Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Century of posts, Quarter century of Life !

Around four years and a hundred blogs ago, I decided to start off this blog. On my 21st bday, one that I considered a bday for a lifetime. And mann, have I come a long way since then. Not just in terms of distance (Calicut -> Singapore translates to 1000s of kms :P), but mentally, emotionally, physically, academically, socially, and many more 'ally's (pun intended :P ). Change has beaten the face of my exteriors, yea. And yet, inside I'm still the same guy :). What I still crave for is company of more and more people. Yea, I'd say I'm still pretty much where I was for the last 7 years :P. A lot of change and no change (pls dont ask me how many coins I carry around :P).

A quarter of a century ago, somewhere in Dubai on a cold wintry night, another boy childs name was added to the register in New Dubai Hospital. He didnt know that he would write this blogpost afer a quarter century as a Capricornian.. oops.. Saggitarian..But while writing this, he realizes one thing. That feeling of gratitude and LIFE flowing all through him.

I logged in to Facebook to greet 50 something messages on my wall, and I'm waiting,counting,wishing for more to come :). I rubbed my ass after the butt-blowing GPLs, laughed over and over again at the entertainment show that had passed over the last 3 hours spent among an amazzing group, and whats more, stayed up till 5 am to see India win a thriller ODI with South Africa ! I just cant help thanking all of you guys out there, my friends, well wishers, for making me what I am by letting me know you atleast think of me. So I'll sum it up in the 6 letter word : THANKS !

And I just cant help get over that feeling of JOY that I feel now. So its time for a
repeat telecast of the blogpost I wrote exactly 2 years ago :). Happy Blogday to me !

Monday, January 10, 2011

Power of MANY

Remember the story your mom told you, about how its harder to break a bunch of sticks when they're together than to break them one by one ? I've come to realize how true it really is :). The power of a "group"- unbounded, unbreakable, overwhelming. After I felt the sheer mindblowing force that hundreds of minds working together could achieve from my experience with Ragam and Tathva during my college days, I'm feeling it yet again, here in Singapore.

Making a group work is making the difference between "Many Hands make work light" and "Too many cooks spoil the broth". But once a group achieves that state... "Coherence".. when you can bring together a bunch of 10 or 20 or even more people together..get them to pitch in a multitude of ideas, get different hands and minds working on different parts.. understand where to lead and where to follow.. At that point, when the group begins to function as a single individual in many bodies.. IT can achieve anything !

Apart from feeling the overwhelming power of being part of a single large entity during Ragam times, I've had the fortune of being associated with many gems of friends and friend 'groups' throughout my life.My EEE pals still remain an unchanging pillar of support to me (and I'm sure we'll stay that way) :).Through my friend 'circle' in Singapore, however, I've had the chance to really see and learn a lot of group dynamics. Over 2 years, we learnt a lot.I would'nt say we've perfected the art of acting as a united group, but we've come a far way.I've learnt that when a group is involved, even life-changing actions can be done with minimal effort.

Over 2 years, we learnt to celebrate as never before. Organized parties and trips that we will remember forever in life, celebrated birthdays in full style, made videos, dance dramas, treasure hunts, and took each one by surprise that it was no more surprising to be surprised :P. Did it all, from group lunches,coffees and dinners almost every other day to squash games on thursdays to mass movie-goings on fridays.

Well, we did "almost all". With Naren's bday, we reached another level beyond the art of celebration, that of group responsibility.The time spent with children on Naren's bday was one of the most satisfying moments for me, I'm glad I had an equally enthusiastic group with me to share and multiply it.And that is going to go on.Happen again.The small step we took towards 'encouraging' Protsahan (pun intended :P ) is going to be just one step towards whole new heights that we can scale.

And we will do more. Much more. Cos diverse as we are, we have learnt the art of doing as One :).

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Teaching to teach...

A session spent teaching a junior recently reminded me of my passion- for teaching ! After the last 21 years spent in academics, I know by now that my only chance of job-satisfaction lies somewhere close to academics :). I realized something - all through my student life, I had known I would be a teacher. I had seen myself in the teachers shoes, standing right where he was, holding what power and knowledge he had, and imagined "How would I teach this if it were me ? Would I be better than him? What would I give importance to if I were in his shoes?".

