Early MS-DOS and Word for Windows source code released

Hello everyone,

What I am sharing made the news already, but in case you missed it, here it is:

On ~March 25, 2014, the Computer History Museum (CHM) announced today that it has, with permission from Microsoft Corporation, made available original source code for two historic programs:

  • MS-DOS, the 1982 “Disk Operating System” for IBM-compatible personal computers [link]
  • …and Word for Windows, the 1990 Windows-based version of their word processor [link]

For more reference, please check here:

http://www.computerhistory.org/press/ms-source-code.html

 

Enjoy!

How your Yahoo! Mail account can be hacked with phishing – A real life example explained

Introduction

In this article, I am going to illustrate a real life scenario where an attempt to hack my email account was carried by fooling me into giving my user name / password through a fake website that looks like Yahoo! Mail.

Such attacks, where the victim is lured into entering information in what looks like an innocent website, are called “phishing attacks”. Wikipedia defines “phishing” as the following:

Phishing is the act of attempting to acquire information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details (and sometimes, indirectly, money) by masquerading as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication

In the subsequent sections I will show you how the attack is carried, how you can inspect such emails by yourself and then conclude by giving you some safety guidelines.

The attack

A few days ago I received an email to my Yahoo! Mail account with the subject “IP Check!”:

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Of course, such a subject is highly unusual and besides when Yahoo! sends emails they are accompanied by a small Yahoo! icon.

I click on the email to see its contents:

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As you can see, the content of the email does not make much sense. The attackers could have been more creative so I fall into the scam but even still, I always double check all suspicious emails.

I clicked on the sender’s name, in this case the sender show as: “Y! Notifications” in order to see the email address of the sender.

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The sender is “Eugene Bass” who has an AOL.com email account. You should ask yourself: “How come Yahoo sends an email to its users using AOL email”?

After you ask this question you should grin! :)

So far, no harm done except for impersonating a sender. I continue examining the contents of the email and I see a link. Now the fun part starts!

The first thing to do is: “DO NOT CLICK”, just move the mouse over the link and observe the status bar (at the bottom of your browser window):

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Two things we observe which are common factors of most phishing attacks:

  1. The link is hidden and looks nice. What you see is a “Click here” and not the full address
  2. The link takes you to the attacker’s website. In this case, you will be redirected to “http://espanaga.hostingsiteforfree.com” website

These two indicators are enough for me to just delete the email and block the sender.

Going down the rabbit hole

For the sake of educating the readers of this article, I continue the investigation and explain what happens when I click the malicious link and go to the phishing website.

WARNING: do not do that if you are not a tech savvy person. I used a disposable virtual machine to open unsafe links and do my phishing investigations.

Clicking the link takes us to this page:

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Looks like Yahoo! Mail’s website, right? :)

In fact, it does look a bit like it. Take a look at the actual Yahoo! Mail website:

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The most important thing to observe is the address bar. The phishing site has the address bar’s background colored in red and there is also a red shield icon (and next to it a text saying “Unsafe website”). It is hard to observe the difference between the two websites because the attacker makes sure that the phishing website look as close as possible to the real Yahoo! Mail website.

To further inspect the malicious page, and using Microsoft Internet Explorer 11, I press F12 to trigger the debugger / webpage inspector.

My goal is to see where the information gets submitted to when I press “Sign in”:

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After locating the form element in the page, I observed that the “action” of the “form” tag leads to another page on the attacker’s website called “login.php”.

Now let me explain to you in layman’s terms what is actually happening:

  1. You receive an email
  2. You get fooled and follow the link from the email
  3. You land on a site that looks like Yahoo! Mail that is asking you again to enter your user name / password
  4. You innocently enter the information and press “Sign in”
  5. The page “login.php” (in this case) which is also hosted on the attacker’s website, will collect the user name / password and store them or email them to the attacker.
    1. The funny thing is that if you enter any wrong information it does not matter
    2. The “login.php” does not validate your credentials, it merely log them. Why don’t you type then: “Hello attacker” as user name and “Busted” as password as a way to frustrate the attacker and tell him that you discovered his/her or their game? :)
  6. Voila! Your email is hacked
  7. The “login.php” page, having collected your credentials, will now redirect you back the the real Yahoo! Mail website. This is an important step so it does not raise your suspicion!

Your web browser can save you

Modern browsers can defend you from phishing attacks. Web browsers such as Microsoft Internet Explorer or Google Chrome have anti-phishing technology built-in. The technology mainly works and identifies a site as a phishing site as soon as it knows about it. For that reason, the phishing website can go undetected for a while until the browsers picks it up and mark it as such.

