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Sleep-drunkenness

By on Jul 29, 2010 in Personal | 7 comments

After an initial two weeks of confusion in my body clock (and waking up at 11pm to eat ‘breakfast’), you might find this hard to believe that I wake up these days at 5am without fail. Except when I totally don’t (like this one day when I woke up at 6am instead). This is, I’ve been told by my mom, a ‘considerable improvement’. Four days ago I went to sleep at 3am but woke up at the now-reasonable time of 5am. By the time it was evening I had drunk two large Café Americanos to keep myself awake. The caffeine rush didn’t allow me to go to sleep despite the fact that I was close to passing out, a feeling akin to being stuck in limbo. Not willing to procrastinate I went apeshit crazy coming up with concepts for future works of fiction on this blog, such as The Slightly Greasy Dosa of Bangalore – an upcoming novel featuring Robert Langdon, and a sociopolitical campaign tentatively titled The Disloyal Subjects of Chetan ‘Underscore’ Bhagat. I spammed my friends with text messages detailing plans for both projects before dropping-dead asleep. I call this state sleep-drunkenness – and it’s a state of mine that university friends will be familiar with too. There was this one time when we had submit a general electronic assignment and a programming assignment within two days of each other – apart from all the copyediting that I needed to do for a new issue of the student newspaper. I had been working for about 36 hours without sleep, propping myself up with regular “double shot espresso without sugar quick!” at Starbucks. That’s when the fun started. (Pardon me for any gaps in the narrative that follows. It has been pieced together from what friends told me later.) Breakfast and lunch were activities that I had skipped on the day that I staggered into our programming lab at 9pm, ostensibly to complete my assignment. I sat there for quarter of an hour absolutely quiet and doing nothing, then finished a pack of Doritos – as I apparently told others from my course who were present – “for dinner”. I then proceeded to search online for pictures of cows listening to music with headphones. You’ll be (dis)pleased to know that such a picture, in fact, does exist. My rationale for this act was that I “needed inspiration for a publicity poster that I was working on for The Stag“. My friends agreed that the publicity poster was indeed funny when I went around showing it to them – and then chorused “Go home and sleep Ankur!” Reluctantly, I decided to heed their advice. The story isn’t over yet! While I was walking back to my room from the lab I sent a text message to random people in my phonebook saying that I had seen… …a man riding a motorcycle who had a backpack in the shape of a cellphone – the old kinda cellphone that used to have an antenna stub sticking out; moreover, the whole cellphone-shaped backpack was covered in shiny tin-foil. Too little sleep and too much caffeine in results in extremely weird behaviour, and I end up doing this more often that you thin. (I admit this isn’t the weirdest text message. That honour goes to a message I sent once, again to many people in my phonebook, asking where the nearest nuclear bomb shelter was from Guildford.) **** In the lead-up to our end of the year exams, I spent most of my time in the library catching up on the all lectures I did not attend, and the ones that I did attend but did not pay attention too. Students from our course used to camp in the library – some actually sleeping and showering in the there rather than going back home to sleep. I was lucky that my house wasn’t that far away from the library, so I could pop back for a nap. I didn’t get to sleep much in those weeks either – say, 1-2 two hours at max as I slaved away fuelled by chips, pizza, Oreos, and Red Bull (“They’re like cocaine, only they taste like fruit that someone sat on.”). I had to stay awake. I drank about four cans of Red Bull (80mg of caffeine per can) to keep awake until 4am, followed by another can (80mg) in the morning and a shot of Lucozade Alert Plus (120mg of caffeine in a small 60mL shot). In a surprising display of honesty of what its energy drink tastes like, Lucozade made an ad for this product (almost) comparing it to a potion made of “monkey anus glands, male lizard balls, earthworms, and spit”. With almost 500mg of caffeine ingested in a short span of 7-8 hours coursing through my bloodstream every day, I used to be so wired that a friend actually looked up ‘lethal caffeine dosage’ in medical journals. (Result – doctors know what the limit is for rats, but not for humans.) My heart is super-strong. :D It did not give out nor I did not otherwise drop dead from drinking too much Red...