And I learnt another very important fact. One that 90% of us never realized in student life. IT ISNT EASY TO BE A TEACHER, LET ALONE A GOOD ONE !

Here's the deal.When you teach, you aim multidimensionally. You aim to

- Impart the idea about the topic to the student,
- Not making yourself too boring and repetitive,
- Making sure the student develops a passion/interest for the topic by giving real-life examples,
but you want to
- Make sure the student practises/implements what he learnt. For eg., that ever irritating word called 'problems' :P,
then again you have to
- Reach out to all sections of the class - help the weaker ones survive, help the intelligent ones aim for greater heights in the topic

And all this through one hour of classroom teaching ? Seriously, its just not enough ! So what do you do when you have no time in the classroom? Prioritize and prepare outside your classroom. You prioritize what it is you aim for through your course. You do this by

- Proper course design - deciding what should be taught : Make the course relevant and useful to the students.
- Preparing the teaching presentation/lecture well beforehand : Not making it boring, at the same time making sure the information reaches the students.
- Being ready to take questions and answer them : This involves reading heavily and understanding the topic yourself beforehand.
- Preparing good tutorial/problems and handouts : Cos you might know what the relevant material is, and sometimes putting it together yourself might help the students (spoonfeeding ? :P I wonder).
- Setting a good question paper that tests everything in a balanced way : Not too easy, cos you want to appreciate the understanding of the ones who really learnt the topic. Not too hard, cos you dont want to grill the students, just test their knowledge.
- Correcting and examining the students : Not just the papers, but minute things like assignments, classroom participation etc. Extend this to a class of 60 students, and you realize that a teacher would require superhuman memory to do this !

And all the above 6 require the most valuable of all resources: TIME ! Observe that in order to make 1 hour of classroom teaching effective, you needed to do such a lot! One hour of complete sincere effectively delivered classroom teaching requires atleast 4-5 hours of outside classroom preparation for the teacher. And this is for one who is assumed to have a good understanding of the topic already !

Now do you understand how much of sweat your teacher actually went through to give you that one lecture you bunked effortlessly ? :P When I realize this, I cant help but bow down to some of my teachers for the amount of effort they put in to deliver an effective course.

So I set about Project Teacher.Teaching myself to teach.I remembered my teachers (the good ones). Which ones possessed qualities I wanted to imbibe in myself? How did they prepare their material ? Who was effective in making me finally learn ? Jeevamma ma'am (DSP, EEE NITC) came foremost to my mind, followed (closely) by KSK, SreeRamkumar Sir, and many more.I may be jumping 10 years too far already :), but I began imagining.Prioritizing. Deciding what sort of a teacher I would be and what I would not be. And to end this record of my thoughts, here is what I finally decided in a few hours what to do for the next 40 years of my life. Irony ? :P

Priority ONE: NOT to be labelled a cliched Boring teacher ! So? HUMOUR :). I am going to crack every single PJ on earth I can find with respect to the lecture :P. Forget the time involved. The talent of PJ-Cracking is for using, so my dear students, beware, here I come with a really new poverty level of jokes :P. Another way for this is to make sure I have really catchy slides and presentations :).

Priority TWO: I want the lecture to INSPIRE.How many hundred times have you got out of a lecture wondering why the heck did I learn this shit? If that should not happen in my course, I should give them examples. Real life stories, real implementations, real applications of whatever I am teaching them.The student gets out of my class satisfied, this is important ! Atleast 5 minutes devoted to this one.

Priority THREE: The lazy/weak ones in class should not be left behind.Hence I need to find an alternative to make sure they catch up to the class topic, atleast after a few lectures.And I cannot find a way to do this other than provide them some course material.But seriously, isnt this spoon-feeding? :)

Priority FOUR: The really interested ones need something to keep thinking about my lecture even after I leave the classroom.So at the end of every class,I give them a question about the next step, or something creative that they need to find out themselves.Another way to do this is by giving really creative questions in the tutorials, as KSK would. These so-called 'starred' questions were bound to lead to questions, which I'm sure the old man enjoyed answering :). And that would be one hell of an answer, one that would leave us mouth-wide-open for sometime :).

