Sunday, December 21, 2008

Computers and I

I have recently made a discovery. I have found that I am terribly inefficient in using computer tools. Surprise! I am not ashamed to tell anyone that I spend up to 3 hours in front of the computer screen (more probably after I was bought an LCD-TFT screen). This 3 hours is on days when I am very busy with college and work. On a typical holiday I might spend 5 to 6 hours at least. There is an old maxim that says, "Practice makes perfect.", which should mean that with each passing hour spent on the computer I would gain more experience. It is quite to the contrary, my observations show me. And, silly me, I took so long to observe this inefficiency.

This inefficiency came to light recently while doing a project for IBM. I found myself taking half a day to do what my team-mate did in less than half an hour. Here are the facts.

1. The very fact that computers make it easy for you to remember things works against me. I have taken for granted that the computer will complete it for me.

2. The internet has spoilt me. I no longer commit important facts to memory but say to myself, "Ah. It's there on the internet. Why remember?"

3. I had certain inhibitions about using the computer for a long time. This was sometime ago. Back then I decided (and took an oath) that I should stop learning more about computers since they were taking too much of my time. I was thinking of other things in which I could better spend my time. But it so happens that I, despite this oath, still spend 3 hours everyday nonetheless! Which is better : 3 hours learning something in computers or 3 hours learning nothing?

Remedial Measures

After carefully considering the facts I have decided to take corrective measures which are summarized below.

1. To drop the idea of not learning about computers and start learning instead.

2. To begin where I left in learning the languages MATLAB, python and, maybe, Java.

So, that's it!

P.S. : Watch out for my website that might surface soon ;)

Update to P.S. : My website is all ready but I have no place to put it, especially after Google says it is shutting down Googlepages :( So this is not going to happen now.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

What is the problem?

I am going to be extremely critical of India and Indians in this post. I know I am Indian myself but so be it.

When there are no good programs in the Discovery Channel or NGC, it is usual for me to browse the popular news channels. All of them have one thing in common. They are full of news of injustice, immorality, inhumane and the down-right disgusting. Mercy killing here and corruption there. It is full of these things that forms part of a news-watchers day. Some say that the news channels always focus on the negative aspects, but wait... It is true that our world, especially our part of the world, is full of this negativity, whatever it means.

One might argue on the definition of negative in this context. This will be a never-ending discussion. So forgetting that let me take an example. Recently some students at a college in Chennai had a fight which was instigated politically. There was a video aired on TV that showed a youth being struck until he became unconscious and then struck again and again by some other persons of his college. Terrible. How one could fight with someone who was not armed or in this case not even conscious? Pick someone of your own size is really valid here. Terrible.

I listened to a couple of people who had some passing comment about the issue. One said, "Law colleges are always like this!". Another said, "The current Government must be changed.". Wait a minute... Who is the real problem. INDIANS ARE THE PROBLEM. The mentality of the Indian mind is the problem. There are now so many people in this country that, to survive, it becomes essential to push ahead of the rest leaving behind those who cannot push. Let me give you a few examples, some very trivial, which show the utter disregard, the insensitivity that Indians have to the law or to another person.

* People don't know to stand in a queue.
* People don't know watch for the red signal.
* People (especially in Chennai and probably the metros) take pleasure in the other person's failure.
* People don't care if they are a source of wrong information.
* People do whatever their peers do. Will they jump into a raging river if everyone does? I don't know.


I am not saying these are happening only in India. They happen everywhere. But nowhere is the rate of these things, among literates, as high as it is in India. Sad :(

Is this a genetic defect, something inherent in the Indian gene that makes them so? I sincerely hope not, for this means a great blow to this Indian race (if such a thing exists at all).

Is this a temporary phenomenon, caused by the ever-growing population? If so, then soon we might find a world full of Indians but with no India. Sad but a fitting end I would say.


I do not recall posting my views on social or racial issues in the past but the feeling now is so over-whelming that I need an outlet.

It is highly unlikely that this post will have a sequel. I have better things to worry about ;)

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Last Six Months

In this post I will try to show the reader some interesting data about my life in the last six months. No spoilers here, read on...


