How to use a GPG key and encrypt stuff?

In the wake of increased attempts at online frauds and information stealing, I thought it only befitting to write this step by step tutorial down for people who have never heard of GPG.

Simply put, GPG keys are used to encrypt information. To “encrypt information” means to make the information secure in a way that only a particular person can see what it contains. In other words, you lock the information and only the person having the key to the lock can open it.

Use Case 1: Bank account information over emails
Never send your bank account information (your account number, the name on the account, type of account, card number etc.) by email. Don’t even send the bank/branch you hold accounts in. Nothing – just don’t send any information at all over email.

So then how do you send information if you need to? Use GPG. Follow these simple steps:

  1. Put your account information in a text file (using your favorite text editor).
  2. Save the file and call it, say, account.txt.
  3. Run these commands (on your Linux/Unix/FreeBSD box):
# curl -L 'https://fryol.net/r/rishi-public-key' | gpg --import
# gpg --output account.gpg  -r 0x0B5267B1E3662EBB --encrypt account.txt

If you try and open account.gpg in the same text editor, you would see some garbage in there, which can now only be decrypted by the person whose key you used to encrypt account.txt.
Command 1 (of step 3)  was where  you downloaded my key (hosted on the link http://fryol.net/?u=key) and imported it into your gpg keyring.
Command 2 (of step 3) was to tell gpg to use  0x0B5267B1E3662EBB (which is a public key identifier of the key you imported) to encrypt the file account.txt.

For people who use Windows, there’s an easier way out: http://gpg4win.org/. The steps above would be very similar – I am sure there would be a way to import a key into that program using a URL. So then, all you do is provide it the URL of the person whose key you want to import and it should be able to use that key.

The file  account.gpg is now ready to be sent over email (to the person whose key you imported in command 1 of step 3).

This tutorial is only about encryption – decryption is a separate topic. (..and my primary motive for this post is to let people emailing me quickly encypt stuff).

See also: [http://www.madboa.com/geek/gpg-quickstart/#tosomeone].

PayPal Blocks WikiLeaks – Hundreds Closing Accounts

It’s small wonder that the Internet is running rampant – in support of WikiLeaks. PayPal released this statement on their blog – and closed the comments section. It’s called – the freedom to shut others up. To look at how many people are joining hands and shutting their accounts down with PayPal/Amazon see this news report which has frequent one line comments against both PayPal and Amazon. PayPal’s community links are running threads on and off about account closures and threats  (since there are reports of threads being killed).

People are using alternate payment portals to continue on – Neteller.com and MoneyBroker.com. It’s not clear though that how long all banks and credit card companies can keep their funds flowing to WikiLeaks.

The Hero from Madurai

It’s unfortunate that people sleep hungry and even more that I (and possibly you) know that. Few change the aforesaid statement – and only fewer succeed. Narayanan Krishnan is one of the fewest people alive that put other people’s misfortunes to shame. Please vote for him on CNN Heroes and read about his extraordinary feat here.

Update: Anuradha Koirala was finally called out as the CNN Hero of the year; she indeed deserved it though there’s no belittling of the efforts of every one else. Koirala fights sex trafficking in third world countries, something that requires a brave heart and tremendous efforts (you won’t ever find out what she’s going through).

Sem Mozhiyaan Tamizh…

Exceptionally done by Rahman; the Tamil anthem (which has nothing to do with the Tamil state, but the Tamil language). I remember dismissing the anthem earlier without understanding that it was for the promotion of the language alone. Very glad to hear and understand it today, I decided to do my bit of promotion.

Lyrics with translation appear here. By the way, Ms. Hassan picks up at the 5th minute in the song very beautifully.

Cleartrip – Shady Refunds On A Public Complaint System

Update: This post here is the extreme of LOLz we’re talking about here. Doesn’t cleartrip get it that they have to stop using a public forum as a ticketing system?

It is extremely painful to see that one of the top railway booking sites in India has so many problems refunding people’s ticket money.

It’s really funny to see their forum which has people complaining about tickets not refunded, trains canceled, debit cards charged twice etc. We’re almost there into the third decade of Internet revolution, and does Cleartrip need a lesson on how to deal with a ticketed complaint system? Like come on guys, it shouldn’t be an open forum where I come and tell you my name, trip#, debit card# etc. Absolutely ridiculous.

After months of my trip booking+cancellation, I logged in today to re-check my accounts and voila; the money has still not reached my account. It should be a really easy problem to fix. As soon as you get a ticket cancellation, record it in a database which gets replicated to a backup. At the end of every 24 hours, select all transactions that were cancellations from that database and check if an accounts database has any record of money going back to customers. Additionally, if the railways or airlines are involved, join the query to check on another table that records transactions incoming from them. This is an absolutely no-brainer situation for the likes of a web company like this.

