I am the alpha and the omega
September 29, 2004
Cooper's Metalaw
A proliferation of new laws creates a proliferation of new loopholes.

The San Antonio Trip

(Refer http://photos.yahoo.com/sathishcj/ and the San Antonio Directory. I will be referring to that.)

It started as a wonderful day - at 6am. A trifle too early for me, but I still managed to get up before the first of the 4 alarms I had set (staggered by 5 minutes each) rang. And then proceeded on to persuade my room mate who would accompany on the trip to wake up. I could have as well have chosen to wake up Kumbhakarna.

The regular morning ablutions later, minus the jogging, I got ready, and armed with a digital camera which I had mentioned earlier, I proceeded on to the pick up point - at 7:30 am.

A roll call later. I was on the coach (that would have put the inside of a Business class section of a plane, to shame), which started promptly 10 minutes late. Going south and smooth on the I-35, the 70 mile distance to San Antonio was covered in an hour and a quarter. Snacks - Donut holes, pastries and cheese strings fed our stomachs while rolling plains and mild vales, interrupted occasionally by the passing village fed our eyes. While many did manage to sleep, I could not. I am not a bus-sleep person.

First stop was the Institute of Texan Cultures. A museum and a cultural institute. The biggest draw there, was the full T-Rex on display. Other displays included the various cultures and minorities that have settled in Texas. The photos of Bison, Globe and the Chariot were taken there. AFter a fruitfulless hour and a half, I came out to face cloudy skies. Thats where the Tower of the Americas 1 was snapped - a tall 75 floor tower.

Then came the Mexican market El Mercado. Lots of Mexican Stuff. Lots of little trinkets. Lots of dollars spent there. (A gift for somebody and the lunch). At around 1, there was this dance by a troupe representing the various states of Mexico - thats where Dance 1 and Dance 2 were snapped. Colorful dresses, colorful Spanish ballet. Impressive performance.

Soon we're shuttled to the The Alamo - a memorial to defeated Texan soldiers during their only war agains the Mexicans eons back. No cameras allowed inside.
After coming out, I took a bite at that Statute. It just looked nice, in its marble encampment.

And after that peacefulness, we're given 5 hours to roam around the city and come back at 7pm.
How to spend 5 hours in an unknown city, without ending up spending too much money.
Suggestions given: Riverwalk - which was what San Antonio was famous for.

Imagine Venice's canals, but slightly cleaner, more trees, more people, space for people to walk by, and restaurants selling delicious food right up to the water's edge and towered by tall hotels, malls and convention centers on both sides. Thats Riverwalk for you.
Initially, we just walked along it for a mile, without realising the significance of some of the buildings. And snaps melted away. Riverwalk 1 to Riverwalk 3 were taken at that time. That statues was on a bridge crossing the Riverwalk. And I wanted to be sandwiched between the Red Statue and the Tower of the Americas. IT was a pretty good job.
Then I decided that we needed to go on the barge which took people around. So for $6.50 each, we got on one. And for me, luckily, the first seat.

Riverwalk 4 - Floodwater drain canal.
Riverwalk 5 - A huge hotel, whose front looked like the bow of a ship.
Riverwalk 6 - A line of restaurnats.
Riverwalk 7 - A man-made waterfall, marred by iron grilles.
Riverwalk 8 - Glass Aerobridge of the Convention Center

After that was over, we headed to the RiverCenter Mall - RiverCenter Mall 1. 125 stores and an IMAX theatres did not make me weak to shop. So I just ended up window shopping.
RiverCenter Mall 2 contrasts the glass facade of RiverCenter Mall with the concrete face of the Marriott hotel in the background.

At around 5:45 pm (Time did really fly very fast there), we ended up walking towards the Tower of the Americas. 15 minutes and 8$ later lesser, we're at the top - at the 57th floor, and at a height of 750 ft. It was a bit gusty up there, and a bit of a low pressure too. But got a bird's eye view of the city. Tower of the Americas 2 and 3 illustrate just that. You can just make out that red statue in the middle of Tower of the Americas 2.

Half hour on city-gazing later - thank god I didnt have Acrophobia - We returned towards the coach. On the dot of 7pm. And a hour of a monotonous drive later, interrupted by the occasional packs of fries and Cheetos I was back where I started. In Austin. At 8:30pm.

