Categories
Personal

July 2011

I’ve been away from my blog for such a long time that it’s easiest to get over with in list style:

  • I turned 21! This was my first birthday spent away from family, the first birthday away from school friends – and I was a touch saddened by that. Then again, my awesomesauce friends in Singapore made sure it was a memorable day. Do I consider this a milestone (kilometrestone doesn’t have the same ring to it)? Definitely, especially, because I spent the better part of a year in Singapore.
  • I spent the past two months working on a research project in NTU. I was under the Division of Information Engineering, in a team working on a next-generation touch computing interface called STATINA. My task was one of the branch-offs associated with the touch computing project: to make a continuous speech recognition engine that could work with Asian accents. The basis of my project was on the ubiquitous Cambridge University Engineering Department software toolkit HTK, based on data recorded at NTU. This was fun, as speech recognition has been one of the areas that has drawn me in over the past months and I got something meaty to chew on while contributing to an existing research project. I was glad to have a supportive professor and PhD mentor to provide me guidance throughout the research project. If I had to single out one thing, I think my main contribution would have been using my readings on linguistics to approach the problem from not just a technical standpoint.
  • The research project was under the Summer Research Internship Programme (SRI) run by NTU and sponsored by the Singapore government (I think, at some level). I highly recommend it to everyone for the exposure it gives you to ‘real’ research. Don’t expect to change the world in the eight weeks or so that you get, this is more like a taster. It pays well too – about S$3000 for two months – and you get experience the culture of an alien country. It’s just incredible to meet 50-odd people from around the world and go through this journey of discovering Singapore all over again through the social events organised – we had regular parties and events to bond over in the weeks here. If this video doesn’t convince you, I don’t know what will!
  • I will be leaving Singapore for good – at least for the foreseeable future – on the 4th of August. I’ve lived there just a week or two short of a full calendar year, and all the events of the past year make this one stand out in my life so far prominently. I loved and lost (long distance really doesn’t work out, so it’s better to live in the moment) and loved again and lost and then some more. The past 2-3 weeks have been pretty eventful in ways more than one (and not just because of my birthday) including some wicked parties (71st floor of Swissotel – on a helipad!). I have also been to more traditional, ‘heartland’ Singapore and partaken in activities and food that makes Singaporean citizens cry tears of joy.
  • I dyed my hair blue-black again with less than spectacular results. Not impressed. Semi-permanent dyes seem to give a stronger effect but last less; when they start fading they look hideous. Permanent dyes stick longer but getting the shade just right is hard. Still, almost-there blue-black is better than being a ginger as I once was. Despite the punishing my hair took when I bleached it, I think my hair’s in better health now than it was a year ago.
  • Carry rubber with you at all times. Like, seriously.
  • I found a year-long undergraduate placement in the UK! This had been a huge challenge, as only a handful of companies ever agreed to interview me over phone or video conferencing. I was also actively exploring the option of working in Singapore (most actively pursued, although visa issues were a major hiccup; furthermore, tech companies mostly have business / sales presence here rather than a technical one), Malaysia (Penang is a hotbed of electronics manufacturing), Hong Kong (opportunities were mostly in the business / finance ), Taiwan (d’oh, the electronics industry here is HUGE!). I’m glad to find a company that I really like though, which I will be joining in mid-August. I won’t be returning to my university as this job is based out of Fareham in a company that deals in IC design software and fabrication. And while I’m sure there’s something learn from every internship industrial placement / internship – this is one of the reasons why I opted for a ‘sandwich year’ in the first place – I’m so happy to find a company that offers me a blend of electronics and software work to sink my teeth into. I still need to find accommodation and that’s probably going to eat up my time in the first few weeks back in the UK. Fareham is kinda located midway between the cities of Southampton and Portsmouth, and I for one wouldn’t mind living in the lovely coastal city of Portsmouth.
  • Speaking of Taiwan, I’m currently in Taipei City and will be here about six days. I have friends studying / working here whom I met on my summer internship as well as friends from Surrey University. And the nice-ass (literally, for some of the girls staying here) people I met at the hostel I’m staying. A break from working before joining my new company, which I’m doing with their blessings.
  • I was selected as pro-tem moderator for the Stack Exchange website on Travel. If you have precise question on anything regarded to travel, do head over to Travel.SE and ask there – the community is in its early stages but doing a great job of answering the questions thrown at it. I will do my best to help out in the areas that I am good at answering!
  • I stopped using my newly-acquired notebook for a while but now that I’m back on the road, I’ve started using it again.
  • I will be conducting the DPS Vasant Kunj Grey Matters 2011 Quiz on 6th August with Comprende Vivek Nair – and valuable inputs from others such as Prateek Vijayavargia and Bhavika Aggarwal – before flying out of Delhi on 7th August for London Heathrow. I hope to meet so many people I know from the Delhi quizzing circle once again. It has taken a year too many to get an inter-school quiz going at DPS VK but it’s finally happening and I’m so excited!