Instead, cleartrip relies on their forum for people to come, post and get refunds. Indeed, this makes perfect business sense. If people care, they’ll come, else why the hell should Cleartrip care going refunding money. India is all about numbers, a thousand may go, but a thousand shall come.

PoliceWale

This interview on policewala.in is the harsh gust of reality and fate of Indian police personnel. Since this interview is in Hindi, here is a short summary (all credits due to the interviewers at policewala.in and Amitabh Thakur, IPS).

  • Mr. Thakur is of the opinion that the long standing convention of “thinking like criminals” has affected the police adversely, turning some of these men to be more dangerous than the criminals themselves
  • He observes that there are two corruption situations to be dealt with separately, one that are of the grievous and serious kind with deep rooted problems – and the other that are notorious and on the street
  • He observes how the police personnel are deprived of family life, living in harsh and mentally frustrating situations – and how all police men and women come to appreciate each other and develop a bond since they are victims of the same injury
  • Another very important thing brought up was the fact that lower ranks don’t have a career path towards higher positions – the sepoy to  inspector ranks are basically stagnant. This is the most serious issue with the system right now since it cuts off the most basic form of self-motivation.

Daughters 2

As much as it is unbelievable, this relates to my previous post that once again I have news of three more daughters born to people I know (or have known). For some of them who are not in touch, I really am glad for them. My unbound blessings fly down on the angels.

All the right things are seem to be happening in their own way, just someone fix that oil leak please – and, like let go of Kyrgyzstan’s problems – and of course, @Americans: can you start saving more than spending something you really CAN-NOT-AFFORD?

Fusion

I finally bought a Ford Fusion (nickname: Musa) over the last weekend, thus ending a long standing quest on which car it would have been. I weighed this car against Nissan Altima and Volkswagen Jetta (comparison chart on cars.com). Fusion has quite a few useful (and quite desirable) features at the same price that the other two cars were missing. Since for the most part, I would be using this car for intra-city driving with bi-monthly long trips, I didn’t see a lot of value into getting  details under the hood.  This is a 175-hp engine (I am not power-crazy). Am pretty happy that I didn’t get the V-6 after all, it’s pretty silly to drive them. I loved the pre-fit Sirius XM, audio controls on the wheel and a Sync feature (which is from M$, but heck, it’s the feature we’re talking about here) – which enables you to receive and make calls right from the steering wheel. For the most part, these are pretty high end model features. The moon roof was something that I just noticed. Nice.

Ford has a maintenance contract (which is probably negotiable) for 6 years or 75K miles – I bought it.  Since Fordies are said to behave not too well,  I liked being backed up on the service bills at least. This was something I debated quite a few times over with Soni (I was against buying it), eventually it turned out worth spending something there.

Looking all around myself, I see fewer Fords on the road than Hondas, Nissans, Toyotas and even Chevys. I guess, not a lot of love for Ford after all – but am loving it pretty much.

For the record, this is my second car. The first one (and people get surprised at that too) was a Indica (petrol) and it was an awesome ride at that price. Go to hell Maruti. Same to you, Toyota.

Moved

After eight years in Bengaluru, I had to move for a newer opportunity in Santa Clara. The last few weeks were crazy with high business that everyone does once in their lifetime. I made two house purchase decisions (one for myself and another one for my parents), financial clean-ups, stuff shifting, selling old stuff, buying new, spending time with my folks, trying to get documents out from Govt. offices and a lot of other crazy ways to drain money. Just for the people who didn’t receive my calls in return for theirs – I was working over time to finish a lot of stuff before moving out, so I deeply apologize for this misbehavior.

On a random note, never travel on Air France. Had problems with a lot of things; food, seats, general cleanliness of the aircraft, schedule and then the staff’s “oh-you-don’t-know-anything” look. Comparing them to Delta, it was a much more pleasurable flight with those folks and that’s what I’ll prefer next time.

On another absolutely random note, Sarnath is a very beautiful place and is a must visit if you are in the vicinity. The place is very tourist friendly, the best thing being that it has a lot of cheap (though pretty nicely setup and clean) places to stay – guest houses and hotels alike. You won’t really have to stay there to see the whole place – but may be this place is a better bet than Varanasi if you also wanted to explore other areas. Sarnath is hardly 10 km away from Varanasi and not a big deal to get there and back. I certainly rate this place as the best find in UP for the year (refreshing to see that there are some places still pretty clean). More photos here.