Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Late nights in the office?

I'm a nocturnal person, I love staying up till the wee hours of the night getting work done and possibly some entertainment (typically side-by-side). It's a model that's worked pretty well with me, and was pretty much the norm at IIIT as well.

It was so much fun back in the lab a lot of us used to pull all-nighters writing papers or doing experiments, take occasional breaks to get a cup of coffee or a bread-omlette from the late-night road side vendor who's up cooking up fast food for other nocturnal creatures working at call centers and BPOs, and then return to the PCs to continue the work.

Now, I'm in my own office, and it's boring, quiet and irritating. Not to mention lonely. How I miss my and labmates! Let's hope CMUQ expands its research labs and brings in more people. A lot more people.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Convocated :)

Convocation's done.

Ever since the idiotic University of Calicut unceremoniously sent me my degree by registered post, I've been looking forward to a proper convocation ceremony at least for the later degrees in life. Last weekend, I flew down to Hyderabad with my parents, got my degree in a nice, simple ceremony. Sure, it didn't have the pomp and grandeur of the QF graduation (QF might have actually spent more money on that night than the entire budget of IIIT for the year), but it was nice nonetheless. A nice touch was that we graduated in desi style, sans cap-and-gown, but with kurta pyjama :)

The picture above is really special because of how all of us are smiling, just so happy, behind those smiles were literally hours and hours of hard work and late nights at our lab, CVIT. Of course there was the occasional goofing off as well, late night movies on the big screen, card games or Facebook games challenges.

But to the issue at hand (there's always a philosophical standpoint or issue that I need to address in every blog post innit?). Last weekend made me realize what my college life in Kerala was. It was a big mess, but it said so much about how education was treated there. The "value" of a degree and the educational experience was denigrated so much, college turned into some sort of conscription that everyone's expected to attend, whether they like it or not. How do you expect students to learn, enjoy learning when the degrees are treated as only a means to an end? When I finished my bachelors back in college, there was no ceremony, no acknowledgment from the college, just a "when are you guys leaving and vacating the hostel" look.

It's sad to see what education has turned into in the "most educated" state in India.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Nostalgia's a bitch.

Here I was, for 7 years thinking that all would be well the moment I finish up in India and come back to good 'ol Qatar. Now here I am, and I'm still craving...something. Can't really put a finger on it. Turns out that I'm really missing what life was like. Innocence, school, friends, yacking over the phone all day, face lighting up when I got money (even 25 bucks would do), no care in the world, LIFE. Now I'm back, I have a great job, can pretty much buy (and did buy) all the things I wanted as a Kid : a nice mobile, cool PC, gaming console, sports coupe, etc. etc. etc.

Turns out you can't really buy back your childhood and teen years. There was a time when the latest game and graphics card would make me drool, but now it's like Meh.

Everyone's busy. No one has the time to talk anymore, not even over the phone. I remember a time when 3-4 hours on the phone a day was pretty standard, and I had even gone up to about 7 hours non-stop. Today, my mom (who is works with Qtel btw) scolds me for not being able to finish 400 minutes on my mobile phone plan a month!

"Go get a girlfriend, talk on the phone, finish your phone minutes, you're wasting money on your plan otherwise", my MOM told me. Oh Snap! That's probably the worst burn a guy can get. From his MOM.

I sighed, went ahead and changed my plan to Shahry 60 (100 minutes free a month). Hope at least now I won't waste any more money.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Fair Game?

News abounds when there's racial discrimination against Indians abroad. We get all riled up when someone was denied access to a bar, not allowed to seek accommodation etc. However, we seldom realize that we might actually be among the most racist people ever.

Caste and religion based discrimination aside, there's this incredible, primal preference that most Indians have for fair skin. India has one of the world's largest markets for skin whitening products (estimated at around half a billion dollars by Nielsen). The recent Vaseline Facebook promotional app whitening your profile picture was a rude reminder of our "pigmentocracy". The fact that this behavior is reinforced by the media is pretty shocking, as people find this an accepted fact of life now. I remember the following ad from Fair and Lovely and as I saw it, it didn't really occur to me the subliminal message that the company was sending so that they could push more product.

