Traversing a path to freedom

In the light of on coming onslaught of government surveillance (or otherwise), how does one prepare to live life in freedom — freedom from your privacy being infringed upon? Essentially, how to live life on your own terms and how to free yourself from depending on the government for your needs?

Here are some thoughts on activities in daily life, and their freedom respecting alternatives:

  • Paying people: cash or cryptocurrency
  • Electricity: install solar panels
  • Food: If possible, grow your own. You cannot know what pesticides and agro-chemicals you are consuming when you purchase from the market.
  • Internet: No ISP is better than another. Satellite internet might be slower, but probably better suited for privacy. Use cryptography to beat surveillance. Use ssh tunnels, VPNs, the Tor network etc.
  • Desktop Operating System: GNU/Linux, hell yeah! Fedora Linux is best (avoid Ubuntu)
  • Laptop: Any laptop that doesn’t have proprietary firmware is good. I use Thinkpad, but this is not the best choice.
  • Mobile Operating System: This is tricky. Android relies on Google Play Services, and is hence non-free at its core. After careful deliberation, I find Jolla’s Sailfish OS as the best freedom respecting mobile platform. I use Windows Phone (Lumia 1520) and Sailfish 2.0 (Intex Aquafish).
  • Mobile phone: A prepaid SIM, perhaps that came out from a vending machine, is best (this works in USA). In some countries, such a choice is not possible (India). Pay phones (with a coin drop slot) are perhaps the only option. Where legal, satellite phones (illegal in India) might give you ultimate freedom from surveillance. Do read Stallman’s views on this issue.
  • Maps: Good support for offline maps on mobile devices is in the works. Soon, OpenStreetMap would suffice for all user needs. With OpenStreetMap, you can own the data and you can run every service (search, geocoding, routing etc.) offline. Commercial equivalents will remain easy to use, but will aggressively collect your location data.
  • Mail: Probably best to setup your own server. I need to figure out strategies against failures, but it should be doable. Open protocols like IMAP, SMTP support end to end encryption, and it should be secure from surveillance.
  • Browser: Firefox preferably, otherwise Chromium if you can’t live without it.
  • Chat: IRC rocks. One can setup IRC bridge to use Slack through an IRC interface, which can help you avoid the proprietary Slack client. On the phone, I see no alternative of Whatsapp (which is non-free). Telegram is no better. Best to avoid these for now. On the desktop, I use XMPP clients like Pidgin / Empathy.
  • Travel: If you can pay anonymously and travel legally without an ID, that is the best. Indian Railways makes it possible. Traveling in your own vehicle is not the best either, since your number plate is prone to tracking and surveillance.
  • Social media: Avoid putting up photographs on social media as much as possible. Facebook and government agencies are known to be building massive facial recognition databases.

For insights into my inspirations, check out the lifestyle FAQs of Richard Stallman, the founder of the Free Software Foundation.

So, all good, Ishan. How much of this do you follow yourself? Not much, unfortunately. But knowing what is good for you is better than ignorance. And trying to achieve what is good for you is worth it.

AMD Ryzen and Naples CPUs

I am extremely excited to follow the development about the AMD’s latest Ryzen CPUs. I am going to order the 8 core, 16 thread AMD Ryzen 7 1700 CPU, which overclocks to similar performance as found in Ryzen 1800X. Exciting part is that it beats Intel’s 6900K in Cinebench R15, and comes at one-third of the price of the 6900K. Hoping to have this by early April. This seems like the perfect candidate to replace my Intel 5820k based machine.

More excitingly, AMD’s Naples CPUs have been previewed, and they are said to have 32 cores per CPU! The top of the line Intel Xeons have 22 cores (Xeon E5 2699 v4). If the price is affordable, I hope to get myself a dual Naples based system with 64 physical cores. That would be a good replacement for my dual Xeon E5 2658 v3 (24 cores) machine.

Last year, I attended a course from Colfax regarding Intel XeonPhi co-processors, and was very impressed. Remains to be seen what is next with XeonPhi, and if they become mainstream processors.

Raspberry Pi webserver, even if its behind NAT

You have a Raspberry Pi and the way it connects to the internet is through an ISP that doesn’t provide you a static IP, instead some private IP address like 10.x.x.x or 192.168.x.x? Don’t worry, you can still connect to it from outside and have it handle all webservice requests through a very easy configuration.

The concept is called “reverse SSH tunneling”, which I just discovered today. The idea is that the Raspberry Pi is connected to a server, which behaves as a proxy between the user and the Raspberry Pi. This proxy server could well be a free micro instance of an EC2 server, or some other VPS like Linode.

I found the instructions here: Alex on Linux. Here is the final deployment diagram for me, followed by a lovely picture of my credit card sized webserver.

Raspberry Pi: First boot

After a long while, this turned out to be a productive weekend. I got my Raspberry Pi to bootup finally. For this, I had to unbox Mitali’s TV, find a video out cable and a MicroSD card adapter. Turns out she has a pretty slick TV, and how better to utilize it other than to run linux on it? Poor TV, it has turned geek after mistress’ marriage.

