We should not judge people by their peak of excellence; but by the distance they have traveled from the point where they started.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

India's banks, regulators and online scams

 I never ever thought I could fall for an online scam given I am a deeply technical person with a PhD in Computer Science in Systems and I know how scams occur. But here I fell for one where Rs 49,999 were deducted from HDFC Bank account by a smishing (sms in which a link to a phishing (fake) website occurs to give your info such as KYC credentials) attack for KYC verification. Even though I fell for it due to some really bad contextual timing when it occurred in Sept 2022, I immediately realized I was under attack while the attack was ongoing and reported the matter in 10 minutes to launch an online complaint with HDFC bank nearby physically and then launched a cyber crime complaint immediately, and then got a letter from Police, however in around 2 weeks time, I was told by HDFC that they could not retrieve my money and since I happened to enter sensitive information in website (which is how scams occur always) bank is not liable on fund returns. Later on grievance filing in RBI (Reserve Bank of India - the regulator) I was given the same answer that since information was shared bank is not liable and I can not even appeal against such decisions further in RBI. In this blog post I bring to your notice how bad the accountability situation lies in case of such important aspects where thousands of people in India face  such scams on a daily basis and how banks are given a free run from their responsibility due to broad clauses by the regulators such as RBI, which can even be misused by banks for their own benefit.

I live in Amsterdam, Netherlands. In Sept 2022 I was super tired in two days conference when I got a forward message from my mother in India asking to do a KYC for one of the accounts in HDFC that was not actively being used for a long time, but had some money. I even had done a pin re-activation for this same account just two weeks ago, and when I got this message, I thought its a legitimate message since the context was there, it had come from my mother and most important of all it was a really bad time where my mind was super tired with the 2 day conferene hangover and I thought I would just get rid of this KYC thing, because I also had done a similar KYC for another of my financial account in Europe a few weeks ago itself. So it was a lot contextual. I was so tired that day, my mental faculties were not working very clearly, so in the heat of the moment I clicked on the link and saw a HDFC looking website where I entered information for KYC verification. I always check the website URL for any such links, but that day unfortunately I did not even bother to check the URL of the website in the browser because the User interface matched HDFC quite well. After asking info for KYC verification, it generated a few OTPs that my mother passed on to me to enter in the site as well, and she just read the OTPs from the top menu on mobile notification without going in details of the message as she thought I must have checked every thing. It was a multi-stage attack where multiple questions were being asked and steps by steps things were in progress, but after I came to a question page where I realized the question it asked was some thing I had never ever entered I looked at the URL of the website and realized I was under a phishing attack. Mind you, the attackers were still not finished and the attack was planned to let me enter more information to generate more OTPs to withdraw money, but as soon as I realized, I realized I was scammed and asked my mother to immediately go to the bank and register a complaint and check the funds as I realized my account access was blocked by the attacker. 

She was told Rs.49,999 was debited and sent to some SBICARDS at 1.10pm IST. I asked my mother to get the account blocked and register a complaint which she did with HDFC immediately. HDFC then asked me to register a cyber crime complaint and also register a FIR. When I tried logging in the Indian cyber crime portal I could not access it. I know from my past experiences many Indian government websites can be down due to bad web infrastructure, so after waiting for around 1 hour when I could not access it, my mother already had reached police station to understand the next steps and police there said I need to register a cyber crime complaint, and on telling them the website was not accessible and how it can be done, they said that's the next step. During the ongoing conversation I realized, the website is actually working in India as Police could access it in India, but it is apparently blocked outside India. I was like what on earth is this nonsense? A cyber crime can occur on any Indian around the world and it should be reported but here the website is blocked? A friend who is expert in security system later told me Indian government has blocked some key websites like this to prevent cyber attacks on them. I was blown away by such weird policies than fixing the security to prevent such attacks and preventing people from launching complaints on it by blocking it in the first place. I accessed the website through VPN and then launched an online complaint. 

The Police in the town where my mother was located in the meantime shunned away from their responsibility of registering a FIR saying its not their jurisdictions etc and did lot of nonsense talk including there is no need of FIR and private banks can not ask for a FIR from police and he will not give it etc. My mother finally made them give a letter that she had come to register a complaint for such a crime. HDFC in the mean time was provided with all of these documents including cyber crime complaint, police letter and other details. All of this took place with in a few hours of the attack. The next morning my mother got a call from Cyber crime person who was investigating the case asking some questions who made me think if they actually are trained well enough to handle cyber crimes because by looking at the questions, it was quite evident the expertise was missing completely. Remember cyber crime and local police are two different entities and might not coordinate unless they want to including with banks etc. So there was a complete chaos of authorities who were responsible to track it. My mother even had a call from the fraudster person when the scam was ongoing who told himself to be a representative of HDFC during the attack so we had a mobile number to trace, and local police could have easily tracked it to open an investigation but India being India and police being police, the inspector on duty refused to even accept his responsibility and do anything. I was realizing how India has not changed in all these years in spite of all the shiny things one sees around and how the institutions of public are still mired with incompetency everywhere. 

