Sunday, October 30, 2005

A Guide to the Successful Completion Of Your Engineering Project

For quite some time now, I have been badgered with innumerable comments from engineering students back home about the hardships faced while venturing to complete their final semester project required for graduation. I have faithfully preserved every mention of this subject, added my own personal experiences to this amazingly huge collection of anecdotes and have come up with a list of FAQs that I'm sure will be of great sevice to the miserable engineering students of Tamil Nadu.

This guide is presented with the best intentions at heart. It does not guarantee a high score or even a passing grade in your project. The author is not liable for any injury (mental or physical) that may result from the application of the ideas outlined in this post.


Q) When does the torture start?

A) Early in the fourth year, when you are asked present your staff with a title for the project you will be pursuing in your final semester and state where or with whom you will be doing it.

Q) Isn't that an easy task?

A) It should be.. but for several conditions imposed by the department.
- The project must not be done at some project consultancy
- You will have normal classes for three days of the week and can only work for 2 days on your project in any organisation that you choose.

Q) Those conditions don't seem too bad..

A) Indeed? Please note that two days a week for one semester is about a month and a half in real time and that, every company representative will argue, is how long it will take you to get acquainted with the location of the restroom and the canteen on the premises. Which company do you think will take you on those terms?

Q) So if a company won't take us and we can't buy a project, how do we present a project title?

A) Hah! Now you get to the point. There are two ways to approach this problem
1) You can request your father's friend's friend's friend's grandfather's friend who owns a company to kindly give you a project, which they will do out of pity 90 % of the time.
2) You can go ahead and buy one and then tell a blatant lie that you didn't buy it.
The first is demeaning sometimes and the second one is dishonest. Being a man of self respect and a true Gandhian I decided on a third approach; "To think one up", which by the way is the easiest way to go about picking a topic.

Q) What if I'm not smart enough to think of one that would satisfy them?

A) Relax.. That's what I'm here for. The day before the title is due, run through the 10-step "Project title generating process" that I have come up with:

Step 1: Think of several complicated terms in your field of study. Write them all down and then pick the one that is most impressive to look at.

Step 2: Try to find a term synonymous to the term you first picked. Don't worry, it's not very hard. Strangely, almost all fields of study have several terms to mean the same thing.

Step 3: Now join the words you picked with a conjunction or preposition of some kind. If you did a good job of picking synonyms "AND" should work. If you didn't, don't fret; one of the others will fit perfectly fine.

Step 4:
Find a word synonymous to the word 'project' since that is what we are talking about. Some examples are "strategy", "proposal", "scheme", "operation", "applications", "setup", "program". These six words should do for almost every field of study.

Step 5: Append the word obtained in step 4 to the term obtained in step 3.

Step 6: Think of a complicated word/term outside your field of study. The onus is on the word "OUTSIDE". This is important to widen the scope of your project so that you cannot be pinned down at a later date.

Step 7: Find some word/term that is currently "HOT" in your field of study. This will raise considerable interest in your project and give you the status of a person performing groundbreaking research. For example at the time of my project title submission some hot topics included "Wireless", "Security", "Bluetooth", "Virtual Private Networks", "Quality-of-service".

Step 8: Pick a word that is synonymous to "implementation", "experiment", or "evaluation". This step is of utmost importance. Pick "implementation" only if you plan to actually work hard and come up with something that does something. Pick "experiment" if you plan to do something but don't know what. And finally, pick "evaluation" if you plan to do nothing at all.

Step 9: Combine the terms obtained in steps 5, 6, 7 and 8 suitably in a way that makes sense. Though this may appear hard to do at first, I'm sure you will find that the words fit together quite easily.

Step 10: As a final test, count the number of words in the resulting term and ensure the number is greater than or equal to 10. This ensures that the reader will not grasp the title on the first reading. Note that people are always impressed with things that they cannot grasp. So your title will make a favourable first impression. If your term passes this test..

VOILA.. you have your TITLE.

The title I came up with using the above 10-step process is presented below:

"Data Warehousing and Data Mining Applications to Electrical Power System Security Assessment"

I picked "security" because it seemed to bring awe into the eyes of listeners. I could practically see people imagining viruses floating around in space when I mentioned the term. And of course I picked "assessment" which is a synonym of "evaluation" because I planned to absolutely nothing.

