Friday, January 28, 2005

Got books ?

I haven't read a book in so long.....and i'm craving one.

Darn tv. Darn school....(textbooks don't count)

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Joel Spolsky at CUTC 2005

Joel Spolsky, is a software developer in New York City. He has worked at Microsoft, Viacom, and Juno Online Services. He currently runs his own company, Fog Creek Software, which develops Fog Bugz and City Desk 2.0 .

Joel is popular around the world for (in his own words) his unique sensibilities about software development presented on his weblog. His blog is currently translated in over 30 languages, indicating his global appeal.

Joel has also written two books: User Interface Design for Programmers and Joel on Software. The latter is a cohesive compilation of most of his articles found on his blog. It also happens to be the text book for CSC408: Software Engineering, for the spring 2005 term, offered at the University of Toronto.

We were fortunate enough to have Joel speak at the Canadian Undergraduate Technology Conference - CUTC 2005, on January 21, 2005. A few of us managed to have our copies of Joel on Software autographed by him, and we also had the privilege of joining him for the Joel on Software lunch in Toronto held at the Movenpick Marche at BCE place, right after the seminar.

The following is a summary of his talk at Toronto:

Joel is as engaging in person, as he is on his blog. He started off his lecture talking about the Brad and Jenn 'break-up'. He also pointed out a BBC news clip about Dr. Atkins' death which along with a picture of Dr. Atkins himself, featured Brad and Jenn prominently as followers of the Atkin diet.

Another interesting comparison was between Brad Pitt and Ian Somerhalder. If you're thinking to yourself, "Ian Somerhalder who ?", that's exactly the sort of reaction Joel was aiming for. (According to Joel ) both are comparably good looking and maybe even be equally talented, yet a google search gives us 2.8 million hits for Brad Pitt and just about 68, 000 for Somerhalder.

Brad Pitt vs. Ian Somerhalder

Joel was making the distinction between "Blue Chip" vs. "Off-brand" products. Such as Brad Pitt vs. Ian Somerhalder, or the Apple iPod vs. Creative mp3 player or Julia Roberts and Sandra Bullock. What exactly is the difference between them, what makes one popular, and the other not ?

What makes a Blue chip hit ?

Joel's formula :-
  • Making people happy
  • Thinking about emotions
  • Obsessing over aesthetics

Making People Happy

Joel talked of "making people happy" as equivalent to making them believe that they were in control. He cites Dr. Martin Seligman's, Learned Helplessness, where the author postulates that a feeling of helplessness causes one to be depressed, or in our case - unhappy with the software. To illustrate this he walked us through a simulation of the Microsoft Windows startup and installation of updates - process, where the computer constantly interrupts and prompts him to tell him what to do, frustrating the user. This makes the user feel less in control and therefore unhappy.

Another example he used was the Abercrombie and Fitch versus the Amazon product 'checkout' process. A&F uses a step-by-step checkout mechanism, where the user is walked through the checkout system in four different steps, which are to be performed in sequence, one after the other. In contrast, Amazon has implemented a mechanism by which a user may select a product, and then proceed to any step as per his/her desire. Joel claimed that this additional freedom that is provided to the user makes him/her feel more in control, and thereby more happy and satisfied with the process, even though both processes, eventually, produce the same result.

Thinking about emotions

Joel then talked about how people's emotions can fool them into believing a product is better than the other. He conducted a quick survey in the room, asking the audience about which vehicle they would feel more secure in, a Camry or a Ford Explorer...

Toyota Camry vs. Ford Explorer

The results seemed to match what was found in another survey, where 88 respondents felt they would be safer in the Explorer while only 41 felt the Camry would be safer. This was in complete contrast to the results of a study, where it was found that one is much less likely to be in an accident in a Camry as compared to the Explorer. This was due to it's smaller size and easier manouverability in dangerous situations. Strangely, most people however, picked the Explorer as the safer vehicle due to almost the same reason, i.e. size and height. A bigger and taller vehicle helped them feel, well, bigger and stronger, and therefore less likely to be in an accident.

Joel picked a quote from G. Clotaire Rapaille, a french born anthropologist and psychiatrist to illustrate how something as insignificant as a coffee cupholder could contribute to a sense of safety in a vehicle.

That's why cupholders are absolutely crucial for safety. If I can put my coffee there, if I can have my food, if everything is round, if it is soft, and if i'm high, then I feel safe.
G. Clotaire Rapaille

Joel used these as examples to illustrate how it is almost as important to think of people's emotions and their reaction to what they experience through the product, as it is to develop a good quality and functional product. Perception is everything, and one wouldn't want to lose out in the market for simply not having put in a cupholder in the car.

