New Guitar Video – The Pot by Tool

I wasn’t so taken by this song when I first heard it, but I revisited it while warming myself up for the release of Tool’s Fear Innoculum last year, and somehow got really hooked onto it, so much that I ended up learning how to play it. This is the first video I’m posting with my new PRS SE Mark Holcomb Signature Edition electric guitar! I play it in the guitar’s standard tuning – Drop C.

Getting Started with Python Pandas

I finally decided to get myself familiar with pandas while working on a recent side-project related to recommender systems. When I got started with it, I was still stubborn that I could achieve most things I needed to do in relation to data pre-processing with Python modules like tools like glob, json, numpy and scipy. True as that may be, I found myself spending way too much time writing routines to process the data itself and not getting anywhere close to working on the actual project. This was very reminiscent of the time a few years ago when I got immersed in writing code to manually compute gradients for various neural network architectures while getting nowhere in developing a music prediction model before finally deciding to make my life easier with theano! And so, this seemed like the perfect time to get started with learning pandas.

In the past I’ve found that, especially when it comes to learning useful features of new modules in Python, a hands-on and practical approach is much better than reviewing documentation and learning various features of a module without much of an application context, so I started looking around for such tutorial introductions to pandas. In the process I came across two invaluable resources that I thought I’d highlight here in this blog post. These really aren’t much, but gave me a surprisingly thorough (and quick) start to employ pandas in my own project.

Kaggle Learn

Kaggle Learn has a bunch of very well-organised and basic introductory Micro-courses on various Data Science topics from Machine Learning, to Data IO and Visualisation. I get started with the Pandas Micro-course which proved to be the ideal starting point for someone like me that had never used the module previously. This can be followed up with some of the other micro-courses, such as the one on data visualisation or embeddings which help one understand various concepts better through application. In fact, it’s what I’m planning to do as well!

Pandas Exercises on GitHub

So the Pandas Micro-course was a great starting point, but still left me wanting more practice on the topic as I still didn’t feel totally fluent. It was then that I stumbled upon a fantastic compilation of Pandas exercises on GitHub by Guilherme Samora. So I cloned the repository, loaded these exercises up on Jupyter Notebook and got down to solving them one after another! This really did help with getting more fluent with the rich set of tools that Pandas has to offer.

By the time I was done with Guilherme’s exercises (only a couple of days after starting with the Kaggle micro-course), I felt ready to apply my newly acquired pandas skills to my own project, and to discover more about the module through it. There certainly were plenty more resources that a quick Google search returned, but none appealed as much to me at a first glance, as the two I finally went with.

I’m sure I have only scratched the surface when it comes to useful pandas learning resources, and I’m very curious to hear about those that others have found useful, and why, so that I can look them up as well! So do feel free to share them in the comments below.

A New Blog Series on the Music Tech Community – India Website

As some of you might already know, I have been volunteering with a few of my peers in India to promote awareness about Music Technology in the country through the Music Tech Community – India initiative. Upon my suggestion, during the past months we had agreed upon and planned to begin a new blog post series that would contain interviews with individuals engaged with Music Technology in India, or elsewhere but who are from India. We hope that readers of this blog post series will have much to learn from the experiences of these individuals and that this will help them gain valuable insights into the field and inspire them to shape their own careers in the future.

I’m very pleased to announce today that we just published the first post in this series on the website! It is an interview with an active member of the community and a researcher applying Information Retrieval techniques to Indian classical music – Ajay Srinivasamurthy. During the weeks that preceded the publication of the post, we got in touch with Ajay who kindly offered to take part in this initiative. You can read what Ajay had to say during the interview in the blog post.

I believe this is a great start, and I look forward to more of such interesting chats in the future!

Passed Rock School Grade 6 (Electric Guitar) Exam

A couple of weeks ago on Jun 9, 2017 I gave my first music certification exam – RSL Awards Rock School Grade 6 (Electric Guitar). I’m very pleased to share that I passed it with a distinction! Before the exam, I recorded my performances of the three pieces I chose to play as a part of it. The entire piece is given except the solos which have been composed by me. I uploaded them on YouTube, initially to share with my tutor, and now with everyone else! Here they are…

D’oro

I like using the Pomodoro Technique to remind me to take short breaks while I’m immersed in work. And I thought it would be nice to create a little command-line Pomodoro Timer for myself that will pop up desktop notifications telling me that it’s time to take a break. I call this very simple and minimal Pomodoro timer app D’oro and it can be invoked using a command called doro once it has been installed.

