27 August 2018

Converting pgm files to jpg or png

Some software do not recognize the pgm image file format, even though it was created in the 1980's.

Luckily, Ubuntu has a pre-installed software named Imagemagick with which you can use this command to batch-convert all pgm files to png or jpg.

mogrify -format png *.pgm
mogrify -format jpg *.pgm

Try using it to convert from other formats too.

08 August 2018

Are you data privacy literate

I'm very surprised when I still meet highly educated Engineers and Doctors who still believe that the positions of the planets and stars have some effect on their daily luck and destiny. The result of their childhood curiosity and intelligence being channeled into believing and accepting unscientific information just because many others do so. Likewise, wasn't there a single person who could stand against sati and dowry for all those centuries? "Hey she's part of my family. How dare you suggest burning her!!!".

In today's times it's about standing against data misuse when society mocks you for doing so. Turns out there are still too many people who are insensitive to people's need for privacy.

If you are not paying for a product, YOU are the product
Few people realize the gravity of this.

Being a lifelong learner

A few years ago people were told that if they didn't know how to use a computer, they were as good as being illiterate. That school of thought has been upgraded. Today, you are illiterate if don't care/know how to protect your personal data.

I'm often asked why I don't use a certain messaging app, and get mocked by the "cool-crowd", for whom throwing caution to the wind is ok as long as everyone else is. Just like the enthusiastic users of radioactive toothpaste. If you love the messaging app so much, why don't you marry it? ;-)

I recently installed the messaging app, taking care to first deny all un-necessary permissions and then tried sending a message.  Couldn't do so unless I allowed it access to data on my phone. That itself is a huge red-flag. An app doesn't need such details to send a message. By having these details, there are a lot of conclusions that can be made based on the messages and calls you make. Even with encryption, don't forget who has the key to decrypt the message. Apparently a lot can be deduced just from the metadata associated with the messages. Apparently messaging apps compromise privacy and there's a lot the government can do to monitor people, just the way corporations may.
There's also the un-ending stream of notifications. Every Tom, Dick and Harry has created messaging app groups which you are expected to join.

So what do I do with an intrusive, irritating third-party app that forces me into sharing personal details?

Cartoon from Wumo

Oddly, free messaging apps are still popular in-spite of people telling their friends to stop using it. Free web-based email was invasive enough. Now they have access to even more intimate information about you through your smartphone.

Hope you've heard of how they switch on your phone's microphone without your permission to listen in, or misuse your phone for bitcoin mining. Turns out there are hundreds of such apps.

But my data is already out there...

Sure it is, but remember that data analytics works well only with lots of data. So you can stop putting more data out there right now. In fact, don't start today. Start yesterday!
Everything you type in a chat is potentially being analyzed. NLP can actually understand the grammar and associate it with context. Your contacts from various platforms are being integrated to know more about who you are and whom you interact with. A trainer from a networking company once told me that people's profiles get created by the ISP, based on their internet searches and activities, and any deviation from that pattern gets recorded as an anomaly. The history of your life, locations and activities are being recorded. The content in the files you upload are being analyzed. It's like standing on a rooftop and yelling out your intimate personal details to strangers. You don't have to.

Behind the scenes

You should know what goes on in such corporations. If the recent scandal of misusing data isn't enough, the god mode of app-based taxis is another. Internet searches will show you more. I wouldn't blindly believe privacy policies, since it's historically known that corporations can flout those rules or have cleverly written clauses that help them do whatever they want with your data while you give them your precious trust.

Any company (fraudsters too) can buy your personal data from any of the many data gathering companies and associate various intimate aspects of your personal life. For many of you, that sounds ok until you realize that someone you personally know can be working in such a company and looking at that information.

Don't believe me? Did you hear about Mr.Professional Stalker? Or how app-based taxi employees secretly stalked their ex'es and celebrities?
You only know about these because these made it to the news. There are a zillion other companies (and fraudsters) using your data and there can be people you personally know, who could be looking at a history of your activities you don't even remember, and using analytics to associate that data to make conclusions about you.


Yesterday I received a call from someone who had some details of my bank account and was asking me about transactions that I had not done. He calmly reassured me he was not asking for my password or pin details. I promptly reported this number to the bank and they confirmed it was a fraud call. For those of you who don't know, this is called Social Engineering. A method of questioning that makes you unsuspectingly give out personal data which you think is safe, but they can associate that data with more data they already gathered about you to commit fraud. If you still think this is too far fetched and will never happen to you, then you are very naive.

Few years back a girl looked at me like I'm an idiot when I casually told her why she shouldn't have posted her vacation details on Facebook. What harm could it do, she thought. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=e0qrEnCbGIE

Now the rich and powerful are realizing that their own data is being misused, and are formulating laws to restrict it. Don't rejoice yet. These people would only formulate laws that protect themselves. You are still responsible for your own safety.

Yet, many of you still don't care. Just lazy eh? Too busy? Well, can't blame you really...in my phone, I was surprised at the plethora of options to restrict apps from accessing the internet and the huge number of settings I had to visit to turn off features that compromised my security/privacy. It does take a lot of time to do this. It's worth it though. Do it everywhere. Google account, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, location services...everywhere. Don't give out your number at grocery stores or pizza stores. Don't use public WiFi unless you can ensure safety. Don't use public proxy servers or free VPN's. There's no free lunch.

Sensitivities need to adapt with changing times. You may be ok with your data being misused, but there are an increasing number of people who are not ok with it. Respect their need for privacy and security.

While you are busy telling people that you don't care about privacy, could you prove it by leaving the door of your house unlocked too?

01 August 2018

Causes of phone battery bloating / swelling

Lithium Ion batteries are known to function poorly when subjected to heat. It turns out that it's not just function that declines, but gases formed by electrolyte decomposition can cause the battery to bloat and potentially explode.

Few causes I know of are:

  • Using the phone for a phone-call while the phone is being charged.
  • Using the phone in a hot environment or subjecting it to heavy use (watching videos or gaming) while it is being charged.
  • Using mobile hotspot for long durations (more than half an hour) at a stretch.
  • Continuing to charge the mobile even after it reached 100% charge.

I'm surprised that many phones today have a moulded build with a non-removable battery. Although the battery can be replaced at a service center, the "non-removableness" means that if the battery gets bloated, it won't have any space to expand into, and it'll permanently damage the phone. The better option is to go for phones with removable batteries. Here, when the battery expands, it'll pop off the back cover and at least your phone's components won't get damaged. You just have to replace the battery instead of replacing the entire phone.