Microsoft Internet Explorer for instance employs the “SmartScreen” technology to detect such websites and warn you when you visit them. If you had clicked on the link you received via email and your browser already knows about this phishing website, you will be notified like this:

image

In that case, just click the “Go to my home page instead”. I am tempted to say “click on the links with the green check mark next to them” but that too can be used by scammers to fool you!

The most important fool proof indication is the address bar. If the address bar (where the URL is entered) is red and you see the red shield, this is an indication of something “phishy” :)

If the address bar is not visible (and you did not hide it manually), you should be suspicious as well.

Safety notes and conclusion

One can never be more careful these days when surfing the web. To increase your online safety, these are simple steps you can follow:

  • Always verify the sender’s email address (not just the name). Click on the name to see what’s the real email address. Untrusted / unknown senders should trigger your suspicion
  • Never click on links unless you really have to:
    • Verify the link and see if it really point to where it claims to be. In our example above, the link should be related to Yahoo! Mail and not some free hosting provider
    • If you click the links, be very suspicious if you are prompted to enter your credentials again
  • Never download attachments:
    • Attachments can be very deceiving. An EXE file disguised as an innocent PDF file. That can be a malware, a backdoor or a virus.
    • Even if it is a real PDF or MS Word Document, be careful. Document processing software can be buggy and a malicious input document can exploit your machine
    • In case of doubt, download the document but do not open it. Let your Antivirus scan it first
  • Use “Two factor authentication” whenever you can. This is a long topic and requires an article for itself, however know that if your web mail provider offers two factor authentication then opt-in for it. If your password is compromised the other factor is less likely to have been compromised (for example, the second factor can be a challenge code your receive as SMS on your cell-phone)

Please leave your comments and suggestions. If you have a similar insightful phishing story that happened with you or your loved ones please share the story so it enlighten others.

Thank you.

Resetting NTFS files permission in Windows – Graphical Utility

Update 09/17/2013: New version release. Check the download section

Hello,

It seems many people found the post entitled “Resetting NTFS files security and permission in Windows 7” very useful, however many were having problems executing the steps properly.

For this reason, I made a small graphical utility to achieve this task:

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Usage

This utility needs administrator privilege in order to run. Once you run it, it will elevate itself.

To use it, first click on “Choose folder” to select the folder you want to reset permissions then press “GO” to proceed.

Sometimes it is necessary to take ownership of the files before resetting their permission. For that reason please check the “Take ownership” option.

[Click here to download the utility executable] or [the source code]

Please support my efforts and time put into writing entries and maintaining this blog by donating money through Paypal:

Thank you.

Me, myself and smoking cigarettes – A little story

Introduction

Hello everyone,

In this blog post I am going to share with you my story with smoking cigarettes for five or so years, how it all started, why I stopped and how.

I will try to make this post pleasant to read and inspirational so by the end of it you will get encouraged to think again about your smoking habit.

Before we begin, would you care for a short story?

My dad was a heavy smoker

For 20 years of his life, my dad was a heavy smoker. In fact, his smoking habit made me hate cigarettes and smoking. Here’s his story:

In my youth, my dad worked abroad but he would return back home from time to time.

Each time he’s abroad, I start to forget what cigarettes smells like in a car with windows closed. What a bliss!

One time, after he came back for a visit, he was driving my sisters and myself to school. I was like 12 years old, the smoke in the car bothered us so I said to him in fury: “Go back abroad, we were happy without the smell of your cigarettes”.

Little did I know that what I said as a young boy had a huge effect on my dad. My dad continued to smoke during his visit and then traveled back to work overseas.

A year later when he came back, we were surprised to see that he had given up smoking completely.

The family asked him: “Why did you stop smoking?” and his reply was humble and simple: “It is bad for my health”.

What happened, how and why he really did it stayed on my mind and kept me wondering secretly.

One day, I was at the same barber where my dad and I have our haircuts. The barber, like most barbers, befriends and chit-chats with his clients.

On one occasion, the barber boasted: “Did you know that your dad stopped smoking because of you?”

“What?!”, I exclaimed. The barber replied back: “Yes, your dad said that you hurt his feelings. It was hard for him to hear that you did not miss him rather you were wishing him to go away just because of cigarette smell. You and your words were the reason he stopped smoking”.

Later in my adult life, I asked my dad: “So how did you stop smoking?”

His reply was simple but not very helpful: “I just decided to stop so I stopped. Cold turkey”.

Me: “What about temptation and the 20 years habit?”

Dad: “Yes, at first it was hard but I maintained my decision and after a while the desire to smoke started to fade away slowly but surely. Now, If I smell cigarette smoke on people it really bothers me”.

