This blog as might be apparent from the title has to do with running, biking and basically other outdoor individualistic sports, sometimes extreme, such as rock climbing . But don't be surprised if you find articles on work, personal life, music and even philosophy, this blog is an exception in this aspect in the blogosphere of running blogs and I am trying to revamp the blog to make it more runner friendly. You might want to look at the sidebar titled 'categorised', which as is obvious, categorizes my posts into different areas of interest.
The other thing that might interest many people is a section on 'running videos' and 'general videos' on the side bar, which I keep updating now and then.
I plan to bring in more posts on running and biking, with some added colour, so as to make them 'complete'. That's about it for now.
As a post-note, I have run a half-marathon, but I am yet to attempt a marathon, which through some concerted effort and time should happen in the future, but that ofcourse is not the culmination of this blog, it would on the contrary be something to jumpstart this blog onto new vistas.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Where do you go?

Disclaimer: The following article reflects my personal views and may or may not be an indicator of the actual happening of events described therein.

Where do you lovely
Where do you go?
I wanna lovely
I wanna know

where do you go, oh oh eh oh.......

So goes this lovely song.
On a serious note, I was, as others would have too, faced with this question, 'where do you go?', during my 3rd year (too early considering that mine was a 5 year integrated program, but nevertheless, I wanted to have some idea, where the greener pastures lay). Having talked to some senior (one year older), who had written CAT, in a train when I was heading back to hyderabad for hols after the end of my 5th semester, I was inspired to aspire for CAT, and enter the hallowed portals of IIMs. Ofcourse that senior was also apping (applying abroad) and was also sitting for a job.

IIT Madras is considered the app capital among all the IITs, for a huge percentage(20% - 30 % roughly, which is really huge for app among all IITs) of junta here app and around half of them finally head abroad. A maajor percentage (60 - 70 % (rough figures)) write CAT and ofcourse almost everyone (read 90 - 95 % ), sit for placements.

The CAT phenomenon, though not recent, has ballooned exponentially over the last few years. The Job scenario also has improved in a big way with lots of big companies of all genres ( management, tech, finance, futures, software) having hit the campus over the last two years and the average pay has almost doubled. An unsuccessful experiment was attempted for this acadmeic years' placement in that, the placements were postponed from the start of the previous semester (August) to the end of the same semester (mid December).

What has happened due to this little time delay is that, junta who wanted a job and were not really interested in a MBA or an app, were forced to attempt one of these two as they needed to have a second option incase they didn't get a job. In the original scenario, where placements started in august beginning, junta who had job as their top priority, would pack app or CAT as and when they would get placed (mid september for example). Hence this academic year, 2005 - 2006, has seen an unusual number of people apping and also Catting.

The delay in placements has also affected many people both physically and emotionally as they had to face untold frustration in sitting through interviews and GD's of many companies before they would get placed.
A typical company would call for a PPT (pre-placement talk) in the morning and there would be an aptitude test following it. The results would be spelt out only after lunch and those who qualified for either an interview or a GD would have it during the afternoon spilling over usually into the evening and sometimes(rarely) even into the wee hours of the morning.

So a whole day would get wasted for a person if he didn't get through this elaborate assessment process. Due to the amount of companies coming this placement year, the placement office had to allocate one day or a two at the most for conducting their assessment process. What adds to the frustration is that when usually, most junta would get placed by say, January beginning, this placement year has seen quite a few junta getting placed as late as February and a few others who should get placed in March.

I was fortunate enough to get shortlisted for two companies and attend the interviews before calling it a day. Not that I had gotten a job, but I was frustrated after sitting for the second company, having wasted a whole day without cracking the interview and hence quit sitting for placements.

I do agree however, that the placement process is a learning experience and makes one a tough cookie as one goes through series of interviews and GDs before getting through one of the companies, but my priorities were different and that saved me the trouble of furthering my placement process.

As I said earlier, I was pretty sure of attempting CAT in my third year end as I wasn't much interested in further studies in civil engineering and rightly so. There wasn't sufficient exposure to various fields, as many courses at the B.Tech level don't go in depth and the assessment is stereotype, through assignments and quizzess. By the end of third year, any student would know very well, how to beat this system of assignments (cogging) and quizzes( last minute mugging).

