Saturday, 13 September, 2008

Dr.Strangelove


I had started watching this movie on a couple of previous occasions, but didn't proceed to watch beyond ten minutes, for reasons beyond my control. So I was bent on watching it today, at any cost (came home today after a couple of months). I settled down comfortably on the chair, speakers on, and lights off.

When you are dealing with Stanley Kubrik, be prepared to be surprised. Who else can take the concept of the nuclear arms race tension between the super-powers during the cold war, and turn it into a political satire? Add Peter Sellers to the mix and there,you have the perfect recipe.Based on Peter George's novel- Red Alert, this movie adaptation is a comical take on the tension involved in the use of Nuclear weapons and Hydrogen bombs.

Jack D Ripper comforting poor Mandrake

The movie starts off as Brigadier General Jack D Ripper (nice pun!!), a guy with a malfunctioning cerebrum(and a perennial fear that them commies are out to contaminate his body fluids), orders a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union by making use of an anti-sneak-attack clause which allows senior army personnel to by-pass the chain of command and order a nuclear strike if something were to happen to the President. As per the clause, he seals off his base, and orders the airstrike batallion,teetering on the edge of the failsafe point, to launch an attack. Group Captain Lionel Mandrake realises that there has been no attack on the Prez. But Jack D Ripper locks Mandrake inside his room and threatens to kill him if he doesnt obey orders. Now Mandrake is one of the characters Peter Sellers plays, and he does this with perfection, flawlessly expressing the helplessness and intention of the Captain.

Elsewhere, in the Pentagon's war room, officials are scratching their heads to find a solution to this situation. The President - Merkin Muffley (Sellers again) is advised by Gen.Turgidson (George C.Scott with a memorable performance) to take advantage of this error and wipe out "them commies". Things get hilarious when the Russian Ambassador is summoned. Turgidson and the ambassador don't get along very well and the president tries to keep the peace between them. These scenes will tickle your sides. But the real fun begins when Muffley calls up the Russian Premier Dmitri Kissoff. If you were sniggering earlier, you will be in splits when you hear the "World leaders" talk.

Gentlemen,you can't fight here! This is the war room
-memorable lines by the president :)


Premier Kissoff warns his US counterpart about a doomsday device installed by the Soviets, which would trigger itself automatically, in case of a nuclear attack on the soviets. And there was no way to disarm it. President Muffley consults Dr.Strangelove( yep,Sellers again), a former Nazi scientist, on the feasibility of such a device. Now Dr.Strangelove is this bizarre guy in a wheel chair with the "alien-hand" syndrome who explains that such a device may well exist and advises the president on ways to overcome the catastrophe if the device is triggered.

The president orders the nearest army troops to fight their way into Ripper's fortress. We see an irony here, as the President warns the Soviet about the US' attack on them and sends his men to fight his own forces. Meanwhile, Mandrake figures out the code to contact the airplanes executing plan R and contacts the planes and asks them to head back

An exchange of dialog between Mandrake and Col.Guano

Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: Colonel... that Coca-Cola machine. I want you to shoot the lock off it. There may be some change in there.
Colonel "Bat" Guano: That's private property.
Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake
: Colonel! Can you possibly imagine what is going to happen to you, your frame, outlook, way of life, and everything, when they learn that you have obstructed a telephone call to the President of the United States? Can you imagine? Shoot it off! Shoot! With a gun! That's what the bullets are for, you twit!

Colonel "Bat" Guano
: Okay. I'm gonna get your money for ya. But if you don't get the President of the United States on that phone, you know what's gonna happen to you?

Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake
: What?

Colonel "Bat" Guano: You're gonna have to answer to the Coca-Cola company.
One plane is damaged by Soviet guns and it's radio gets blown. So they still carry on with their mission, headed by the Gung-ho Major "King" Kong, who, when the bomb is finally dropped, rides it like a cowboy. The movie ends with scenes of atom bomb blasts, with the symbolic mushroom clouds and all....

King Kong riding the bomb

Overall, fantastic movie to watch, if you sit through the first 20 minutes. Peter Sellers will make you crack up, whether it's by his bizarre portrayal of Dr.Strangelove, or the straitlaced Muffley, or poor Mandrake. George C Scott's portrayal of Turgidson also is extremely good. The performances of Sterling Hayden as Jack D Ripper and Slim Pickens as Major Kong also stand out.