Now since I reported the matter in 10 minutes to HDFC and a complaint was registered within an hour with HDFC I expected the money to traced and refunded because digital transactions though they say money has been transferred takes time to complete always and what you see are only ledger entries in the two parties who are in transaction. Actual money transfer happens by the end of the day in a wholesome manner when accounts are settled or at least in a matter of many hours and not immediately as you might think. Money can be always traced by tracking the payment gateways, and since these transactions are digital it is expected that they can always be traced as long as they are occurring with in a country where local regulatory policies apply for digital footprints to be able to track them within a short span if a fraud is reported.

In the mean time I expected HDFC to question my mother by calling her about the incident during investigation but all she got was a phone call asking only one question that if she shared any OTP. She said she shared OTP with her son, which is myself who entered it in the KYC process that was provided and it was not shared with any one physically etc. HDFC did not ask any other question during investigation process that followed. While registering complaint my mother gave details already, but I expected the investigation from HDFC would raise more questions, but this was the only question. 

In the meantime a shadow deposit of Rs 49,999 was done as per the RBI laws by HDFC to our account that was not visible in terms of actual money there, but just as a transaction. Later in a few days we got notification that the money can not be retrieved as HDFC tried contacting SBICARDS, where the transaction showed money went to, and since we shared sensitive information bank is not liable and the money can not be refunded and the shadow deposit was withdrawn. HDFC did not provide any other information in spite of multiple grievances that were raised afterwards seeking more information about what it actually did when the fraud was reported in such a fast manner and the money should be traceable if it acted fast enough. 

What followed was a horrible bureaucracy of endless HDFC nonsense of opening grievances and closing them citing same reason without any answers from any one in the chain of hierarchy. Finally I opened a RBI grievance as RBI is the banking ombudsman in India raising complaint against HDFC asking HDFC the questions about how fast they tracked by money after reporting a fraud within 10 min. To my shock RBI forwarded my grievance again back to HDFC against which the complaint was made and HDFC again gave the same reply without giving any details and RBI closed the grievance citing the clause that the sensitive info was shared so bank is not liable and this decision is non-appealable. 

I was blown away how bad this entire system was where a banking ombudsman is not questioning the bank about what it did with my complaint but is putting full blame on me without slightest questioning of how fast the bank tried recovering money, because of course if the bank tried contacting for recovery after a few days, the money can not be recovered. Saw some horrible behavior from RBI where it has a broad clause in the favor of banks completely not having any further ability to question banks in such cases, which I believe is giving a free run to many banks who can behave the way they want if a customer reports a fraud even in no time simply because banks can either work in their own times by which a lot of time might have already passed. In the worst case, banks might actually recover money but refuse to admit they recovered it and refund to the customer because they are protected by the RBI clause of liability lies with the account holder freeing banks completely from any accountability of whatsoever happens even if the customer reports a fraud immediately. RBI can not be questioned or complained against for such a bad policy further as I realized in this process as they tell you on your face on questioning them you can go to another forum like court to question us, but we wont change a thing since this is our clause. 

In the mean time I hired a lawyer in Pune to send a legal notice to HDFC citing issues observed and demanding a refund. HDFC refuted charges and refused in its reply to the legal notice further even asking money from me for sending a legal notice to HDFC. So much arrogance.. My lawyer then said, the only option left is approach a consumer court to question HDFC because it wont otherwise tell anything because a new appeal in RBI was not possible as well and RBI was also not helping and it looked like HDFC wants to fight it further than just refunding the money which they can easily do because they have insurance on all accounts and Rs 49,999 was a really small amount as usually under 50k Rs amount are immediately refunded by banks in most of the cases. 

Some important questions that triggered me in this case is.

1. What is the role of banks in tracking the transactions if a fraud is reported immediately after sharing sensitive information due to which a fraud has occurred because that is the way a fraud occurs as thousands people get links, and messages to get the sensitive information. That's the most common practice for a fraud. 

Banks say they never ask for KYC, but just yesterday I got a mail from HDFC asking me to do a KYC again from their official email id. While banks during such frauds claim they do not ask for KYC and other info.

2. Digital transactions should be fully traceable from end to end if a fraud occurs and is reported within no time and there is always money in the system as it has not transferred yet, but it can be tracked only if the banks act swiftly and work hard on highest priority. Why RBI has no clause on the accountability of banks after a fraud has occurred and is reported in no time? Doesn't RBI feel responsible for the right policy when online scams are on rise and are only going to get more sophisticated as the current no liability and no question asked policy is only in bank's favor ?