It’s not about being ‘so social’

By on Jun 16, 2010 in Food For Thought, Personal, Tech Takes | 14 comments

I have my end-of-the-year exams going on now. Two down, two to go. Maths on Monday was good but a throbbing hand after the exam reminded me how much more I’m used to typing than picking up an ink-filled writing instrument. I really should be packing my bags right now rather than writing a blog post, so that I don’t screw up my sleep cycle for tomorrow. I need to have most of my stuff packed for shipping back to India by morning. So far, I only have approximately 150 words to show for my ‘effort’. So anyway, I was bored and was having a conversation about blogging with someone. It reminded me of this short blog post done a couple of weeks ago by Aditya titled Not So Social. I have been meaning to write about the same for a while; it’s just that only now have I got the time to procrastinate. This is not a rebuttal; rather, a my views on the same issue. To summarize, that blog post speaks of how we might be losing the fun in having conversations purely because “there’s nothing to speak about” since “it’s all on social networking sites anyway”. I’m not really sure whether that’s the case. “So, what have you been up to?” is merely a conversation starter, not a conversation in itself. And it would be naïve to think that mere 140-character status updates or even “a hundred pictures pretty much tells the story”. Life experiences – be they funny, bitter, jubilatory – are complex narratives that no amount of ‘lifestreaming‘ through statuses and pictures can replace. But what social tools do allow us to do is to have an inkling of what’s going in the life of those nearest and not-so-nearest-but-added-on-Facebook-anyway-because-we-have-mutual-friend. What it allows you to do is to begin a conversation with “So, how did you end up with a tiger in your bathroom after that party?” than merely enquiring a limp “Wazzup?” It does not, in any way, take anything away from the ensuing conversation itself. Conversations are about exchanging experiences, not facts. Image by luc legay via Flickr I don’t know whether you have heard of Dunbar’s number, but it’s a theory that humans have a limit to the number of ‘social’ relationships they can maintain at any time. Social tools allow you to keep in touch with your ‘Dunbar’ group, and even beyond that. You don’t have to read everything everyone posts. To take just one example, Twitter isn’t email, nor is Twitter a competition. Friends / followers / cult members aren’t Pokémon toys that need to be collected. (Yes, thank you for pointing out – I know I have strayed from the topic for a bit.) Regardless of that, ‘social tools’ allow you to stay in the loop as to what’s happening in your friend circle, and then gives you the ability to pick and choose conversations that you think can will be engaging. Speaking of uploading ‘hundreds of pictures’ being posted on social networks, I think Facebook (and to a lesser extent, photo-sharing sites such as Flickr and Picasa Web) has brought about a fundamental rethinking of what used to be a ‘Kodak moment’. In the days of film photography when the west was wild, cameras came with 36-snap films, and processing was expensive – you didn’t take chances. You lined people up akin to an identity parade in front of a landmark and asked them to speak cheesy lines. The ubiquitousness of mobile / digital cameras means that now you can capture spontaneous moments without a second blink. Sure, this gives the license to some people to upload 378 pictures from a single party to Facebook under an album titled ‘Randommmmmmm 3!&!!&!&’. But if used wisely, (i.e., exercise at least some restraint in clicking, or at least when uploading, pictures) this form of lifestreaming not only gives your friend circle (in the short-term) something to start off with when chatting but also gives you a long-term record of your life at various points in your, well, life. Even Kodak, one of the most hopelessly out-of-touch technology companies, has figured out that the modern ‘Kodak moment’ is no longer the act of taking a picture, but the act of sharing a picture. You might not think much of it now, but all those byte-sized text updates and pictures albums with spontaneous moments captured is a living scrapbook of your life at those points. Nobody is saying that your online persona is a perfect reconstruction of the real-life you; still, a digital archive of moments is something that you (and your friends) can look back and cherish. This isn’t just about the conversation you could have next week, but the conversation that you could have six years down the line about this week – augmented by your digital scrapbook. (I know, it’s difficult to do so now. Those features will come eventually, as I think enough people will feel the need for something like that.) What makes me come out so strongly in support of social media? I would put it down to the fact that it’s almost end-of-term, and I just realise – looking back all the content from this year – as to how much I miss not having a more extensive ‘archive’ of my life earlier. Just remember to not obnoxiously keep your digital camera’s shutter pressed down....

