Women in Data Science, Pune (Wids, Pune) 2019

The E-Mail

I have no clue how but somehow an event called Widspune or Women in Data Science, Pune got landed in my box. The date of the event was 23rd March 2019 (a Saturday) and happening at Persistent Systems (a somewhat nearby place) hence I evinced interest and replied to the mail and was accepted. While I thought it might take some time to reach and I wanted to be a bit early, I found out I was a bit too early. Registrations hadn’t even started yet. I bided my time (about 20-30 mins.) after which I was able to tick and go to the presentation hall. What I didn’t know at that time was that this was a pretty well-funded, well organized event. They had at least 30+ sponsors to sponsor different parts of the conference. We had 30 women who spoke about Data Science and from the event perspective, it was the largest technical event done by women for women. While I can’t say whether it’s true or not it still was a pretty good effort.

The Hearing problem

I dunno what happened on the event. For some reason, my hearing that day became much worse. You know how sometimes when you sometimes get up on one side of the bed and have either some sprain or something which you cannot explain. While it could have been for any number of reasons, it happened that, it was alright the day before and the day after but that day was able to hear only in patches hence just have no idea as to what happened.

The Mixer, the kid and the Cameras

Apart from the conference, what I was amazed at was with a probably 14-15 year old who had a mixing board, 4 tapes and 3 cameras which were looking at the presentation. I hope the below is helpful for the Debian Video team which does similar work for Debconf . The three cameras were used in slightly different ways and were manned by three people, one for each camera. The first camera and camera person’s job was to follow the presenter as they either stood or walked/used the stage to be as effective as they could be. The second camera was trained on the presentation itself all the time while the third one was trying to capture both the presenter and the presentation in the same frame as the presenter moved across the stage. While I dunno if the stream was live-streamed on the web either via youtube or any other video hosting platform, I do know that it was being live-streamed/thrown to another room as more people came to the event than antipated. I think they had something like 20-30 walk-ins at the last moment. From whatever little interaction I had with the kid, he didn’t seem to know much english (all the presentations were mostly in English with some smattering in Marathi, the local language) but he had a great instinct. He knew the three-four buttons to push and whenever the presenter would focus on the screen telling about some specific topic he would choose to focus on that, and then back to the presenter and sometimes having both the presenter and the presentation in the same shot. This way the presenations never got boring. I am sure that even though the mix could have been good enough, there might be somebody else who might look at the kids work and then make some additional adjustments hence the 4 cassettes where the feed ended up being . One would porbably be the mix that the kid was doing, while the other three were probably direct feed from the camersas, just so in case there is an issue with the mix or somewhere else, having multitude of raw data, they could edit and have a nice presentation. They were supposed to upload the whole presentation onto youtube but for some unknown reason hasn’t been done till date.

The National Anthem

This is a peculiar thing I have seen in few corporate-type presentations where the National anthem is being played. This has happened in last few years and I don’t really know why they do it. Do they suspect the nationalism of the people who they curated. Mrs. Sucheta Dhere proudly shared that they had carefully curated the audience as well as the speakers so there is diversity of views, age etc. Also if they wanted to be nationalistic, then why not ‘Vande Mataram‘ rather than Jan Gana Mana . I always Vande Mataram to be somehow much more beautiful and inclusive rather than ‘Jan Gan Mana’ . It also fits right into the feminist track as that was what it was trying to promote. The sad part was most people were lip-synching rather than actual singing the anthem.

National Anthem, Copyright WIDS, Pune

While I will not be sharing all the presentations as it will make a blog post quite long, I will however share couple of notable presentations or at least my take on the presentations.

Democratizing AI, Dr. Rohini Srivastava, Microsoft (India)

Dr. Rohini Srivastava, CTO, Microsoft India, Copyright – Wids Pune...

The first talk of the day was given by Dr. Rohini Srivastava . In the beginning of the presentation. In the beginning of the presentation Dr. Srivastava. She claimed that the company was at the forefront of people privacy and such issues. Just that single statement was enough for me to tune out. While I don’t use MS-Windows extensively (almost 99% of my time is used using Debian Linux) the 1% gives me enough to tell how bad it is. In fact, both EU and Brazil have expressed concerns and in fact EU made a proper presentation as to how bad privacy is in Windows 10, esp. with the whole telemetry thing. In fact I had seen MS behavior from sidelines from way before, the whole Halloween documents stuff in 1998, the whole Wintel era and the various EU issues resulting out of that, the browser-bundling issue and last but not the least the whole browser issue for which they fined in 2013. So till date MS-Windows has less than a stellar record for privacy. To state the opposite means she would be lying more. While I did try to hear her, it didn’t help in any way.

