National Geographic Photo of the Day

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Roadtrip Videos

Went on a week long road-trip from Chennai to a few places in Kerala and back using our new Cruze. Here are some videos of the roads we used.

The following are Highway/Expressway/Toll Roads.

The Italian Man

This was an awesome video I found on Youtube making fun of the way Italians speak, and how they might be misunderstood with their accent.

I was trying hard to not fall off my chair, this clip was so funny.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Kingdom of Thailand – Day 13 (26 June 2009)

Had to get ready quickly in the morning and pack the remaining stuff. Separated the VAT refund items and put them into a different suitcase. Switched on the television and found “BREAKING NEWS – The King of Pop is dead” all over CNN and BBC. Michael Jackson's personal life was rather troubled, with all the child molestation cases on him and his transformation into a walking freak show with all those cosmetic modifications and plastic surgeries. Still, his music united people all over the world and made him a music legend. He'll be missed by many. The King is Dead! Long Live the King...

Went down for the breakfast buffet and all that was left was to get the suitcases and get in the van.

The view out my window is something I'll miss – the blue and turquoise waters, the clean and sandy beaches, the mountains covered with a blanket of forests. And so we left around 1pm for the airport.

Traffic was held up a bit because of an accident (the first one I've witnessed in Thailand on my trip) and the going was slow till we got where we wanted to go around 2.10pm. We through-booked the luggage to Chennai, so that we wouldn't need to identify the baggage once again at Suvarnabhumi. Enquiring about the VAT refund, we found that they wouldn't give us the refund for two of the items we'd purchased (hence a loss of 2000 Baht) because of some silly rule that the VAT forms and the bill date need to be the same. Now this discrepancy had arisen thanks to Powerbuy at MBK not having the requisite forms on the date we made the purchase, and we were asked to come on Monday and collect the same. It wasn't our fault and they certainly weren't willing to give us the refund. Most unhelpful they were, quite the opposite of the experience we had with the VAT refund at Singapore. The Thais aren't ones to give up lightly when it comes to giving away money, so be aware of all this trickery if you ever go to a store that gives a VAT refund for a tourist.

Boarded the flight to Bangkok after browsing through the duty free sections of Phuket (wasn't that much in the way of variety, just a few shops) international. The one hour flight saw us at Suvarnabhumi (the Thais say merely “soovarnabhoom”, they leave the last “eeee”) around 4.30pm. And the flight that would take us to Chennai was scheduled at 9.25pm (local time, not IST), hence there was quite a lot of time to kill. Thus began our sojourn through the enormous variety of duty free shops that Bangkok airport had – and what a variety it was!! All kinds of expensive watches, perfumes, designer items, big BIG brand names, expensive chocolates. It seemed like we'd gone through the equivalent of two full floors of Siam Paragon (on one floor of duty free shopping in Suvarnabhumi) by 8pm when we decided we'd finally head to the gate and wait to board the aircraft;. By then we'd had a snack at an eatery and lots of ice-cream at Dairy Queen (a very taste brand of ice-cream sometimes found alongside Burger King stores) :D . Also bought myself a slightly expensive Fossil watch with a metal strap and brown strips of leather down the strap with a brown dial. This particular design I had seen at a high-end watch store in Bangkok. But we thought we'd get a better deal at the duty free on the way back to India. So I waited. We even saw the same watch at Phuket's duty free but decided to look at it in Bangkok because the boarding call at Phuket had already sounded. Thus, we searched the huge number of stores in Suvarnabhumi's duty free endlessly (most of the similar looking watch and big brand stores stock the same brands but different pieces) until we finally found it at one store. It was well above 5000 Baht, for which all the duty free shops had a discount of 300 Baht. The one where I found it had this sales-person who said “We give discount for coupon only”, until we held our ground that all the other shops run by the same management were giving the discount. Soon she relented and said “Ok, I give you coupon, no wolleee... there discount”. Note again how they will make a profit off you if you're not vigilant.