Priority FIVE: I dont want to be labelled a 'fake'- i.e., a teacher who doesnt really know about his topic. This according to me, is the hardest of all, since I need to read enormously well beforehand and have an excellent understanding of the topic before I start.Time spent reading and studying myself seems to be the only way out.

Priority SIX: Making sure the course goes way beyond the course and classroom.This can be done by explaining the state-of-the-art in the topic to them, and inviting students for their ideas/projects/questions and pointing out further reading in the topic.

Project Teacher is still on. If you have any more comments and suggestions, I will incorporate them into my future plans and even this blogpost :). @Naren, Joseph, Sid, Kishore, Laxmi, and all the fellow aspiring teachers out there...

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Why 'Micro' rules the blogosphere

After breaking my so-called 'blogger's block' for the umpteenth time last week, during my time in my thinking-box (also called a 'washroom' :) ) I reflected on why I would put up a few dozen Facebook status messages a week, but had stopped blogging altogether for many few months altogether ! To put the question more technically, why micro-blogging was wide gaining popularity among the masses nowadays as compared to conventional blogs :). And I realized, the reason was for this was probably...

Pure Damn Laziness !

Or has it just become too fast a world to stop
and write ?

Yea, it takes a bit of an effort to go and write out that post in a few hundred words :). More effort than it takes to flip channels in ur TV using a remote, or watch videos in Youtube by clicking on 'Related links' an infinite number of times. And definitely more energy than it takes to log on to Twitter, Facebook or Buzz and write the answers to questions like "What am I doing right now?" or "How do I feel right now?" or "What do I feel about this" etc etc etc....

Yea, a hundred words is definitely more than 140 characters :).

Some months ago, Google decided to enter the microblogosphere by introducing Buzz, trying to catch up to Facebook. When google decides to follow someone, you know they're really business :). Attaching it to the Gmail Window, they made it easier for us lazy ppl to speak to the world in a few quick sentences ! :) They got an immediate response of 9 million hits on the first day truly buzz-tling activity :). Google were in buzz-iness. Puns based on 'buzz' were so abuzzed and rampant, one of my friends even started a buzz of a list of all the hilarious puns he could think of !

It's a clear message - microblogging is here to stay. Whether you tweet or facebook or buzz, a few sentences spoken to the whole wide world can be an effective and addictive form of communication. Its really sad for me as a blogger though, cos I miss the feel of the detail I used to give in a conventional blog (which may not be dying out but is definitely nowhere close to the micro version now). But then, the easier it is to speak to more people, with the least effort and time, the better ! So no more point staying away from updating that status message of yours, or writing a whole new philosphic saying, or putting up ur latest corny joke.. microblogging Is the communication of the future !

( PS: I saw Social network, a movie based on Facebook. It was awesome ! Fast paced and drama-filled. Justin Timberlake came out well.)

A (Birth)Date with innocence

It has turned into a regular practise among my friend circle here to be quite creative, stylish and extravagant with our celebrations. Starting with a treasure hunt my birthday in Jan, we never much compromised on the magnitude of a celebration :). Ofcourse I never mind, because like the rest of the 15-20 freaks circle here, I am always in for a party :). So when Naren's bday came recently, something similar was in mind. However, this time yet again, we were slightly different cos of the way we celebrated it. And I'm not talking about the 'haunting' celebrations we had the previous night ;).

On Saturday (30th of Oct) we made our way to Chen Su Lan methodist children's home (for underprivileged children). The plan for todays celebration was simple. As Naren had been wanting to do for quite some time, we would give the kids what they might have been wanting - Company. Spend time with them, play with them, have food with them, and entertain ourselves by entertaining them. In short, 'kid around' for some time :). That was the agenda.

What we realized is that nothing could be more satisfying than the date we had with the 25-30 odd angels there :). Yea, I'd say we found ourselves grow plenty of years younger in a matter of minutes :).

From the word go, most of the kids were forthcoming and friendly. Our job was made pretty easy really. Who said time-travel was not possible :P. The children were more than ready to give Naren their share of the bday surprise when he walked in mouth-wide-open into the place :).Then we went on to do what we do best in our labs and offices all the time.. TIMEPASS ! Musical chairs and passing the parcel (Oops, I meant squirrel, no offense to Basu's pet ;) ).. were a piece of cake (which we shared with them later, by the way). We barely noticed the fast moving hands of the clocks (there were none :P) as the lemon-and spoon and dinner sessions flew by.The guy kids were pretty bent on playing a game of soccer, so then we decided to play ball for sometime.

