Saturday, June 3, 2017

When a search giant abandons your country

Google "sri lanka news"
I am not sure what is going wrong. Is my country, Sri Lanka, just cricket, or is it something wrong with Google? When the entire country is suffering due to floods and land slides leaving up to 1/20 of the country's population affected, Google search on "Sri Lanka news" just returns news on Sri Lanka cricket.

I am not sure whether this is done systematically through some hidden involvement. It annoys me a lot. Are we really addicted to Cricket that much? Seriously? We have bigger problems and more important news at the moment. How can I trust the Internet, when the most popular search engine returns irrelevant news?

Please note that I used the private mode. So my results are not affected by my past views. So you cannot give the excuse that my search results are based on my previous clicks. If I want to read about Sri Lanka in cricket, I would search for "sri lanka cricket" instead. When I search for news, I want real news. Not stories of a certain sports or gossips about actors. This is not a one-time event. I tested Google several times for Sri Lanka news over the past years. It always disappointed me with cricket news. News is something that affects the people. At least they are the news that should pop up as the top stories. Google fails Sri Lanka miserably here.

On the other hand, duckduckgo, a newer search engine performs better, returning more relevant real news on Sri Lanka for the same search. Probably we all should switch to duckduckgo as our search engine.
duckduckgo "sri lanka news"


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

EMJD-DC Spring Event 2017

[30th May - 1st June, 2017] We had the Spring Event this year in Brussels. My presentation and the poster are given below.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

EMA GA 2017 at Brussels

May 26th - 27th: I have been a program representative (PR) of Erasmus Mundus Association (EMA) a few years for EMDC and EMJD-DC. However, unfortunately in the past, I missed the general assembly (GA) due to conflicts in schedules. I was the representative of EMDC master program in 2013. However, I could not attend the GA as I had the semester exams during the same days. In 2016, I was again the PR for EMJD-DC. I missed the opportunity to be present at the GA in Lugano, as I was waiting for my residence permit interview. 

This time in 2017, I made it to the GA in Brussels. I represented both EMDC and EMJD-DC this time! It is like 2013 (EMDC) and 2016 (EMJD-DC) combined. It felt nice to be there after previous failed attempts.

We had productive meetings and discussions on the past, current, and future of Erasmus Mundus. Good memories.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

ICTEAM Day at UCLouvain

May 23rd: We had an ICTEAM Day at Namur, where we presented our PhD work in 180 minutes as well as in a poster. My 180 minutes talk presentation is attached below.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

GSoC Regional Groups

This is the time of new students in GSoC. There have been some interests and discussions around GSoC regional groups in the GSoC mailing list.

The regional groups serve a purpose. They discuss country-specific issues, such as issue/delays in receiving the packages in certain countries, taxation in India, local meetups in different countries or regions, or discussions in your local languages (for example, discussions in Chinese in wechat China group).Many countries have their own group. If your country had little to no participation in the past, there is a possibility to have groups covering a larger regions. For example, the group for Africa: https://groups.google.com/d/forum/gsoc-africa

You will need to do a Google search to find your local groups.

I understand some emails may be uninteresting for the audience. But pls avoid sending an email saying "can we pls stop this discussion? It is annoying to me" First you are contributing to the noise by such an email. Second, usually it comes across rude. So avoid sending them unless you are one of the moderators.

A worse case I noticed was an email I noticed asking to stop the discussions on what IM to use. The sender decided to create a separate email thread to express his point. Usually the emails are organized nicely into threads. Avoid creating new threads to express your opinion. Use the same thread. That will avoid too much distraction. If someone is not interested in that particular topic, they may ignore or mute the topic.

Feel free to join or ignore any country or regional GSoC groups. They were typically created by past-students like us. You are not obliged to join them, though they are usually very welcoming to their local students (and are more tolerant to noise).

If you are from Sri Lanka, feel free to join the Google Sri Lanka Google group. It seems to be very passive in recent years though. 

I believe there is a separate Google group managed by GSoC admins to announce the meetups formally to the GSoC admins and others - google-soc-meetups@googlegroups.com I did not see much activity in that group.