3. If banks say digital transactions even if reported within no time can not be traced and recovered, who is at fault? A digital system comprises of multiple stakeholders that work on standard protocols that leaves digital foot prints all over the trace, and if banks can not trace it immediately on immediate reporting is there a fundamental flaw in the banking system where the protocols for digital footprint do not have enough information to trace such transactions to recover money by blocking it at different levels such as payment gateways, merchants etc. because it always takes many hours before a transaction actually passes in actual money exchange and before that window closes the transaction should always be traceable given its digital and technical nature where ledger entries are taking place as it goes through. 

So if banks say they can't trace or recover is it because they did not act fast enough to trace / recover it or is it because they do not understand how it happened because they lack expertise to track / trace / recover it  / or there is issue in the entire system at banks side where the employees responsible for this tracking are not fast enough due to beau acracy of the investigation processes set up in the banks that prevents them from a quick action? 

4. Why RBI has no clauses on accountability of banks in such scenarios while it puts the entire onus on the account holder who is already scammed and no one likes to get scammed on purpose as its always a trap from the fraudster. So by not having appropriate clauses to hold banks accountable for their expedite processing of reporting is RBI favoring banks non-accountability and giving them a free hand? because you can not even complaint or appeal against RBI decision which is purely based on a single fact that the account holder shared sensitive information so he is at fault. But what happens after the reporting of fraud and why RBI can not have accountability for that process after a fraud is reported from banks perspective?

Lots of interesting questions in this case that have arrived here and have exposed the entire machinery of the relevant stakeholders who are hiding behind some one sides policies without any accountability or transparency to bring the confidence in Indian banking system and its highest regulator RBI. 

Do you have any suggestions how this system can be improved further? Let me know by commenting here. 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

HOLOFIL - The 3D visualization explorer

As the world moves towards virtual reality, augmented reality, I bring to the world my own device to do 3D visualization, from my company, Artosci.

This is HOLOFIL. The product of my company Artosci at Amsterdam Science Park. Check us out at www.holofil.com for more details. We have our first customer in Amsterdam and as we do marketing and sales related activities, we get more and more prospective customers.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Perception vs reality .....

Some times we do things out of our own perception ignoring the reality, or not wanting to see the reality. However, what happens when we have to face the reality breaking the perception we built?

In an ideal world things work perfectly. Consider TV serials, movies, with a perfect plot where bad things are overcome by good things, things move fast to pace up the story line. It is during these times we understand that what are being shown is the perception of the writers fancies of how the ideal world should be. 

However, there is nothing like an ideal world, so if you try to control to make one, it can only happen through a forced perception, where you make yourself in believing things that you want to see in an ideal world. It comes at a cost of ignoring the hints that things are not ideal the way they should be, and the way you want them to be. 

However, the perception can not hold much longer if it involves lets say people, because people might be pretending to be fitting into your perceptive world, or you might be trying to fit them into your ideal world. Sooner or later, they give in only to realize that things are far from ideal. In a fictional story, things could be made so ideal, but real world behaves differently. 

So when this perceptive world does not hold any more, and realities creep into it hurts, because things do not stay ideal. Then mind can play games with you to understand why in-spite of all your tireless efforts things do not look the same the way they looked earlier. And then mind goes for a toss, in a endless spiral trying to figure out where did it all start, and how it went out of control until the mind which was controlling the ideal world became part of the world, and got dragged into its mindless fallacies. Coming out of this trap when the perception breaks could be a nightmare because the mind does not understand whose fault it was that the ideal world does not exist. It starts blaming things endlessly on different aspects blaming lets say the subjects that were part of the ideal world, failing to realize they were not ideal in the first place, they were just pretending to be ideal to match the expectations of the perceived world to match its creators fancies. 

Things could go terribly wrong if the mind can not understand the trap of falling into the endless blame game, thinking why ideal world does not exist anymore. Emotions creep into blinding rational judgments, and causing a downward spiral again. The effect can drag on for a considerable time unless there is realization of what exactly happened that lead to this situation. External stimulus could be then dwarfed by the fact that mind is not in control to understand such facts to improve upon the conditions, unless either time passes by to let it recover, or some strong external stimulus creates the necessary circumstances to let the recovery begin. 

However, once the recovery begins, you realize that you understood something crucial about yourself, that will help you become more stronger in understanding your own self to understand such situations better. And then that completes the necessary learning of you as a person.


Tuesday, January 26, 2016

My home recording studio setup - Guitar + singing

So encouraged by my friends, I started actively recording my video songs while playing guitar. I was an active singer while growing up and used to sing during school competitions and have won some medals etc.

I learned guitar for around 3.5 years after finishing my bachelors by attending a music class for 1 hour everyday. However, it had to be discontinued as I left for my Masters in USA. Life got very busy since then, and only now after having almost done with my PhD I get time to revisit my old hobby.

My singing passion was triggered when my mother happened to send me an old soothing song from 2007, which my friends liked a lot and encouraged me to record more.

Video recording is tough is what I realized when I started recording while playing guitar and singing hindi movie cover songs. However, soon I realized that my $100 guitar is not good enough in creating a good sound and the audio recording creates lot of noise.

