That first box!

old_computer_compHow many remember the first computer they owned? I guess most. I do. And I dedicate this article to that remarkable old companion and its accessories, now boxed in a corner back home.

It happened during my final school years (~14 years ago at the time of writing). I remember feeling overjoyed when my dad agreed to buy me a computer. Thanks dad! It defined the course of my life! It was an assembled one: a PIII unit (133MHz bus) with a motherboard from a South-East Asian vendor, 128MB RAM, 16GB hard disk and a wonderful LG StudioWorks monitor. PIII was the affordable latest then. I know guys who started programming on machines that took 6 hrs to compile simple Fortran programs. I was luckier in that respect… I could play Max Payne on this rig. The days since we ordered the machine went in contemplation. And finally it was delivered! It felt like I was dreaming all the time! It was mostly white and looked awesome. The technician who came to setup things brought some movies and a few Chip and Digit CDs. Internet was still costly and those magazines used to sell like hotcakes. He installed Windows 98 and some software to play multimedia, probably Xing. Then he started Terminator 2: Judgment Day. It was an unforgettable experience.

I played around with that box for years changing screensavers, themes, playing games and learning a little Basic. It became my motivation to enroll in Computer Sc. & Engineering. I remember I used to program for hours on that machine during my graduation. I started learning C with Turbo C 16-bit. One day I was mocked on one of the online C programming forums for using that dated software. I moved over to Bloodshed Dev C++ as someone suggested. Then I came to know about Linux which became the love of my technical life. The first version I installed was Red Hat Linux 6.0. I ended up breaking my Windows installation and the computer became an all-Linux box. I continued exploring Linux. I loved the beautiful theme Cheese. And I loved the geek status in college ;). I was astonished that a free and open source OS comes with everything in it: right from the compiler to media player. Later, when I became more comfortable installing Linux I turned the computer into a dual-boot system with Red Hat and XP. I had to have XP because people around me knew only Windows and I had to be compatible to exchange stuff.

After my graduation I had to move to a different city for job. The computer was still working great and my sisters kept using it. In course of time they got a laptop and the box ended up in the attic. A few years back I thought of reviving it with Linux and unpacked it. But the disk had bad sectors, the monitor was flickering and I had to rest the idea with a heavy heart. That old computer had a huge contribution in shaping my outlook and career. Thank you old box!

Gokarna, Karnataka

Memoirs of Japan

japan

I wanted long to leave a chronicle on my days in Japan before I lose the time altogether. They’re shattered enough already.

It’s about 6.5 years (2006) I had been to Japan as a hired employee of SonyEricsson. I was staying at a place named Minamigyotoku, around an hour by train from Tokyo. The office was at Shinagawa and I was supposed to catch a different train in Tokyo. I don’t remember which line I used to take and there were too many of them. The only name I remember now is the JR-Tokyo line.

I woke up too late on the first day because of jet-lag. It was my first foreign trip too. I set my mobile alarm but probably set it wrong because I missed the 3.5 hrs time difference with India. The contact who was supposed to take me along with some other first-timers left long back. I had a few numbers to call so I thought I can reach the office in Shinagawa. However, I took a train in the opposite direction. After a few stations when I asked someone about Tokyo, I realized my mistake and got down to catch a train towards Tokyo. Trains are quite frequent and I reached Tokyo. But I was lost again! It was tremendously difficult to find the right platform for trains to Shinagawa as Tokyo railway station is stretched and multi-layered. I had to walk for long. Finally I managed to reach office around 14:00.

My Japanese manager remarked about his country on our first meet – Welcome to Japan! Strange country, strange people… I found it literally true so many times – the whole family of 5 say Kommendesai (sorry) when they find that they were blocking your way on the pavement, the departmental store lady never gives up till she can actually comprehend what you are looking for, you get your luggage back even if you forget it on the train and so on. Knowing English is not enough in Japan. Even many of the higher level managers in my company were not comfortable in English. There were translators to help out during communication if that becomes a blocker. But that was only in office; outside language did matter, as you might have watched in Lost in Translation. I have a tendency to get oblivious and many a time I left my keys hanging at the door and went to office, sometimes even the door half-closed because punctuality was very important to the Japanese bosses (I had to rush to catch the train often). But I never lost anything in Japan.