You can clone the repository from its Gitlab page . I intend to write an installation script and also create a Debian package for it in the future, but it works and I love using it everyday at work!

Breaking Down the Differentiable Neural Computer

Ever since first working with Recurrent Neural Networks (RNNs) for predicting musical sequences during my PhD, I have been fascinated by these models and try to keep up with exciting developments in connectionist machine learning research surrounding these models. One of these for me has been the emergence of RNNs that are augmented by a dedicated memory unit. The idea was notably illustrated as the Neural Turing Machine (NTM) in an ArXiV submission by Alex Graves and colleagues from Google DeepMind. This early work while having gathered a fair deal of acclaim in the community, has since been followed up in a publication in the prestigious journal Nature that introduces a more evolved variant of the NTM known as the Differentiable Neural Computer (DNC). During the past couple of weeks, I managed to spend some time learning about the NTM and the DNC and prepared a little slide-show (with Google Slides) containing my observations to share with others.

So here is the link to the slides, and I hope some of you who read it benefit from it! Please let me know if you find anything that needs to be corrected in it. I would appreciate that!

Let’s Encrypt for Free!

This is an account of how I went from no encryption, to almost getting a paid SSL certificate to finally making and installing a free one on my domain. It started with me setting up an ownCloud server on my hosting account to access and sync my data on the cloud after going from Dropbox, to Copy to Mega and finally to pCloud over a span of five or so years.

Why ownCloud?

Mainly because I have a shared hosting account with Arvixe (an excellent hosting service) with unlimited data storage, and I was curious as to how much of an effort it would be to set up my own cloud storage since hearing about ownCloud a couple of months ago. It turns out that it wasn’t much of an effort after all. I simply contacted the support team at Arvixe who made the ownCloud app available on my cPanel and then it was just a matter of filling a simple online form with little details such as where to store your data, which address to access the ownCloud web interface on, etc. The ownCloud project is fantastic! And from what I’ve seen, it has most (if not all) features that any other company like Dropbox or Mega has to offer. It took me 15 minutes to set things up, install the (Linux) client and sync my cloud storage (a folder on my hosting account) with a local folder.

So is that it? Turns out that there’s more. Since now I’m transferring data to and from my domain, it is preferred that the connection to the domain is secure. And the connection can be secured with SSL Encryption.

SSL Encryption

I won’t go much into TLS/SSL encryption here as there are plenty of resources online that explain it. It would suffice to know that it is a way for a website to secure the connection between itself and a visitor so that any data exchanged between the two is encrypted and not visible to a (potentially malicious) third party that is eavesdropping on the connection. This is necessary to prevent what is known as a man-in-the-middle attack where a hacker intercepts the connection between the website and its visitor and collects the data being transmitted between the two (which may sometimes be confidential, such as credit card numbers, personal identification numbers, etc.) without either the website or its visitor knowing about it.

The Chromium Browser address bar when the connection to the page is not secured (note the “http://”).

There has lately been a growing interest on the web to adopt SSL (or its successor TLS) to secure connections between them and their visitors. Google has even proposed to blacklist websites that don’t adopt the SSL protocol. At a first glance, one can know whether or not a website is secure by keeping an eye out for a green lock next to the address bar, and the fact that it says https://   (with the green lock symbol) in the addres bar instead of http:// . The s here stands for secure. And if you click on the green lock, it pops up a little window that shows who the site has been secured by.

The Chromium Browser address bar when the connection to the page is secured (note the “https://”).

All this stress on security and privacy is, in my opinion, justified. So given that now I’m transmitting my data between my local machine and my domain I decided it would be a good idea to adopt SSL encryption on my domain. This can be realised by obtaining an SSL certificate from a Certification Authority.

SSL Certificates and Certification Authorities

In order to obtain an SSL certificate for your domains, you should purchase it from a certification authority (CA) or a reseller who sells it at a cheaper rate sans some extra benefits of support that the CA would be able to offer for a higher price. Some of the most popular CAs around are Symantec, GeoTrust, GlobalSign, DigiCert and GoDaddy. Each of these CAs sells you a certificate for a fixed period of time – typically 1 to 3 years – and offers different packages such as Extended Validation, Wildcard domain certification, etc. For instance, have a look at what Symantec, GeoTrust and GlobalSign have to offer. These are very similar options but priced differently depending on the CA’s credibility (which apparently is a major factor in deciding whom to go with) and what is contained in the option.