Extensive analysis of my travel records over the last six months show that I have travelled 43000 Km (rounded to the nearest 500 Km). This value 11.1688312% of the distance between the Earth and the Moon. So if I live for 5 years, I will have gone the distance of the Moon. Wow! Thats amazing! All this data points to one conclusion. I have been travelling a lot and need some rest :)

Psst : Readers who need to know how I arrived at these values can send me a message. Note that these calculations are immensely complex [:|]. It took the supercomputer "REDQUEEN" at Oxford, 3 days to compute the values.


A picture cum text story of my visits in the past 6 months. The Delhi visit is missing because my friends haven't given the photos.

At the Havelock Beach in the Andaman Islands

At the Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Kodaikanal

Summer at Kodaikanal was lot of fun

At the Fundamental Aeronautics Meeting, Atlanta, USA

Receiving the award

With the awardees

We stayed at a Sheraton in Atlanta!

In Derbyshire, UK

With the Thrust 2 ! Nostalgic...

The Thrust SSC

With the Thrust SSC. Wow! No words to express my awe. Then this happened after I returened.

Eyeing the London Eye in the City of Westminster

The Big Ben and I

The London Bridge is NOT falling down

Tower Bridge across the Thames

At Buckingham Palace

A typical street in Oxford


I have made more progress in the "airplane front" than anything else in this period. Some statistics for you...

1.) I have been in 12 take-offs and landings so far.

2.) I have been in 9 different aircraft (not aircraft types).

3.) I have been on B737, A320, B747, A319, S80 and A330.

4.) I know that tail number of all except two aircraft that I have flown on.

5.) I have photographed 60% of all aircraft that I have been on.

6.) The airplane had a technical snag on two occasions when I was flying.

7.) I had the best time in my life sitting in these airplanes. :)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Language of Science

Can you tell me what this is?

And this?

Maybe this...?

I know you can tell what this is.

Yes, this is called a house. The three others also meant the same thing, but in a cryptic form that people call language.

Now take science. Science today has grown too complex for it to be expressed like a story in books. That is why it needs a common language. That is the need of the hour. But before you start saying that humans have not done enough to find this common language, it is already there, probably as long (maybe longer?) as science itself. People call it mathematics, but I prefer to call it the language of science.

Imagine where science would be without it. Just imagine. If you look around yourself, there is mathematics in everything. Everything without exception.

So why is it then that people are afraid of this beautiful language? I often find people doing engineering say, "Ah! At last all my maths papers are over." This is rubbish, especially so when it comes from a to-be engineer. People must learn to love this language rather than hate it.

I could consider that I have justified my life on Earth only when I look at a partial differential equation and visualize the phenomenon that it represents without any need for explanation. It is only then that I may consider myself anywhere close to being literate. A literate of this language of science.


1. Sorry to people who know Norwegian, Japanese or Arabic.

2. I really don't know the purpose of this post. Just felt like I had to write it.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The "Coolest" Fortnight

I had the coolest fortnight of my life from June 8 to 22. I literally mean it. And also might I add that this very same fortnight was the coolest yet in every other possible way that one might imagine.

Visualize the following... You are 2.4 kilometers up in the sky, you calculate the velocity of super-granules on the surface of the sun, you play with lasers, you listen to songs, you think about symmetric airfoils (Well's Turbine), you talk about parkour to (a) scientist(s), you have breakfast (lunch and dinner) with half a dozen scientists, you see the sun everyday,

You talk about strings, you think of neutrinos, you sun bathe and read a paper on Hans Bethe, you wear the same sweater for a week and a half, you freeze to death every night, you eat coelostats for breakfasts, spectrographs for lunch and heliographs for dinner, you yawn at 12 in the night with an ISRO scientist sitting near you and looking at your program (IDL), you sleep near a permanent GPS station, you sleep 2.4 kilometers up in the air, you look at a (most) beautiful sunrise, you stand on the edge of a cliff, you get a free ride everywhere you go, you walk 10 Km in a day, you are protected by an electric fence, you have bisons for company, your professor is chased by a bison one day, you think about particles, you think about light, you think about amplifiers, you think about (Dr.)Mr. Raman, you sleep when bored by photometry and wake up during the night ,..........

If all this is making your visual cortex go ga-ga, then think about poor me. I went through all this and more in one of the two best weeks of my life. I was at the Indian Institute of Astrophysics doing physics. I was a sad fellow when IUCAA rejected me and I was not satisfied with IIA's invitation. But nonetheless I went and I don't regret it. How many people get to meet the former Dean of IITM (not to mention how good a teacher he is), a professor from Cornell, a scientific advisor to the Govt. of India, a professor who was chased by a bison, a scientist from ISRO for the night, etc.