Ujjayani Mitra Zee 5

Ujjayani Mitra, Zee 5 Copyright: Wids Pune

When do you Love an Advertisement

Before I start about what she shared, I would suggest to check out Zee 5’s entry both on wikipedia and the site itself to see the kind of content it makes. While Zee had a certain brand and reputation for family content over a decade, decade and a half, this one is a bit of voyuerism in it, most of the movies and most of the shows. While Ujjayani’s presentation was different as it showed three, four different advertisements, the third one being cute and the fourth one being slightly sexual (condom or perfume ad if memory serves right). The cute ad was of a boy who gets up at night, dresses himself up, goes to the police station, says he is lost, the Policeman knows this is a ploy of the kid to enjoy Mercedes Benz and still he takes him for a joyride and hopefully drops him home. While logically, it doesn’t make sense it is cute. Vodafone did lots of cute zoo zoo and dog ads which also got them lot of attention, whether it resulted into sales or not might be a different question. Her main drive or idea was how Zee 5 was using analytics to find about specific individuals. While this might have given some pause to some of the audience, some audience might not have known, those of us who been using the web since close to inception, know exactly what she was talking about. It is the same tactics as FB has been doing, nothing different.

The T-shirt

Data has no gender, T-shirt

One of the saving graces of the meetup was the T-shirt which was nice, although they didn’t have one in my size. No worries though, it was a nice t-shirt.

Privacy, Surveillance Capitalism, Jobs death and no answers

While people did ask of questions about Privacy and the cutailment of jobs, they did fish but had no real answers. And while a part of me cries betrayal, a part of me also understands their plight. While one of the last sessions did share about biased AI data in one of the last sessions, there is still lot to be done in that regard. The fight in fact has just started. And if Google AI ethics board can fire or have hostile workspace for some of their best developers because they wanted to do the right thing on AI, then all the women as well as the men who do not enjoy the kind of civil and labor rights that a U.S. citizen enjoys can’t do much. Before ending, I have to share that I haven’t shared much creepiness that is going on AI right now. Just to give one more example, would be an article on scroll which gives lot of food for thought. The sad part in all this is that most users and consumers are unaware about what is going on 😦

Guilt, sexuality and Hinduism

Varun Grover on Moral Policing, guilt and sexuality

Before starting the post I would like people to see this short video of Varun Grover who shares about a bit about himself and a bit about Hindi and Urdu language. While the video is titled as a comedy, it goes into the heart of the gentleman himself.

See the video from 09:30 onwards till 16:10 of the video. Now if you see the whole video you realize that he is a little-bit drunk. For those who didn’t understand what Varun was sharing, I am translating the same in English. Please excuse the poor translation is at is just an approximation of what he was sharing.

Varun shared he is tired of moral policing and he shared the roots of moral policing right from childhood. In many Indian homes, even then and perhaps even now, if there is a condom ad, if there are young children around, they change the channels furiously. In those days, there were no channels but it was so uncomfortable that Varun and his younger brother used to go to kitchen to have water. Sometimes when Nanaji used to be there (Nananji = father’s father) he used to go to kitchen to have water while the two younger kids used to do something or the other. And this prevailed in their home for a long time. In early 90’s when the VCP/VCR revolution happened, many families used to get VCP, VCR on rent, rent a bunch of movies and the most elder person used to sit and make sure that when an intimate scene came on the telivision, it was fast-forwarded. Obviously this lead to harm as guilt factor was and is associated with sex even then and even now. While he is married, he still says he is not normal and still trying to get out of the guilt factor.

I felt sad but understood that he had to be a bit drunk in order to share what he wanted to share. The shame and guilt he felt and feels is probably the same felt by millions of Indian men who are in their 40’s even today. How many parents today talk about sex, personal hygiene with their kids.

Sex in Cinema

As far as theatrical productions are concerned, the CBFC even today censors kissing scenes, alcohol brands and cuss words in movies while our great leader can use cuss words without an issue. Is there any wonder why porn is the third most searched term in Indian search-engines.

Web Series

While web-series is touted to be free out of censorship, it isn’t so. While there have been one or two web series in Hindi which have shown some erotica, much of the content is stale although there is lot of promise. Bengali web-series on the other hand, does do some edgier work as far as their web-series production goes, both with sex, cuss words and being somehow more down-to-earth in the expression.

