National Geographic Photo of the Day

Saturday, August 29, 2009

IEEE 125th Anniversary - Cultural show

Our MIT campus of Anna University recently hosted the IEEE Madras Chapter's 125th anniversary celebration. At the end we had an hour's worth of music and dance programs.

Here are some videos of the part where I was playing the keyboard with some of my classmates singing on stage.

(Yes, I had to sing a line or two too, but please don't let that ruin the rest of the song for you ;) )

Friday, August 28, 2009

Onam getting expensive - an NDTV article

Onam, the South indian (specifically Malayali) festival is fast approaching. The main feature of this event is the Sadhya - a grand meal laid out on plantain leaves. Completely vegetarian of course. Here's an article I read on NDTV's website about how things are getting a bit costly.


Onam platter: Simply too pricey

It is said to be the grandest and most elaborate meal prepared for a festival anywhere in the world. On Onam day, even the poorest Malayali has at least 18 items on his Onam platter, called the Sadya.

The popular Malayalam saying goes 'kannum vittu onam unnanum', which means a Malayali should have an Onam Sadya even at the cost of selling his assets. And this Onam, it seems the saying will be apt for many because the Onam platter will be three times its price this year as each item on the platter comes with an exorbitant price tag.

Avial, the popular curry, requires at least five vegetables. The prices of each has gone up by 70 per cent on an average.

Paapad costs Rs 30 per 100 grams, Rs 12 more than last year. A kilogram of plantains, which was sold at Rs 16 last year, is now coming for Rs 37 now.

A coconut which came for Rs five last year costs Rs 11 now; the price of sugar, rice and oil has more than doubled and Kerala's famous banana chips cost more by Rs 20 a kg.

"I have to buy new clothes for my children and others at home. So I have to adjust. I would knock off some items from the Sadya, and keep only one payasam instead of three," said Shajana.

The biggest shock is from the most basic banana leaves on which the meal is served. It was priced at 50 paise each last year, but now it costs Rs 1.50 each.


Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Kingdom of Thailand – Day 6 (June 19th 2009)

This is the first full day we spent in Bangkok. After breakfast, we left for The Temple of the Emerald Buddha. This temple complex has a large number of paintings of the Ramayana and statues of Ravana as well.

Somehow Buddhism here is closely connected to Hinduism back in India. The landscape is dotted with towers of gold and studded with rubies and pearls and porcelain works of art. The details are so intricate, so carefully crafted and undoubtedly must have cost a fortune. The ashes of each king are kept in separate towers too. Some of the buildings are off limit to all but the Royal Family of Thailand.

The central piece de resistance of the temple is the Emerald Buddha idol itself. The idol is in a building within which there is a towering gold structure. You can't wear shoes or take photographs inside. At the top of the gold structure rests the Emerald Buddha around 70cm tall. This idol is totally made of emerald. And during autumn, summer and winter the King of Thailand changes the gold dress that the idol wears – there's one gold dress for each season.

Next stop was the Grand Palace. A large group of buildings whose centerpiece is a Palace which has a European style about it but the roof is in Thai style with gilded tiles. There's also a completely European style palace here built by the King Rama V, but this is completely off limits to tourists. Everything's so neat all around, so well-maintained and clean. Not a bit of litter to be seen.

The Marble temple and Reclining Buddha were next on our agenda. The reclining Buddha is a large – I really should say “long” rather than just “large” - figure of the reclining Buddha. A gigantic statue of Buddha which you see part by part from between the columns holding up the building around it.

The same complex also has a number of other gold Buddha idols as well as inscriptions of ancient massage procedures. No wonder the Thais are so good at massage.

From there, we toured the city seeing Chinatown and the Indian section of Bangkok, and the actual palace where the King and the Royal Family were still living day-to-day. Near that palace was a gem showroom sponsored by the King. More Onyx, Aquamarine, Garnet, opal, jade, emerald, rubies, quartz, rubellite, diamonds..... The prices here were much lower than the World Gems Collection at Pattaya. So Mum took a flamethrower to my Dad's wallet again. Poor man.