Sellers' 3 roles : Dr.Strangelove, President Muffley and Group Cmdr Mandrake
Bottom line : Very funny movie, provided you are in the mood for it

The Insomniac's Recommendation- Do watch it! It will be worth your while


Tuesday, 9 September, 2008

The Ethi Experience

!! This one's a long overdue post !!

Not so long ago, Kalai called to tell me that,since Nitin had some work,he wouldn't be able to make it, and asked if I would accompany him to do a quiz at Ethiraj. I jumped at the chance(I mean,who wouldnt? :P). Then came the fun part of framing questions. He asked me to keep in mind that this was a quiz for girls, and that "We were directing a movie, and it should hold the interest of the girls for close to an hour and a half". As in any quiz, several hours of research went into the framing process. The day before the quiz, Kalai came to the hostel and we added the final touches(semi-final i should say,considering the last minute changes we made at the audi :) ). It was a long night for the both of us(but well worth the effort,as was evident the next day).

Come Wednesday, Kalai,Srivats and I started from our college at around 9. After a nerve jangling ride(for Kalai i mean :P) we reached the gates of Ethiraj. As we stood waiting outside,a policeman was eyeing us suspiciously. Thankfully Rishma arrived and saved us from any embarrassment. We proceeded to the audi and were faced with a technical problem, our pendrive was not recognised by the computer there. Fortunately,I had brought my friend's laptop along, and we made a few hasty changes and were finally ready, as the audi was echoing with cries of "Please Start". The sheer numbers in the audi was enough to make your insides bunch into knots. Add to that, the 30 odd faculty members seated at the front row...

Tis a great feeling to conduct quizzes,if ppl turn up to watch

It was time for me to get up there and get things started. After introductions all around, the quiz kicked off,the first event of the 2 day fest. I have done a few quizzes in the past, the biggest being Kurukshetra's Sci-Tech quiz(Kurukshetra is our coll's National level Technical Festival.It s pretty big). But I've to admit...Nothing equalled the enthusiastic audience present that day. The cheers from the girls was like a fantastic reward for our efforts. While, at most places, you ll be congratulated for doin what you ought to have done, here was a proactive crowd which was responding to every question and every answer. Had never seen anything like that before. The participants were also extremely well behaved and sportive. There were some quality quizzers on stage to light up the event,but the team from the Commerce department were running away with proceedings.



The winners-Khushi,Samhitha and Akshaya


And that completes the podium :)

It was a memorable moment indeed when our question on mother's milk was answered by one of the teachers in the audience. When we played the "Pehla Nasha" song, the audi erupted like a volcano. That was a moment to cherish too. Kalai then did the Buzzer round, where team 3 made a late charge which ensured them 2nd place. The laptop s battery died out as the last question's video was being played. It was disappointing, but nothing could spoil the wonderful time we were having there. Kalai then handed the trophies to the top 3 teams, but the winner that day was The Spirit of Ethiraj (err yeah. Too cliched when I read this a second time. :P). As we stepped off the stage, teachers came to us and congratulated us on our job.It was indeed icing on the cake.

But what impressed me the most was, the clockwork efficiency of the girls organising the events. It was indeed amazing, when the MC asked the audience to clear out to make for the girls waiting to watch the next event (Some sort of rotation system was followed), and the audi was empty in less than 5 minutes. Fantastic crowd management,it has to be said. The hospitality was awesome too. The light music event showcased the depth of talent Ethiraj houses, with so many teams participating. And the Retro Dance concept was amazing to say the least, with girls dressed up like boys, stealing the show. It was grrreat entertainment. The girls running the show were also very hospitable, and it was because of them that we stayed back,for we were feeling a bit out of place(I mean,3 guys amidst some 800 girls!!! Scary :P). And special thanks to Archana for getting us out of a spot of bother (:P).

The "Union" Girls behind the success of the event ! Hats off to you, gals!!

Oh and I almost forgot. We were also presented with a lovely memento. My mother liked it a lot too.(It s now adorning a wall in my home back in Erode. My hostel room is no place for something so pretty). I have to say,I am deeply indebted to Kalai for taking me along and giving me this wonderful opportunity.Thanks also to all the girls for keeping their faith in us and for the wonderful feedback. These are the things which make life what it is.....

And here, I must stop, as I bring my thoughts back to the present, as my eyes slowly drift back to the computer screen, as I painfully unscrew the pen cap to copy down the Server side and Client side programs on to my Networks Lab observation notebook.Sigh!