Q) Whew.. that seems like a complicated process?

A) Believe me.. It isn't.. Atleast to me, it seems infinitely more appealing than roaming the streets begging for projects from companies or shelling out hard cash to buy one. In any case a project team consists of three members, so you should be done in no time at all if you put your heads together.

Q) Okay.. So I've submitted the title.. What do I do next?

A) Absolutely nothing of course unless you were foolish enough to pick "implementation", "experiment" or something similar for your title.

Q) So I do nothing.. What happens next?

A) Nothing much until the start of the next semester. At the very beginning of the final semester however, we will have what is called a "zeroeth review"

Q) And pray what might that be?

A) Exactly what it says.. "Zeroeth review".. A review where you present "Zero" things. Just make sure you have the title with you on a flashy powerpoint slide instead of a piece of paper.

Q) Then what?

A) Do nothing again.. until the the day before the first review?

Q) Say, how many reviews will we have?

A) If you don't count the zeroeth, three in all.. first, second and final? The first review is the hardest to get through. Once you manage that, it should be plain sailing.

Q) What happens on the day before the first review?

A) You get together with your project-mates and prepare a power point presentation.

Q) Isn't that difficult to do without having done any work on the project?

A) Not very. Start by thinking up a block diagram with atleast 10 blocks, that suits your project title. It need not make sense. Just make sure that the three of you are in consensus about what the block diagram means. Then go ahead and allocate a slide for each of the blocks on the block diagram. There.. you already have over 10 slides. Then of course, there are slides that the staff make mandatory. These include a "title" slide (yes.. again), a "Project goal" slide (explain the terms in your title here), a "project requirements" slide (Include all software/hardware that you have ever heard of. This may not all fit on a single slide, which is better for us. Put the remaining information on a different slide(s)). Also, we have the "Project Strengths" and the "Project weaknesses" slide. It really helps to use big words like "reliable", "stable" and "efficient" for strengths. Make sure you include "difficult to implement" or "expensive to implement" as one of the weaknesses. That gives you an excuse for the absence of an implementation. The "Future Enhancements" slide is a full toss. Hit it for a six by conjuring up all sorts of enhancements that might only be possible in the year 3000. After all they didn't mention how far in the future the enhancements had to be made did they? Finally don't forget the 'thank you" slide. Though it my seem trivial, note that it would add to the slide count. You should have atleast 20 slides if you followed the instructions above which will do for a decent 15 minute presentation if you don't rush through.

Q) Hmm... Seems manageable. But I guess the second and final reviews are going be tougher?

A) No, you're wrong. Like I said before the first review is the hardest. Keep in mind that you already have a presentation in your hands. All you have to do is shuffle a few slides here and there for the second review and you are through. I have actually seen the exactly same presentations for the first and second reviews.

Q) (hopefully) Will it be the same for the third review too?

A) Well.. Almost. You will have to have some sort of a results slide here. Now.. don't panic. All you have to do is use a variation of the "Thinking up" process that we used for the title. Just make sure that there are plenty of tables and graphs.

Q) And we are done? Woweee!

A) Wait a minute.. There's something else that could cause you a lot of trouble if you are not
careful. The PROJECT DOCUMENTATION. Several things to remember while preparing your documentation.
1) It should be atleast 100 pages in length. Though that seems to be a lot, in this Internet age, it is not. Browse for related stuff but don't make the mistake of copying and pasting. Change the tense of every sentence you are 'borrowing'. If the "borrowed" literature is in the present tense make it past and vice versa.
2) Go to the library for once and add all the books related (even remotely) to your project to the references section. Note that you NOT lying here. After all, you HAVE referred each book for the author, title and year of publication.
3) Invariably your project guide will try to interfere with the documentation process by offering weird suggestions. Just nod your head and ignore them. If not, you will have a document that has the font "Courier" for the headings, "Times New Roman" for text and a variety of font sizes from 8 to 40.
4) As a final test, make sure the Table of contents (TOC) is formatted exactly as your guide wants it. He/she will almost certainly mistakenly assume that everything outlined in the TOC is actually present in the document.

Q) Cool.. thanks.. Any other suggestions?

