Google PlusFacebookTwitter

At the University of Surrey

By on Sep 27, 2009 in Personal | 4 comments

Phew. Long break between my goodbye post and this one. Apologies folks, I’ve been busy with trying to get a hang of this place so that I don’t get lost while trying to go from place A to place B. I’m past that disorientation stage now so I can afford to write this blog post. I arrived at Heathrow on a direct from Delhi, Jet Airways. Boy, everything almost got screwed up when I left all my original documents (visa, allocation letters, etc) back at home when I got to the airport. Thankfully, dad rushed back home and got the documents within time. Must commend the driving skills of my driver to go to and fro RK Puram from the airport within 20 minutes! :O On-board I spent most of my time watching movies on the in-flight entertainment system. I was very concerned before boarding regarding what Jet Airways’s policy is on excessive laughing; the movie specials for this month included The Hangover and Angels & Demons. I have an answer to that question now, and it is – no, they won’t throw you off the plane without a parachute. My flight landed at Heathrow around 6.30pm local time. Proceeded to immigration soon, where I was glad I packed a chest X-ray in my hand baggage. Because of this swine flu outbreak they’re pretty strict about health control. My immigration was processed within 30 minutes, but those who hadn’t brought a chest X-ray suffered a lot since they had to wait for many hours in a separate line. Our university had a meet-and-greet scheme at the airport and I soon tracked them down by the blue t-shirts with the university logo they were wearing. The uni was operating a bus shuttle from the airport to campus every 90 minutes, so I waited for some time at the airport along with other Surrey students. We finally left at around 21:15 and reached university at exactly 21:42. Should’ve seen how excited I was when I saw the time. :D It was night when we reached the university, and yet the first thing that you see when you reach is this majestic statue of the university logo – a stag holding a key. This is a new sculpture which was unveiled this year in February. From that day till today, I’ve been busy setting things in order here. When I arrived, the whole campus was pretty empty because only international students had moved in, but since yesterday a lot of UK and EU students have been moving in so the liveliness of this place is definitely going up. I hadn’t registered for a lot of trips organized to the local area (I didn’t know we had to register online, and by the time I had they were fully booked) but I went on my own to Guildford High Street. Really nice place! It’s not a particularly large town since if you want you can walk to most parts within 30-40 minutes, but we have a local bus service here operated in association with the University of Surrey which you can take for going almost anywhere (I got a yearly pass). Found out that human nature is the same everywhere (or maybe not). And one look at the number of Audis, BMWs, Mercedes, et al along on the roads should be enough to tell you that this is one of the richest parts of England. Folks at the university – staff, new students, old students, members of the student – are all really friendly. We were taken around on campus tours after which I finally know the place well enough to navigate around. Except for the teaching buildings, which all have weird names like AA, AB, AX, AZ, BB; those aren’t even codes, simply the names of the buildings. On campus, we have around 8 or so restaurants / cafes, a laundrette, a supermarket with post office, a bank (NatWest, I opened an account with them yesterday), a bookshop, a massive library collection… There’s a Tesco supermarket nearby which is huge. Think of something you can buy – and then some more – and you’ll find it there. Including packed chapatis and and ready-to-eat Indian food. I was a bit perplexed when I saw the Maggi packs at Tesco marked as ‘Manufactured by Nestle India’. Doesn’t Nestle bother to make Maggi locally? I’ve mostly been eating microwave dinners since I don’t know how to cook. Take42 / 1 : My Stag Hill Court room At the university, I’m staying in Stag Hill Court. It’s close to practically all important places on campus – Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences, most of the restaurants, Students Union offices, administrative buildings. This is where all the action is, so I’m happy! Students are allocated rooms in individual ‘house’ units, with 10 people staying per house. We get free insurance, free Internet connection with blazing fast speeds. We also have individual VOIP-based landline phones in each room operated by Freewire with extremely cheap call rates; a free TV channel package is also thrown in with this bundle. For a quick tour of my room, watch the video above (or click through on the link). We had an international welcome and dinner day before yesterday where we got to socialize with all international students. Yesterday we had a party at Chancellors (practically next door to my house) where...