How I got hooked to smoking

One of my very close friend is a heavy smoker. He smokes around 30 cigarettes a day (at least). Hanging out with this friend makes you a passive smoker.

One day I decided to borrow a cigarette from him and see what it tastes like.

The first cigarette was a bit hard and disgusting to smoke. As a beginner, I did not swallow the smoke, however I still coughed and hated the taste.

I loved the feeling I got from the first cigarette though. It was a pleasant dizzy feeling with a mix of relaxation and tension relief. The feeling did not last long enough and so I wanted to smoke one more to extend those pleasant feelings.

Over the course of weeks, one cigarette lead to another. Just because of the feeling I got from the first cigarette, my mind believed the promise that smoking gives a pleasant dizzy feeling.

For a period of three month, I was smoking occasionally but only when I hang out with friends that smoke and that let me borrow cigarettes from them.

Slowly but surely, three month of occasional smoking by borrowing cigarettes from friends made me more dependent on cigarettes.

During that initial period, I never bought a pack. It was not because I am cheap, instead it was because I felt that if I have my own pack I will smoke more.

After a while, I did not accept to borrow anymore so I started buying my own packs but with one condition: I will exercise my “strong will power” to retain my “occasional smoker” status.

Every smoker knows that smoking will eventually become out of control and there will be times when you will smoke more than your “will power” was willing to permit.

Bottom line: I got hooked!

The “benefits” I enjoyed while smoking

Shortly after I started carrying my own pack, cigarettes became my buddies, always in my pocket.

I would take breaks, go out and spend my private five minutes with my cigarettes or with other smokers.

I started to form the “typical smokers’ habits” by observing others, watching movies or ads.

A cigarette in the morning is a ritual for many, it became my own ritual as well. After lunch, a cigarette is a bliss. Sometimes, as I learned from observing my friend, I would take a break in the middle of the meal and smoke a cigarette then continue eating.

With alcohol, cigarettes taste much better. I smoked more with drinks!

At work, when stressed out it was a perfect excuse to take a break.

Chain smoking was not a strange thing to me, in fact, I was a natural. I did not see or learn from anyone how to do it. It felt obvious to me to light the next cigarettes using the previous cigarette before it dies out.
I would chain smoke when I abstain for longer periods without smoking (as if subconsciously trying to compensate).

So why was I smoking for five years, almost a pack every two or three days?

As I come to think about it now, it seems I believed that smoking was pleasant and beneficial:

  • It helped me with stress and stress relief
  • It gave me a moment to escape from situations and be alone
  • It was enjoyable while drinking alcohol or black coffee
  • It was an ice breaker that helped me socializing with other smokers
  • It was a reward to myself after a long stretch of not smoking
  • I was simply hooked and smoking was a way to relief the addiction

As I will explain in the next section, all those “benefits” are nothing but an illusion.

Why I decided to stop smoking?

My smoking habits and addiction started to interfere with my health and my social image.

At least once a month I would have an infected throat or become susceptible to  flu and remain sick for a long time.

I would be doing a physical activity or simply running but mucus nor coughing would cease from interfering with my performance.

I would be in social gathering and I would stink.
Similarly, being in a company of a special one, a kiss makes me too much self aware and uncomfortable because in my own mind I think that “I stink”

Certain places frown upon smokers. Hanging around fancy buildings or outside restaurants next to dumpster bins is a very humiliating act by itself.

When I had to go for long flights, it was agonizing not to be able to smoke when I wanted.

Some airports had small cubicles for smokers. In such cubicles, other smokers will cram inside with you so that you all smoke together. An active smoker is also a passive smoker in that room.

Some other times, I would be partying late, having fun and drinking a lot and then realize that I ran out of cigarettes. Imagine the pain when I figured out that the only way to smoke is to beg or borrow a cigarette.

While I never did that myself, some people would approach me to buy a cigarette for one dollar!

What about standing outside a night club and stopping total strangers and begging for a cigarette (perhaps I did that once or twice)?

What if you were living in an apartment complex where they have a strict “NO SMOKING” policy. Imagine each time you want to smoke, you have to walk out of your apartment, take the elevator all the way down to the street, find a smoker friendly spot around the building and have a cigarette. That is at least 15 minutes lost per cigarette!

During my 5+ years, I had suffered from various embarrassing and humiliating experiences, diseases, set backs and other things and all of that is because of smoking.

Dear reader, if you are a smoker or ex-smoker, you may have identified yourself with one of the scenarios I described above. There is no need for me to tell you more about all my other experiences with smoking, just reflect back and look at your own life as a smoker.

How I stopped smoking?

First, I asked myself the golden question:

What am I really getting when I smoke?