As I was extremely curious about tech aligned research, I decided to invest in a home recording studio setup and a good acoustic guitar. I got my entire setup last week and now I am experimenting with different recording experiments.

The basic home recording studio setup consists of the following main components. A recording mic, an audio interface, a feedback headphone, a mic stand, a pop filter, and a digital audio workstation (DAW). The mic and other instruments analog output gets plugged into input of the audio interface, where you can adjust the gain of the sound etc. so that the output of mic is not too low. The digital audio interface is connected to your computer through a USB / Firewire port. So your recorded voice first gets converted into digital format using audio interface and then is fed as an input over USB to the DAW, where you can play with different experiments to record it in software. This is the software which allows you mix different tracks, add fancy effects etc. There are plenty of these software available in market, but the most popular ones are a few ones like Apple's Logic Pro, Abeton Live etc.

The recorded song can then be heard back from the audio interface output in terms of feedback monitoring headphones or a stereo speakers. Why do you need headphones if you can listen directly to what you are recording by normal ears? Well, what you hear is not what the DAW hears, because your guitar might be closer to mic than your singing mouth so guitar could be louder than the actual vocals. So to get the correct perception of what is getting recorded you use the headphones, and adjust your recording positions such that the best effect is observed.

The music software Cubase (DAW - Digital audio workstation), itself is pretty complicated in terms of its various effects etc, but to get a basic recording done you can be up and running pretty quickly.

So I am going to have fun doing all kind of interesting experiments with my new home recording studio setting. For more you can check www.mrunalg.com to subscribe to my YouTube channel. 

Friday, January 1, 2016

www.mrunalg.com is back in action .....

So I have finally created my new site www.mrunalg.com by aggregating content from various scattered sources across different web-sites.

Do check it out  at http://mrunalg.com

Saturday, December 26, 2015

My video cover song - I love you - Movie Bodyguard ...

Recording a video while singing a song, while playing guitar needs extreme co-ordination on so many fronts. I hope to improve on the required skills in coming time with better recording equipment and other stuff. 

So this is my first attempt to have video cover song -----I love you from the movie Bodyguard (2011).

I like the high pitch in this song ...

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

How do you handle betrayals from close friends ...?

How do you handle betrayals? Specifically when it happens through a close friend whom you trusted badly.

Being socially well versed could be a tough job if you are a serious PhD candidate as most of the times you are in a lab working on your experiments and research. Then you happen to meet somebody whom you think is your best friend. You feel happy. But then you realize the relationship is not good, because you are only investing it in from your side and the other party is just taking advantage of you. If the other party is much younger than you, you also tend to have parental feeling of love towards it, and you tend to ignore the non-investment from the other party saying ah its just a kid. But then suddenly one day you get a big jolt that oh, the other party simply took advantage of you and fooled you for your kindness.

So as a scientist how do you handle such situations? As a rational person you are aware of what is happening, but when the other party does not stop its low behavior it becomes difficult to accept the fact thinking, where is the morality and ethics? and how in the first place you allowed your self to be fooled in this manner even though you knew the signals, but you ignored them willfully?

As a scientist you can look at it as a failed experiment in which you put all your efforts knowing things are not going good, but hoping some day they will miraculously turn out to be good. You try to learn from the situations and move on, but if you are an idealist, who thinks an idea world should not behave in this way, if you were so genuine, then it becomes too difficult to understand how the other party could be so bad? I mean how could people be so bad where they just take things without any kind of empathy and compassion.

So to understand this question you start learning how people behave by studying psychology and you come across this notorious class of people called "narcissist socio-path", who seem friendly, agreeable, trustworthy, but who would lack any kind of emotions, regret, guilt towards the wrong doing they have done after taking advantage of others kindness. So you now understand technically and rationally there are these kind of weird bad people and you were unlucky (you do not believe in luck still) to meet such a person. But still your mind refuses to accept the fact that you were hurt so badly.

So you continue with new experiments to train your mind to come out of this shadow of darkness to find new goals, new ambitions to overcome the sadness of the betrayal. You train it daily that success is the best revenge, so you should be successful even more successful than ever, and only that can heal it. You train it saying, this is better for me, because it has taught me so many valuable lessons in terms of how to identify good people from bad people so early in my life, that it will not be difficult to identify them in future, and this is a blessing in disguise for the fact that this saves you from lot of difficult experiences in future due to this experience.

So you try to train your mind with all the willpower of your never die attitude and positivity, but still when you are not watching your mind, it sleeps into that other aspect where it hurts. The challenge is to keep watching it so that your rational always.

I think this is when you become a monk , when your feelings are immortal :-)

Sunday, August 30, 2015

How do people buy art? .. A conversation with a Painter

I am kind of in artistic mode these days, where I am trying to see if I can combine my artistic inclinations with Technical skills.

There are two projects that I am doing which are related to Arts. One is creating a photo-book of my journeys across the world, and the other is a 3D hologram kind of reflection on a trapezoidal structure to show 3D holographic videos.