To sum up, 160 miles and 13 hours later, 45$ poorer, 40 snaps lesser and a pound lesser, I rounded up a very nice and worthwile journey to San Antonio. True, I didnt get to go to Six Flags, Fiesta Texas or the Zoo or the Sea World.
But, inspite of that, I had a whale of a time.

And what I did after that extremely tiring journey may surprise you - I spent five hours in the freezer lab and was doing an assignment until 3 in the morning. ;)

Posted by satosphere at 1:13 PM

September 26, 2004
Cooke's Law
In any decisive situation, the amount of relevant information available is inversely proportional to the importance of the decision.

Long week behind. Long week ahead

This is going to be a longie. Until Saturday. Bear with me. I will try to be as morose as possible. Or probably try to split it into 2 parts.

The week started out nice. Good weekend. Cleaning of home. Some catching up with research work in my field. And trip to the Indian stores for getting groceries.

Then came the lab assignment. Something which consumes more than 50% of my free time. It consisting of designing a memory cell, layout and then testing it. I ended up doing it for a very long time. Resulting in my timings getting skewed from 7:30 am in the morning to 3am the next day morning. That leaves me about just 4 and half hours of sleep. The entire week.

That continued for every day. And the only time I was at home was while eating. Or cooking for eating. The rest of the time, I was in the lab, the godforsaken freezer as it was affectionately called, that would put the weather of wintry Siberia to shame. I survived, consolation due to the sweater I was wearing.

Another busy event, which almost highlighted the week was the Career Fair.
True, I am not looking for a job. I was just looking for an internship.
And I ended up giving my resume to about 14 companies, including big-shots like AMD, Intel, NVidia, NI, National Semiconductor, TI, ARM, Freescale and much more. It was a busy two days. And I turned out all formals for that event.

It was with the approach of the weekend that my time improved.

If I am rite, and the Northie and Westernesse people can confirm me, it was the 10th day of Ganapathi Pooja(whatever). So I was invited to attend the bhajan.
That was totally new for me. All the singing and chanting. Followed by a dinner that was totally out of this place - Bhel Puri, Palkova (a milk sweet) and Gulab Jamun (tinned, of course).

Lots of photos and lots of fun later, I returned home late - 12 pm, to sleep and get ready for the next day's (Saturday) trip to San Antonio. Also got a camera for the trip.

I have been in the lab too long. And I am tired now. Having submitted that assignment which I was doing all of last week (and the previous) I will take exit now, but will make a brief appearance for the next post on the trip to San Antonio.

And here are the pics. The link is to my Yahoo photos. Go down to the San Antonio Directory.
And amuse yourself.

Posted by satosphere at 11:43 PM

September 18, 2004
Cook's Laws of Travel
1. When packing for a vacation, take half as much clothing and twice as much money.
2. Nothing can be done in one trip.
3. If you have the time, you won't have the money. If you have the money you won't have the time.

The life of a TA

I must admit, I have never spoken about my TA job, except in some certainly pessimistic - Its a too hectic job - sense. Well, its not all that bad. And to understand why, it is necessary to explain how the course which I am TAing goes about.

The course for which I am a TA is called Digital Logic Design. That link there is the course web page. It is usually taken by Sophomores and Juniors (thats the 2nd years and 3rd years - for those who don't understand the wierd American Education system).

This course is unique in the sense that it is a self-paced course. The students have to buy a text book - which has about 20 units. And then learn at their own pace. There is absolutely no teaching in this course. After the student finishes a unit, they have to take a test - called a readiness test to see if what they have studied has been worthwile. If they pass, they go to the next unit. If they fail, then they do some assigned homework, show it and attempt the test again. Some units have labs too.
This is where the TA's come in.
IT is us who have to issue those tests, grade them, check their homework, their labs, and answer any doubts that may arise.

Advantages: Some people literally zip through the entire course. There is one girl (Indian BTW) who has completed 15 units in just about 3 week. (The next highest is in the 11th unit, and the class average is the 7th unit.) I am literally amazed. She mentioned to me that she just wants to be finished by the end of this month.
And if a person finishes early, s/he can take the exam early and be done with the course. (There are actually 3 sets of final exams, each at different dates for such a purpose.)