So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish

By on Sep 22, 2009 in Personal | 14 comments

So ‘The Day’ is finally here. In a few hours, I will be flying cattle class out of solidarity with all our holy cows towards a new town which will be a home away from for me for the next few years. Yes folks, I’m leaving India today to join University of Surrey in Guildford, UK. I’m joining the four-year BEng Electronics & Computer engineering course there. (This course is a mix of both hardware as well as software related subjects.) As I do some last-minute packing at this ungodly hour, I can’t help but feel excited and nostalgic at the same time! My journey towards joining University of Surrey began many moons ago, in the beginning of 2009. UK-based universities used a centralized application system called UCAS, and that’s where I began. UCAS allows you to apply to a maximum of five universities – my choices were Surrey, Aberystwyth (Wales), Kent, Aston, and Cardiff (not necessarily in that order). To cut a long story short (I feel sleepy!), I got offer letters from all five universities by mid-May. I now needed to pick one of these. Surrey  is one of the best universities in UK for electronics engineering / computer science. Surrey’s faculty of electronic engineering is at the cutting-edge of research in the field, including working closely with Surrey Satellite Technology, a spin-off from the university’s Surrey Space Centre which has worked on major projects such as the European Space Agency’s rival to GPS. Surrey county is also where many electronics and software firms have their headquarters. Surrey, thus, was by far my first preference among the universities I applied to. Around the end of May, University of Surrey’s Director of Student Recruitment Dr Peter Marshall (who was a professor in the faculty of electronic engineering before taking this administrative position) visited New Delhi. (This was after I had got my offer letters from all universities.) I met up with him for a chat, and by the end of that meeting I felt that Surrey was the right choice for me. I accepted by the end of the day (via UCAS). I must thank Prannoy ‘Pony’ Sablok, a DPS VK senior and Code Warrior currently studying at Aston University for all his guidance during the application process. Then began the paperwork. I received my visa letter from Surrey towards the start of July. I applied for my visa on 17th July, and just three day later – on my birthday – I got my visa. :D That was a pleasant surprise, since visa processing generally takes around two weeks! My university is situated in the town of Guildford is approximately half an hour away from London by rail / road. I solemnly deny that the fact that Douglas Adams had a soft spot for Surrey (the county) had anything to do with my decision to join Surrey (the university). Arthur Dent stays in Leatherhead, Surrey; Woking is ‘the word for when you go to the kitchen but forget why’; Ford Prefect is (supposedly) from Guildford…and so on. More references to Surrey in popular culture can be found in Harry Potter, Lara Croft, and War of the Worlds. The past few weeks have been spent meeting relatives and school friends. Had a great time participating in the AIIMS college fest Pulse 2009 with ex-DPS VK Quiz Club members Rachit and Varun! (Came second in general trivia quiz, first on movie quiz, third in science quiz.) Making goofy faces at the Code Warriors reunion (more photos from CW Reunion 2009 here)… …total vellapunti… Stationary on an escalator gyaan.in, the associated meetup, technology (un)conferences have kept me busy too. Which reminds me, i’ve been working on the draft of a novel too. Shshshsh… No more details yet. One thing that I have realized is that writing a long-length work is tough shit. You start working on something, and then you find it doesn’t quite fit in. Maybe I’ll rework those bits, spin them off as short stories and then publish them here some day. Oh, and I’ve been doing this in Google Docs – revision control is a very handy tool. For the past few months, I have also been working with Youthpad (and to an extent, more.VoiceTAP) as a content writer. Coming up with new blog post ideas for Youthpad daily has been a fun task, although at times I’ve suffered from serious bouts of writer’s block. :) Sadly, with university starting I won’t be able to continue in this position. Anyway, it has been great fun! University of Surrey promotional video. I *heart* the catchy tune! I won’t be blogging daily from now onwards (I hear my RSS subscribers breathing a sigh of relief), but I think I’ll remain fairly regular in putting up new blog posts. I’m also introducing three new post categories on my personal blog – Surreyal, about happenings at the University of Surrey; Stiff Upper Lip, for everything else quintessentially British; Take42, which I intend to be a vodcast. I’ll try to incorporate more podcasts, videos, pictures in the future. And just FYI, I think it’d be a swell idea if someone starts a company called Take42 Interactive, as a parody of Take2 Interactive. ;) Wow. This has been one long blog post. Soon, I’ll be switching over to a new time zone. It’s 6am in the morning right now, and I still haven’t...

