Saturday, September 12, 2009

What they don't teach at an engineering college ?

Recently a friend of mine dropped an email to me to consider writing for the college magazine.
Got me thinking about writing something relevant and yet informative. I could of course write about my professional experiences and my technology knowledge, considering my career in software. I think however that would be too boring for a college magazine. So I zeroed on the subject, What they don't teach at an engineering college ?. For the rest of the article, I am going to write about some experiences during my college life and what they taught me.

S**t happens, deal with it.
This is one lesson every engineer learns in the first or second semester. I managed to clear my first 2 semesters without any of the dreaded KTs. Soon I had built this superstition about growing a beard during exams. However in the sem 5, there was one subject on Microprocessors. It helped shatter that superstition completely. We had a good 3 days of holiday before this one. So in typical engg exam style, I hadn't really bothered preparing much. The 3 days were spent reading through pretty much the whole curriculum for the subject. I thought I was quite well prepared. That was only until about an hour of writing the paper. I turned to section II (or was it page 2) of the question paper. Found myself staring at a whole set of μP design problems that none of us in the exam hall had expected or bothered to practice.For next 2 hours everyone in the exam hall was either staring at the other students in the hall, hoping some one knew the answers. For a change the invigilators were not worried about cheating, ... cause pretty much nobody had a clue of what the right answers were.

We all came out expecting, the by now not so dreaded, KT. Luckily I managed to clear the the exam. But my scores for that sem were messed. Since this sem counted for the final engg grade it meant that I had to work a lot harder in the next 3 sems to up my average grade. S**t had happened and I found myself was dealing with it for the next 1.5 years...

Never give up - cause life is like a sinusoid.
I remember me and a few of my friends had registered for a robotics competition in IIT - Bombay. The competition required us to build a manually controlled vessel which could move over water in a small tank and play water polo with table tennis balls floating in water. None of my team mates had any idea of how to build a boat, or materials around it or principles of a motor boat. Next month or so we spent a lot of our spare time researching, trying out stuff and coming out with designs, prototypes. After all the hard work, with just 2 days to the big day, we realized that our machine design had some serious flaws and we found ourself staring at a complete failure of the project. Just then we took a lunch break and when we came back we decided to persist with our aim and not give up. That day and next morning we took our machine apart and build a completely new machine. Soon enough, at the competition we surprised ourself and pretty much everyone at in the audience at IIT, when we narrowly missed a berth the finals and stood third. Taught me that if life is like a sinusoid. If you are staring at a trough, its probably time to cheer up and trying a bit harder, cause the crest will follow soon.

Listen to your intuition.
I graduated in a recession year. The campus placements that year were few and some of my friends got through. There were others who wanted to pursue a PG in Engg. Then there were those who wanted to do a degree in management. There were also some who planned to take up post grad only so that they could skip the painful job hunt in those recession times. I couldn't manage any campus placements by sem 7 and by sem 8 the campus placements had completely dried up. I wasn't keen on an international PG or Management. I tried my hand at some of the entrance tests to get into an M Tech but fell short of the score to get into course of my choice. So by mid of sem 8, here I was like numerous others without a job in hand or a college admit, staring at the abyss of unemployment.
Something inside me said that things will look up and that something good was in store for me .. After all life is a sinusoid. So I kept posting my resumes to any and every software, electronics or telecommunication firm that I saw posting advertisements in newspapers for experienced hires. By end of sem 8 the lot like me were doing these post graduate diplomas in hope of building additional skills that would make them job worthy. I chose against it and instead worked at a meager pay with my final year project guide for around 2 months on another project. Soon enough my intuition turned out to be right and in early September that year I had in my hand an offer letter from Infosys - one of the most respected and India's second largest software services companies. So I think it helps to listen to one's intuition and substantiate it with action.

Curricular helps, but extra-curricular builds you.
I think this is one point which most of my college professors would not agree with. I was habituated to bunking lectures and spent a lot of my time in canteen planning or enjoying the extra curricular activities (mostly college events or festivals). In essence I think most of my lecturers thought I had no future. But all those extra curricular had subconsciously taught me some great soft skills. Things like how to work with people, dealing with pressure, and above all maintaining my focus and calm in the most trying circumstances. These were skills that the engineering syllabus or lecturers could not teach. When at work, I found that these were very skills that gave me a slight edge against some of the bookworms who were now my batch mates at Infosys. These guys were still learning these skills, which seemed to come more naturally to me ... I guess extra-curricular stuff had helped after all.

