National Geographic Photo of the Day

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

College Chronicles - Semester Six

What can I say about Semester Six? Well, it began like any other one, where we thought "Oh goody this sem's gonna be more free than the one that just went." Right before the university decided it'd be better if we wasted another day at college each week rather than waste our Saturdays at home. All we could do was fume. Above you'll find the obligatory "This was my odometer reading on Day 1" picture.

A signboard pointed us in the direction of our department (yes it's always been there but I'd never photographed it).

Barely a few days had passed since reopening before the incessant 'Placement preparations' began. The effect it had on us was profound with people scrambling left right and center to get their resumes (it's pronounced Ray-soo-may oh Plebeians) ready, what with our seniors butchering the same with comments all over.

Mock interviews saw some of us, including yours truly, spend an eternity being asked questions that would determine who won the prize money of a million dollars :P whereas others were pushed off quick by the ones who had the power of mock! (you won't get this one unless you visit a very specific website).  Mr. Vigneswaran and me took off on a short sojourn to Coimbatore where we won a paper presentation contest at CIT (Yes, we did present our own paper, not something stolen off the net). Unfortunately, most of our professors were none too keen on giving us attendance even if we missed classes for such an event.

Back at college, our Faculty adviser and class representatives had been hard at work arranging an Industrial visit to Nokia's Special Economic Zone at Sriperumbudur. The sprawling SEZ had Nokia's own factory for Volume phones (ones that sold en masse) alongside several others like Foxconn (yeah, the suicide company), Jabil and Laird that supply Nokia's OEM components. During the pre-floor visit presentation, one of our company of 60 had the bright idea to spout out loud "No one wants" in response to "Who here wants to work for Nokia?". The ex-Navy man HR Manager wasn't taking any crap and he promptly threatened to stop the visit right then and there lest the "coward [sic] had the guts to own up". After some cajoling from our FA, the trip proceeded with all of us attired like we were going into a biological hot-zone.

On the way back another genius threw a bottle out the window of the bus. Said bottle hit a car's windscreen square center and the driver found the Vice Chancellor's number and reported the class. This later resulted in a Industrial visit ban for the remainder of the semester. Not like we really had the time anyway.

The image on the left spells out MITAFEST, that's our college festival. Apparently it looks the same when read from top or bottom. MITAFEST festivities were in full swing. Didn't quite bother helping out with writing the web page stuff this time around because the previous MITAFEST they conveniently forgot yours truly when it came to certificates.

The show got on the road. Literally.

This here would be our college bus. The one whose driver was condemned to drive us around for our industrial visits. I do NOT envy him his job. :D

My friends got me a cake and loads of other stuff and celebrated my birthday in a grand way. My thanks to them. The photo below shows the cake - after it had been savagely ripped into (no, not by me).

While the rest of the world is in pursuit of cleaner, safer, bio-degradable containers, our Rubber and Plastics Department seems confused!

Meanwhile, the "I shall study and never to the fruit thereof" crowd had their first taste of the joy that movies can bring:

The next photo is Chief Guest Pest Viggy during the prize-giving ceremony for... ohwaitaminute.. that's Anupama's birthday. :)

My odometer reading as the end semester exams approached.

Soon enough all the placement classes had been replaced by the oh-so-familiar feeling of "The exams are upon us, our doom is coming". Last minute preparation really gets the adrenaline flowing. And Mr. Cactus gave me company helping to make the late night study a less solitary affair.

 I, however, ended up stretched across the couch with my book on my head in a pose similar to this guy here:

Towards the conclusion of the exams, I received a notice saying I'd been chosen under Dr. David Koilpillai, Professor, EE Department, IIT Madras for IIT's Summer Fellowship Program. Something that I'd been eagerly awaiting. As is evident from the rest of my blog, the Zombie (that's how I looked after 2 weeks of late nights thanks to the tests) took off on a trip to Egypt. Another part of the holidays I'd awaited with ardor.

Check out the navigation links on the left side of the page or throw me a comment if you want a look at photos from that journey.

Found this on the door of the Professor's room when I went over a bit too early. I expected him to come glare at me, but Dr. David is seriously awesome! You'd never think he was the professor and you the student the way he's so friendly with you despite his repertoire of knowledge and vast experience in the area communication.

Discovered this piece of heaven above in Egypt, and brought back quite a few on the way home.