Dan Brown’s ‘The Lost Symbol’

By on Sep 21, 2009 in Reviews | 1 comment

My rating of The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown: 5.5 / 10 Publisher: Transworld (India / UK), Doubleday (US) Price: Rs 699 Love him, hate him, you just can’t ignore him. Dan Brown is back…with his new novel The Lost Symbol. Initially titled The Solomon Key, the book was finally released on 15th September 2009. You intuitively know this book was going to smash a few records when you find a PDF ebook torrent of the book within hours of release (probably made easier by the fact that is was released as an ebook for the Amazon Kindle). The first few comments on such highly anticipated book releases are always from retards who shout “Fake!” without even bothering to check. I prowled around torrent sites for “You are a retard, <username of first commenter>” comments to pour in, and then got on to downloading the book once the I knew for sure this was the real thing. The hysteria has already started – The Lost Symbol has already broken the one-day adult fiction sales record and Washington tourism board has launched a special microsite dedicated to the novel. Heavens have mercy on us all. Watch a news report about the launch of Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol In a way, Dan Brown is like the George Lucas of the publishing industry – he can make mega-hit books by the minute, but years down the line everyone will acknowledge his works as a piece of shit. Just like dear ol’ Chetan Bhagat. Here’s the ‘official’ description for The Lost Symbol: As the story opens, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is summoned unexpectedly to deliver an evening lecture in the U.S. Capitol Building. Within minutes of his arrival, however, the night takes a bizarre turn. A disturbing object–artfully encoded with five symbols–is discovered in the Capitol Building. Langdon recognizes the object as an ancient invitation . . . one meant to usher its recipient into a long-lost world of esoteric wisdom. When Langdon’s beloved mentor, Peter Solomon–a prominent Mason and philanthropist–is brutally kidnapped, Langdon realizes his only hope of saving Peter is to accept this mystical invitation and follow wherever it leads him. Langdon is instantly plunged into a clandestine world of Masonic secrets, hidden history, and never-before-seen locations–all of which seem to be dragging him toward a single, inconceivable truth. You know what this reminded me of? The interactive Dan Brown plot generator. I’m not kidding. While I was reading the book, I was truly irritated by how Dan Brown kept following the template of Mickey Mouse watch wearing professor + chick-and-professor-rolled-into-one love interest for Langdon + an assassin + secret society. He repeats Langdon’s backstory as to why he wears the watch, has claustrophobia, does laps of the Harvard swimming pool, etc etc every 30 pages – just to ensure that if you start flipping through the book somewhere in the middle, you have a ‘deep understanding’ of Robert Langdon’s character. I’ll keep the review spoiler-free. Watch The Making of The Lost Symbol, the book with a five million print run Thing is, Dan Brown’s formula has worn down by now. After The Da Vinci Code this simply seems to be a half-hearted attempt to fulfill a publisher’s contract. Despite being riddled with plot holes, Dan Brown’s previous novels worked because they were fast-paced and exciting on their own accord. In The Lost Symbol, he tries to overdo this by making lame attempts to insert cliffhangers at the end of every five paragraphs. It’s not a compulsive page-turner. Another irritating bit is the overuse of italics. Every second line is in italics. This is done to ‘speak out’ the internal thoughts of a character. We readers love that, man, but for Christ’s sake don’t overdo it man. There is no need to emphasise everything. Certain phrases are repeated way too often in the book. The number of times something ‘dawns’ on Langdon will make you think he’s orbiting the Earth in a space shuttle rather than moseying around in Washington DC. (Astronauts on a space shuttle see a new ‘sunrise’ / ‘sunset’ every 45 minutes, approximately the same time-frame in which some ‘startling revelation’ ‘dawns upon’ Robert Langdon.) Every time one of these ‘dawning’ epiphanies happens, Langdon becomes a walking-talking Wikipedia entry on said topic which caused of ‘revelation’. Poor Isaac Newton is once again dragged into yet another secret society (this time it’s the Invisible College) and becomes party to fiendish conspiracies. Between being the Grand Poobah of the Royal Order of Water Buffaloes, Freemasons, Invisible College, Priory of Sion, and whichever ‘secret society’ Dan Brown cooks up in his next novel I wonder when did Newton get the time to work out the laws of gravity. Dan Brown does a volte-face to his attitude towards religion compared to his previous novels. Angels & Demons (the book, not the movie) had reasonably balanced Science vs Religion philosophical discourses. The Da Vinci Code came across as anti-Vatican despite not intending to. The Lost Symbol marks the complete surrender of Dan Brown to religion. The Bible, which was described in The Da Vinci Code as “The greatest story ever sold, rathe than the greatest story ever told“, metamorphoses into Dan Brown’s version of The Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything. He does mention Koran, the Bhagvad Gita, Zohar et al too, but more in the tone of extras – bouncers...