By answering sincerely, my response was:

Nothing beneficial

Being inspired by my dad, reaping no benefits whatsoever from smoking and due to all of the reasons I described above, I took the decision to stop smoking.

Taking the decision is the first step. Believing in yourself that you can do it and making sincere efforts to stop smoking is the second step.

It was during the birthday party of a neighbor that was my smoking buddy that I took the decision to stop smoking.

I bought Allen Carr’s (The Easy Way to Stop Smoking: Join the Millions Who Have Become Non-Smokers Using Allen Carr’s Easyway Method) book in order to boost my will power and stick to my decision:

This book was awesome, it helped me stay in check until my initial 20 days period was over and the temptation to give-in to smoking was slowly fading away.

I will not discuss the difficulties I had or how I faced them (read the book above), however I tell you that I kept my decision and never gave in again.

Closing words

I hope this write-up was inspirational and I wish you all the luck in your journey if you decide to stop smoking.

Before I conclude, this was one of my favorite smokers’ joke that I would like to share with you:

Two old ladies are outside their nursing home, having a smoke, when it starts to rain. One of the ladies pulls out a condom, cuts off the end, puts it over her cigarette and continues smoking.

Mary: What’s that?

Janette: A condom. This way my cigarette doesn’t get wet.

Mary: Where did you get that?

Janette: You can get them at any drugstore.

The next day, Mary hobbles herself into the local drugstore and announces to the pharmacist that she wants a box of condoms.

The guy, obviously embarrassed, looks at her kind of strangely (she is after all over 80 years of age), but very delicately asks what brand she prefers.

Mary: Doesn’t matter son, as long as it fits a camel.

The pharmacist faints.

Meeting Amma, Mata Amritanandamayi Devi

Introduction

On 05/24/2013, Amma (also known as Mata Amritanandamayi Devi) was visiting Bellevue, Washington as part of her north America tour.

It was the first time for me to go and see her. Many of my acquaintances talk about her, be it acquaintances from France, Belgium or those from where I currently live (in the Seattle area).

They say she has lots of energy and that she can help me in my spiritual path. A quote attributed to her is worthwhile mentioning:

Amma’s hugs and kisses should not be considered ordinary. When Amma embraces or kisses someone, it is a process of purification and inner healing. Amma is transmitting a part of Her pure, vital energy into Her children. It also allows them to experience true, unconditional Love. When Amma holds someone it can help to awaken the dormant spiritual energy within them, which will eventually take them to the ultimate goal of Self-realization. — Amma

She hugs people for free, however during her visit, a 3-days retreat (that costs $290) is offered.

During the retreat, spiritual lectures are given, a proprietary meditation technique called “IAM – Integrated Amrita Meditation Technique®” is offered for free among the other things that are part of the retreat.

I mainly went to the retreat in order to learn the IAM meditation technique and also to get to experience this infamous hug and see how it bestows unconditional love.

The rest of the article will describe my experience from my point of view. Please know that I am not bashing or defaming Amma in any way. This blog post is to share my observations and thoughts with others.

Receiving the token for the Darshan

At around 5 PM, the volunteers started distributing tokens (a number printed on a piece of paper) so that they organize the queue of people wanting to get a hug or what they call a Darshan (which means a blessing).

The queue was too long so I had a chance to observe and also read something useful on my Kindle.

The people around me looked mostly new age hippies (no offense). Many of them were dressed in white, some had long breaded hair, lots of teenagers and lots of toddlers with their parents.

To my surprise the majority were Westerners rather than Indians [though the Seattle area has a large population of Indians, due to IT companies such as Microsoft or Amazon].

After like 40 minutes waiting, it was my turn to receive that little piece of paper with a number on it. Only later I discovered how long it will actually take before my time comes to receive the hug (or Darshan).

Amma enters the hall

It was 7 PM. Shortly before Amma entered the hall, a volunteer came from the kitchen to make a statement that all volunteers working in the kitchen have a “Food handling card”. This was emphasized so that people who eat during the retreat don’t worry about what food they eat [that was very professional and responsible].

At around 7:15 PM, Amma enters the hall. The moment everybody was anticipating (including me). A swami (I forgot his name, sorry I am not good with Indian swami names) came and introduced her. He said that she will speak Malayalam (language mainly spoken in Kerala). He added that she can speak many languages (28 of them) *BUT* she won’t perform this feat today and instead she will just focus on conveying the message.

He continued talking about her in terms that she is the incarnation of the Divine Mother; she is our mother and we are all her children.

Amma started to talk for almost 15 minutes in Malayalam, and then the swami started reading from papers what seems to be the translation of what she said.

Then she spoke again and he translated. This went on for like three rounds.