I had a discussion with a friend from France about this and that's when I realized the horrible truth. There are occupations in India which are off limits for people who are not fair skinned! Some pretty obvious observations are the film industry, and down south females need to have milky-white skin to be able to land the big roles along side "superstars", who are sometimes on the other end of the skin color spectrum, but that's more sexist than racist. It became pretty apparent to me that camera-facing jobs for TV and media almost always go for the fairer skinned candidate.

It's really scary how this subliminal prejudice has become commonplace, even in my family. I remember my relatives discussing a prospective match for one of my cousins and the usual dialogue (in Malayalam) of "Kutti nallatha, pashe colour pora" (The girl is nice but her colour is not enough!). Colour is a widely-used euphemism for skin fairness in Kerala.

In spite of having an institutionalized form of discrimination and racial segregation not too long ago, countries like the US and South Africa have come a long way in accepting dark skinned individuals in all walks of life. I remember watching some hollywood action movie on TV and one of my Uncles, who is not used to watching English content remarked, "American cinemayil Negroesinu nalla pradhanyam unde" (American movies tend to give importance to Negroes)

One can only hope that this there's a gradual shift in attitude and people realize that a person's worth is not function of his/her melanin content.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Fooling Around in Doha

The video should say it all :P

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Hot, Lazy, Boring Summer!

California was a blast, I'm not going to write a lot about it since I might get a bit depressed reading it afterward (yes, I occasionally peruse through my own writings in an effort to better understand myself, DUHH!)

As I gradually return to normalcy and my sleep cycles have made a full shift back to UTC +3 (AST), I that this is going to be one long, hot and boring summer. Sure, I have a few friends to keep me company, but it's still pretty boring here. The campus is practically empty and deserted, and I'm all alone here, fending for myself and keeping the research work alive by myself. And the frikkin' HEAT! I've not been in Qatar for July/August for well over 7 years now and I pretty much forgot how punishing the weather can be. To rub salt on these wounds, California was pretty much the best weather I had ever experienced in my life, with bright sunshine and highs of 20 C. Both my brothers have left for India which basically leaves me and my parents at home.

But I think I complain too much. I'm really looking forward to August 14th, as I will be at my first (actually my family's first) official graduation (convocation) ceremony back at IIIT. Also, Ramadan with family after 7 years (see post below about Ramadan Woes at IIIT). So I guess it's not all that bad :)

Friday, July 02, 2010


I've been to Dubai maybe once in 2001, entirely by accident as a flight to India was stuck in dense fog. Since 2007, however, I've flown to Doha via Dubai many times. Dubai airport is a destination of it's own.

Some of the facts are pretty mind blowing: Emirates Terminal 3 is the world's largest terminal by floorspace. When I flew in today, I noticed that they were literally doubling the terminal area and construction's in full swing. Dubai airport services about 40 Million passengers a year, which is much many times more than the actual population of the UAE (~7 Million). Dubai duty free is the world's largest duty free operation with over with over 1 Billion dollars in sales and about 20 Million transactions a year. 5600 flights a week to over 200 destinations by nearly 100 different airlines.

Sure, all these facts and figures about the airport are pretty impressive, but what usually moves me is the Human aspect of this incredible place. Dubai airport is a transit melting pot, located roughly in the center of the world. When whizzing past one gate to another, I see and encounter thousands of people for a quick glance, a brief moment where our lives intersect. I get to see people from all walks of life, and a game I love to play is "What's their story". You see an elderly couple gradually making their way through the terminal to get to their flight, probably to visit their children and grandchildren in a far-away foreign land. Immigrant laborers, confused and dazed, somehow managing to navigate this mammoth structure to get to their next flight. People happy and excited to be reunited with their families, or sad that they are going far, far away and won't see them again for a long time. Excited tourists onward to an exotic location. Businessmen, with their laptops and blackberries, typing away and making sure that they are on top of their job, even while traveling. And so much more.

This very mix, blend of people from all walks of life, from all over the world, all with their own story, their own chapters of life all going forward in motion. It's a sight to behold and really puts your life in perspective.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Off to San Francisco!

Wow, looks like June's becoming a special month of sorts. Last year, in June, i flew to the east coast in the US and visited both New York and Miami. It was an amazing experience, to be finally able to see the "fabled" land of the US, given the couple of years of slogging I went through in India.