Not an iota of doubt

By on Sep 9, 2009 in Reviews, Tech Takes | 3 comments

To recover from the spectacularly bad writing of Chetan Bhagat, I went back to reading Douglas Adams’s Salmon of Doubt. Once again. By now I have lost count of the number of times I have read DNA’s works. My only regret so far is I that I could never read through his book Last Chance To See – also what he has often said is his most favourite work out of all the ones that he has written. I’m pathologically incapable of appreciating flora and fauna unless there’s accompany dialogue with colourful words. By that I mean a select few Tintin comics of course. All this environmental crap brings images of unwashed hippies to my mind (and more often that not they do fit that description). Douglas Adams is an honourable exception of course, despite the fact that he (partly) climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in a rhino suit that smelled of sweat and Dettol (his words, not mine). But I digress. American publishers have this curious fascination tagging on subtitles to any and every book to entice readers; probably, they’d have wanted to stick tearaway brochures with scantily clad women praising the book but then that might cost too much. The tagline for Salmon of Doubt is Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time, which contributes to the eerie sense of finality: “This is it. This is the last Douglas Adams work ever to published”. At various points of time, Salmon of Doubt was supposed to be a Dirk Gently novel, a Hitchhiker’s novel, and then a standalone novel but on similar lines to the previous two series’. He was notorious with his publisher for he “loved deadlines, and the whooshing sound they made as they went by”. Tragically, Douglas Adams reached the dead-line in his life way too early than anyone who knew him wanted. And with that, so did the hopes of further gems from this brilliant man. Soon after his, work started on releasing the Salmon of Doubt even in the unfinished state it was in. This book contains eleven chapters of that unfinished novel, which in the current working stage was a Dirk Gently novel – but DNA stated in interviews that he wanted to use the ideas in the novel for something else. Documents salvaged from his computer were stitched together to make these eleven chapters. Varied ‘versions’ were edited together by Peter Guzzardi, an editor who had worked with DNA. The rest of the book consists of various speeches, newspaper / magazine articles, interviews, website postings, et al that Douglas made in the years leading up to his death. The book is divided into three sections – Life, containing some short snippets on his thoughts on the world around him; the Universe, a section almost completely devoted to his writings on technology and religion; and Everything, the section which has the unfinished novel along with supplementary material / interviews where DNA spoke on which direction he wanted to take the novel in. For most readers who haven’t looked beyond his works, The Salmon of Doubt is a huge revelation about what the man was like. Biographical and autobiographical anecdotes from his early life and what he really went through on his road to stardom. His well-reasoned – and totally Apple-worshipping – love for new gadgets and technology. His passionate appeals to save various endangered species. His logically thought out speeches on why religion came to be what it is, and how we should be careful about not ‘throwing out the baby with the bath water’ when trying to replace religious practices with atheism because of their practical uses. The Salmon of Doubt is a glimpse into the world of a man who realized that common sense presented a lot of answers or potential answers to almost any sort of problem. His trademark style of humour – intellectual, witty and so many other adjectives brims in each and every article. Most of the articles included are from a time when Adams was past the h2g2 / Dirk Gently novel stage and had moved on to endless book signings and lecture tours, so it’s as if you’re getting to a know a different person while at the same time feeling as if this was your best friend in some past life. Stephen Fry (one of Douglas Adams’s close friends), in the foreword to this book, says: I advance this is a theory. Douglas’s work…It’s like falling in love. When an especially peachy Adams turn of phrase or epithet enters the eye and penetrates the brain you want to tap the shoulder of the nearest stranger and share it. The stranger might laugh and seem to enjoy the writing, but you hug to yourself the thought that they didn’t quite understand its force and quality the way you do – just as your friends (thank heavens) don’t also fall in love with the person you are going on an on about to them. That is precisely what DNA’s work makes most fans think like, once you come to truly appreciate them. (At least, that’s the case with me!) The simple fact that his jokes are not “Yo Mama” jokes but ones which require those little grey cells to understand and chuckle about is what makes DNA’s work special – and it is what makes the reader feel special. I already mentioned an excerpt from Douglas Adams’s first Dirk...