Didn’t expect the list to be this long when I sat down to write it! The past few weeks have been a roller coaster ride of emotions, feelings, and experiences and there’s more yet to come where that came from. Year 42/2 seems to be heading to be an interesting one too.

Categories
Personal

Code Wars 2010…and reminiscing my stint in (tech) quizzing

Code Wars 2010, Delhi Public School Vasant Kunj‘s computer symposium, was held on 26-27 August 2010. Boy, and what an eventful two days it has been. There is so much that I want to say that I don’t know where to begin. I’ll walk down the memory lane as to how I got into tech quizzing, but that’ll come later in the post and you can skip it if you aren’t interested. (Or maybe if that’s the thing you want to read, skip onwards.)

Let me begin by saying what a pleasure it has been to work with the current Code Warriors team, headed by Anirudh Jain, VS Karthick, Aditya Kumar, and Pulkit Kaushik – and let’s face it, even though he doesn’t officially hold a position in the club, DPS Vasant Kunj’s newly appointed Head Boy Vivek Nair. It has been a pleasure helping out the team conduct Code Wars 2010 with my fellow alumni Abhimanyu Bhardwaj, Arjun Attam, Rachit Agarwal, and Waris Jain. Above all, I wouldn’t be talking about this if it weren’t for each and every one of the 475 participants and 30 schools that participated in Code Wars 2010; your vote for our event by turning up in large numbers is – even when there were clashing events at other schools – is what makes Code Wars special every year.

The Code Wars 2010 video was Rachit Agarwal’s brainchild. There was a lot more planned for the video – which will explain the ‘odd’ Star Wars opening title – so maybe one day CW will be able to release an uncut version of the video. ;)

(Rachit thinks that the song talks about ‘cheetahs’ and ‘lions’ towards the end, and thus put the teachers’ pictures there. The lyrics say otherwise. Hoo-boy.)

Update: Code Wars 2010 video – the uncut version is now online (although not as Monty Python-ish as originally intended), along with VS Karthick’s funneh vote of thanks.

For my part, I helped the current team with the junior quiz, senior quiz, crossword (only to a minor extent), N-Crypton (giving inputs in the final stages of paper-setting); judging the group discussion, video editing, and audio editing events. The standard of the participants was, on the whole, exceptional. I’m making available the complete archives here for the events I was involved in. I welcome feedback from the participants of events I was involved in.

On my part, I apologise to the participants who ended up on the wrong side of my temper. I turned up on both days with about an hour of sleep as I was involved in making event material; still, I could’ve been better. If you’re reading this, my sincerest apologies. There were also a few kerfuffles that were unfortunate and avoidable (just to be clear, since there were so many points of view as to what happened, I backed whatever DPS Vasant Kunj volunteers told me; I have to, they’re my team), which soured up moods – but I hope at the end of the day, everyone who participated had fun and walked away learning something.

Congratulations to the Exunites from Delhi Public School (RK Puram) for winning the overall trophy, to eSpice from Delhi Public School (Noida) for winning the overall runners-up trophy (and for giving stiff competition to RKP), and to each and every participant with a podium finish. Commiserations to those who didn’t win a prize, but I hope you walk away with good memories of our event. :)

****

I had a long chat with Vivek Nair today about the future of the Code Warriors, and it got me thinking about how I started off in tech quizzing. I don’t know whether there is anything worth learning from my experience, but the chat that I had made me feeling like writing it all out anyway.

