Life beyond TCE

It’s been a month since I left TCE, my college, and already I am missing a lot from that life like:

1. UNIX Lab at CSE Department. Sitting and working there forever for long duration on weekdays, weekends, nights and the amount of learning that I did at the lab made me what I am and the chill AC that always makes me want to stay there on and on.

2. Yeah my small friends’ circle. I do miss them too much to express in words.

3. Hostel life – the comfort in the shabby room, sleeping and waking up at odd hours, competing with Raju on who wakes up late, skipping food, eating the sub-standard food and complaining about it with friends, cursing the warden and hostel management about how they are swindling money and doing nothing for the students’ welfare.

4. Lying on my bed like a L and working on and on forever with my laptop on my lap.

5. Responsibility as student server admin.

6. Those long, too frequent phone calls with Keirthana, Venkatakrishnan and other friends with Airtel mobiles. 🙂

7. Hacking around with computers and downloading loads and loads of stuff through the college Internet. 😉

8. Troubling Bala anna on chat and pestering him for some help or வெட்டி  கதை.

9. Relishing the role of only person at TCE who sends emails to mailing lists regularly and follows up and a lot of times gets a lot of snub.

10. Sitting and talking with G.R. Karthik and Varadharajan, giving them advice, helping them and at times scolding them. 😉

11. My 105 machine and fighting with hostel wifi to get connected and access the internet and all the associated mischief .:-P

12. Not preparing for the exam on the night before the exam and sleeping early with the intention of waking up early and studying, but waking up late the next day and facing the exams after studying nothing.

and much more. I miss the life I had lived at TCE for the four years, but life has to move on and there is nothing that can be done about that. So just looking with guarded optimism at the life ahead.

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The joy of helping friends

A mass-recruiting top services company visited our campus for recruitment in the first week of December. There were about 500-600 students hoping to make it to the list of selected candidates and there were many friends of mine among them. Of course, since myself alongwith 10 other fellow students had already got a dream job, we weren’t allowed to attend the recruitment drive and we were to help organizing things during the 2 days of the recruitment drive. On the first day, multiple sessions of Aptitude test were scheduled and I volunteered as an invigilator in one of the halls. With so many nervous fellow students around, the tension was starting to get to me. Once the written test was over, the students were starting to be called for interview in groups in our Men’s Hostel where I reside. So I was there helping when my classmate friends were preparing and writing the tests. We, the volunteers had a hectic time with a lot of running to do and at the same time we had to assess the nature of each of the 18 interview panels and send students accordingly as it was a make or break situation for all of them. I had a lot of students requesting me to send them to ‘technical’,’non-technical’,’HR’,’puzzle’ panels and the interviews were getting completed too fast and we couldn’t do much choosing. I sent a lot of students to panels they would’ve wanted to avoid, hoping that they’d make it through and get selected. My legs were aching so much out of non-stop running and at one point the pain became so unbearable that it didn’t make any difference if I was standing, sitting or lying down. I learnt valuable things in handling such situations so new to me and I have to admit that it was the excitement that kept me going despite the physical pain.

I had to don other roles as well, helping students with their preparation and giving them confidence. There was one of my friend, who incidentally happened to be the placement representative and one of the better performers in the college, who was in some dazed unprepared state before the interview that I had to stay with her, give her confidence, help her in filling the employment application form and all the stuff when she was literally shivering. Once she was done with her interview, she was sporting an attractive smile that conveyed to all that she had done very well. She conveyed her happiness and gratitude to me, but I politely reminded her that she deserved it and I just helped her get her focus. I was so happy that I contributed invaluably to someone’s life. Moments like these make me feel happy and proud throughout my life. One other good thing that happened was that I, a normally quiet person who likes to keep a low profile, got to interact with a lot of wonderful guys who were my fellow volunteers. These were sufficient for me to cherish those couple of days. 2 days went in a whiff and when the results were announced at the K.S. Auditorium on the second day at about 8 PM, I drowned in a feeling of extreme happiness arising out of happiness for my friends and my peers who had secured their jobs. I even doubt if I had felt even some percentage of the same happiness when I got selected for a job in a dream company. Anyways congratulations and my best wishes for all those who performed well, got selected and made my day!