Essentially, a myriad of helpful and inspirational messages were given [nothing really new if you listen to other teachers or read spiritual books]. Here is a  small outline of the messages conveyed:

  • Awareness, once awakened, will guide us the same way the sun lights our way
  • Lack is emptiness
  • Lack of awareness blinds us
  • Actions without awareness are bad
  • When we see everyone and everything as part of ourselves then there is no more jealousy or hatred. It is our perspective of the things we perceive externally that make us see the difference. When we look inside, we are all connected and all the same/one. [This reminds me of “Seeing with equal heart – reference in the Bhagavad Gita]
  • Forgiveness help us on the long term
  • Never give up. Persist, be patient and selfless service. Patience help us achieve a lot in life
  • Silence the thoughts in the mind so we hear from our own true nature
  • If you don’t have love in your heart yet, then do actions with your body. Love will come with selfless service
  • Past is history, future is mystery and the present is a present (gift), appreciate it
  • The internet is filled with pornography, it cause us to be impure
  • Be responsible before making children
  • Stop killing trees
  • And then she told a shortened and slightly modified version of this story: http://www.zawaj.com/story-30-days-of-carrying-my-wife/

After the discourse they announced that Darshan will start and will end when everybody received a hug.

It was around 8.30 PM and I figured, in a couple of hours I will finally receive the hug.

Waiting for the hug

There were volunteers holding big boards with number ranges so people know they should advance and prepare themselves to go on stage and take a hug.

Meanwhile, I figured I can stretch my legs and walk around the big room where Amma is and see what they have.

At the back of the room, just behind all the chairs, volunteers set up stands to sell various [overpriced] merchandise.

Some were selling Amma magazines and news. What’s funny is one volunteer told me: “Subscribe and you get to know all Amma’s news and work. If you don’t have time to read then just look at the pictures. At least that’s what I do”

Her sales pitch put a smile on my face. Of course I will not pay for something that I won’t even use just a bit, not to mention the trees cut to make the magazine…

Looking at other stands, I see a lady selling crystals, healing wands and what not.

On another stand they were selling various pictures of Amma (okay, understandable), Jesus [what?! Yes indeed], Krishna, Shiva, Ganesh and what not.

At one stand they were selling various Amma dolls. Yes! Dolls of small size, medium size and big size. What is interesting was the price of the dolls. The big sized doll (if I remember well) was around 105 USD.

One of the ladies at that stand was from France. I was delighted because I get to speak some French. The first thing I asked her in French was: “What’s your name?”. I was expecting a French name but instead she gave me some Indian name.
[Oh! I said to myself and then I remembered, it is not the first time I hear about that. When you join such movements, they give you a new name in an effort to drop your identity and establish a new one. The whole process starts by assigning to you a new name].

  • I asked her: “So you came all the way from France?”
  • She said: “Sort of, actually, I have been with her since the beginning of the tour”
  • Me: “And they pay you for the trip and such?”
  • Her: “No, we pay for the trip. It is a privilege to be with her and in her presence”

I thanked the girl, wished her luck and went outside of the room where they sell food items and other services.

Astrology stands: they were offering Western Astrology service and Jyotish.

Snacks and beverages: Various beverages and snacks. At one stand, there was a nice Austrian man. I was delighted to talk to him and German as much as he was surprised to find a German speaking among the crowd.

I went back inside to peek and see if it’s my turn yet. It was already 12AM (the next day). But no, I still had around 40 minutes wait.

There was a girl outside (in her ~23+), looking a bit lonely, perhaps tired. She was reading a book. I approached her and started a conversation with her:

  • Me: “Hi, what’s your name?”
  • Her: “Mary [not the real name]”
  • Me: “What are you reading?”
  • Her: “Oh, it is a book by Amma, I read it many times, I love it”
  • Me: “How did you meet Amma?”
  • Her: “It is my boyfriend. He met her and then insisted that I see her”
  • Me: “Is he here now?”
  • Her: [replying a bit with frustration] “Yes, he’s inside staring at Amma”
  • Me: “And since you met her, what’s your feeling about her?”
  • Her: “Oh, she was there for me. I could sense her presence when I needed her. Here, look:” [she produced a medium sized Amma doll from her bag and showed it to me]
  • Me: “Nice”
  • Her: “Yeah! I talk to her and she listens to me”
  • Me: “I see.” [In no means I was mocking her. I listened with open heart trying to connect and see what she feels. After all, I came here with a sincere desire to learn and experience] “So, where do you come from?”
  • Her: “San Francisco”
  • Me: “Oh nice, I have been there once. It is a big area, what area exactly?”
  • Her: [with a bit of hesitation, perhaps disappointment on her face, she finally replied:] “Well, my boyfriend and I live in a car at the moment”
  • Me: [again being aware of my self not to emit any judgment or any kind of negative emotions (pity, feeling sorry, etc, etc...)]…I did not say anything back. I did not feel comfortable to continue talking about this subject.

