ICPC, Christmas And A Lot Of Fun

Well, December was wickedly insane, that is certifiably true now. Lots of work, lots of fun, another trip to South India and meeting up with old friends – it couldn’t have gotten any better. And the best part is, it ironically began with a very frustrating  and disappointing end to a semester. 😀

As mentioned, my end semester examinations graced the beginning of December 2012 (the so-called last month, courtesy the Mayans) and while they went well, certain events I would not like to mention really frustrated me and got me into a semi-depression state. Boy, was I glad when I was in the train back home. That was when things really started picking up. The first week involved mainly two things: Feasting on Mom’s cooking and getting the arrangements done for ICPC-Asia Amritapuri 2012.

While the first task was easy (eating really does help during depression), the second was insane, with me having to co-ordinate with my other two teammates in Surat, that too after we were informed of our selection just a week prior. While one had his brother’s wedding as an obligation, the other simply could not come and dropped out at the last moment. Thankfully, after a few hours of pings, I managed to find another teammate ready to undergo the arduous 30+ hour journey. With a lot of help from family, we managed to mail in the Demand Draft and book the tickets to Coimbatore, planning it such that my teammate could attend his brother’s wedding.

So it was on a great Monday morning, that we set out for what was my 2nd South India trip in 6 months. The train journey was interesting to say the least. I managed to find out that IIT Bombay students are as desperate for placements as people from my college and made friends with this energetic nine-year-old named Jayant. Jayant helped me enjoy 12 out of the 30 hours in the train and at the end of my journey actually wanted my autograph. 😛  I was humbled to say the least. We landed in Coimbatore on Tuesday evening and were immediately escorted to Amrita University’s Coimbatore campus where we were provided rooms and dinner. After dinner, we met up with others from our college and spent a good chunk of the night partying it out.

We all were pretty clear that none of us were in any shape to mount a serious challenge in the ICPC as each of us had been busy, myself with PG applications and research, so we decided to make use of the opportunity to enjoy ourselves thoroughly. It started with some late night Gangnam Style (and we even recorded a hilarious video) and pulling each other’s legs. The next day, after the drudgery of the opening ceremony and registration, along with the practice round, we spent the afternoon playing cards. After snacks in the evening, we met up with some Sophomores from our college and included them into our band of Merry Men. We went as a group for the special banquet dinner in honor of the participants and quite literally ate out of one plate. All the while, we discussed everything from college to love-lives to department trips, constantly cracking each other up. The sophomores really had a gala time then. The fun continued in our rooms later with more rounds of card games to some light music in the background. Man, it was awesome!

The contest was a bag of bad luck, in essence, for us. Well, we still haven’t found the error in one of our codes even though we threw a hundred different test cases at it, so I just won’t talk about the contest. We did manage an All India Rank of 64, not bad considering our abysmal preparation. Finally, the contest ended, and we had to leave so Jay could attend his brother’s wedding. We caught the late night train and I reached home at 6:30 am two days later, with my previous night’s sleep completely ruined. I whiled the day away in that sleep deprived state.

Come Sunday. Old school pals planned a meetup and we went to the most amazing pizza joint where we ate like there was no tomorrow (funny, considering it was the 23rd of December) and still had to only pay a bill of Rs. 130/person. Epic, I tell you. We were meeting after almost a year and it was amazing seeing all those old, familiar faces. Even better was 4 days later, when all us interns in Microsoft, who were based in Mumbai, met up at TGI Friday’s. Seeing those guys, with whom I had such a great time in the summer, really brought back lots of memories. Of course, we did create new ones, taking pics and tagging our intern friends in other cities to make them feel jealous. We reminisced about our brilliant summer, sharing previously unrevealed stories and reminding each other of everyone’s eccentricities.

In the middle, I celebrated Christmas with my family. We attended Midnight Mass as we always do and really thanked the Lord for his blessings upon us. Hopefully, you had a Merry Christmas as well. 😀 The icing on the figurative Christmas cake was the roast chicken special that my mother managed to bag. Surely enough, there were only bones once we were done going through it. A similar scene was for New Year’s with Dad and I doing all the preparation for a family evening on the 31st. I got a Cranberry flavored Breezer and set up Mutt, what more did I want?

In terms of work and computers, I managed to complete one of my Machine Learning projects while in the train back and also worked on some other things in the meanwhile, such as configuring PintOS, generating and publishing my own public-private cryptographic key pair, and setting up Mutt on my machine to allow me to forevermore communicate securely with my family friends. These are the main reasons I have put this post here and not on my other blog.

Concluding, what was supposed to be the last month of mankind, turned out to be a pretty good one (barring unrelated and unfortunate incidents in Newtown and New Delhi). College has officially resumed and I am back to the daily grind, but it is comforting to know that not only were we 3 the only teams who truly enjoyed the ICPC, but I caught up with family and friends and managed to make the most of my vacations, just like in the summer.

