVMs memory it is stored 1,2,3...16. The numbers correspond to the political party whose symbol you see in the EVM. However as you see in the video below, the ease with which the first generation Indian EVM can be hacked. 

    All one needs to do is to change the motherboard. It takes only 90 seconds to change an EVM motherboard. The new motherboard would have a programme in the ROM that would do all the manipulation depending on the number code that is entered into the EVM during the election and that is how the result manipulation would take place. 

    The first generation Indian electronic voting machines are a real threat to democracy. Most probably in 2014 LokSabha elections we saw the first instance of EVM manipulation. In Punjab, Goa and Delhi MCD the shocking results have been due to manipulated Electronic Voting Machines. 

    The recent Delhi MCD bypolls on two seats resulted in BJP losing deposit in both the seats, how can this happen in a period of just one month. Well, the bypoll happened through VVPAT(Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail) machine. A VVPAT machine is a third generation EVM and when a vote is cast a paper is printed that shows the voter the symbol of the party for which he/she voted for seven seconds and then falls into a box. With VVPAT if a candidate is not happy with the result, he can ask for manual counting of the paper votes. 

     However even VVPAT machines I feel are not safe. Since it may so happen that the voter may see one paper printed in front of him. However the paper that goes into the box contains symbol of another political party and ultimately if the votes are to be counted it is better to have a ballot paper system of voting. 

     Free and Fair elections are the basis on which each democracy stands. If the elections are not free and fair then that nation is doomed into getting into an era of dictatorship. 


Friday, April 21, 2017

The probable cause of existence of the concept of God

Personally speaking I am an atheist. I don't believe that there is any God. However globally we find that almost all cultures have assigned themselves one God or another. In India, which has been the spiritual capital of the world for centuries, myths and legends have assigned 330 million Gods.

    However there were groups of great Indian sages who never believed in the existence of God of any kind viz the Sankhyas. The Buddhists didn't believe in any God.

     Now we must realize living beings have evolved from simple unicellular organisms to complex and intelligent multi cellular beings like us. The process of evolution has not stopped it continues. Secondly what we think and do has a deep effect on our personality and character and hence over a period of time it goes into our genome. So the risihis created the concept of Gods and created Gods like Shiva, Vishnu, Krishna, Bramha etc so that people worship them, think about them and meditate on them, so that with the forces of evolution they become somewhat akin to them.

   

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Research on Romantic Love

Love is a basic human emotion that connects human beings. Out of all the forms of love one of it is romantic love. A lot has been written over the ages about this form of love. If you are a movie fan, then you will find that romantic love is used to connect people movies. The movie makers use this human drive to make more people see their movies, as more people watching is directly proportional to the revenues generated by the movie.

But what does science say about romantic love. In a TED talk given by Dr. Helen Fisher a few years ago she mentioned how romantic love is much different from other forms of love. The FMRI scans of brain done of people who were involved in romantic love showed great amount of activity in that portion of the brain that is responsible for craving and focus.This is exactly the reason why you feel so strongly about the person with whom you are in love.The portion of the brain is called Ventral Tegmental Area(VTA). 

Since the part of the brain is also responsible for focus, you keep thinking about the person you are in love with all the time. This area of the brain is also responsible for craving. So romantic love is a wonderful feeling when things are going well, but when things are not going well it is equally horrible.

VTA essentially is the reward area of the brain. Now here is a catch, in her TED video on Romantic Love research, Helen Fisher mentioned that when someone is rejected in love, a greater amount of activity is shown in the VTA area. This explains why the rejected partners go through a period of anguish.
Here is her TED lecture given in 2006.




Here is the link to the Fisher's lecture given in 2014

Most of the stuff said in both the videos are pretty common. So it is clear that romantic love is not really an emotion, it is a drive as Helen Fisher mentions it. It evolved at the time of evolution of mammals, its a drive that makes you focus on one partner. 