Disadvantages: If there is a good side, there ought to be a bad side too.
Yes, there is.
Some students take their own time. They go so very slowly, that they hardly can complete the course. Some dont understand the course very well. And end up taking certain units about 4 times till they pass it. It would be a heavy strain on them. And there is this unit on schedule which everybody has to keep up with, or atleast try to catch up.

Since there are no professors who teach the course, most of the teaching burden falls on us TA's. And there a lot of them - 6 TA's and 6 graders (Whose only job is to grade them, and are usually students who have done the course before). If you think that is high, then let me tell you that the class strenght is about 250. (And according to the prof, that is actually low)

As a TA, I end up with being about 12 hours in the lab - doing all the above mentioned jobs, apart from doing something extra called bug-testing (for the certain unique softwares developed for this course) And also for one hour a week, I have to maintain an office hour, where students can come and clear their doubts.

ITs a full time job, and ranting, as again as in all other previous posts, it is quite tiring and hectic on some days. Especially on a Tuesday, for me; when I have 1 and a half hour of a class, then 3 hours of TA followed by another 3 hour classes. When I reach home after that, I drop dead.

To finish up, here is a little something. It is a custom that the prof puts up the photos of the graders and TA's on the class notice boeard. And mine was taken on Tuesday, I think. And got the photo yesterday (One copy already shining britely on the notice board). Here is the other one.

Me doing TA work.
And exposing my teeth a bit too much.

And now, I am off to another session of TA work. (Thank god its a Saturday, and there is much less crowd.)

Posted by satosphere at 10:25 AM

September 14, 2004
Cook's Law
Much work, much food; little work, little food; no work, burial at sea.

In the Same boat, but a different country.

My absence here can be inexplicably explained by the fact that
a) Either I am busy. Extremely busy.
b) Nothing has happened. Nothing to report.

And since I am in the US of A, where at no time, nothing can happen, the obvious answer to the obfuscated question can only be the choice that is a) viz. I am busy.
So busy that I wish I had 48 hours a day. (Now, I know that is not possible. But since I am wishing, I can wish for anything.)

To start with, there are a whole lot of assignments and lab projects to be done. Three weeks into the semester!!!. And hence lot of deadlines to meet.
And a lot of follow up work for the courses to be done.
The TA work for this course already drags away half the time available to me.
And in this, I can neglect all the housework to be done - Cooking food. Weekly cleaning, doing the laundry, and all that.

And I am hoping that should explain my absence for one whole week. And I am also hoping that my future temporary disappearances can be explained by some quite similar logical reasoning.

Things are not that bad, though.

Firstly. I decided that I would go jogging everyday. A decision which I should have taken long ago. But the hot weather of Madras (inspite of IIT's green cover) didnt permit. Here, the sun itself seems to take its own time to start the day. And I dont have any early classes (lucky me). So, an expenditure of 45 minutes over this fruitful but tiring activity which keeps me active the entire day is nevertheless not worthless.

Secondly. Discovered that there is a Tamil Cultural Association. Which organises activities on important "Tamil" days. And screens Tamil movies every two weeks (And hence managed to see Aaitha Ezhuthu aka Yuva [in Hindi])

Thirdly. All the IITians, rather, most of them, organised a co-op party, where each person brings a food item to the party. Our group brought South Indian Pongal - which I have become an expert in, a sambhar (thin lentil soup) to accompany the Pongal, and then a Potato + Carrot Sabji. It tasted deadly, according to many.
We had this Intro session there, and something quite not unlike the very familiar ragging sessions in IIT, but with a much lighter atmosphere. Then all of us watched a nice movie. Had an amazing time. Never realized so many were there.

Fourthly. Went to this South Indian Vegetarian Restaurant for a lunch on Sunday. And at 9$ for the buffay, should anybody ask? Had loads of food. So much that I did not have dinner, and a very measly breakfast the next morning.

(I can almost imagine Rash cringe as she reads this. When I had called her up, she said that she was totally bored with the American food. And literally on her way to boycott it.
Cheer up. Things will get better)

Bye for now.
Hope to see you in atleast less than a week

Posted by satosphere at 2:27 AM

September 08, 2004
Conway's Law #1
If you assign N persons to write a compiler you'll get a N-1 pass compiler.

Culture Shock ...

... the first time I walked into the men's locker room in the Texas Swimming Center.