I find it amusing that many people who I meet think I have been at DPS Vasant Kunj “forever”. No, I joined the school in class 11th. I had a string of achievements to my name at the time – national winner of the CBSE Intel Science Quiz (it was conducted simultaneously with the CBSE Heritage India Quiz, by Pickbrain; thus, I missed out on HIQ stage rounds that year), and long long ago in a galaxy far far away, the Delhi round winner of Cadbury Bournvita Quiz Contest – but I think it would be safe to say I wasn’t ‘known’ at the time I joined DPS VK.

I was mostly into general quizzing and debates in those days; my first quiz ever was in class 5th, as a junior participant prelims of the Discovery Channel India Quiz conducted by Derek O’Brien. I had watched the Bournvita Quiz Contest on television of course – who wouldn’t have, if they grew up in the late 90s in India – and I still remember how utterly excited and mesmerised I was to attend a live quiz by O’Brien. If I had to choose a tipping point that got me into quizzing, that would be it.

At the time of my admission interview to DPS VK, the (former) Vice Principal Mrs Rachna Pandit asked me about the things I had written about in my extra-curricular activities. During that conversation, I expressed my surprise at one point to the panel that DPS Vasant Kunj did not have a quiz club at the time. Long story short, I got in to DPS VK, and Rachna Pandit ma’am was the English teacher in the section I was assigned to. She remembered me from the interview, and on the first day asked me to come up with a plan to form a quiz club. That eventually led to the formation of DPS VK Quiz Club – a story I can talk about some other day.

When I found out that I got through, I got in touch with Anshul Agrawal (who was on-track to become the president of Code Warriors that year) through Abhishek Nandakumar of Mount St Mary’s School. (And I got acquainted to Abhishek through Siddharth Razdan, who was the president of Ramjas School, RK Puram’s computer club Dynamix.) Anshul and I conversed before I joined school on Orkut (there was no Facebook then), and I expressed an interest in joining the club. I had never formally participated in tech symposium since my previous school had no computer club (and no quiz club either, until I started it. It saddens me that the quiz club withered out soon after I left my previous school.).

To be honest, I turned up for Code Wars Intra without any preparation – simply because I did not know what to expect as I’d never been to any tech quiz. I distinctly recollect shrinking a few centimetres further into my seat when Abhimanyu barged into the hall where we were writing quiz intra papers and menacingly (so it seemed to me, at the time) loomed over every participant’s shoulder. Turns out I did well in the paper, and was asked to team up with Prannoy ‘Pony’ Sablok. He was Code Warriors’ quiz and hardware guy at the time, and he got me started on going through previous inter-school tech quiz archives.

The first quiz that Pony and I went to was Matrix-EcommBuzz 2006 at Abhishek Nandakumar’s school. This wasn’t purely a tech quiz – it was a mashup of tech and business quizzing (so we had a third team member from a commerce section of our school). I ended up answering mostly the business questions, but our team’s performance overall was less than satisfactory and we didn’t qualify for the finals.

Our next quiz as a team was at MINET 2006, where Pony and I did qualify in the quiz and crossword finals, but tanked big time. I remember that we ended up with the second last position in both (?) events; our team had just five points in the quiz – from a question I answered about open source software (my forte). (The question was about identifying the Open Source Initiative logo.) Anshul was rightfully furious and asked us to get our act together by the next event. MINET 2006 was also the first time I participated in a tech symposium group discussion – not as an official participant, but as an unofficial entry on the request of our actual group discussion participant Raj Luthra as the topic was ‘Open Source: Boon or Bane’ (or something like that), and Raj knew I was interested in open source software.

Our next opportunity came at Modem 2006 and Exun 2006 – held on dates that were clashing. As team which had its ass handed in a sling, our priority during these two clashing events was clear – win Modem, for Exun was “surely” out of our reach. And exactly the opposite happened – overall (the whole Code Warriors team), we didn’t do well at Modem but won at Exun. At Exun 2006, Pony and I won the crossword, came runners-up in the senior quiz. Our strategy of dividing specialisations – Pony handling ‘tech’ question, and me handling ‘trivia’ questions – worked. Exun 2006 was also the first ever tech symposium where I got podium finishes in quiz/crossword.

That, folks, is how I got into tech quizzing. The rest of my journey is fairly well-documented on my blog.

I wouldn’t have reached this far if Rachna Pandit ma’am and Anshul Agrawal hadn’t placed their faith in me. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the guidance that seniors such as Prannoy, Raj, and Anshul provided.