Its alright to be selfish but have a conscience. One of the things that I learned through all those extra curricular activities was that every one is selfish. Our moral sciences preach ideals like selflessness. Truth however is that without a selfish motivation, hardly any one give their 100 % to anything they do. Back in college, I was into the organizing the tech fest, I was in them for the experiences they offered and the fun. That was my selfish motive. There were others who wanted the certificates and awards. There were still others who wanted to add to their pocket money (albeit by messing with the accounts). There were some who wanted recommendations from the professors and so on. In short the motives differed but the immediate task at hand was common. I was not always comfortable with people who didn't share my motive. In some cases when I'd hear about any accounting issues, it would irritate me and has even led to bad breath with some of my college friends.
However in retrospect, I realize that all people despite their different motivating factors worked well as a team. The only reason they worked well was because they did have a selfish motive that could be achieved through the task at hand. I therefore say that it is alright to be selfish, as long as you also allow your conscience to have its way.

Finally signing off on this article, hoping that it makes the cut for the magazine

Monday, August 31, 2009

A Dummy's Guide to Baby sitting : Toddlers

Recently I visited a cousin of mine. She is mother to a kid who is currently a toddler.
During the visit I had the privilege to baby sit my nephew. While the experience of being responsible for the kid, albeit for just a few hours, may not teach much about parenting... It is still a great leveler... It taught me that a degree in college and growing up from infant to adult may give you all education and experiences to carry on life dauntlessly, but it can't teach you anything about kids. Even though all of us have been kids at some point of time ....we are never quite ready for handling kids ...until we have handled one...
After an emotional start to this post, its now time to get serious and give out the words of wisdom that I got from my few hours of baby sitting..

  1. Toddler = Duracell Bunny....
  2. The first thing I learned when my cousin left me with her kid is that kids are like the battery powered bunnies. I mean, most of us would have seen those battery powered bunnies which once powered up can keep running all day .. till the battery gets exhausted. The situation ain't any different here. A toddler is powered by food and milk, and once powered up ... its exactly like a Duracell bunny ... keeps running around, shouting, smiling, crying (all Moms reading this post .. please add a few more verbs). Typically the person running after the baby will get tired long before the baby needs a power up (foor or milk).

  3. Toddlers are heavier than dumbbells.
  4. Anybody who has done any weight training might beg to differ. After all dumbbells come in various weights and sizes and thus you could always pick up a 30 Kg dumbbell which is theoretically heavier than most toddlers...But there is one detail that a gym going bachelor will miss.....
    The dumbbell is .. well .. dumb !!! and it does not fight back.
    A toddler on the other hand will not sit quite on your arms. I learned that a kid needs to be occupied and entertained all the time. Not to mention that a kid will wriggle, play, jump around etc .. all of it when in your arms. Then again, unlike a dumbbell ... even if your arm hurts, you can't drop the kid.. Even if you try to put one down gently, the chances are that the kid may not be ready to give up the free ride on top of your arms....

  5. Poop and Pee alarms - the most desired inventions for baby sitters.
  6. We are in an age of technology. So I thought to myself what would be the most desired invention for baby sitter... A toddler as you might realize is not quite potty trained and thus will shit or pee without adequate warning. Sometimes even when perched comfortably on your arm. However as disgusting as the act may seem to you, I think the toddlers thoroughly enjoy the activity and its output. While you are searching for a place to dispose the diaper or a mop / tissue to clean up the pee, the kid will seize the to opportunity to play in the pee. Thus if some one invents a Poop / Pee alarm that goes off about a minute before the moment of truth, that invention will be very popular with babysitters.

  7. "Actions speak louder than words"... "Crying Baby speaks louder than actions"
  8. I once attended a soft skills training about body language. The trainer reminded us about a proverb to prove his point "Actions speak louder than words". That's often correct cause actions can be seen from a distance much farther than sounds can travel.
    However inside a home, actions in one room can't be seen in another, but sounds can be heard. So we shout to get our voice across. Nothing however, can beat a crying baby. I think the crying of the baby is loud because it is a survival skill. At least till they learn to speak, it is the only language they know is to cry out aloud.... "wah wah wah.."
    So for baby sitters here is a definitive guide to baby vocabulary...

    Repititive "wah wah" (mostly unless the bottle of milk fails to quieten the baby) = Feed me
    "wah wah" (with arms held upwards and an innocent look in the eyes) = Pick me up
    "wah wah" (while looking at gadgets like mobile, remote control etc) = I want that toy
    "wah wah" (with eyes half closed) = I am sleepy
    Non stop "wah wah" (none of the above works) = I want my mommy
    "wah wah" (when you try changing clothes) = I don't want to wear shorts / daipers
    "wah wah" (when in your arms) = Put me down
    Loud "wah wah" (when in your arms) = Stop restraining me

    It looks simple yet so complicated. Everything the baby wants is conveyed just through its crying... I know most of us like to think that the baby's mom can make out the different needs from the way it cries ... The truth is ....all moms are as clueless as rest of us.
    I think that they just try out different stuff (from the list above) till the baby stops crying.