How do people buy art? This is something I have been thinking quite seriously for some time, after having been exposed to an Artist friend's exhibition in California, during my internship at Oracle Labs.

Today, I was passing by on my routine weekend cycling routine in Amsterdam's city center, and I happened to notice this young guy selling his water-color paintings on a busy street junction. I like artists and I respect them for their creativity, as I feel one of them some times. I had actually bought two small sized post-card sized paintings from him for 5 Euro each 1 month back.

So I was curious to see him at the same location again. Last time I could not speak with him, so this time I decided to have a talk with him about certain ideas I had in my mind about how he can sell more paintings, and see what would be his reaction like.

Luckily he remembered me. I suggested him why he doesn't offer his paintings as a crowd-funded project, to sell it to people directly. We discussed the merits of the idea and he really got excited at it. He was very happy to receive various of my suggestions.

Then I asked him, some questions about how people buy art and what are his observations? He said, he perfectly knows how to sell his pictures based on his observations, when they would get sold, out of different visitors who would actually buy the paintings, how to judge their moods, how to arrange his paintings for different visitors from different countries, such as people from Germany would be interested in details, while Italians would be interested in sunny paintings. He told me interesting aspect of how buying is influenced by the weather and the biology of people. The weather aspect was repeated, as I had heard the same aspect in buying from another art gallery owner that I met 2 weeks back.

People usually come in waves to buy paintings. There are moments when he has no visitor, and then there are periods when his place is full of them. They would buy when they are on a full stomach, after having fed food after roaming around in Amsterdam and having stored memories. That is the reason a painting such as a bicycle on Amsterdam Canal's bridge, which according to him is a cliche, sells the most, and he arranges it such that it attracts immediate attention. He paints the same cycle in different colors in different portraits to people a choice to buy.

Or he arranges a colorful painting in a corner that is visible from far distance, so that people can see it. People never buy out of rational thought, they buy on their impulses, their emotions, and could be manipulated if you present them what they need. He is from Russia, but could understand many languages, so he could understand what they spoke, to judge their mood. In a country like Europe, with so many cultures, this is a must skill.

Weather has a huge role to play. When its sunny, people are cheerful, so he keeps sunny paintings, and people buy them happily. Dutch people are usually very thrifty and do not like to buy things. They are very conservative with their money.

It was an interesting conversation and I learned a great deal of stuff from him. I will see him again some time on my routine biking travels, and would see, if he came up with some new ideas on the basis of my suggestions.

Technology and art could blend together well. A prime example of this is Apple and the legacy Steve Jobs left behind. The original Apple founders had the talent of artistic flavor and Engineering marvel. The result is beautifully designed Apple products. And as I observe many new products, most people are understanding the emphasis of creating a beautifully designed product. Because beauty is what attracts people, and then the actually functionality of the product is provided by the dirty work of Engineer.

Long live the symphony of the two talents.

Monday, June 8, 2015

kids, zoos, moms, Internet

Yes, the title is a bit weird.

I visited Melbourne Zoo today. I have not visited any zoo since I was a kid, so while deciding what to see in Melbourne City, I decided to pay a quick visit to its zoo.

I spent like 3 hours in zoo. The most common thing around me during this time was kids. They were every where with mostly accompanied by their moms. Moms were trying to teach kids what each animal was, where it was located in its enclosure (since mostly these animals try to hide in some remote corner away from public eye). It was fun to watch them.

Was I excited. Not really. Why? Well, I think because as adults we tend to watch a lot of Discovery, National Geography, where animals are show cased in plenty, so their attraction does not stay that strong. You see them in enclosure and you think..... whatever.

But, yes, for kids its a best experience as they are yet learning and their cognitive abilities get better by being in physical presence of these animals than just seeing them on TVs. So Zoos still have their place in the modern society. The question is, will their place be ever replaced totally by the advent of the information age, where every thing is available on the finger tips using Internet and related technologies for e.g. such as virtual reality? Zoos have to keep on re-inventing themselves to draw bigger crowds, they have to keep on making themselves attractive so that parents want to bring their kids.

Or was I being too nerd? Have I lost my ability to enjoy simple things, because I try to reason behind why this thing is happening the way it is happening? I think yes. 

Human driven and self driving carI s

I am in Melbourne, Australia to present my research paper. This is the top-most conference in data management. The paper presentation went very well. After the conference usually I spend couple of days doing local sight-seeing.

I drove from Melbourne to Sydney after the conference was over. Its a distance of around 900 km. I was seeking an adventure and decided to drive down than flying as that would give a perspective of Australian landscape, culture, driving habits, roads etc. Road trips teach a lot of about the country,
as that forces you to interact with locals and gives an impression about the overall culture.

