Tuesday, November 18, 2008

How Sarah Palin made my Yahoo id secure

Governor Sarah Palin's yahoo email id was hacked on Sep 17 2008. You can find more about the hacking here. This incident exposed the weakest form of password protection Yahoo practiced for years. The hacker used the reset the password option of Yahoo mail to reset Sarah Palin's email account to reset the password to a new password and then logged in using the new password.

Until this incident happened resetting password in yahoo was very simple. The three steps to hacking are as follows. Click on forgot password link on the mail.yahoo.com page after entering the username. Yahoo will ask you answer to a secret question. If you can guess the correct answer of this question then Yahoo will let you reset the password to a new password of your choice. How convenient!! As long as you know someone's pet's name or birth city or mom's maiden name this three steps will enable you to get into their yahoo mail account.

Unlike Yahoo, Gmail and other online accounts do not let anonymous users / hackers to reset your password. When password reset option is used in Gmail, Gmail sends a reset link to the users's secondary email account and Gmail requires the user to go to secondary email address to reset the password. This adds additional security to the system.

Within few days of Sarah Palin's password hacking incident I tried to reset my password in yahoo and found that it was a walk in the park for anyone who knew my first pets name, which includes almost every one of my friends!!! People at Yahoo must have been embarrassed by this incident that they finally decided to change the password reset option of Yahoo mail accounts. As the result of the change any reset attempt on my yahoo mail will result in sending a reset password link to my secondary email and thanks to Sarah Palin my email is more secure.

Although the governor couldn't convince enough people to vote for her she has certainly helped us in making our Yahoo email ids more secure.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The shrinking web

The launch of Apple iphone shook the smart phone market and has resulted in a fierce competition for dominance of smart phone market. On Monday Nov 10 2008 wireless research group NPD released a report revealing that Apple Incorporated’s iPhone 3G had become the top-selling handset throughout the United States amongst adult customers, thus having outrun the Motorola RAZR phone.

No matter who ends up being on top of this smart phone war, one thing is clear, consumers are getting a wide range of options accessing internet from their mobile devices and as a result almost all popular websites have developed mobile phone friendly web pages. The graph below published by Nelson shows the rapid growth in mobile access in US. If this trend of 30% growth in mobile users continues for 5 years, more than 150 million users would be accessing internet from web pages.

Currently all the top 10 websites in Alexa.com's most visited sites have a mobile version of their websites. As of Nov 2008 the top 10 sites are Google, Yahoo, Myspace, Youtube, Facebook, Live.com, msn, wikipedia, ebay and AOL. If this trend continues almost every website will have a smaller sized, mobile friendly webpage. Many of this websites will continue to have both wide screen and mobile webpages running in parallel so its not a complete shinking of all the pages of the web but if you consider the average size of all the webpages you will notice the shrinking.

If the last 5 or 10 years saw non-IT companies being aggressive in getting their web pages ready for the regular internet users and the next 5 years should see more and more non-IT companies developing mobile friendly pages not only because it is necessary for revenue generation but also for making their businesses visible to a wider population. It is also a good time for developer to finally have a compelling reason to use MVC ( model View Controller) and other architecture patterns which have the separation of visualization, business logic and data at its core.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Smart and Stupid government rescue plans

US and along with it the rest of the world is facing a severe credit crisis today. A large number of banks are facing credit crunch and are at risk of a being put through a "run on the bank" and a susequent collapse. Some of these banks are too big to fail. If they fail then they will have a domino effect and result in other bank failures and trigger a collapse in the economic activity by credit freeze or a cardiac arrest of the banking system.

What should the government do? Should it stand by and watch the destruction of the market system until inflation reaches 2000% like Zimbabwe or do something to stop the bleeding and stimulate the system back to normalcy?

The government is the ultimate god father of our era and government should bring confidence to market place so that economic activity goes back to normalcy. How should government intervene ?

Should government be stupid enough to buy all the CDS ( Credit Default Swaps ) and derivatives which has no value and socialize the losses of the banks ? No absolutely not. Should it listen to a ex CEO Goldman Sachs for advice on rescuing wall street. No way! even eight graders should know better than that.

If financial system needs capital then governmet should provide capital by buying equity positions in the trouble financial institutions or like Warren Buffest negotiate a sweet deal with the troubled banks to get equity at highly discounted price.

lets take an example:

If Bank of America need 80 billion to write off bad loans then government should give it 80 billion but not by buying toxic derviates but by buying equity in Bank of America. This gurantees that government is buying a stake in the pofits and losses of the bank and is essestial providing gurantee that the banks won't fail which sould be good enough to restore confidence in the bank.

Let government buy into all major troubled banks and save them from credit crisis but it should never be stupid enough to buy only the bad loans at higher than market price instead it should get an equity for every tax payer dollar it spends.

It would be useful for our "god father' or the government to get out the market system in long term future when the markets starts to function again so that banks can be free to do what's best for them and government can focus on its core functions of national security, law and order, protection of enviornment and investment in human development and sciences which usually don't find any private investment.

I hope government would be smart with the tax payer money and not socialize private sector losses.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Innovation is the only way to increase wages

Have you ever wondered how wages rise? I am sure everyone wants to know when their salaries are going to rise but its sometimes trickier to understand why we get a raise and why average salaries are going up from year to year, decade to decade.

When I say innovation is the only way to increase wages I mean that innovation is the only way average salary for the workers can increase. To be more precise I am talking about real increase in wages and not nominal increase in wages which compensates for the rising living costs due to inflation.