Ofcourse, there were and are those 'hi-funda' courses, which really draw in a lot of interest into the student as the prof clears the basic fundaes of the course and dwells deeper into the subject in a way which makes you hooked to his/her classes. Some of these profs disallow the 75% attendance rule, saying if you are really interested in the course, you would ofcourse attend my class. Students sometimes take advantage of this relaxation by taking a pledge to pack the profs' classes that sem and hence, the prof sometimes reverts back to the 75% attendance rule.

Having digressed enough, let me get straight to where I left when I began digressing. Transportation engg. seemed to appeal to me because of a 'hifunda' prof, who was very thorough in his fundaes and hence I started taking all the electives offered by this prof and it turned out that in one particular elective, 'Transportation Network Analysis', which was by the way a M.Tech course, we had to do some kind of a research and produce results. Ofcourse this research on a chosen topic, was at a much smaller scale, than say an B.Tech prj (BTP), but what happened through this innovative assessment method was that I was actually testing the waters of research and to my surprise, I found it really exciting (by the way, this went into my sop too ;)).

So there I was in my 4th year (8th sem), having to fix my priorities in life and after having done this course, my future pursuits in life seemed to have undergone a complete reversal from management and where the big money lies, to well, research, which, though gives obvious indications of my career headed into academia, serves well to take care of my interests. Even at this stage, I was still not sure, if I should not attempt CAT (its had to ward of peer influence), just for the heck of it. But as it happened, I didn't attempt the CAT and was ready to take my chance with app.

When I say, take my chances with app, I mean that the chances were of a huge degree of uncertainity as the assessment process of some univs were/are really vague and the previous history (app files) of the univs' selection process might also not be available. Ofcourse, there were the standard indicators: my cgpa and gre scores would indicate the range of rankings of univs to which I could apply.

The provided the top 100 engg. schools and this showed me the univs which fell in the ranking range(say top 15 - 30) , decided tentatively apriori. But since I was applying to a Phd program, the research I was doing in my MTP(M.Tech Project), mattered as much as my gpa and my gre scores. So if the research I was doing during the time of apping( november - January) had some weight in terms of a model or policy development, it could offset, to a certain degree, the cgpa and gre scores (if they
weren't decent).

This was the case with me and hence after carefully weighing the research being undertaken at the university to see its similarity to my MTP topic and after some preliminary proffing, I had narrowed down my list to 10 potential univs( that's a little overboard). But then, I had to consider, the junta also apping in my field, so we had what are called 'app meetings' inorder to sort out clashes in univs between junta and my univs list, believe it or not, crumbled down to a mere 5 in number. I wasn't much worried about the 'number' as I had a strong belief in my profs recommendation letter(reco) and more importantly my guides' reco , to be the final draw in helping me secure a univ call.

And then it happened, finally after a long wait, a long long wait. My wing-junta had already started getting admits and therefore, I had started to get a little worried, as I had also packed job. I received an email some days back from the university of washington (uwash), Seattle; intimating me on their acceptance of my application. I have been offered research assistantship at this university and in all probabilty shall be headed there to look forward to a positively enriching experience (quote/unquote sop!).

Future blogs (tentative): Gaming addiction, Martial arts, Now and then, Freedom, Sop fundaes.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Romanticisation of the riding experience

12:30 am: I think to myself, do I go to quark to have some grub or do I start working on that darned code which seems so eluding? I do neither! With a comp in front of you and access to millions of websites and infinite music and movies, it seems a really daunting task to gain self-control and get started with the task at hand.

12:45 am: After having wasted 15 minutes on the act of deliberating the next course of action, I look out the window in my room. Ofcourse, I see darkness and the vague outlines of trees and an occasional hooting of some unknown bird, but the more important thing is that these early morning times have captured my imagination long ago and I visualise myself cycling on the East coast Road, no vehicles in sight - Just me, my cycle and the infinte stretch of smooth asphalt road that continually beckons me supplemented by the cool breeze, at times gentle and at times potent brushing against my face - Hmm, that's heaven.

