Monday, April 24, 2006

Practicals - A Comedy of Errors

Whoever has attended a practical session in engineering college would know how useless it is. Whoever has attended a practical examination in an engineering college would also know the needless tension it inflicts on the candidates in question. I finished my semester practicals last week for this semester, and found it was a total disaster.

On Monday, we came to college to get our record notebooks signed from the HOD. There, we found that two of our practicals had been scheduled for Thursday and Friday. Our eyes lost focus, and our knees collapsed together. I tried very hard to get my notebooks signed by that day itself, but it was not to be. A few of us were destined to come to college on Tuesday it seemed. On Tuesday, we learned that the third practical exam had been scheduled for Wednesday, upon hearing which our eyes lost focus, and our knees gave out beneath us. We got our record note-books signed in a covert snap operation and dashed off for home as soon as we could get away - by four o'clock.

The first exam was grandly titled "Electrical Engineering and Control Systems", which is a core subject for us computer engineers. I prepared pretty well, and in the examination hall, I picked up a paper at random, and found that I had been graciously requested to please find the load characteristics of a single phase transformer. We were first asked to draw the circuit diagram and get it verified. I did so much without much incident, and was guided to the machine in question. I was relieved to see that the connections were all already there. Then I realized only half of the connections were there. On further inspection, I found that whatever connections had already been there were all completely wrong. Sighing, I started connecting - "The Positive connects to the ammeter and the voltmeter. The negative of the voltmeter connects to the negative input...blah blah blah". The internal guy came in, verified the circuit, and asked me to switch on the machine. I flipped it on - well, not exactly "flip" it on, but hung on the switch and pulled it down with full force. The machine thankfully started up and I took all the necessary readings. I then switched it off and started calculating the efficiency, where I hit my first snag. I suddenly realized that my machine had been operating at 150% efficiency! For a moment, I thought I had debunked the law of conservation of energy. I was wondering whether to go public with my findings, when the thought occurred that I ought to re-check my calculations. That's when I realized that one should not use a wattmeter to measure power in the primary circuit. The wattmeter was not used at all! I calculated power manually on both sides and and it worked like a charm -Well, I would have loved to say that, but the points on the graph jumped around like hell, and I was forced to ignore every other alternate reading. Having drawn a semblance of the efficiency output and another plot known as the regulation, I wrote out the result, and lined up for the viva. The external, some woman from Easwari Engg. college, asked me to define a transformer. I replied that the transformer was used to step up or step down voltage, current, power etc. - Big Mistake. She asked me who the hell had taught me that kind of a definition and I was very much tempted to point out my own lecturer sitting nearby, but I controlled myself and kept quiet. She asked a few more questions some of which which I answered pretty well, others for which I wasn't so convincing.

The second exam was Visual Programming, which was my dreaded exam. It is the most counter-intuitive programming language ever invented and no prizes for guessing who invented it- Microsoft. The incidents of this exam are reserved for a later post- after the results... But the one thing that happened was that every law ever dreamed up by Lord Murphy came to the fore and enacted itself upon the candidates with devastating results.

The third and final practical examination was the Operating Systems exam, and for the first time I felt truely confident. I was asked to find the factorial of a number using shell programming in UNIX and to implement the system call fork(), which once again was a C program, but which would only run in a UNIX environment. Simple programs, both of them really, while I had expected something challenging. The external examiner was under the impression of doing things differently. She asked the viva questions in groups of three, so that people could make collective blunders, and magnify their incompetence. She asked a first question which I answered. Then, she asked me to ask a question to any one of the other people -two girls. I asked them a question to which I did not know the answer, but was essential to the running of my program, hoping to get an answer -but as things turned out I could have spoken to a wall with better results. The examiner became angry and remarked all of us could come and write the exam the next semester. She asked a couple more questions to which only I was able to answer, head held high, and the examiner seemed satisfied a little. Then, I called for the guy who didn't know a thing to get my output verified as soon as the guy who knew a thing or two walked out in response to his kausalya supraja... ringtone on his mobile. This man verified the output of my factorial program and marked my fork program verified for just compiling it without executing it!!!

