Random Musings

Journey to Leuven, and life so far

So I am here in Leuven, Belgium, pursuing my masters in Electrical Engineering in the more than 500 years old university. And I don’t want to gloat, but the Electrical Engineering department of KU Leuven is one of the best in the world. But to be honest, the course-work and projects are extremely demanding. They require not only a thorough understanding of the material, but also expect the students to be independent in this pursuit. We just have only one examination per semester. But the exam is not like any other exam. KU Leuven has what is called the oral exam. You will be given two hours to prepare the solution of 3-4 questions, and then you need to discuss the answer with the professor. The professor will ask questions regarding the solution (it needs to be defended with logic) as well from other topics. I think it is one of the toughest forms of examination.

I also experienced my first snow today. It was in the middle of the DSP project class. I could not resist going out in the snow. It was nice, but I thought it will snow long enough so that I can make snow balls. Naah. The temperature wasn’t that cold either. A mere -1 degrees centigrade. But I do hope I get to play with snow balls.

Life here is nice. But I do miss home. Back in India, I always felt I was in control of everything. I sometimes feel extremely overwhelmed here. Its just not the coursework. I don’t know, but sometimes when I am all alone in my room, there is the feeling of emptiness.

But otherwise, its fun to be here! I am learning a lot. I finally learned impedance matching. (the professors in my Bachelors university never really explained it well enough). But now I understand it well.

Visit to JU Science Club

I resigned from Cadence and left Bangalore on August 6th. I was scheduled to fly to Brussels around September, and I decided to take some time off and spend time lazing around (something which I never got to do in the last three years). I also had to apply for visa etc.

Anyway, I was pinged on Facebook by a junior, Diyanko from my alum asking me to come down to Science Club (something which I was a part of during my college days, and also played a major role in getting it started). Now, I really did not want to come down there, and just chat and go.

I decided to give them a presentation on analog circuit design, and talk to them about some of the fundamentals that an analog design engineer requires every day. Given that students from first year to fourth year would be coming, and that students from non-electrical background will also be present, it was a challenge coming up with a presentation that could cover so many aspects.

It really took me some time to make the presentation, far more than I had imagined. I just could not talk about circuits, as that would have made it extremely boring for the younger folks in the audience as well as people from a non-electrical background. I had to pepper my presentation with examples from real life.

But cutting back to the chase, the presentation went really well. The best part that I like about students in Jadavpur University is that students are extremely talented, and they have this drive within themselves that want to do something. I met one final year student of ETCE, Supratik, who was interested in quantum computing and was looking for opportunities in Europe to do a MS on the same. This is refreshingly different. But what really pained me was that the analog courses in Jadavpur University had absolutely no emphasis on simulating the circuits and seeing it for themselves. A simulator gives you an excellent idea about whether your concepts are correct or not. And using one, can really help understand the concepts. You get an insight to the second and third order effects that one hasn’t considered.

Although I could not cover all the material I had put in my presentation due to a shortage of time, I think I did a cover a fair amount of material.