Obsessing over aesthetics

Joel then talked about the importance of taking pains over the aesthetics of your product and how it makes a difference in the impact the product makes to the user. As an illustration, he chose Apple's iPod and Creative's Nomad Jukebox Zen Xtra mp3 player. Though both of them play mp3's and though Creative's product may have as much, if not more feature's than the iPod, it sells for almost $100 less, and is way less popular.

Apple iPod vs. Creative's Nomad Zen Xtra mp3 player

Joel observed that Apple's almost perfect looks accounts for a huge portion of it's popularity. To illustrate, he demonstrated how the iPod is created as a smooth structure with rounded edges, with no screws or latches, due to which one cannot change it's battery, which though rechargeable, will eventually need changing. However, most electronic gadgets have latches or screws at the back in order to change the battery. Joel guesses that this was done on purpose by designers at Apple in order that it's perfect symmetry and looks are not ruined by the addition of latches or screws. Whatever the reason, it seems to have paid off.

Joel compared a Software system to an iceberg. He likened the 9/10ths of the iceberg that is under the water to the system's Guts and the 1/10th that stuck out of the water as the Lipstick. Customers rarely looked at or cared about the Guts of a system, and all they really saw was the lipstick, which is really just 1/10th of the system. However, for this very reason, it is extremely important to pay attention to the overall look and feel of the system, in order to have a successful product.


Joel summarized his entire talk with one word - Misattribution. He defines it as what happens when you have a reaction to something, and think that that the reaction is because of soething else.

He used the following examples to illustrate this :
  • You buy a large coke at the movie's. The caffeinated Coke increases your pulse rate and in general causes you to hyper react. At the end of the movie, you emerge thinking you have seen an excellent movie, while in reality, you are simply misattributing your reaction to the Coke towards the movie.
  • You take a date to a coffee house instead of a movie/bar. The coffee increases your date's heart rate, and by the end of the date, she misattributes the reaction to mean that she has fallen in love with you.
Though only half serious, Joel was able to illustrate with the above two examples the extent to which misatrribution can have an effect on one's perception, and the importance of being able to recognize this and handling it when developing software.

His point seemed to be that though it is important to develop good quality and functional software, it is equally important, if not more so, to make people happy, think about their emotions and obsess over the aesthetics of your product, if you really want to sell it.

Personal Comment: Joel certainly practiced what he preached. While he presented some valid points, his presentation consisted of a lot of jokes, pictures of glamorous stars and even some good music, all going a long way in making us, the audience, happy. At the end of his talk, Joel alluded to how he had used misattribution on us, with "Sweet Home Alabama" playing in the background, and by the time he had said his final 'thank you', the audience was giving him one of the biggest rounds of applause I had heard all through the conference!

CUTC 2005

Attended CUTC 2005 , which was a good experience. Heard speakers like David Yach of RIM, Alan Vermeulen, VP technology, of Amazon, Joel Spolsky of Joel on Software fame, and Alan Ganek of IBM. The tech expo gave us an opportunity to network with companies, hand in a couple of resume's and obtain a few business cards for reference.

My report on Joel's speech coming up soon....

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

It's freezing cold today...

-23 degrees last I checked, and it's only getting colder. These are
the times I wish I was on some sunny beach out someplace where there
are sunny beaches....

but then I wish that all the what the heck...

Monday, January 17, 2005

Remote publishing

If you're seeing this, then I can publish via email.

Qed. MP

Sunday, January 16, 2005

An interesting read....

Karen Reid, our CSC 408 instructor, seems to think highly of Joel Spolsky. He writes down his thoughts in his blog, Joel on Software, which is pretty informative and humorous. Check out, particularly, his advice for New grads.

Joel will be speaking at CUTC 2005 this week. I am attending.

For the CS folk...

For everyone, including non-CS students, the Ontario Internship Program has a deadline of Jan 17, 5pm, to apply. Looks like a great opportunity, don't forget....tomorrow, 5pm.

For CS students:
Some great opportunities advertised at the UofT Career Center, including:
Deloitte and Touche

Skating at Forest Hill Memorial

Went skating last night at Forest Hill memorial. I didn't want to go initially but buckled to all the peer pressure and ended up going. Didn't regret it though, we all had a good time. Everyone seems to have gotten better, considering this was only our third skating trip - ever.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Stressed out!