The Fellowship at IIT Madras is indeed an experience that can vary widely according to the professor you're chosen to intern under. For me, it's been a wonderful time, actually doing meaningful research and contributing in a small way under someone as erudite yet down-to earth as Dr. David.

Below you'll find photos of some of the places I worked in - IIT's Central Electronic Centre, the DSP Lab in the EE Building, and the Intel Wireless Lab to name a few - and some bits and pieces of circuits I worked on.

So yeah, I didn't have much in the way of a vacation. Though this is one place where I've thoroughly enjoyed working the whole day. And having a Cafe Coffee Day within the campus made it all the more worthwhile :) .

A week or so before college reopens for the 6th sem, I find a notification from the IEEE saying that a paper I had submitted for an international conference has been accepted. Didn't quite sleep the whole day after seeing the mail, I was that agog! Only in my dreams had I imagined that any paper of mine would be published on IEEE Xplore and in an international IEEE and IET conference's proceedings. Indeed, there's someone up there in the wide blue yonder looking out for me.

Of course, modifying the paper to make it IEEE Xplore Compatible and running it through the IEEE's still remains, not to mention the insanely high registration fee (since this is an event for PhDs, researchers and post grad students, not quite for undergrads). I thank my lucky stars even as I write this little post. There is a bigger hurdle though, the conference dates are smack in the middle of my end semester exam in November. If my university is unaccommodating, it'll be a damn shame if I give a "No Show" in Shanghai, China come November.

So it is with a great deal of apprehension that I end my blog entry, as the class sets forth on a new adventure - the seventh semester.

Friday, June 25, 2010

An Egyptian Excursion - Day 5

              Up late today, not much really left to see in Cairo. So down we went to that brilliant breakfast buffet. Saw the reporter on BBC saying they'd burnt down the biggest mall in Bangkok, pretty sad if it's Central World they were talking about. Oh well, atleast our favorite haunt in Thailand, MBK, still stands. It was a good thing we'd chosen Egypt for our vacation this time around instead of our earlier plans for Greece, where tourists are impeded by protests with the economy in shambles.

It's my parents' anniversary, and after breakfast we took a walk around our massive hotel. Our new driver, Karam, took us to the Egyptian National Museum, a big red building adorned with plaques in Latin, proclaiming what exactly I do not know, with a garden (predictably overflowing with visitors of several nationalities) and a few statues even outside it.

Unfortunately, cameras are to be left in a safe deposit at a counter outside the museum, no photos allowed inside, though occasionally we'd find someone violating the rule. My university ID (I'm not a history student, I'm an engineer :P ) got me half price entry here too, so remember to carry your student's ID card with you if you have one - the savings at the end of the day are significant when it comes to ticket prices at attractions.

Inside the museum, there was no dearth of gold, lapis lazuli, and marble. Wherever we looked, there were artifacts from the Middle Kingdom, Old Kingdom, New Kingdom and the Greco Roman period. The mummies recovered from various tombs in Egypt (from the Valley of the Kings and Queens as well) are placed in rooms where hygrometers and temperature sensors carefully monitor the ambient conditions. Of course, to see the mummies, you'll have to pay extra - yep, we took separate tickets for these rooms as well. Well-preserved jewelery, wonderfully decorated sarcophagi and ceremonial chariots and such make up a large part of the rest of the first floor. There's even an exhibit of animal mummies - including cats, dogs, birds and a large Nile crocodile that was found in one of the tombs with a baby crocodile in its mouth. It's obvious that to ancient Egyptians, the afterlife was of greater import than the way they lived.

The highlight of the Egyptian Museum is King Tutankhamun's tomb. The much-hyped Pharaoh's gold sarcophagus is in a separate section along with his scepter, flail and other adornments. In death, he had several sarcophagi of gold, wood and what not, one inside the other. His golden death mask has become the symbol of Ancient Egypt around the world, and several of the items from this exhibit have toured the world for many years. Tutankhamun (once Tutankhaten) had a very tumultuous family history. Confusing as it is, his own biological sister was his mother and his queen wife was his grandmother too. I know, don't try to understand it, just know that the ancient Egyptians had rather rotten habits when it came to choosing mates.