Eric Cornell, 2001 Physics Nobel laureate at TCE and what a great honour!

Honeywell-Nobel Foundation initiative has been doing the wonderful job of taking Nobel laureates to educational institutions and making them address students to inspire them to great great heights in their lives. As a part of that initiative, Dr. Eric Cornell, 2001 Physics Nobel Laureate visited TCE on 23,24 September 2009 and I was privileged to attend his talk on Bose-Einstein condensation which fetched him the Nobel Prize. It was during this session that I was inspired by English and hence the previous post.

Dr. Eric Cornell

Dr. Eric Cornell

Dr. Cornell’s talk wasn’t in Greek and Latin as I had feared it would be, it was far more understandable though I would have been unable to appreciate fully what he explained, only due to my lack of much knowledge in that domain. He was very down-to-earth, very friendly and very funny too. I enjoyed his sense of humour very much. Even for the n00bs who knew very little about the subject, he explained simply and clearly without confusing or overwhelming the listeners. Such a wonderful skill that is.

He then started talking about the Bose-Einstein condensation and the interesting story behind it – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satyendra_Nath_Bose. It was so inspirational and I felt so proud that an Indian in 1920s had done so much of path-breaking work that even Einstein acknowledged and contributed to! Hats off!

Though Bose-Einstein condensation existed as a theoretical principle, no practical proof/samples were possible to create in about 60-70 odd years. In the 1980s there were some efforts to obtain the Bose-Einstein condensate which continued into the 1990s when Dr. Cornell and his colleague Dr. Karl Wiemann started working in the same direction. They were trying to cool down the atoms to a very low low temperature (in the order of nano kelvin) that the atomic motion will cease and they would form a condensate where each atom becomes indistinguishable and the group of atoms behave as one and exist as a single wave.

They used laser cooling (A technique that won its creators the Nobel prize) to bombard the Rubidium atoms from 6 directions so that they would slow down and stop at some point, where they will just fall down under gravity. As the motion of the atoms cease, the temperature will drop drastically. But if the falling atoms get to touch the container which is at room temperature, they will be boiled to a very high temperature and start moving again which will counteract the cooling. So they applied a concave magnetic field inside which the atoms fall into and stay put. Rubidium was chosen as it has one valence electron and it simplified a lot of things. This laser cooling cooled the gas atoms to a very low temperature but that was still too high for the Bose-Einstein condensation to happen. So they used one more cooling technique called ‘Evaporation cooling’ technique-the oldest known cooling technique known to man.

What they did was to compress and expand the magnetic field periodically so that the atoms with energy started moving and bounced out of the concave field, thereby lowering the temperature of the remaining atoms as atoms with temperature higher than the average temperature bounced out. Simple to hear but difficult to understand and implement.:-). The great man talked about how his colleagues and his students helped him with the experiment and narrated the difficult times they had in the beginning when there were no takers/funds for their work and also the wake-up call they received from competing efforts which propelled them to achieve the goal even faster.

When they achieved the goal of creating a sample of Bose-Einstein condensate, they had a peculiar problem of being unable to capture images with any available equipment. So they used some techniques and somehow were able to film the shadow of the Bose-Einstein condensate. But there was a problem with this setup too that whenever they took snaps, the temperature raise caused from the camera destroyed the condensate and they had to create it again for further work. Wow! Physics was getting biiiiiiiig at the smallest level! I was awestruck and gaped for breath at what I was seeing/listening to. So much of tireless work for a Nobel prize and even more for the advancement of science. Hats off to such people.

