Monday, April 27, 2020

Pandemic Atlanta Lockdown - Week 6

Blueprint of the 7-layer spiced coffee
Nothing new this week. The pandemic continues to destroy the world, and especially the USA. Some countries have managed to overcome or contain their outbreaks. Georgia plans to reopen by April 30th. However, we continue to work from home. Even if the cities and states reopen, the international borders remain shut down. No real sign of normalcy in the near future.

In fact, what is normalcy? There are predictions that this pandemic has changed human life forever. People becoming more distant and less physical maybe the new norm. Maybe more waves and namaste gestures to replace the typical handshakes and hugs? States are already discussing reopening. As the number of deaths piles up, everything has become statistics. What is the difference between 2 million and 3 million? We are in a horrible reality. But this is not new to humanity. Historians are drawing parallels to the 1918 Flu Pandemic. Perhaps we already know the answers to future questions. We need to look back into history.

However, this pandemic is still new to several of us individually. It will also affect the foreigners who live in temporary visas such as study visas and employment visas. Countries are becoming more nationalistic and globalization has taken a huge hit too. The human loss also has caused distrust among the governments. We need to wait and observe how things go.

Pandemic and Counter-Intuitive Measures

The 7-layer spiced coffee
My apartment community's leasing center has stopped accepting USPS packages. USPS doesn't deliver packages to our doorstep. Now, "as a courtesy", USPS is holding our packages in the post office for 30 days free of charge. This move from our leasing center is, ostensibly to protect its staff. But in fact, they could just let the USPS drop it at the leasing center and drop it later at our doorstep in a contact-less manner. I know it will be overhead. But they could have managed it better, rather than forcing us to go to the post office to collect our parcels when we ask for the delivery exactly to avoid going out. This is just an example. I see how some pandemic measures are actually leading to adverse effects. Some of these measures, rather than letting people to stay home, force them to take additional measures (such as having to go to the post office to collect the parcels and transitting more buses since several bus routes are canceled by MARTA - Atlanta's public transportation system). Also, such reduced public transportation can also lead to a higher concentration of riders.

Price gouging

Chat with Walmart agent
As the pandemic has lead to a shortage of several essential items, price gouging is also on full swing. Some middlemen purchase items in bulk and then sell them online for an inflated price. I ordered a 4-pack water filter from a 3rd party seller, named "Soflo Boutique" in Walmart.com. That was 70.15$. Double the usual price! Then I found the 6-pack of the same filter from Target.com for just 48.71$, the actual price. So instantly canceled the order. There is a Walmart promise that if we cancel on time (which I did, almost instantly!) the seller must respond within a business day. Now, a week has passed and they have shipped the item, ignoring my message. This is a clear predatory practice. The reason is, they know we are not going to bother returning the item amid a pandemic.

Walmart.com Chat

I again complained to Walmart.com chat agent on Friday since the message I sent to the third-party vendor via walmart.com messaging did not receive a reply for more than 48 hours. I had to wait a long time for the chat agent to appear online. I can understand that this is due to the pandemic and the increased demand.

Time is imaginary!
What funny was, the waiting time displayed in the chat window was changing arbitrarily. As the wait time is 180 minutes. Then suddenly reduced to 100 minutes after 10 minutes. After around 100 more minutes, the wait time dropped to 1 minute! I prepared to chat. And it went back to 40 minutes! It kept oscillating back and forth until eventually, the chat agent did appear. The first chat agent seemed like a bot. But eventually, a real human appeared. They mentioned they will ask the seller "that the order be cancelled immediately". It will be best if these third-party vendors stop capitalizing on a deadly pandemic. We already have more than enough things to worry about during this pandemic.

 This reminds me of the good old days. Every time I tried to download something, it stops at 99%. Remaining time to download used to deviate back and forth from 10 minutes to 1 minute, to 20 minutes. A phone call would then disconnect the modem connection, and thus halting the almost complete download. We have come a long way in Internet connectivity. But we still have miles to go!