On the way out of the museum, the guy at the camera counter looked longingly for some baksheesh as he handed us the camera. He probably thought my Dad was Egyptian from his looks and decided to try his luck.
Got back to the hotel soon enough and began packing. Checking my mailbox after so many days (yes, 5 days without e-mail is a LOT) had me staring at "150 new messages" :O. Caught some Dirty Dancing on TV (that's the show's name by the way) later with a DSP book for company.

Come evening, it was time for a walk outside to the two bridges between Giza and Cairo. Friday's a holiday here Walked past a wonderful park filled with couples cuddling each other. I can imagine if this was Chennai - the policeman with his lathi would have had a field day shooing people away from the beach. Over the last few days it's become apparent to me that this is a well-planned city with good infrastructure, wide roads, parks, big footpaths, a metro and it's all very well policed. Even though there aren't too many public toilets, no one seems to spit or piss on the road. There're a lot more cats around here than dogs.

We stood over the bridge watching the Nile flow past and the feluccas sailing peacefully on it. Horns aren't heard too often but the vehicles most certainly zoom by pretty fast. A fire engine whizzed past, first time I've seen one here in Egypt. Walked back to the hotel as it was getting dark, besides we had a dinner reservation at 8.15pm. Once again, a very nice spread, but they do not place water on the table by default and ice creams are never part of the buffet here. Nobody seems to bother with ice-cream either :(

The waiter was a huge fan of Amitabh Bachchan and kept asking us questions about him. The buffet did have an overdose of pastries, though that isn't a bad thing in my book. With dinner done, we headed back to the room where there was more packing to be done, and electronic devices to be charged. Kept switching channels to catch Bourne Identity and The Marine simultaneously, before I fell asleep. In case you're wondering, no I didn't see any Cruzes today.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

An Egyptian Excursion - Day 4

An Awesome breakfast spread awaited us, with a wide range of soft pastries, breads and what not to choose from. Tiger was still sticking with us for the next few days in Cairo. My Cruze craze continued with another gray car spotted on the bridge between Giza and Cairo. The pedestrian is important here. But unlike Indian pedestrians (a.k.a arrogant a-holes who walk on the roads as they wish) they wait for a driver to wave them past. They don't exactly mosey across diagonally either, they're brisk in pace when they cross.

Checked out the Al-Azhar and Sultan Hassan mosques - both large structures worth a watch - and Khan el Khalili bazaar along the way.

Our next destination was the Citadel - a fortress-like walled area of Cairo. A huge mosque of Mohammed Ali with a very tall ceiling lies inside.

After a run around the place as well as savouring the views from the walls of the citadel, we returned to the entrance and waited for Tiger to get back with the car from the parking lot. Everyone was equal at the entrance and exit points. A bus driver tried to ignore police calling out to him to stop at a point for inspection thinking he could get away with it, but then a guy with an AK stepped in front and the bus was forced to move back. Now that is how policing should be done.

No one is allowed to park near the exit, hence allowing a free flow of traffic - something people in Chennai are yet to learn. There was this one guy who tried to park right there and an officer politely walked up to him and told him he couldn't. After trying to argue for a while (unsuccessfully) said driver got pissed off, put the car into first gear and suddenly accelerated forward a short distance before parking. Sadly, there was this one young lady (most likely his wife or maybe daughter) alighting from the back of the vehicle at that instant who fell to the ground and got dragged by the vehicle for a short distance. Thankfully, no damage done.

And so our drive around Old Cairo continued with a visit to Ibn Tuln mosque, which is the oldest mosque in Cairo, built around 800-900AD. Very intricate wood work in the ceiling was a highlight. Then we went to the Coptic area of Cairo. Attractions here include the Hanging church - a Coptic Christian church built upon the walls of an ancient Babylonian fortress with no real base or foundations(yes, you can see through the base at one point).

The Ben Ezra Synagogue was the next stop, followed by the Coptic museum. While I traversed a narrow alley, a gaggle of teenage girls ventured a Namaste with their hands, and giggled as I smiled while walking past. There was a large bunch of college kids who'd been practicing "Namaste"s on seeing us back at the Citadel too. The guards at the Coptic museum queried "India?", and an affirmation from us would be followed by the inevitable 'Amitabh Bachchan Number 1' (accompanied by appropriate finger gestures). 'Cept one guy who said "India? Aamir Khan I like".