Here is a link to the presentation:
science_club_presentation

Chester Bennigton’s suicide and depression

My tryst with Linkin Park began when I was in standard 6. My sister recently entered college, and she got a new computer. Casually browsing through her playlist, I came across this song called ‘Numb’. I had never heard anything like it. It seemed too much noise, but there was a tune to the noise. I could not make out the lyrics (probably because I was not a native English speaker). I listened to the song on loop, and suddenly the lyrics were comprehendible. I fell in love with the song. And thus was born a new fan of Linkin Park.
Back then, the internet used to be a low speed broadband in the home. Mobile internet was prohibitively expensive, and so I had to download all the songs (some of you might remember songs.pk) in my desktop computer (it used to take forever) but it was worth it. I do not what was in the songs that made me an ardent devotee of Linkin Park. My brother-in-law gifted me an iPod. It was roughly during the time I started additional science classes for engineering entrance examination in high school. The music from iPod was phenomenally better, and Chester’s voice was an enchantment.
Fast forward a couple of years and I found equally enthusiastic fans of Linkin Park among my batchmates. Castle of Glass and Hunting Party were roughly released during my undergraduate days. I used to listen them on loop.
Then I heard about the album, ‘One More Light’. They released a few tracks in the Apple Music Store. [By now I just stream music from Apple Music Store]. Their full album was released on May 19, 2017. I remember refreshing the Linkin Park’s Youtube channel to see whether they uploaded the remaining tracks were uploaded or not.
One More Light was significantly different from the previous albums. Some people criticized it. But, Chester’s voice was, as someone commented in one of the Youtube video ‘He sings like an angel but screams like a devil.’ You should listen to his cover of Adele’s ‘Rolling in the deep’. Adele is one of the brilliant voices of our generation. And only Chester could even measure up to that. He could match Adele’s soulfulness.
And then, on the day my girlfriend returned to Delhi after a brief vacation at Bangalore, he killed himself. I remember dropping her off at the airport and getting onto a BMTC bus. It was 4 am in the morning. I opened Facebook, and see my timeline flooded with condolence messages. Something stirred deep inside me. There was a dryness in my throat.
It took me a full week to recover from the shock. I never realized I will be impacted in this way by Chester’s death. I grew up with his music. As most of you would be aware, I am heading to KU Leuven, Belgium for my masters in September. One of the things I was looking forward to it was attending a live concert of Linkin Park in Europe. I made up my mind to save every penny to see Linkin Park live. [I also want to watch Adele perform live. I love that young lady. Such soulfulness.]
The thing with depression is that it will not be discernable from the external appearance of a person. Some people have this innate ability to swallow their feelings, and make no outward appearance of it. Talking freely about our own feelings does not come easily. Depression is a silent killer. It consumes an individual from the inside. There are people who keep telling me they hate Chester for killing himself. Well, he is gone now. It does not really matter whether we hate him or love him. A phenomenal artist of our generation is gone, because as a collective society we do not know how to battle depression. Such statements will impact negatively anyone who is trying to fight depression.
We must realize that some people cannot fight depression on their own. It’s like asking an injured person to climb a tree, and then castigating him or her for not being able to do it. There is a void in understanding of depression. We are already in the process of decriminalizing homosexuality across the world, maybe it’s time we spend our resources in understanding depression and creating an awareness of it. It’s time we do something about it.
Only when we start talking about an issue, we start stripping off the stigma around it layer by layer. And then everyone else becomes privy to the details which were never said out loud. Human beings are inherently irrational, but given the facts, we can straighten our thinking. We need to start talking about it.
‘Goodbye is not the only way’

Why lose a thousand more?

*Originally published on Thursday, 10th January 2013*
This post follows the recent violation of ceasefire by Pakistani armed forces at LOC.But as much as it is a ceasefire violation, what shocked the nation was that the Pakistani soldiers decapitated one of the soldiers and carried the head as “trophy”. They tried to decapitate the other dead soldier when they came under heavy fire from the Indian side and had to flee.

This event has had wide ramifications. Not only has it created a ripple in New Delhi with the Pakistani Ambassador being summoned to New Delhi, it has raised eyebrows at the international level with USA(as usual) asking India and Pakistan to cool off and sit for talks.
At this point I can’t help but comment that India always has taken a pro-active role in the peace process. Even after 26/11 when it was proved beyond doubt that the terror attack had been planned in Pakistani soil and that Pakistani Government was dragging their feet in bringing the people to justice, India refused to back out on the peace talks. Yes, the only thing that stopped was Indo-Pakistan matches came to a screeching halt.

And, expectedly, Pakistan rejected the assertions of the Indian government, calling for a UN probe into the incident. Indian Government, as of now, has refused to accede to their demand. Ironically, Pakistan is making the demands. “This is Indian propaganda to divert attention from an Indian raid on Sunday on a Pakistani post in which a Pakistani soldier was killed,” Pakistan military said in a statement. (Source: Al Jazeera)

But what is more disturbing is the clamour for a full fledged war on the Indian side in social networking platforms. “An eye for an eye” is the underlying sentiment. And why do I find it disturbing?

It is disturbing because a war should be the last resort. A war cannot be declared at every provocation. Yes, granted that Pakistan has been in constant violations of the ceasefire arrangements, undermining the very principle of LOC. Yes, there were 75 incidents of ceasefire violations in the last year, none so brutal though. Where is the mature Indian who protested all across the country following the Delhi gang rape case?

I am too young to comment on someone’s maturity and people rarely lose an opportunity to point it out to me. But at this point, such call for war is totally uncalled for. And whats more disturbing is that while the Indian Government is strictly against any adverse reaction, people logged into their Facebook and Twitter are mincing no words in describing the Indian Government as “cowards’”.

A war not only has casualties in terms of the lives of jawans, it has casualties in terms of “collateral damage”. Those who clamour for war have never fired a weapon, never have stared down the barrel of an assault rifle and definitely haven’t been in duty in the icy heights of the Siachen. The economy of a country, which isn’t really in a good shape now, is further dented due to a war. Yes we’re a nuclear armed country. Yes, we have deployed missiles that can destroy any target in Pakistan. But that doesn’t imply we need to show off out toys.