On the other hand, there are companies that purchase certificates from the CAs in bulk and re-sell them at a cheaper rate. These are websites such as SSL Shopper, or even your own hosting company. I know my hosting company Arvixe re-sells certificates purchased from GlobalSign. Depending on whether you are purchasing your certificate from a re-seller or directly from a CA, the price varies between $17 (the lowest I could find for a RapidSSL certificate from SSL Shopper) to a few thousand dollars.

A CA or a re-seller issues you a certificate following a verification procedure that confirms that you are indeed the owner of the domain and that your company is a legitimate one whose credentials have been verified by this issuing authority. And the verification process is either manual or fully automatic and depending on how thoroughly it is done, the issuance of a certificate can take anything between a few minutes to a few weeks. I did not complete this process myself (for reasons explained below) but I do recall abandoning a few applications midway because it seemed like a hassle to provide them with information I didn’t even know the meaning of. And although an expensive, time-consuming and thorough process might make sense for a big company that is dealing in a lot of financial transactions and exchange of information with its customers with a lot at stake, I felt like it was an overkill in my case when all I wanted to secure was my personal domain and communications with my ownCloud server (remember?).

Now this all sounds good, and I was almost convinced that I should buy myself one of the cheaper certificates for a few dollars a year from SSL Shopper. And I gathered all this information over a week of looking things up in my free time. I was quite sure that I had covered all viable options but I couldn’t help wondering whether it’s possible to get an SSL certificate for my personal domain for free. One final DuckDuckGo search led me to a StackOverflow post that answered this question in affirmative!

Let’s Encrypt

The StackOverflow post pointed me to the Let’s Encrypt initiative which essentially offers means for one to generate SSL certificate oneself via a fully automated verification process. Not just that, it offers you with a host of ways in which this can be done depending on your level of comfort with using the command-line, cPanel or any other means through which verification can be carried out. I was skeptical that something like this is too good to be true, but it isn’t. Also, the project is sponsored by several well-known organisations such as the Linux Foundation, Mozilla, EFF and CISCO. And the certificate is accepted by all mainstream browsers. As a coincidence, I later found out that The Site Wizard, which I had referred to several times in the past while choosing a hosting provider, website templates, etc. is also secured by a certificate from Let’s Encrypt!

Now this was exactly what I wanted, i.e. to secure my personal domain so that I can transfer data between my location and my ownCloud server. It does not matter to me (at least for now) how much extra assurance a seal from a known CA such as DigiCert or Symantec gives a visitor to my website. Plus, it’s absolutely free. In my case, I had the certificate generated within minutes through ZeroSSL with an automated ACME verification process that involved me creating two files with specific content on my domain that were verified by this website. There are many alternatives to ZeroSSL, any of which can  be used as per one’s convenience. One thing to note is that the certificate issued by ZeroSSL is valid only for three months, but I don’t mind repeating the very simple process again when my current certificate expires.

Last Words

So to conclude, securing one’s website with a TLS/SSL certificate is not as hard or expensive as it may seem at first glance thanks to Let’s Encrypt. I’m very impressed by this initiative, and found it to be a perfect alternative for my needs given all other options known to me. The Let’s Encrypt team is currently seeking funding for their operations and I’m about to donate to it as a token of my appreciation. So if you are in a similar situation as I was before my research that led me to Let’s Encrypt, I hope you benefit from reading this post!

Jukedeck @ The Science Museum Lates

I had the opportunity to join my colleagues at Jukedeck – Patrick, Lydia, Eliza, Matt, Katerina and Gabriele – at the Science Museum Lates last night. For those of you that are unfamiliar with the concept, Lates are adults-only, after-hours theme nights that take place in The Science Museum (in London) on the last Wednesday of every month. It is attended by various organisations that would like to showcase their work relating to a chosen theme to an audience, as well as an audience that is keen on learning more about the science and technology underlying the theme. On the last day of August 2016, it was Jukedeck’s turn to show-off its awesome technology at the museum and some of us volunteered to tag along.

Lydia and me (in the background) explaining what Jukedeck and its technology is about to curious visitors at our stall.

The museum was packed with visitors, and it was great to see so many people interested in our technology! I hardly had the time to go grab some dinner amidst the constant stream of people wanting to listen to our music and know more about the underlying algorithms. To me, as someone who does the research and writes the code that generates our music, this was an incredibly rewarding experience to see first-hand the appreciation people had for our work. It’s, in many ways, like having a poster presentation at a conference but with a non-technical audience. I enjoyed it very muchIn the future, I’ll try my best not to let such opportunities pass. And I look forward to attending the event myself in the future as a spectator! If you happen to be in London around the time this event is on, I highly recommend attending it if you’re interested in science and technology.