I submitted the paper with the examiner who said "You got the sign from that guy?", and grinned at me in the way you grin at people who you know have done a sly thing. The other guy, who knew a thing or two, rushed in and grabbed the paper from the guy who had signed for me and was just about to verify the output for another guy, much to the poor student's chagrin.

All in all, things went so and so.

Yours practically,

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Land of the monkeys-Kishkinta

God knows why theme parks were created. At-least why theme parks were created in India. This is because a day at an Indian theme park is about as interesting as a day spent staring at Krishnamachari Srikkanth talking about "innovations" cricket should introduce (such as drawing a strip on the pitch to facilitate accurate LBW decisions).

This morning I woke up to a loudly ringing phone. Expecting to be informed of a brutual murder, involving a man lying on the floor, arms and legs twisted at an angle that would have resembled a combination of the petruvian man and T Rajender, I was jolted back into reality when I realized it was Mahesh cooing his hellos into the phone. Making a mental note to cut down on Dan Brown books, I realized he was going on about some trip to an "amusement" park. I readily agreed as it provided me with a much needed break from an heavy work-schedule involving getting up at ten, breaking fast at eleven, and browsing the internet till two; not the same day, but the next morning. My only other concern was finance, and amazingly I found a couple of hundred bucks which I had not drunk my way through in the form of fruit-mixes in paan-stained glasses. I dressed with painstaking carelessness, and found that I had matched a blue shirt with a blue pair of jeans. This tends to happen as I tend to not wear anything other than the colour blue. Another motivation for me to go was the fact that Mahesh was arranging for the transport in the form of an Ambassador driven by Schumacher's second cousin.

The motivation for Mahesh to organize the trip was that he wasn't under any form of motivation, which he would have promptly ignored. He however was under compulsion from all of his family to take his cousin, who could not understand a word of Tamil, from Varanasi to a popular theme park in Chennai. In this way, it turned out that we were a motley collection of reluctant souls forced on a joy-trip when we'd have rather been at Dr. Rajkumar's funeral.

We reached the place, which was on the way to the place of Mahesh's intellectual study of Computer Science Engineering. Since he was well versed with the route, he pre-warned us of the precise spots at which to cover our noses, as there were an assortment of garbage dumps on both sides along the way. We entered, payed through our nose for the minimal thrills and frills package and promptly got tagged -you know, the way they tag cattle in ranches, the way Saddam used to tag the dead after each small stint at ethnic cleansing. The first ride was called "Shuttle". Well in essence it was a powered swing which was designed to look like a space shuttle. The operators were reluctant to let the swing really soar because there were an assortment of senior citizens amongst the riders. Usually(I have made a total of eight trips to Kishkinta) they swing the contraption high enough to facilitate the viewing of the wheels beneath, but this time they did not do that. After half a dozen swings, we disembarked. The next ride was the Tora-Tora. It is not known why this ride was called so...but maybe because it tends to churn things in your stomach, causing people to throw up...torrrooouuuaaaggghhh...torrrooouuuaaaggghhh -which is precisely what happened to the man sitting in front of me. Luckily centrifugal force carried everything away from me, and I haven't yet opened my account on any theme-park doshams.

The next thing we did was to ride something called the trooper, but I will not go into word origins here. Mahesh sat out on this one because it went too high up for his liking. So, I ended up taking a car with the non-Tamil speaking guy, and by the time my challenge of throwing one's hands up for at least one revolution got across, we were getting out of it. The flume ride turned out to be a damp squib, quite literally. A boat goes up, comes down, crashes, drenches its occupants for no useful reason with salt-water. The heat must have gotten to us, for we did this twice. At this time, we had a plate of samosas each at rates so high that Warren Buffet would rather have eaten his left sock. We also had the cheapest lemonade we could find, whose ingredients consisted of methyl iso-cyanide, ethyl mercaptan and benzene hexachloride all mixed with di-hydrogen monoxide.