Mythology, Nanny state and reality

Around the same time i.e. in the late 80’s (1987 and 1988 to be exact) two mythological serials were shown in quick succession. The first one was Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayana and the other one was B.R. Chopra’s Mahabharat . The influence of both these serials, especially Ramayana was so great that people, normal, educated people and even elderly people used to come and worship Arun Govil who played as Shri Ram and Deepika Chikalia who played as Ma Sita. The on-screen couple even tried a movie to break out of the larger than life persona by playing as a romantic lead but were soundly rejected by the audiences. In fact, characters from both mythological serials went on to represent and win in Indian elections on the BJP ticket . It was almost two decade laters that two eminent personalities, Ramachandra Guha and Devdutt Pattanaik, one who is known as a historian while the other is known as an author with a scientific outlook on mythology shared in perhaps different contexts and places tthat Indian mythology is the biggest erotic tale there is. This sort of censorship shows how the nanny state which was a British thing has come to rule and is still part of the Indian establishment .

Hygiene

With such conservative values, is it odd that there are no toilets in many places or that there are no sanitary napkins for women in many places. Even change.org has half a dozen petitions demanding the same in many places . In fact, I know at least 3-4 chowkies or thanas near my area where women are posted have no toilets. In such scenarios where are the women supposed to go relieve themselves ? This is on top of the 10-12 hours of work they have to do similar to the men. Also this lack of knowledge is common among men and women. I came to know periods and sanitary napkins from my girlfriends rather than from home as it is and has been a sort of taboo topic in many Indian homes. It’s also no wonder that a movie had to be made on the topic, one on toilets and one on sanitary napkins.

I just hope by sharing this blog post, some more people may start speaking about the supposedly ‘taboo topics’ which are more to do with our physical and mental health.

Hackergram journey part 1- The journey Begins

I will be writing the journey and musings in two parts, the Journey and the return . I was supposed to write about WIDSPune (Women in Data Science, Pune) an event held in Pune last month. While I do have lot of thoughts and observations on that topic, I would do that later as this I feel is important, not just for me but probably everybody who has been afraid to ask for help especially when you feel weak, either physically or emotionally. This might be of some help to some of the brothers and sisters who were at the Christchurch shooting. While I didn’t go through the experience as you did, not by a long shot, but I do hope that you do ask for help as I did and helps you emerge stronger than before. Before starting there are many people I have to thank for the experience and making things nice for me even though I wasn’t able to contribute as much as I wanted.

Continue reading “Hackergram journey part 1- The journey Begins”

Saving the Ganga

A younger cousin of mine remarked that the Government of the day is so serious about cleaning the Ganga. I didn’t know how to respond. At first I thought he was pulling my leg but when he said it seriously and said so I had no other choice but to call him on it. But rather than just telling him, I thought it would be wiser to share some of the links, news in the media and ask if there is actually any work happening on the ground.

The Ganga as it looks today – Copyright – Down To Earth.

The above picture has been taken from the article Khumb’s over, now God save the Ganga which is written by DTE . This illustrates how the tanneries were closed just for the Khumb, for political mileage and nothing else. This is when there had been two Supreme Court judgements to close Polluting Industries for good and still nothing has been done by the present Govt.

And this is just list of the woes. The real story is that one Clean Ganga activist died and one is missing and the Government prefers to look the other way . The Clean Ganga Panel has met only twice and spent only 18% of the funds have been utilized according to another media report. There are more than dozen or more litigations pending in the Supreme Court about Clean Ganga where the responder is the Govt. of India and the Government has not even given them a single hearing over the last 5 years.

I just came from Uttarakhand, near Nainital . While going, I saw that the National Highway was an off-roader’s delight. Upon asking the locals and the driver it became clear the road doesn’t have any grip, it is landslide prone because of beserk construction. This has been shared and told clearly in an International Journal Science Direct, June 2014 as well as a CNN report which says the same. The same is also said in Jagran Josh , a local newspaper as well.

DevSecOps Pune Meetup 4

This I had attended almost a month back. I just didn’t have the time or the energy to blog about it. Thankfully, one of the organizers Rohan Nageskar took the time to blog about it so I don’t have to do much other than share a few of the links I had shared and some which I had forgotten to do on that date. The first one was about usage of A.I. for vulnerability assessment using twitter mentions as a source. While the idea certainly has merit and would go a long way in getting nods to fix vulnerabilities in the code during the whole cycle of development, production, deployment, scaling, maintainance till the time the code or app. or whatever needs to be retired. At the same time however, it is not known how accurate the system would be because at the end, it still relies on human input and humans per-se are bad at threat perception and evaluation as per millions of examples. All the wars that have been fought and are still being fought in whatever name is a strong example of that.

One of the other things that I shared was the Intel Spoiler attack which was just shared just a few hours ago or something so it was pretty fresh at the time. I also shared a bit about where the hardware industry seemed to be heading and it seems at least for the near future that AMD would have the leg up. There’s the whole RISC bit for which chips are already out there and lot more being promised in the coming months and year but that’s a different topic altogether.