The conversation went on and we shared various spiritual experiences. I thanked the girl and wished her luck, excused myself since it was about time to get the hug.

I felt happy to have spoken with an honest and friendly person like her.

I went inside, sat on a chair waited like 10 minutes before entering the queue to finally get the hug. It was 12:50 AM.

Getting the hug

I stood in line and start walking slowly towards the stage. Finally I was allowed to go on stage where there were like a dozen chairs so people can wait while their turn to take the hug comes.

We kept on shifting chairs as participants got their hug. Just slightly before my turn came, one volunteer came and asked me what’s my mother language and I said “Arabic” then added: “But I understand English” (obviously :P).

A moment later, they told me to come forward and kneel between Amma’s legs.

She hugged me (my head pressed against her chest, slightly beneath her head) and she whispered something totally incomprehensible in my ears a few times.

She kept pressing me for like 15 seconds and then released me. Immediately, the volunteers gave me some sweets (A small Hershey chocolate) and told me to sit (still on the stage) a while to let the effect of the hug settle in.

I sat there looking at other people, trying to be self aware of any minute change within me: be it psychological, emotional or physical. I just felt happy because finally I did what I set about to do since like 5PM the previous day and I could finally retire back home and have some rest [it was 1:30 AM now].

I descended the stage, looked around me for a while and noticed there are still lots of people there.

I sat there an additional half an hour, jotting down my thoughts and experience (which you are reading about right now).

I left at 2:00 AM so that the next day I can learn the meditation technique.

The “IAM – Integrated Amrita Meditation Technique®”

Okay, today is the day where they start teaching the meditation technique.

The first thing they did was to explain a bit about it and then they passed us non-disclosure agreement form to sign before they teach the technique.

They stressed that after we sign the form and only so, we will be entitled to stay and learn the technique. We can be sued if we share the method with anyone that did formally learn the technique from them.

I signed the form and learned the technique over two days. An hour or hour and half twice a day and we become certified.

Of course, I will not share the technique with you. If you want to learn it, find instructors in your area.

Having learned various other meditation techniques, I found this technique a blend of various practices from yogic postures to prepare the body, breathing exercises and focus on chakras and finally sitting in silence.

What struck me as really odd is one part of the technique where, as the teacher explained, we are required imagine/visualize the following: “see yourself protruding at the lotus feet of Amma, imagine her beauty, thank her and invite her to bestow her blessings upon you”.

This visualization really irritated me and made me remember idolatry stories from the Bible.

When we got the final lesson, they handed us certification cards that we can present to them in the future (in case we want to refresh our skills and learn it again).

During a Q&A session, I got a chance to ask a swami one question about Amma:

  • Me: “Please tell me, I did not feel anything due to the hug. Please don’t tell me I am not sensitive enough or ‘It is my fault’ or ‘I am too negative’. I have been told that many times in the past each time I don’t get a spiritual experience and now I tend to believe it is just a stock answer given to defend the teacher”
  • Swami: [He smiled and with an air of confidence replied] “You just wait. You got your hug yesterday and did not feel anything. In fact, one of my relatives had the same experience but he persisted. He kept on coming until after 5 years he felt something. My friend, the seed has been planted. One day, perhaps while driving, you will suddenly feel Amma’s love and know that this is her. Be patient, persevere and don’t lose hope, but most importantly do not put any expectations. The experience you are looking for can flower at any moment”

[Of course, he replied exactly as I was expecting but with nicer words and a future promise of hope that things may happen to me and it will be due to Amma].

When I was in India many years ago, in an Ashram, meeting a Guru, I also had no experience and also received same excuses: “It is my fault or my negativity”, etc, etc…By the way, that Guru and his mocking answers to my sincere questions require a blog post by themselves.

I got used to such answers but to be honest, I don’t buy into Gurus anymore…especially those Gurus that claim divinity.

If one day I am driving and start crying and feel a loving feeling, why should I attribute this feeling to Amma and not to one of the many “Gurus” I met previously?
Is there is a priority queue by which the experiences will unfold in turn based on which Guru has more spiritual power? :)

My thoughts

I did not stay longer after I learned the meditation technique and just left.