Good luck with your GSoC and related meetups.
 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Redundancy can save you, when you control it smart: SDN Middlebox Architecture for Resilient Transfers

Recently we presented a poster on our work titled, "SDN Middlebox Architecture for Resilient Transfers" at IM 2017, Lisbon. You may find the abstract and the poster below. This paper discusses a core of my EMJD-DC PhD research.


Abstract: Leveraging Software-Defined Networking (SDN) and middleboxes, application-level policies can be propagated to the network. SMART is an SDN middlebox architecture that differentiates network flows based on tenant inputs. By leveraging FlowTags software middlebox in addition to the OpenFlow rules, it supports a larger scope of tenant preferences and rules from the application layer to alter the network flow behaviour. It thus ensures timely delivery of priority flows by dynamically diverting them to a less congested path or even cloning the packets of higher priority flows along with the original flow.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Predatory Recruiters and Where to Find Them

You may have seen many of those posts in LinkedIn with 1000s of likes: "Pls like this post if you are available to start working in Dubai, Doha, Singapore, and Abu Dhabi". These posts usually serve the purpose to increase the views and rankings of the recruiter. On the other hand, some of these posts are indeed partially genuine. They create a farm of potential recruits for the recruiter, to whom the recruiter will later send a mass email collecting CVs and personal information for a job that may or may not be relevant. Some of these jobs may not even exist.

I was recently contacted by a recruiter (Let's call him Tim) from such a predatory HR startup called Provide People on the pretence of a job in an open source company, through LinkedIn. He sent me a connection request (by that time he was a 2nd degree connection). He then messaged me to email him my CV. He referred to me as "Ganesh". This was the first warning that he was copy-pasting to a mass list. I was reluctant to reply to an email that was not even addressing my name properly. But he reminded me again. So I replied later.

Followed by that, he started asking personal questions such as "Current and expected salary, visa status". Further, he sent a coding challenge (or requested to share a link to a public code). I chose the latter. His sms-style language ("u" instead of "you", no proper capitalization. Are we talking in sms/twitter?) was a second warning. I did not pay too much attention to these warnings.


After a day or two, he replied that the company found that my CV does not have their required experience. I reminded him that it would be more appropriate to send the CV first and then find more personal information. He vigorously defended his stance, and CC'd the "co-founder" of his company so that the co-founder can support him. Interestingly the co-founder never replied to my email, defending his employee. Probably the co-founder is busy, fishing for the product (i.e. potential employees).

Part of the email communications are given below (omitting personal information):

Tim says:
[Quote]
Thank you…

What is your

Current salary:
Desired Salary:
Notice Period:
Visa Status:

Cheers
 
[/Quote]
---------------------------------------------

I shared with him in detail the notice period and visa status, though I explained him why it is not relevant to discuss the salary right now.

I later indicated him:

[Quote]
A piece of suggestion: Pls consult the employer next time on getting the first reply before asking personal questions such as
Current salary:
Desired Salary:

Notice Period:
Visa Status:
These questions can be left at a latter stage. Specially the salary details can be left to the final stages of the interview.

It wastes both of our time and invades my privacy unnecessarily. It did not reflect good on Provide. I will share my feedback with Provide later on this aspect.

Regards,
Pradeeban.

[/Quote]

----------------------------------------------------

Tim replies back sooner.


[Quote]

Hi Pradeeban,

Thanks for your thoughts. Unfortunately I must whole heartedly disagree with:
These questions can be left at a latter stage. Specially the salary details can be left to the final stages of the interview”. We need to know this information prior to submitting your CV… this is basic information all clients ask for prior to submission, it is part of our SLA agreement. It saves wasting time with potential candidates who’s salaries not online with client budgets budgets, have maybe inflated salary expectations, visa issues that we cannot support or too long a notice period if we need a hire to start within a month.

This might be the difference between the research and commercial worlds, but the R&D organizations I work for also request this basic information upfront. Image investing 4 hours of you time in interviews, just to get to the final stages and realise the salary we have is too low for you? For a client also, that could be up to 11 man hours wasted in interviews.