  9. Toys = An adult's futile attempt to understand the kid.
  10. I think toy industry was built by adults to milk the helplessness of other adults when they are unable to understand the "wah wah" mentioned above. The whole idea they want you to believe in is that your kids need toys and that these toys can help them become smarter while they play. Certainly sounds useful, that is if the kid actually plays with the toys. While kids need toys, toddlers don't really bother classifying toys, gadgets, kitchen tools, furniture, books etc differently. For them anything and everything can be a toy.

    When I saw my nephew playing with anything and everything that he could lay his hands on (mop, broom, gas lighter, mobile phone, telephone, remote control, electric switches, .... and of course his toys), I was reminded of that master card advertisement about watching something priceless. While I completely endorse the part about watching the kids play being a "priceless" experience, I think the toy industry does make significant profit by making us adults believe that the kids actually need those toys.
    I think the truth is that we as adults want to play with our own toys (mobiles, laptops, telephones, tv etc) and not share them the kids, so we buy them toys and teach them to play with those.

  11. The next generation always seems to be smarter than your generation.
  12. While playing with my nephew, I observed a couple of things. First that he (like a lot other kids) wanted to play with gadgets and tools that adults use. Second that he was always thinking of ways and means to get hold of those gadgets. I heard that kids learn by imitation. If that is true, then it is no surprise that kids want to play with gadgets that we adults use. They are really just trying to imitate us. But we don't trust them with our gadgets, sometimes for their own safety. Thus the parents try harder and harder to keep their gadgets out of the kids reach. The kids keep coming out newer distractions, pranks, tricks to lay their hands on the gadgets. Soon it becomes like a game of chess played between the parents and kids. So the kids have to outplay adults to get hold of their toys (adult gadgets) and thus every time they succeed, they only seem smarter.

  13. Laugh with the baby.
  14. A small prank from my nephew will remain fresh in my mind for some time to come. In the morning while I asleep I felt something move beside my arm. That's where I had kept my mobile phone after turning off the morning alarm. A few moments later I heard my nephew laugh and my cousin shout at him. I woke up and saw that beside my arm was his milk bottle instead of my mobile, which was now in his hands. I was a little concerned about him thrashing my mobile to pieces, but when I saw the twinkle in his eyes and the smile on his face I was no longer worried about my mobile. He did manage to send out a couple of short messages while I was negotiating a trade (yeah... trade, you can't just snatch the mobile back.....lest they start their "wah wah") with him to get back my phone. I did eventually get my phone back but learned a simple and important lesson.

    A baby laughs a lot throughout the day. Even simple things like the rotation of a fan when switched on can put a smile on a kids face. They remind us of the simple smile that we have all forgotten in our clockwork. Through all their tricks they give us opportunities to regain the lost laughter.

These were but a few tips based on my own experience.
At the end a very important disclaimer. All those tips will be useless if you are faced with the task of babysitting a toddler... Wishing you lots of luck, cause every toddler is different and no matter how smart you are, the toddler will probably outsmart you.

dheeme, sureele, dil ke kareeb gaane

I have been tagged by "dust unsettled" to write about a few soft and soulful songs close to my heart.. A serious compilation would be rather long but ... I'll try to keep the list short and sweet...

Hai Apna Dil to Awara (Movie - Solva Sal. Singer : Hemant Kumar )
Kabhi Kabhi (Kabhi Kabhi, Mukesh)
Everything I do, I do it for you (Bryan Adams)
Tu Hi Re (Bombay, HariHaran)
Pal Pal Dil Ke Paas (Kishor Kumar)
Tum Ho To (Rock On, Farhan Akhtar)
Shamo saveren teri yaaden aati hai (Luky Ali, Sifar)
Aa chal ke tujhe mai leke chalon (Kishore Kumar)
With or without you (U2)
Tum se hi (Jab We Met, Mohit Chauhan)

I think my memory is a little slow ... and I might come up with a few more songs if the music catches my ears ..
Thus this is a work in progress post ....will keep adding to this...

Monday, February 16, 2009

Rocking in cradle of death

If one asks me what have I taken back from my experiences in last 3 days.. the spontaneous answer is "Life". The experiences I have had last few days were enough to reinforce my vanishing faith in God. A self proclaimed agnostic as I am, I think the experiences that I am about to narrate are enough for me to not became an atheist as yet, or may be ever.

My New Royal Enfield
It all started on the way back from a dinner meet with old college friends. There were no cocktails so I wasn't drunk at all. On my way back, as I was driving my new bike, I heard a low noise near my back wheel as if two objects were constantly hitting each other. I usually carry a second helmet and this time there was no pillion rider. I reached out my left hand to feel if the helmet was were it usually should be (on the pillion back rest) but it wasn't. I promptly stopped by the side of the road to check the status and found that helmet was hanging beside the back wheel (causing the low noise). I placed it in proper position and started accelerating again. What I didn't realise was that I hadn't moved the side stand from its parking position.