Jokes apart, whoever they were, they were (among) the best. I probably learnt more in those 2 weeks than a month at CEG. But the biggest question that remains is, am I ready for research? The future will tell.

The professor who was chased by the bison. He was proud of being chased and showed the video to us :)

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Airbus A320

My second flight was on an Airbus A320 with registration VT-ADS owned by Air Deccan. I am a total fan of Airbus and I strongly believe in the engineering superiority of Europe over the USA. Thus I made yet another set of deductions for my second flight and pondered again how many would be correct.


The journey on the A320 would be much smoother than the 737. Reason : My belief that European engineering is superior to the Americans.

The plane would be all economy class. Reason : Air Deccan is a low cost carrier.

I could take a lot of pictures inside the aircraft. Reason : No food was served to the passengers and thus the flight attendants would just sit down.

I would be able to see the Anna University Dome. Reason : I knew from observation that all aircraft had full view of the campus during their approach.

Touchdown would be much smoother. Reason : I love Europeans :)


Right I was. The plane was smooth and handled perfectly. In spite of going through clouds very often, there was considerably less shaking than there would have been on a Boeing.

That was a simple one. Air Deccan charges more than Jet yet gives nothing to eat!

Wow I took a lot of photos. Inside the cabin, outside, etc. The plane was only 3/4th full, so I could get 2 windows all to myself.

Not only did I see the dome, I also saw people playing in the AU grounds!

The difference was too small to make out. So Boeing and Airbus stand at the same level :( .

I had also, in my awe-stricken state, forgotten to observe many things about the working of the aircraft during my first flight. For example in both flights I was sitting in full view of the wings and could see the control surfaces moving. It was only during the second flight that I observed a few things about the control surfaces.

The ailerons moved very little during the rolls. This is probably because of their being far from the fuselage on the side.

Flaps with their fairings are used with great efficiency in commercial jets. If not for them the plane could never fly at such low speeds required for landing.

Slats and flaps produce so much noise pollution. Contrary to expectations, about 40% of all the noise from an aircraft is from the slats and flaps. I experienced this first hand. Within the cabin the engine noise could never be heard. But before landing when the slats were deployed I was able to hear the whine of air around it. That must have been a lot of noise outside.

The spoilers or air-brakes are also used efficiently during landing.

I could clearly distinguish a series of sensors on the wings to measure various parameters like temperature, pressures, air-speed, etc.

Some Pictures

The A320 I was on. Registration VT-ADS

The sky looks blacker at 33000 feet.

A packet of chips blown up due to differential pressure.

The sensors that measure some parameters clearly visible.

Close up of a sensor in one of the flap fairings. Click to view large image.

The spoilers deployed to reduce air-speed.

Is the Captain looking at me!? Click to enlarge.

The Boeing 737

My first ever flight was on a Boeing 737-800 with registration VT-JGP owned by Jet Airways. In the research paper that we sent to NASA, the base of our design was comparable to the 737-900ER. Thus I had to read a lot about the 737s. All this translated into total transparent knowledge when I flew on the 737-800 that day.

On the eve of my first flight, before I knew which variant of the 737 I would fly on, I read the 737 manual and familiarized myself with the characteristics of all the variants. I made the following deductions and pondered how many of them would turn to be true.


There was a 35/54 chance that I would be on a 737-800. Source : Wikipedia

The aircraft would have both I class and Economy Class. Reason : Andaman & Nicobar islands are a place where only the middle class and rich people could go and so the plane will have to have both classes.

The plane would have cramped spaces. Source : 737 Specifications from its manual.

I would feel nothing while flying. Reason : I am on a plane and flying! That is what people say.

I would see other planes flying under or over my plane. Reason : Madras Airport is a fairly busy airport.


What happened to my deductions...

I was on a 737-800(VT-JGP). Probability works!

The plane had both I class and Economy class.

The plane was cramped like a bus. The overhead storage spaces were big though and there was good legroom.

How wrong I was! I discovered something very peculiar, one that nobody who had a previous experience in flying has told me. Normally while travelling in trains or buses, one feels motion(jerk due to changes in acceleration) in one or two different directions. You may rock from side to side or forwards and backwards. Whereas in an aeroplane the jerks are in all directions! It is like hanging in space and rocking slowly in all directions. It was awesome!