I've been having a tough time lately. Family going through rough times. One after another the last few months have been nothing but bad news. Lots of issues on the personal front. It has had an effect on the entire family. Also had a tough semester this fall, and the grades were worse than I expected. Gotta get some of them remarked, dropped by an impossibly huge margin on one course. And today, dad had an accident, his fault. Just the other day we were talking about how our insurance premiums had dropped since we had nothing against our record yet. The coming term is already looking way too hectic. Things are so bad right now, that on the bright side, I think life can only get better. Or so I hope....

On the other hand, times like these are just what the doctor ordered. I have been taking a lot of things for granted. A reality check was what was needed, and it has been provided. He gives, and He takes away. I need to set my priorities right.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Million Dollar Baby

Watched it last evening. Great cast (Clint Eastwood, Hilary Swank, Morgan Freeman) and great story. Got me teary eyed, and really had me rooting for Maggie, the character played by Swank.

Two thirds of the movie follows a cliched storyline - girl wants to be a boxer, trainer refuses, girl persists, trainer relents, girl trains hard and starts winning, girl gets title shot - and thats when Eastwood works his magic. The story changes courses and becomes about something else entirely....

Hilary Swank is amazing as Maggie. I got me a new favorite actress. And she has an amazing smile.

Watch it....deserves the best movie title!

20 minute journals

In case no one noticed, my last few posts have been crap. They were "20 min journals" an exercise that is part of my writing course. Started off with about 600 words in 20 mins. Touched 1000 words on my last attempt. Not bad.

Apparently its supposed to help your "flow" if you have writers block. It probably does, but I wonder what effect it has on language.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

The rest of my break...


As you can see i'm pretty much running out of things i can write about before my break or during it. So here is some more drab - is that even a word ? - for you to read. So anyway, i finished my day of gambling, night rather, and the next day, having slept once again at 4am, woke up - once again - at 1pm. half the day was gone and we hadnt even begun. adults and everyone else were up. my mom and aunt were really too busy catching up with all the years they had missed each other. us kids didnt know each other too well. we were just bonding through that amazing little concept called family. it can make even total strangers feel like they know each other somehow. had a good brunch of bacon, eggs and sausages. went shopping with the cousin.

got a sight of the first self service gas station i had seen in North America. the guy hung around for a tip but we kinda drove away. apparently my cousing was not allowed to tiop. visited the indian store. i think all indian stores are the same. for some reason you walk into an indian store and you can tell its an indian store. its never the cleanest. its neat, and some of them are even tidy, but they lack something.....can't really put my finger on it.....

so i found out that all indian stores around the world are probable the same in nature. it was run by some south indian guy, had a punjabi lady at the cash and movies from all over india. we rented main hoon na for the adults but deceided to rent an english movie for ourselves. next went to the local grocery store. was in a mood to help, and kept asking for a list. thats when it hit me that i had no clue where anything was. so ther i was following the two girls, and trying to appear busy. glad when it was all over.

in keeping with the lousy weather we had all weekend, it was another blistering cold day. from the mall we went straight to the video store. i had my sights set on collateral. i knew it was good, and had always wanted to watch it. luckily enought no one else had watched it before so it wasnt a bad choice. when we reached home, and popped it on, it was really worthi it. kept me, and i think, the others interested all through. we even lapped up the extras.

it was a hollywood movie, so it finished within 2 hrs or so....the indian movie was still going on in the other room, with about an hour to go. we switched theatres. i entered to watch shah rukh khan dancing in an indian college prom kind of thing and romancing sushmita sen. then he proceeds to shoot through her saree. and then he goes home and has his step mom and brother abuse him, while he stands and twitches his face in all sorts of ways......i couldn't take it any more and i left to check mail or read a magazine.....anything!

so that sort of ended my stay at new york. in the end it was great fun overall. only wished it was less colder. we could have walked around the streets. made amental note to sleep early since we had a long drive back. naturaly, i slept late once more and had to wake up within the next two hours. had a shower, and a hurried breakfsast of pancakes and sausages. we said our goodbyes. i was genuiniely sorry we had to go, but then all good things must come to an end.

the return journey surprising went by quicker than when we drove the NY. the fact that i was sleeping thru most of it might have had something to do with it. i drove the last 4 hrs or so, into the border. the customs woman asked me if we had bought anything or received any gifts. i said not really.....she reapeated the question "did you or did you not buy anything or receive gifts". i said no! she said ok! and off we were.......strange...these customs people.