I have cc’d one of our founders, ***** ******,  into the email so you can talk openly. I am sure he will voice a similar stance to myself.

Kindest Regards
[/Quote]

--------------------------------------------------------------

I reply back now addressing the "co-founder". Let's call him Stephan:

[Quote]

Hi Stephan,
Probably Tim misunderstood or misrepresented my comment (that is in the email).

"These questions can be left at a latter stage"
A quick overlook of the CV to find the match requires just 2 minutes, specially for a rejection. You may ask further personal questions when there is a match based on CV, and when the employer showed the first interest (as in, "the CV looks good. I need more information").

The same can be mentioned about asking to do the coding challenge (defer it after to the first reply from the employer. I did not do the coding challenge. I just shared a link to my work. But if someone did a coding challenge before the CV screening, this is a waste of time for the prospective employee. I estimate it may take up to an hour for this coding challenge).

I stand by my stance on asking the salary details early on is a no-no. It should be left to the employer. It is better if the employer is transparent on potential offering instead. It is a win - win. But that is a separate topic/discussion.

I have interviewed myself candidates for junior roles for my previous employers in the US and Sri Lanka. Also in my experience, I had zero instance where a recruiter (those who represent companies and research labs) asked for my salary and visa details when the CV is not even shared with the employer. This is somewhat a predatory practice.

I would rather prefer if you contact the potential employees with more personal questions when there is some interest and match from the employer's perspective. But if this is your business model, I have no say on that.
But feel free to reflect upon these comments during an internal discussion.

Regards,
Pradeeban.
[/Quote]


------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


No replies from Stephan. Probably Stephan's email is not even valid. Or may be he does not care about us - we are his product. His customers are the employers.

What is next? Provide People and similar companies will ask questions such as "Are you pregnant? Do you have any life-challenging diseases?" to help the companies weed out these "anomalies" earlier? We are in a weird situation where employees are brain-washed to believe their founders. I believe Tim is one of them who "
must whole heartedly disagree with" me.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

SD-CPS: Taming the Challenges of Cyber-Physical Systems with a Software-Defined Approach

Today I presented my paper at SDS 2017. You may find the abstract and the presentation below.
Abstract: Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS) revolutionize various application domains with integration and interoperability of networking, computing systems, and mechanical devices. Due to its scale and variety, CPS faces a number of challenges and opens up a few research questions in terms of management, fault-tolerance, and scalability. We propose a software-defined approach inspired by Software-Defined Networking (SDN), to address the challenges for a wider CPS adoption. We thus design a middleware architecture for the correct and resilient operation of CPS, to manage and coordinate the interacting devices centrally in the cyberspace whilst not sacrificing the functionality and performance benefits inherent to a distributed execution.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Spring 2017

Flowers of Keukenhof
Finally the spring is here and the trees and weeds are full of flowers in Louvan-la-Neuve. Paid a visit to Keukenhof to witness more flowers.

We bought the 10 train pass ticket  for 77 Euros. It covers the journey inside Belgium, Louvain-la-Nueve to Essen. The remaining international train journey (Essen -> Leiden) is separately bought. There was no need to get down at Essen though. The journey was Louvain-la-Neuve -> Ottignies -> Brussels Nord -> Rotterdam -> Leiden.

From Leiden, the combination ticket costs 24 Euro, which covers the return bus journey from Leiden to/from Lisse (Keukenhof), in the bus 854. It takes 32 mins each way. If you just buy the entrance pass to Keukenhof without the bus pass, it would cost 16 Euro/person. The combination ticket can be bought from the AKO bookstore in Leiden train station.

Leiden is a beautiful university town, located conveniently on the way to Keukenhof. The bus stop is just in front of the train station. So it is best to stay close to the train station.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Why I would not give up my seat for 800 $

A weekend trip to NYC.
It might sound reasonable for someone to assume that 800 $ or the advertised maximum (of United) 1350 $, a reasonable deal for someone to voluntarily give up their flight seat. If you think about it, 800 $ is way too little to even consider that.