Whipped chocolate coffee

Caffeine Rush

I know I should avoid too much caffeine intake. It may have a negative health impact. But, it is ok once in a while, I hope. I made some interesting coffee-based, alcoholic, as well as other drinks this week. One such drink I made this week is the 7-layer spiced coffee, which took me a significant effort. The whipped chocolate coffee is quite simple. First, whisk instant coffee, cocoa powder, and sugar into a creamy mix with the help of a milk frother, with a little water. Add this creamy mix carefully to the top of a tall glass of soya milk. Finally, top up the drink with vanilla ice cream.

I also made a moringa leaf drink with soya milk. First, add moringa leaf powder to honey and water. Then, mix it thoroughly and add to soya milk in a tall glass. Whisk using a milk frother until everything is mixed well. However, my conclusion is, moringa leaf powder tastes weird. Don't try this drink at home.


Take care, and stay safe everyone. :)

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Pandemic Atlanta Lockdown - Week 5

Box of the birthday cake from my friends, with all their greetings, 2013 January in Lisboa.
Sometimes we move non-stop and way too fast. Only when we slow down, we have time to look back and appreciate the good things we had in our life. The COVID-19 pandemic is such a moment. We are all forced to slow down. Some people are used to staying home alone, while others are trying other coping mechanisms. We have already completed one month of working from home. So far, our team has managed the work from home quite elegantly.

From an Inconvenience to the Bitter Reality

The pandemic started as a minor inconvenience for many of us: canceled travel plans and being forced to stay alone away from family due to the International travel restrictions. But the situation keeps getting worse in the USA and the world. Now, we know that we have already lost a massive number of human lives, and this count keeps increasing. Also, this is going to be a gigantic economic disaster, too, once the pandemic is over. Everyone is comparing this pandemic as a combination of the 1918 Spanish Flu and the Great Depression.

Some more greetings!
We already hear about cuts in benefits and salary increments. At this point, at least one university has introduced pay cuts up to 20% or furloughs for all its staff and faculty. The hiring freeze also means a risk of unemployment for those in temporary work contracts. For those in work visas, this may also mean having to leave the country, as hiring freezes make it hard to find a new job as the freezes last until August 2021. Nomadic life (i.e., moving between countries and continents for life) is not new to me. But being forced to move by a deadly pandemic followed by an economic Great Depression isn't going to be fun. There is undoubtedly a cloud of uncertainty that covers the rest of the year and next year, like a dark cloud.

Coping up with the Current Situation

Now we have a better perception: This is a deadly pandemic, and its effects are going to last beyond this year, as a humanitarian and economic crisis. Having that in mind, I am complaining less about minor inconveniences, such as having to stay home alone. At least for now, I have the job, and I eat and drink as usual. Although I do not go out, I order the materials for delivery (from Kroger, WholeFoods, and Amazon Fresh) and make myself good food and drinks. I have successfully replicated a decent life and happy moments alone with cocktails and fancy food I cook for myself once in a while (thus, replacing the need for a random restaurant/bar run). Oh yes, of course, I still miss Lisboa's Hard Rock Cafe. I also have my projector for music videos. I spend my weekends mostly practicing Portuguese.

To overcome all these negative moments, I wanted to refresh my memories of my young, energetic days, and previous travels. So I was going through my old photos. And I found some interesting photos from 2013 January -- The case of the cake from my friends on my birthday in Lisboa. ❤️ Good memories. :) 

Future Uncertainties

Bombay Sapphire with lime juice
I know there are challenges ahead. I willingly accept uncertainties as a positive part of my life. But there is a fine difference between taking challenges on your own vs challenges imposed by a deadly pandemic. Predictions such as an economic Great Depression spanning the first half of the 2020s is worrying. Of course, the humanitarian costs caused by the deadly disease and the lengthy path towards the normalcy are even more concerning before we can even think about the economic hardships.