A) Don't go to get your documentation signed until the very last day specified. Else your document may be scrutinized and you will be ordered to make some corrections. On the last day there's nothing much they can do except sign. Once they sign, you are all set to make your project demo before an external examiner.

Q) DEMO.. (shudder) how are we going to do that?

A) C'mon, whether or not your demo works you're going to get 99 if not 100. So I'm not going to waste my time answering that question just to save you a single mark. I really ought to get going. I have to run through my title generating process to whip up a project title for my graphics course. Over and out.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Fun in the mountains..

I organized a social to the White Mountains this past weekend, for the students living in my dorm. For those who don't already know (most of you probably fall in that category), the White Mountains of New Hampshire are ancient mountains that were formed before the Himalayas, Alps or the Rockies. We were supposed to drive up Mt. Washington, where the fastest wind ever had been recorded (231 mph), but weather played spoilsport and we ended up going to a different spot - Frankonia Notch. I hadn't been there before and didn't know what to expect. I was in for a pleasant surprise though.

We were 16 in four cars. The drive up there was amusing especially since one of my friends took it upon her to overtake me and display signs when she passed me. Imagine my consternation when she passes with one of the others in her car holding a piece of paper to the window that read "Loser Leon". Of course I retaliated by overtaking her with the sign "Eat my dust" put up on a window. The rest of the journey went by with both of us writing silly notes. Pretty kiddish I know.. But what the heck.. we all need to chill once in a while... ;-).

When we arrrived at our destination, a 'free' presentation on the mountains was just beginning. Like all 'free' stuff, it was substandard and the only phrase that remains in my head is "FOUR HUNDRED MILLION YEARS AGO". They must have repeated that phrase at least four hundred million times in that presentation.. damn I just can't get it out of my head.

Then the actual fun began. We went on a two mile hike called the "Flume Gorge". It was an amazing hike through the mountains. We passed mountain rivers and waterfalls all in the middle of a scintillating display of trees colored every shade from green to orange to red. (The much talked about "fall colors" that people from all over the world come to check out). Pics follow..

Btw, I forgot to mention that it was pouring cats and dogs all through the hike.. lol.

Winter is fast approaching. This is probably the last trip for this year.. :-(. There's a good side though.. With the lack of opportunity to roam around, I will probably settle down and get some work done.. :D

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Playing chess?.. No spectators please..

When I play a chess game, I hate having people sitting around and watching. Because the inevitable always happens. It would be my turn to move.. and then this happens.. ALWAYS..

Spectator 1 : You are taking so long to move..
Me (thinking) : Who asked you to stand around watching me play. Don't you have anything better to do?
Spectator 2 : You could checkmate him in 6 moves..
Me (thinking) : Oh yeah.. if my opponent forfeits all the five chances he has in between.. even my baby niece could do it.
Spectator 3 (to my opponent, smiling) : I know your plan
Me (find what I overlooked after checking board and think) : Great.. Now I don't even know if I can take credit for winning. I might have missed that if not for Mr. Bigmouth.
Spectator 4 : Your end game is not very good
Me (thinking) : Thank you for telling me something I already know.

On top of all this, you have spectators who smile smugly when you make a move, like they've spotted your mistake. You have others who nod their head and say approvingly "good move, the best you could have made". Do they really expect me to believe they are qualified enough to talk about an unconditional 'best' move from among thousands? And then, there are still others who want to discuss what they, their parents and their grandparents would have done in the given situation. If you give them a chance they would even go so far as to discuss what Vishwanathan Anand would have done in the circumstances..


Another random question that has never ceased to puzzle me? How come most girls don't play chess? After all it is not a physically demanding game...

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


This is a sound that has shattered glass, bent metal, drilled holes in walls, displaced heavy furniture like sofas and tables, forced every animal in the vicinity of it's occurence to bury their heads in the nearest water source, increased my Dad's blood pressure and given my Mom numerous headaches. It is also the sound of my sister screaming, the sound that has been haunting me for 22 years of my life.