Driving itself was a lot stressful in the beginning as I was not in my best shape due to lack of proper sleep, and on top of that constant rains that made road visibility very poor. Also I was not much confident of driving alone in a new country, in new conditions. So the initial 2 hours were a lot stressful. But as the rains vanished and I got used to the driving it started getting better. But the initial feeling was quite stressful. Suddenly you realize that you are responsible for extreme precaution as a slight mistake can cost you a severe accident and your life. Having that kind of responsibility while surrounded by zooming cars, and pouring rain could be immensely stressful.

While driving I was constantly appreciating the advent and prospect of self driving cars. A lot of daily stress in human life arrives from driving. Since the person has to take care to not to make any mistake. What if this exercise is made enjoyable and relaxing where a machine is able to take care of all the necessary precautions etc to make sure you are being driven safely. I think when the self driving cars, or cars that have abilities to correct or warn driver of possible accidents becomes common place, quality of human life will change for ever. These kind of technologies are already present in expensive cars, but yet to appear in cheaper ones.

I constantly felt how great it would have been had my car had all the safety mechanisms to warn me in case there was a possibility of accident. My stress would be much less. Also I realized, I take decisions during driving such as which routes to take, which exit to follow, how much speed-limit to follow by watching the road signs. If sensors could replace me, they should be also be able to do the same. The only problem that remains is the exceptional conditions when human intelligence can take judgement.

My journey went on fine after I got used to the driving and after some power naps by resting by road side stops. But, the thought of having a self driven car taking me from point A to point B was much pleasurable considering the amount of stress driving could involve some times. The time could be better spend in more constructive things, to make some things more better. 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

A beautiful mind ....John Nash rest in peace

Dr. John Nash. the genius mathematician and the Economist Nobel laureate and the father of Nash Equilibrium died May 23rd 2015 in a car crash along with his wife at the age of 86. 

When I read this news today in Economist. I could not believe what I was reading. So I went to check other news papers and felt in a state of shock. 

The story of the movie, "A beautiful mind" which portrays Nash's journey, has been part of my life as a PhD student for a long time. I used to watch this movie for some special scenes frequently to get inspired as an early PhD student. It kept me motivated. 

The most important coincidence is I got the original book "A beautiful mind" on which the movie is based last week from my institute's library and have been reading it since last 4 days. This is the reason the news of Nash's death comes as a even a bigger shock. The book portrays the different facets of the early young Nash, and gives a detailed insight into the fiercely competitive world of mathematical research as it happens in MIT, Harvard, Princeton etc. It tells the fierce devotion of a strong and beautiful wife towards his genius husband. It gives a glimpse into the dark side of a genius, and his passage into the world of madness at the age of 35. 

Nash's 27 page PhD thesis which he wrote in 2 years at Princeton changed the way Game theory is treated in the actual practical world, and many of the today's economic models such as airline ticket auctioning system are based on Nash equilibrium, which states that maximum gains could be obtained in a game if everybody play's for a common interest such that nobody loses. This kind of thinking was revolutionary when it was proposed, since, till then in a game, there were either winners or losers. 

Mr. Nash you left a legacy behind you and will be remembered for your pioneering work. Thank you for inspiring me through your journey as a graduate student. 

I feel a lot sad today. 

Friday, January 30, 2015

Career growth .... Politics vs Computer Science

With the infusion of Delhi assembly elections there is tremendous energy in the Indian political scene. Formation of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has revitalized the Indian politics to the extent people have lost the cynicism that was present for a long time, and look forward towards new changes. 

A lot of party hopping is seen happening amongst the three party candidates, namely Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and AAP. With such party hopping comes the question of whether these party hoppers are opportunists who change parties for reasons such as they being not given ticket to contest from a certain constituency? There is a lot of question in media about the morale of such people, where they suddenly change parties which they earlier were in opposition with. 

Leaving aside all the aspects of morality and related things, a good question to ask is, what is it to be a politician, and what does it hold for a person in politics as a career. Lets compare politics as a career with say, private sector careers such as an IT professional. Switching jobs and moving to a different company is a very common practice in IT profession. It is considered essential for a person's career growth to have a diverse experience form different companies. It is a different question some times some people make some of these jobs look like a permanent job for the life time, where once they start in a company, they finally retire from the same company. No, we do not want to look at such professionals in here. 

So if IT professionals change their jobs so many times, why would it be considered immoral when a politician changes it? Well, now lets look back to what options usually a budding politician has? There are very few options in terms of established major parties, where a politicians would change to. Such parties usually have old established politicians, so breaking the ceiling here could be a challenging task. The other option is start your own party, which is very much like start your own startup and grow it up. But as we know most startups fail, and a very few succeed to out grow. So it is considered wise to join an established party and grow there as long as it gives sufficient opportunities. But how many such opportunities exist? Because usually elections occur once in around 4 years, when there occurs major disruption. So the growth is very slow here compared to growth lets say in other professions. So politicians are actually at a disadvantage in terms of growth of careers. 