Looks like I'm being rewarded again, Tonight I fly to the west coast, to San Francisco for four days on a business trip to the Hadoop Summit in Santa Clara. This time, it's business class all the way. I mean I can't believe my luck. Damn!

Then again, there's a part of me who's loathing the trip a bit. For the most part of the last decade, I've been traveling alone. I think the last time I've traveled with my family is back in 2001, for my brother's wedding. I've now associated travel with a bit of loneliness, a time for reflection. And on this particular flight, (one of Emirates' longest non-stop flights), it's going to be 16+ hours of traveling all alone. Yup, that's a long time to be left alone with your thoughts.

Don't get me wrong, I've become perfectly accustomed to traveling alone. There's always this excitement of seeing a new place, and a word in the English language describes it perfectly: Wanderlust. But there's always this feeling, a longing for someone to share the experience with.

I remember remember going to NYC / Manhattan alone. It was exciting at first, roaming the streets by foot, stopping to catch my breath, opening up this cumbersome pocket map and navigating my way through from Grand Central Station to Central Park to The Met, 30 Rock and Times Square! But at the end of the day, It was a bit depressing. It would have been nice to have at least another person that I can turn to, talk to, enjoy exploring the city with.

And it's going to happen all over again. I didn't want to spend too much time in San Francisco, but I'm not dumb. I've earmarked a day for sightseeing, I just might sign up for some sort of city tour or something. But It's going to be one day, all alone, at a place I've seen so many times in movies and TV shows. But I won't have anyone to share it with. Bummer.

Am I going soft? Maybe I should man up, there's so much that I need to finish in my life before I "settle down". But will it be too late? Will I turn into Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) from Up in the Air? Am I doomed to see the world and all it's glory alone?

Hope my Mom does not see this post :)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Duuude Noooo!

(Not for the weak-at-heart, gruesome double entendres may follow)

So I've been frequenting the fitness facilities here at QF. Might as well, right? Great facilities, free of charge, and I'm feeling great now that I swim almost everyday. But there is one thing that really pisses me off. The sheer number of people who change without stepping into the changing booths at the locker.

I mean, please, come on! Why the F do you have to show the whole world your junk? I just don't get it. It's been like the nth time that I've accidentally walked into someone changing right in the hallway without bothering to use a booth. My eyes still hurt from the scene. Dude! I don't even know your freaking name!

"Sure, we're all made the same way. and we all have the same "apparatuses" or whatever, but please, just take it inside, at least here in Doha. No, we're not that cool about it here. I mean if I was in a ladies locker room, then...well.. lets not go there. How did this become acceptable locker room conduct? I mean who started this whole concept?

Ugh. Please god, I don't want to see anymore bananas and coconuts.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Back to Life...

Why am I complaining?

I have a nice, comfortable job, in my "home"town, that is not a run-of-the-mill IT job. I'm doing research, I work on projects that are pretty close to what I worked on in IIIT. Home to Office commute is roughly 10 minutes, 5 if i decide to put the pedal to the metal on my swanky new car, a vehicle I cannot dream of owning (and fueling) in India. Heck, I could go out on a limb and admit that this job is probably the best job for me in Qatar. I could also claim that this job is identical in work to typical MS/PhD research work, but with a fairly generous paycheck.

But it really isn't. I think it has something to do with what my Boss said when I had lunch with him in the first few weeks of my time here:

"When you are a student", he said, "you can afford to be spontaneous, you can walk around campus aimlessly, you can have 2-3 hour discussions with fellow students about life, universe and everything. This life is addictive, you are free of responsibilities. You are responsible only for yourself. And then there's 'real life'. It's like a big red button that you choose to ignore as you study. But it gets bigger and bigger as time passes. Finally, when you step out of grad school, you push the button and you enter real life, with all the responsibilities and stress and other goodness that come complementary with it"

I haven't gone to grad school and gotten a PhD. But having done what IIIT essentially calls a "mini-PhD", I understand exactly what he's talking about.

It's not like my life's chock-full of stress and responsibility. Not yet. But its slowly becoming mundane, routine, boring. What really hit me was my friends asking me about my plans for a PhD, and what I'd be doing when I was leaving IIIT. Even though the work I'm doing here is pure research, on par with what is expected from a PhD student, it's not the same. I don't have the luxury of being a carefree student anymore.