My little sister made her entrance into this world of ours on October 11th 1983 with the sole aim of hogging the limelight from the deserving me. After 1 year, 1 month and 4 days of sheer bliss a little imp crept in and my life was never the same again. (sigh)

After my mom returned from the hospital, I went to take a look at this sibling of mine who had dared to keep my mom away from me for two whole days. I was all set to wage a full war to win back what was rightfully mine. But, observing that she couldn't even stand on her own two legs (I had learnt to, a couple of weeks back) and being a fair man(err.. baby) who fought only his equals, I let her off with a menacing look that was intended as a warning. But she proceeded to flaunt my warning for the next 2 years and clung to Mom, crying whenever she was put down even if it were only for a few moments.

But that was only the beginning. You will understand what I meant about 'hogging the limelight' when you read this incident about my admission to Kindergarten.

I was supposed to meet the principal before being admitted to the school in question. For whatever reason(that I can't fathom till date) my Dad decided to take my sister along with us. During the meeting I was asked this phenomenally difficult question. "What is your name?". While I was thinking hard trying to come up with the best possible answer my sister yells out "Leon Nirmal Francis". I get mad. Did she really think I did not know the answer to that one. I was just debating on "Leon" or "Nirmal" or "Leon Nirmal". I was certainly not intending to give out "Francis". If she was too young to understand the finer issues of life like privacy she should have just shut up. Thank goodness the Principal was able to see through my elaborate thinking process, else I might have been denied admission and this blog would have never happened.

In addition to hogging the limelight by fascinating visitors with her gift of the gab, she also took advantage of my niceness(ahem..;-)). Whenever she got into the mood for eating a dairy milk chocolate she would come to me and ask me to go to the store and buy one for both of us.
Nish: Nimu.. I just have to have a Cadburys bar now
Me: So get it yourself
Nish: But my hair is all messy and I have to get changed. You can go as you are.
Me: No way.. I told you last time that I would never do it again..
Nish: Please
Me: No
Nish: Please, please, please..
Me: No means No.

My sister leaves. I heave a sigh of relief. Exactly half an hour later I go the shop and get her the chocolate. I have wasted 30 minutes fighting with my conscience and mind you the devil in me always wins. My sis takes the chocolate with a thank you and a smile that I suspect is a smirk. AND THIS HAPPENS EVERY WEEK. grrrr...

My sister's enormous fear of cockroaches has bothered me to no end. A random incident for emphasis follows:
I get up in the middle of the night for a drink of water. I see 'something' wrapped up on our swing in the living room. My curiosity was aroused and I bend forward to peer and see if it was really what I thought it was- "A human being"(Looking back I think it was very brave of me). At that very instant the 'something' opened it's eyes and let out a classic scream that served three purposes 1. Woke everyone in the household. 2. Confirmed the identity of the 'something' in the swing. 3. Left me without my sense of hearing for the next couple of days. The investigation that followed revealed that after sighting a cockroach in her room, my sister had preferred to sleep on the swing since it did not touch the floor. I was promptly displaced from my bed and sent to sleep in my sister's room. Feeling especially malevolent, I could not resist talking about the increasing number of flying cockroaches in my room.

I could forgive my sister everything but for the fact that she took a dislike to almost every girl that I liked. Imagine the following scenario when I come back home after meeting up with a girl I happen to like..
Me: (with stars in my eyes) Isn't that girl wonderful?
Nish: hah! what taste you have in girls..
Me: What was wrong with her?
Nish: I found her real boring when you got her home earlier this week.
Me: What do you mean boring?
Nish: Let me put it this way.. She talks about the weather beautifully.
Me: Now.. you aren't being fair. She doesn't know you well enough to talk about personal things.
Nish: Yes.. but did she have to nod her head to everything I say
Me: (nastily) Everyone would nod their head to everything you say hoping you'd just shut up.
Nish: (patronizingly) now, don't get upset. She's ok.. but not your type.
Me: How the hell do you know who's my type and who's not?
Nish: (more patronizingly) I know, that's all
Me: Give me a logical reason
Nish: (even more patronizingly) you wouldn't understand
Me: (jumping up and down) I WOULD. I DARE YOU TO TELL ME
Nish: Nimu.. you're such a baby.. Why don't YOU give me a logical reason for liking her?
Me: err.. she's a nice girl
Nish: why do you think she's nice
Me: err.. she talks well
Nish: why do you say she talks well? Did she give you a detailed weather forecast too?
Me: No dammit, we discussed culture and politics.
Nish: Those are big topics indeed. I'm willing to give her the benefit of doubt and accept that she did talk about those subjects.
Me: (Beaming)
Nish: (continues..) But given the fact that you don't know a damn thing about both those topics, wouldn't you agree she's not your type?
Me: (Grit my teeth and count slowly upto 100 wishing murder wasn't a crime in India)