Having filled our tummies with non-biodegradable toxic waste, we proceeded to a place called Manthira Arai (Mystical room) which possessed the mystical quality of being able to rotate with the help of a single phase induction motor, or any other contraption for that matter. The room was closed off and we were asked to view the room on an ajacent screen... The room had a fixed camera that rotated along with it. A guy in a poorly designed spider-man costume performed a few antics in the room by walking all along the ceiling, walls and floor. At the end of the show, a question was asked at the audience (still seated members) and one man put up his hand and managed to get the point across that the thing rotated. He got a T-shirt with the Kishkinta logo, and an opportunity to walk into the room and generally make a fool of himself. He made a fool of himself and got away. His friends promptly made a fool of themselves by tearing the shirt apart into pieces. We trudged on into the next show, a sort of virtual reality show, where the chairs move in sync with the on-screen video. We were to watch some sort of ride into a coal mine. It was pretty good, but it can only be realistic enough only if they'd have been able to simulate free-fall sensation, which is virtually impossible. Thankfully, the room was air-conditioned.

We went on to ride an inflatable raft down a slope, which was pretty exciting. We pushed some more unpalatable stuff into our stomach, and started off for home (me thankful because I needed to start writing my records as it was only a week away from the exams). Other things we did, which I did not mention include riding the Arabian Nights (Cups and Saucers) twice (this is nothing but a fancy contraption where a smaller wheel rotates inside a larger one and you are made to sit in one of the cups on the smaller one), the bumper cars twice, where you are allowed to smash you car into any others', which under normal circumstances would have cost you a lot of money in the form of compensation and bribe, and ride the Tora-Tora a second, pukeless time. We fancied a ride on the shuttle a second time, but we got out after sitting on it for ten minutes because the hydraulic walkways would not fold up. I was thankful that the hydraulic walkways had not malfunctioned at the end of the ride. Imagine a truckload of people sitting in a swing twenty feet above the ground unable to get off because the walkways refused to lower themselves! We'd all still have been sitting there!

We decided enough was enough and started back home. I just realized I had been to a place where there is no giant wheel and I have not been upside-down even once and people call that an amusement park! On coming home, I showered and went online (to hell with records). Mahesh had his work cut out for him. He had to drop his cousin back in T Nagar. He reached home at nine in the evening, a hundred times more tired than I. Who wouldn't get tired having listened to an hours worth of heavily accented Hindi?

Hell of a journey.

Yours Amusingly,


Saturday, April 15, 2006


Hurray...I am about to receive my thousandth hit. Whoever gives me my thousandth hit will receive a grand prize. They will be given the opportunity to answer one of the most intriguing questions ever asked in the history of humanity, in front of a grand audience consisting of intelluctuals from all over the with the exception of IEEE mambers who study in MNM Jain Engg. college.

The question is presented here, in the exact same form as it was first uttered...

What is your opinion about the subject?


Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Heavens Me

A person who I thought was my friend once asked me to read a certain book called The Silmarillion. He said it was a Tolkien book, which I read with passion. I however could not read beyond the first paragraph. It was akin to listening to Vogon poetry. Here's a small excerpt. Read this and judge for yourself how an average fellow would feel if given such a book.


The Music of the Ainur

There was Eru, the One, who in Arda is called Ilúvatar; and he made first
the Ainur, the Holy Ones, that were the offspring of his thought, and they
were with him before aught else was made. And he spoke to them, propounding
to them themes of music; and they sang before him, and he was glad. But for
a long while they sang only each alone, or but few together, while the rest
hearkened; for each comprehended only that part of me mind of Ilúvatar from
which he came, and in the understanding of their brethren they grew but
slowly. Yet ever as they listened they came to deeper understanding, and
increased in unison and harmony.

The uninitiated, on listening to this generally collapse right there, hanging their tongue out, drooling, with a look of incomprehension in their eyes. The initiated, however tend to collapse right there, hanging their tongue out, drooling, with a look of total comprehension in their eyes. Of course, I am a great fan of Douglas Adams.