Incidentally, while Rohan was sharing about using Ansible for scaling a webapp and how you would have different servers for scaling the webapp. depending on needs, I was wondering that definitely the BJP IT Team would have profited from Rohan’s presentation. While Rohan didn’t go much into specifics of things, it was more or a high-level overview of the process, it did establish some groundwork for any individual or team as to how they could go about it. For newbies they could well read up on the differences on webapp. and website . To my mind, they are one and the same as most sites nowadays are dyanmic in nature due to nature of things.

I also shared about the BJP site hack (unofficially of course) and everybody was nonplussed to learn about it because we all have been told again and again the skills the BJP IT cell has. This is when it was almost 2 weeks when the site was down. Few days later, they did put a sort of site back and stole a bootstrapable theme . There were quite a few hate comments, which can be easily be termed victim-shaming and they had no choice but to respond back . It seems that the people in BJP do not understand either understand or don’t want to understand Intellectual Property Rights or to be more specific, Copyright in this particular case. This specific example is clearly a case of copyright infringment rather than anything else. In fact all of the FOSS environment revolves around credit-sharing apart from monetary compensation.

Anyways, some pictures from the meetup to round off the day 🙂

Me sharing some point probably
All the attendees of the Devops meetup.

In the last picture you can see Rohan at the end right in an orange t-shirt with glasses while Rahul you can see in dead center in white shirt at the center. They were the organizers of the event. Many thanx to Qualys for being the host for the meetup.

ASAT and ISRO, DRDO merger rumor

ASAT Test

For last few days I was not in Pune as had gone to attend a workshop which was funded by Innovation for change . Unfortunately, I was not able to take part in the workshop as the traveling proved to be a bit too much in too short a time. While I would share more in another blog post for the moment, I would like to share about the ASAT test that India conducted. While it’s a positive development, from my perspective there was no need for the Prime Minister to come on-stage and declare that we can shoot down a Satellite at 3k when China can do the same at 38k . So we have a long way to go, in as far as parity with China is concerned. While I’m not sharing the source of this information, this is for all and anybody to see and figure out if you know how to use the web. There are a few things I would share, I didn’t use any private data-sets to get this information, which means it’s available easily online. I did not use tor, the dark web otherwise I probably could have got far more material. Thirdly and more interestingly, if you wanna start your search from scratch, ORF could be a good starting point from an Indian POV although there are many other such think-tanks which could help you in your research.

The only question I have to ask is if we are the weaker party, which is clearly the case herein, then whom are we trying to sell this idea if not the Indian public ? Chinese military satellites are in varying range from 300 km. to 36,000 km. so there is hardly a chance that we would be able to make any significant dent to their military usage. Also using an ASAT on another country’s satellite would be an act of war. As far as Communication satellites are concerned, they are also at 36,000 km. are at the Geostationary orbit so they will not be harmed. There is also a pretty nice animation of the same at wikimedia .

International Politics

While we can understand that Mr. Modi did it for electioneering, it does have impact internationally. Last year when the Chinese did another ASAT test (which the Pentagon guestimate it reached 36k from sea level from their ground and space-based instruments) . The Chinese statement was quite brief and to the point . They said that they did the test and it performed on all the military objectives. This is a sort of perfect statement which doesn’t reveal either what the Chinese military objectives of the test were and what was accomplished. All other Governments either have to rely on their own instrumentation (if they have in space to spy and on lookout for such activities ) or rely on Pentagon’s guestimates and findings which they chose to public. The Americans are also well to not show their hand and may share some information or even share mis-information as this is and would be considered part of Information warfare. This is also precisely the reasons we have ambassadors, diplomats and others who sit together and are engaged in naunced wording. There were no need of an announcement and even if it needed, it could have been done by some mid-level executive on DRDO saying something similar on the lines of what the Chinese said and probably adding we have a long road ahead of us or something like that.

Update – 04/04/2019 – Somebody on twitter shared a link to Dr. Saraswat’s latest interview which was held a few days back .

The answers were designed in the way so as to show that the UPA govt. didn’t show the interest for the ASAT test while the NDA Govt. Even if we do take Dr. Saraswat’s interpretion of how the event happened, it still raises questions rather than answers.