There are no cars allowed into this street. So while walking out, we had lunch at a small eatery, despite not being hungry after that divine breakfast spread. Had one seller in the Coptic try to sell us wallets, he even offered to accept payment in Indian rupees. Ladies and Gentlemen, that rarely, if ever, happens. This guy must have been desperate beyond measure to take the one currency that you'll never find accepted even at any exchange other than in India itself and a few places in the UAE. Don't really get quite how they identify us as being from India - We wait and never ever jump queues, we, wait for the pedestrian crossing signal to turn on before walking, we don't talk loudly nonstop, and we don't bargain too hard where it's inappropriate either - quite un-Indian in a way, lol.

Next stop - Saqqara. The Step pyramids of Djoser are situated here. An open desert area bordering a lush green forest of palm trees. No horses needed here though you can take a ride on one if you fancy it. The Step Pyramids are not as grand as the ones in Giza, and they do have a few Greek looking columns and structures nearby.

Then it was on to Memphis, the ancient Pharonic capital. A great number of articles from the New kingdom are preserved here with a huge statue of Rameses the 2nd / Rameses the Great taking pride of place. We made it just before the attractions here started to close.

Most every place of sightseeing closes at 5pm in Cairo, and at 4pm in Saqqara, so see stuff quick (though not as quick as the big tour operators will show you - they were running 10 times as fast as our privately planned trip. Oh those poor buggers :D ). The long drive back to the hotel took a good deal of time and netted us the sight of another Black Cruze too. But its nowhere near a very taxing drive.

Rested our tired selves at the hotel for a few hours. Hit the road again around 7pm for a trip back to the Pyramids of Giza. Traffic was high, but people turning into a road always wait for a hand signal from drivers in the oncoming lanes before completing their entry. Pavements are plenty too, and well kept. No one walks onto the road. And everyone has a smile for everyone else even when sitting still in traffic. The only vehicles that seemed a bit unruly, jostling with others and scurrying into any open gap between vehicles, were the large minivans that ferry people for a very low fee like the share autos back in Chennai.

Air conditioning in the car wasn't really necessary once the sun set, though that took till 7.30pm to happen. Finally we reached the Sphinx. Yesterday's guide had said that the show was canceled, so it was with an air of anxiety that we'd set out today. Our suspicions were further raised when we saw the road to the Sound and Light Show lined with policemen, police dogs, and an assortment of Mercs and BMWs. When we got to the front of the line, we were informed politely by a government guy that the show had indeed been canceled. I could see that under his coat he had a concealed Uzi. With nothing else to be done here, we turned around with Tiger profusely apologizing for us not knowing ahead of time about the show. Not his fault, really. Apparently, there was some other function being conducted in the same area for a very high up government official, which was confirmed when we saw (as we were turning the car around) another BMW enter the area and drawing salutes from the entire gaggle of policemen. Obviously these people want tourists and make a lot of money from them, but they definitely don't depend on tourism to the extent that the Thais do (as was apparent from our previous sojourn).

We found out later that the show had been canceled for the next day too, which was our last full day in Cairo. Parked near a shopping area on the way back to the hotel, just to take a look around. Bought some trinkets and cakes from a most wonderful bakery. Soon we were back to the hotel and we had room service bring something up since we were dead tired. Looking out the window, we saw that the lights on the Cairo tower (they seemed to be some kind of giant LEDs lining every inch of the tower from top to bottom) put on a spectacular display which can be seen in the form of huge changing patterns - like hieroglyphics, balloons floating up, a felucca sailing on the Nile, calligraphy and many more - for 15 minutes straight. Apparently, they were putting on the show because today was some special event. It did not happen on the other days either. Watched The Descent on television after dinner before going to bed.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

An Egyptian Excursion - Day 3

            Another breakfast that filled us to the brim. Cairo and the pyramids beckoned us today. Set out with Tiger, leaving behind the beautiful beach resort of Fayid. Stopped at the War Cemetery, very silent place with well maintained grass and stone buildings and tombstones. A peaceful place for the final slumber of the many brave men who died here during World War 2. On the way to Cairo, it's pretty much empty desert on either side of the road. Now and then a military compound would show up to break the monotony of the desert. All of a sudden 2 air force jets flew over with a loud whoosh. Looking to the left, we saw 4 tanks going about in the desert, obviously on some sort of exercise.