I decided that next time, I would go in for a less strenuous exercise - the very light jogging, for example.
Or get a bike and go around the city for an hour a day.
Or get an apartment with a pool.

Posted by satosphere at 4:03 AM

September 04, 2004
Conway's Law
In every organization there will always be one person who knows what is going on. This person must be fired.

While I am tempted to put away a very good forward and leave it at that, I started feeling guilty. So here goes.

Going Vegan

Everybody warned me.
If you are going to the US, you can't survive without eating Non-veg.


I came here with a mission. To survive five years on only vegetarian food. (Actually, thats not my objective. My objective is to actually complete my Ph.D. But thats a whole different story)

The appetizer.
The first nite in Austin.
I am staying at my friends place. And the only thing they had was rice and chicken kurma.
And since the other guy whom I came along with was also vegetarian, that poor senior had to cook dhal for us.

The second helping.
I was doing my TA on a Saturday. There was very less crowd. So myself and 2 other TA's (Texans) got into the regular banterings. Soon the topic wandered around to food, and what I ate. When I told them that I solely survived on veggies, they were shocked.
One guy put it this way.
"Food is basically carbs and proteins. Carbs : Rice or Potato. Proteins is meat, chicken, beef, fish and other what-nots. Where do you get your proteins if you don't eat chicken?"

And I had to reply, much to his surprise that I got them from dhal, and legumes (beans).

The dessert.
The Graduate Student Assembly had arranged for a Texan Style Barbeque to welcome all the graduate students. I had already been forewarned by all the seniors that I would get only baked potato as the sole veggie food. That didn't dampen my spirits. Initially.
At the barbeque, I saw some familiar food - bread, some mashed potato, baked potato, some kind of bean soup - all of which I took a serving.
I was about to put that bean soup into my mouth, when a couple of friends shouted that the beans were cooked in beef extract.
Well, after that, I left the beans untouched making the meal only out of bread and sauce and mashed potato.

I arrived at a decision; that to eat and survive on only veg, the food has to be cooked by ourselves. And that meant only rice, dhal, sambhar (lentil soup), rasam (pepper+salt+water), curd, and some curries we managed to fashion ourselves. Stuck mainly to potato, onion, capsicum, cabbage, beans and carrot.

And we did cook well. Much better than our expectations. So much so that, if I dont get a job, I can become a cook. I seem to have the uncanny ability to cook stuff without knowing how to cook. Tomato curries, Pasta, Mushroom Kurmas (planning to do in a couple of days) and what not.

But then, occasionally, we do have to eat out. And what option do we have.
McDonald's is out - they use beef extract while cooking.
I can't go to Wendy's or KFC.
Even Tacos seem to have beef in them.
The only "veggie" thing that I did find was a Veg Sub (at Subway), and something else called a Veggie wrap (from a local chain).
Atleast the pizza situation is better. We have the great choice of choosing from the Plain Cheese Pizza and the Veggie Supreme Pizza.

One funny thing that I noticed here.
Every early morning, there are a lot of joggers and many in the gym. But all of this seems quite stupid when they eat a very high cheese pizza, burgers, chips.
Imagine drinking fat-free milk and fat-rich pizzas in the same breadth. LOL

Most of the other places have solely Non-veg or some unknown non-veg ingredient added in them. I end up having a harrowing time at local grocery stores where I may have to buy some food-stuffs, and then read the Font size 2 lettered contents on the 13th line to find out that there is beef-extract in it. And then give it up.
(If you notice, every item here will have High Fructose Corn Syrup and every non-veg item here will have Beef extract in them.
The only safe bets I have here, are going to the Indian Stores, which is quite far away - a 40 min bus ride atleast. And to buy vegetables and lots of greens.

Its not that I can't eat non-veg. There are absolutely no barriers against eating non-veg, apart from my Principles. Without Principles, I wouldnt exist. And I don't want anybody to argue against me about my Principles.
But this means that I can't enjoy many of the things that the US is famous for. I can't go to KFC, or to Wendy's or to McDonalds. I am missing out sooo much.
This constant mental struggle between both aspects is what is killing me. Inside out.

Posted by satosphere at 6:15 AM

September 01, 2004
Law of Consumer Economics
If the shoe fits, it's ugly. If it's good, they discontinue it.

