Friday, September 30, 2022


Exactly 10 years after I joined Técnico Lisboa for the first time for my masters, this month Técnico created an alumni network to connect past and present students and faculty of the university. It has a LinkedIn integration. If you too are from Técnico, feel free to say hi!

Técnico alumni network

Thursday, September 15, 2022

YouTube fake conversations to deceive the innocent onlookers

I encountered this identical conversation between 3 random people on two different videos in YouTube!
A friendly conversation between three strangers? Totally not.

I decided to dig a bit into this. It was easier to spot the deception than I thought. All three accounts were created on the very same day in 2020 (and magically appeared to make the same conversation twice in summer 2022). We can easily conclude that these three accounts were created by the same person or a computer script.

I looked further and found many similar fake conversations happening around topics of investment and crypto trading under popular YouTube videos. An unsuspecting onlooker could totally fall for these scams! All these fake conversationalists have no videos, very few subscribers, and created on the same day (as above) or within a few days/weeks apart - perhaps by a bot and stolen profile photos. Beware!
A similar, but longer "conversation" - but with better "participants" (with accounts not created on the same day). LOL.

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Portugal, from ten years ago...

My journey to Lisboa
Ten years ago, on a day like this, I left home for Colombo airport to head towards Lisboa for my grad school. I thought I was going to grad school. To do coursework and do research. Maybe for a couple of years? I did not know I was on for a life of adventures of diving into cultures and making friends. A journey that changed me completely.
The journey was not direct. I first had to go to New Delhi to get my Portuguese student visa. Getting the visa was a story on its own.  Then three days later, with the visa stamped on my passport, I headed towards Lisboa via Dubai. Two days of August 2012 are of high importance to me. One is the Monday 20th for leaving home to live abroad for the first time, and the other is the Thursday 23rd to arrive in Lisboa finally.
View from my apartment in Lisboa, August 2012

During those early days in Portugal, I would think about where I would be in 10 years. Here, I am writing this blog post from Atlanta. Arrival in Lisboa was smooth. Emirates upgraded me to business class. The border control was friendly to me. The landlord was waiting for me with my name typed on his tablet. On his drive, he mentioned, "Portugal is having economic hardship now. But we are always happy." I also asked him why it was cold in the summer, coming from Colombo. He replied it was the end of the summer and almost autumn. The following days, I walked the streets alone. Everyone was helpful, despite me not knowing the language. Most people there can and will speak English, unlike, for example, in France. In some ways, it was like the opposite of Emily in Paris. Lisboa was nicer to me. (Oh yes, I have made a blog series about my life in Lisboa,  Pradeeban in Portugal!) But I did not know that I would end up doing my Ph.D., primarily based in Lisboa, eventually spending seven years of my life centered around Portugal until I completed my Ph.D. in 2019.

The Pacific Ocean, Santa Monica. June 2022

Moving to Lisboa started season 2 of my life. Due to Erasmus Mundus mobility requirements, I moved back and forth from Lisboa to cities in other countries - Sweden, Belgium, Croatia, Saudi Arabia, and the USA. Then in June 2018, I moved to Atlanta after submitting my thesis. I finally defended my Ph.D. thesis in July 2019 in Lisboa and August 2019 in Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium. Erasmus Mundus joint degree requirements! 

I moved out from Lisboa in June 2018, did not visit Portugal after July 2019, and my last connection to Portugal was completed with my final Ph.D. defense in August 2019. But I feel I am still in season 2, which Lisboa started in my life. The last three years of the pandemic have significantly changed many aspects of our life and even how we interact with people. Things have slowed down significantly. My travels since February 2020 are entirely restricted to local trips within the USA. My life in Lisboa and my seven years of Erasmus Mundus are like pleasant dreams. I believe I will have an equally exciting season 3 somewhere sometime later. Until then.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Google Summer of Code (GSoC) 2022

This year, Google Summer of Code (GSoC) is open to anyone who is a newbie to open source. Not just students. As such, we replace the term "Student" with "Contributor" this year.

Given below is an introductory presentation to GSoC 2022. There are some more important changes to GSoC this year compared to the past years. Specifically, workload has been made flexible this year. Some projects are medium size, requiring a half-time effort (18 hrs/week, 175 hours in total) as in 2021. Other projects are large projects (full-time, 35 hrs/week, 350 hours in total). Make sure to find the project that fits your availability. Of course, large projects yield to double the stipend compared to the medium size project, as your effort will be double too. Additional flexibility also include the potential to complete the GSoC up to 2 months later, with the mentors' prior approval. 

2020 and before, the potential to commit full-time to GSoC was a major deciding factor. Mentors would avoid selecting candidates who already have an on-going internship or a job unless they still exhibit the potential to commit the same amount of time and effort. This year, just like 2021, allows the half-time (medium-size projects) contributors to have other internships in parallel.

Mentors and collaborators can even schedule their work hours the way they see fit.

Good luck!


Saturday, April 9, 2022

Random spam and a train journey...

Kansas City, KS
Have you ever received a WhatsApp or a WeChat (WeiXin) message like, "Hello, I'm Stella, are you Mr. Jack, the costume designer introduced by Annie?" from someone with a Chinese woman as the profile picture but a US number?

My friends and I kept receiving those messages frequently. The template is always the same:

"Hello, I'm [a woman], are you [a man], [description to the man's job] introduced by [another woman / my colleague / my secretary]?"
A Google reverse image search on the profile picture will take you to the source - where they have stolen the image from.

For fun, we tried to reply to those to see where they would go. "Oh, sorry, you have messaged the wrong person." They respond, "my bad, at least you are kind enough." But these never proceeded further. They always sensed that I was trolling them and discontinued the chat almost immediately.

Train from Kansas City to ABQ
But managed to continue the chat a bit longer as I was on a long train trip. After this "wrong number," the person, who claimed to be a cloth designer from California, suggested I add to their Telegram since the WhatsApp is apparently for their work discussions only. So, I added them to their Telegram, a number from Indonesia. The person also introduced themself as a divorcee with a child and even shared a family photo (again, stolen from the Internet) after I shared a selfie from the train. They again shared the sketch of some cloth they designed and their lunch downloaded from the Internet. At this point, I can see how lazy these scammers are. They are not lazy. They just don't want to invest too much time on each potential victim as they cannot be bothered and have to function at large. Seriously, why can't they send an actual selfie of their lunch?

Anyway, in the beginning, they mentioned they also invest in crypto (they shared a selfie in front of a crypto dashboard - again taken from the Internet). At this point, I was sure this was either a crypto scam, romance scam, or a scam that would make me pay for their cloth design. This chat was dragging on over a couple of days as if they had formed a close and caring friendship with me. Usually, their conversation was in bad/broken English. But every time they talk about crypto, they get more professional and convincing - as if they were copy-pasting some paragraphs they wrote sometime back (not from the Internet. No text matches on the Internet). They even offered to help me invest. Ok, that is when I decided this was a crypto scam. My long train trip was coming to an end too. They also realized I wasn't falling for them - instead, I wasted their valuable scamming time. Their chat was getting repetitive with little time investment from them (just photos and videos stolen from the Internet). They stopped trying to convince me into crypto investments, and I blocked them.

Some arrests have been made on these crypto scams.