****

I mentioned earlier how amusing I found the notion that people think I’ve been around at DPS VK “for a long time”. So much so that at Access 2006 – the first time ever that I went for the event – their computer science HoD commented on seeing me there, “Arre! Tu toh itne salo se yahan aye hi ja raha hai!” I chuckled then, as I do now, when I hear such statements.

Update: To clarify, I don’t mean this in a negative light. I look up to their HoD as one of the truly exceptional ones among Delhi schools. As with him, I merely mentioned this as a light-hearted ‘aside’ in this discussion.

****

The Code Warriors have recently embarked on a programme to nurture talent systematically starting from junior classes onwards – an ambitious plan put into effect by Vivek Nair because he understands that that is the age when a kid develops his interest in extra-curricular activities. Though I’ve ribbed him good-naturedly on his initial mission plan to start recruiting kids from “nursery onwards”, I realise the value of and strongly support a long-term plan to develop talent. Time and again we have seen how this works wonders à la what Prateek Vijayavargia has accomplished at New Era Public School. Vivek (and Karthick) get the importance of this as they have been Code Warriors since class 6th.

In the short-term though, I feel that DPS Vasant Kunj clubs do a rotten job of utilizing the influx of talent in form of the 300-odd students who join the school every year in class 11th. These are academically bright students who more often-than-not have represented their previous schools in extra-curricular events. They are mature, they have experience, they have the interest. You don’t need to put in as much effort in training them as compared to junior school kids, but you’ve to spend a significant amount of effort in getting them interested.

Naturally, these ‘new students’ feel intimidated to venture out and join clubs that are ‘original Dipsite’ bastions. Intras often take place within 1-2 weeks of session commencing, a period when the ‘new students’ are just about coming to grips calling DPS VK “my school” and making new friends.

None of the clubs make an effort to reach out and speak to them in a personal manner. Simply putting up a poster emphasizing “Anyone who is interested in joining club X, this is when our intra blah blah” is not enough. Every year I see the music, arts, sports, quizzing, computer clubs/societies consisting of a handful of ‘outsiders’ among ‘original Dipsites’.

In the year I joined, I was the only ‘new student’ who enlisted with the Code Warriors; the next, we had other ‘new students’ such as Naman Bagga (who has now gone on to take important positions in computer and associated clubs in his college), Avani Gupta, and Eeshan Chatterjee who got involved through me. At one point of time, Arjun Attam was a guy in Montfort School – with experience in tech symposiums previously – whom I got acquainted with as he was a commenter on my blog. (There was a time when our beloved ‘Lord Vader’, bless him, was a kid looking for advice on whether to join DPS Vasant Kunj or not.) He later joined our school and went on to become the vice-president, then president of the Code Warriors. I don’t know whether it helped him in having someone to speak to, but it sure helped me even with the brief exchanges I had with Anshul to know what I was welcome.

Just to dispel any myths among those who are reading – I’m not saying that ‘original Dipsites’ are biased, or that ‘new students’ are simply not interested in extra-curricular activities. It’s just human nature that we tend to stay within our comfort zone, and we tend to abhor rejection from peers. My advice, to DPS VK clubs (or any school where there’s an influx of students in higher classes), is that you need to step out of your comfort zone of “everyone knows who we are and what we do” and go out of your way in wooing ‘new students’. Maybe then, I/we wouldn’t have to use such labels when speaking about people any more.

I’m not singling out DPS VK – what I’ve mentioned is the case in every school where new students join. My advice to ‘new students’: be bold and approach people, tell them what you’re interested in. And you know what? I’ve never found a single instance so far when clubs haven’t taken you seriously when you show the initiative. My advice to clubs in ‘such’ schools: this is a two-way street; make efforts to be friendly to those who approach you.

This is not to say that encouraging junior school kids and training them is a bad idea. In fact, I’d say it’s extremely vital and important to have such a support framework in place from an early age. However, I’m also pragmatic and believe that the only way to solve the short-term crunch of members until the time juniors are ready can only be solved by the second route. We’ve all seen the meteoric rise of New Era Public School thanks to the years of effort that Prateek Vijayavargia – one of the best (and humble) quizzers Delhi has ever seen) – put in; we all can see how that is paying off now. I wish Vivek all the best with his new initiative too.