I guess that I was wrong. Made wrong, rather, with regard to the previous post.
So I have deleted it, so as not to invite any more criticism regarding that. In its place, I am going to post something, which had really happened.

Me playing Doom III

Only for gamers

But it does not mean that others should not read it

It started as an innocuous link in the UT Direct, an online portal to all University services, announcing for a DOOM III multiplayer tournament at the University sponsored LANCAVE; a rig of superfast systems (clocked at > 3Ghz), with ridiculous amounts of RAM (512 MB 400MHZ DDR) and an obscene graphics card (An ATi Radeon 9800 Pro, costing more than 200$ per card)
That was the setup for the DOOM III tournament.

So, me, an innocent guy in the world of DOOM III gaming, started off for that place. Arriving just in time, I started looking at other more experience people playing that. So, I was interested. I actually expected some hardcore junkies around here, but I was surprised. It had a better atmosphere than the local bar, and I reasoned that it was because, it was in the basement of the largest dorm of UT.
And I signed up for the tournament, and to be a member of the LANCAVE. (At 3$ an hour at this place, with these FRIGGIN comps like these... neeed I say more?)

So I started off at around 8:30pm. (Oh yes, it slipped my mind, it was scheduled on a Sunday nite, from 8pm to midnite)

The first guy who I played with, was a pro, having already completed the game, and me just starting with my first map.
So I ended up losing, but not without a good fight. At 5 kills vs 9, in 10 minutes, it was a good game, atleast for me.

Thats not the end of it.
They put us up in the losers bracket. Just another parallel set of tournaments.

So, in the first match in the losers bracket, I played against a newbie to multiplayer gaming itself, and so I obviously, *schmuck* won at 17 to 1. And hence I advanced to the next stage.

But luck was not with me.
I was put up with an even better pro, who ended up in the loser's bracket solely because he had come late to the event.
And I lost terribly. I am not even revealing the stats.

So with about 2 hours to kill, what did I do. I started playing the single player version of it. And this is when I describe the graphical aspects of the game.
It starts off simply as a Marine posted to a place in Mars, in the far future. And suddenly, the whole station is over-run by some shockwave that converts everybody (except u and a few others) into mindless zombies, intent on killing you.
And thats where the fun begins.

You start shooting anything that moves, or anything that you can see moving. And thats the story. I ended up finishing only 3 levels in the 2 hours, and leaving the console with a lot of trembling and numb hands, and heartbeat which I bet others could have heard. I had to leave then, to avoid having zombies in my dreams.

The reason why it made me so scary - was the amazing lighting. Ultra-realistic dynamic lighting lighting, superb bump-mapping, and extremely fluid body contour movements makes this game.

Picturise this. (Not for claustrophobes)
You are walking in this pipe-lined corridor, with flickering lights that hardly make your day. Blood trails on the tiled floor make you hesitate whether you should be there. A broken pipe venting steam suddenly partly muddles you vision. Suddenly, a shadow darts past very fast and you get disoriented. While you regain control, a fireball notches its way towards you, straight at your face. And while you again lose vision because of it, that creature which caused it, is no longer there.
Then, Boom. It appears in front of you. 2 shots from your shotgun. And this monstrosity melts away in fire.

Back to reality.
Gives me the creeps.

All this put to-gether, makes a very seriously frightening game. And this also results in a very heavy demanding game, that a regular system can NEVER run. Even with the PCs mentioned above, it gave a frame rate of 25 - 30 fps (for lay(wo)men - it means that it is just playable) at a resolution of 640 by 480 (for comparision, the normal screen resolution is 800 x 600 or 1024 x 768).

DOOM III apart, there are a lot of other extremely good games.

  1. Unreal Tournament 2004, released only 5 months back, and already making huge waves in the gaming industry. For those interested in furthur details of the unreal engine, do see Unreal 3 engine page. It is undoubtedly one of the best graphics engines that I have seen.
  2. Age of Mythology, a game which I have been playing for quite a while.
  3. Halo, a demo of which I have played, and I have found to be extremely addictive. Watch out for Halo 2
  4. Call of Duty
  5. Simcity 4000

and a whole lot of other games.

This LANCAVE gives me enough reason not to buy a desktop, but rather go for a laptop.
And now you know where I am going to be every Sunday nite. ;)

Posted by satosphere at 3:55 AM


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