Oblivious to the fact that the side stand was just about an inch or so above the road, I accelerated the bike to my usual cruising speed of about 65 kph. After a few minutes I was about to change lanes and tilted just a little bit. The lane had some muddy debris on it. Just then heard a screeching (the side stand rubbing against the road) noise as if something was skidding against the road and the next thing I know the bike was down and so was I skidding against the road. I somehow got off the bike as it skid a few more meters ahead before coming to a stop.

I got up walked up to the bike and picked it up, the engine then came to stop. There I was on the right most lane (fastest) of a "keep left" high way with my bike at a stand still and staring back thanking heavens that there wasn't any big speeding truck right behind me. In fact all this while there was no vehicle in sight. The first vehicle passed me only after I had mounted back on my bike and was attempting to bring it back to neutral gear to start off again.

I dragged my bike to the side of the road and then got off again to have a look at myself. A few scratches on the hand, a scratch on the left knee, a sore left thigh and shoulder, a torn left pant pocket, a scratch on the helmet was what I could see. Then of course was the site of me on the ground with the sparks flying off the leg guard of the bike as it skid away from me. A site firmly etched in my mind to remind me that I am lucky to be alive to tell the tale.

The leg guard that took the fall

It took me a few minutes to realise how lucky I was to escape with just a few scratches. I wiped myself up then drove back home another 15 kms or so and some how managed to hide the scratches from my family, who would have been shell shocked to hear this, needless to say that I wouldn't have gotten the permission to drive my bike again. I think eventually they will discover, but by then I would have regained my confidence and may be able to make a case for myself. After all one learns from mistakes and I am not in habit of repeating fatal mistakes.

As if the bike experience was not enough to scare the living day lights out of me, I went ahead the exact next day with my plan of doing the Harischandragad trek via the famous "Nali chi vaat". I somehow felt fit enough mentally and physically to try a testing route. Harishchandragad is host to remains of an ancient fort by the same name and a well known trekkers paradise near Mumbai and is well known for the scenic Konkan Kada, a semicircle shaped approx 1800 high feet vertical drop from the plateau of Harishchandragad.
The "Nali chi vaat" is literally a path via a narrow pass formed by erosion due to a seasonal river. Among the trekker community in Maharashtra, this route is considered one of the most challenging ones and I discovered exactly that over the next 2 days. Our return route was another challenging route - a narrow pass called SadhleGhat.

The famous Nali chi vaat

I went into the trek carrying my bike accident scratches. Apart from the scratches I didn't feel any problems with my body so I went on with the trek plan. However about a couple of hours into the trek I realised that I had a sore right knee. I didn't think much of the knee and continued on with the slight pain. The route was fun (and challenging) so I kept moving from strength to strength. But small accidents had to be there. In one section I was trying a rock climb on a brittle slate rock and I slipped. Luckily I landed on my feet and remained balanced and escaped that fall with just a long cut on my elbow. By the time we reached the top, we were out of gas ( I mean water) and my knee was hurting real bad. Every time I bent the leg, to climb I could feel the pain in the knee. When we reached the cave temple atop the fort I was hoping that I had seen the last of my pain.

I was so very wrong about my knee. The next day I woke up in pain and with the daunting thought of climbing down all the way with the pain announcing its presence every I time I bent my right leg to climb down. I had to try and avoid stress to that knee so I was walking as if I was handicapped on the right leg. That however meant that I had to sit down and drag my ass (literally) on some of the sections of the descent. I kept falling slipping, skidding, getting pricked by thorns all the way as we came down through the jungle and the mountain pass.

The rock that almost crushed my leg
At one point as I was descending, I sat on a rock about 1/3rd my size and was feeling my next step below, just when the so far steady rock moved right below my ass and dragged me with it. I hugged it with both my hands to prevent it from falling on my legs. Again as luck would have it, I was untouched by that rock. Thanks to my hands and a small stone that stopped the rock, which looked destined to trample my already injured right leg. Thankfully I did have the sense humour to pose for this snap while I was still figuring out, how to get up without moving the rock. A little help from our trekking guide and I was up and moving along again.
I made it back home all in one piece ready to write this tale. The last 3 days however have left me thinking as I literally been rocking in a cradle of death and survived it with nothing but a few scratches and a sore knee to show. The scratches will soon vanish and the sore muscles will heal. The memories will fade out as time passes by. However I think I'll still continue to remember these 3 days for a long time to come... may be even till my last breathe ...

This is a post from my other blog.
Original post can be found here