National Geographic Photo of the Day

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.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Kingdom of Thailand – Day 9 (June 22nd 2009)

Our last full-day in Bangkok. This morning's trip was to MBK. Bought a suitcase to accommodate all our purchases. Bought a few more shoes. Made our way to MBK's top floor where there's a Cineplex. There was also a large watch store here – all sorts of premium brands. Dad bought himself a Timberland watch and one by Esprit. Kept quite myself cos my focus was on another possible purchase.

A cool dog we found at the station

Finally Dad succumbed and gave in to my demands for a PS3. We'd already found that the PS3 wasn't officially available from the lack of the console at Sony showrooms in Siam Paragon and Central World. So we looked around MBK for the latest (as of this writing) model of the console – the 160gb one with 2 USB ports (S/n: CECHPxx). Quite difficult to find, though we finally did at one shop – Pro Gamer. Negotiated for a while before buying the console along with Killzone 2.

That's Pepsi in Thai

It was 4.30pm by the time all this was done and we had a snack/ substitute for lunch at Burger King. Came back to the hotel soon after. Our relative was waiting there. After some chit-chat we left around 6.30pm in his car. The traffic jams were soooooo long, right until we got onto an expressway. He took us to The Mall, a big mall – as the name suggests :P - a bit away from Bangkok's city centre. More shopping (more shoes and handbags) and more eating followed.

Drove back to the hotel around 10pm. Was packing all the stuff up till late in the night.

The Kingdom of Thailand – Day 8 (june 21st 2009)

This morning we had a visitor, a relative of ours working in Thailand. He was joined here by two of his friends. So we had a long chat till they left around 12 noon. And then we left for some market called Chatuchak – mainly my Aunt's idea.

Took the sky train to Sala Daeng, where we switched over to the MRT. Don't do this if you just want to go directly to Chatuchak market. We took it just to see how the underground system (MRT) here was. Got off the underground at Chatuchak Park station and made our way to the market. You'll find lots of clothes, ties, furniture, souvenirs etc here. But don't mind coming here to do your shopping. They won't reduce prices one bit, just like I thought. It's no longer like the Thailand of old, the people here don't mind not selling something, they'll let you walk away without making a single effort to strike a bargain. And there's nothing here that you're gonna get really cheap. Had lunch from a stall somewhere in the market. Quite tasty, but the prices were obviously inflated when the vendor saw we were foreigners.

Onto Mo Chit station, and took the skytrain to Siam station. (We had a few gelatos – read: Italian ice creams made from Yoghurt – before we did so) From the station you can walk on elevated walkways all the way to Central world. There's absolutely no need to get down to ground level here. Prominent locations are serviced by such walkways from nearby train stations all over Bangkok.

Central world is another huge mall, lots of stuff to see, lots of window shopping to do. Another tour of the floors of this vast mall. Found another Powerbuy here, and Dad bought a phone for someone. Got myself a proper screen protector. The sales-girl who applied it on my phone new how to apply the thing properly, unlike the monkeys who eff it up here in Chennai. Walked around a bit more. Played with an iPhone on display for quite some time. Liked the smooth flow and navigation, sadly that's pretty much the main draw of the iPhone, a bit down on features for its asking price. Its the 3G version here, the 3GS isn't here yet. Later just near the exit from Central World back to the walkways leading to the station, found a Nokia display with a working N97. Quite a good phone and a decent touch screen but still doesn't beat the way the iPhone's menus “flow” so smoothly.

Guess what store this is - Indian, red background and white text, footwear..

From the station, it was back to Saphan Thaksin on the skytrain. Aunt had a revelation – “Let's go to Chinatown” - at around 7.30pm. So we took a Tuk Tuk (yes, the infamous Tuk Tuk – kinda like an autorickshaw), an essential, if a bit unsafe, experience in Bangkok. As expected, all the major stores at Chinatown were all closed. Walked around looking at all the weird stuff at the Chinese restaurants, then took another Tuk Tuk back to the hotel. For the distance we'd traveled, Tuk Tuks are CHEAPER THAN AUTORICKSHAWS IN CHENNAI. Finally something's cheaper here :D .

Had dinner at KFC nearby and topped that up with ice-cream from Swensen's.