Soon the damage was done :D and we headed to Siam Paragon. A huge shopping center (actually only one of the many that the same group owns – among the others is Siam Discovery). Had some ice-cream and then took a look around. There's even an oceanarium on the likes of Pattaya / Singapore's Underwater World under the Siam Paragon mall. A whole oceanarium just in the basement. Wow!!!

Took a short tour of the upper floors. Found and took photos of a Lamborghini Gallardo, a few Porsches, Audis, a Spyker, and BMW. Not the kinda stuff I'd buy. Reason ? Shipping it back home would be a hassle (OK, so I don't have that much silly money).

Left via skytrain from Siam to go to National Stadium. Once again, looked all around MBK. More shopping. More clothes. Had dinner at The Pizza Company and came back to the hotel.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Slim is In

A few minutes ago, Sony's announcement at Gamescom 09 has stolen the thunder from the Xbox 360.

A new slimmer, lighter PS3 was unveiled at the event by Kaz Hirai. The new console will retail for 299 dollars and 299 euros. I don't know what the pricing in India will be yet. Still, all PS3s on shelves will have their prices drop too - that means the current "fat" PS3 will soon sell at $299.

The slim consumes less power, weighs less and occupies less space. It has a 120gb hard drive inside and features are reportedly identical to the current SKUs of the console.

The fat iteration of the console still, in my opinion, has the better looks than the slim with its matte finish and PS2-esque lettering.

Either way this is good news for gamers. Rejoice ye all, for Sony hath finally seen the light!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Tips for a PS3 Noob

When I first got a PS3, there were a few things I wanted to check out on it but 'twas a while before I got a hang of it. Perhaps listing those things out here will help someone who has just bought the black beauty.

  • Checking HDD space

No, you cannot browse the PS3's hard drive like you would on MS Windows' explorer. Here everything is grouped according to the type of data - Music, Video, Photos etc.

So if you want to do a quick check on how much space you have left just head over to Settings --> System Settings ---> System Information.

And the hard drive on any PS3 can be replaced with a regular 2.5 inch (laptop) SATA hard drive at 5400rpm, if you wish to upgrade it that is.

  • Playing Media from a USB Drive

I initially tried plugging in a 16gb pen drive with videos on it and the PS3 wouldn't detect it. I thought "Maybe the pen drive ain't so good". Later I found that the PS3 can handle only FAT32 formatted devices. So format every drive you intend to use with the PS3 as FAT32. This will also limit file sizes to 4gb.

Furthermore unless you put video files in a VIDEO folder, or music under a MUSIC folder on the drive, the console won't show you the files directly. What you have to do (as an example I'll use divx files under the root directory) is go to the video section, scroll down to your drive, then press triangle and choose "Display all". This will show you all the compatible files that you can open.

The same procedure is applicable for opening music or photos.

And you would do well to use a USB 2.0 drive if you want to play HD videos off it.

  • Copying files

You might notice that while downloading from the PSN store you'll be able to allow a download to go on in the background. This cannot be done while you copy data between the PS3's hard disk and an external disk. Once you set it to copy a file, it will not let you do any other operation until either the files have been copied or the operation has been canceled. Background downloads will still continue while you're copying though.

  • Changing OS

You can install Linux on your PS3, a quick google search will get you all the info you need. But note one important point before you even consider changing your OS to Linux --- You will lose all your data (apart from what you've backed up) and you'll have to download add-ons and updates for games, game demos etc. all over again.

  • Changing between TVs

Look at this scenario. You've got the PS3 connected to a HDTV (an LCD or Plasma) via HDMI. One fine day you take it along with you on a trip and try connecting it to a Standard Definition TV which has composite inputs. What you'll get is a blank screen even after powering on the PS3 and you'll be clueless as to the solution.

This is pretty simple to set right. From standby mode (that is with the red light on) just hold the power button 4-5 seconds until you hear the second beep. Then release the power button and the console will switch itself on and reset its video and audio output settings. This way you can set your PS3 up to work with the new television. Don't worry this won't damage your PS3 in any way or reset any other settings or saves.

  • Audio output - 2.0, 5.1, 7.1

The PS3 can only output 2.0 audio from the composite out port. The optical audio output will again only support 5.1 audio out, whereas 7.1 will be available only when you use a hyper-expensive receiver which supports HDMI audio input and can pass the HDMI video out without doing anything to it.

