Aug 28, 2011

To Hold or Not to Hold

"Any bus that goes via Vadapalani will stop at Liberty theatre", the May I Help You official informed me at the T.Nagar bus stand.

I looked around and spotted two buses, M27 and 27C, whose name boards say they go via Vadapalani. Seeing the driver seat to be empty in both the buses, I boarded 27C in which the conductor had just started issuing tickets.

"A ticket to Liberty stop please", I asked the conductor showing ten rupees note.

"One ticket to Liberty? Give 5 rupees. No change", he replied, issuing me the ticket taking the ten rupees note as advance!

An irate customer was successful in distracting the conductor from giving me the change by asking when the bus would depart.

Meanwhile, a conductor boarded M27 while the driver hopped in to his seat and was roaring the engine. "Should I hold on to 27C, or jump to M27", I asked myself. Though the final destinations are different for the two bus services, they both go via Liberty, and so I can opt for the one which will take me there early.

Reasoning myself to leave the bus, I searched for 27C conductor to get back my ten rupees so that I can board M27. "He had got down to search for the driver", said a concerned passenger assuming that I was actually looking for him to collect the change.

Through the window, I could see that M27 had started and vroomed past our bus towards the exit, only to be stopped by the signal. "I still stand a chance to board M27", I said to myself. Making a decision in split second, I got down from 27C, ran towards the signal where M27 was halting. When I was about ten feet behind, the signal turned green, and M27 driver did not hesitate to press the accelerator to the floor!

Cursing myself under the breath, I was brought to my senses by the loud horn from an enraged driver from behind, who wanted to go past the signal before it turns to red again. Sensing that I was in the middle of the traffic, I crossed to reach for safety at the edge of the road, only to find that I had just cleared the way for 27C to go past me!

"Did not you take one of those two 27 services left just now?", asked the official who had come out of his seat to have his cup of coffee.

"No Sir! I am waiting for my friend to come and join me", I replied, not wanting my ego to accept the humiliating defeat, and walked towards the signal.

Aug 17, 2011

Review of I have a Dream

John Kennedy, in one of his famous speeches, said "...ask not what your country can do for you, (instead) ask what you can do for your country". This quote is not only inspirational, but also explains the difference between a monarchy and a democratic form of Government.

In a democratic country, Government is constituted both by the people and their elected representatives. In other words, the general public is but a part of the Government. So, it is a collective responsibility for the public to work hand-on-hand with the elected representatives for the country to  develop and prosper.

In I have a Dream, Rashmi Bansal had personally interviewed twenty idealists, also called as social entrepreneurs, who believe in democracy, contributes their time and skills for the betterment of their fellow men, and had presented their experiences in the form of twenty short stories.

Though many of us have the feeling that we should contribute our part to our society towards development, most of the times we restrict our contribution towards paying our taxes, or writing a letter to concerned authorities and waiting for them to take an action. At the most, we pay a visit to the local municipal/corporation/panchayat office to remind the concerned authorities about our plea. But there it ends!

When the concerned authorities do not take an action (for whatever reason), we keep ranting about it and learn to adjust ourselves to live with difficulties. We wait till the next election, elect new representatives only to start the vicious cycle all over again! The problem can be as easy as installing street lights, or construction of a public toilet, building new class rooms or improving infrastructure of the school/college laboratories.

So what do we do here? Should we just keep ranting and accept the difficulty as part of our life? Should we just sit quite and curse the authorities/government till next election dates are announced? Or is there something which we can do ourselves for the betterment of our lives? Were the elected representatives finding it difficult to execute each and every plans on their own? If such is the case, can it be changed by lending a hand for a social cause?

Twenty idealists have asked this question, at various stages, at different times in their lives, and in different difficult situations. And they all got one answer in common! That in democracy, it is our responsibility as a general public to work hand in hand with the elected officials in order to make progress and move our country towards development.

But how do we help the government? Where to begin? After all, we are not philanthropists to render help without thinking about "what do I get in return". Most of us, who have a social calling, belong to the salaried middle class, where there is a necessity to earn our livings. Is there a way to couple our earnings with an added social value? Yes, says Rashmi Bansal in twenty different voices. In fact, the concept of coupling our earnings with an added social value lies at the heart of what is called as social enterprises.

I have a dream explains this concept in twenty different voices. If you have a social calling in you, feel that it is your duty to lay a helping hand with the elected representatives, want to have a different perspective of the enterprisal word "profit", but do not know where to begin or how to execute, this book is the best place to start with.

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at Participate now to get free books! 

Aug 10, 2011

The Change

"Please give me exact change of Rs.7 Sir. I do not have coins in my cash drawer", pleaded the restaurant manager when I produced Rs. 10 note to settle down my coffee bill.

Being a regular visitor, I knew the manager personally, and so I told him, "No problem sir, I will collect the change later on when I come for another cup of coffee". I did not want to wait for the change then as I had to catch Navjeevan Express which would leave in another 2 hours.

