Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Case studies - approaches for real life problems

Basic Steps
In basic terms, the rough outline of the steps to be applied are as follows:
1)    Read the case and reach a hypothesis
2)    Create a storyline and build a 'ghost' presentation
3)    Do more research and analysis to build out the presentation
4)    Challenge recommendations/anticipate counter arguments
5)    Revise
6)    Practice
7)    Present

So far, so simple. But the real challenge is to ensure that you—whether as an individual or part of a team—are thorough.

Consider the example of one case, where one question was whether to expand internationally.

The first level of analysis is a go/no go decision on expansion

The second level is which geographic regions to consider,

The third is for the specific region—which countries to consider (and rank order them)

The fourth level is to determine the exact method of entry and how that may differ by country and also compared to the existing current model.

That level of rigor enables you to not only have a concrete, reasoned recommendation, but also to easily answer questions as to why you did not go to certain countries/regions. When those questions will come, you will be in the position of having answers which are detailed, cogent and fact-based, enabling one to demonstrate the thoroughness of the analysis

Useful skills

In terms of the skills required to successfully approach case studies one cannot stress the importance of analytical, effective communication and interpersonal skills, as well as having the ability to ask the right questions to elicit the information necessary to crack the case.

One needs to tackle problems from a cross-functional perspective and be a cross-functional thinker. This allows you to address a case question from multiple perspectives as opposed to your prior role or industry.
The perils of preparation

Practice is the enabler which makes one become good at filtering information, coming up with hypothesis, criteria, and doing the analysis.
Focus on the data—and only the data

The key to success is not fancy slides or groundbreaking insights but a rigorous, data-driven approach to solving the problem in a methodical and reasoned way.
Also, resist the temptation to think too big with their answers: Suggesting something dramatic in one's recommendation should be backed up by a well reasoned and developed decision.
Depending on the case, an incremental, well thought-out approach may make more sense than a drastic change.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Protecting yourself on Facebook

Unfriend a Facebook friend without unfriending them 3 ways to unfriend a Facebook friend without really unfriending them 

Facebook has many advantages and disadvantages. One of the disadvantages of Facebook is that everyone gets to know stuff which you intend for a select audience. The "everyone" may include people who are outright enemies, friends who are enemies (frenemy) and people above you in the hierarchy ( you boss etc) who would love to use the data you publish for malicious or harmful intent. How would you go about shielding yourself in such cases. Here are some ways.

Got an oversharing Facebook buddy who can’t stop with the food photos, a sullen friend who’s bringing you down with all his depressing updates, or a frenemy who you don’t want peeking at your Facebook photo albums? Well, you could always hit the “unfriend” button, but doing so might seem a bit extreme—and hey, what if they find out?

Luckily, there are a few of ways to keep marginal Facebook pals at arm’s length without cutting them off altogether, starting with…

1. Add chatterboxes to your “Acquaintances” list

So, you added a long-lost friend you remember fondly from high school, but now they’re constantly peppering your news feed with random links about their favorite TV shows, silly cat photos, and endless snapshots of their kids. It’s not that you want to slam the door on all their updates, mind you—just, well, most of them. Want to see a little less of a friend in your news feed? Just add them to your Acquaintance list.

Facebook Acquaintances list 214x300 3 ways to unfriend a Facebook friend without really unfriending them

Here’s a quick, relatively painless solution: add your distant yet ever-chatty friend to your Acquaintances list.

Once you do, Facebook will automatically pare down the number of news feed updates you receive from them to a bare minimum. For example, you might still get notified that a far-flung Facebook acquaintance got married or landed a new job, but you’ll get sweet relief from the daily kitty snapshots.

Indeed, putting an oversharing friend on your Acquaintance list makes for the perfect way to dial down their endless updates without silencing them altogether. And don’t worry: your friend will never know that you relegated them to your Acquaintance list.

