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.