For more in-depth and better description and details here are some authoritative links – http://www.physics.otago.ac.nz/research/jackdodd/resources/exp_aspects.html and http://www.colorado.edu/physics/2000/bec/index.html (Colorado University is where this exciting discovery happened and there are explanations from the laureates themselves). Going through these resources is by far better than reading my description of what I thought I had heard and understood. There are a lot of images/diagrams to give a better understanding of the concept and the work that was done.

Then Dr. Cornell talked about superfluidity which is a continuation of his pioneering work about atoms and the vortices, I couldn’t grasp/understand much of it though it sounded interesting despite my ignorance.

The whole talk was videocast over the internet and in the other auditorium where students and staff from other colleges were listening to. He enthusiastically and patiently answered the questions from the audience that were present there and the audience on the internet.

The thing that made this man even more special is that he had his left arm amputated to avoid the spread of flesh-eating bacteria which had affected him. After the amputation and rest, he is back to work as usual and is doing great work and guiding a lot of pioneering work done by his students. The next day he spoke a few words to all the college students who had assembled in the Open-air auditorium to see him. Then he climbed down the stage and wanted to be amidst us, the students and took all their greetings. We all gave him a standing ovation for all his work and his contribution to humanity and Science. I broke down emotionally as I was overwhelmed by such a situation and it’s a great great privilege to have Dr. Cornell at our college and listen to him.

I am so privileged, lucky to have got such a wonderful once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to listen to Nobel Laureate. My grateful thanks to all those who gave me this chance – my college, Honeywell and the great man himself for consenting to visit and give a lecture. Hats off again!

Update: The video of the lecture is now available at http://honeywellscience.com.

FOSSConf 2009 @ TCE (27 Feb – 1 Mar, 2009)

“FOSSConf will focus on new users and contributors to FOSS together with advanced learning sessions. People can improve their knowledge and gain experience in speaking on and presenting FOSS related topics” – so says the official FOSSConf website (http://www.fossconf.in).

Yep, this year’s FOSSConf was held at my college and the organizers were the ever-enthusiastic and cooperating ILUGC, my college FOSS Community and NRCFOSS. Last year, FOSSConf was held at MIT, Chennai and with feedback from the organizers of that event, we at TCE, had valuable feedback about the issues faced and areas to improve.

Sun Microsystems sponsored the prizes for the Quiz contest to be conducted during FOSSConf and myself & Venkatachalam designed a web application for the Quiz contest.
There were a lot of technical talks from expert speakers and budding students and there were also demo stalls on various FOSS technologies and FOSS projects. Perfect arrangements for the same had been planned and made well in advance.
We had thousands of visitors throng FOSSConf and participate in Tech-talk sessions and visiting the demo stalls.

Since I was held up with organizing Quiz contest, I was unable to involve myself much in other activities. Here I must thank Venkatachalam for creating the web application for the Quiz contest in no time at all and without him, the automated quiz would not have been possible at all. Hats off friend!

I wanted to attend a lot of tech-talks but could attend only a couple – Parallel Programming by Mr.Rajagopal from Yahoo and Badam Halwa of Embedded Systems by Mr. Shakti Kannan and they were excellent and interesting to say the least. Amidst all this, I also conducted a Ubuntu installation session for the audience.

FOSSConf 2009 was a great learning experience in terms of FOSS, team work and organization and I would cherish it forever.

I will soon post the link to the FOSSConf 2009 gallery here.

I am the new Sun Campus Ambassador of my college

I have been selected by Sun Microsystems as the Sun Campus Ambassador of my college TCE, Madurai. I will be trained by Sun and then I will have to evangelise Sun technologies in my college. Actually there is more that I can do than just evangelising, conducting demos and workshop sessions. I was told “There is no limit to what a Sun Campus Ambassador can do”. Krithika, whom I succeed was excellent as a Sun Campus Ambassador and I hope to continue her legacy and if possible do better.

The story behind my selection is a big one. Ever since I started participating in the Sun club activities, I always dreamed of becoming a Sun ambassador. During last November I was suddenly asked by my HOD whether I would like to become the next CA. As the question was so unexpected, I couldn’t answer and I just said I don’t know.