A Comprehensive Guide to UK University Admissions (for Overseas Students)

By on May 23, 2010 in On A Whim | 13 comments

Over the past year, I have been asked this question increasingly frequently – “How do I go about applying to a UK university?” Many students who think of studying abroad often apply to American universities (I did too), and most of them have the procedure down pat – you give the SAT Reasoning Test and, in most cases, SAT Subject Tests in your particular area of study. You let College Board rob the living daylights out of you for this, and then again if you want resits, and then again when you give TOEFL, and then again when you apply to each university (individually or via Common Application). The UK education system is significantly different. I will try to give a brief overview of how the higher education sector is structured in the UK, the procedures involved in applying to universities, how to choose the university and type of degree best suited for you, things to watch out for, et al. There is a lot of material and guidance available for UK and EU students already, so this article’s focus will be on providing guidance to international, non-EU students considering to join UK universities. Caveat emptor, as with anything – this is not ‘official’ advice, merely my notes on this topic. Why USA is a more popular education destination than the UK? If there’s one thing American universities are good at, that thing would be marketing themselves aggressively to overseas students. It’s not that you don’t have good UK universities – you’ll find numerous UK universities among world ranking lists. Speaking from my experience in India, it is common – at least in major cities – for US universities to go touring school campuses themselves or as a part of a consortium to attract more students. Consequently, a lot more students are ‘aware’ of the procedure involved. UK universities on the other hand often limit their outreach to British Council events and events held via ‘education consultants’. This results in only people who are actively seeking information about UK universities to be the ones who bother to think about applying. Once misconception regarding studying in the UK is that it’s costlier than studying in the US, primarily because the pound sterling is a costlier currency to convert foreign currency into than the US dollar. While this is true, the costs of a UK degree are a few orders of magnitude less than that of US degrees. Read on to find out why. The thing that I’m trying to say is that if you’ve taken the decision to study overseas, then you should explore your options beyond ‘just USA’. I can provide some guidance (hopefully!) about UK, but do your own research into other destinations such as Europe, Australia, Singapore, et al. You might find something that interests you. How are degrees structured in UK universities? If you weren’t aware already, the United Kingdom is split into four separate countries – England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Most overseas students – and thus in this article, I – stick to universities based in England (sometimes, Wales) so I’ll primarily discuss those. (Yes, the structure of courses is different.) Bachelors degrees, regardless of discipline, are usually three years in duration rather than four years as is the norm in many other countries. The exception is Scotland, where degrees are four years in duration – but ‘high school’ education in Scotland ends a year early, so most university undergrads in Scotland are 17 rather than 18 years of age. Direct Masters degrees are integrated courses of four-year duration where you join as undergraduate and get your Masters degree after four years. You have the option to switch to the Bachelors degree pathway or switch from a Bachelors degree pathway to direct Masters, usually till year 2 of your degree. As with Bachelors, Scottish direct Masters degrees are a year longer, i.e., five years in duration than the norm elsewhere in UK. Masters degrees (for those who already hold a Bachelors degree) are of one or two-year length, depending on whether you’re joining the ‘research’ or ‘taught’ pathway. I won’t discuss this option because my experience is limited to the undergraduate admission process. The reason that Scottish students start university a year early – and thus often covering topics most overseas students would have already studied in (high) school / ‘sixth form‘ is, I think, a reason overseas students stick to English universities. That, and the misconception that ‘United Kingdom / Britain’ is the same as ‘England’ (It’s not.). (‘Pathway’ is a term you’ll often hear me mention often. Basically, this term is used to denote the various permutations that combine to make up the final degree structure that you’ll take up at a university here.) Hold on! There’s another interesting option to discuss – and that’s the ‘sandwich course‘ option that many universities in the UK offer as a course pathway. The sandwich course pathway is called so because between your second year and your final year, you spend a year in placement in industry. You start off with your first two years the same as those on the normal three-year Bachelors degree, then spend your third (chronological) year working for a company related to the course you’re studying. Your university will assist you in looking for these placements, and often have partnership agreements with companies on regular student intake for placement...

Snowy Pebbles

By on May 9, 2010 in Personal | 10 comments

A macro shot that I took this January when it was snowing, of a gravel pathway. It’s currently my wallpaper and I love it. It’s a shame that all the snow we had this year was concentrated to a space of weeks. University buildings look beautiful when it snows. :) UPDATE: Ok, some more photos. All the snow we had this year was concentrated into a space of three weeks in January, and practically shut everything apart from vital services down. I do have some more pictures from that time, but most of them aren’t so good. Here are a few others though: Statue of Alan Turing covered in snow (a lot of people don’t know who Alan Turing is) Snow covered tree in Stag Hill Court Drain frozen over (this one’s just for the novelty...