The economic downfall of the countries may force many of us out of our resident countries. I have been very flexible with migrations 2012 - 2018 and always took them positively. 2017 tested me with its extreme challenges. I managed it quite well, despite the way too many flights, uncertainties, and migrations. The last time I moved between countries or continents were in 2018 summer. I might have to wear my nomad hat once again in 2021, judging from how things are going. I believe I have the energy to take this challenge in 2020 - 2021. I might have some unhappy moments and uncertain times in the process. But we will survive together.

In the meantime, I hope everyone takes care and stays safe! Peace.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

C-MOV with DCM4CHE

The correct DCM4CHE Commands for the query-based retrieval at study level, with using only an AccessionNumber.

#1) Start the DCM4CHE StoreScp. The storescp process starts a simple DICOM listener.

./storescp --accept-unknown --directory /storage_location_in_the_filesystem  --filepath {00100020}/{0020000D}/{0020000E}/{00080018}.dcm  -b BMIPACS:4244

BMIPACS is the storage AE Title locally, which listens to port 4244. You can set this to be any available port. Once started, this StoreScp accepts any incomping DICOM messages.

#2) Run FindScu to find the StudyInstanceUID from the AccessionNumber, since this extraction is in study level.

./findscu -c  SRC_AET@XX.XX.XX.XX:PPP -b BMIPACS:4244 -m AccessionNumber=YYYY -r StudyInstanceUID

SRC_AET is the source AE title. XX.XX.XX.XX represents the source's IP address and PPP represents its port. We find the StudyInstanceUID of the Accessions with AccessionNumber YYYY in this command.

From the output, we get the StudyInstanceUID from the below line.
....
(0020,000D) UI [ZZZZ] StudyInstance
....

#3) Run MoveScu to get the images using the StudyInstanceUID (retrieved in #2) and AccessionNumber. 

./movescu -c  SRC_AET@XX.XX.XX.XX:PPP -b BMIPACS:4244 -m AccessionNumber=YYYY -m StudyInstanceUID=ZZZZ --dest BMIPACS


Retrieved images can also be moved between servers or box, using rclone.

$ rclone copy local_src box:dest_in_box --local-no-check-updated

or with nohup,

$ nohup rclone copy local_src box:dest_in_box --local-no-check-updated &

Monday, April 13, 2020

Cooking during the COVID-19 pandemic

View from my balcony.
I was happily roaming the streets and planning trips. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit hard, and I am suddenly working from home and always home for the past month (except for a visit to Kroger supermarket once).


Many of my extrovert and outdoor friends are turning to new habits, such as reading books. Weekdays I am busy with work, and the weekends and late evenings go with cooking, cleaning, Twitter and blog posts, and practicing Portuguese. This post accumulates some of my Tweets displaying short segments of my cooking sessions.







Also some music videos from my projector.


Some older cooking videos this year.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Pandemic Atlanta Lockdown - Week 4

Skyy Vodka, Kahlua, and ice cream

Busy despite the lockdown

We are reaching the completion of the 1st month of WFH. Although the WFH and the lockdown looked like I will have too much time with nothing to do, the reality was far from that. The weekdays went with work. In fact, thanks to collaborating with some workaholic colleagues, my work time stretched from my regular 7:25 a.m - 4:45 p.m to until quite late. To adjust to that, I also started a bit later this week, around 8:25 a.m instead. I will see how this goes in the upcoming weeks.
 
Weekdays are quite busy with work and then cooking and cleaning. So only weekends I got some extra-time, that I spend with music videos, Twitter, learning Portuguese, and writing these weekly blog posts. I have finally reached the Diamond League (the top-most one) in Duolingo! That's an achievement on its own. As usual, we also had the virtual coffee hour on Friday at 3 p.m. This time, we had some important work topics mixed with our fun hour. Consequently, the coffee hour lasted until 5 p.m!

Groceries and delivery

Full fridge again!
On Monday morning around 9 a.m. I ordered grocery items from Kroger. Although I asked for the 1-day delivery, the earliest time available was only 4 p.m - 5 p.m on Wednesday. I chose those slots. The delivery was further delayed, and I receieved it by 7:51 p.m. The person who did the delivery was awesome. She made sure to get perfect substitutes for whatever item not available. When in doubt, she sent a message to confirm. 