12:50 am: I am out of my room headed towards the cycle stand just adjacent to the hostel and I smile and admire as always at the beauty that I treasure. As I hit the campus road, I see a few people headed to quark and a few others visiting other hostels or maybe returning to their own hostels. I increase the speed and feel the chilly air in the campus hit me and I start to feel a little cold as a mere t-shirt and short don't serve to make one warm and cosy at the current moment. As I approach the Gajendra circle, passing by the oat and library, I see a few couples happily chirping away as they stroll past, enjoying the privacy on the roads.

12:55 am: Having passed the GC, I suddenly observe with a little fear and more with a sense of excitement, that I am the only one on the road, except ofcourse for the ocassional deer crossing the road or grazing in the bushes. I look up and observe the star-studded sky with the moon occupying the centre-stage and reassure myself that I am not alone out here.

The next 10 minutes of cycling makes me wonder why I need to go to Muttukadu, when I can relive that experience, right here at anytime as I please. With a tinge of nostalgia, I recollect the time when I first stepped foot here and was awed by the natural beauty of this place located in the smallest national park in India. The same feeling sweeps me over as the campus appears more alive and more beautiful then ever.
Pressing the pedal harder, I veer wildly on the road and in a rush of adrenalin, shout out with pure joy - woooooooooooohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

Having had my fill of this natural high, I head back towards the hostel. It is indeed these genre of experiences, that makes my otherwise uneventful life in the campus memorable.

Friday, February 10, 2006

All time low

The last two weeks had been really hectic(procrastination is a tough task master) as I had to work (some one said meticulous work ethic is the best..hmmph) towards getting tangible results for the evaluation which I had on the first of this month. And who said debugging was an easy job; just when you thought everything was fine and dandy, you suddenly realise that the program isn't compatible(for some strange reason) when you have a c source code and c++ header files. Anyway, I somehow managed to get it working in the nick of time.
I always thought (at least during the last two years) that "I could run 10 laps (4 kms) in the stadium any day, even if I hadn't run for more than 3 weeks". But today I discovered the amount of truth in that assertion when I barely managed 5 laps. My legs felt really weak during the run as if all the calf-muscles had been wasted (atrophy).
My fitness now is at an all-time low, but the good news is that the final evaluation isn't due till april end, so I might get a good amount of time to work on regularising my runs.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Of Civil Engineering and dynamics

"Oh...buildings and stuff isn't it. What will you do when you get a job, you will be mixing cement and sand is it? (chuckle), or you will be laying roads? (laughter)."

This is a typical response I get when I tell people that I am pursuing a degree in civil engineering.But when I tell them that I am working on routing and scheduling of feeder-buses to serve the MRTS as a part of my M.Tech project, they are surprised and ask me how this is related to civil engineering?
I tell them that this comes under Transportation Engineering, a sub-branch of civil Engineering.They are even more amused me and ask me, how can that be? Oh, the ignorance is really strong !
So you ask now, what really is civil Engineering? To give a formal definition:
It has to deal with the design, construction, maintenance and operation of Infrastructure. Infrastructure is a very broad term and has to do with electricity supply; basic amenitites like water supply, sewage treatment; buildings and related structures; transportation infrastructure associated with roadways,railways,airports
and ports. People are familiar with the first three components associated with these infrastructure, but it is the operation part that eludes them.
Take for example the transport infrastructure. Roads are built, tracks are laid, who is going to take care of the efficient operation of the transportation on these modes? Traffic policemen? Yeah they can only take care of the short-term measures like fiddling with the signal times,making a road one-way or two-way. Granted, being efficient here would help the cause of smooth movement of traffic. But I say traffic itself is a probelm!! Why have two-wheelers, four-wheelers occupy the roads, when
you can have bus rapid transit systems(BRTS) and Mass rapid transit systems(MRTS) carry more people efficiently at higher speeds(40 -50kmph) than is possible normally(15-20kmph) during peak hour.Ok now we have an MRTS in place in Chennai, but is it serving the purpose? With a daily travel volume of 10, 000 prs/day it hardly qualifies as a MRTS system(which usually carry volumes of the order of 1-2 lakh passengers/day). So what has gone wrong with the MRTS? Why aren't many people using the MRTS?
There are many reasons which can attributed towards this, some of them being it passing through industrial areas, the fares being too high (as compared to the MTC bus system) and that feeder buses are not provided to help the passengers staying in the vicinity of the station to reach it.

