TrueCrypt is dead, long live ….bitlocker?!?!

 

The understatement of the month would be calling this a peculiar moment. This is far from peculiar–this is straightup WTF?!

My favorite encryption software, TrueCrypt, has been abruptly and mysteriously shut-down(que dramatic music!!!). The official TrueCrypt website now only has some information on ‘alternatives’ and offers the following advice.

WARNING: Using TrueCrypt is not secure as it may contain unfixed security issues

TrueCrypt was really awesome, it had features like full-disk encryption and even encrypted volumes within encrypted volumes for ‘plausible deniability’. The anonymous authors of the software have apparently thrown in the towel on what was the best free encryption software on the web.Yes, TrueCrypt was free just like Apache and OpenSSL, and just like them was pervasively used by tech-savvy web users. So any vulnerability on TrueCrypt would have severe ramifications–just like Heartbleed had for OpenSSL.

To avoid any ‘heartbleed-like’ issues with TrueCrypt–an initiative from within the security community was kicked off to perform a full security audit on TrueCrypt. Support for the initiative wasn’t hard to come by in the wake of recent developments like PRISM, specifically the revelations that the US government was intentionally making encryption software weaker to allow exploitation further down the road.

But just when the audit was making good progress the TrueCrypt team dropped their bombshell. Brian Krebs suggest that the shut-down is legit, and this isn’t some web-site hack or hoax. The speculation churning machine (a.k.a the entire internet) has been rife with guesses as to what really occurred, but honestly no one has the answer, except the authors of TrueCrypt–who are anonymous.

The problem for people who are using TrueCrypt–is what to do? TrueCrypt recommends bitlocker, but BitLocker isn’t available for basic version of Windows–the version most people use? Also, Bitlocker hasn’t been audited either and forgive me if I’m still a bit edgy about using Microsoft products. What with them spying on my Skype conversations and all.

I’m sticking to TrueCrypt for now, and wait till the dust settles before I decide to re-encrypt my drives with a new piece of software.After all the audit hasn’t found any serious flaws, and even if it did I’m betting someone will fork the code as soon as it happens Continue reading

DNA in chocolates, not in your blood

A Coalition of Muslim NGOs have asked for Cadbury to pay for the ‘cleansing’ of the blood of Muslims to remove any traces of Pig DNA they might have consumed from having eaten Cadbury chocolates.

I’m not going to debate the religious and legal implications, just the scientific aspect. The aspect which says that the DNA of what you eat doesn’t enter your blood–and cleansing your bloodstream is an absolute waste of time, not to mention precious blood.

Every living thing on the planet is made of cells that contain DNA. Think of DNA as the instruction manual you get when you buy IKEA furniture–only this one is more complex and for your body instead of the Sofa. So obviously Pig DNA, is different from Human DNA–but not by as much as you think. We’re both mammals, which means we both have hearts, lungs, blood, give birth to our young…etc etc, and all these commonalities are encoded in the same way into our instruction manual–or DNA.

When you eat anything that lives (and plants are living creatures), you’re consuming their DNA directly into your digestive system. Don’t worry, your digestive system has a special enzyme called DNAes that works to break the DNA you consumed into tiny pieces to be shipped to different parts of your body. Once we break down DNA, the DNA of humans, pigs or even plants is almost indistinguishable from each other, because they all share the same 4 building blocks.

If you built a House and a Car out of the same Lego blocks, and then you smashed the two up, there’s no way for you to distinguish which pile of legos were the house and which pile was the car. Legos look like Legos, and the DNA building blocks are the same for Pigs, Cows, Lamb, humans–even Kangkung and Houseflies.

The Pig DNA you might have consumed from eating the Cadbury chocolate doesn’t go your bloodstream, it’s the sliced up lego blocks that go to into the blood, and those lego blocks are the same as if you had eat anything else that comes from earth.

I donate blood  3-4 times a year, and obviously I eat pork and drink beer–is my blood than ‘Haram’ for Muslims? Are the hospitals who are already short on blood going to have to make sure my blood isn’t donated to a Muslim for fear of contamination?

It’s a valid question, but one that loses its merit after you analyze the science–which these people haven’t, but SHOULD.

Your blood doesn’t need cleaning–but if you want to sue Cadbury for a whole bunch of dialysis machines–go ahead and donate them to kidney failure patients afterwards, but don’t teach bad science, there’s nothing I hate more than bad science.