That must have been the most animated and hilarious game of football in my life :).We found it hard not to hog the ball (even after hogging at the dinner session :P ), but the kids showed their footballing skills against us anyway. Especially worth noting was the moment when a shot was taken with/at the ball at Mrinal :P. Goals were flying left, right and center, and the goal celebrations grew grander :). I really found it hard and sad to walk away from the ground after the game.

I dont know about the children, but I'd say we were touched by the experience.Wont mention any names, but many characters among the kids are still fresh in my mind.Many eyes filled with innocence. A whole talkative, naughty bunch of them. And I'm pretty sure I'd love to do that some day again :).

Many thanks to the ones who helped pull it off. To Nancy, Doreen and the rest at Chen Su Lan homes. And starting with Manish and Maggie who took care of the communication part, to the rest of us who went around buying, deciding and ordering stuff, guys - any day in life with you guys is worth it, but this day was one that will stay etched in memory for sometime :).

(PS: Yea its another hopeful case of breaking bloggers block, which I should abbreviate to BBB, since I use that word a lot anyways :P ;). So no more disclaimers on the long gap without posts :D.I wanted my last post to remain posted for quite some time)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

In the Na(i)me and memory of Nai..

I do this in your memory. In honour of Mahesh Mahadevan, aka Nai.. truly one of the greatest human beings I have known in my life. No exaggerations.

In honour of your never-ending positivity.. infinite energy.. addictive enthusiasm for knowledge.. boundless intelligence..

In honour of your technical PJs (which only I would understand half the time :P )..

In honour of your multi-faceted talents that always left me mouth-wide-open, in everything, from music to mechanical engineering.. computers to quizzing..

Mahesh, you have always been a wonder. A symbol of something impossible to attain. Not just to any arbit junior at Bhavan's Varuna Vidyalaya, where u inspired hundreds of people u havent even met, but even to me and and the rest of your batchmates. If only you could read all your wall-posts now. Even when we won all those quizzes together because you knew all the answers.. even when we did our C++ superprogram experiments in lab with everyone else staring.. Even when we discussed problems in class behind the teachers back thinking we had solved the next biggest thing since e=mc2.. cracked away puns to the limit getting on everyone else's nerves- Dude, I was always awed, and secretly envious of you. How could you exist.. how could someone love knowledge as you have.. I think half of my outlook towards knowledge has always been you, dude, You.

I take honour in claiming you have been one of my closest friends up to date. Even when you turned heads all over Kerala with your brilliance (see this and this) I was telling people : "Thats Mahesh, my school buddy"

For the love of the world, none of us can understand how this happened to you. And no, we do NOT believe you are stupid enough to end yourself. Yet. All I can do now is hit myself on the head for not having been in touch with you for the last 2 months. Yes, you are at the opposite side of the world, but I cant help thinking I missed you out somewhere. Cant help thinking: you wanted to tell me something, but I didnt hear. Cant believe that will never again chat to me. Cant stop reading the chat history again and again.

Cant believe ! no one will end chats again with me with a full loud BHA! (watever that meant, originating from Butylated-Hydroxy-Anisole in Saritha maams to another hundred meaningless expansions).. that legacy is dead..

Dead.. That word has a numb feel to it. Dead. As in. No more half dazed
'Bha'rking Nai's out there. Dead, as in, the world will be devoid of your loud chuckle and sly smile forever.

You owed yourself to the world dude, and you owed yourself to us. The world needed your brilliance.

I cannot think of any way to honour or mourn you now. I'm in that mode of helplessness, and I know it will take sometime to subside. I'm in that life-death-philosophy mood that everyone goes to when they see someone so near is suddenly missing. Yea, world, be wary of philosophic Me for sometime :). I will learn to accept once again that every person I see now, it might be for the last time. And all I can do is to try even more harder than ever to keep in touch.. and listen intently to everyone of my friends out there.. I have learnt that this is the one of the hardest things to do in life.. but I will still attempt it.. for who knows when the last time will be ?