it was good being back in canada. now that i was a citizen it sure felt like home. the signs looked more canadian, and when we finally passed our first tim hortons i experienced an emotion i thought i was incapable of expreienceing. btw, im just making all this up so i can write something to fill the 20mins i have to write. ok, i just check i have about 6mins to go.

so back we were at brampton. one thing we were all worried about was how much it had snowed. we didnt really ask anyone else to shovel while we were away, and we kind of expected a lawyers notice from someone who had "slipped" on our driveway. to our surprise when we reached there things were almost exactly as they were when we left. straight to the tiretracks on the snow when we drove out our car......unless, someone else drove into our driveway while we were away. i didn't even enter the house, and i began shovelling. i hardly ever shovel otherwise, cuz im either sleeping or away, and dad never calls me for help. so i decided to grab the shovel before he could and do something for a change.

i have this bad habit of being very picky about things, and in this case, i hated the sight of little lumps of snow in the driveway amidst patches of clean concrete. so i would shovel away until the entire driveway was cleared of snow. i must admit towards the end i was so tired that i had to ignore some snowy pathces,....but ours was one of the cleanest driveways once i was done.

it came at a cost tho. i had a nasty pain in my back the next couple of days. i really am out of shape. the next few days, i hastily finished all the marking that i had left over. something i realised is that if you're stuck on something you gotta give it a lil break, and when you're back you are certain to figure it out, even if you were pulling all your hair out in frustration previously.


Saturday, January 08, 2005

winter break @ NYC - 3

The third day we woke up late once again. Adults were up early but talked all morning and no one woke the younger adults up. so once again at around 1pm we were wondering what to do. had another delicious brunch tho, some great kerala style food. reminded me so much of my grandmom's cooking. my younger cousin had a program to attend later in the evening and since he wasnt going to be around anyway, we decided to go to Mohegan sun after all. By the time we were all ready, it was 4pm. 4 of us in my car and the other three in my cousins lexus. It turned out to be one long drive. could have driven from toronto to detroit in the time it took us to get there. halfway through, it started snowing. americans really dont know how to deal with snow. people started getting into accidents every second mintue and the drive became even more slow and treacherous. we were bored out of our minds and even decided to turn back. however having traveled this far already, we decided to keep goingk, the brave soldiers that we were. 4hrs after we left we finally arrived at Mohegan Sun. This was one humoungous casino. casino niagara was a dwarf in comparison. we entered and were overwhlemed by the number of games on offer. the adults most of them hadnt gambled before spent their time and money on slots. i walked around wonderig what to do , and finally decided to play blackjack

my previous experience at niagara gaveme some experience with the thing. i sat down on the table with the cheapest minimum bet. $6. the catch ws that for each bet that u dont get a blackjack you lose a dollar. even so, i played. i kept winning and losing, which made my balance either even or negative. my sister and cousin joined. none of us had played and were scared of losing all our money. kept betting small amounts adnd that was our biggest mistake. about 10 rounds later we were all out of money. walked of with a sheepish grin. decided to walk all around the casino. saw a lot of games in the process. some of them were interesting and had small enough bets but i didnt want to lose any more money. some of them we just couldnt figure out what was happening. the smoking section made the girls sick so off we went to what was called the "sky section". that was one of the more scenic sections of the casino. indoor waterfalls and shining neon lights. we took a lot of pictures.

this one guy who we asked to take a picture jus couldnt figure out how to work the camera when all he had to do was press one button. the camera was digital yet he kept looking thru the peeking hole and never seemed to grasp the concept of just pressing hte button to take the picture. finally when he did manage to press the button long enought to take the picture he had kinda given up and the picture that he did take was of our feet. we excused him from his misery and had a good time laughing it off.

we walked around the place and then went back. this time i decided to play some more black jack to try and win th emony i had lost. decided i would bet just one hand and leave if i lost it. i promply lost the first hand i played. deciding that i couldnt leave like this, i played one more hand, and finally i started winning. made 5, then 10, then 15 , lost another 5 then made 10 more to make it 20. then i made 25, and finally lost to make it 20 again. decided to quit with 20 which was still 5 dollars shy of wat i started with. anyhow i felt a lot better having lost only 5.

made a mental note next time to bet higher amounts if i was winning. thats the only way to make a profit otherwise you just end up losting what you make. in the meantime mom was having a great first experience at the casino. she stuck to the slot machines and discovered that some of the machines spat out money even if you didnt put any in the first place. she made that her mission the rest of the night, going to every machine and pushing money out. towards the end i think she made about $5 which was more thn i had having played all those rounds of blackjack.