After that, we headed on to gate D7 and waited for the boarding call that came very late (for an international flight) at 9.05pm. This is really late for an international flight considering the large mass of people that were to board this one to Chennai. On top of that, they let people queue up and suddenly popped a board saying they wanted only Star Alliance and Thai Royal Silk Class passengers first. Then came a board that proclaimed Row 51-71. To top of this, there were two Thai Airways officials going around looking at people, trying to lift their hand baggage and see if it was too heavy. When they found any that they felt were (at random), they'd pull that person aside without a complete explanation. A number of passengers would suddenly get given this atrocious treatment. This resulted in pretty much a rush to get to the gate the moment the other boards went down and they announced “Rest of the passengers please board the flight”. People were scared they would be charged for excess baggage (Later I found it was kind of a customs check as well) and they ran. As you can imagine, the majority of people on this fight are Indians. And several Indians, as always, cut the queues and went around other people in line, and one guy pushed aside an American woman (whose “Hey” went unnoticed) in an effort to get to the aircraft quickly.

The issue of checking people for extra weight in their hand luggage (and there were quite a few who were carrying several bottles of brandy among other crap in their cabin baggage and deserved to be charged), the checking should have been during check-in. Not at the last moment when people are trying to board the plane.

It’s like they do some racial profiling, like they expect that people on this flight to Chennai are trying to smuggle in large quantities of liquor bought from duty free stores at the airport. Initially I thought that there'd be just a few such “Kuruvis”, 'cept later I found that there's a lot of them on this route. Lots and lots. Oh god, the flight was hell. Near us was a bunch of uncouth buggers arguing in Cheri Tamil (all the words you'd expect to be used in slums even) about how only one person had paid the customs official for their “Padayappa” (that's the code word for all the booze the fools were carrying). The way they were talking was as if they were back in their own sweet homes (sweet... hardly). We Indians should really learn to conduct ourselves in a public place. No wonder they treat dark skinned Indians in general poorly on this flight. Sadly, the racial profiling is spot on in this case when it comes to these “kuruvis”. Offensive term you say? Hardly. For the ruckus that they created throughout the flight, the way they grabbed the luggage even before the plane had parked and the seat-belt lights had gone off (in fact, most Indians on the flight did that – not us though, we hate that), the way the air hostesses treated them was justified.

Sigh.... flying used to be something I loved until a few years back when all this crap started getting let on a flight. We Indians need classes in school on public etiquette, perhaps some rules to enforce the same, else I don't see things improving. I'm being elitist, you say?? Nope, just practical.

Anyway, by midnight it was back to the heat of Chennai (not that it was any cooler in Thailand) and the dirt, grime and indiscipline of our roads. We made our great escape from customs (more like Chennai customs is not very insistent unless you act suspicious) with the cameras and the PS3 and the gold and stuff in our bags :D . Coming back home was a bit of a relief, thanks to my buddy Cactus who was faithfully waiting at the door along with the watchman. Paid the Akbar Travels driver in Rupees, and not per person, for a change. The loot could wait the next few days to be unboxed. Needed some sleep urgently.... Ah the comfort of my own bed.

And thus ended our Thirteen Days in Thailand. Certainly something to experience, though be sure to take lots of money along ;)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Kingdom of Thailand – Day 12 (25 June 2009)

Took a walk down to the nearby export market after breakfast. Clothes, bags, wallets, curios – these are the kinds of things you get here. Not very expensive, but they don't reduce the price much and they're least concerned if you walk away. Sometimes they'll resort to underhand stuff like reducing the price for a watch and then saying 50Baht extra for the box. After some shopping there we came back to the hotel.

Tawpoo had been telling us about a place called Boat Lagoon. So we hired a minivan to go all the way there around 2.30pm. Our driver this time was the same guy who came for the airport pickup. Oh, this bugger musta been the slowest driver in Thailand. Finally we got there and found that this wasn't a beach. The Boat Lagoon is another resort which has mooring points for a large number of yachts and private villas that you can buy (if you have money like Vijay Mallya that is). Total waste of time getting all the way. Tawpoo and the reception staff would hear of this (to their bad fortune) in great detail from my aunt much later when we got back.

Moreover, Mr. I'm-the-slowest-driver-in-the-world was like Frankenstein. He knew how to get from Point A to Point B, but anything we asked him (even if asked the way you'd put it to a pre-schooler) wouldn't quite get through clearly. Damn these fools and their ignorance of English. After just lazing around the resort for a while looking at the yachts, we left the place and headed to Phuket's Central Festival – one of the big mall's here. This is one of several of the Central Group's malls in Thailand, with many of them at Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket to name a few locations.

So we did some window shopping at many of the big designer stores here, had something to eat and bought a few cakes. Once again landed up at a Power Buy showroom and bought a few Bluetooth headsets. The prices of the 5.1 and 7.1 sets here are good, but we can't carry them to India with us :'( Also got myself a Diesel watch.