Why do IT professionals change jobs? Many times its because of better salaries, better working environment, skill improvement, etc. Reasons are plenty. The aspect of loyalty to an employer is not a big issue here, because the skills needed for the job has nothing to do with loyalty most of the times. Forget for time being the concepts of competitor products intellectual property rights etc, where you can not join a competitor company due to infringement of intellectual property rights. On the contrast most political parties have some core philosophies of their own, they have their own ideology to which people in the party should stick to. This is precisely the reason when politicians switch parties questions are raised about how suddenly a person can change his own ideologies because that indicates the person in the first place did not believe in them truly, because ideologies can not be changed so easily.

Well, this is the reason hardly few politicians change their parties and stick to the one they started with. But with the dynamism we are seeing in Indian politics after introduction of AAP, we need to be able to also consider how this kind of thinking could be challenged which would make politics more of a skill based field, where people could compete based on certain things the way, IT professionals compete. I think that will bring the best out of politics, and it would also make it more competitive and more appealing to make drastic changes in the way societies are made to observe the impact a party should create, for the welfare of its people. 

Its a good thought. Some kind of disruption in the way politics occur at present, to how it should happen in future. Lets hope it happens for the best. 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Crowd intelligence vs Expert intelligence

Out of my recent travels with my brother in a rented car arrived lot of scenic photographs. At least for last 4-5 years, I have not done so much extensive outdoor travel that I did in last 1 month. A friend suggested to put these photos on www.500px.com than flickr, so I tried it. 

(The link for photographs is here) www.flickr.com/mrunalg

500px is a market place for photographers where fellow photographers decide on the quality of photographs by rating it, and the algorithms decide whether a photograph is worthy enough to be moved up in the ranks so that after a while it could be put on the stock photography market place to sell. This model is more like the Reality TV show setup, where audience decides whether a particular singer is good and vote for him. More votes decides the champion along with a few other factors. 
So 500px essentially brings this aspect of reality TV kind of voting in the online photography world to decide the best photographs. 

I decided to test their algorithms and how good the overall setup is, so I experimented by putting in different kinds of photographs hoping to see how they get rated etc. I was quite disappointed with the overall results at how even the best of the photographs might not appeal to crowd. And how the entire logic works on how well you connected are, how many people in your network view the photographs etc. So the crux to mention is, the popularity has nothing to do with the quality of the photo. I have had similar problems with the occasional viewing of the reality show setups where many times the singers I feel are great, never win. So that made me think would the setup be good if only experts were judging the photographs?

I submitted some of the photos to high quality stock photography sites such as www.shutterclock.com. These photos were out right rejected saying they lack correct exposure, lack of focus, noise, lens artifacts etc. 

I then thought of another process to review the submitted material the way it occurs in the academic publishing world where peer reviewing is the norm to get research published. Depending on the quality of the conference / journal you are trying to publish in the reviews could get so nasty and critical that many times one feels like giving up. Writing is a very interpretation oriented skill. People look at it from their own biases, expectations etc. So chances of getting an article in, in a top publication through reviewers is even more tough. 

So now we have seen the two extreme sides of getting your work to the forefront. Crowd intelligence vs Expert intelligence. And both have its drawbacks and advantages. 

The most interesting question in this aspect then becomes how to combine the two in a kind of hybrid way so that the best of both the world could be obtained. And this is a tough question. The beauty of Internet is it has democratized the way information gets accessed. So now crowds can have their say in choosing the outstanding work unlike the earlier times, when only a few elite experts were allowed to do that. But there should also be a way to let the two modes integrate, so that we see the best possible outcome, because some times crowds might not be able to judge perfectly, and some times, the experts might be too harsh. 

Balance is the crux of everything and it needs to be present in the world of Technology too. 

Monday, January 5, 2015

Safe cars and safe roads ....

The era of self driving cars is here. Google is testing its completely autonomous cars on Californian roads. Tesla just launched Model-D which has auto-pilot type features, which allow almost semi-autonomous driving of the car. 

While riding on my trip to Lake Tahoe on free-way I was thinking about the issues such as road safety, traffic sense etc in the context of American Free-way traffic. And how does the rule change when the other parts of the world such as Indian Express-ways are concerned. 

Safety is a matter of following the discipline and rules so that people driving cars follow a common protocol. Riding on an American free-way could be tiresome in the beginning as one has to keep a tab on many things such as the lane in which one is driving, traffic speed-limits, exits, the road directions, the roads, GPS guidance, etc. Since lane changes happen at a speed-of upto 60 miles per hour, if proper precaution is not taken crashes are imminent. Yet, with experience people get better at driving safely and overall the driving safety is at its highest. 

Self driving cars thus have an interesting existing framework of rules and protocols, in terms of the existing infrastructure on which their sole navigation depends heavily. Making them work correctly (at least on free-ways) depends on what happens when these protocols are broken and how to take those decisions. 