I am trying to recall voluntary reboarding of passengers by United Airways in the recent past. If I remember correct, they started with 400 $ and increased to 800 $ to find volunteers to give up their seat in a flight bound to Newark from Atlanta. They managed to find volunteers. 

I would not give up my seat for 800$ for many reasons. First, that trip was a long-weekend trip to NYC. Any delay would make us lose one day out of our 3 days in NYC. We have a hotel booked. If our flight is delayed by a day, they are not going to return the money we paid (400 $ / day). If the delay is beyond 2 days, the 800$ is already below the mark, and we would basically have to cancel our long-planned vacation.

Now the second situation. Mostly I travel for conferences. Many times I had to present a paper on the arrival day (or the day following that if arrived on a Sunday evening). If I am delayed (unless by a few hours), I would lose the chance to present my paper. As a PhD student, presenting my research is very important for me. I am not going to give up this opportunity even if I do not lose anything monetary if I am delayed. Don't expect me to give up even for a very high bribe.

Third, on my way back home, I often have other important tasks to handle. For example, after I returned from Croatia to Lisboa in 2015 summer, I immediately had to go to San Jose for OpenDaylight Conference. If my flight is delayed, my onward travel plans will be affected. Cannot volunteer. I may give up my seat in fear of United Airways style cop-violence though.

Conch Salad in the Bahamas
Usually flights define a crucial point in most of our lives. We don't fly every day. When we fly, it is usually for an important event - a conference, a long-planned vacation, or meeting family after a long time. Our days during the flights are usually more valuable than the other days. It is childish to assume 800 $ for the delay is sufficient for the distress caused to the economy class passenger (since it is highly unlikely someone who earns more than 800$ ends up in the economy class, which is also fondly called "cattle class").

It does not mean I would not give up my seat for 800 $ at all. There are certain situations that I would be more than happy to volunteer. We were in our way back home from Nassau after a long weekend in the Bahamas. It was a Delta flight. It was not overbooked. So no one was asked to give up their seat. But think of it. If they give us 400 or 800 $ each for the inconvenience caused by the travel plan change and give us a hotel stay for the delayed day with vouchers for the dinner, why not? We would be happy to extend our holiday by one more day. But it did not happen, of course.

I will be more willing to volunteer if I am returning home from a week-long trip. But if I am on my way to my destination, unlikely that I give up. It will screw up my travel plans - conferences, booked hotels, and important vacation time. Airlines need to come up with better compensation packages than the involuntary inhumane "re-accommodating" process. 

You should also read the cruel response from the CEO of United, Oscar Munoz. I hope justice will be served eventually.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Long Transits in Dubai with Emirates

Trying to capture this tallest building inside the frame
I used to be a frequent traveler of Emirates when Colombo was my central airport. After a long time, we were back to Emirates. This time we had a transit of 12 hours and 40 minutes. Emirates offer free visa (otherwise would cost ~120 AED), free accommodation with meals and transport to/free the accommodation in Dubai, as long as certain conditions are met. The transit should be long (more than 9 hours, if I remember correct), and should be the shortest possible transit in the route (means, you cannot choose to book a latter flight just to be eligible to this offer, when an earlier option is available).

We had a nice sleep, and felt refreshed for our onward journey. Also the hotel had a package tour for 2 hours where they took us around the city and dropped us back for 30 USD/person. It was a good experience. Emirates actually do not advertise this free stay during transits in their web site. The entire thing is kind of obfuscated. Probably they do not want this to be an advertising/marketing point. Everything was smooth. Thanks Emirates. Impressed again.

Beware of Robbers in the Public Transport

Colombo, feels just like a very familiar city. Deja vu.
So I was in this bus during a recent visit to Sri Lanka. This conductor guy was standing next to me when I was about to get down. I felt he was too close and some touches in the backside of my backpack. I assumed he mistakenly was touching as the bus was moving. As I got down, my glass box fell down from the small front pocket of my bag. Now it all made sense to me. He assumed that was my wallet in the small pocket. He thought I was easy prey. Because of his stupidity, the box broke falling down. He kept staring at me as the bus moved on - he probably did that involuntarily as he noticed me taking the box from the ground, or probably he wanted to see whether I identify his trick and react (how? by chasing the moving bus? or by shouting? I did not react except giving an angry face at our failed system). He managed to wide open the bag though nothing valuable was there for him to steal. It is a sad state - the conductors are expected to serve the passengers, not to rob them. Next time when you are in Sri Lanka, beware of these bus conductors. From my overall experience, most of these guys are unpleasant. Based on the last experience, some can be robbers too!