Took the shuttle back to the hotel by 6.30pm. And the reception staff got an earful. Started packing soon after that, while watching Roddick's match at Wimbledon against some Russian (Kuntzyn I think). We'll be checking out by 1pm tomorrow, we have a flight back to Bangkok. A few hours there until we board the next flight and then it’s back to good old Chennai.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

It's official - He's Back!

The internet and newspapers were rife with speculation of the impending return of one of the legends of Formula 1. The master of rain-driving, seven-time World Champion, the one and only Michael Schumacher is back. He says his neck is a 100% healed now too. It's been confirmed that he's signed a three year contract with Mercedes and he'll race alongside Nico Rosberg. From Ferrari's Prancing Horses to a Silver Arrow, that will be a big change indeed. At 41, he'll also be the oldest driver on the circuit in the coming season.

I'm just itching for this season to begin.

In the meanwhile check out these two videos, both interviews of his taken less than 24 hours ago on his formal return to F1.

The BBC speaks to Michael

Michael and Mercedes

The Kingdom of Thailand – Day 11 (June 24th 2009)

Got up a bit late. Took my time at the breakfast buffet, a pretty nice spread. Mum and Aunt took a walk to the nearby export market while Dad sat checking his bank details over wifi on my laptop.

Earlier, a certain Mr.Tawpoo (an employee of the hotel) had told us about the places we could see and he negotiated a price for today's sightseeing behind the back of the reception. AGENT ALERT!! Mum and aunt got back soon and we all got ready to go out. Then there was some pretty heavy rain, the likes of which I've seen most often on CNN when they show a hurricane with driving winds uprooting trees. But within an hour the rain had ceased and the sky was clear and blue. Our driver was Mr. Tawpoo .... First stop, the Phuket Butterfly park, more like an insectarium. All kinds of insects – giant hissing cockroaches, stick insects, praying mantises, huge tarantulas, even a few big scorpions – apart from the wonderful variety of butterflies, more than I've seen in most butterfly parks including the one at Sentosa. Next, we moved on to Wat Chalong. On the way Tawpoo told us he could show us a place near the hotel where we could get good seafood on the way back tonight ... AGENT ALERT!!

Wat Chalong is the biggest Buddhist temple complex in Phuket. The central temple is the tallest, with several floors having statues of Buddha, and the terrace giving a nice view of the surroundings. The striking difference from temples back home in India is the neatness of the entire place, it’s like they've swept the whole complex clean and there is no rubbish lying around on the grass either. Moreover, the people here and everywhere in Thailand never ever litter, they throw garbage in dustbins, even if it’s just a small bit of plastic. There is a stark contrast even between a public dustbin in Thailand and an Onyx / Neel Metal Fanalca bin in Chennai. Whereas the former has all the crap inside of it with neat surroundings, the latter has crap overflowing as well as all around it, so much so that people would actively avoid even that part of the pavement. It’s not just this temple complex, every bloody place, every road, every sight there is to see, every bit of pavement, is kept spic and span. Lots of cats at Wat Chalong, every nook and corner in the temple has a fat, healthy kitty taking a nap and sometimes a rub against a tourist/worshipper's legs.

Wat Chalong was followed by a 6km drive up a mountain road to the Big Buddha. One should remember that Phuket is to Thailand as the Andamans are to India. Yet, the perfect roads and guard rails all along the way would give a different impression. This little island even has the big names like Tesco, KFC, Burger King, McDonalds, Swensens.

The Big Buddha rests on top the mountain. About 40m tall, the Buddha is white, with a white marble lotus seat for the statue being in construction right now. The Big Buddha looms over and you get a fair idea of the size of it once you're through with the climb to its base. There's also a smaller (yet pretty sizeable) gold statue of the Buddha near the base.

Another long drive down the mountain and to the end of the island and we were at Cape Phromthep. This viewpoint rests on the tip of Phuket. Alongside the viewpoint is a lighthouse used to demarcate the territorial waters of Thailand (green light shines within this limit) and Malaysia (red light here). It’s named in honour of the 28th child (yeah, you read that right) of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V), who was an admiral trained at the British Royal Navy Academy and instrumental in training the Thai Navy.

The view from this point was positively awesome, the clean blue waters all around lapping at the rocks, with the pristine green forests leading right up to the shoreline and blanketing the hills. The sunset was supposed to be at 6.46pm, but the clouds moved in right around 6.15 and they never left. So we got to see only a slightly muted sunset. Oh well...