It may be difficult to change the first two factors effecting the rider-ship of the MRTS, but the third factor, provision of a feeder-bus system, could be made viable if the routes are designed properly and scheduling of the buses on the so designed routes is done appropriately. The feeder-bus routing problem can be described as follows: There is a station, say Mylapore and there are quite a few people in the vicinity(say 3-5 km radius) of Mylapore willing to use the MRTS from the station, but they don't do so, because there is no bus service provided which they could use to reach the station. Routes need to be designed to cater to the maximum number of such people(demand) with a condition that the total travel time of these routes doesn't exceed a certain limit and the number of buses required to run on these routes also is below the operator's available fleet size and the frequency of buses provided also being below a certain limiting frequency.
And this is where it becomes very exciting, as we are exposed to a variety of fields in solving this problem: the use of operations research in formulating the problem and use of optimisation techniques like dynamic programming, Neural Networks and Genetic algorithms for optimal routing and scheduling, an exposure to the dynamic world of demand modelling, where the travel patterns of passengers are simulated.

An engineer deals with technical systems. When the system is modeled as static, there is not much of uncertainity involved, as is seen in the construction of normal buildings - there is a set formula to deal with such problems. But when dynamic effects need to be taken into account, systems become really exciting to model because the uncertainity associated with the dynamic nature of these systems needs to be taken into account. Hence, to design a high rise building, where the effect of wind loads on the building structure becomes significant, the use of wind-tunnels is made to simulate the effect of high velocity winds on the building.

Non-linear dynamics(NLD) is a well-established field with many real-world applications to weather prediction, fluid flow analysis and any natural flow system analysis.
Non-linear dynamic system or a "choatic" system is one where, the system behaves in a random aperiodic manner. To predict the future behaviour of a chaotic system upto infinity, two things are required:
1) The initial conditions 2) The entire history of data or events since the start of the system. But the second requirement is a serious limitation to the use of chaos theory in these systems. Hence these models are mostly limited to short-term predictions. For example, the meteorological department could forecast the weather maybe upto the next three days and not more than that, because of the second limitation mentioned above.
NLD has a vast potential in the modelling of vehicular transportation and what adds to the complexity is the discreteness of the flow of vehicles or passengers. If NLD is successfully applied to model the behaviour of traffic flow, the implications would be really dramatic and revolutionary, it would provide us with a tool to play around with different parameters and see the effect on the traffic flow patterns.
But the parameters that need to be taken into account are numerous and the time-scale for significant progress in research in this direction is of the order of decades.

All engineering systems, I think, need to be modelled finally as NLD systems or stochastic systems to help simulate the real-world effects as accurately as possible and this is specially the case with transportation system, which is a natural stochastic system and hence to model it is to work on an exciting and a really daunting task.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Mistakes repeated - chennai Marathon

Yesterday, someone asked me if I am running the chennai Marathon. I told him that I wasn't prepared enough to run it and anyways the organisation is poor. He replied back saying that this time it was big with 20,000 runners participating, more than twice that of last year. I told him, the numbers don't matter, what matters most is that they allow runners sufficient time to finish.
But I did have some hope that the organisers would learn from their previous mistakes.
Alas, Murphy's law has a special significance as far as chennai marathon is concerned.
It seems, the runners who passed the 28 - 30 km mark beyong 3 hrs were asked to leave the course - how pathetic is that?? Man, it is not that the organisers are unaware of how international marathons are conducted - They simply don't care. You extract money out of first time marathoners and people who run for the heck of it and don't care about the time, and finally you ask them to move off the course? Where in the world does this happen?
The lesser it's said about the Chennai Marathon website, the better.

Kennenisa Bekele with the WR

Robbie Mcewen and steve o'grady - The 'Nudge'