Now there'll be people saying "So what, 5.1 is good enough for me, I can get DTS-HD or Dolby TrueHD tracks in 5.1 from a Bluray via my optical input-equipped speakers!". Wrong.

LPCM 5.1 or DTS-HD or Dolby TrueHD has too much data to be sent via an optical cable. The only tracks you'll end up getting via optical out will be normal DD 5.1 or DTS, in other words DVD-Quality surround audio.

Here's a complete audio compatibility chart. The source of this chart is

PS3 CompatiblityBitstream (HDMI)LPCM (HDMI)Bitstream (TOSLINK)LPCM (TOSLINK)AV Multi
Linear PCM 7.1YesYesNoNoYes (Stereo)
Dolby TrueHD 7.1NoYesNoYes (Stereo 44.1kHz)Yes (Stereo)
Dolby TrueHD 5.1NoYesNoYes (Stereo 44.1kHz)Yes (Stereo)
Dolby Digital PlusYesYesYesYes (Stereo)Yes (Stereo)
Dolby DigitalYesYesYesYes (Stereo)Yes (Stereo)
dts-HD MA (7.1)NoYes (5.1)NoYes (Stereo)Yes (Stereo)
dts-HD HRA (7.1)NoYesNoYes (Stereo)Yes (Stereo)
dts Digital SurroundYesYesYesYes (Stereo)Yes (Stereo)
SA-CD 5.1NoYes (176kHz)NoYes (Stereo 44.1kHz)Yes (Stereo)
SA-CD StereoNoYes (176kHz)Yes (Stereo 44.1kHz)Yes (Stereo 44.1kHz)Yes (176kHz)

If you're wondering what TOSLINK is, its nothing but Optical.

The Kingdom of Thailand – Day 5 (June 18th 2009)

Got up and finished the remaining packing. Left Pattaya Hill Resort around 12 in the afternoon in a minivan arranged via the hotel. Looks like my pimples are making a bit of a comeback thanks to the change in the type of food I'm eating over the past few days. Nose is getting dry and scaly too (I mean the exterior).

Along the way we stopped at the Sriracha Tiger Zoo. This facility has the largest number of captive tigers I've ever seen in any one place. All well-maintained, well-fed and kept in spacious enclosures. There are even enclosures with a tiger raising piglets as well as a sow feeding tiger cubs. The Sriracha zoo also houses several species of crocodiles(as many crocs as our croc farm back home) and elephants. The animal shows that they had at half hour intervals were well worth the admission ticket prices. Had lunch there too, a very tasty and filling meal for 4 for just 400 Baht. And no pork in it, which we're avoiding like the flu (sorry for the pun).

We continued on to Bangkok from there. The Sukhumvit road is the highway that goes all the way from Pattay right into Bangkok. It stops when it reaches the expressways of Bangkok. These expressways form a massive network of wide, high-speed roads raised 30-40 feet in the air. This is the kind of network which any city needs to speed up traffic.

From the expressways, we took one of the exits on to the normal roads below. Now it began to look more like the Chennai city we were familiar with. Roads and most pavements were around the same size, but buildings are pretty big, and there are some pretty large malls (like our Spencers) all around the place. The traffic might appear a bit more unruly, but people still walk only on pavements, and the drivers follow every rule to a fault (except two-wheelers which weave in and out a bit) and they give way to pedestrians. And you won't find any people crossing where there's no zebra crossing.

We got to the hotel soon enough with the assistance of my N79's GPS voice navigation, because the driver himself wasn't sure where it was. Settled in to the large deluxe suite we had booked here and started planning where we could go in the next 4 days (excluding this one). Decided to run off to MBK (Mahboonkrong Mall), so we walked to the nearest station from here (Saphan Thaksin Station), from where we took the BTS Skytrain to National Stadium. The BTS Skytrain is again on a track raised to the level of the city's skyline and it runs all over Bangkok. Quite a marvel this, though ticket costs are around 30-40Baht per person for a trip between two stations over a good distance. Still, its far more comfortable and spacious than our crappy trains back in India.