When I went to Quanta International, an International Science Fest hosted in Lucknow in 2007, there were many participants from Pakistan. And each one said that the civilian middle class there loves India. As much as “Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi” is a daily part of our entertainment, so is theirs. Its only the Islamist hardliners, some of the lower segments of the society and the Pakistani armed forces that harbour such a seep mistrust for India.

Times of India’s recent attempt at bringing peace between India and Pakistani, termed as “Aman ki Asha” is now being termed “Aman ki Tamasha”.

The journey and the destination.

his is the article I wrote for the souvenior of my departmental reunion(with some corrections).

‘The destination does not matter as much as the journey’-Unknown

I don’t travel much. But the countless number of memories of a journey that began on 19th July, 2010 is sure to fill up several volumes of memoirs, not that anyone would buy it though.
As I walked through the hallowed gates of Jadavpur University, I was excited. I don’t know the way to my department. So I asked one student, “Which way is the department?” He replied, “Chol amar sathe”. I was skeptical for obvious reasons and lingered for a few moments. Realizing my hesitation, he turned back and said, “Aare chol amio ei department er”. The senior was Sayan Saha and though he is currently pursuing PhD at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, New York, we still talk atleast once a week. And thus began the journey.

From making a ‘pichkari’ out of distilled water bottles in the Chemistry lab, to breaking the “best burette in the lab” to faking fever to escape an outrageously boring mathematics class, first year marked the transformation. Probably one of the most hilarious moments was when someone threw my lunch box out of the fourth floor of my department and later replied, “Eita na korle amake 4 bochor pore ki kore mone rakhbi?”

I still remember the first class I bunked. It was a Wednesday on the third week after I joined JU. We bunked the class and went to Swabhumi. That was the first and the last time I ever made the mistake of going to Swabhumi(if you are in Kolkata for one day, you can strike this place off your list). Unfortunately when we returned, we got an earful from our seniors of how irresponsible and selfish we were in not attending the first football match of our freshers. Here cheering in the football field meant something quite different. And a victory meant celebrations that would extend to social networks. And a loss, well!

And twice a teacher walked out of our class exasperated with us. Thankfully, they didn’t complain to the HoD. No, I am not going to write about what we did. I am still a student. But you get the idea.
And the countless number of times when I, along with another conniving batch-mate, Ritwick Mukherjee, texted people in the middle of the night, “Results have been declared” and the choicest of abuses they hurled at us when they realized it was all a bloody hoax. And for the skeptics, we included random grade points along with the message to make it sound more convincing. Some now might say with a straight face, “I never fell for it.” Wish I saved those reply messages.

As a part of the organizing team member of Srijan 2011, we had to go for publicity campaigning in different colleges across Kolkata. Those were the days when I happily bunked the endless physics and chemistry classes to put up posters in colleges(who even checks the notice board in an age of social networks?) . We even had to go to classes and tell about the various workshops. I introduced myself as a 3rd year student!

But one of the things I surely am not going to miss is the canteen food. There is this joke about the canteen food,
– “How do you know you are not in the Matrix?”
-“Because then the food would have been definitely better.”
You can literally sew yourself a pair of nice trousers with the leather-like-rotis.
And while I enjoyed some things, there were things that turned out to be real pain in some parts of the human anatomy-for instance the long queues in the muster roll section for exam fees submission, paying the fine and things that are best left to evening “adda” as opposed to things that are published in the souvenior.

But then came 3rd year-the nightmare of any instrumentation student! Within one week into 3rd year classes, I realized what the rest of the year was going to be like. Monday to Saturday, 10:20am to 5:15pm classes. And with the habit of “class test kata” till right before the exams, it was a total disaster. We often had to give two class tests of the same subject on the same day. But I presume it was even worse for the class representatives who got calls from all of us to try and convince the teacher to reduce the syllabus. Regardless to say, it never worked and countless sleepless nights were spent in the period before semesters.

And then right after each semester, the solemn swear, ‘Next semester shob class test aage debo.’ It is startling how shamelessly we never followed it.

After a gap of two years we started having ISA seminars. Many students are now members of ISA(47 precisely). We had two seminars, one in Heritage Institute of Technology and another in Jadavpur University. The best part of it was when the student members were invited to the Hotel Hindusthan International for the annual ISA convention. Before that we only had read about flowmeters and analyzers, but for the first time we saw the products in the exhibition that was arranged as part of the convention. It was truly exciting to finally see the instruments right in front of us. The murmurs of “KM sir poriechilen na aager din”(I used to bunk a lot). to “DCP sir er boi te oita chilo” summarizes our excitement.

Somehow we survived ‘the’ 3rd year and we became the “senior most dada didis”. But there is a catch-we have placements. And then we also have our departmental reunion! Juggling between academics and placements, we started planning for the reunion. Since the next time we will be having reunion, it will also be the golden jubilee of the department, we knew we had to make it as big as possible so that it is simply fireworks next time!