we had a small snack at a little tim hortons type cafe, and then decided to head home. it was 1pm and realised that it was gonna take us forever to get back. on the way back we decided to play a game to keep ourselves occupied. the game consisted of someone starting off with a letter and each one saying another letter that leads towards a word, however no one is ever allowed to end the word. if you do, you become a "D" (for donkey). i reached donke first, but after that everyone else caught up and my cousin ws first to donkey.

the game lasted for 3 quarters of the journey and before we knew it we wer home. at home we had some scrumptous biriyani waiting for us, and that just made my night. i hogged like i had never hogged before and slept a very peaceful sleep that night. all our dinners so far had ended with a great serving of ice cream and apple -something. first time i liked any kind of apple product.


Winter Break @ NYC - 2

1:01 pm

From where we parked it was a good 20 min walk to the Rockefeller center. It was a lot colder than I thought it would be, and I was wearing just my suede shoes. By the time we reached the center, I couldn't feel my feet, and we scurried for the nearest indoor spot. We went down to the basement from where we thought we could sit and watch people skate and have a look at the Christmas tree. Having heard a lot about it, and being there now, I really didn't know what all the fuss was about. Anyhow, while we were in the basement we saw a couple that seemed to be standing on a table along with their child. On closer inspection, we realised that they were not standing *on* anything, but were simply two very tall people.

Very soon two security guards arrived at the scene and shoed out almost all the ppl down at the basement out into the streets. That was something I noticed all around me at NYC. Security, security, secutrity! There were sniffer dogs. My uncle actually sneaked a photograph with one of these security men and dog, while they were not lookging. Outside one of the famous churches, there were two snipers, standing with guns at the ready. It was christmas eve and the lineups outside the churches stretched for miles. I haven't seen as many people lining up for church on christmas eve here in canada. we tried to do the same and went to find the start of the lineup to one of the churches. when we reached there, no one seemed to want to wait there in the cold for the hours it took, so we decided to turn back for home.

So the rest of christmas eve was spent driving back. all of us were sleeping, and I think we actually spent midnight asleep. when we reached home everyone wished each other a merry christmas, being half asleep. within half an hour everyone had called it a night. the next day, in keeping with my holiday sleeping habits, i woke up after 12pm. everyone else seemed to be awake. had a great christmas breakfast of chicken stew, and appam's. Appam's are "rice pancakes" an item native to the state of Kerala in India, where i'm from. Everything my aunt made was delicious, and it was strange that everyone in my mom's family teased her about not knowing how to cook.

my uncle had planned to take us all to this casino at connecticut called the Mohegan sun. But my younger cousin was 16, and we werent sure if he would be let in. So we decided to scratch the plan and go downtown to see the statue of liberty and ground zero. We took the subway from a station whose name i can't remember. the moment i walked up the stairs to the station, i was transported back to india, to some place like bombay or ahmedabad. the stairs were old and dirty. vintage new york. on the subway ride, we passed such places as the bronx, and the yankee stadium, all places i had heard so much of on tv.

it was almost an hour when we reached downtown nyc. our first stop was another church. there were so many churches all around Nyc. all of them exquisity in artistry and rich in history. it was christmas day, and it was appropriate that we start the day in a church. just down the street from the church was the New York Stock Exchange. And further down the street was the world trade center, or what was left of it. There was a sort of memorial built around it, with pictures and images of heroism and grief. The place was a busy tourist location with hundreds of people gathering around to see the site of one of the most tragic events of our time. As we walked around and I observed the people around me, I found some people posing for photographs with a smile with the WTC ruins at the background, almost as one would do with the Taj mahal or the pyramids. I found that strangely inappropriate. But anyhow, who was i to judge their intentions.

we walked along, chinese hawkers were selling dvd's for movies that had jus about released, such as meet the fockers. "5 dollaar" they said. when we reached the edge of the river or bay or whatever it is, at nyc, we finally caught a glimpse of one of the most famous women in the world. the statue of liberty. we were quite far away from it, and we had scratched our initial plan of taking the ferry since it was way too cold. thats one thing that sucked, the 2 or three days we spent there was too cold to be able to walk around the city simply enjoying the sights on offer. instead a lot of our activities had to be confined indoors.