On to Patong Beach, a long stretch of coastline that resembles Pattaya's beach road most closely with all the brands and restaurants we saw there and a few malls too. Took a bit of a break here for around 10 minutes, not much you can see at a beach in the dark, but the calm waters belie the true power of this destructive (as well as constructive) element of Mother Nature. The people who were on this beach on that fateful 26th December would surely have been witness to an awesome sight, sadly the price of seeing this marvel of nature would have been death for most.

It’s been many years since, but from the look of beach road, people are willing to carry on with business even with such a risk at their doorstep. Literally, since the beach road is so damn close to the waves. And certain other roads are similar to those at Pondicherry, where the road is separated from the water by not more than a few metres (still even these roads are perfect). The inevitable AGENT question: “You go airport when sir?” popped from Tawpoo's mouth on the drive back. Thailand doesn't seem to be short of tourists though, even off-season. I shudder to think what the place would look like during tourist season. Avoid the season at all costs.

And so our sightseeing came to an end and it was time to head back to Phuket city. The drive back took a long time and once we got there we took a walk around the area. The security guard at the hotel reminded us that the food was good at a particular restaurant nearby and that he could get us a particular taxi or tuk tuk driver to take us there for a special price. We said no thanks, just walking. Damn, everyone and their uncle here's a broker. This is like the Matrix; anyone could be an agent, anywhere!!! ;-)

Had dinner at Chester's Grill, followed that up with a big Banana Split among other stuff at Ice-Cream Heaven a.k.a. Swensen's :D . It’s like Swensen's, McDonalds, KFC, Burger King etc are littered around every street in Thailand, they sure must make a killing if they're gonna be profitable with 2-3 restaurants of the same franchise on one street. Must have gained 4-5kg on just this trip to Thailand. Oh, I'll miss Swensen's when I get back home :(

Friday, December 18, 2009

3 years on.... Knicks

Those of you who aren't fond of animals will never understand this post of mine.... but this goes out to one who made a difference to my life and my family's. He was the sibling I never had.

Towards the end, through great suffering, more than a year of hip dysplagia and almost complete paralysis we looked after him, fed him and cared for him. He was more than just a dog to us. Knicks was a part of our family. But in the end death comes to us all. 18th December is the anniversary of the day he left us. 3 years ago.

May he rest in peace.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Multitouch Madness Redux

Had a lot of free time today and thought I'd do something worthwhile. I'd seen a lot of vids on google about creating multitouch surfaces cheaply, not to mention a number of guides. So I took bits and pieces from all of them and set out on my own multitouch-mission.

This is the result:

Cardboard box + Glass window you say?? Not really that simple.

Things I used to make the above setup:

  • A USB webcam
  • A small glass door I ripped off an old showcase (yes, my mum was livid) <span class=
  • A sheet of tracing paper
  • A cardboard box
  • Scissors
  • Different apps sourced from all over the net and put together
  • A PC running Windows 7 64-bit (can be any Windows)
  • Plenty of time

The app tracks the camera's output and recognises fingers touching the Glass surface. The tracing paper diffuses the light from behind such that only touches (dark shadows) on the screen register on the CCV app. This info is then sent via TUIO protocol to flash via the FLOSC gateway.

Its a bummer to calibrate though, gotta fiddle with the position of the camera and the calibration settings a lot before you get the finger touch recognition just right. Besides my shitty camera had a narrow field of view. Possibilities include the inclusion of a projector that projects the PC screen onto the glass itself. That way you'd be able to look at the glass and touch instead of having to touch just a plain sheet of paper whereas now the image itself is still on the PC monitor. That kinda projected display would be damn cool, like the one you see in Quantum of Solace.

This of course, is why the following vids are a little bit shaky and also why I can't show you the full extent of multitouch capability. Cos one hand had my phone camera, the other hand had my multitouch surface and my eyes were darting between each hand as well as the PC monitor. <span class=

Ran into a few VC++ runtime errors but got it up and running finally.

Used it with a number of apps. Great fun, and its bloody difficult to stop trying stuff out with it once you get the interface working.

The following vids show SOME of the apps I tried after getting things working, not exhaustive by any means. If only I had both hands free, could have done a lot more with these apps.

The demos shown include:
  • Making smoke like coloured patterns with your fingers
  • Physics sim where you get to pull around multiple doll like characters
  • A media app where you can move the pictures around, zoom etc like the iPhone. In this one, you'll notice I start the "eye tracking" video playing also using touch.