A similar incident happened in Brussels Nord train station too. We were boarding the train, tired after a long flight. One middle-aged woman (~35) presumably of east European origin based on her looks, jumped the queue. Then another 2 of her friends, jumped in front of me, making a distance between me and my girl. We were with luggage. One woman, inside the train, was pulling my girl's big luggage talking something in a language that sounded new and strange, as if she was helping her (but actually she was merely dragging. not helping). In the mean time, the 3rd woman in front of me, was pretending to help me drag luggage too. I was kinda annoyed by that time. No one jumps queues in Europe usually. At least in the west. These were women. So I tend to let them pass. However, we were with luggage. No reason to make us suffer. But when I got in, I noticed my girl's front bag (where she had her cash, mobile, and all other valuable items) was wide open. 

While one woman managed to distract her by pulling her big luggage, and other doing the same trick on me, the other one in the middle managed to wide open her small front bag (that usually is for passport, documents, and cash during the flights). Luckily for us, as soon as I boarded the train, I noticed the bag open. I loudly announced, "Your bag is open. We have robbers in this bus". I looked at the women. Not because I immediately guessed they were the robbers. But they were the ones interacting with us. It took me a second to realize what is going on. By this time, sensing a retaliation, one of those robbers told me quick, "Oh, we are going to airport. Wrong train", and all 3 robbers jumped the train and disappeared in a second!

My girl confirmed she did not lose anything. The robbers almost rob us. So it can be decent looking women too. Don't assume the robbers are usually ugly men. The sad part of the entire story - no one in the train was bothered to listen, interfere, or react while we were having these conversations or when I announced that we were almost robbed. Probably they are used to all these dramas. Or probably they thought we all belong to a same team, giving a performance to rob someone else? Who knows.

This is the second scam we encountered in Brussels. To read more about the first one: How to Overcome an Uber Scam.

Back to my EMJD-DC busy life.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Luxembourg by Public Transport

Louvain-la-Neuve, the village of the second (current) university of my PhD sleeps during the Sundays. Almost everything shuts down, as students disappear from the village to their hometowns during Friday evenings to reappear only on Sunday nights. Since it was getting a bit boring during the weekends in this small village, we decided to visit the nearest country, Luxembourg. We first have to go to Ottignies and transit there to take a train to Luxembourg, that originates from Brussels - Midi station.

Usually, this costs 51.60 Euro/person to go to Luxembourg by train from the village. However, on weekends, the local public transport has a 50% discount in Belgium. This leads to the final price of 35.40 Euro/person in the weekends. One ticket from Louvain-la-Neuve to Arlon (Belgium) that costs 23 Euro for a return trip, and the next from Arlon to Luxembourg for return trip for 12.40 Euro. The transit remains the same though the tickets are broken as the above to separate the local trip from the international part of the journey.

For 4 euros, you may purchase a daily pass that you can use to travel anywhere in the country by bus or train. Hop on Hop off buses and toy trains were not available during our visit, as they start only from April. Many shops were closed on Sundays. Some were closed as it is still off-season. However, tourists were already there. Luxembourg city was quite boring compared to other cities. Even Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein, scored better in my opinion. But Luxembourg is still worth visiting once. If you ask me, any country is worth a visit at least once, anyway.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Cut the LinkedIn Small Talk

One of the most annoying LinkedIn marketers I have encountered - those who add you out of nowhere (3rd degree connections, usually). Then they start a small talk with you.

Some advises:
1. Don't add random people and start messaging them in LinkedIn - at least read their profile well to see whether they would be interested in your message. No need to waste both of your time by a boring chat.
2. If you have the urge to do so, do it as a single message, a paragraph. I don't use LinkedIn as a chat client.