To add a friend to your Acquaintance list, just…
  • Hover your mouse over their name on their timeline or in your news feed.
  • When you see the pop-up window with their profile photo and a “Friends” button, hover your mouse over that button to reveal a new pop-up menu.
  • See the “Acquaintances” option? Go ahead and click it.
  • Want a little more control over which updates you’ll see from a specific friend? Instead of “Acquaintances,” click “Settings,” then start unchecking categories (from “Life Events” to “Comments and Likes”).
Oh, and one more thing: if you ever want to hide a post of your own from the folks on your Acquaintances list, you can choose the “Friends except Acquaintances” option from the audience selector (the pull-down menu that sits right next to the Post button).

2. Block downers from your news feed

Here’s another scenario: you have a pal who just won’t stop with the links to depressing news stories, the “I hate my job” updates, the bitter diatribes against the politician you voted for, and the off-color, not-so-funny jokes. It’s easy to block all of a friend’s updates from appearing in your news feed.

Facebook show in news feed setting 3 ways to unfriend a Facebook friend without really unfriending them

Now, maybe you’re not quite ready to ban your bummer of a buddy from the updates and photos you share with fellow Facebook friends. That said, here’s a pal whose name you’d rather not see in your news feed at all—not even if they got a promotion, had a kid, or managed to eke out a good day.

Well, guess what: you can completely block updates from that downer of a friend in just a few clicks:
  • Again, hover your mouse over the friend’s name on their timeline or in your news feed, then wait for the window with their profile photo to appear.
  • When it does, hover your mouse over the Friends button, click Settings, then uncheck “Show in News Feed.”
  • Last but not least, enjoy the silence.

3. Banish a frenemy to your Restricted list

Say you added your conniving boss as a Facebook friend your first week on the job … and now you’re regretting it. You’re thinking twice about every photo upload and every update you post, but “unfriending” your boss isn’t really an option. What to do? Had enough of a certain Facebook frenemy? Banish them to your Restricted list.

Facebook Restricted list 3 ways to unfriend a Facebook friend without really unfriending them

Try this: put him on your “Restricted” list—a “friend list” for friends and frenemies who you’re this close to unfriending. Once you banish someone to your Restricted list, their links, photos and updates won’t appear in your news feed at all (although you might see their name pop up in the ticker once in a blue moon).

Even better, they’ll no longer see any of your updates, photos, or other Facebook activity—or at least, nothing that you haven’t flagged as “Public” in your privacy settings. In other words, putting a frenemy on your Restricted list is as close as you can get to unfriending someone without actually unfriending them.

Here’s how you do it:
  • Once more, hover your mouse over their name in your news feed or on their timeline, wait for the pop-up window to appear, then click the Friends button.
  • Select “Add to another list” from the menu, scroll all the way down, then click Restricted.
Note: While Facebook won’t notify a friend that you’ve put them on your Restricted list, an eagle-eyed frenemy may well notice that they’re not seeing your “friends only” updates anymore.

Bonus tip

Want to see a list of all the friends whose posts are blocked from your news feed?
  • First, go to your news feed, hover your mouse over the News Feed link in the top-left corner of the page, click the little pencil icon, then click Edit Settings.
  • A pop-up window should appear, complete with the names of all the friends whose updates no longer appear in your news feed.
  • Change your mind on any of them? Click the little “X” next to their name.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Provident Fund PF - how to check and withdraw

To check your PF the government has provided a website EPF India which allows to
All one needs to do is to create a login using the PF account number ( provided on the salary slip) and personal mobile number.

Withdrawal of PF
It is not uncommon for people to switch jobs once in a while. However, while changing jobs, many fail to claim their provident fund. Most people think the process to claim PF is cumbersome. In reality, it is not. All it requires is a little bit of patience and diligent follow up.

To withdraw your PF, you have to fill and file Form 19 (for PF) and Form 10 (for pension) with your employer. It is best to do it while sending your resignation papers in your office. You also need to give a cancelled cheque, which will provide your employer with your bank account details. How fast you get your money will depend on how quickly your company forwards the documents to the PF office.

There is a 'cooling' period of two months from the date of the employee putting in his papers or retiring. It's only after this period will the company forward the papers to the PF department. But not all companies are efficient in sending the papers and neither is the PF department efficient in processing the claim. So, it could take anywhere between three and eight months to get your PF money. The PF money does not go the employer; the PF department will credit the money directly to the employee's bank account. Prior to crediting the money, the department sends an intimation to both the employee and employer, mentioning a tentative date by which the money is likely to be credited.