My first vote in an election

By on May 6, 2010 in Food For Thought, Personal | 4 comments

The UK General Election is being held all across the Queen’s dominion today. British Parliamentary elections are funny. A news editor said online that we might end up with a “well-hung Parliament”. Even in crazy England I’m sure journalists don’t go around measuring who’s the biggest dick (literally). And according to voters, on scale of 1-to-10 (1 being lowest), elections are 1 while “makeup is quite important”. Today, on 6th May 2010, I voted for the first time in a political election. How did this come about to be? It’s because I’m originally from a Commonwealth country (India). UK citizens can obviously vote, but so can people from the Commonwealth currently staying in the UK. The way that this is phrased is weird, because the rules say “You must have leave to stay in the UK or not require such leave”. Which basically means practically all visa types except for travel and business can vote here, as long you’re residing in UK (even if temporarily). Not a lot of people know this. Ok, so maybe the Aussies and Canadians here know about it because the Queen is still technically the head of state in those countries. Still, the level of ignorance – both among UK citizens and residents from Commonwealth staying here – amazes me. Voting is a privilege that not even EU residents enjoy in the UK, and by staying unaware / unconcerned about this right a large group of residents here are squandering away their chance to vote for the policies they want. In a small place like the UK, immigration is a big issue. The whole recent ‘Bigotgate’ controversy sparked off from a comment current Prime Minister Gordon Brown made after a woman spoke about ‘flocks of Eastern Europeans‘. EU citizens can’t vote, but those of us from the Commonwealth are also affected by immigration issues – so why not vote to represent our voice? And it’s not just that of course. Once we have a right to vote, we have the duty to vote and choose policies that we as stakeholders feel is best for education sector, economy, health, and many other issues. I voted for the Labour Party. Say whatever you want about Gordon Brown, the Labour Party’s policies make the most sense. (I’m not surprised since I support left-of-centre Congress Party in India.) Liberal Democrats are having a surge over here, but I find their policies to be too idealistic – too “Yo maaaaaan, we’re hippies…love peace and all that shit…where’s that next joint of weed” for my liking. The right-wing Conservative Party has no real policies, only making ad hominem attacks on the current government. I am, what one would call, a “Guardian reader“. So how exactly does the voting process work? Registration is damn easy – just fill out a form online and the send it by post. The only details asked for are your name and address; not even your even date of birth is required, nor is any copy of proof of identity. I sent my registration form, but found that I was already registered, since the university accommodation office automatically does it for anyone who stays in university-owned accommodation. Voting day today. Just turn up with your voting details (sent on a postcard), state your name, and vote. (The polling station allocated to me was within our university’s lecture theatre block.) You don’t even need the voting details postcard, and no ID is asked for. You get a paper ballot, mark the candidate you want with a pencil/pen, and drop it in the ballot box. That’s. it. Results start coming in within a day. I can’t help but think that only here would they take anyone’s word for who they are and whether they’re eligible to vote. Has any occurence of impersonation never happened? Do political parties here trust each enough to this extent?! In India, you’d need to go through a long process to get yourself registered, then bring some sort of government-approved proof of identity, leave any form of cellphones or bags at home (you just can’t take a cellphone; if you’re carrying one, you’ll be turned away), walk into a complex heavily fortified by armed paramilitary and police personnel (you’ve a park any vehicles a few hundred metres away), get scrutinised further, and then finally get to vote. By the end of it, you probably tired of the whole accompanying circus. We probably make up for all this with our electronic voting machines though. :) Also, there’s nothing stopping you here from registering in multiple constituencies, and voting multiple times (in different constituencies.) Once again, the electoral authorities will take your word for it. Unlike India, you won’t be marked with an indelible ink mark on one of your fingers to ensure that you can’t vote multiple times. But if people are honest enough, it’s a good thing that the election process is made as less intimidating as possible. (On that note, I should mention that when I was a kid, I used to think that people were marked with inedible ink, as opposed to indelible ink. I always used to wonder why a clarification was need to tell people that the ink used was inedible.) (Also, on another note it’s really sad that as a kid I used to ponder upon the type of ink used in Indian elections.) I know that the Labour...