We reached the place the Egyptians call Heliopolis (no, not the ancient city), a section of the city where the affluent build their homes, and where the airport finds its place. The roads were excellent so far, flanked by plenty of greenery. Pretty amazing for a so-called desert. No one cuts lanes here. And speed cameras do exist, marked by a "Speed Camera" picture. Tiger turned on the radio and it blared out some Arabic music. Very few two wheelers though, and no autos. No wonder it wasn't unruly on the roads. From Heliopolis onwards into the city, we followed a series of huge elevated expressways.

Soon enough we got to our hotel - the 5 star Pyramisa. All along the way I'd noticed that young girls (I mean teenagers and above) do wear a headscarf. However, it never covers the face, just one's hair and the with this exception tight form-revealing dresses seem to be their norm. Not to mention the fact that they bring along their accessory - a.k.a boyfriend - held tightly in one hand wherever they go. Lol. Not at all like a Muslim country. In fact it's much less restrictive than India.

Went over to the Papyrus museum in the afternoon. You guessed it, they make paintings on a base of Papyrus - from the pith of the Papyrus plant (Cyperus Papyrus). This is the way the Egyptians used to make them. You'd have seen imitations around the world but this is the real thing. Expectedly, prices are truly sky high. Bought 9 pieces or so, and they dwarfed the price of the 160gb PS3 we'd purchased on our last international trip.

On to the Pyramids of Giza from there. We alighted at

Monday, June 7, 2010

iPhone 4 @ WWDC

After months of speculation, prototypes popping up in bars and remote corners of the globe, bloggers being booked by the police... finally the Jesus phone got a new iteration at WWDC, when Steve Jobs went up on stage to announce the iPhone 4 (thank God they didn't call it the iPhone HD).

So what does it do? Well it pushes the iPhone 3G into oblivion and relegates the current-gen 3GS model to a lower strata in Apple's stable when it releases on June 24th in the US, France, Germany, Japan, and the UK. The iPhone 4 echoes some of the design cues I remember from the first generation iPod Nano, though much larger. It has a flatter back with squarish edges, not to mention more metal.

The pixel count stands at 960×640, which is higher than any other phone out there. The display (they're calling it a "Retina Display") is a 3.5" IPS Panel LCD with a contrast ratio of 800:1 and 326 PPI (that's pixels per inch) .

With a larger lens and a backside illuminated 5MP sensor complemented by an LED flash, the camera is sure to be atleast on par with other 5MP shooters.720p video recording at 30fps is a sweet feature to have, although that's one way to fill up your 32gb (it comes in a 16gb flavor too) of onboard space quickly. The front camera is a much needed inclusion, bringing video chat to the iPhone (and I'm certain the presence of Wifi-n on it will do it loads of good in this regard).

The processor inside is an A4, more than enough horsepower, but the phone still manages to conserve battery power better, showing battery time figures well in excess of previous iterations. It also has a Gyroscope within for

Saturday, June 5, 2010

An Egyptian Excursion - Day 2

Got up at 9am. Had a hard time trying to order breakfast from room service over the phone. So I decided to walk right up to the restaurant and tell the folks there. Turns out, the guy who I spoke to didn't know proper English and he was the only one in the restaurant at the time. He didn't look too happy taking my order, and I realised (later) that they always expect you to say Good Morning, How are you? or Salaam Maleikum before you start with your request/order, no matter how polite you are.

We ended up getting 3 breakfasts which were all essentially the same though (we'd asked for 3 different kinds specifically).

Met our driver Tiger (yes, that was his name.. no, no Woods). Got in the car and drove all the way to Ismailia. Saw a Chevy Cruze along the way. We stopped at a ferry point on the Suez canal, where the guards insisted on checking our passports no matter what Tiger told them. After some more Arabic banter with the security there (these were AK wielding policemen by the way), they even offered us tea. Point to note, tea here is mostly served as black tea. Not with milk, unless you ask for it.

From the ferry area, we could see the opposite bank of the Suez Canal - that was Sinai. They'd also told us not to take photos at that place (as if we were a security threat). Paused at a nearby shop to buy water on the walk back to the car. 2 little kittens were playing around the cooler there.

From there it was another 50km drive to the peace bridge. Mubarak peace bridge was built across the Suez Canal with help from Japan. No photos are allowed when you're crossing the bridge and either end of the bridge bristle with policemen armed to the teeth who'll check your passports and other ID. Crossed into Sinai, took a U-turn and headed back over the bridge. Then drove all the