Have I pushed the button too soon?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

India (2003-2010)

2003-2010. 7 Years.

Memories. So many memories. Bittersweet memories. A wake up call for life, a reality check for a person who hardly spent time outside a tiny little nation called Qatar.

Transformations. From a naive NRI brat to a brand new person, educated in both computer science, research and life. From tunnel vision to broad-mindedness.

This blog was all about missing home. Tomorrow, I go home. For good. I used to look forward to this moment like it was the biggest thing in my life, but I don't anymore. Looks like it's time to start a new blog, one about restlessness and boredom, because in spite of all Qatar has to offer in comfort, quality of life and family, it just can't offer things that India offers:

Things like spirit, adventure, and scale. The spirit of India, the adventure that daily life is over here, and the sheer scale of this country, the size, the unknown sights and sounds and smells. So much to explore, so much to do, so much to experience, probably for a hundred lifetimes!

India has left a lasting imprint in my soul, my character, my being. Tomorrow marks the last day for me here. I'll never forget the places I've been, the people I've met, the friends I've made and the experiences I've had.


Monday, June 14, 2010

The end of an Era...

Where do I begin?

I’m such a lazy ass! I love to write, but I don’t. So many amazing things that have happened my life but I don’t bother writing about them! I think I should at least capture the essence of the most defining moments of my life, so that I have these milestones in my life noted and remembered somewhere “in the cloud”

In a few hours, I’ll be defending my Master’s thesis. In academic terms, it also means defending your honour, your work, your research. And that marks the end of an era, a time I’ll never forget, here at the International Institute of Information Technology, Hyderabad.

Where do I begin? This place has given me so much and took nothing in return. Two and a half years of working on cool Research problems, solving them, having it accepted at a major international conferences, going to said conferences, and having your work recognized by your peers. It’s been amazing, and on this journey, two special people (Dr. Kishore Kothapalli and Dr. PJ Narayanan) were there to guide me at each step of the way.

I could go on and on about the nitty-gritty of the past couple of years here at IIIT, but I don’t think I have the writing prowess to pull it off and capture the essence of what was essentially the best time of my life. All I want is to be able to come back to this post, look at it and smile at one of the happiest moments in my Life... :)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Journey Called Life

Listening to a few songs on my mobile, I sit patiently at the gate. Waiting for the departure call. I keep staring at the wall clock and as I look around in the terminal, I suddenly realize what an amazing journey life's been so far. Why, you ask? Well, I'm writing this post at New York's JFK Terminal 4.

Glancing at the sea of people in the terminal, each to thier destination, my mind drifts to memories of my life about 3 years back. The amazing contrast of my life back then, being a uniformed student at a college, slogging away, taking the packed train every Monday to college. I've even slept on the floor of the general compartment in a train, for a 7-8 hour trip. A trip to the New York just a pipe dream back then, something which was an occasional fantasy which I would drift into as I watch my favorite sitcoms and movies.

Its precisely these contrasts that make life amazing. One moment you may be struggling to make ends meet in India, the other moment you are having a cocktail party on the scenic Hudson river at Battery Park or enjoying the view of the pristine South Beach in Florida. Who knows what life has in store for me next?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The countdown clock keeps ticking away...

Life's been a perpetual countdown clock for me. The moment I get the Arrival Immigration stamp on my passport - this clock is reset. When landing in Qatar, the clock resets to the duration of my stay there, and when I land back in India, the clock resets for a much longer duration.

So the moment my entry immigration is stamped on my passport in Doha day after tomorrow, I have a clock that resets to 24 days, 6 hours, 12 minutes. And believe me when I say that this will seem more like a week.

The true proof of the concept of relativity is apparent from my bi-annual visits to Doha. Time DOES bend. The weeks and days and hours before my departure to 'home' goes crawling by but the time spent once I'm there, or at least the perception of it, goes by in a flash.

This has been happening for the past 9 visits, and I expect it to be no different this time.

That's where it gets scary now. Is my life all about being a perpetual countdown clock? Forget the non-resetting countdown clock of life in general, but this clock that resets every time I'm home and back? The thought of this actually makes me go insane.