During my stay in the retreat, I could not help but observe the following:

  • People revere her: People, teachers and old time followers of Amma revere her. They consider her as their divine mother
  • We are her children: The teachers and swamis keep on saying that we are her children and she is our divine mother. This is so insulting.
  • Supernatural powers: They attribute to her divine qualities with no proofs whatsoever.
  • People can be made to believe anything: with enough gullibility, despair and feeling lost, the human mind can create all sort of experiences and feelings. Those people can, if they truly believe, really feel whatever the swamis are attributing to Amma. [Dear reader, I advise you to learn a bit about the power of suggestions and hypnotic techniques]
  • Fanaticism: I could be wrong, but this is the not first time where I sense people in such gathering have a sense of a fanatic character to them. I question: where is your sense of individuality, questioning and authority?

Anyway, I refuse to follow any body or attribute super natural powers to other humans.

Teachers should teach us how to fish and not give us fish, err…I mean a hug. Besides, if I was given a fish today my hunger will be satisfied…I was given a hug and my hunger was not satisfied. If it was satisfied then that will only be a beginning for me: a flame has been ignited and now it is my duty to keep it alive.

When one meets a teacher or a fraudster alike, what really matters are these questions that I always ask myself:

  • How will my life *on earth* be any different?
  • How can I be practically a good human being?
  • Whether I believe or not, how can I better serve others?
  • How can I be a good member of society?
  • What can I offer to my family, loved ones and my current country of residence?

The essence is to live life with respect and considerations and utter honesty and integrity towards oneself and others.

I don’t care anymore whether I get an experience or not, for I know that the quest is a personal one and my thirst can be quenched by my own hard work, realization and efforts.

A week later, I met an acquaintance who frequently visits Amma, when she’s around, each year and takes his children to be blessed by her. I told him my thoughts about my first time experience visiting her and he said:

  • Amma never meant to be followed [oh yeah? well, then stop amassing crowds and making tours around the world]
  • People follow and revere her. For you or me, take the lessons, look at her as an example of generosity and giving without asking anything in return. [really? she is indeed generous, giving part of what people donate and not her own fortune...]
  • Who can sit for 10 hours straight and keep on hugging people and be with and for the people? [hmm...what's the point in that? if she stops hugging will people still hang around? I doubt it]
  • Look at the schools, hospitals and housing she provides. This is selfless service. [hmm again, yeah, we should be grateful for the donated money, the people's hard earned money is spent on the people....but hey, why not donate to some other charities instead of donating to a hugging "Saint" ?]
  • Whether you get an experience from the hug or not, just always remember the essence of the hug and her actions. [I would rather remember real saints, real philanthropists that spend from their own fortune and hard earned money]

His words were wise of course but for every thought he provided I added counter arguments.

Conclusion

Here we come to the end of my report, thoughts and experience. I hope this write-up makes you think and reflect about your life among others here and now on earth.

No need to wait until you die to get a reward in a heaven that may or may not exist. Do not wait for anybody for your salvation, learn and find truth on your own. Teachers are welcome to learn from but not to follow.

I end this by quoting Matthew from the Bible:

Matthew 6:34(NIV)
34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Please feel free to comment and share your experience or thoughts with politeness and responsibility.

My religion

Today I was flipping through an old notebook and I ran into a note that dates back to 09/26/2011.

It was a nice reminder and worth sharing, I hope you find an inspiration by reading it.

The note’s title was: “My Religion” and it reads:

  • I am a free human being. I believe in being a good citizen, respecting the law and justice
  • All humans have equal rights that do not transgress the rights of others
  • All humans have the freedom of choice, thought and religion (or non religion)
  • As I’m created (constructed) so shall I be deconstructed
  • I believe in my deeds
  • Be aware and considerate. Love and serve others in the means of your capacity
  • Harvest pure thoughts and learn to purify your heart and mind from thoughts that can harm others and cause you to harm yourself
  • Treat your neighbor as you want him/her to treat you
  • No fear can instill in my heart as long as I do no harm or misdeed in/during my life on earth
  • Religious or non religious people are still people. May everyone find personal peace
  • May freedom from fear prevail
  • Live and express yourself. Make your homeland earth like your own personal dwelling (like you do in your home). Treat it with respect, earn your living and respect other peoples’ boundaries

Improve and track your sleeping patterns with Zeo Sleep Manager Pro

What is Zeo Sleep Manager Pro

Zeo Sleep Manager Pro is a system composed of a headband sensor and a Bluetooth transmitter unit. It records the brainwave activity (during sleep) and send the data to another Bluetooth capable device for recording and further analysis.

The Zeo headband connects to software running on an iOS or Android device (via Bluetooth).

Additionally, Zeo provides a website where your sleep data can be uploaded so you can analyze the data or export it for use with other software.

In this blog post, I will be sharing with you my experience with this unit and a couple of tips on how to improve your sleep.

Sleeping tips

Before I give some tangible examples on how Zeo Sleep manager can help you learn more about your sleep quality, let me share with you a few sleeping tips.