Until next time........

The Dream


I remember that night all to clearly. A guy from IIT - Kharagpur came to our hostel,to market their event - Kshitij. He told us about the various technical events happening there, stressing,especially, on the robotics events. He was like- "This is simple stuff,yaar. Even school students over there participate in these events". Wait a minute... There was not a single guy in the 1st year hostel who knew one damn thing about robotics, (apart from the cute morse-talking R2D2 from star wars,that is :P). After this guy left, me and some of my schoolmates,who managed to go to the same college, got together and started givin this some serious thought.
We approached some seniors, and with some partial guidance, managed to construct a simple chassis with 4 motors. But we were surprised that it didnt run. We didnt know that without gear coupling, the bot wouldnt have the necessary torque to move (an analogy- tryin to boil an egg without lighting a fire), which is a pretty lame mistake, somethin which would make us the laughing stock of fellow enthusiasts. But this was a start. We wanted to participate in our college's technical fest - Kurukshetra-07, but failed to garner the necessary basics. So we decided to attend a workshop which was to give us our first real taste of robotics. But 2 days was time enough to get only the basic info right. Robotics, in actuality requires loads of patience and practice(especially electronics).

The real turning point in our robotics-journey, was when we met the ultimate techie- Niranjit, and his friend- Darshan, whose grasp of mechanical design is second to none. With Niranjit's guidance, we started off with basic circuitry and stuff like that and were soon able to construct a manual wrestler bot, which managed to win a consolation prize at the ECE dept's symposium. I still remember those nights in Thala(Niranjit)'s room, which had barely enough space to house his bed. We would work all night,all the while bugging Niranjit to debug our circuit. This went on for quite a few months and we gained a bit of experience with autonomous bots. But sadly, we were the only 1st years in the college involved in robotics. We wanted this to change. And the seniors too,werent ready to handle another group of eager 1st years intent on disturbing their beauty sleep :P. That was when the plan for a robotics club was mooted. After several nights of animated discussions with the guys from CEG Tech Forum or CTF (our college's student technical body,responsible for organising Kurukshetra), we had a plan ready.

Take care of the club.Or else......... (Darshan's message to us :P)

I still remember that day when we presented the club to the dean, who half-listened to our impassioned description of the club's "Mission" and what our "Goals", both short term, and long term, were. He okayed it,as a part of CTF, but asked us not to expect any funds from the college. We were overjoyed that our dream had now been realised (if only,to a certain extent, though.But hey, it was something!). Then started the plans to organise classes. The club conducted several classes on robotics basics, with seniors giving lectures as well as hands on demos on robotics. The Orientation class proved to be a big hit, as students stared with wonder at the robot-videos we had compiled for them. We had huge attendance for the classes, sometimes overflowing so much that classes were held in two separate rooms. For any one to get started in robotics, kits are essential. So the idea of providing low cost kits (priced at around 500 bucks, whereas we ended up spending 2k during that workshop I talked about earlier) was what really gave robotics in CEG, a big boost.

Clockwise from left: Kokki, Seshatri, Me,
Darshan & Niranjit (the 2 thalais), Papu and Naren


The mere feeling of guiding friends and juniors taking their baby steps in robotics is so humbling and exhilarating at the same time. Me and my team mates ended up making some good friends among the juniors. The high point,really, was when the participation of CEG students at Kurukshetra touched double figures. From the days when hardly 5 people were working on robotics only a year ago, we were now at a stage where around 40 students had managed to construct working robots, which is something truly unbelievable. By the end of the year, the club had a strong base, the seniors had done their job well... It was really sad to see them leave college, as we had become very close over the 2 years.

This year, we decided to make the club an independent entity. The founders had appointed a board of final year members to the club. We managed to get a faculty advisor(a Dr.T.V.Moorthy, to whom we are very much grateful) and in Mr.George(who happens to reside in the same block as me), we found a very friendly treasurer. Despite not getting permission to market the club during the 1st year admissions, which is a sort of traditions where the coffers of all clubs swell, we managed well, thanks to the club orientations- 2 evenings where 1st years got to know about each club from the various presentations. The 1st class for the freshers went very well, and I can say many of them are hooked on to robotics. After the 1st and 2nd round of registration, we have around 250 members, which will increase as the weeks go by.

Yes. What we once thought would be a distant dream, has now taken shape.
The Robotics Club of CEG is here to stay !!!!