But for now, in the name of all Varunites and friends of Nai out there: I remember you, my friend. I have no illusions that this blog will do anything productive than take up kilobytes of webspace, and invite comments, but it is the least I can do. I remember you, and as long as my healthy memory permits, I will. Your memory will not fade away into the "unseen orphaned pages of the cyberspace discontinuum" like your last post.

And like someone said, I will always await that one more smartass comment from you. Or one last PJ. Yea, just once more would be good..

(PS: For those who are clueless, Mahesh Mahadevan aka Nai was my school friend from BVV Kochi. He was found dead in his university UC Irvine a few days ago.I think the rest of the blog is self-explanatory)

Please also check

The organisation called Surabhi is collecting money for the cause of bringing Mahesh's body back. You can donate money to help bring his body back here. There is already and outpour of funds for this, apparently.

For those with doubts, I have (kind of) verified their authenticity by contacting his sister, who has said she has been contacted by the group which says they will take care of the return of his body. For further enquiries you may mail the ids on the website itself. Also check:

Another blogpost regarding Mahesh


News reports regarding this :

- UC Irvine

- Asianet (outrageously crappy piece of reporting. What nonsensical yellow journalism in Kerala.)

Friday, February 19, 2010

Fun in the Sun at Batam

This time, it was Batam. Located about 20 km south of Singapore, Batam island is very much similar to Bintan which we had visited last year. Lush greenery, plenty of 'sea' to 'see', sun, beaches and sand. Nothing less to expect from this truly beautiful island in Indonesia.

Our population doubled this time - we were a group of (lucky?) 13 restless souls, just waiting to get our asses out of our labs and a few hundred kms away from research. And get off we did, in style :). Merry-ly taking the ferry ride from Tanjong Pagar, we made for Batam on Feb the 15th, the start of Chinese New year hols. The ferry ride is a most enjoyable experience - apart from being hot due to the sun, the ride is actually pretty Cool :). Watching the busy Singapore skyline (and along with it, all memories of research fading into the distance.. seriously, no feeling could be better !

Pt-KTM resorts - thats where we stayed. Beautiful place. No testimonial would be enough to do justice to the five-star royal treatment we got there. Just - dont try to expand the name K-T-M :). Since the exchange rate was pretty high, we were millionaires by the time we reached, and immediately set about blasting off every inch of currency that we had stored up.

Water sports are one of the major attractions in Batam. Para-sailing, Jet-skiiing, Banana-boating and Kayaking - these were the items on the menu. Needless to say, we ordered all :). The para-sailing was a first for me- being slightly afraid of heights, I never thought I'd pull(rather, fly) it off, but it turned out to be an awesome experience with a sufficient amount of 'high' to it ! :). After sufficiently wetting ourselves (no pun intended ;) ) on all the rides, we decided to call it a day (er.. at 4 pm in the evening) and go around city-seeing a bit. The Barelang bridge was 'bery bery laang', and actually a let-down.. there was nothing to do there except to.. er.. watch it :). Tired of letdowns, we retired to our beautiful villas.

Needless to say, the high-night was one of the high-lights of the trip. Dumb-C was called for. Despite being 'dumb', we were pretty noisy out there, mind you :). 3 hours and a few kilos of junk food later, we made for the beach, and wasted away sometime until we decided to call it a.. thats right.. night. Next day, after refilling ourselves with enough food for a few days, we set out to Nongsa beach.

Nongsa is one of those paradises on earth called a beautiful beach. Thirteen hot people out there (yea yea, hot cos of the sun ;) ) - we 1st cooled ourselves in the inviting blue waters. Few hundred pics and some desperate attempts at swimming and stunt-making. A pitiable round of volley-ball was followed by a coconut break, and even more pitiable gaming :). Truly, I have never had enough of sea, sand and sun in my life. Finally when we'd all turned different bright shades of crimson, we decided to call it quits and return to the city. BCS mall was our final stand - our shopping consisted of an incredible mixture of tatooing, food, and sun-glasses ! Loads of them ! Finally we made a desperate rush for the resort and then the ferry terminal.

The night trip back on the ferry is a beautiful experience too. An hour or so later, we were thirteen tired but satisfied souls, cribbing about what lay ahead for us in our boring labs the next day. Ofcourse, that was enough inspiration for us to float our next trip plans :). Cambodiaaaaa, here I come !