But the sheer wait for that moment when I step through the Arrivals gate in Doha, to be greeted and hugged by my family, a long conversation in the car about the journey, life etc and finally the moment I step into my room and in my dear bed that I love so much, makes it totally worth it!

Well, I surely hope that this outburst is just the homesick lunatic in me ranting along!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Will the Real Gamers Please Stand Up?

So folks, it’s been a hectic few weeks as I was working on my research, and coupled with the odd hours of working during Ramadan. Things are back to normal now, or as the average IIITian might say: the Larkification of the Owl is complete.

You might have noticed that I’m a die-hard gamer – Most of the posts on this still-nascent blog will refer to gaming in some form or another. I know what some of you might be thinking now… “I wonder what this guy’s frag count in CS or how much time does he take to build 50 houses in AoE” and the like. So, to all such people: Here’s a major rant that I’ve sealed up inside for quiet sometime:

Gaming doesn’t start and end with CS, AoE and NFS. I’ve seen most of the ‘gamers’ here restrict themselves to this - unofficial “Universal Subset of Games” in IIIT. Very few brave warriors dare venture into uncharted territory with new games or old classics. This post is an attempt to open the doors to other ‘gamers’: Open your Eyes and see the light…

I have a real bone to pick with CounterStrike. Sure, it’s the world’s most popular game, and it has its reasons… one of which is primarily the fact that it runs on every god damn machine u throw at it. But seriously, after hours of running and chasing around the same maps over and over again, don’t you people long for more? Are the flat-shaded walls and the endless yapping of “(Counter)Terrorists win” enough to keep you all hooked? Some people just refuse to even try something else lest the presence of a new game on the same disk offend the grand 10-year old executable. Here’s a self assessment for all the CS freaks: If you know what game was unofficially modded to give you CS, ok, you guys aren’t as lost as I thought. Bonus points if you’ve actually played that game.

I know what you are thinking…”but d00d, how can we even think of playing games that come out today, the ones that require a nuclear deal to be signed with some country to just get enough processing power to play them?”. Ok, I give you that one. But try out some other games: if you are willing to play CS, surely there are other games that might be your fancy: How about Quake 3 Arena or Unreal Tournament? For true adrenaline junkies, it’s just pure non-stop action with immediate respawn and not turn based like CS. One real classic to be mentioned here is Halo 1. It’ll run on any system, it’s got amazing multiplayer with a wide range of weapons and vehicles. You can even get into a tank and use it to run over your friends: How does that sound? Another awesome game is Serious Sam : The Second Encounter. I've played it from start to finish in co-op with ORB, and it was among the most multiplayer fun we've ever had!

"Look at how many people I can frag with this! Die Covenant Scum!"
Halo Multiplayer Screenshot

And now for Age of Empires, and just like the name, a game takes Ages to complete. And most people blindly assume that it’s the only good strategy game ever made. As a matter of fact, one of the best strategy games ever made, as well as one of the earliest genre-defining and bestselling RTS games is the Command and Conquer series, The latest installment of which just released recently called Red Alert 3. And the best part? Actual, real hot babes that call you Commander and obey your every command (well most of them at least). Tired of ramming Persian Elephants into walls all the time? Try sending in a F-22 Raptor to take out a Soviet Tesla Coil that’s frying your soldiers at the enemy base. The Red Alert series is all about the US vs. Soviets – and if you go with the Reds, it’s the perfect game to live your ultimate communist fetishes, hell ya!

Honestly... Who do you really want to Command right now?
Age of Empires II vs. C&C: Red Alert 2

So a final appeal to all you people: Don’t restrict yourself to a single game because you believe that it’s best game ever made – That’s akin to saying that “The Matrix” is the best movie ever made, bar none, and you flatly refuse to watch other movies. Expand your horizons in gaming. I’m sure that you will be pleasantly surprised. Expecting fanboy counter-ranting in 3...2...1...

Monday, September 15, 2008

Ramadan Woes...

In case you people haven't noticed yet, I'm a Muslim. And this is the holy month of Ramadan (or Ramzan) for us. Since a lot of people have been asking me about it (understandably since there are only about 25 Muslims on this campus), here's quick blog post to inform everyone.