This one's a map app where you can zoom into and out of the map, move around etc. You'll see thin black circles appear in the video now and then. Those signify that the software is tracking the user's fingers. You'll see me move from Europe to India and then zoom in to Chennai (by 'pinching' the map) in the video.

Note: Any stuttering or framerate drop in the vids is only cos I took it on a phone camera, the system itself is pretty smooth even using my camera. If only I could get a really good cam with a wider field of vision, higher res and higher fps. sad.gif

Sunday, December 13, 2009

We Choose to Cruze (typo? NOT)

Purchased a new car recently. It's a Chevrolet Cruze LTZ. Colour: Atlantis Blue

Chevy's don't have a very good reputation in their American homeland, but thanks to the economic situation, Chevrolet has come up with a series of well-priced, well-built and very well equipped cars of late. This one's a winner on all counts.

The top-end LTZ model which we bought is chock full of gadgets to play with. A keyless entry and keyless start system called PEPS (Passive Entry Passive Start), where the car automatically unlocks the doors if you're within a 1m range of it. Start is also done via a start/stop button next to the steering column. Cruise control, multi-info display, car information display, electrically foldable rear view mirrors, rain-sensing automatic wipers, sunroof, a kickass audio system - the works!! The list is long.

As for safety, the top three scorers of Euro NCAP with five star rating are the BMW X1, Chevrolet Cruze and the Citroen DS3. The Cruze had previously achieved a five star rating in the Australian NCAP and China NCAP as well.

Check out the following video of the ANCAP test and see how the cabin frame remains rigid and doesn't break. Not even the glass on the front windscreen shatters.

It runs on the "Devil's fuel" as Jeremy Clarkson would put it (Diesel to you mere mortals). ARAI rated to run 18 kilometre per litre (yes, it gives you atleast 14+ in city. Such a car would have a measly fuel-sipping engine you'd say. Nope, under the bonnet is a 4-cylinder turbocharged Vcdi engine that develops 150hp, 327 Nm of torque, and takes this beast from 0-100kmph in 8.7 seconds. Pretty impressive for a family car in this segment. Having already done 500+ km, I can assure you this thing bloody well flies if you put pedal to the metal. There isn't any diesel clatter audible inside the car either. The interiors are well finished and quite good overall.

The car's exterior looks pretty good too, definitely one of the best looking cars in this segment, and one of the best looking cars we've owned. Turning heads is guaranteed. The lines and contours on the car's sides and bonnet are borrowed off BMW's 3 and 5-series, with the front end terminating in a typical American Chevy style with a big grille and the cross in the middle.

This is what you see when you open the doors in the light

This is what you see when its dark. Back-lit door sill plates are cool.

Note: No animals were harmed during the photoshoot, despite the dog (Mr. Cactus) in the picture having tried to "inaugurate" the car a few times.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Let's all share!! (You'd never guess what's inside the article)

Once upon time there was India. Then there were India and Pakistan. Then there were India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. All from the same piece of land.

Soon there were several states and a few Union Territories within this great country of India. Some parts though still held out, hoping to remain independent from the Republic. One such thorn in the India's rear end ( forgive me for deviating from set norms :P ) was Hyderabad. The Nizam of Hyderabad beat around the bush until the Indian Army's might forced him to accede Hyderabad to the Union Of India.

More than half a century later, a totally new problem has arisen in Andhra Pradesh as a whole. The issue of Telangana. There were always those not content with the formation of the state of Andhra Pradesh in 1969. What they wish for now is a separate state under the name "Telangana". Reasons cited vary from administrative negligence of the Telangana region to the people of "Telangana" having a separate dialect. Now if we were to have a separate state each for every dialect, then in India we'd end up with well over a 1000 states. Whoever said there was unity in diversity should be shot (of course, I'm just kidding).

As it is with any cause, this one too received widespread support from political parties looking to increase their vote banks. In India it's never about the validity of the cause, it's always about the number of votes to be gained or lost by it. At the forefront of this was the TRS (the Telangana Rashtra Samithi) led by a certain annoying politician whose name I could never remember until he pulled his latest stunt.

That "stunt" was a 11 day long fast that saw the media pick at the story like vultures squabbling over a deer carcass. This fast was conducted by K Chandrasekhar Rao in a nice posh hospital, with all his fans/ supporters/ jobless-people-who-had-nothing better to do around him. His supporters suffered a metaphorical groin punch when someone filmed their leader taking juice in the midst of the fast. Must have been a giant /FACEPALM.