Eviva!

Semester V of Computer Science

Ah. Another semester gone by and another treasure trove of knowledge discovered and assimilated.
This was semester V and what a semester it was. We finally dove right into core Computer Science and Engineering with the following awesome sujects:

  • Algorithm Analysis and Design
  • Microprocessor Interfacing Techniques
  • Principles of Programming Languages
  • Computer Networks
  • Computer Graphics

Truly great subjects for a Computer Science major to undertake. So let’s dissect them and see what it meant to study these topics.

1. Principles Of Programming Languages
A subject which involves the study of various programming paradigms so that one understands what are the benefits of the multitude of features being introduced in Programming Languages on a daily basis, so that we can understand the motivation behind it as well as better use it in our program design. Sadly, marred by not-so-good teachers who decided they would teach us C++ and Prolog programming rather than cool concepts like the Liskov Substitution Principle.

2. Microprocessor Interfacing Techniques
A fundamental and challenging subject, it made us truly think about the Simplicity vs. Efficiency Model of programming. Learning about the underlying hardware that controls our machines and lets you see this text here, was simply great. Read about the PS3 Cell Broadband Engine after taking this course and found that I was really able to understand all the hardware jargon on the page. All in all, 8085 and 8086 coding was FUN!

3. Computer Networks
A genuine rote subject made interesting by the fervour and enthusiasm of the faculty, this subject stands as a fine example of how great education can be undertaken provided the teacher has the motivation for it. Initially not a fan of Computer Networks due to the mugging tendency of the subject, was thrilled to see how succinctly all the various protocols and their algorithms were presented in a manner that was perfectly logical. Doubts were effortlessly quelled and the various abstractions used just made the learning curve gentler. Coupled with some great laboratory sessions (the teacher actually wanted to do a lot more), this subject became one of my learning high-points this semester.

4. Computer Graphics
A subject with a bad reputation for having outdated curriculum, I took it because the faculty in charge of it was going to revamp the topics and introduce us to OpenGL. Started great, awesome practical submissions and fun classes. Got a little drab in the middle because of redundant topics like Matrices and Vector Geometry as these had already been taught in High-School Maths. In the end, it was a good introductory class to the magical world of Computer Graphics.

5. Algorithm Analysis and Design
Saved the best for the last. My favourite subject of the semester as it coupled pure Computer Science and Mathematics to form a foundation for Computing everywhere. I already had good algorithm skills thanks to all those hours poured in Project Euler and UVa Toolkit, but this course really cleared my head and gave me the tools to really understand just what the heck I was coming up with. Intuitive solutions were given names and ideas were presented as theorems. Various problem-solving approaches helped me understand how to better analyze and tackle problems and applications were given as much importance as the concepts themselves. Someone once famously sayed, “To be a great coder, you can either write codes for ten years or take a semester-worth course on Algorithms”. Guess I saved myself 9 years of pain. 😛

Thus, great semester, lots of nice topics, finally got some Computer Science and Engineering done. Let’s hope the new semester is as much enthralling as this one.

Eviva!

Soothsayer

I and a bunch of guys at my college decided to take part in the Atos IT Challenge and try to win ourselves a trip to the UK for the 2012 London Olympics, the theme being Smart Mobility.

Our college was one of the lucky ones to have been selected to participate in this contest and I can see the competition from my institute itself, if not the entire world, is pretty nerve-wracking.

My team consists of Arth “Vyarth” Patel, Nimit “Lame-it” Shah, Sunny “Not Funny” Shah, Jigar “The Dafda” Dafda and Yours truly.

Having vetoed the original idea for a mobile disaster management system, I suggested a smart app that can mine and learn from the User’s history, match that with the current trends in the world and filter it with his/her geo-location to give the User some truly meaningful information that is highly relevant to their current situation, with all the data-crunching taking place on the Cloud.

This competition gives us a great opportunity to learn about a new field, Mobile Computing, a new platform, and also a chance to practice some of the AI techniques we’ve picked up in the past few months. But the biggest plan is to possibly Patent our idea. That would be TOTALLY COOL :-D.

Our idea page is here. If you liked our idea, please don’t hesitate to click on the FaceBook Like Button.

Now let’s hope the judges deem our idea worthy of selection so we can make it into the next round and begin the development stage.

Eviva!