Thursday, January 06, 2005

Winter Break @ New York City

ex 4

A good four days out of the two and something weeks of the winter break was spent at NYC. I've always wanted to visit new york. The city always fascinated me, with its skyscrapers and unique blend of people and cultures. I remember on our way to Canada from India, I was trying to get my dad to take the route that would have a stop at NYC, but that didn't happen. Anyway, now it was finally happening....I was going to see the promised land!

we were to leave on a friday morning, the 24th of december on the eve of christmas. as usual, left packing to the very last minute. i was frantically trying to finish up what was left of my marking for csc148. and once again i barely succeeded in making any sort of progress. in fact, i got myself all muddled up and couldnt even finish a decent set of test cases. i even contemplated taking along my laptop for the trip so i could sneak in a few hours of work on marking. but common sense prevailed and the laptop was left at home. I started packing at midnight the morning of the 24th. the initial plan was to pack as light as possible. parent wanted to carry just two bags in all. i prefered having all my stuff with me, i figured we were going to be put up in different rooms at cousin's place, so i wasnt walking all over the house just to go find my clothes. so i found a small briefcase in a corner in my basement and thats what i used. while packing i noticed home alone 2 was on. hadnt seen it in ages, and considering that this was the one where kevin gets lost in new york i decided to watch it anyways. so while i packed...i watched. always found the home alone movies amusing. earlier tho, i enjoyed macaulay culkin's acting, but this time around it was the two bad guys, ah cant remember their names now, well the short guy really had me in splits, actually come to think of it, both of them were hilarious.

anyway, the movie ended at 3, and by the time i actually got to sleep it was 4 am. before i knew it, it was 5 am and my sister was downstairs waking me up so we could leave early. it had snowed like crazy the day before and everyone wanted to get a head start. thats all alright, but not at the expense of one's sleep! i pretended i couldnt hear or feel her and slept on. by 6 30 everyone was beginning to get mad, so i awoke and sleep walked through the morning routine. everything was taken....cameras, clothes, slippers, toothbrush, maps, razors.....and we were all set to go.

i was of course drowsy having slept only for an hour or two ,but knowing myself i was excited about actually being away on a long road trip for so long that i knew i wouldnt be able to sleep. so i offered to drive until the border. half an hour into the trip i knew it was a mistake. had trouble keeping my eyes open. couldnt tell anyone since no oine was supposed to know that i had slept that late. somehow i weathered it all and drove all the way to the border. finally, i switched positition with dad, and got some well deserved shut eye. also took a lil video of the 4 of us in the car with my digi cam. that piece is a fav of mine now.

the next 3hrs or so went by quickly since i was fast asleep. when i woke we were at some service station in the middle of new york state. the service station concept was somethig tht was new to me and which i found interesting. hadnt seen one in canada yet, tho i was told that there are some on the bigger highways connecting the provinces. these were convenient, you simple drive off the highway for food, gas, washrrom wateva, and get back on easily, without breaking a sweat. out here u gotta exit, find a gas station somewhere, and then find ur way back to the highway after a million rights and lefts.

anyway, we drove down the I90, i think it was , along some not very breathtaking scenery. i think canada is way prettier than the states. well, it was winter, but even so. we finally arrived at cousins place at around 4 30pm. a full hour earlier than what we had expected, having left at 8 in the morning. after the initial hellos to the folk at dobbs ferry new york we had a quick shower a sumptuous meal, and dove straight into the action.

we made our way downtown the first night to see the christmas tree at rockefeller center. it was a 45 min (or was it longer?) drive downtown but it was worth it. the first night we caught a glimpse of almost everything new york is famous for. The empire state building, broadway, timessquare, central park and so on and so forth.

we parked on park street, and 5th avenue. ha always wanted to say something like that --- park street and 5th avenue. thats so new york! or maybe im just nuts.....

anyway....time up for today 10:54pm rest tomorrow. :)

winter break

ex 3

This winter break was one of my more mixed and interesting ones. I finished 407 , and had a 5 days break before the ECE exam. The first three were spent sleeping. the next two were another frantic attempt at finishing what i should have done ages ago. anyhow, two days some hardcore studying was done, and into the exam i walked feeling as confident as a fish on land. the first 20 questions on the ece exam were one word answer types. I looked at the questions and no word came to my mind for almost any of the questions. i was soon pulling words and answers out of a hat, and had already begun to despair. and this was supposedly the easy part of the exam

the next two questions dealt with avr programming and from the experience with the midterm fpor the course was a whole different story altogether. i looked at the first question and it made little sense to me. trying not to panic, i moved onto the next question hoping to get a start. I read something called "terrons" and measuring "terrorist levels". I was absolutely positive that i had gone cuckoo. at that moment somebody asked a question regarding the previous question and prof Mann proceeded to "explain" what the question really meant. his explanation at first was totally sanskrit to me. i stared at him, looked at a few other faces in the class and simply laughed at myself. i had not a clue what either question was asking.