Although I asked for a doorstep contactless delivery, I realized that the weight will be too much for the delivery person to handle. So I went downstairs as I would do usually to get my groceries to the entrance of the building near to the parking. But with a safe distance of 10 meters, I told the Instacart delivery person to leave all the groceries at the side near the parking. She happily obliged. It is safe for both of us. Then once she was done with unloading and bidding goodbye, I went and picked all the groceries to my 2nd-floor apartment!

Friends with a distance

Reaching the Diamond league!
The only times I went out these days were to throw the trash. On the way, I saw a neighbor I usually make a chit chat with. We both intentionally slowed down and walked further from each other. After reaching a safe distance of at least 10 meters from each other, we turned back and talked as usual. I mentioned to her that "this social distancing" pointing to the space between us, and she nodded with a smile. We both knew what we were doing.

Yes, I take social distancing seriously. I know sounds weird for a people-oriented extrovert. But I am not an idiot to ignore science. These are difficult days, and as such we have to make small steps to help slow the pandemic spread. We still have a long way to go. Even we are planning to work on some work related to COVID-19, and every small contribution helps humanity to overcome this huge crisis.

80% of the residents who live in this Atlanta Senior Apartment Community have tested positive for COVID-19, according to FOX. 6 people have already passed away from this community due to COVID-19. Very sad and scary because that community is for seniors. i.e., a high-risk community. When I live inside my apartment perfectly sealed off from humanity, I do not witness the bad news first-hand. But the threat is real and is at the doorstep.

One of the papers I co-authored last year eventually got accepted. I was happy about this positive news amid all this negativity. I was more stable this week as we are getting used to WFH and lockdown life. However, that didn't prevent me from feeling bad and down once in a while due to the pandemic and its local and global impact. I hope we overcome this pandemic soon and also manage to keep ourselves safe and sane in the meantime. I don't want to return to humanity as a lifeless zombie once everything is over. Let's see how everything goes in the upcoming weeks.



Cry cry, can't you see the music...

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Pandemic Atlanta Lockdown - Week 3

First grocery shopping in Lisboa, 2012

A first sleepless night in 2 years

Although I have had sleepless nights during my mid-PhD for paper submission deadlines, by 2018, I had developed better time management for deadlines and never had a sleepless night in 2018 - 2020. But the WFH messed up my rhythm, and I had a sleepless Thursday night for a Friday 8 p.m deadline. Luckily, the next one is a Friday night. I had a long sleep last night. Now, everything is okay. I am relaxed and also successfully submitted my paper (codenamed, "Niffler") by the deadline.

Change of Perspectives

When the pandemic started to ruin my regular life of traveling, going out, and meeting people, it was stressful. I am an extrovert. I love people. I love seeing new places and interacting with humans in the real world. January was concerning, February was saddening, and March was an outright disaster. April is probably going to be worse. But I have a better perspective now. Things are going to be worsening. But we are privileged that we can work from home, and live in beautiful apartments. People are risking their lives due to this virus. I am thankful for what I have. I have also well-adjusted to the indoor home-alone (a.k.a., boring) life. Not to say that I don't have sad or feeling down days. But I am also not complaining too much, at least not this week.

Life is an Indian movie

Wild Kopi Luwak
In Indian movies, when the plot gets sad, they throw a flashback of the past when everyone was safe and happy. Sometimes, they do a dream scene of a happy future, often with a song in a random country. Or some random comedy scene to cheer you up in the middle of all the movie sadness. When you are stuck home in a never-ending pandemic, you cannot clearly think of the fun activities you want to do in the future (which future?). You definitely cannot escape reality by running to a random country. You can, of course, think of the past - the times before the pandemic hit hard. I see many people are doing that, including myself. We share our old photos on social media. We now appreciate all the good times we had while life was normal -- which is merely 2 months ago.