First bootup of my Raspberry Pi

Anyway, started out with Fedora 18 RPi Remix. Didn’t have an HDMI cable to enjoy full resolution display, didn’t have the wireless keyboard, mouse so as to get a free USB port for the WiFi adapter. Hope to set them all up in the coming week.


Great Memories Relived Part II

On December 22nd, we had an awesome trip to Gurgaon and Qutab Minar; Anshul, Manas and I relived our good old days of carefree roaming around.

Choropleth of GeoTweets from India, Neighbours

In an attempt to understand the average Indian tech consumer and his/her relationship with location based services, I decided to start off with the Twitter stream. Looking at geotagged tweets (tweets that contain the user’s current location, possibly from the GPS of the device used for tweeting) of about 3 weeks, it is clear that the big cities are where the majority of geotweets are coming from.

Here is a statewise choropleth map of geotweets. It also contains statistics for Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka:

A whopping 28% of all Indian geotweets are from Maharashtra (mainly from Mumbai). Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are runners up with close to 12% and 9% respectively. Credits for visualization go to OpenStreetMap and Leaflet.

Met cool people, had new experiences

Firstly, let me congratulate myself and the awesome Multimedia Search team at Yahoo! for winning a team excellence award today. Though sad to leave Vertical Intent Search team, the new problems and challenges at the new team has been creatively engaging.

That brings me to the most awesome person at Y! among those I had never met before. Sydney Lewis was a revelation for me; great chess player, a wonderful leader, and a humble and responsible person. Learning chess from him is an honour. I would really spend a fortune to be coached by him, and by grace of God he has accepted me as a student!

Another guy I met whom I could learn something about RC helis from was Anirudh Sanjeev. But, alas, his internship ended. That brings me to Karthik who promised to mentor me on cubing. Exciting times ahead!

Simple, brilliant. Nokia Pureview 808

While I can (and probably should) go over all the tech stuff and the geek details behind the new Nokia Pureview 808, I would just stick to a user’s point of view. And share with you why I think this phone is brilliant from a user viewpoint!

Beyond the obvious camera features, here are a list of features I love:
1. Nightlamp, bedtime clock: The phone features a clock display on the standby screen which is optimized such that battery utilization is negligible in the standby mode and yet provides sufficient illumination to double up the phone as a night lamp. Simply brilliant! No other phone has this technology (except the fabulous Nokia N9).

2. Just play music on the car sound system: NFC, Bluetooth, Wifi? Nahh, no jargon, nothing complicated here. Just long tap the songs and “play via radio”. And tune your car radio on the corresponding FM channel that you see on your phone. So easy, for everyone! Internal magic is via an FM transmitter, which non-Nokia phone users are unaware of.

3. Unlimited Nokia Music Store access for 1 year (this is a gift from Nokia India): Yes, no need to buy CDs or attempt downloading pirated music now. You have unlimited access to almost all songs you would like to hear. And yes, you can download them on your device and copy them on your computer to play them. Simply brilliant! Almost all English and Hindi songs I knew of are there on the Nokia Music Store.

4. Dolby Surround Sound: Okay, no jargon here. One liner, the sound experience is same as a movie theatre, even using your ordinary earphones! There is a sample video on the phone (“Dolby Channel Test”, that plays sound samples through 6 channels one after the other. The key difference between Nokia Pureview 808 and other phones is that for the Dolby channel test video (or any other movie with HD audio), the 6th channel (for the heart stopping sound samples you find played in the theatres during horor/thriller scenes) plays flawlessly on the 808 but doesn’t produce the effect on others.

5. Excellent noise cancellation: The noise cancellation is splendid, works brilliantly even in a noisy market place.

6. Good button placements: The lock switch and camera buttons are so suitably placed that time from pocket to shoot is excellent. Just pull out from the pocket, long press the camera button and click the shot. Took me about 4-5 seconds.

7. Easy to invoke inbuilt flashlight: Just slide and hold the slider switch to activate the brightest ever LED flashlight seen on a phone.

8. Fast preloaded offline maps for India: Even if you don’t have a data connection, you are not left at the mercy of tile based maps like Google Maps. On the Nokia Pureview 808, the Nokia Maps has all the map data preloaded for every city in India, and just open the Nokia Maps app and hit the road. Even the GPS fix speed is very fast.

9. Big Screen (HDMI) and DLNA support: Haven’t experienced it myself, but the builtin DLNA support and the Big Screen app (for viewing on TV via HDMI) are two promising and distinguishing features of the phone, found rarely on other phones.

Rest of the features are all comparable with other smartphones. All the commonly used applications and support for social networking services are preinstalled (or can be installed from Nokia Store): Mail, Calendar, Twitter, Facebook, Microsoft Office, QuickOffice, Dropbox/Skydrive client, Shazam, BBC, CNN, Weather, Adobe Reader, Music Player etc. etc. Oh, and did I say the camera on the Nokia Pureview 808 is a 41 megapixel one, more than 4 times that of cameras found on most smartphones?