Well, that's not the only instance of Tolkien befuddling people. Even in The return of the king, I thought I was following the geography pretty well, but I suddenly came across this paragraph, and it it was with great will power that I restrained myself from collapsing right there, tongue hanging out, drooling, with a look of total incomprehension in my eyes.

At last the king's company came to a sharp brink, and the climbing road passed into a cutting between walls of rock, and so went up a short slope and out on to a wide upland. The Firenfeld men called it, a green mountain-field of grass and heath, high above the deep delved courses of the Snowbourn, laid upon the lap of the great mountains behind: the Starkhorn southwards, and northwards the saw-toothed mass of Irensaga, between which there faced the riders, the grim black wall of the Dwimorberg, the Haunted Mountain rising out of steep slopes of sombre pines. Dividing the upland into two there marched a double line of unshaped standing stones that dwindled into dusk and vanished in the trees. Those who had dared to follow that road came soon to the black Dimholt under Dwimorberg, and the menace of the pillar of stone, and the yawning shadow of the forbidden door.

If you have read the Silma- thingy, please give me its review since I have not read it beyond the first paragraph.

Yours hobitually,

Venkankudi Kidambi Srinivasa Ramanuja Sundararajan Iyengar.

P.S. : _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Productive use of free time.

My class-mates have finally decided to make productive use of their free-time(The phrase free-time henceforth mean the OS hour and not lunch or break times). They started playing a noble sport. A sport that needs courage, grit, valour and selflessness. A sport that can cause grevious bodily harm. Well, they started gambling. It is a noble sport isn't it?

The first time I came to know of it was when Rafi asked me for a couple of rupees in change which he would glady return to me next tuesday. Suddenly, four or five people converged into the last bench before you could say Jack Robins. I peeped around and saw betting going on with full fervour. One guy would toss a coin into the air and another(One of the betters would call out). The winner would get the money. I was in time to see my two rupees vanish into the deep pockets of someone.

Narendran lost some fifteen rupees in the first few rounds, but made it back by the end of the day. However, Rafi the starter of the company Rafi and Sons, found he was short by a rupee at the end of the day. However, these days, his business is going full steam ahead.

Yours probably,


Saturday, April 01, 2006


There and back again. Well, that's that, that's what. We've been there and come back again. Oh yes, I am talking about our trip to the Neyveli Lignite Coroporation Thermal Power Station -1, which is what my title for this post says. This was an Industrial Visit to a power station for us budding computer science engineers. Very much related to our area of study.

A couple of days ago, our AHOD barged into communications class and mumbled something about an Industrial visit to Neyveli. All the students were roused into excitement from their stupor, and started making plans for the trip, but a few sane ones like me worried that we'd not be able to watch the second India v England LOI.

On the day in question, I woke up a little later than usual, intending to flag down the bus on its way to Neyveli when it passed via Tambaram. The mistake I made here was to not rely on the fact that outstation trips never start on time, and wake up later than "later than usual", and not to have completed my breakfast. After waiting for approximately forty minutes watching the peak hour rush wax, I atlast spotted the bus and stopped it...well, not exactly stop it, but at least slow it down so as to facilitate my hopping in.

Neyveli being four hours of travel away, we settled in, and my idea of catching up on some of the sleep I had lost over the past week(I loose tremendous amounts of sleep in waking up early, bathing, eating, and running to catch the bus each day) were shattered by my classmates deciding that this was a time for some fun and starting to scream their guts out. An hour later, we arrived at a small food stall in the middle of nowhere that offered food so sub-standard that even the flies neglected it. The one good drink which I found was a badam-mixed concoction, which I drank with my nose pinched. Of course others who had other things in mind found quality cigars and quality bushes in which to hide and puff away.

Three hours and a couple of deaf ears later, we arrived at Neyveli an hour late for our appointment with the Lignite corporation. The next slot for visitors was another ninety minutes away, and we decided to have lunch-at the bus-stand hotel. Those who had not been satisfied with their cigarettes sniffed out the bars, and the rest is history.