I had to register myself in the local Municipal office within a short deadline as per the rules, seemed very important and logical to me. Traffic on the roads would be so slow and disciplined! I adapted to following traffic signals just like every pedestrian around me. After returning to India, I remember being afraid of crossing roads for a while. The traffic seemed to approach much faster in India. The impact of waiting at Japanese signals was the same on my friend who went there. I loved the strategy of garbage collection in three coloured plastic bags – green, red and black. If you are not following the rules of garbage disposal you are bound to be caught. I experienced mild quakes a few times. Buildings in Japan were built earthquake-proof as much as possible. Most of them would be wooden. I heard that if some builder’s construction gave in to the tremors within a safe Richter he would lose his license to work in Japan.

The first month I had to live on potato chips and juice however impossible that may sound. I had few Indian contacts and was literally on my own. As I didn’t know anything about cooking, juice, chips and synthetic bananas were the safest bet. However, eventually I found McDonald’s near office, an Indian restaurant Bombay Palace which I visited during weekends and Indian rice curry combo sold in front of the office. I noticed that the Japanese love Indian food. I was surprised by the crowd at a pakora shop at the Shinagawa station. After a few months a Bengalee roommate stayed with me for sometime and he used to cook while I used to wash the dishes. That was also the reason he left but I was least bothered as he wasn’t a great roommate in other aspects. During the last few months one of my old friends used to visit during the weekends and he was very much interested in cooking. In the meantime, for a while I cooked rice in rice-cooker, boiled potatoes (mashed with sunflower oil, probably) in the microwave oven and eggs using gas. It became my regular dinner – same menu each night. However, cooking all the 3 items in parallel used to save my time and was convenient. Many nights I used to return very late tired and would jump straight to bed after drinking some juice along with cookies or chips. Everything tasted hybrid and synthesized. That was also the time I learnt to turn on the gas. Cigarettes used to be branded by hardness up to 10. As per my office smoking room experience, many ladies used to chain-smoke. I used to smoke Marlboro at that time as the Indian brand of my choice wasn’t available.

Most of the time I had stayed alone and awake which helped me introspect and think a lot. I used to feel like Chuck Noland in Cast Away. I spent sometime on the then famous Orkut chasing girls and made a few friends as well; I met online my first heartache from school once again and tried to clear the wrong notions she had about me. However I figured out that it’s impossible to undo her pre-nurtured notions as those are her only way to judge everything and everyone around her. Anyway, in reality I was alone other than this virtual world. I developed my taste for western music at that time as music meant only Ghazals or Bengali songs to me before that. Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game or Lithium by Evanescence or the lines – If I fall and all is lost,/ No light to lead the way,/ Remember that all alone is where I belong from Cloud Nine still remind me of my cold lonely Japan days. I used to download a lot of movies even before I got a YahooBB connection using unsecured wifi connections I could latch on to. It was legal in Japan at that time. This was also the time I started collecting movies. Once I met a Japanese beauty in a shopping mall eye to eye and I can still vaguely remember her beautiful face. I would sometimes visit local and lesser known places 2 or 3 stations away from Minamigyotoku. I remember Urayasu river which I used to cross every morning while traveling towards Tokyo by train. Once I went to visit the river with a colleague in an afternoon. It was cold and foggy. The banks were vacant and I enjoyed the evening sitting alone, thinking, introspecting, missing home and smoking while my colleague was busy taking pictures. I will always treasure the memories of that evening.

Sometimes I would take long strolls in the evening just watching the Japanese. I had always loved to study people. The Japanese are very hard-working, disciplined but from what I saw I think they lack true feelings and sympathy towards others because they tend to think of themselves as Samurai war heroes. A prominent characteristic of the Japanese seemed to be monumental pride and ego. They sometimes seemed to be veiled under a layer of politeness. Maybe the commoners were less so and these characteristics showed more in the executive class. The youth seemed to adore the Gothic style and often the excessive fashion statements seemed perversion. Most people would use SonyEricsson mobiles. Sony was a highly esteemed company worldwide then. Trains would be so different from the chaotic Indian ones – people standing in a queue to enter, never trying to get in before others in the front and inside everyone reading or playing with their gadgets. Seniors would only sit in their own reserved seats which younger people would seldom occupy. They would never fight in packed compartments even if they were stumbling on each other. War and ensuing destruction taught the Japanese discipline. Japan taught me the bliss of silence and composure.