If you are moving to another organisation, transferring your PF money is a better option,  instead of withdrawing it. PF is a social security scheme and there is a pension component as well. If you withdraw before 15 years, you won't get the pension amount. Another reason why you should transfer your PF money and not withdraw it is to save on tax. If you withdraw the PF before five years, you will be liable to pay tax, depending on your income tax slab. Instead, if you transfer it, you can save the tax and you will continue to earn interest on it. For FY13, the interest rate has been fixed at 8.5 per cent.  To transfer the PF account from your previous job, you have to fill Form 13. Usually, the process is faster than withdrawing the money. In case your earlier job did not have a PF component, then you have to declare this by filling Form 11. If your PF is inactive for three years (that is, if no money has been credited), it will stop earning interest after three years. So, it is better to withdraw or transfer your PF amount within three years of changing jobs or retiring.

If, for some reason, your past employer is not traceable or the company has shut down, then you have to submit an identity proof (such as PAN card, voter's identity card, passport, ration card, etc) and residence proof (utility bill such as electricity bill or landline telephone bill) to the PF department. You will also be required to send a letter from the bank where you want the money transferred to. You will also need to trace the PF account number of your previous employer. You need to know the number even to transfer your PF account. 

Often, we close old salary accounts, as it is expensive to pay annual maintenance charges.
However, some dividend payments due to us, such as the ones from equity or mutual fund investments, could be linked to these bank accounts.If the bank account is closed when the payment comes, then it goes back to the company and the investor has to collect it from there.
The most common reason for dividend payments not being claimed is when the investor has not informed the company of his new address, due to which the cheque returns to the company.
Fund houses and companies also inform investors about the dividend payment through SMS and email. 

In any case, most dividend payments now happen through direct transfer to the investor's account. Only two-three per cent of the total volume of the dividend payouts happen through cheques, says an official from the customer service department of a fund house. In case an electronic transfer fails, if the account has been closed, then the fund house will issue a cheque to the investor. 

If the dividend cheque returns, you need to approach the fund house or the company before the validity of the cheque expires, that is, within three months. Otherwise, it could take up to 30 days for a new cheque to be issued. To know about your unclaimed dividends, write to the registrar and transfer agent of the fund house with details such as folio number and the name of the scheme. If it is a share, you can write to the registrar of the company.To avoid these hassles, always update your personal details with the company.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Mean Machines - Future of Silent warfare - Undersea combat vehicles

The term "Silent Service" evokes images of Second World War submarines complete with foul air, battery acid and diesel fuel.

In conventionally powered diesel-electric subs, the diesel engines powered the motors on the surface and charged her batteries. The batteries powered her motors submerged, the same principles used since before World War I

The present day nuclear powered fleet ballistic missile submarine brings a new meaning to the term "Silent Service." With its slippery Black painted stealthy hull and ultra quiet machinery — its silence can be very deadly to any aggressor

“Underway on nuclear power.” The USS Nautilus (SSN-571) signaled that historic message at 11:00 hours on 17 January 1955 as she put to sea for the first time as the first nuclear powered submarine of the world. She went on to make headlines by surfacing at the North Pole and traveling submerged far longer than the diesel-electric submarines of her time. Her power plant gave the US a leap ahead in submarine development towards the modern nuclear submarine of today!

There are two forces that impede a submarine’s speed underwater; skin friction and eddy-making resistance. To overcome skin friction the nuclear sub's hull is made as small in area and as smooth as possible. Overcoming the eddy-making resistance requires the streamlining or removal of protuberances from the hull. Fins and control surfaces are streamlined. The nuclear subs of today have minimal or no flat deck. Their conning towers are reduced to the sail configuration that are common on all of today’s fast attack submarines. The circular hull section offers the greatest resistance to the pressure found in the ocean’s great depths, as well as minimizes eddies. This is important because the propeller wash and eddies can leave a tell tale signature or wake for ships above.