The marketer small talk usually goes weird and slow, as if they were asking me out. I help them these days to cut this small talk short. By this way, I help them end this within  a few minutes.

In the above chat, I helped end the chat sooner with the counter-question "How can I help you?" instead of answering "I am fine, thanks, how are you?", then waiting for their follow up answer and further small talk on how bad the weather these days. Second, the short and direct reply "No" helped them stop the chat without further small talk such as "Good bye", "Hope to make business with you again".

Though I come across rude in the above chat and sharing this blog post, you should realize that this is not a single message. We, each of us, receive a ton of such messages in LinkedIn. So this is a collective annoyance.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Thiruvannamalai 2017

The temple before the sun rise!
Paying a visit to Thiruvannamalai was in our list for a long time. Eventually, had the opportunity. It was a magical experience to visit the temple before the sun rise, and experience the morning sun.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Every time Skype updates

Microsoft attempting to force two of their failed products to their unsuspecting users.
I am not sure how ethically correct it is for Microsoft to try to trick the Skype users into setting Bing as the search engine, and MSN as the home page!

I feel it is morally incorrect to make the boxes ticked by default. Have I not paid attention, I would have mistakenly set MSN as the home page and Bing as the search engine. 

I did not visit MSN even once for the past decade, and I don't think I have ever used Bing. This is bad - really bad - more like a virus or adware from Microsoft's end to hijack Skype users. Unsuspecting non techie users may end up with a default home page and default search engine they never asked for. 

Microsoft, pls stop! Get more users in the right way - not by tricking the innocent users and wasting their time! I find it amusing that the third choice, "Make Edge (or IE) as my default browser" is not forced too.

P.S: I vaguely recall mistakenly installing and making McAfee as the default anti-virus when I installed Adobe Reader a year or two ago. So apparently Microsoft is not the only offender.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

TripAdvisor: How fake reviews can ruin your travel diaries..

There are many fake reviews in TripAdvisor. It is easy to spot one that harvests fake reviews. They are usually reviewers just have reviewed only the current one with a 5*. This is not to say that all the once-only reviewers are fake. But if a place is reviewed all 5* by these newbies, that should ring a bell. Moreover, I have seen in freelancing sites "employers" asking for 100s of reviews in sites such as TripAdvisor for a hundred dollars! It can also be friends filling TripAdvisor reviews for a restaurant owner, or even the restaurant employees creating multiple fake accounts to accumulate 5* ratings. 

It can also be social engineering. When I stayed in New Delhi in 2012, the hotel owner asked me to rate them 5* in TripAdvisor. That was my first review! I guess a normal person would have given 5*. Does not hurt. right? But I gave 4*, the rating I thought the hotel deserves (than what the owner hinted)! Would be easier to manipulate one's rating with some benefit (like a discounted rate) though. I am not going to give fake 5* ratings for free stuff though. :) I hope.

Always check the 1* ratings. They may show how the place mistreats the visitors. Also 4* ratings. They tend to be the genuine happy customers. Fake reviewers always give 5*. Not 4*. No one pays to give 4* ratings! Similarly, 2* ratings tend to be more rational than 1* too, unless the restaurant is really fishy and unpleasant.

I sent a detailed report to TripAdvisor content-integrity sometime back on a sample situation. Their response was along the lines of "At the same time, we have privacy policies in place which prevent us from being able to divulge to anyone external to TripAdvisor the results of any investigations."

Apart from being Nepal restaurants in Europe, what is the other similarity shared by "Sushi King, Wijnegem", "Sushi King, Malle", "Leo, Lisbon, Portugal", and "Fishtail, Lisbon, Portugal"? They all have been reviewed by the same set of early reviewers who gave 5* reviews with extra-ordinary positive reviews. These reviewers also created their accounts just to review these restaurants!

The first 2 restaurants are in Belgium and as their name suggests, are owned by a same chain. The last 2 are in Portugal, and owned by an individual (see the attachment for proof, taken from TripAdvisor). There are many accounts that were created to review 2 or 3 among these or just 1 of these restaurants! Some of these reviewers have reviewed 1 or 2 of these restaurants more than once! (5-star each time).