****

One of the reasons I strongly support the ‘open-invite’ system that Code Wars has is because I have first-hand experience of how hard it is for less known schools to get invites. It’s easy to forget this in a school like DPS VK, that gets an invite to every event there is. As the Code Warriors president in my time, I felt bad whenever I had to turn any school’s invite because of schedule clashes. No matter how the standard of an event is, unless schools turn up to show support for their fellow competitors and organizers students in smaller schools will be starved of experience.

****

I never ‘studied’ quiz archives much for tech quizzes beyond a month or two from when I started. I noticed that most events before my time tended to have questions that were repeated frequently. Where’s the fun in that?! So whenever I make tech quizzes, I make a conscious effort to make brand-new questions. One way that I force myself to do this is publishing archives of whatever I create so that it’s open knowledge. And I hope the participants of events I conduct enjoy it too.

Categories
Personal

Interesting times at gyaan.in

About a year ago, some of the brightest quizzers in the Delhi school quizzing circuit joined forces to launch gyaan.in – and boy have we come far! gyaan.in is holding its first ever quiz at IIT Delhi on 12th June 2010, and yes, it’s free to attend! You can participate solo, or form a team of up to four people. The gyaan.in moderator team has been putting a lot of effort into this and we hope to have incredibly well-organized and researched quiz this Saturday. I think this will be quite a nostalgic moment, for many who will be moving on to university this year after their class 12th Boards – and this is one event where you can meet up and participate for one last time as school quizzers, conducted by some of the best school quizzers in Delhi.

We had a somewhat false start previously of having monthly gyaan.in quiz archives, but that is being restarted now with our brand-new gyaan.in newsletter (which you can sign up for free here). This will feature monthly ‘best of’ quiz archives, and articles written specially for the newsletter by moderators. It’s not just about quizzing! Given that so many of us are football fans and World Cup season is around, the theme of gyaan.in’s first newsletter is going to be World Cup Football. We’ll be pushing out the first newsletter to all subscribers over this weekend, so do join gyaan.in’s mailing list!

gyaan.in traffic (week 11 to week 21, year 2010)

Over the next few weeks as school quizzing season starts, gyaan.in plans to add new features to the website that will attempt to make it even easier for you to stay in touch with quizzing updates, from multiple sources. Among the ideas we have are SMS updates, mobile-friendly gyaan.in site, calendar of upcoming events, etc. We’re open to other suggestions too!

Sometime later this month, we’ll also be holding an informal meetup, where moderators and members can congregate to discuss the future of the website / community. And the community continues to grow! When your members tell you that gyaan.in is more addictive than Facebook, it speaks a lot about the engaging content that the community is creating! You can see that while we are reaching out to a few hundred unique visitors daily, a majority of them spend a lot of time on the site – as evidenced by the breakdown here (shown in time spent per day), or according the number of page views being generated by our visitors. We owe it to you guys!

So come for gyaan.in’s first quiz on June 12, 2010 if you’re in New Delhi. It’s open for all (not just school quizzers), any team combo goes, we’ll have some

Categories
Personal

About the first gyaan.in meetup

At today’s gyaan.in meetup #1, I had a bit of an “Oh, I didn’t think of that” moment when someone suggested we should put up future invites on Facebook instead of Upcoming.org. Yes folks, gyaan.in meetup #1 was held today in, to borrow the words of Douglas Adams, “in a blaze of no publicity at all”. The odd dog barked. The odd begger outside Costa Coffee motioned towards his tummy and then towards his mouth. In the end, around 8-10 people or so showed up when we were optimistically expecting around 20. Anyway, we had a super phun thyme. Lots of chocolate fondues, wraps, mojitos and expressos – and a lot of discussion over the future of gyaan.in. I occassionally kept butting in with my PJs.

When each of us walked in to Costa Coffee today at Connaught Place, we were a bit shocked to see the whole estabilshment pretty occupied! Costa is generally a cafe which runs on empty and where they’ll roll out a red carpet for you on a slow day (which is pretty much every day) if you show up as a customer. The staff told us that specifically Saturday evening was when Costa Coffee is always occupied. No other day, not even Sunday, do they get as many customers as they get on Saturday evening. This warrants investigation; I’m sure if the Freakonomics guys look into this they’ll find some freakish coincidence linking the Mumbai dabbawallahs to Costa Coffee’s occupancy rate in Delhi on a Saturday.