The alumni database that was handed down to us was filled with serious errors and needed serious updating. Thanks to http://www.juresultdirectory.org we were able to atleast get the names of all the students that passed out in each year. And then we started doing a Google search on seniors with whom we have lost contact. We managed to get in touch with many of our alumni. One of the most prominent was Shyamal Bhattacharya, the CTO of PwC. We later used more intensive people search engines like http://www.pipl.com and http://www.linkedin.com .

In the previous reunion and in the reunion before that, there had always been talks of making a website for the department. It was no different this year. But one fine day, I and Sreeja Roy, decided “onek hoeche chol banie feli.” And thus, we bought a domain name http://www.ieeju.in and some server space and I began with the arduous task of creating a website from scratch. I am still working. The tricky part was deciding a subtle layout so that people return back to the website. My friends in IT helped a lot and I owe it one person in particular, Abhirup Bhabani, who helped me sort out all the troubles with server and other technical things(it wasn’t English, it was Greek!!) . Also Saurabh Animesh and Pranav Agarwal, both second year students of our department, helped immensely. They spent quite a few sleepless nights in the ‘Reconnect’ initiative.

Now I must stop writing because I have already got three calls from Sreeja all saying, “Bhai article ta patha re!! Chapate dite hobe.” But I will forever remember the four years as a student of JU not only for the exceptional teachers, but for all the experiences-from the exasperating instances when I felt like taking a plunge from the fifth floor to all the hours spent laughing at the jokes of Souradip Chakraborty and Kingshuk Banjerjee; I will miss it all!

Solution manuals should be banned

I am growing older although that has imperceptible effect on my height.

I have always failed to understand what growing older actually means. Is it learning to be selfish; sacrificing your pride of doing what is right to doing what the situation demands. Or is it keeping your emotions bottled up because the society dictates that it is the more “mature” thing to do? Or is it learning to be unselfish and make compromises? Or is it learning to understand a situation and people’s ulterior and sinister motives that hide beneath a facade of sociable niceties? Or is it all of the above? Or maybe you have some scaling factor that you apply to each of the above and there is a cut-off threshold? Maybe being older is knowing the answer to the last question.

No. I am not mature enough to handle my feelings or emotions. When I am sad or hurt by something, I bottle it up and kind of swallow it with a bitter pill. And sometimes I end up reacting violently in the heat of the moment. The latter happens more often with situations where I am incited. I have let gone opportunities that might have changed my life because I felt that I will be betraying the trust reposed in me by someone else.

Sometimes I feel envious, selfish. They say its wrong to do that. But I can’t stop feeling that. There are people whose behavior reflects what they are feeling quite openly. Then there are people whose faces betray no sense of ill feeling. I sometimes wonder don’t they feel it? Or that I am being too vain? I like to pretend I am really nice person and so I don’t bother asking them, lest they think ill of me! Some great people have often told to live your life to the fullest, you don’t need to worry about what others think. I don’t agree with the same.

I believe that we humans have been exceedingly successful as a species merely due to intelligence. But then dolphins are considered equally exceptional intelligent creatures. But maybe we are slightly more intelligent with respect to the fact that we can be exceedingly selfish. We humans have been successful because we have learned to work in groups. But so do a lot of animals. What sets us apart, from the rest, is that we have learned to be selfish; we ditch the our own groups when the situation demands it. One example, which is a really poor one, I can think about is of successful business who started working in some organization, learned the tools of the trade, showed a middle finger to the manager, refined the learned tools of trade and became even more successful. No, I don’t mean to undermine the amount of effort it takes to be a successful entrepreneur. But what I wish to imply is that it all started with a bit of selfishness. Undying loyalty never gets you anywhere. (But I detest people who are not faithful to their better halves and indulge in treachery and betrayal. I will always detest them. Call me immature but this is a moral line I draw and I shall always be firm on this point)

I often wonder is it morally right to be mature grown up person? Because it calls for things that the Holy Bible or any religious text terms as “sins”. They say always be morally right. Then I read about Charles Darwin’s “Survival of the Fittest”

I am convinced that I don’t understand life. If I even start to comprehend life, I will be lost in all its intricacies and debates which are best left to academic halls. I have been to several debates in my life, and was a skillful debater not too long back, and I have realized, to my dismay, that debates never solve anything. Yes, you get a broader view of the world. You are “enlightened”. But it does not solve anything.

Maybe the entire point of life is understanding that everything does not have an answer. Accepting that everything that you do will not hurt your conscience. They should not have any solution manual to the problems at the end of the chapter. Because students need to realize that every solving every problem does not guarantee that their solution is right as is the case with life!