Even before self driving cars could be on road I think these kind of features should already enhance the safety on roads. For e.g. most accident happen due to human errors. Such as a person mistakenly takes a sudden turn, brakes, changes lane, or mis-judges other cars reaction etc. If all cars on roads follow a common protocol and talk through sensors, then the element of human error is removed, which makes driving much safer. I think many of the expensive cars at present do have most of these technologies where the car takes control of the situation if human error is sensed. For e.g. it would be wise to have a feature which disables a sudden lane change in the sense a crash with another vehicle is imminent. Here car is acting like a guardian when the human driving it has committed a mistake. 

Now, moving to the context of driving in other countries like India. As Indians get more prosperous they will drive more and spend more time on road. Safety becomes a prominent concern here. However, the situation in the Indian context is very difficult to handle due to the lack of common standards that everybody should follow as many times the drivers riding drive completely recklessly, risking everybody's life. This happens as the driving license obtaining rules etc are not strictly enforced. With the rise of newly build expressways the fatal crashes where people die are also on rise. This makes the situation extremely complicated, because no matter how safe your own car might be, chances are you might be at the mercy of another person bad driving habit. There was an episode in the TV series Satymev Jayate about fatality of Indian roads, which prominently mentions related issues. 

Making driving a safe experience is thus a herculean task depending on the context. Self driving cars even though they might arrive in developed countries, will be completely useless in emerging nations such as India, due to the mix of driving conditions and the lack of a coherent standard. So what is the best way to ensure increased safety on the Indian roads? Follow the rules and make obtaining the driving license a rigorous exercise, and not based on the ability to bribe a certain official, because the implications for the society as a whole are huge. Corruption thus plays a huge role in the advancement of the societies, and will play its role in ensuring safety on the Indian roads too. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Disruptive research ....virtual windscreens

What are fundamental innovations or disruptive technologies as its often said ....?

For e.g. while driving on a Californian highway in a car I was surrounded by a flood of the passing cars. At night there head lights were annoying and blinding. A thought came in my mind....

What is the best innovation that has happened in the light industry? All the changes that we see are incremental changes where more powerful light bulbs are used, self adjusting lights are used, focus is adjusted automatically on curves etc. But the main restrain about all this is, its still incremental change in the way people see. 

Lights are used so that people could see out of darkness. So the fundamental problem is not lights or better designed lights. The fundamental problem is people's inability to see in the limited range offered by lights. So the solution is to provide people more better abilities to see the surroundings. 
Could a car light no matter how better designed it is, would be able to do that? I think no. 

A disruptive technology here could be projecting the surrounding of the car in a virtual reality kind of environment on the windshield of the car itself. So as the car moves it senses its surroundings using sophisticated sensors and displays it on the screen. A cool idea. 

Another major problem is the obstruction of viewing while taking turns, or during overtaking due to the A,B,C pillars of the car. What if these pillars did not exist? How would car driving experience look like? What if we make these pillars from transparent material? Again a cool idea. 

So all these thoughts came rushing to my mind during my first long car ride (200 miles) along the Californian coast travel. 

I happened to meet a friend at night for dinner where I discussed my ideas with him and he is like. Dude, did you see the latest Jaguar Tech screening that came some days back. They describe there new technology called "virtual windscreen" and transparent pillars which describes just these same concepts. I managed to find a YouTube video below. 

Being able to identify a problem and seek answers to solve the solution is the crux of any scientist and that is what a long journey of PhD trains you for. I am happy to see that I can identify real life problems and possible solutions. Its a great feeling to have matured to this stage. 

More problems as I keep exploring and possibly more solutions to make things better in a disruptive innovative way ....

Friday, December 19, 2014

Why does a User want bug free Operating system installations .....

Installing new Linux based operating systems was a huge pain not so far ago. I remember chasing Suse distribution dependencies and the nightmare it involved.

Ubuntu scored a major hit with users with its sleek out of the box installation, and ease of the package management using auto-dependencies resolution.

However, still there are problems. I happened to install Ubuntu-14.04 on my laptop two months ago, and had a huge problem with getting basic things to work, for e.g. sound was missing so I had to search endless web-links to find the correct hacks.

Identifying correct nvidia-graphics driver was a pain, so the same story repeated. I spent a huge amount of time to get the system to a working state.

Luckily this was a 32 bit installation and when after  installing Android SDK its emulator failed to launch due to its dependency on 64 bit architecture, I was forced to remove my 14.04 installation and upgrade to a latest 14.10 installation with 64 bit support.

What a pleasant package this major release is. It does almost everything out of the box. No pain hacks to get things working. Below is a link which describes some main tasks that could enhance the user experience once the installation is done. Some major relief is in the area of.


1. Track-pad is auto detected, so the annoying problem of keyboard errors due to touching of track-pad has gone. This is a God send gift...literally.

2. Audio works out of the box.

3. Nvidia-drivers are detected in the package manager.

4. System tools work out of the box.

And many other annoying little bugs that were present all across 14.04 are gone.

Thank you very much for making my life simpler Ubuntu. I so much appreciate it.

Sunday, December 7, 2014