Today's Nuclear powered submarines are silent, powerful, radar and sonar evading, and can fire guided-missiles to pulverize an enemy more than 1,600km away. Any country possessing one has an awesome retaliatory capability. Its the principle of "I can hit back anytime, anywhere, and you cannot do a damn thing about it" philosophy which make subs such mean machines

These super-subs have huge nuclear reactors that can power a small city and it will never need refueling.

The killer nuclear submarine, which is more complex than the US space shuttles and able to circumnavigate the globe without surfacing, is also able to make oxygen and fresh water from seawater to keep her crew alive when undersea for a long time in time of war

For scale, some of these smaller subs weigh 7,400 tons, are more than 291 foot long, the length of a football pitch, as wide as four double-Decker buses and 12 storeys high.

In case
most people truly realize what a deadly weapon the submarines are, imagine THIS scenario

A hostile nuclear sub slips silently through the ocean and nears your country's coastline. Stretched as long as two football fields, her silhouette moves like a shadow on the surface. She carries 24 nuclear ballistic missiles. Each missile carries eight nuclear warheads. Each warhead can be sent to a different target. One sub carries the power of 5,000 bombs like the one that destroyed Hiroshima.

Her mission - hide under the sea and stand by for the order to end the world.

An order is issued. The captain receives the order and relays the readying of weapon command down to the weapons officer. The hatch is opened, water floods the missile tube ...............and ..........at the captains orders , the weapons officer turns a firing key…and launch the missile
Could be today , tomorrow........or never................Sure you will see tomorrow ?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Mean machines - Future Air wars - Air combat vehicles

Air power is an indispensable aspect in any nation's security apparatus. In this concluding part of mean machines, we will look at the manned vehicles which form an indispensable part of the land-sea-air attack vehicles combo

The world's only operational fifth-generation fighter, the F-22 Raptor is, and will remain, unprecedented in its total integration of stealth and advanced avionics

Primary Function: Air dominance, multi-role fighter

Contractor: Lockheed-Martin, Boeing

Power Plant: Two Pratt & Whitney F119-PW-100 turbofan engines with afterburners and two-dimensional thrust vectoring nozzles.

Crew: One

Fuel Capacity: Internal: 18,000 pounds (8,200 kilograms); with 2 external wing fuel tanks: 26,000 pounds (11,900 kilograms)

Speed: Mach 2 class with supercruise capability

Range: More than 1,850 miles ferry range with 2 external wing fuel tanks (1,600 nautical miles)

Ceiling: Above 50,000 feet (15 kilometers)

Armament: One M61A2 20-millimeter cannon with 480 rounds, internal side weapon bays carriage of two AIM-9 infrared (heat seeking) air-to-air missiles and internal main weapon bays carriage of six AIM-120 radar-guided air-to-air missiles (air-to-air loadout) or two 1,000-pound GBU-32 JDAMs and two AIM-120 radar-guided air-to-air missiles (air-to-ground loadout)

Unit Cost: $143 million (about Rs 643 crore)

The Eurofighter is the product of a consortium of British Aerospace, Deutsche Aerospace (Germany), Alenia (Italy), and CASA (Spain), with the United Kingdom and Germany providing technological leadership

Function: Multi-role fighter

Crew: 1

Engines: 2 Eurojet EJ200 afterburning turbofans, 60 kN dry, 93 kN with afterburner

Maximum speed: Mach 2.0+ (2390 km/h at high altitude)

Supercruise speed: Mach 1.3+ at altitude with typical air-to-air armament

Service ceiling: 18,290 m (60,000 ft)

Range: 1390 km

Armament: The Eurofighter carries NATO's best weapons. It has a high load Capacity with flexible missile configurations. It has thirteen carriage points, three of which are capable of holding external fuel tanks. The maximum fuel or weapons payload is 6,500 kg (14,330 lb.).

A mixture of at least 10 ASRAAMs (advanced short range air-to-air missiles) and AMRAAM (advanced medium range air-to-air missiles) can be carried with four of the AMRAAMs housed in low drag, low observability fuselage stations. A wide variety of air-to-surface weapons can be carried on seven stations, including avionics stores such as laser designators.