in times such as these, when all is lost and you are resigned to the fact that you are a dead man - or in this case about to receive an ostrich egg on your exam - a certain sense of calm comes about you and your thinking capacity becomes a lot more clearer. thats exactly what happened to me. all of a sudden prof mann's explanation made sense. the question actually started taking meaning . soon i was drawing a diagram on my paper. when i had a finished i actually took 2 minutes off to marvel at my creation. next thing i know , i was writing code and actually thinking of a way to answer the question, and withing about 45 minutes i think i had what could be called a solution to the question.

with this renewed confidence i moved on to the next question, and i found that , that too , beneath all the layers of terrons and terrosity level was actually a simple concept that just needed to be wired up and coded. and thus, i had managed to salvage another seemingly hopeless situation. to be honest i had more than enough time, and i made use of most of it, lookiing around, trying to gauge the panic and reactions of my fellow classmates and ashamed to say it delighting in everyones misery and feeling it almost like my own. i drew neat diagrams, erased unwanted lines used a ruler. i hadnt done a better job in my art classes back in middle school. anyhow, i was satisfied with my effort only about 10 minutes before the end. i handed in my papers ad walked out, to have a conversation with prof mann who was waiting outside having bailed on us half an hour earlier.

having survived both the project and the midterm i found that all feelings of malice and irritation i felt towards the course and prof mann and all the ta's in the course had completely vanished and i was filled with a new found admiration for the man and all that he had achieved. and i actualy realized what an in teresting course this had been. (nothing like feeling you have done well, to change your intire perspective on things).

anyhow, alls well that ends well. mamun and i walked out in the freezing temperatures and tried to find things to do. we settled on a game of ping poing at the international center. needles to say i was totally and comprehensively beaten by a very talented player. at one stage i actually had some smashes going and i was congratulating myself, but once we actually played a game i was smoked beyond belief. another of his frnds showed up and watching the two geniuses at play i slowly eased myself out and made an exit. whew!

to celebrate my new freedom from an exhausting term i made a qyuick trip t o erindale to meet all my other frnds who were still struggling with thier exams. call me sadistic, but i really had nothing better to do, so there i was gloating about having finished my exams. but then i took pity and made an exit from there as well and went home to my warm bed and spicy curry chicken. curry chicken.

that was the end of my exams and the beginning of what i thought would be a productive break. in fact the very next day i was back at school, attempting to mark what was left of the 108 asissngments. i made little progress, since i also had to create test cases. it didnt help that some of the sample code i was given seemed to have bugs in it and i had to debug that as well. when things dont seem to go your way you tend to slack off and thats exactly what i did. i slacked off then and i never really recovered from it. i was soon watching television at odd hours...

1 am

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

the ece project

Ex 2 : 8 20 pm

Having decided on creating an 'intelligent' car, we set about trying to make it work. Using the parts we bought from Active, all we could do was make up some contraption that looked nothing like a car. Moreover, we lacked the most important part required to make our car 'interesting'. A sensor which apparently was not in stock in any of the sotres that we looked at, and only available through some online webstit and would take about 3 or 4 days to arrive. And 3 or 4 days we did not have. Also our other two group members seemed not to be in favor of the idea.

And thus we settled on the printer. To be perfectly honest, I had absolutely no idea how the printer would work. I could not for the life of me visualize how the printer would even after seeing some pictures from groups that had done it in the past. Even so, we went ahead with the plan and began collecting parts. So back it was to active surplus, looking specifically for gears to run both the pen and to move the paper back and forth. Another 3 or 4 hours and we had some sad excuses for parts. At this point it was thursday night and we had spent two days going back and forth with ideas and trips to active and had not achieved anything concrete other than settling on the idea.

With 407 due in another 3 days, I took the decision to take the time off for the next three days working on that while the other two worked on the project. The only problem with this plan was that for it to work, i assumed the other two would work, which of course didnt happen. At the end of monday when i got back from an allnighter, and handed in the 407 assignment (which was a different story altogether), I met at our usual hangout (BA3200) to find that the assignment had progressed to a degree of zero, during the last two days.