I have attached two reviewers with this association for these 4 restaurants. There are many. Just go through each of these restaurants and click the 5-* ratings. You can see reviewers created solely to review one or a few of these 4 restaurants. All these reviewers are Nepalese or Indian.

I can do an association rule mining across all these profiles and get more associations to show how these reviewers are having a strong correlation with each of these. These 4 may be more than 4. I mean, if you find a 5th association, try to build a cluster to see whether they share the same pattern. I am just a volunteer TripAdvisor member. I gave up after finding 4.

1. It is highly unlikely that a large share of reviewers visited all 4 of these restaurants in 2 different countries, and created their accounts to review only these 4!
2. I suspect they have some incentives.
2.1. I have previously seen random employers in freelancer websites seeking freelancers to bulk review their pages in Facebook, TripAdvisor, etc..
2.2. They are probably friends of the owner. In case of Leo, it is currently #1 in Lisboa with just 136 reviews. These reviews can be from bots. Even if they are from real humans, it is not hard to find 136 "friends" for an Indian/Nepalese restaurant owner in Portugal.
3. Given that Leo is the #1 in Lisboa now, unsuspecting tourists visit there since it is a "must" now, as listed #1 by TripAdvisor. Some of them are satisfied naturally. The food is not bad - and deserve 3* - 4* anyway. So they leave a positive review. Some were a bit disappointed learning this is just yet another Indian restaurant. However, the initial bootstrap from the fake reviewers were strong enough for Leo.

As a continuous volunteer reviewer in TripAdvisor, I am disappointed to learn that TripAdvisor's approval workflow is not smart yet.

1) The ranking algorithm should be changed to
1.1) ensure a meritocracy than a democracy. In the Internet, each account is not necessarily a human. So democracy in such systems is flawed. Currently, there is no difference getting 100 5* reviews from fake accounts or bots and 100, real reviewers with proven track record.
1.2) give more importance to the number of reviews. 1000 4* reviews are probably better than 4.5* rating with 137 reviews. This should of course not harm the new businesses. So needs a smart approach. Requires further research. Currently this is the loophole how Leo managed to become the first in Lisboa!
2) The approval workflow should consist of a data mining approach to ensure reviews are not creating a pattern. As of now, I was able to find a pattern very easily among these companies. With a large set of engineers and the management interface/API, this should be simple for TripAdvisor team.
3) Fix the reporting system. Currently it is a bot. First, I report, and a canned response asked me to send an email to this address. I am not even sure whether this will be considered properly.

Leo coming to the top spot reminds me the story - http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/tripadvisor-denies-rating-system-is-flawed-after-fake-restaurant-tops-rankings-in-italy-10354818.html

The difference is Leo actually exists as a normal Indian/Nepalese restaurant. But there are much better Nepal or Indian restaurants around, and this surely is not the #1 of Lisboa.

These first 100 reviews were given by fake reviewers to give an initial bootstrap to secure the first place, and following were social engineering. The tourists who blindly follow TripAdvisor and pay a visit here assuming this to be the best of Lisboa. Following this huge popularity, this small canteen restaurant is even unable to cope with the number of customers, making the waiting time grow large. Unsuspecting customers take all these positively. Some even fell for the mediocre Indian food, which can also be found in any other Indian/Nepal/Bengal restaurant around.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

How to Overcome an Uber Scam

Louvain-la-Neuve, by night
When I was in the US, all the Uber and Lyft drivers I met were honest and professional. This may be also because of my limited experience with Uber or Lyft.

Arrived in Brussels airport (BRU), we got to know that the Uber is not allowed near the main entrance. So after ordering the Uber, we meet him at the car park level 3. From the beginning, he started insisting that we pay in cash or by credit card. I told him that does not make sense to me as we pay by the application and this would lead to a double payment. He said, he would cancel the ride and then we can pay. He explained that this would help him avoid paying commission to Uber. He told us that when we pay 60 euro to uber, all he gets may be 50 euro. He repeated in French and his broken English that he prefers cash, throughout the journey.