The Kingdom of Thailand – Day 7 (June 20th 2009)

After breakfast, we left early with our guide – a woman named Oey (pronounced Oi) who kept talking a lot (good for me) in a minivan to Kanchanaburi province. Stopped at a store attached to a gas station for breakfast. Got some Fanta strawberry (Damn, why isn't this kinda stuff available in India) that was verrrrrry tasty. Here they add a lot of ice to drinks (hence decreasing the volume of the actual drink) just like they do at Mcdonalds, KFC, Domino's etc in India. But, the difference here is that you can ask them not to put any ice in and they'll leave the ice out and fill the glass right up with juice. Now that's the way they should do it. Shame on our retailers who so cheaply fill half a glass when we say “No ice please”.

Oi showed us some huge homes as we went past them on the highway and told us that a foreigner can't buy a home without marrying a Thai first. Also, to marry a Thai woman, the foreign man must earn atleast 40,000 Baht a month. Looking at me, she said “next time you come... I find nice Thai girl for you... very beautiful... then you can buy house”. I'm considering the offer ;-)

Our first stop was the War Cemetery. Here lie the graves of thousands of soldiers – of all ages, some as young as 20 – who died in WW2, fighting the Japanese forces and several of them being subjected to brutality in captivity, being forced to labour endlessly to build the infamous Japanese railway line – part of which is the famous “Bridge over the River Kwai” immortalised in movies. 115,000 soldiers and civilians died on just this railway line. 11 Indian soldiers are also honoured in this cemetery.

Next stop – the Jeath war museum (each letter of Jeath stands for a country / area of the world from where the soldiers came). War memorabilia of all kinds, as well as an exhibition of Thailand's past wars and great leaders and how Thailand was formed from the Khmer. Got friendly with an Iguana here, for the biologically–challenged its a big lizard 'nuff said. The lower section of the war museum displays Japanese articles – the bikes, airplanes, weapons, bombs that fell here, and the railway carriages used to imprison the POWs in harsh conditions.

Finally saw the remnants of the actual bridge on the River Kwai (shown above). It was destroyed by aerial bombardment and all that stands is a bit of it on the banks at one end. To think that so many died for this. Saw a few Japanese tourists there too, wonder what they would have thought about the handiwork of their ancestors.

After that we visited the new bridge (above) over the river Kwai which is actually a railway bridge. They let you walk across the structure though. But you have to be careful, slip anywhere and you'll fall into the river several metres below. Mum and my aunt decided to stay back at one end while me and Dad took a walk. Followed that up with buying a few silk shirts from nearby shops. At 11.20pm there was a train departing from the bridge's stop. The ride on this train is recommended for any tourist. It goes across the bridge and then passes through lands filled with greenery and mountains. The view out of the window is simply beautiful. A 1 hour + ride later we alighted at a quaint little station. A short walk found us at a restaurant where a sumptuous buffet was laid out, the building was made of bamboo, and the view from near the restaurant included a river flowing around a bend and a mountain in the background - the kinda stuff (apart from the killing) you'd have seen in “John Rambo”.

Yes, they did arrest me... j/k..

Once we were done with lunch, our guide told us that the car was waiting for us at the station we'd got down at. So we took off once more on road, this time to the Tiger Temple a good distance away.

Some of you would have heard about this place on National Geographic or the Discovery Channel. Its a monastery for Buddhist monks, where they take care of a number of animals like goats, pigs, buffaloes, deer..... and Tigers. The cats aren't drugged or anything, if that's what you're thinking. As part of tradition at this “temple”, the monks rear the tigers by hand from birth. So they're less ferocious than they would otherwise be and can be trusted around people. There are lots of tigers here, from small cubs to huge full grown tigers. A number of people volunteer here to help the monks look after the tigers. There was even this little tiger who'd run around a tree (under supervision of his monk master of course) looking at tourists as if he was a little cat ready to pounce on them. And I took plenty of photos with all these cats. Not like you get too many such opportunities coming your way every day now.

From the tiger temple, we headed back to Bangkok. The ride back was a long one, more than 2 hours. Heard the driver use the horn once during the trip (this must be the first time I'm hearing the sound of a horn in Bangkok).

Dad and I got down at Wongwian Yai (a Skytrain station) while the other two went back to the hotel. From Wongwian Yai, we took the train to National Stadium. You guessed it, MBK again!!! More tech shopping followed. More pen drives, one Panasonic HDD camera with a 50x optical zoom and 60gb worth of HDD space, and an Olympus camera with a 20x optical zoom and 10.7mp from Powerbuy. Got back to the hotel late after that.