The aforementioned jobless people went on a rampage ( "Jolly good, lads, lets go burn some buses, what say??") on 29th November. They held the city to ransom again on the 5th of December. KCR finally called off his farce... ooops fast when Home Minister P.Chidambaram said that they'd create a new state. Miraculously KCR was discharged from hospital within 2 days of this, quite amazing considering the man had been "critically unwell".

This man is in a world of trouble right now, boy I'd hate to be him.
(yes that's Rosaiah, the current Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh)

In the following days, more buses have been burnt, stones have been thrown, shops have been shut, ministers and MLAs have tendered resignations..... but no resolution for a separate state has been tabled yet. This however has led to the "Telangana effect". As LOL-worthy as the name is, this is serious business. Now Miss Mayawati, the self-obsessed statue-building leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party, wants two more states under the names "Paschim Uttar Pradesh" and "Bundelkhand". Leaders of the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha then threw in their demand for "Gorkhaland" to be carved out of West Bengal. Add to this the everpresent thorn in Maharasthra's side, the Marathi vs Hindi debate. Debate? Who am I kidding? Its just a feud fuelled by the Shiv Sena and Raj Thakre's MNS.

This mass cluster-f**k is the result of brain-dead people who don't think twice before electing their leaders. The only people who'd benefit from a new state are the ones who will rule it. They have power, they control the flow of wealth. The future of their offspring is hence secured, and so too their name as a "founder" of their respective state. There's a whole lot of students at Osmania University too, half of whom make it their business to agitate even for causes that remotely concern them, as they did for Telangana. If this was China, these brilliant minds would be charged for rebellion, lined up and have their just desserts delivered to them by a firing squad.

Speaking a separate language is no criteria for a separate province, where did that sense of being Indian go?? Do we not have a national identity?? Shouldn't we put the nation before our individual regions?? As a friend of mine told me of late - "Give me a piece of land on Harrington Road or Mount Road and a ministerial birth, I'll fast for a few days." That's pretty much what it has come to in our once-united nation.

What good is it blaming our neighbours for terrorism when we've got enough of it in our own homeland. Not terrorism per se, but a mutual hatred for people of other regions based on nothing but the words of some leader looking to profit from the depths of our stupidity.

Brace yourself fellow Indians, for your children will soon have to learn the names of 30+ states when they learn Indian geography and the names of a few more worthless politicians in Indian history.

We no longer need China or Pakistan to foment trouble, we can do it ourselves, thank you very much.

UPDATE: Recently, another "very popular" (yeah, right) politician from Tamil Nadu has joined the "Split India Movement" (in contrast to Gandhiji's Quit India Movement) and asked for bifurcation of TamilNadu into two smaller states. Maybe he wants to better the odds to make his son a Chief Minister, now that this son is no longer a Union Minister. Check the 2nd comment regarding this person on the following page -->A news story - Check it out, but you'll understand only if you're relatively well versed with Tamil.

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Could he be back for real this time??

It wasn't too long ago when Felipe Massa had a terrible accident that the world of Formula One had its foundations shaken by the possible return of seven-time World Champion, Michael Schumacher.

This was a man who'd stretched every rule in the book, stopped at nothing to win, but also shown a supreme talent in driving. If it rained, most people would bet on Schumacher to win no matter what. His reign at the top of F1 saw few contenders - among them Mika Hakkinen.

The return of this legend never happened though, owing to a neck injury he'd suffered in a bike accident. However, now with the Mercedes team needing one more driver to fill in the slot vacated by Jenson button, speculation has been ripe that Michael could be back for real this time around. Mercedes have great interest in him not only because of his talent, but because signing him along with Nico Rosberg would create an all-German driver lineup.

The latest news coming in from the German daily Bild is that the contract has already been drawn up between Schumacher and Mercedes. Both the former Champion and his spokeswoman have been mum about the issue, fueling further speculation.

Another point of note, Ross Brawn - the mastermind behind all Schumacher's seven titles - is now at Mercedes. Could this then be the dream team for the next season of Formula 1? Will they make Ferrari see red, literally?? If Schumi does indeed return to the track, I can guarantee I'll be glued to the television set come raceday!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Jet Black Kitty... and my damn exams

Sorry for the lack of any new posts for quite some time. Been busy with my end semester exams and practical exams. I'll get back to posting in a few weeks time.