I was filled with panic. We had two days to demonstrate a working project and we had nothing. at that point i thought there was no way we could get the thing workin. We considered swithcing ideas and doing something simple and trying to get a lower mark rather than working on this and having nothin workin and getting a zero. So off i went again to active and bought photo resistors, to make a key pad sensitive to touch. i had decided that this would be my last day workin on the project since the 407 exam was another 2 days away. so another all nighter it was. of course no one else wanted to pull an allnighter so it was me and the half done project for one night.

I remember halfwar thru the night i gave up doin what i was doin and decided to sleep. i was half awake and could hear other students in the study room discussing how iwas sleeping and better positions to sleep. the next morning when i awoke i was in a state of panic that i had possibly never felt before. i could not think any longer and began to actually calculate my mark in the course assuming i received a zero on the project.

Mamun walked in early morning. The poor guy had an exam in an hour and was also stressed about not having anything done. Anyhow he tried to help me for a bit but then had to leave for the exam. When he got back he seemed much more relaxed and in a mood to get things working. All of a sudden ideas started flowing. We tried things and got a motor going. Next thing we know we were hooking up parts from k'nex we had bought earlier and soon the printer head was fixed and moving across. next we fixed the wheels to move the paper and within half an hour had the paper moving smoothly across. we were witnessing a miracle!

within two hours we knew exactly how to get this working. i was breathing a lot easier......

to be continued....

8 40pm

Monday, January 03, 2005


I'm taking WRI 203, a course at University, and our first exercise is to write something called a 20 minute journal. What it is, is 20 minutes of non-stop writing, without pausing to correct either grammar or spelling. So here goes:

Ex 1

I've just thought for about two minutes to bring to my mind what I am going to write about. Its about 11 05pm and having not thought of anything meaningful to write, I have just started typing and as I type this very word, I have no idea where this is going to go. Anywho, I think I might as well start where I last left off, which is, after my second CSC407 assignment. A nightmare of an ordeal, where I not only did not finish it within the time it was due, but I also barely managed to finish it within the next whole week. Emad and I worked frantically all of the monday, the day it was due, and then proceeded to try and race downtown from Erindale. The time was 6 40pm and the time it was due: 7 10pm. Believe it or not, we made it from Erindale to the downtown campus in 30mins flat, and managed to hand in the assignments just as the TA was leaving the room with a burrow of 407 A2's. I know we have never done anything before time, but even by our standards, this was cutting it a bit fine.

The next week was the last week of school, and I had an ECE project, A3 from 407 and an exam to study for. I spent the next 3 or 4 days, trying to start on the ECE project. Our initial idea was an mp3 player, which our TA really seemed to like. We searched online for someone who had already done it, and one look at the various circuits and we decided to put that idea on the back burner. What we needed to do next was brainstorm something else that would be worthwhile doing as an ECE project. Our group of 5, at this point consisted of just three of us, fooling around more than actually doing work. As we looked through various projects done by students from previus years and even other universities we settled on two seemingly interesting ideas. The first one was a car that would run using stepper and servo motors and could be controlled remotely using sensors and what not. The second idea was to build a dot-matrix like printer.

We voted on trying the car thing since that seemed more feasible, at the time, and the three of us could at least visualize exactly how it would work if we could get it all assembled. So off we went to active surplus, looking for parts. We spent a good 3-4 hours rummaging through the store looking for bits and pieces that could be used to build the car. At the end of the 4th hour, all we had to show for our efforts was a toy car which we broke open for gears and wheels. A gear. Another gear whose teeth did not fit with this one's gear. A stepper motor, some wires.

One thing i've learned about workig on projects in groups, is that it is a friendship make or breaker. I for one was seething inside at one of my partners. He did not seem to focus on the task at hand - which was to find parts required to build the car - and at the end of the time there, just wanted to leave the place, with the illusion that we had accomplished what we had come there for, when in fact, it was like we had never started. Finally after a good half an hour of arguing in the store I agreed with to head back to school, which was a pleasant 30 minute walk in freezing temperatures.

Back at school, we played around with the car we bought. Hooked up the motors to the wheels, and plugged in some power. The wheels turned, and for a few minutes at BA 3200, all eyes were on us. Everyone wondering what in the world these geeks were up to. A few of them walked up to us, thinking we were working on some 'cool' robot project, and of course we obliged them with a bucket full of BS.

11: 25pm -- End of 20 min journal for today.