I was right again. I saw a Srilankan take off immediately after mine and another plane flying under me near Marina Beach.

So overall I was correct in all but one deductions. That is neat for a first-time traveller.

Some of the pictures of the aircraft VT-JGP. Taken by others. I have a video that I will post later.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

My first Flight and first research paper

Flying has been the fascination of mankind from time immemorial. Aeroplanes have been my fascination since my childhood. Naturally the first flight is an exciting experience, especially since I come from a middle class family where people rarely fly. So I was fairly excited when I was informed that I would be flying to Port Blair and back on two of the world's best selling aircraft.

But the entire episode is not without irony. Normally people see very little when they fly on an aircraft. Neither do they see the type of aircraft they are on nor do they see the ground below. I, being a student of photogrammetry, could not, in the least, forget to observe the ground below (in 3D of course). Even more importantly I could neither forget to see the aircraft because I have just finished a research paper on a futuristic aircraft design with one of my seniors and have submitted it to a NASA competition. And as if all this compulsion were not enough I won a prize for it too! (You can see the abstract of the paper here and the result declaration on this NASA page)

So as a result of all this compulsion to perform and of course a (hell) lot of fascination, it inclines me to think that a series of blogs on my most overwhelming experience on board aircraft will be quite a treat for myself when I read it after some years. Therefore, I will be writing a series of blogs on the same.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Great Arc

I read very few books these days, but I am glad that The Great Arc was one among the few. It is wonderful book written by John Keay, an Englishman, about one of the greatest scientific feats of the 19th century. Before you start thinking about mile-long bridges or sky-high buildings, hey... There are things in life that people rarely know about and the science(and art) of Surveying is one of them.

I am in fact gifted to have learned this subject as part of my curriculum, though I wonder how many of my classmates share my opinion. People have often asked me what Surveying is. I am no expert in it and therefore my explanation does not make any impact on them. I say,"It involves getting the measurements from ground about the features there and transferring it to a map." People say,"Oh great. Is that all? You study only that for a year at college?" The point is I would recommend to these people the book I just mentioned.

The book is about a series of measurements made by two Englishmen, William Lambton and George Everest, of the entire Indian subcontinent spanning a period of fifty years. They made what are called triangulations across the entire subcontinent in times when there were no lights, no telegraph, no telephone, etc. It was no simple feat. For example, the beginning of the series of triangulations, called the Great Indian Arc of the Meridian, was at St.Thomas Mount in Chennai. A baseline of 12 Km was measured for some 50 days. The presicion with which these measurements were made was phenomenal. In a distance of about 1 m, the error would not exceed 1 mm. (In today's measurement the tolerances are 1 um in 1 m !!!). This was a stupendous task for times when no modern equipment like GPS were available. The author of the book goes so far to say that the amount of computations performed by the surveyors back then would take several days to complete in a supercomputer today.

The measurements were made in the field for years together in places where tigers roamed free and malaria wrecked havoc. There are more things I would like to mention but might end up writing an entire book!

The second name is probably familiar to many, George Everest. You guessed it, Mt.Everest is named after him, but not because he measured its height but because of the services he rendered by looking after the Great Arc for 30 years. This comes to show the respect these two commanded for their feats. Had it not been for the Great Arc we would never have had maps of India and we would never have known the heights of the Himalayas.

I read the book twice, once in my III semester and once in my IV. I found that it complemented my Survey course. I understood it better when I read it for the second time, since I knew a lot about the instruments like theodolites, levels, chains, etc.

The Great Arc was also publicised as a documentary in NDTV's Documentary 24x7. But it did not go beyond what I read in that book. I hope that I have made a little effort in bringing some light to this mammoth event that took place 200 years ago.


Survey of India's Celebration


P.S.: I took the photograph of the book myself. One of my many efforts in photography.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Enough is enough

I have been committing myself to a lot of projects lately. My last count shows me that I have five in hand. But it is time for introspection.

Being involved in a project is good. But it is also my responsibility to make sure that the project succeeds. I had thus far been under the impression that the more I do the more I win. But this is certainly not the case. So from now on enough is enough! I am going to take up no more projects but am going to complete the ones I am currently involved in, to perfection.