What does increase in wages imply ? An increase in average wages above inflation implies that we as an economy or society is creating more wealth and therefore can consume more. If we need to consume more we need to produce more. How does the same society or economy produce more with same number of workers? Innovation. We find new efficient ways to do the same work and produce more with less input. We discover new energy resources and this can enable us to consume more but that will not definitely give the kind of increase in production innovation can provide.

Scientific pursuit has given as machines, business processes, computers, factories, cell phones, cars etc which increase our productivity and hence more wages and has enabled as to consume more. Next time you worry about wages its a good idea to remember all those people who found innovative ways of completing our tasks with less human and mechanical energy. Long live innovation.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The unselfish "selfish gene"

Casual observation of animals seems to suggest that they all hunt, kill, defend and live for themselves but humans seems to be compassionate about each other or at least compassionate to immediate family which is unseen among animals. How is this possible if humans are results of evolution like other species? Shouldn't Humans be selfish like other animals? Human are compassionate and care about other humans so they must be different from other species and hence they must be created by god!!???

Are we betraying our natural instincts when we act selflessly to save our family and friends? Will a person unexposed to religious dogmas ever be compassionate??? Is religion necessary to make human care about each others' welfare??

Richard Dawkins in his famous book the god delusion has given a very compelling explanation for the above questions by explaining how natural selection and human evolution might have made humans compassionate and why religions do not have almost nothing to do with instilling love and brotherhood in us.

Evolutionary explanation for compassion and brotherhood. Humans unlike tigers and lions hunted in packs right from the early days when our ancestors were Chimps. Hunting and gathering food in groups required each memeber of the group to help out the other members of the group so that they could survive bigger enemies and also other tribes of hunters. Those tribes which believed in a common brotherhood and actively helping each other during conflicts will be more capable of winning wars between groups of humans. Humans were dominating most of the other animals due to their ability to make weapons and climb trees so most powerful enemy they had was other humans themselves.

The compassionate tribes and hunting packs of humans would have been more successful in overcoming wars and famine and disease while the selfish tribes perished resulting in a natural selection and procreation of those genes which were compassionate slowly but steadily the compassionate genes were more successful in moving to the next generation.

This argument clearly shows how humans could be compassionate at a group level due to evolutionary reasons without religious teachings although at individual level every one of us still has the selfish gene which would prefer its own survival more than anything else in the world.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Lound conversations in planes and silent elevators

When groups of people get into an elevator they usually stop their conversations and become silent all of a sudden and the silence sometimes suffocates everyone there but no one says a word until they get out the elevators. I think this is good gesture which ensures that the elevators riders don't bother each other with details of their private lives. When the same group of people get into a public transportation system like a bus or a plane this rule somehow dies.

It is really difficult to listen to people elaborating the tiny details of their lives loud enough for at least 25 passengers in the bus or flight. I recently had a horrible experience in a flight to Austin when a lady behind me started playing with the small kid of another passenger. She was so loud in here conversations to the baby that made me believe that either baby has hearing difficult or she wants everyone else in the plane to know that she would become and excellent mother if given a chance because she is totally capable of singing all the nursery rhymes loud enough for 10 or 25 kids..

If people could extend the elevator silences to buses and flights or at least keep the conversations quite know for 4 or 5 people around them then public transportations would be much better experiences.

Are men wired to be polygamous?

According to most studies including this one http://www.menstuff.org/issues/byissue/infidelitystats.html more men cheat on their spouses than women. Is there an evolutionary explanation for this? The most commonly seen sociological explanation is that females have an incentive to stay faithful to one strong male in the group to ensure the successful growth of the next generation but one flaw with this argument is that this does not explain why the male would not care about the offspring's future and be loyal to the mother to ensure that  offspring is safe and healthy.

Let's assume that in the beginning all males and all females are monogamous and then by genetic mutation (evolution) one of the males genes becomes a cheater and starts to have multiple partners. The cheater male gene then spreads in the population as a cheater male can have 100s of children while a monogamous male gene can only have 10 to 12 children if they stay with the same women for their entire life. What about cheating female genes ?

What is the evolutionary advantage of having multiple partners for a male that the female doesn't have? If a human male has 10 partners in an year then it possible for the male to have 10 children in a year provided the group can provide for the healthy growth all the children while a female can have only one offspring no matter how many partners she has so there is no incentive for the females of the human species to take the additional risk of finding multiple mates when it doesn't provide them more children. Cheater genes may die of due to additional risk taken by the cheater woman.

Natural selection from such a behavior will result in a population which becomes increasing has more and more polygamous males and monogamous females but this does not happen in reality and why?

An opposing force for this polygamous behavior of men could be the death of children who do not get enough care from the fathers and there by resulting in the decline of the polygamous genes. Polygamous genes would only survive only when the father has only few children so that the family or human group can support new born kids. This two opposing forces would then should find a balance where the polygamous genes remains polygamous but at the same time the degree of polygamy or number of partners is limited so that the survival of the children is sustainable.

If similar natural selection of genes where to take place in woman then woman would then become a serial monogamist because although woman doesn't have any incentive to have multiple partners at any one time they will have more children if they continuously have partners when first partners no longer mates with them and provides children. The serial monogamous gene can only survive if the number of children created as the result of the serial monogamy is limited so that the human group tribe can support the growth or survival of the children produced as the result of serial monogamy.