For now, here's one of my new kittens. He's a little black cat. The first all-black kitty to be born at our place (yes, we have lots of cats here).

EDIT: He was killed by a big cat while he was asleep just an hour ago. :(

Here's a little video of him. The dog you see there is Mr. Cactus.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Finally, an LED Cube

I've been at it making a 4x4x4 (that's 64 in total) LED Cube for quite a while now with a little help from a college friend of mine.

Even after soldering the circuit together there were quite a few worries. Defective oscillators, mixed up cathode lines, leaky transistors, adjacent solder points touching each other, one layer not lighting up at all... what not. Our teacher, Mr. Raman from the Electronics lab at our department helped me find one of those nagging faults which I for the life of me couldn't figure out (solder points touching ever so lightly at one place under the oscillator crystal).

Finally, after a few sleepless nights of soldering, de-soldering, error checking and error correction - here it is:

The entire thing is driven by an Atmega16 chip. The coding is in C.

Sorry for the quality, the clip was taken on a phone camera in the dark. The cube looks best in the dark. Brighter blue LEDs can also be used instead of the above used red LEDs. Blue LEDs frankly look even cooler but I'll have to change the resistor values on the outputs then.

Vigneshwaran (my classmate) and I did a paper presentation on 3D Displays using OLED screens this week. We won 2nd prize for that. :D This model was used to give people a very basic understanding of the concept behind the presentation.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Kingdom of Thailand – Day 10 (June 23rd 2009)

Had to wake up early today, cos the flight wouldn't wait. The front desk had forgotten to book the car to the airport, so there was a bit of last minute bungling before they found a taxi. The driver kept negotiating the price and toll till we reached the first expressway. When we got there, Dad gave him 50Baht more than he'd asked, and he gave Dad a hug and said “Thank you vellllly much” before he left.

Bangkok airport is a masterpiece, marvelous design, easy on the eyes, yet intricate.

Just after we checked in and were about to go for the security check, a “Suwatdee Khrup” startled us and we found a smiling Thai airways rep who enlightened us in great detail of the facilities we could avail at the information desk (of which he was particularly insistent on the tours and hotel bookings he could do for us, when he learnt we were on the flight to Phuket). He asked us how we could “spend some time and get info” because there was quite some time left before boarding began. The minute we mentioned that our bookings were all made and we'd already arranged what we wanted to see, the poor bugger's smile disappeared and he said “Oh, very good, please go right ahead then sir”.

Spent some time window shopping at the electronics and watch showrooms in the airport. Mostly we were just doing price comparisons of stuff we already had (like my Longines watch) or that we'd bought in Bangkok (like the cameras), though I did see another Fossil watch that I liked. Still the range was a bit limited and I'd be back at Bangkok's international duty free on the way back home (Phuket ---> Bangkok ----> Chennai), so I thought I'd just wait and see till then.

The 10.55 flight to Phuket got there around 12.15 in the afternoon. When the flight taxies off the main runway, you can see that the runway is right next to the sea. Phuket's airport was chock full of touts looking to grab the live bait that stepped off the plane. Once again, Americans and Europeans are few and far between thanks to the recession, even considering that its off season in Thailand now. Phuket city (and the hotel) is 30km or so from the airport and our private minivan (courtesy the hotel, not the touts) took us there quick via very good roads with greenery on either side all the way.

Phuket seems a bit like Pattaya, but with the more laid back feel of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Restaurant chains are less numerous, but the road network and public infrastructure are still brilliant.

There was a guy at the lobby who (even before we got the rooms ready) tried to talk us into a scuba diving trip. Didn't work. A bit of time later, we headed up to the rooms with our luggage and the bellboy in the lift. The bellboy tried to coax us into a boat cruise and canoeing. Looks like agents are ubiquitous. Can't let your guard down in Phuket for a minute.

Freshened up and went back downstairs for lunch followed by a quick walk. Around 4.15pm we had our private minivan take us to Kamala Beach – pretty far from the hotel (Mum was tsunami-phobic and insisted on a hotel well away from the beach). This stretch of sand is so tranquil, but a memorial here reminds us of the lives lost in the Tsunami. When the very waves that make this beach so attractive slammed down on it and destroyed so much property and swept away people in the thousands regardless of their nationality. There are clearly marked escape routes and instructions to be followed (separate for tourists and locals) in the event of an earthquake here. While locals are supposed to run further inland, tourists are instructed to run along the beach until they get to the road leading up to a safe spot. Along the beach with a Tsunami heading your way?? Oh well, if you're a tourist, tough luck... Played with a plump little cat for some time, wondered whether he even realised all that had happened here so many years ago....