At last the time to visit the real thing came by, late in the afternoon. At the entrance, watchful eyes scanned the visitors for signs of mobile phones, and Raja Deepak was specifically taken aside for questioning. The way this man makes himself noticed at any place is astounding. At the thermal power plant, an employee took us over two flights of stairs, and we entered an innocuous looking door, but we encountered a room so large that it took my eyes some time to get adjusted to the massive dimensions of it. We were standing on a platform, some four stories above the shop floor, which ran all around it. And the noise -oh, the noise was unfathomable. It created an almighty crescendo. Huge signs proclaimed such inspirational messages as "One lapse, life collapse" to the workers. We walked some way around the platform and then entered among the machines, where walk-ways had been provided. Some machines made clanking noises, some whirred, some puffed smoke into the air. It was nice to see a few working voltmeters and ammeters for a change. The walkways were sheets of corrugated metal suspended on flimsy hinges that vibrated like hell. There was nothing more to protect you from crashing into the concrete floor below at a rate of 32 feet/sec/sec. Raman spotted a cupboard and opened it to find a maze of criss-crossing wires, junction boxes, resistors, transistors and what-nots buzzing with high power. After inspecting it(or pretending to) he lazily closed it and sauntered back to join the group.

We next entered the control room, which was a huge relief because it was air-conditioned and was sound proofed to some extent. Where I had expected people hunched over computers making quick decisions and constantly preventing the plant from exploding, I found a few middle-aged men with paunches with their feet on the table. Raman pointed out to the people in-charge that a light called "Alarm" was blinking. The man promptly shooed him away. The operators then started explaining the control-monitoring process to us. Arun asked a few questions which were either terribly silly or extremely geeky. I asked the guy if he knew of any bugs in the system, and was asked to please bring the next few people to the terminal. One of our guys produced a piece of black rock and got it verified that it was a piece of lignite. He shrieked and did an inpromptu jig that would have put the gold prospectors of the American gold rush to shame. We then made our way back out the same way. At this conjucture, Gopinath asked a particularly irritating question about how powdered granite was fed into the furnace, and it was with great will-power that I restrained myself from stuffing him head first into a hole in the alternator-generator. Barath dramatically pulled down a lever at random, to the astonishment of the guys and shrieks from the girls, and a tubelight promptly flickered into life somewhere above.

Next thing we did was visit the mines. We were herded into the bus and were taken to the mines. We were asked to get out at the entrance and walk through the gate. Then the gate was lifted and the bus was allowed in. Then, all of us were asked to get into the bus and were driven away. I still do not know what the idea behind the whole exercise was. We stopped at the view-point from where we could view the massive hole in the ground they'd managed to make. Prashanth made the mistake of remarking that the spot was ideal for bungee jumping, because Raja Deepak promptly launched into an explaination of how the vapour pressure above lignite mines has the tendency to gnaw through nylon ropes. We'd been there barely two whole minutes when we were again asked to get the hell out because some "VIP" and her hen-pecked husband were visiting.

After pushing the bus to get it started,(me standing behind watching, providing moral support) the bus finally roared into life, and all of us jumped in. We stopped at the entrance(without switching off the bus of course) and filled all available water bottles, and started off on our journey back home. The water bottles all ran out ten minutes later.

The guys all felt it was time for fun and began praising our professor-in-charge and started proclaiming him future HOD, Chief Minister, Prime-Minister and even American President in high decibels, while brutally attacking the whole of his ancestorage in lower ones. We stopped three kilometers away from Tambaram, much to the chagrin of me and another classmate of mine who lives there, to wait for the other bus which had a rated engine RPM that was one-tenth of ours. Meanwhile news reached us that the current chief minister was on her way to some of the southern cities on her election campaign, thereby blocking all traffic. With this in mind, Barath got down at Tambaram and with the intention of catching a train to Kodambakam, and the last I saw of him was when he was buying a ticket at the counter.

I reached home, plonked into bed and slept twelve hours(India had won the match-I missed a great half-century by Suresh Raina). Some called the trip a grand success, while others called it a complete fiasco. I do not know where my stand is.

Yours Industrially,

P.S.: ____________ You know I have to say it every time?