The F/A-18 Hornet is a supersonic, all-weather carrier-capable multirole fighter jet, designed to dogfight and attack ground targets (F/A for Fighter/Attack).

Contractor: Boeing [McDonnell Douglas Aerospace] and Northrop Grumman (Airframe), General Electric (Engines), and Hughes (Radar)

Power Plant: Two F404-GE-402 afterburning engines, each in the 18,000 pound thrust class, which results in a combat thrust-to-weight ratio greater than 1-to-1. Depending on the mission and loading, combat radius is greater than 500 nautical miles

Mission and Capabilities: The F/A-18 Hornet can perform both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. Cockpit displays and mission avionics are thoroughly integrated to enhance crew situational awareness and mission capability in high threat, adverse weather/night environments. Cockpits are night vision goggle compatible. Multi-sensor Integration and advanced data link capabilities further enhance situational awareness.

Seating capacity/crew options: Model F/A-18C: one-seat (pilot-only); Model F/A-18D: two-seats (one for the pilot and one for the weapons/sensor officer [WSO])

Top speed: Mach 1.8

Combat radius: 500+ nm (900+ km)

Armament: F/A-18C/D can carry up to 13,700 pounds of external ordnance. Weapon stations include two wingtip stations for Sidewinders, two outboard wing stations for air-to-air or air-to-ground weapons, two inboard wing stations for fuel tanks, air-to-air, or air-to-ground weapons, two nacelle fuselage stations for AMRAAMs, Sparrows, or sensor pods; and one centreline station for fuel or air-to-ground weapons.

Unit cost: $39.5 million (about Rs 180 crore)

The Saab JAS 39 Gripen is a light-weight single engine multirole fighter aircraft manufactured by the Swedish aerospace company Saab. The aircraft is in service with the Swedish Air Force, the Czech Air Force, the Hungarian Air Force and the South African Air Force, and has been ordered by the Royal Thai Air Force.

Role: Fighter/attack/reconaissance

Crew: 1

Wingspan (including Launchers): 8.4m

Ceiling: 50,000ft

Maximum Speed: Supersonic at all altitudes

Engine: The RM12engine, supplied by Volvo Aero, is a development of the GE F404 engine from General Electric. A digital engine control system automatically monitors the engine parameters and automatically switches on the back-up systems if required. A condition monitoring system registers the flight data.

Armament: The Gripen has seven external hardpoints for carrying payloads -- one at each wingtip, two under each wing and one on the fuselage centreline. The Sidewinder, mounted on the wingtips, is an all-aspect attack, short-range missile for enhanced dogfight capability. Air-to-surface missiles include the radar-guided Saab RBS15F anti-ship missile and Raytheon Maverick missile. The internally mounted 27mm Mauser high-energy gun can operate in an automatic radar-guided aiming mode. The stand-off dispenser is the DWF39 from EADS (formerly DaimlerChrysler Aerospace) and Bofors.

Unit cost: $40.61 million (about Rs 182 crore)

The Dassault Rafale is a French twin-engined delta-wing agile multi-role 4.5-generation jet fighter aircraft designed and built by Dassault Aviation

Primary Function: Multi-role fighter / reconnaisance

Crew: Single or twin seater

Powerplant: Two SNECMA M88-3 turbofans each rated at 19,555 lb (86.98 kN) with afterburning

Speed: Maximum level speed 'clean' at 36,090 ft (11000 m) 1,321 mph (1,147 kt / 2125 km/h)

Ceiling: 60,000 ft

Range: 1000 nautical miles

Armament: Cannon: 1 30mm DEFA 554; Mica missile, R 550 Magic 2 missile, BGL 400 (French counterpart to the American Paveway laser guided bombs)

Unit Cost: $82.3 million (about Rs 384 crore)

The Sukhoi Su-30MKI is a variant of the Sukhoi Su-30 jointly-developed by Russia's Sukhoi Corporation and India's Hindustan Aeronautics Limited for the Indian Air Force. It is a heavy class, long-range air superiority fighter which can also act as a multirole, strike fighter aircraft.