I visited Tokyo (other than passing through) once – more of a sightseeing. The pomp and splendour of Tokyo amazed me. But most of the things seemed too geometric – even the floral designs… Tokyo’s flooded with skyscrapers and technological marvels… and yet so lifeless! Once I went with some colleagues to Akihabara. I already had a personal laptop and I don’t have much interest in cameras (somehow I have always believed that the mind can draw more beautiful pictures than anything we may ever see with the eyes) either. Finally, I realized that time is the most precious asset we possess and I bought a RADO as a memoir from Japan. It cost me around 22K INR but I love it and still wear it. I guess that was my only souvenir from Japan other than memories, the coins I brought for my youngest sister, a 2GB RAM stick and a black sweater bought out of sheer necessity. I survived an winter in Japan. The cold breeze in the morning while going to office could chill the bones. The temperature would occasionally drop between 0-5°C.

This piece would be meaningless if I don’t write about Japan countryside and Tokyo suburbs which are inexplicably beautiful and rich, unlike Tokyo. The scenery on both sides of the train is remarkable and picturesque. I always felt so complacent while enjoying the beauty and calm outside a running train in Japan. So much that I would love to spend the last years of my life peacefully in the countryside in Japan more than anywhere else in the world.

When I still think of the time after so many years, it seems more like a dream than reality.

This Christmas and New Year @home!

christmas_compDespite being a Bengalee who have no dearth of festivals throughout the year, spending the Christmas and New Year with folks back home had always been my favourite celebration. I remember well how the whole family used to plan for Christmas almost over a week. The smell of varieties of cakes and exotic food would fill the air from the morning. Sweets and curd were additional delicacies. Though the youngsters in the family would be absorbed in studies throughout the year Christmas used to be an exception and we used to take the liberty of loitering around the house and sniffing and stealing food from the kitchen while mom would be busy preparing delicious dishes. In general mid-winter used to be the time when we would go to the roof with ample number of oranges and spend the afternoons under the warmth of the sun, studying or reading the newspaper or storybooks. Time seemed to be the most easy going in winter, perhaps due to the shorter day. Early mornings and nights had always been very cold in our suburban native and that used to restrain our activities a lot. There would be a lot of variety in food during winter because of the diverse vegetables that are available during the season. Many a time we would visit Kolkata which would be an excursion for us. I remember well visiting the Alipore Zoo and the aquarium across it during a winter. We would eagerly wait for late winter to visit the Kolkata Book Fair where we used to buy a lot of new books for everyone in the family. I always liked going with dad who was a great foodie and I could enjoy fish preparations at the Benfish stall and have lots of ice-creams (which was seldom the case with mom). The only time I remember mom and dad going together to the book fair was due to the fight they had over the time dad spends at each book stall searching for his academic books. Well, we kids were always ready to pay the price for ice-creams and new books!

I remember one such time returning with dad from the book fair when we met a young Anglo-Indian lady and her mom on the train. The journey was a long one and we were chatting casually. I believe that was the time I had my first awareness of what beauty might be and I still remember the face of the lady vaguely despite being very young at that time. It doesn’t seem too unusual to me though given that my family is a totally literature oriented family and literary romanticism was something we got introduced to at a very early age because of the amount of world literature we used to enjoy.

Anyway, leaving aside the nostalgia, it’s after many years I will be enjoying the Christmas and New Year with the whole family once again – a rare opportunity because of my busy schedule and professional responsibilities throughout the year. Looking forward to 25th Dec when I’ll be home early in the morning. I’m sure it’s going to be a great time and a memorable vacation! My younger sister and I have decided to leave our gazettes behind this time ;).

Carnivàle 2012

coffee_compI will remember Carnivàle 2012 organized by office for long. The venue was Grand Castle beside Palace Ground. The events were well-distributed this time and none of them were boring. The onset of the Annual Fest of 2011 lacked excitement due to prolonged and continuous performances by kids and some of them not being so interesting. This time the events were mixed nicely. The anthem was a new addition and was definitely a nice touch. It’s good to see the efforts of our colleagues succeed. We left the audience a bit early to finish the dinner early. Unlike last time, dinner started early this time and it was good for people with kids or who were using office transportation like us. The non-veg meal was delicious and sumptuous. Too many dishes to try out. However, justice was meted out by my empty stomach. Skipped the rice and tandooris altogether to get a taste of all the non-veg items and got stuffed soon. Desserts and ice-creams were excellent. I was afraid of getting drenched during return because of the heavy downpour that started in the evening but the rain had stopped before we got down from the office bus at 22:30 so the ending was sweet too! The bus dropped us a little far from the usual stop but a small walk with the family on the way home from a party is always so refreshing and enjoyable… loved the whole evening!!!