Cloud Conclave 2011

The weekend of 18-20th November was awesome!!! I had taken part in this contest called “What’s Your Cloud Idea” conducted by Amazon (Yes, the Amazon.com Amazon) and YourStory.in. The contest was for students from all over India and it involved coming up with an innovative idea to use Cloud Computing. Now being a Computer Science Major, I took part and even though the idea was pretty lame in my eyes, apparently, the guys at Amazon loved it and I was thus invited to Cloud Conclave 2011 at the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore where I was to be felicitated by the CTO of Amazon, Dr. Werner Vogels himself! 😀

Now for why the weekend was awesome. For starters, this was going to be my first technical conference ever since I started College . Secondly, I was travelling to a place which was more than 1000 kms away from my current location, all alone. And finally, I was going to meet my cousin brother Shobhit (who’s studying in IIM-B) and some of my friends from college who were working in Bangalore.

The journey was brilliant! I had to skip a day of college in order to make it there. I caught a train on the eve of the 17th and was at home in Mumbai by nightfall. Next day, frantic packing and prep for the flight to Bangalore. By 1:00, I was at the domestic terminal, making my way to security check, and enjoying every moment of it! The flight was full of people who looked like they were returning from some form of business meeting. Heck, even the guy on the seat next to mine was working on his laptop before take-off (I am suspicious he worked for Renault).

I made it to Bangalore by around 5. Thanks to my father, a vehicle and accommodation had been arranged for. And thank God for that! Bangalore is a complete and utter mess when it comes to traffic. It took me a good 2 hours just to cover 20-25 kms!!

The climate was great however. It was pleasantly cool and seeing the tech capital of India was an adventure in itself.

Now about Cloud Conclave: The morning before it started, I met up with an old friend, Sanchit Suman and we had lunch together at KFC and relived the old times we had when we were both in college. After that, I picked up a great senior and friend, Prakhar Gupta (who is an engineer at Microsoft!), and we made our way to the Conference.

We made it to IIM-B with plenty of time to spare and I was awestruck at its beautiful campus. I rang up my brother and met up with him. He was kind of busy due to an Alumni meet, and thus asked to call him after I was done. We made our way to the Auditorium, where tonnes of others in suits were registering themselves. After a little chat with one of them, turns out most of the people there were professionals and I was seemingly the youngest there.

The conference started late (Dr. Werner was stuck at traffic :–P), but once it did, it was really brilliant! The keynotes by Dr. Werner and Dr. Vaidya Nathan really showed us how leveraging Cloud Computing could really carry forward our projects and businesses, how we could minimize error costs and how Cloud provided a level of ease in scaling and security that was tough to achieve anywhere else. The Q&A was the best part as the crowd asked some really interesting questions which were answered adeptly by Dr. Werner, Dr. Nathan and Shailendra Singh of Sequoia Capitals. Really informative and mind-expanding stuff here!! Here‘s a great piece that summarizes the keynote in a very crisp manner.

Finally, once it was over, I met Rutayan Patro and Tapan Deka, more friends from college and with brother Shobhit, we went for a guided tour of the campus where one of my favourite movies, “3 Idiots” was shot. We took some great snaps at the landmarks of the institute and had a great little evening walk.

Finally, the day had come to an end. We bid our goodbyes, promised to do something like this again, and made our way to our respective destinations.

The next morning was again frantic, in the sense that I had an 8:00 flight, so I had to leave the guest house by 6:30. Left in time, made it on time, boarded my flight, reached home, caught the evening train to Surat, and was greeted with cheers from my friends!

The weekend really was one of the best! 😀

P.s. For more about my idea, please go here.

Quest Impressions

Finished with the ACM Chapter’s Annual techfest Quest last week and am pretty proud of how it went.

Considering it was scheduled parallel with my college’s Autumnfest, we had hoped that the Autumnfest mania would help Quest flourish. But alas, the weekend on schedule was a 4 day weekend with Dussehra playing the spoilsport.

So what if the student turnout wasn’t as tremendous as we expected? There was a decent crowd for each event and we received rave reviews for the type of innovative events we came up with. Especially impressionable on people’s minds was the MFQ quiz, which literally stands for “Mind F@!#ing Questions”, with a combination of questions from mathematical logic as well as crazy C programming.

The maths logic part really gave some insightful, if not humorous, details about how people think, and especially fun was the way people reacted on finding out the correct answers.

Nimit’s Cryptathlon also had strong participation and had people tongue-twisted with various crypto techniques. And lest I forget, Arth managed Code Wars in a surreal manner, paving the way for further growth of this event modeled on the  world famous TopCoder format.

The last but not least event was the fantabulastic talk by Dr. Anu Vaidyanathan. She discussed not only her research in location-based services, but gave us valuable and indispensable  advice on Intellectual Property Rights (which is the least understood Right in India) and life in general. The best part was the committee interacting with her over lunch and getting to know the woman and teacher rather than the computer scientist. Of course, having ex-chairman, Sandip Dev there alongwith us just tripled the fun quotient.

As a parting note, I would just like to say that after Quest,the grievance committee minutes were passed and within the week we should get permission for Linux login to all department machines as well as the complete removal of the development hindering Turbo C compiler. 😀

Eviva!