Basic sleep hygiene practices:

  • Slow down your mind: do relaxing activities before going to bed,, do not keep on working and then abruptly try to go to sleep. Your mind will keep on “rolling” and will take the problems with it. Slow your mind down before going to sleep
  • Don’t feast at night: Unless you want to watch lots of action dreams or nightmares, do not eat heavy meals before going to sleep! You don’t want to make your body busy digesting. You want to have your body rejuvenate itself
  • Your bedroom is for sleeping only: while you can do other “stuff” in your bedroom, essentially keep unpleasant and distracting activities outside the bedroom. No computers, eating, playing with your electronic devices all night long, etc…
  • Organized sleeping time: your body loves order and routine (same like your mind loves patterns). Make a habit to sleep no longer than 10PM each night and learn how to wake up naturally without an alarm.

…and the list goes on, but you get the idea.

What if I cannot fall asleep

This topic requires a blog post on its own. If there is something I learned during my quest for better sleep, it is the fact that if you are in bed, tossing around and around not able to sleep then don’t stress about it! Accept that fact and relax until you eventually lose consciousness and drift into sleep.

How can Zeo Sleep Manager Pro help me with my sleep?

Feedback, feedback, feedback! Feedback plays a key role in learning and education.

Imagine that you are taught a new skill but never given feedback whether you are doing things correctly or not!

You may end up learning the skill the wrong way. For instance, learning calligraphy. If you draw the characters in a wrong way then nobody will be able to read what you write and thus voiding all your learning efforts.

The same applies for sleep, if we can really measure how and what is the quality of our nightly sleep then we can do conscious effort to improve.

Let us now talk about the different kinds of feedback that can help in improving the sleep quality.

Sleep stages and quality

The stages of sleep and the quality of rejuvenation and well being they provide is a science by itself. I encourage you to research about that topic.

With Zeo sleep manager, you will be able to measure how much time you spent in each sleep stage:

one-night-data
The MySleep Zeo website will teach you about each stage and provide lots of hints on how to increase the time spent in certain sleep stages.

Getting enough sleep

Getting enough sleep is always your responsibility.

Before I got my Zeo sleep manager pro device, it was hard for me to be consistent with my sleep time. Each day I promise myself to go to bed early but the motivation does not last for too long. Later I find myself sleeping too late and waking up early (due to obligations) and dragging myself throughout the day.

With Zeo sleep manager, tracking the time you go to bed, the number of times you wake up during the night and the time you wake up in the morning is automatically monitored for you.

The moment you put the headband, Zeo will start recording your brain activity to figure out if you are asleep and in which sleep stage you are.

In the following screenshot, we can see the following:

  • Sleep time: 12:34am
  • Rise time: 7:10am
  • Total sleep: 5:48 hours
  • Sleep stage and timing
  • ZQ: The Zeo sleep score. Pretty low

one-night-bad

What can I improve in this scenario? Be responsible and sleep earlier.

In the following screenshot, we can clearly see how sleeping earlier made a big difference in the overall sleep quality:

better-night

In conclusion, being responsible about when to sleep makes a big difference.

Tracking sleep data over days, weeks and months

Tracking one night data is so helpful already, but seeing how you progress along the week and the following months is insightful.

This screenshot below shows one week of ZQ data:

sleep-overall

Whereas the screenshot below shows more details:

sleep-graph-feb

Followed by the breakdown of data:

sleep-breakdown-feb

Seeing the overall picture help you improve your sleep quality.

Sleep journal

Sleeping journal is another kind of feedback that you can use to make correlation between your sleep quality and how you spent your day and how that affected your sleep.

Zeo comes with journal software that allows you to study that correlation (waking time and its effect to sleeping time):

sleep-journal

Waking up refreshed

How refreshed you feel when you wake up is a natural feedback you can use without any kind of gadget.

However, the Zeo sleep manager software comes with a special alarm feature that knows when to wake you up feeling refreshed.

The key idea behind this feature is that if we were awoken during a deep sleep stage then we may feel bad and not fully rested even if we sleep eight or more hours.

You tell Zeo what time you want to wake up and Zeo will use its sleep monitoring capability to wake you up within the set alarm time and when you are in a sleep stage that feels comfortable to wake up from.

This is much better than a traditional alarm clock that take no consideration what sleep stage you are at before waking you up “brutally”.

Closing words

I enjoyed putting efforts and time to write this blog post and share my experience with you.

I hope you found this blog post useful and got encouraged to purchase the Zeo Sleep Manager Pro . If want to buy Zeo, then please help me get referral points by clicking and purchasing through my Amazon.com associates link below:

 

Links and references