Then in January, HOD and the staff selected 5 people from my department who would be the Sun club coordinators after Krithika’s term ended and one of those 5 would be selected as the next CA. I was disappointed but decided to carry on gamely with it. Those 5 people successfully conducted the Sun Guru programme successfully in my college.

But suddenly in April, Krithika sent an email to all the Sun club members that the next Sun CA was to be selected and that anyone who is interested can apply for it by sending their resumes. I was so glad and immediately sent my resume. 🙂

Three people were selected to be interviewed by Sun from those who had sent their resumes, and I was one among them. The other two were Anugraha (one of those 5 selected coordinators) and Ashmitha Srinivas who were my classmates.

We had a telephonic interview in May for about half an hour each. My interview was really a great experience. I was asked about what I knew about what a Sun CA has to do. I had known about it because I was in touch with Krithika for about an year. I was also asked about the Sun technologies I was familiar with and I answered Java, NetBeans and OpenSolaris. I was asked about configuring the network connection of a computer which I knew thanks to Krithika. Then I was asked about the activities of Sun club and the GNU/Linux group in my college and how I could improve the activities of both.

I was also asked about my views on Free Open Source Software and proprietary softwares. Then I was told that ‘There is no limit to what I can do as a Sun Campus Ambassador’. I was told that the results of the interview would be out in two weeks time.

After two weeks, I got a mail from Sun informing me that I have been selected as the CA for my college. My joy had no bounds. Then Mr. Rajesh Uma Shankar from Sun got in touch with me and informed me that he’ll be my coordinator.

I got in touch with a few other Sun CA-elects and shared our experiences. Now I am scheduled to go to Bangalore to attend the Sun Campus Ambassador Induction Training Programme for three days. Gary Serda, the global CA head and a Vice President of MySQL(Sun’s latest acquisition) are going to be present for that programme and it’s really gonna be a lifetime experience.

I am very much looking forward with oodles of excitement! 🙂

More later……

FStival’07!

Today we celebrated Software Freedom Day in our college. We had a talk on FOSS and GNU/Linux by Mr.Praveen Krishnamoorthy, a FOSS enthusiast and a distinguished alumnus of our college. There was also a demonstration on the installation of Ubuntu Linux by Mahesh of 3rd year and the features of Ubuntu were demonstrated by Mr.Subramani, another alumnus, who along with Mr.Senthil, answered the queries of the audience. We had a T-Shirt designed for this year’s FStival and almost all of the guys involved, wore it.

Then a lot of students from schools in Madurai and the students from the other department visited the halls in the CSE department where there were demo stalls on various GNU/Linux tools. I, alongwith Venkatachalam and Raju, hosted a stall on LaTeX, a powerful typesetting language. It was fun demoing stalls to the visitors. The other stalls were GIMP by J.Aravind, Krishnakumar, Content Management System by K.Manikandan, Vi by S.Anugraha and co., Blender by Deepika and co., Emacs by M.P.Aravinth and co., and so on. The demo stalls were open for about 2 1/2 hours and then we closed them. My only regret was that I couldn’t visit other stalls.I visited the Blender stall i the midst of an explantion and it was very attractive to me as I was already very much interested in 3d animation and 3Ds max.Even when Blessings came to near my stall, it was about to be closed and I was explaining seriously to seniors visiting my stall and when I was done with it, Blessings was nowhere to be found there.

When I went to the Microprocessor Lab, Blessings and co., had closed their stall and were leaving. All the other stalls i visited thereafter were closed and I was a bit disappointed as I had thought that the stalls would’ve been open till evening.

Then we brought back all the computers to the PP lab and connected them. Then we had a photo session with Senthil anna, Bala anna and Ravishankar anna shooting pics with their camera. Then we walked our way out of the college, as a group with a lot of cheerful talking. Today has been an unforgettable day in my life.