Crew: Two seater

Engines: The Su-30MKI is powered by the two AL-31FP turbofans, employing AL-100 vectoring nozzle

Ceiling: 17,500 m (57,415 ft)

Endurance: 10 hours

Max Range: 3,000 km (1,620 nm)

Top Speed: 664 mps (Mach 2)

Armament: Main gun is 30 mm caliber. The combat load is mounted on 12 stations. The maximum advertised combat load is 8000 kg. Over 70 versions of guided and unguided weapon stores, including air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles, may be employed which allows the aircraft to fly the most diverse tactical missions.

Unit Cost: $36.55 million (about Rs 164 crore)

The F-15 Eagle is an all-weather, extremely maneuverable, tactical fighter designed to gain and maintain air superiority in aerial combat.

Primary Function: Tactical fighter

Crew: One (F-15A/C), two (F-15B/D/E)

Powerplant: Two P&W F100 turbofan engines in 29,000 lb (13,154 kg) thrust class with afterburning

Speed: 1,875 mph (Mach 2.5 plus)

Ceiling: 65,000 feet

Range: 3,450 miles ferry range with conformal fuel tanks and three external fuel tanks

Armament: One internally mounted M-61A1 20mm 20-mm, six-barrel cannon with 940 rounds of ammunition; four AIM-9L/M Sidewinder and four AIM-7F/M Sparrow air-to-air missiles, or eight AIM-120 AMRAAMs, carried externally.

Unit Cost: A/B models $27.9 million (about Rs 126 crore), C/D models $29.9 million (about Rs 135 crore)

The F-16 Fighting Falcon is a compact, multi-role fighter aircraft. It is highly maneuverable and has proven itself in air-to-air combat and air-to-surface attack. It provides a relatively low-cost, high-performance weapon system for the United States and allied nations.

Primary Function: Multirole fighter

Crew: One (F-16C) / Two (F-16D)

Powerplant: F-16C/D: one Pratt and Whitney F100-PW-200/220/229 or one General Electric F110-GE-100/129

Speed: 1,500 mph (Mach 2 at altitude)

Ceiling: Above 50,000 feet

Range: Over 2,100 nautical miles

Armament: One M-61A1 20mm multibarrel cannon with 500 rounds; external stations can carry up to six air-to-air missiles, conventional air-to-air and air-to-surface munitions and electronic countermeasure pods

Unit Cost: F-16A/B: $14.6 million (about Rs 65.7 crore), F-16C/D: $18.8 million (about Rs 84.6 crore)

The MiG-29 Fulcrum is Russia's most important tactical fighter. Developed in the 1970s by the Mikoyan design bureau, it entered service with the Soviet Air Force in 1983, and remains in use by the Russian Air Force as well as in many other nations, including India.

Primary Function: Multi-role fighter

Crew: One

Powerplant: Two Klimov/Sarkisov RD-33 turbofans at 18,298 afterburning pounds of thrust each

Speed: Mach 2.3 (1,520 mph)

Ceiling: 55,775 ft (17,000 m)

Range: 932 miles (810 nm/1500 km) with internal fuel

Armament: One 30mm GSh-301 cannon with 150 rounds, Six AAMs, including a mix of SARH and AA-8 Aphid (R60), AA-10 Alamo (R27T), AA-11 Archer, (R73), FAB 500-M62, FAB-1000, TN-100, ECM Pods, S-24, AS-12, AS-14

Unit Cost: $29 million (about Rs 130.5 crore).

The J-10 is a fourth-generation multi-role fighter, produced by the Chengdu Aircraft Industry Co. (CAC). The secretive Chinese programme started in the late 1980s, and is reportedly based on the Israeli Lavi fighter, Israels attempt to develop its own F-16.