After illustrating the numerous ways in which my sis irritates me it's only fair that I gloat a little about about how I get back at her. Consider a typical conversation between us:
Nish: And there was this guy I met in that college fest.
Me: Mmmm
Nish: He was so interesting. Unlike most other guys i've met.
Nish: Didn't keep trying to fall over his feet doing me favors
Nish: We talked about a lot of stuff. He knows so much. He's like a walking encyclopedia. Imagine me not feeling bored after talking to a guy for 2 whole hours.
Me: Mmmm
Nish: He seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say. He said I talked well and that I should go the debate competition next week.
Me: Mmmm
Nish: What do you think?
Me: Mmmm
Nish: well.. WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Me: Mmmm
Me: (looking at her with a jolt) huh?
Nish: You weren't listening to a word I said
Me: I was. You were talking about some guy err.. in some college fest.. err no in some debate competition (stare stupidly at her)
Nish: I'm never going to tell you anything again.
Me: I wish
My sis Walks away with a look that would've killed everyone except me(I've developed a kind of immunity over the years).

Looking back, I must say that I've taken my sister for granted. I'm sorry Nish, for all the times I've neglected you for other (ahem).. girls, for all the times I've made you play second fiddle to my computer, for all the times the book I was reading was too important for me to stop and listen to you, for all the times I've leaked out your secrets, for all the times I have ridiculed your driving and finally for all the times I've asked you to stop yelling.

Because right now sitting miles and miles away from you, that 'Screeeeeeeeeech..' is the sound of music. MANY MANY HAPPY RETURNS OF THE DAY!! I LOVE YOU!

Now.. before you start floating among the clouds, there's something you must know.


Sunday, October 02, 2005

Tagged again!

*Personal Post Disclaimer*

There are some people in this world who just beg for punishment. Silverine is one of them. After reading my ramblings on "Books" I can't figure for the life of me, how she dared to tag me for a second time. This is a 'Seven thing' tag.. Read ahead and you will know what I mean..

Seven things you plan to do before you die
Assumption: I live to be atleast 60.

1. see the world
2. get married and have 5 kids (wife permitting.. lol)
3. write a book
4. Be the CEO of a company
5. own a BMW AND a Mercedes
6. drive 10 000 000 miles (lol)
7. fly an aeroplane (and buy one.. ;-))

Seven things you can do!!

1. Read like I used to
2. Play Badminton, squash, tennis, chess
3. Stay at home in the weekends and blog!!
4. Spend more time keeping in touch with friends back home
5. Play "Age of Empires"
6. Enjoy both solitude and community
7. Watch 'Friends'.

Seven things you can't do!!!

1. Cook
2. swim.. :-(
3. Say No to people.. (I really have to learn to do this fast)
4. sit simply in one place
5. talk to people who say things they don't mean
6. be away from my computer for more than a day
7. sit on the floor with my legs crossed

Seven things that attract you to the opposite sex!!

1. Intelligent/frank conversation
2. humor
3. How much the person in question likes me
4. looks
5. calmness and poise
6. Walk
7. Good dressing sense

Seven things you say most!!!

1. Hi
2. Damn
3. Are you kidding me?
4. Sure
5. Poda/podi
6. cool/chill
7. see you later

Seven celebrity crushes!

Believe me when I say celebrity crushes are not my thing. I have crushes on real people. And when I don't have a crush on anyone, I just conjure up some imaginary character that I fancy, to dream about. So I'll just mention those that I think are attractive...

1. Jennifer Aniston
2. Meg Ryan
3. Catherine Zeta Jones
4. Kajol
5. Renée Zellweger
6. Rachel Weisz
7. Trisha

It took quite a bit of thinking to come up with answers to some of these questions. But I know a little more about myself now. I guess I should take the time to introspect more often. :-)