I’m not debating the feelings of betrayal, there’s definitely a point there–the situation is similar to the British finding horsemeat in their food, I don’t understand why Horsemeat or Pigs are considered ‘unclean’ but food is something psychological. The emotional feeling of consuming something you consider ‘dirty’ can’t be ignored.

What’s not understandable, is bringing in the concept of ‘making the blood unclean’, that’s just bad science. And as always guys–trust the science.

 

 

 

Why do computers like to calculate Pi?

Pi has always held a special place in my heart and probably yours as well. When people ask me to pick a number between 1 to 10, I always pick Pi (or sometimes the square root of two), which hasn’t made me the life of many parties.

And there’s an entire community of Pi lovers like me out there–people who are just fanatical about calculating pi to the trillions of digits? With just the first 40 digits of Pi we’ll be able to calculate the circumference of our galaxy with an error that is smaller than the size of a proton, so calculating PI to trillions of digits is quite superfluous. So why then do people do it?

Because they can.

Obviously it’s a bit more complicated, but calculating Pi to trillions of digits requires advances in both the speed of the machine as well as the reliability. Think about it, if you had an error on the 4  billionth digit, then there’s no way the remaining trillions would be accurate anymore. So there’s a huge challenge in creating a machine that can calculate Pi to trillions of digits and do so quickly and reliably enough.

But begs the question–why Pi? Why not some other number?

Here’s my answer in video form:

My Issue with WPWebHost: Bad Support

WPWebHost-Logo

Last weekend I had an issue with my hosting provider, WPWebHost.

I switched to WPWebHost 2 years ago, and recommended them because they promised wordpress hosting at an affordable rate. WordPress hosting is where the hosting provider would support wordpress specific features, e.g. help troubleshoot plugin and theme issues, perform nightly backups, and offer ‘higher availability’ for WordPress sites. If you’re still wondering what WordPress is, take a look at one of my previous post.

My latest experience with WPWebHost has left me wondering if indeed this was actually WordPress hosting or just regular hosting in disguise. I’m now wondering if I should stay with them.

Was my server really getting the 99% uptime promised by WPWebHost? Nope.
Did I get the WordPress Specific support that help identify theme and plugin issues? Nope.
Does WPWebhost cost more than regular hosting from other providers like GoDaddy, Dreamhost and my previous provider NearlyFreeSpeech? Yup.
So why I am still with them? Read more to find out.

Below is the full un-redacted transcript of my email correspondence with WPWebhost–I’ve left out the customer service agents name because I believe they have a right to privacy. However, nearly every time I sent an email, a different rep would respond making the whole conversation very messy and difficult to keep track off. Some emails were left out to simplify the flow.

Continue reading

How many samples are enough to build the Kidex highway?

There’s a highway they want to build from Damansara to Puchong–called Kidex, and just like any other highway before, people are understandably worried about the construction. This excerpt from the KL-Chronicle details the causes of anxiety:

[box icon=”chat”]Kidex will be constructed over heavily built-up residential areas in Petaling Jaya and will pass very close to schools, houses and places of worship. It will pass just 5m away from two schools – Bukit Bintang Boys Secondary School and Sri Petaling Primary School. Its distance from the Tun Abdul Aziz Mosque in Section 14 is listed as 7m and from St Paul’s Church as 18m. Houses in parts of Sections 2, 4, 7 and 8 will be just 10m from the highway

And so, when Kidex had their townhall last week, a group of protesters showed up to voice their displeasure–as should be allowed in a democratic society. Kidex claimed they had conducted a survey that proved that the majority of the people wanted the highway, this was hotly contested by the Say No to Kidex committee, who contended that the survey wasn’t ‘authentic’.

The video below (from Malaysiakini) has a great interview with the secretary of the Say No to Kidex committee outlining their points of contention on the survey by Kidex. (starts at 1:10)

Here’s the seven points raised by the Say No to Kidex committee.

1. The initial Kidex survey of 300 respondents–of which 73.4% were agreeable to the building of the highway.
2. The Say No to Kidex committee did their own survey on 20 different locations, including the Mosque, Schools, and the resident associations of the areas affected by the highway.
3. Say No to Kidex can’t comment on how many people they’ve engaged but can confirm it was more than 300.
4.Hence the public perception of the initial Kidex survey is negative.
5.The list of the initial 300 respondents has not been shared–as it was confidential.
6.The survey was conducted by a Ph.D in statistics, but this survey itself was funded by Kidex.
7.The next survey as planned by Kidex would have 2000 respondents.