The driver did his best to persuade us to book another tour through him (without the reception needing to know) but he didn't hit the target.

Headed to Phuket FantaSea. Its dubbed a Cultural Theme Park. But its more like a carnival / amusement park where everything's a bit more posh and refined for the foreign tourist. We got there right at opening time. An artificial waterfall greets you at the entrance, with a pond teeming with colourful fish.

Right inside the park the first building to the right has an entry to the “Tiger Jungle Adventure”. This goes through a series of rooms with live displays including ringtail lemurs, deer, hamsters (in a huge pen with all kinds of stuff for them to play on), a reticulated python (on a glass ceiling right above your head), 2 white tigers (in a large enclosure that reminds you of an Indian palace), and a spotless and huge white room with 2 pure white peacocks, fluorescent lighting, white albino crows, white doves, and white cockatoos – all so clean and well maintained – not to mention the pure-white clad lady in the same room who showed us the way to the next display ;) .

There are lots of souvenir shops here inside FantaSea (apart from the wonderful surroundings, green grass, water, elephant rides etc) and all the stuff inside is pretty expensive (one particular piece – a globe bedecked with jewels all around is worth 3,000,000 Baht). Plenty of fairground games like dart throwing and shooting among many many others all over the place.

The much hyped restaurant at this theme park is the Golden Kinnaree. This hall seats upto 4000 guests at any one time, though I'd hardly call this a great achievement considering that the tables seat 10 people or so each and seats are pre-assigned (the number is on your ticket) to maximise seat distribution, so you're seated mostly with other people sitting right next to you or across the table. A large Indian marriage hall could do that easily if you're gonna seat people like its a mess. Note that I mean only the seating arrangement, the decor, the seats and tables themselves are all pretty good.

They promote this buffet as the “World's greatest” in their ads. Bah, humbug I say. Bullshit. Its good, there is a pretty nice spread, but nothing special. There wasn't even any mousse, cheesecake or ice-cream at the dessert section. Decent? Yes. But nothing to write home about. These guys could learn even from the buffets at The Residence at Park Sheraton and Anise at The Taj. Above and beyond the 400 Baht they charge (per person), just for the food, they don't even give you a free drink, leave alone the silly seating arrangement.

Around 8.40pm we headed to the “Palace of the Elephants”. A large theater reminiscent of the Music Academy hall at Chennai, albeit with a much more elaborate stage and lighting and sound system. The show here which starts at 9pm is the highlight of FantaSea. They charge you a bloody lot for it too – 1500 Baht for a normal seat, and 1750 for one right down the centre of the auditorium. This place does seem to have a one-pricing policy though. The majority of Thailand's attractions and hotels have dual pricing – they charge tourists a hefty premium over locals. But they do it in an underhanded way by writing lower prices in Thai numerals below the price in the normal numeral.

The concept of this show is similar to Alangkarn – showing similar scenes, elephants and such. Differences here include the larger number of elephants and the kinds of tricks they did, the larger scale, the heavy use of pyrotechnic and other special effects, laser shows, a great number of magic tricks, more kinds of dances and martial arts etc. Its more a difference of scale and more technology. The trained animals running across the stage during a love song really had us all smiling – roosters, lambs, pigeons, even tigers. The roosters were the funniest – one of them even slipped and got back up and ran the right way. Of particular note are the trapeze artists who perform far above your heads in UV reflective outfits in a section of the show devoted to their death defying acrobatics. The falling paper in this section of the show combined with the UV light would have us believe we were in a strange glowing land where snow was falling. Wonderful work on the effects and the trapeze. The show almost justified the price, 'almost' because with the number of people visiting they could have reduced it a bit and still made ends meet. Still, a wonderful show.

For anyone visiting Thailand and wondering whether to see all the shows, give Siam Niramit (in Bangkok) and Alangkaarn (in Pattaya) a miss and see this one instead. And Tiffany's is more than enough, you can well afford to drop Simon's cabaret in Phuket from your list.

We'd had to check-in all our recording devices at the entrance of the Palace of the Elephants and we collected them after the show. Mum and Dad still carried the balloons they'd caught at the end of the show (it literally rained balloons).

And so we left and got into our minivan as the driver drove us back to the hotel. Tired with today's sightseeing, we didn't need any encouragement to hit the sack.