A small incident: During the program, suddenly my wife pointed out that a small kid (hardly able to walk) is banging on my chair from behind and calling – Papa, papa… She asked – Who is this kid calling you daddy? I tried to send the kid back to her mom but he didn’t seem to be deterred. My colleagues joined in with my wife and I was in a really awkward position. I had a hard time convincing them that I was clean ;). I even heard one of my colleagues saying – Wherever he goes, he leaves a mark behind in Hindi. Well… every dog has its bad day! 😀

Visvesvaraya Industrial & Technological Museum

Visvesvaraya Industrial & Technological Museum in Bangalore is a must visit if you are planning to roam around the city and enjoy some places.

Nowadays it’s very easy to reach the museum. Just take the Namma Metro and get down at MG Road. Go straight towards Chinnaswamy Stadium (which is within a km) and then take a turn towards the left.

The museum has various sections from Electronics to Electrical to Space to Biology. It is impossible to observe everything in a single day so stick to your interests and the catchy things only. You’ll find a mobile and very loud dinosaur in the ground floor. The Engine Room is awesome! It also has a full-scale replica of the first glider made by the Wright brothers. There is a kids’ section. In addition, children and adults alike would love the Fun Science section. The Glass Room can get you lost, so take care ;)!

The lunch served is typical South Indian and there are no other provisions in the building or nearby which is a drawback. So it’s better to carry your own home prepared food and have it at the canteen in 4th floor. But this small inconvenience (at least for some) will not affect the overall fun and learning.

A great educational trip for youngsters and scientific knowledge refresher for grown-ups. Don’t miss it!

The music night!

coffee_compThe weekends are becoming more and more dull. Nowadays Fridays give me nightmares 😉 – another loooong, lonely and boring weekend ahead… It’s not that I don’t have anything to do in weekends, I can wear off the time reading tech news, programming and blogging but the one thing I have started hating nowadays is the absence of a second person to talk to. Phone calls are always there but don’t seem sufficient after months of loneliness. So tonight I planned something new – a non-stop music night; listening, reading and exploring music. Grooveshark is my friend tonight and till now it’s been a great time! Read somewhere on the web that my favourite band Evanescence has plans to release their next album. Well! I’ll be damned Amy! 😉 Will be waiting…

The show is going on and seems it’s going to be a night-out…

One of my best experiences: presenting at the LiMo Conference @Suwon, Samsung HQ

coffee_compPresenting my module at a design level for the LiMo Conference held in Samsung HQ 2 years ago had been one of my best socio-technical experiences so far. As a major part of the source code of the smartphone I was working on at that time was being open-sourced, we had to present the design and answer the questions raised by highly experienced architects from companies like LG, NEC, Panasonic, Vodafone, Wind River etc. I was going to present along with my colleague cum friend Mr. ChangSeok Oh. We were thrilled as well as afraid that we will mess up the whole thing. As always, hardworking Chang prepared the material with much care taking a long week and we started reviewing it. To my surprise, he based the presentation demonstrating the SMS Protocol whereas I was the Messaging Framework and MMS Protocol engineer. But then it was too late to go back and change everything. So we decided to present it without any change. I remember as we were moving towards the venue we kept talking about things other than the presentation. I was to fly back to India the next day. As we entered the hall the last presentation was still going on and our confidence was shook by the kind of questions asked at pure design level questioning everything from stability to flexibility to possible enhancements to plug-in adaptivity. And after sometime our boss Mr. Jinmin entered. Chang and I were exchanging nervous smiles. As our time came we went up the podium and within 10 minutes questions started flying in. We answered many, forgot some under the pressure and in one instance we took a long 2 minutes to answer a question while Chang was turning towards me away from the audience all the time trying to remember something. In some occasions Mr. Jinmin came into rescue. But in the end the general feedback on the presentation was very good. We met some of the architects and introduced ourselves. It was over and it felt great. Finally we left the podium in the evening satisfied and proud about the great experience we had.