Primary Function: Multi-role fighter

Crew: 1

Powerplant: 1x Lyulka-Saturn AL-31FN turbofan, rated at 79.43 kN dry, 122.58 kN with afterburning (17,857 lbf, 27,557 lbf)

Maximum speed: Mach 1.2 at sea level; Mach 2.0 at altitude

Combat radius: 550 km (300 nm, 340 mi)

Maximum range: 1,850 km (1,000 nm, 1,150 mi)

Service ceiling: 18,000 m (59,055 ft)

Armament: Guns: 1 23 mm internal cannon; Hardpoints: 11 -- 3 under each wing and 5 under the fuselage; Missiles: air-to-air (PL-8, PL-11, PL-12, R-73, R-77), air-to-surface (YJ-9, YJ-9K); Bombs: laser-guided and unguided bombs

Unit Cost: 190m yuan ($27.84m or about Rs 125 crore)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Mean Machines - The future of combat - Cyberdyne System Series 800 may not be so far away

Smart machines are already very much a part of modern warfare. New robots — none of them particularly human-looking — are being designed to handle a broader range of tasks, from picking off snipers to serving as indefatigable night sentries.

On the shopping list for combat forces include
-> A 15-inch robot with a video camera which can scuttles around on spying missions.
-> An almost silent drone aircraft with a four-foot wingspan which can transmit images of buildings below in IR and other modes.
-> A small armored vehicle on tank treads, about the size of a riding lawn mower, equipped with a machine gun and a grenade launcher. These units are known as the Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System, or Maars, and they are made by a company called QinetiQ North America. They can also be used as a nighttime sentry against infiltrators equipped with thermal imaging vision systems, since the battery-powered Maars unit remains invisible — it does not have the heat signature of a human being — and can “shoot” intruders with a laser tag gun without being detected itself.
-> A wagonlike Lockheed Martin device that can carry more than 1,000 pounds of gear and automatically follow a platoon at up to 17 miles per hour
-> For rougher terrain away from roads, engineers at Boston Dynamics are designing a walking robot to carry gear. Scheduled to be completed in 2012, it will carry 400 pounds as far as 20 miles, automatically following a soldier. The four-legged modules have an extraordinary sense of balance, can climb steep grades and even move on icy surfaces.
-> Mobile micro-robots — some no larger than model cars — that, operating in swarms, can map a potentially hostile area, accurately detecting a variety of threats.
-> A robotic submarine system that would intelligently detect underwater mines and protect ships in harbors.

The idea that robots on wheels or legs, with sensors and guns, might someday replace or supplement human soldiers is still a source of extreme controversy.

Proponents for the idea argue that these machines, not only protect soldiers, but also are never distracted, using an unblinking digital eye, or “persistent stare,” that automatically detects even the smallest motion. Nor do they ever panic under fire. One of the great arguments for armed robots is they can fire second. When a robot looks around a battlefield, he said, the remote technician who is seeing through its eyes can take time to assess a scene without firing in haste at an innocent person.

Opponents to this argue instead that civilians will be at greater risk, because of the challenges in distinguishing between fighters and innocent bystanders. Their argument is that that job is maddeningly difficult for human beings on the ground. It only becomes more difficult when a device is remotely operated. Because robots can stage attacks with little immediate risk to the people who operate them, opponents say that robot warriors lower the barriers to warfare, potentially making nations more trigger-happy and leading to a new technological arms race.

One well known automated system is the Predator aircraft, which find their targets with the aid of soldiers on the ground but are operated from the United States.
Because civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan have died as a result of collateral damage or mistaken identities, Predators have generated international opposition and prompted accusations of war crimes.
On the other hand, Predators have also saved thousands of lives which would have been lost on the ground.

Robot combatants are supported by a range of military strategists, officers and weapons designers — and even some human rights advocates. Weapons systems controlled by software will not act out of anger and malice and, in certain cases, can already make better decisions on the battlefield than humans.

Automation has proved vital in the wars America is fighting. In the air in Iraq and Afghanistan, unmanned aircraft with names like Predator, Reaper, Raven and Global Hawk have kept countless soldiers from flying sorties. Moreover, the military now routinely uses more than 6,000 tele-operated robots to search vehicles at checkpoints as well as to disarm one of the enemies’ most effective weapons: the I.E.D., or improvised explosive device.

The International Committee for Robot Arms Control has called for agreements to limit the development and use of tele-operated and autonomous weapons. They have called for standards which all autonomous systems have to adhere to, something similar to the three laws of Asimov
With fifty-six nations now developing robotic weapons of their own, it remain to be seen how the spirit and letter of these standards will be adhered to.