Now let’s take this apart one by one, because there is some maths here is quite foreign to most–this is the world of probability and statistics.  Continue reading

My teachers day tribute to Mr. Vijay: Summing every number 1 to 100

Teachers Day PostTeachers day was last Friday, and I thought it would be good to make a small post in tribute to an interesting teacher I had in form 4.

Imagine a man that was about 200 pounds, had a thick moustache, carried an intimidating rotan, and wore nothing but Chairman Mao style Bush-coats everyday–that’s Mr. Vijay, and he thought me Add-maths.

Mr. Vijay was interesting in many ways, including the wrestling stories he’d tell in class, but for all my years in school I can only remember a few stories told by my teachers, and the one I remember most vividly was the story of Carl Friedrich Gauss as told by Mr. Vijay.

The story is almost certainly fiction, similar to the story of Newton discovering gravity by watching an apple fall from a tree–but the details of the story are irrelevant, what’s relevant is how I remember it, and as my tribute to one of my teachers, I’d re-tell the story here.

Even in elementary school, Carl Friedrich Gauss was already maths genius, and like all other geniuses was a bit of a nuisance in class. So one day to shut Carl up, his teacher gave him an ‘important assignment’–he was to calculate the sum of all numbers from 1 to 100. i.e. 1+ 2+ +3 +4….+100. The idea was that this would keep Carl busy for the remainder of the lesson

However, Carl came back very quickly with an answer of 5,050!!

And as all Maths teachers do–Carl was asked to show his work–which he did. Continue reading

Local broadband speeds slower than Cambodia: Why it doesn’t matter

Broadband_speed_klang_malaysia

I drive a Prius–it’s a magnificent car, and if you think otherwise just ask me about the mileage.

But when I tell people I drive a Prius, I get a sneer and look that suggest I must be a bumbling idiot, you know the one where their face wrinkles up near the nose. People ask the usual mileage questions (5Liters/100km if you’re curious), and make some oft-remark about the design–but then they end with the question that’s really a statement–isn’t it slow?

The Prius can easily top 110km/hour and still get better mileage than the much smaller Ford Fiesta. There isn’t a single highway in this country where you can legally do more than 110km/hours and hence  any car that can do 110km/hour can’t be slow.

So why is it, that people make such a fuss that an Ookla study concluded that our average broadband speed is slower than Cambodia–when the average of 5.48Mbits/second is still fast enough for every online service imaginable.

I’m a tech geek, and I’m happy with my 5Mbps connection from Unifi.

At 5Mbps, I can download content faster than I can watch it–anything faster is excessive.I can watch Netflix in HD (maybe not 1080p, but good enough), I can watch youtube without lags and I can listen to any podcast, radio channel or spotify without a hitch.

And I wouldn’t enjoy these services more even if I had a 10Mbps or 100Mbps connection. Trust me 5Mbps is fine.

So what’s the big deal with the connection speeds, that our friends over at the MCMC had to release an official statement. There are some issues with broadband in Malaysia, but speed isn’t one of them. Here are the top 4 things we can do to improve broadband in Malaysia which doesn’t include speed. Continue reading

Trust the science: Why mining pool water is safe to drink

Trust the Science on Water

Do a quick experiment:

1. Fill a glass half-full with water
2. Drop a couple of ice-cubes into the glass
3. Measure the water level before the ice melts
4. Measure the water level after the ice melts

Now compare the water level before and after the ice melted, and you’ll find them to be the same. So if melting ice doesn’t increase the water level in your glass–why do melting ice-caps raise the sea-levels of the earth? Continue reading

What we all share?

We are all a single species, all of us share a common DNA, so common that if yours changed by a mere 2% you’d be a chimpanzee.

We share one atmosphere, from which we breath the same air–not just with other humans alive today, but those of past times as well. In fact, every breath you take contains a slither of air from the breadth of everyone else–who has ever lived. I stand in awe, when I realize the air in my lungs now was also in the lungs of Julius Caesar as he was stabbed to death.

But there’s one thing we humans share that isn’t natural. That wasn’t bestowed upon us like DNA, air and water. Only one thing ever invented by humans that is shared by all humans.

The Internet.

That one man-made technological marvel, that all of humanity will one day share– as most of us do already. It alone stands among everything else man-kind ever created as being the one thing all of mankind shares.

If that doesn’t make you marvel at technology and science–I don’t know what will.