The National Stadium station has a direct exit into MBK, via the Tokyu (yes its Tokyu, not Tokyo) department store. Leaving the store you step into the main section of the mall. Pretty big, and it'll take a long time to see every shop here, and these range from small shops to flea-market type areas to big name brands to huge electronic paradises (yes you silly girls, electronic equipment store = paradise, for me). Bought a few t-shirts and Mum, Dad and Aunt spent a lot of time in watch and clothes stores, so my time in “paradise” was short. Why you ask? Because here all major stores, food courts, international brands... everything just closes down at the stroke of 10pm, just like in the US. So if you want to eat after 10pm, you'll need to be satisfied with McDonald's, which once again like in the US, stays open 24 hours a day. Swensen's is all over Bangkok too, but it closed and we had ice-cream at McDonald's instead.

Left via Skytrain and reached the hotel soon. And so ended our first (half-)day in Bangkok.

The Kingdom of Thailand – Day 4 (17th June)

This morning, we went over to “World Gems Collection” exhibition. This is a very large place full of precious and semi-precious stones, gems and minerals of all kinds.

The tour starts with a display of diamonds, rubies, sapphires, garnets, opals, smoky quartz, malachite...... hundreds of such stones and minerals that you'd read about in science and chemistry books – right there in front of your eyes. It was quite fascinating to see these materials in their natural forms before processing, the process they were put through and the finished products in each case.

Following that part of the tour is a humongous jewelery showroom. Every conceivable piece of jewelery that you can think up is available here. At a price, though. Some things cheaper than back home in India, others far more expensive. Mum and my aunt's eyes lit up with joy on seeing that display. Indian women and jewels – that’s been an age old love affair. Anyway, my dad didn't go broke thanks to his credit cards, despite my mum's shopping spree. Since we'd bought a lot, our usher-cum-guide (as in the guy who greeted us and showed us around the place) accompanied us throughout and left only after he got us safely into our vehicle several hours later. He'd even asked me to consider buying something for my girlfriend, but I didn't have tens of thousands of Baht like my Dad....Oh wait, I don't have a girlfriend now do I??!!! :-(

From the World Gems Collection we headed to Beach Road.
If only all phone numbers were this cool (see below):

Had lunch at Food Wave (a collection of stalls with food from every part of the world), and next stop ---> Swensen's Ice Cream again :D . Ordered a Big Rock Sundae for myself – that's like a tall glass with scoops of chocolate, mocha and vanilla ice-cream with chocolate chips and nuts and wafers and chocolate sauce and hot fudge. Oh, that was heaven in a glass.

To let our stomachs settle down from those sinful delights, we took a walk along Beach Road and then onto Walking Street. It was only 4pm, so the real action hadn't started yet. Got a taxi back to the hotel, intending to return later in the evening.

So we did, at 7.30pm. We walked from one end of Walking Street to another. But it looks like the recession has taken its toll. The clubs are a lot less full. The girls are busier holding advertisements outside the bars and pubs and gentleman's clubs, rather than carrying on with their business inside them. Me, mum, dad and my aunt were walking along. Me, a bit in front of the other three. So there were a few catholic-school dress-clad Thai girls who ran around me hoping for a customer, and there were some that told me “Come on in, live show” and “Don't miss it, new girls, get some action”. 'Twas all very funny, cos they didn't realise my parents were a few metres behind. Better luck next time girls, maybe you'll catch me alone.

Of course, the motto here is “No money, No honey” ;-) . So you better be loaded if you're looking for a decent amount of sinning. By the way, there's a law in this country that says “A foreign man can't marry a Thai woman unless he earns 40,000 (around Rs. 60K) Baht a month”. True story. But I think us sinful young men would hardly find a reason to marry once you land up here and you're earning that much XD.

Well after that, we walked on till we got to Beach road and had dinner at KFC. Mum as usual kept saying it was too much to eat after such a heavy lunch (lunch was around at 3.30pm), though it was her suggestion that we go to KFC. Still, she always seems to have room for plenty of ice-cream even after that. And since we didn't want her to feel alone, we joined in (alright, so I have a sweet tooth too).

A taxi back to the hotel and we began packing. It's our last day at Pattaya tomorrow, we leave for Bangkok in the afternoon.