Life changes with a pandemic

Going abroad and coming to Portugal changed me drastically. I was an introvert in Sri Lanka, and Portugal converted me into an extrovert really quick. I also became more people-oriented and love going out more. I still remember my first day and the first week in Lisboa vividly. I arrived at my apartment. It was still empty as my then-unknown-stranger apartment-mates hadn't arrived yet. I had to go to buy something to eat. By then, I didn't know how to cook. So I went out to buy something to eat quick. I was lazy. I was not that comfortable finding my way to the supermarket - although the landlord showed it to me on my way to the apartment from the airport. Luckily, there was a small shop right next to my apartment. I bought bread, butter, and milk. I handed the shopkeeper, who introduced himself to me instantly as a Brazilian, a 50 Euro note. He said he doesn't have change. Luckily, I also had some coins. I gave him the exact amount of coins (around 2 Euro). He spoke English, sufficient for the transaction. 
Eventually, and quickly, I fell in love with the city. The city changed me completely. Now, we are stuck at home. Moving to Portugal was a choice and a personal life event for me. But a pandemic is global. Everyone (with exceptions) is forced to stay home for the betterment of humanity. I cannot stop imagining how we all will change when the pandemic eventually comes to an end. Will we have different priorities? Will we become more introverts (again)? Will we start to change our lifestyles? How long will this last, and what will be the long-term consequences? So many questions. Since I always kept moving between countries, even a little period seem like a long one. With this pandemic, my trip to Panama in January feels like a distant past. I am here like, "Oh, I miss those good old days!" apparently referring to the mid-January when no one was concerned about a "small SARS-like outbreak" in Wuhan. I hope we all will recover soon.

Perception of time

Overdosing on flower tea
Looking back, time looks weird and non-linear. Sometimes I feel like the years since I left Sri Lanka have been quick. Other times, I think the exact opposite. 2012 seems like a distant past and a yesterday - both at the same time. Staying home alone alters the perceptions of time as well. Especially a deadly pandemic. The last 2 months felt like a decade. Not to say that I had a dull 2020. My January and February were quite impressive, despite the growing concerns and sadness of the pandemic and my ruined plans to reunite with my family. But March was when things got ugly, as the virus became global and a pandemic was announced.

This Sunday, I was happily cooking, humming an Indian song. Suddenly, I mistakenly stepped onto a long piece of glass, and my foot started to bleed. I carefully and quickly removed the glass off my foot, thinking, "who the fuck put a glass here?" Realization kicked in that I was home alone for 4 months, and that must be the glass I broke a few weeks ago. I had cleaned the floor then, but somehow a piece of glass escaped to hunt me down later. I slowly jogged to my bed, not to ruin the carpet with all the blood thinking to myself, "where is my wife to protect me?"
 
We are all zombies...
 

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Parque das Nações and Expo '98

Gil, the Mascot
Parque das Nações was built for Expo '98 World's Fair and incorporated into Lisboa. It is arguably my most favorite neighborhood in the world, with so many great memories. Over the 7 years between 2012 - 2019, I witnessed the growth and evolution of Parque das Nações. Old restaurants replaced by new ones. Old friends replaced by new ones. A good thing about migrating to new places is, you can start afresh. Life from bottom up. Meet new people and make new friendships. However, this also comes with a challenge. While you can make some nice friends, you will also lose that "best friend" moments. Most humans are wired to have their best friends from childhood and school days. Also, the quickly moving life makes you lose track of friends you made all along the way.
Also, not everyone that you meet on your path is on the same journey as you. In a flight, a few may be going to a new country for travel, a few may be returning home, and others may be traveling for routine business. While the Erasmus Mundus was my best memories so far, I cannot say the same for everyone. Others may have had a different experience. However, at certain point in our life at a certain place, we all crossed paths. Sometimes I imagine a future date where we can bring back all our old friends to Lisboa. It might be hard as we all are different continents and most have moved on with their life. I have developed this special bond for Lisboa, and Parque das Nações is surely a major part of it. I imagine a day I retire in this neighborhood decades later. :)

Bitcoin Blackmail Ransom scam

So I recently received a blackmail email. The subject was one of my passwords. A weak password that I used often when I had to create a log in for useless websites.

