Goodbye to old KU blog

It was seven years ago when sitting on my computer in New Delhi I was trying to decide whether I wanted to go for my Master’s to a University in Copenhagen, Zurich, Stockholm, Paris, …. . Of course the rankings mattered, the scholarships mattered but also my fear of the unknown mattered. Here I was in India having never ventured out of the country trying to decide where to spend the next two years of my life.

And this is where I came across the blog of a student (which I cannot dig up despite trying for 5 long minutes) who used to narrate her experiences in Copenhagen infrequently. While there was no dearth of organized blogging advertising for Copenhagen, the self-motivated nature of the blog was endearing and real. It was my first connect with the city which I was going to call home for the next six years of my life. It was my first brush with Danish naivete, Danish hygge, the student life, the parks, the sea, the weather. It was my first date with Denmark from the eyes of another narrator.

The student blog was hosted on a blogging infrastructure which was part of an initiative from the Humanities department at the University of Copenhagen called KU student blogs which used to be hosted here (the link might be broken now). This service encouraged students to create a blog and to write what their heart desired. One of the best features was the blog feed so you could read in one place all the content from different KU blogs. It was a great window into the lives of other people without all the glam of social media. It was great for old-school, boring people like me. I blogged here (maybe a broken link) for five long years infrequently which kept the world was sane.

And then the storm clouds gathered. The KU student blogs became a platform to allow KU affiliated individuals to create websites and it was not a purely student blogging infrastructure anymore. It became a website creation tool which meant the feed feature was not desirable since depending on the reader, the feed contained a lot of uninteresting information. At this point the feed was taken off and KU blogs was rebranded as KU sites.  While I have nothing against website creation infrastructure, better thought could have been given to its management to keep the student blogging feeds intact.

Since the blog feed feature was gone and KU site service was hosted using WordPress and I already had a free account on wordpress.com, I moved all my content to it. KU blogs also had a questionable security policy in its integration with the KU one identity authentication systems. The KU blog password was a special rewrite of the KU password (I am not going to detail it here) to account for incompatible password policies across systems which hastened my decision to move.

Overall, a dedicated student blog system with a blog feed feature to read about student experiences is an invaluable tool both for local and international students. Its something worth preserving and I wish it had been so. Thank you KU blogs for all the initiative and the help and for encouraging me to come and live in Denmark. Hopefully, you revive the initiative again.

 goodb2

Password Management Today

With the growth of internet web services and mobile apps, password management has become a real issue that a user should be concerned about. This has especially become so since now we are consumers of a lot of web services where the very first step is to create an user account which hopefully no one else can log into.

The basic problem of password management can be broken down into the following questions:

  • What password should I pick for which website ?
  • How should I store/retrieve my passwords ?

There are some solutions to tackle this problem.

Solution 1:

Use the same password for every website.

Pros:

  1. Easy to remember even with growing number of websites.
  2. Use your brain only and do it efficiently (there’s just one).

Cons:

  1. Big security risk.

Solution 2:

Choose a methodology that can be easily remembered for generating password for different websites. For e.g., add 007 after the website url.

Pros:

  1. Easy to remember even with growing number of websites.
  2. No single point of security risk, the methodology needs to be discovered by someone trying to attack you.
  3. Use your brain only. Remember depending on how complicated the steps of the methodology are, efficiency of the password computation can vary.

Cons:

  1. The security risk depends on the sophistication of the methodology.
  2. The manual process of computing the password limits the methodology or else trades off with the computation time. You don’t want to sit down with a pain and paper to compute your password :-).

Solution 3 (Takeaway for this post):

Use a password manager. There are lots of them out there.

Pros:

  1. Managing passwords is not your problem.
  2. Can pick very strong passwords.
  3. No correlated passwords.

Cons:

  1. Have to trust the password manager program

A browser comes with the simplest password manager since it saves your password if you want it to. A word of caution here, always use a master password for your browser to manage your password so that no one else can view your saved passwords without entering the master password. You also want the passwords to be saved on your computer in an encrypted file so that others cannot read it which any decent password manager would do. There are lots of password management tools out there. Use them. Generate a strong password if your password manager does not support password generation. Here are some ways to do it on Linux/MacOS or Windows. A password manager can also backup your saved passwords in the cloud to save you from machine failures. Preferably choose one which does that. Never compromise on encryption. The cloud is less trusted than your computer. If you still think you do not need a password manager, read this. Now that I am done sermonizing, looking back I used to do password management by hand by saving my passwords in a file and then encrypting them using a GPG key and storing them on git server. And then I stumbled up Pass. It does the same things but better. Try it if you a power user or just want to know how the infrastructure works without doing all of it :-).

This is not smart. Get smarter !!

Almost the perfect guide

Entering grad school can be one of the most daunting steps. It’s almost like discovering that you are a Jedi but you don’t know how to become a Jedi master and you need to be trained for it. There are a lot of common questions and there is a lot of shared understanding of what goes on but it’s not well articulated. This is where I find the following blog to be invaluable

http://matt.might.net/articles/

If you are a computer science enthusiast (undergraduate,postgraduate or in grad school), you might find his writings extremely invaluable. Even if you are not a computer science enthusiast but belong to an academic setting, the articles can be invaluable.

Invaluable advice your way

 

Merger proposal of Math and Computer Science (Datalogi) departments in KU

Last Tuesday, the Dean of the Faculty of Science proposed a merger plan to merge the departments of computer science and math into one. The meeting invitation went out to the faculty and the students only a day ago in the midst of a busy teaching bloc. The merger was reported in the University Post. This has sparked a spate of opinions which all seem to point to the utter absurdity of the move especially since it was tried 2.5 years ago and failed, and nothing has changed since then other than the reasons against it. A lot of conspiracy theories are also doing the rounds. Whatever the real reasons behind the merger may be, what is clearly apparent is the fact that the move has not been thought out well by the Dean’s office and has not encapsulated the people it concerns and hence it just remains a tactless, non-visionary (contrary to the claim), damaging exercise just for the sake of it.

This probably sums it up