I had a sleepless night earlier for I was afraid of sleeping off and missing the train. I badly needed cups (mugs!) of coffee to keep me awake till I boarded the train. So, it wasn't a surprise when I stopped again at another restaurant as soon as I cycled to the main gate, to grab another cup of coffee.

"Sir, please give me Rs.8 change. I am just now opening the shop", the manager pleaded even before I placed the order.

Desperate to have the cup of coffee, I said, "It is ok Sir, I do not mind the change. Please produce the bill so that I can collect my cup of coffee from the counter". Saying this, I produced a ten rupees note, collected the bill, and produced it at the coffee counter to grab my cup of hot coffee, all the while wondering where does the coins produced by the Government of India goes to!

Chennai sleeps early (around 9.30PM) and wakes up early. The beggars wake up along with Chennai, in the wee hours, get ready in their shabby, torn clothes with old aluminum plates to collect their alms in.

"Beggars deals with coins! May be I will give a ten rupee note, and collect 8 or 9 rupees as coins in return. After all, he must be happy to give me the change for he is getting alms in return", so I thought.

"Sir, I do not have change with me. Please give alms so that I can have a bun and tea", he begged.

As if God heard my distress alarm then, a bus that will take me to Chennai Central stopped in front of the shop, and I boarded immediately to avoid myself from donating a ten rupees note to the beggar!

"Please tender exact change", shouted the conductor from his seat looking at me as I boarded the bus. Well, do I have an option? The conductor must have been happy to have me in the bus for I ended up paying Rs. 10 to buy a 4 rupees ticket!

Where the hell does all the coins produced by the Indian government go? I asked myself the same question again.

The Monday morning weather of Chennai was cold and sultry, and the early morning breeze blew on my face through the window, making me feel sleepy, temporarily relieving my mind of thinking about the change.

After about 30 minutes, the bus crawled into the Chennai Central stop. I got down from the bus, collected my baggage, walked to the station, went past the security check at the entrance, noted down my platform number from enquiry, and reached the platform. I still have about half an hour to go!

It was then, when I was thinking about having another cup of coffee I heard the familiar voice "hey Jam!", calling me. I looked back to find that it was from my aunt, who was returning from Bangalore after spending her summer with her daughter and son-in-law.

"Hello aunt! How are you? Its been long time since we met!", I asked her with courteous regard.

"I am good, my son. Where are you leaving to? You do not have time to keep in touch with old people nowadays huh?", she asked. I shied away with a smile.

"I am going to Ahmedabad by Navjeevan express, on an official visit aunt", I said. When I was about to explain more about the official trip, she cut me in and said "Son, do you know why it is called as Navjeevan?"

I tried to think of some answer, but before I replied with an yes or no, she continued, "it passes through nav (nine) jeevan (life) rivers.

While I was about to ask her to name the nine rivers for me, she took all the coins she had in her purse and said "here, take these coins. Sit next to a window seat, and whenever the train crosses the rivers, throw some of these coins, thinking about our family!"

Aug 3, 2011

Brigade road, Bowling alley, Garuda Mall, Death by Chocolate

"You guys want to go some place tomorrow", Chotu asked the following week again. "I can show you around Bengaluru. Its my treat", he added.

Mysore plans that we worked out previous week did not work, for Chan had been to Mysore before, and Chai had some other plans for the weekend! Since I had already been to Vishveshwarya museum with Vish, I asked Chotu to take us to some place where people would normally not go for site seeing.

"Let us go to Brigade road then. We can go to Amoeba where we will play bowling, and from there we will go to the Corner shop where you get a very good ice cream" he replied. "Take money for lunch alone, and let bowling and ice cream be my treat", he offered.

The next day, Chan and I took a bus from Malleswaram 18th cross to Majestic, from Majestic to Indian Express circle, and from there we walked all the way to Mahatma Gandhi Metro Station where we had fixed the rendezvous with Chotu the previous day. Getting directions was easy all along, thanks to GPS and Google Maps installed in my Froyo.

"I got a gift for you two", said Chotu when we both met him at the metro station. "Three men in the boat for you (myself) and Frankenstein for Chan. I hope you guys will like this book".

It was at that moment that I started liking Chotu, for it is not usual for someone to think of gifting a book to their friend, unless they specifically ask him/her to buy for them.

We then walked through several lanes that resembled the Downtown area in Denver, and finally arrived at Amoeba, where I played bowling for the first time.

Scores of (J)am, (C)han and (R)aju aka Chotu, first game

 the bowling arena

I understood the physics of bowling quickly so that I almost came on top in the first game that we played. Seeing my performance, Chotu patted me saying "bowling comes naturally to you".

Had Chotu not struck on his 10th swing, I would have won the game. Instead, I ended up losing the game by a margin of 5 which made me to say "let us play again".

 Scores of (J)am, (C)han and (R)aju aka Chotu, second game

But I lost my rhythm in the second game, 6th swing onwards, I started playing for fun and considered myself out of the competition!