The email goes like this:

Transfer $1000 in btc to the underneath address:
DDDDDDD*DDDDDDD
Copy and paste it, and remove * from it. .
You might be thinking why the heck would you do that?

Very well, put together yourself because I am going to shake your world right now. I had a serious adware infect your own laptop and record video clip of YOU (using your cam) whilst you looked at 'adult' sites. Here is one of your pass word XXXXXX

Nonetheless don't believe me? Respond 7 and I will be randomly share your video with the people you're friends with (Yes, I have got access to your contact list also). Currently, what do I want to make this entire thing go away? Very well, I have already described the actual deal in beginning of the e-mail. If you dont fulfill it within 24 hrs, I am going to create your life horrible by mailing that video to Everybody you know. Your time starts now.
I don't usually give even a tiny attention to spams and email scams. Most of these emails scams are "kind". They would offer you a million, but before you receive your million you just need to send them 1000$ as a processing fee. But the above email, a blackmail/ransom or a sextortion is different. If you go through bitcoinabuse.com you can find several similar reports. People fall for this easy scam.

First, the scammers purchase leaked passwords from the darkweb and use them to scare people. You can check whether a password associated with you is leaked, by checking all your email addresses from haveibeenpwned.com. If one of your online accounts is compromised, it will show against the email address.

Now, why this email is scary:
1. It came directly to my inbox, skipping the spam folders. That gave a bit legitimacy until I searched the Internet to find that this is not a targeted attack. Rather, a silly novice scam.
2. I usually used that weak password with made-up/temporary emails. So my initial concern was, how did they find my primary Gmail account. My current guess is, mistakenly, I must have used my Gmail to create at least one such online account with that weak password.


However, I could also easily dismiss the email easily:
1. My cam is covered. So I don't think they can capture my video (unless in a rare occasion I forgot to cover it while browsing my favorite 'adult' sites. :P
2. I don't think they would spend an effort on infecting my Linux laptop with "a serious adware."

3. By digging the spam folder, I found a near identical email from another sender a few days ago. So now I should send 1000$ to both of them? :P

How to combat such exortions:
First, this scam is a novice one. That means, all they have is a password. But it could be more dangerous.
1. Avoid reusing the passwords. So when they use a password against you, at least you know which account is that.
2. If they have a video of you, most likely you are worried they may have captured your video in a partial or full nudity or in a compromised/sexual pose. 'Adult' sites are not illegal in most countries, but revenge porn is! So if they capture your video somehow and leak it, you are the victim. No shame in being a victim.
I disliked Papanasam movie where a family has to kill a dude because he was blackmailing the daughter with a revenge porn. Murders and suicides are not the answer for such crimes. Rather, we should remove the stigma against nudity so that such sextortions won't repeat.

Fixing the society is not easy. But we can try to be more caring to the victims that we know - among family and friends. If your child is caught in such a bad situation, be supportive and help them recover. Seek help from the police, if the scam goes beyond such a naive email (that is, if they "really" have a video, and not just a generic email with a scare tactic).

3. Never reply, positively or negatively. Definitely don't pay them any money. Even if they have your video, why do you think they will delete it after you sending them the money? In fact, giving them money will make you come back to you asking for more. Report the scam email to your email provider as a "phishing attack" and therefore future emails from the sender will be moved to spam. You can save other victims by doing this.

By ignoring their email, they will forget you and move on to an easier victim. If you reply, you stand out. You don't want to irritate a scammer with too much time in hand. The scammer may actually try to send an adware if you mess with them too much. Unlikely unless you click a link in their emails, but better don't waste your time with the scammer.

4. Finally, be careful with to whom you send your photos/videos and where you store them online. While this particular sextortion was a weak one, we don't want a real attack to happen.

Stay safe online!