The Story Behind 42

By on Aug 31, 2009 in Personal | 7 comments

My fascination with the number 42 is notorious, legendary, hilarious, reverential, ‘huh?’ – and a bunch of other adjectives depending on whom the person you’re discussing this ‘issue’ with is. A thread on gyaan.in made me LOL at the poor souls who still don’t ‘get’ it, so I decided to write this post to give an explanation as to how all this started. The ‘42 joke’, in the form we know it, has its origins in the DPS VK Quiz Club. You (if you’re in the Delhi school quizzing / computer symposium circuit) might be surprised to know that DPS Vasant Kunj did not have a quiz club till that year. I spoke to the then Vice Principal, Mrs Rachna Pandit, regarding this issue and she was quite enthusiastic about the idea of starting a quiz club. She had been vice principal at DPS VK a few years before that, then joined DPS Singapore as its Principal and help set-up the fledgling school, then came back and rejoined DPS Vasant Kunj; she’s currently the principal of DPS Maruti Kunj and has overseeing the task of setting it up. Anyway, point is that Mrs Rachna Pandit was a very dynamic leader and teacher who believed in encouraging extra-curricular activities in addition to academics. DPS VK Quiz Club became a reality that year. (And it’s quite satisfying to note that something which started just three years ago has already made a mark in the Delhi school quizzing circle.) When you start a society from scratch, one of the obvious hurdles you have is to identify talented people and induct them into the club. So what I decided, along with some seniors who were into quizzing, was to conduct an intra-school written quiz to find out who were the good quizzers. We, the ‘initial’ group of people, put up posters all over school and went around class-to-class urging those interested to turn up the intra. The first stage was online, following which we called around 50-odd students for the written intra. Now, the paper was a pretty long one – and at the end I put in as a joke ‘What is the Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything?’ It was an obvious joke for anyone who was aware of Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. It wasn’t even a score question because it was put in as a joke; didn’t even expect many people to answer it. Hardly anyone got it ‘right’. Instead, there were these weird answer like ‘Buddha’s eight-fold path’ and ‘Nirvana’ and ‘Getting high on pot‘ and whatnot. I found it quite amusing, and when I announced the answers on a later date I left it as a mysterious ‘42‘ and nothing more. I eventually got around to explaining what the joke was all about to those who were inducted. (I’m glad that that year we found quite a few dedicated and talented members. DPS Vasant Kunj went from lurking around in the peripheries of the quizzing scene to a group that today is one of the strongest competitors out there. An institution of spotting new talent, conducting regular quizzes, et al which was set up when the quiz club became an official society of the school helped immensely. More than anything it provides a platform for quizzers to get to know each and help in making teams for events.) Code Warriors were better off, because there had been a few seniors in earlier batches who were Hitchhiker’s fans but by 2006 there weren’t many contemporary fans left. My ‘mission’ to continue to confuse people continued there, and the mystic ‘42‘ that is associated with the Code Warriors was born. In previous years, the Code Warriors used to shout ‘Kevin Baba ki jai’ when getting off the school bus before an event (Kevin Mitnick was our unofficial official mascot back then); soon, that changed to a battle-cry of “Forty Two!”. It was fun because hardly anyone understood, including any other participating teams, accompanying school teacher – anyone within earshot. On the rare occasions when I attended classes, I worked on spreading the ‘42 joke’ in the classroom. Put on my best poker face and told a few of the studious types that ‘42‘ was the Answer, and that a scientifically proven theory demonstrated that every complex mathematical equation could be reduced to that number. To this day, I believe there are a few FIITJEE / VMC students on this planet whom I’ve convinced – seriously – that it’s the answer. They’re probably trying to explain to an exasperated professor the same ‘fact’. The reason why it was so funny is because you can say it with a straight face and convince gullible people that it might be true, or at the very least irritate the heck out of everyone else as they try to figure out what on earth is going on. Even in the quizzing / computer symposium circuit I found that hardly anyone had read Adams or even if they had heard about the Answer somewhere, they didn’t know much about it. I was quiz club vice president in 11th, and when I became the Code Warriors president in 12th the 42 obsession kicked into high gear. It became something of an in-joke which confused our competitors and a battle-cry which we could rally around and have a good laugh about. Like Da...