Now that we know that the activity levels of VTA is responsible for the feelings and cravings that one experiences. So to overcome the negatives. Meditation is one way in which the activity of the brain can be controlled. VTA is the area of the brain that is responsible for expectations and cravings

This research will turn out to be invaluable in reducing the negative feelings that arises. When we start thinking in terms of VTA and not the heart, you will be able to control the levels of activity in your VTA and thus make romantic love a better experience. 

It is just figuring out the cure of a disease by knowing the cause of the disease and then working out a way to control the cause. The following points must be kept in mind:-

1) The cause of distress is craving, expectation. So having no expectation is a must. That reduces misery.

2) Since we know that it is the activity levels of the VTA that needs to be controlled. Hence following mind control practises like meditation is a must.  

Of course the research does not discourage romantic love. In of of the videos Fisher does mention that a world without love would be a dangerous place, but knowing how things happen makes life much easier. 

Monday, October 3, 2016

Solving Drinking Water Problem

With massive urbanization developing countries like India which have a creaky infrastructure can have great problems in delivering basic necessities to the people. Access to clean drinking water is a problem in many parts of India. But science does have the solution to the problem. 

Indian weather for most part of the year is hot and humid. Humidity is presence of water in the atmosphere in form of vapour. Now if you have a technology which can cool this atmospheric vapour down and accumulate the water at one place, you solve the problem of of shortage of drinking water. 

Luckily across the world in India and Israel, researchers have come up with solutions that work. Here are the links WaterMaker (India) Watergen (Israel).

Having machines like this installed at public places will help you get access to pure drinking water at very low cost, WaterMaker's cost of producing water is Re 0.80 to Rs 1.4 per litre as compared to bottled drinking water sold commercially for Rs 15 per litre. 

Having access to pure drinking water will reduce the occurence of waterborne diseases resulting in healthier population. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

Questioning Vivekananda

This is a small part of a lecture given by Swami Vivekananda on January 8, 1900.


 I was in the city of Hyderabad(the Hyderabad mentioned over here is most probably Hyderabad, Sindh. Which is now in Pakistan.) in India, and I was told of a BrĂ¢hmin there who could produce numbers of things from where, nobody knew. This man was in business there; he was a respectable gentleman. And I asked him to show me his tricks. It so happened that this man had a fever, and in India there is a general belief that if a holy man puts his hand on a sick man he would be well. This Brahmin came to me and said, "Sir, put your hand on my head, so that my fever may be cured." I said, "Very good; but you show me your tricks." He promised. I put my hand on his head as desired, and later he came to fulfil his promise. He had only a strip of cloth about his loins, we took off everything else from him. I had a blanket which I gave him to wrap round himself, because it was cold, and made him sit in a corner. Twenty-five pairs of eyes were looking at him. And he said, "Now, look, write down anything you want." We all wrote down names of fruits that never grew in that country, bunches of grapes, oranges, and so on. And we gave him those bits of paper. And there came from under his blanket, bushels of grapes, oranges, and so forth, so much that if all that fruit was weighed, it would have been twice as heavy as the man. He asked us to eat the fruit. Some of us objected, thinking it was hypnotism; but the man began eating himself — so we all ate. It was all right.
He ended by producing a mass of roses. Each flower was perfect, with dew-drops on the petals, not one crushed, not one injured. And masses of them! When I asked the man for an explanation, he said, "It is all sleight of hand."
Whatever it was, it seemed to be impossible that it could be sleight of hand merely. From whence could he have got such large quantities of things?
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Reading this piece raises more questions than it gives answers. First of all, if it is true that such a man did exist then why we don't find any record of the man by anyone else?

Secondly Why the man did not use his powers to feed the starving and poor. It was a well known fact that most of India back then was poor and people were starving?

Finally why didn't Vivekananda learn the tricks himself and feed the people whom he thought about so much?

The above questions raise an obvious question. Did Vivekananda create a story while giving his lecture? What was the need of such a lecture. ?

It is a very well known fact that one cannot create stuff out of zero. One form of matter can be transformed into another form of matter and why today we don't have a single person who can emulate such a feat.

Obviously what's described by him violates the laws of physics. So I believe its very much possible that he just made a story up while giving his lecture.