  1. By. Dr. Saraswat’s own admission, it was an informal presentation . While he didn’t go into the details of what he meant by ‘informal presentation’ it could be something akin to somebody asking me to do an informal presentation on Debian. For this, the most I have to do is collect my thoughts, read up a bit onto what’s new, exciting if there is something which catches my eye and at the most have 5-7 pages of slides and depending upon what kind of organization it is, I would share what Debian is. If however, somebody would ask me to make a presentation on a possible Debian deployment, it would consist of knowing and having details of how small or big the network is ? What are the critical points in the network (for e.g. many shops or small businessess have either their custom-designed billing system whose source-code they don’t have and has to be on MS-Windows) while other systems you could potentially do the deployment. Apart from doing the actual deployment, there would be time for training, documentation etc. all of which involve some sort of hard numbers and time which both parties would have to work at to get some sort of understanding of how this different system works.

2. And this is where my question comes in. In the interview it’s also not mentioned what time or date when the presentation was done. Now we all know that 2014 was only a year away, if the presentation was done 6-9 months before elections, it is very much possible that there was no interest because it would be time-consuming and there are no guarantees of a successful test. In fact, before this test which was declared a success, there was another test which was conducted by DRDO which was a failure. This also begs or marks the question as to when did Dr. Saraswat approach NDA or vice-versa and when he started actively working on the project. Did it take 5 years for this to come to this stage or 2 years or less because that would give some more guidance and a way for us to guage future success of the project.

Rumour of Merging DRDO and ISRO

There is also a worrying bit of news that the Government of India is thinking of merging both DRDO and ISRO to be similar structure to what the Chinese have for their space program, which I think will be disastrous for the Indian Space Program, the taxpayer public money as well as the two organizations as well.

DRDO work culture

While my mother had the honor of serving within a sub-set of DRDO and she was friends with few scientists, one of the major grouses for most scientists was the constant shifting of parameters or specifications. To take a very simple example, let’s think that you are told or given a set of specs. of a Maruti 800, a small city car , then a year, year down the half, you are told that the design specifications has changed to now a Station Wagon or a hatchback and when you start to design for those, the specs. are changed again in a year or two to a sports car. Now any car-enthusiast would know that these three are completely different cars having their unique needs, dimensions, center of gravity, steering, fuel consumption, the works. Extrapolate that to a missile or missiles where more often than not, these design changes were at many a times not asked by the Armed forces who would be the actual users but the bureaucracy i.e. civil servants, many from IAS who instead of consulting, using consesus of the people on both sides, instead share and put whatever opinion they have. Of course inter-personality conflicts also do occur and inspite of it DRDO is able to do what it does. Because of quite a few such Inter-personality conflicts, many a brilliant scientist have been forced to leave DRDO and are now either serving private Indian interests or some foreign ones and they repent why they spent their best productive years at DRDO or whatever sub-unit they were into.

ISRO Work culture

While I do not have relatives working in ISRO, I do and did have friends who work or have worked in ISRO. Due to the nature of the work itself, which is more exploratory and peaceful in nature, they are able to collaborate with lot of educational institutions within India and worldwide and even collaborate with organizations like NASA, ESA and others. The civilian beaureacracy has had a more hands-off approach which has resulted in ISRO being able to carry out whatever fantastic achievements they have been able to achieve. The only thing, if they need to learn from this Government, is the ability to find money and do more of promotion of the good work they are doing. Even if ISRO were to do 1% of the promotion that NASA does in promotion with merchandising, they would get more than money back while at the same time inspire millions of young children to take up challenges in space sciences.

So from the above, it is pretty clear it would be disastrous as both have a very different mind-set and ways of working. I remember hearing or conversing with some military gentleman couple of years ago and we were talking on some similar topics. This was on a short train trip. The gentleman remarked, it’s not often that we get things to work right the first time, in any of the fields of endevour the military does. If we do, even some small part, we make sure not to disturb or change it and would make changes around it so it works and fix all the other things and processes till there is cohesion. He went on to share some real-life examples from his work which I have since forgotten but the principle seems good, solid enough at least to me.

Making Organizations Fun

At the very end, I would like to draw attention to Jonathan Carter’s blog post where he shares about Debian and Fun . I found both the art peices most appropriate not just for the organizations listed above, but should be the calling points of any organization which believes in genuine stewardship of whatever organization they have or hope to take forward.

While I would invite everybody who has more than a passing interest in the world of computer science to see Jonathan’s and other potential DPL (Debian Project Leader) platforms as well as their rebuttals, the difference between the two is statements or pictures above is that while the first one is an employer-employee model, the second is more on the volunteer, contributor-steward model. Although as DPL , the only perks the DPL enjoys are speaking about Debian in sometimes exotic locations, although that is more than tempered by being part of Debian Politics and Free software politics which comes with its own rewards, risk scenario and is and can be pretty tricky as has been observed over the years.