One thing remains for sure, that with this much resources being put in already, there is little chance that proponents , including major governments, will back out of developing such systems. However, the silver lining will be not the use of these systems for combat, but their adaption to civilian use.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The credit card 'Da Vinci Code'

A pre-computer security feature was slipped into your credit card numbers and remains there today. Pull out a card and a pencil to see the math trick for yourself.

Did you know your credit card has a "Da Vinci Code"?

It's true. Those raised numerals on your card are not only your account identifier that banks and merchants need to transact business on your behalf, but a little-known credit card version of the Da Vinci Code that verifies its validity without the aid of computers.

Even cooler, the code, which can reveal whether a credit card number is fraudulent, is cryptically hidden within the sequence of the card numbers. Every legitimate credit, debit and ATM card on Earth contains this formula.

This low-tech mathematical sleight of hand, dubbed the Luhn formula after its inventor, Hans Peter Luhn, played a tangential role in the development of the World Wide Web, search engines such as Google, text messaging and other high-tech wonders.

In the unlikely event that you've given any thought at all to your credit card numbers, you probably view them as merely series of random numerals: 16 digits on Visa, MasterCard and Discover cards, 15 on American Express cards and 14 on Diner's Club/Carte Blanche cards.

On a 16-digit card, the first six numerals identify the card issuer, and the next nine numerals are the card account number (AmEx uses an eight-digit account number.)

But there is absolutely nothing random about the final digit of your credit or debit card number. It has been appended as a so-called check number, or key, to verify the card is valid. It's this check number that gives the Luhn formula its Da Vinci Code allure.

When a card number is generated using Luhn's algorithm, various combinations of the digits on the card must ultimately add up to a number that is perfectly divisible by 10. For this reason, Luhn's formula is also referred to as modulus 10, or mod 10 for short. Change any digit or transpose nearly any two digits, and the Luhn check will catch it.

The Luhn formula was designed to instantly detect accidental data entry errors -- missed keystrokes, transpositions and the like -- not as a defense against fraud. It doesn't identify where an invalid number went sideways; it simply flags it as nonconforming.

Luhn checking won't tell you anything about the underlying card account itself. Nor should it be confused with card-verification-value codes, those extra, unembossed numbers on major credit cards that attempt to verify that the physical card is (or has been) in your possession.

Thread counts and keywords

Luhn, who died in 1964, wasn't hunting for the first "killer app" in the credit card world. In fact, when the German-born IBM scientist proposed his formula in 1954, general-purpose credit cards hadn't even been developed. Luhn's formula would later be included as the sum-check for a hand-held mechanical reader, for which he received a patent in 1960.

A former assistant manager of a textile mill, Luhn spent the 1930s and '40s as an engineering consultant to that industry. His Lunometer, a simple rulerlike tool that visually measures the thread and line count in fabrics, is still in use today. Luhn earned more than 80 patents, including a computing gas pump, a cocktail recipe organizer (during Prohibition, no less), an inexpensive foldable raincoat and a forerunner to American Airlines' Sabre reservation management system.

After joining IBM in 1941, Luhn pioneered fundamental concepts in business information retrieval, including keywords in context and selective dissemination of information. Those breakthroughs laid the groundwork for such ubiquitous computer processes as keyword search, e-mail, instant messaging and RSS feeds.

First line against fraud

Although its original intent was to identify human error in the pre-computer days of manual data entry, the Luhn check remains a valuable first line of defense against credit card fraud today.

If the card numbers don't tumble correctly through the algorithm (now computed literally faster than the blink of an eye), the transaction will be halted automatically before it even reaches the card issuer for authorization. Chances are excellent that the next line of anti-fraud software would net any fishy card numbers that slipped through the Luhn check.

For fraud, you have two choices: taking someone else's number or making one up. Luhn didn't know about that type of thing, but his algorithm still helps solve it. If you were ordering something online, it obviously would be nice to give somebody else's number, but that doesn't work.

Why don't you check for yourself