 Death by chocolate

From Amoeba, Chotu took us to the corner shop where we ordered "Death by Chocolate", their signature item for Chan and myself. The quantity served is enough for us to have the ice cream as our lunch!

Relaxing at Garuda mall

We walked along various stretches exploring the urban Bangalore in the nitty-gritty and did window shopping at Garuda mall. Finally, we parted with Chotu who had to leave us before evening, hired an auto and returned to Kaveri.

Aug 2, 2011

Vishveshwarya Museum: Mecca for Mechanical Engineers!

"If you guys are planning for an outing this weekend, I can arrange for a cab", said Chotu, a localite in Bengaluru.

"Why not we plan for a trip to Mysore?", I asked others, reflecting my disappointment with Bangalore palace experience.

"Awesome! On the way, you guys can come over to my house as well", Chotu extended his invitation. When the rest did not commit, I tried to persuade them. "Anyway, Prof. Varahan's lectures are not there on Saturday. We wont miss out anything!", I said.

Tuesday became Wednesday, then Thursday and finally Friday, but still Chai and Chan had not decided their weekend plans, or had decided to another plan! When I saw that I am failing in convincing them for a Mysore trip, I asked Vish to take me to some place around Bengaluru.

"Have you been to Vishveshwarya museum before?", he asked me. "You can lose yourself for hours there! It is the Mecca for Mechanical Engineers", he added. "Well, then lets go there on this Saturday", I replied, thinking about how to spend my time on Sunday.

place where the terrorist attack took place

We left from Kaveri in the morning, had breakfast at Kabini, crossed C.V.Raman road, went past the auditorium where the terrorist attack took place, boarded a bus to Majestic, walked through the periphery of Cubbon park, and reached the museum entrance at five minutes to 10, their time to open!

"Let's take the top-down approach", said Vish, meaning we will start looking at the display in the top floor, and descend to the bottom. We skipped all the displays meant to attract kids, the movie that was being screened at regular intervals, and instead concentrated on the main scientific displays starting from undergrad level.

 with mechanical model of logic gates

 thermal imaging

 mechanical model of DNA double helix

 vish playing with various objects in flow field

 model of a lunar astronaut

 vortex experiment

 full scale model of wright's glider

vish with diesel engine

 me with an engine

vish playing with printing press

The highlight of the museum displays is the flow field visualization using soap water solution. Vish gave me a wonderful demo of the flow visualization experiment in which the flow is affected by objects of different shapes when placed in a uniform flow field.

We finished our trip around noon, walked around Vidhana Soudha and Chinnaswamy stadium, got bus near Cubbon park to Malleswaram 5th cross and walked our way back to Kaveri.

Aug 1, 2011

All is well if the 'means' as well as the 'end' is well.

All is well if it ends well, so goes the saying. However, to me, end alone is not much important, but also the means by which we achieve the end.

So, when the DARP coordinator announced about the project competition in the final week (in which each group will have to work on a given method and submit their results, and the one whose result matches with true value will be announced as winner), me and Vishal (who shares same view in the 'end' point) decided to stop concentrating on the project, and use the time available to understand about the method.

And that's what we did in the last one week! Jay, a passive member in our group, had already coded the Lorenz '63 model in Matlab for some other purpose. We took the code from him as a kick start, added the Sequential Monte Carlo technique part for the ensembles to begin with.

We then modified the code to include Importance Sampling, and finally incorporated Sequential Monte Carlo with Importance Sampling, and Resampling. In order to test our understanding, we forwarded the code to Elaine, our team lead, and to other group members, asking them to go through it and execute.

Jyoti, an active member, who is good in Fortran coding, gave us a very encouraging comment to the code saying she could follow it easily! But it struck us hard the next day when she came to us and said "my laptop crashed after running your code!"

Later, we came to know from our team lead that while the logic part of our code is correct, the code is not optimized for memory, which is the reason why Jyoti's laptop crashed. I still believe had she installed Linux in her laptop and executed the code in it, her laptop would not have crashed.

Soon we learnt that in Matlab we should not code in Fortran way! We should avoid if statements and for loops as much as possible, and should initialize the parameters to avoid dynamic size allotment, especially when the variable is in a loop.

By that time, Jaman and Jason, along with other group members assistance, had already modified Elaine's code (which she had written for some other model), to work for the Lorenz '63 model. Since Vish and I are convinced that our understanding of particle filtering is correct, we tried to incorporate our ideas in their code to speed up the computations in the limited time available to us.

On the final day, we did some experiments (which we were supposed to do at least a day before!), got some interesting plots, copy pasted in no-order and made the following presentation.

While Vish and I were rejoicing about the means by which our project came to an end (understanding how particle filter works), the coordinator announced the final results! We were on cloud nine when we came to know that the means to an end had brought us to a successful end as well. We congratulated each of our group members, who were later rewarded with a book, "Chaos: A Very Short Introduction" written by Leonard (Lenny) Smith. Lenny is one of the speaker who lectured on non-linear models earlier during the lecture part of the program.
Group 1: Particle Filtering