One thing that we all agreed upon was that we need to take it up a notch. Sure, the response within these past two months has been amazing, but we can always do better. We have a good following online (thanks to all visitors of gyaan.in!) and we need to take this further. In the near future, we plan to do a lot more publicity by tieing up with school / college events and other quizzing-related websites / groups. Getting better content out there to more people is one of our primary objectives. While doing this, we are not going to forget the gyaan.in charter. We also plan to make gyaan.in meetups a regular event.

To be frank, gyaan.in has faced a bit of a slump in the past few weeks because of the fact that many schools / colleges had exams going on – and most of our user base comprises of school / college students. However, this phase is now over (hope your exams went well!) and we expect activity to pick up on the forum now. We also plan to start SMS update services and a shared calendar that people can add events to for keeping track of events. Stay tuned to gyaan.in for more details.

Some of you – visitors of gyaan.in and the moderator team – might be / are apprehensive about the future of gyaan.in once I leave to join university. I want to assure you that I remain committed to the gyaan.in project. This is something I’m really passionate about, and I’m going to provide whatever support I can. Hope to see a bright future for gyaan.in!

South Park You know, I learned something today moment of the day: I found out that ‘spaghetti monster’ is a character on Sesame Street. Not just His Holy Noodliness. Maybe the former was the inspiration for the latter.

PS – Happy International Talk Like A Pirate Day!

Categories
Personal

gyaan.in meetup #1

When gyaan.in was launched around two months ago, one of the points in our charter was to hold ‘offline’ meets in which quizzers could interact and get to know each other in real life, beyond the environs of cut-throat competition. We, the gyaan.in team, haven’t forgotten that part and are now working towards making gyaan.in meetups a reality.

The response that gyaan.in has got within the past two months has been, to put it simply, amazing. I am overwhelmed by the enthusiasm that the quizzing community has shown towards this (and I mean that in a good way!). So I would, on behalf of the gyaan.in team, like to thank every member of the gyaan.in community – moderators, forum members, regular and casual visitors – for making this possible.

We plan to hold the first gyaan.in meetup at Connaught Place on Saturday, 19th September 2009. We had a tough time adjusting the event day/timing so that it did not clash with any school exams (many schools have their mid-term exams going on right now). In the end we felt that 19th Sept was a good compromise. No coaching institute has scheduled diagnostic tests around this time because of school exams, so that’s one issue solved. It’s a ‘long’ weekend since 21st September is a holiday (Idu’l Fitr); that way, even if you have exams on 22nd of September you will be able to take a few hours off on Saturday. And in case you have an exam on that Saturday, we’re scheduling the event in the evening so that you can still make it. Here are the details:

Date: 19th September 2009
Venue: Costa Coffee, Connaught Place (Outer Circle)
Time: 5pm to 7pm
gyaan.in meetup #1 on Upcoming

Costa Coffee is close to the Nirula’s outlet in the Outer Circle. There’s apparently a pretty popular dhaba called Kake Da Dhaba right across the road in case you need to ask someone for directions. (An auto-wallah will probably recognize that as a landmark rather than Costa Coffee). In case you need directions or have any other queries, please leave a comment here or call me (Ankur Banerjee) at 9871604101.

Agenda

There is no agenda for the meetup as such. We’re initially modelling this along the lines of ‘tweetups’ – meetups where people who know each other on Twitter can meet and get know each other, or catch up with people they already know in real life. So basically this event is for socialising with other Delhi-based quizzers (but if you’re dropping in from some other city, you’re more than welcome!). You don’t have to be a gyaan.in forum member to attend – anyone and everyone’s invited. So you can drop in any time between 5-7pm because there’s no strict ‘schedule’.

Once again, I request you to register for the meetup at Upcoming. Of course, you can still drop-in without registering too. :)

About gyaan.in

gyaan.in is a newly-launched quizzing forum started by a few Delhi-based quizzers, with the intention of promoting school quizzing in Delhi, holding meetups so that quizzers (not just schools quizzers) get to know each other in real life, and quizzing not for points but for the sheer joy of knowledge. We have an official(-looking) charter too. To find out more about us, visit gyaan.in for daily question of the day threads, quiz archives, notification about upcoming quizzes, and random chit-chat.