This is for Atma anna

I am now fairly used to Ubuntu. I am doing almost everything in it. Some of the screenshots:

I haven't even spruced up my desktop using screenlets or widgets and even before that it looks so good. I will now address the issues raised by Atma anna.

1.) I agree that Linux is not so convenient as Windows. Most tasks need to be performed from command line interfaces. But that is power. You can change the display settings all in one go by editing a file called xorg.conf. You cannot do that in Windows. Again I think engineers are power users of computers. And Linux is power.

2.) There is an alternative to almost every software from Windows. The best part is they are all OpenSource. There is K3B for Nero, Pidgin or Gaim for Y! messenger, Firefox for IE, QCAD for AutoCAD, Blender for Maya, VLC for Media Player, the list could go on... (Watch out for a download accelerator and manager that we are currently developing at CEGLUG )

3.) I do not know much about GIS and DIP. GRASS GIS is OpenSource, so is MapServer, gvSIG, etc. MATLAB is also available for Linux for DIP and e-foto is a photogrammetric workstation.

I would recommend any user to switch over to Linux. But a basic knowledge of UNIX and some commands maybe essential. It is a lot easier to learn these UNIX commands than to spend Rs. 20000 on Windows Vista! Believe me!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Linux is GOOD

Finally I have switched to Linux - Ubuntu Linux. It is wonderful! Really! Imagine running flip 3D with 256 MB of RAM. Vista cannot do that but Ubuntu can. It is not just about the looks but the overall flexibility of the system. Also the stability and security are amazing. Imagine that Windows was a small skinny boy and Ubuntu, like Terminator. When you give a powerful blow to both and compare... Windows shows a BSoD. But Ubuntu just logs-off, more like a powerful man getting a little dazed by a punch in his cheeks. That's stability.

Security is also good. I do not need antivirus software. When I changed the permissions of the /usr/share folder to 777, Ubuntu refused to work anymore. That's security. If I did the same in Windows by deleting some system files, the system would work but show a thousand alerts with codes I cannot even understand.

All said Ubuntu is not totally free of bugs. Compiz sometimes behaves strangely. Copy-paste does not work everywhere unless you are root. And the shade of brown where ever you go irritates me. Of course I could change the theme... Hey! I cannot do that in Windows! :) Now that's Open Source and I like it!

Saturday, February 9, 2008


Hooray! I have finally got my NVidia FX5200 card to work on Ubuntu Gutsy! All thanks to ENVY.

There can be no stopping me now from my Open Living.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

What a month!

Wow! What a month it has been! (I know it is actually two, but for some reason I remember only one go by) The past 40 odd days have been the best times of my (technical) life. From exercising my head to having fun, I have done all that I had ever wanted to do. I remember stating in the last blog that I had two projects on my hand. Well both are now over (I had some additional ones too!) with a 50:50 success rate.

The first was TGMC a programming project cum competition conducted each year by IBM. We finished it in four 12-hour days. I know we did not do our best but it was a new experience for me to finish a project at all.

Then there was my A Remotely Piloted Blimp for Aerial Photography. Insane as I was to put forth that idea, it never really worked out. The plan was to build a blimp for aerial photography and photogrammetry. But the project proved too costly and was abandoned. But I am still interested in it!

Then came the big K! This year's edition saw my association with some really great people to conduct Aeromodelling. They are all from Mechanical Engineering doing their 6th semester (except Pratap who has passed out). My association with Mirunalini, Bhubaneswari Parida, Anusha, Muthukumaran, Kaveesh, Pratap and a host of others through them showed that CEG is still a vibrant place with talented people. I was truly amazed by their ability to learn and have fun at the same time. It is this lack of enterprising people in the other branches, especially mine, that worries me. I do not have people in my class with whom I can discuss, say about Quantum Mechanics in the morning or about Superman Returns during lunch. I did have such discussions with the others though. From calculating spring constants for the springs in the catapult to debating the existence of UFOs, engineering doesn't get better than this!

Anyway we had a great time during Kurukshetra 2008. Aeromodelling was a good success. I am glad that I was part of Team K! and also thankful to people like Mirunalini who inspite of being seniors allowed me to play an equal part in all we did for K!

But it is all over now and assessments are due in a week. So it is back to routine for me after a long time. A lot of other things happened as well, but then it would take too long (especially with my notoriuosly intense craving for perfection)to tell the reader everything.

And damn, I am still using Windows!!