We met a friend in the university, and continued to our apartment in Louvain-la-Neuve. After making him wait till we locate the apartment and unload the luggage, we finally said good bye. He smiled and asked for a 5-* rating in Uber nicely. Since everything went well (and he did not force us to get out though we did not accept his demand by payment in cash or credit card), I told him, "Of course, sure". I also got his phone number, since he explained that Uber does not work in Louvain-la-Neuve (LLN) - This is true. I verified it myself.

This is where the scam begins. After dropping us and leaving, he continued his journey (probably a return to his home or Brussels) - as we saw in Uber app. We noticed he did not end the trip though we have already got down a few minutes ago. We did not know what to do now, as this was our first experience - usually the drivers ended the journey the moment we got down. We were contemplating should we call him and ask him what is going on? We were thinking shall we cancel the trip. Our worry was, what if we cancel the trip and he does not get even any money at all (which is bad, as we indeed have arrived at the destination). That is my lack of knowledge on how Uber works.

Eventually, we decided to cancel the trip, to avoid getting charged like 200 euro, as he continues his journey, pretending to be riding us. We cancelled after a few minutes. I was still worried whether he would return and demand me pay by cash since I have now cancelled the journey. We were charged 76.14 Euro from Uber for this ride (I actually felt relieved to see that I was indeed charged!). However, I estimate this ride has cost us 15 Euro in addition to what he deserved. 

So the learning experience: after getting down from Uber, always check that the driver has stopped the journey and not continue to charge you for a journey that you never even had!

Of course, he has received a 1-star rating from me for overcharging and annoying us throughout the journey in French and broken English that we should pay in cash or card. Probably he was planning to double charge us - charge by app, as well as cash! Probably we were lucky that our lost was minimal compared to what he was planning for (for example, if we accepted to pay by cash, he may have demanded 85 euro, the regular taxi rate from BRU Brussels Airport to LLN), or even more.


Update:

We reported this to Uber the next day. Mentioned how the driver overcharged us and also insisted that we pay by cash. Uber refunded 12.39 euro in 4 days since we reported. This was an effective and quick resolution. Thanks, Uber!

The response from Uber:
My driver asked for cash payment

Wednesday, February 1, 2017 at 6:39:09 PM · uberX
Hi Pradeeban,


Thank you for giving me notice of this problem. Feedbacks from our users are important in order to provide a high quality service. I am sorry for the driver's attitude, such a behaviour does not meet our standards and I will have a talk with the driver.



Indeed, it appears that the trip has not been cancelled directly beyond the destination therefore I will adjust the price.



Let me know if you have any other questions or feedback.

Regards,
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Previous Charge - 76.14
Refunded Personal - 12.39
New Total - 63.75 Euro
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
P.S: Keep using Uber. Just be careful of the scam drivers in Brussels or anywhere else. Feel free to use my referral code: pradeebank2ue to get your first ride free!

If you are an Uber driver, don't assume that all the foreigners are easy prey for your scam. Of course they are new and may be naive. But does not worth it. Any rider can report these scam behaviours, and hopefully get it resolved. Pls avoid giving bad first expressions to your country when probably you are the first local he/she would meet.

P.P.S: Finally, getting settled in LLN for the second part of my PhD.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Changing the address in Portugal's Financas portal

This took me some time to find how to change the address using the online portal for the Financas of Portugal. Writing them below for future references.
 
Financas Index Page
To change address:
https://www.portaldasfinancas.gov.pt/alterarMoradaSingularesForm1.action

You will receive the confirmation code by post to the new address in 5 days. 
Once you received the code by post, to confirm the change address, visit the index page:
https://www.portaldasfinancas.gov.pt/pt/menu.action?pai=154


Thursday, January 5, 2017

Changing Indentation in LaTeX Pseudocode

By default the algorithmic package indents 2 em. It can be reduced or increased using a simple command.

Just place

\algrenewcommand\algorithmicindent{0.5em} % or any other value as you wish

before

\begin{document}

This will reduce or increase the indentation as you prefer.