During Ramadan, a healthy, able Muslim must compulsorily fast for the Month of Ramadan in the Islamic Calendar (this year it's from 2nd Sept - 2nd October). That means no food, water, sex etc. from Sunrise to Sunset. We break the fast at sunset (which is calculated scientifically nowadays), traditionally with a few dates and water, and then a huge feast! Here's what a typical 'break'-fast looks like:

Being brought up in the Middle-East was an amazing experience during the holy month. The moment Ramadan started, the entire place would change. Mornings and Afternoons would be lazy, most shops would down their shutters, schools and offices will get at least 1-2 hours off. Everyone suddenly becomes pious and good-hearted.

Our neighbors (all arab, btw), will send huge parcels of food that they have prepared at home (Kebabs, Haleem, Biryani, Cutlets etc), and that too every single day! Needless to say, Ramadan was a time when everyone used to double in size in spite of starving all day long. After the evening prayers, the entire city used to bear a festive look. Shopping Malls, small stores, Footpath vendors will all be open till the wee hours of the night, the aroma of freshly cooked delicacies will be everywhere. Ramazan was also a time of roaming around and eating, since everyone wants to host an Iftar (break-fast) party at their homes. Mosques run by influential sheiks would set up a huge tent and host a public buffet every night, for everyone, come and eat as you like! Ramadan is treated like a month-long festival there, with a delicious spread served for all 30 days. Check out one such iftar feast:

It’s been about 5 years since I’ve been with my family at home for Ramadan and year after year it’s been getting worse. Given the small number of students who are fasting (~25) we cannot make elaborate arrangements for our food. And we are forced to rely on the canteen to feed our only meals for the day – the Iftar (sunset) and Saher (sunrise) meals. The first week was extremely bad: Food was coming in Late, and one day our canteen-wallah tried to make Biriyani, but ended up like Pongal. (I wish I clicked a snap of it then to convince you people). The two UG1 Muslim students have opted out of the ramzan mess arrangements after falling sick and are now fending for themselves.

There is pretty much nothing that can be done about this situation. We all know that our canteen is in a deplorable state, but it is our only option to get food during this month. It’s pretty ironic that Hyderabad is one of the best places to be in India during the month of Ramadan, but inside the Institute, it’s a real downer. One silver lining is that we believe that during this month, we are expected to suffer and work as usual, and not take it easy. Going by that, we are sure to receive extra ‘credits’ from the God Almighty for this month.

I would like to mention however the goodwill and support extended by our faculty in letting us make all the arrangements for this month – from the prayer areas to finance and mess arrangements. Compared to other institutes with Muslim minorities in the student body, we have been treated very well. I’ve heard stories from friends in institutes like IIT-M about how much they have to bear with the indifferent attitude of the administration to get their Ramadan-related issues sorted out, year after year. I’m not sure if this is the case with other institutes but it doesn’t really sound too farfetched.

Bottom-line, I’m ranting about not being with my family during this month!

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Tech-Nostalgia Part II – First Time Surfin’

On a hot summer day, sometime in June 1996, my dad came home with an envelope – I grabbed it from him and ripped it open. It contained a 1.44" floppy and some instructions. The envelope contained our first Internet Access Account and Package.

My PC at the time was a Pentium 133 Mhz PC with 2 GB HDD. It was fully loaded back then – An 8 speed CD-ROM drive, Soundcard, etc. This was also my first "Assembled" pc as I had branded machines before this: MiTAC, Compaq, AST. The PC also ran Windows 95.

Also, about a year before that, Qatar had an old-skool Bulletin Board Service (BBS) working via a dial-in server on a terminal. I've checked this out with some of my friends; it's pretty cool and is basically the text-only precursor to the Internet.

So I start up the computer and frantically follow the instructions to the dot. Luckily, the ISP has DHCP enabled, so all I had to do was configure the DNS servers (back then, DNS configuration was also manual). So I saw things like IP Address and stuff, really made no sense to me back then. So after setting everything, I said a prayer and clicked on 'Dial'. The 28.8K modem sprang to life, opened the telephone line and started dialing the access number. Then, all of a sudden, the computer starts making funny noises (I later found out that this was the most famous modem handshaking noise, something which is now pretty much defunct). Also, this was one of the first Internet access dialer programs, so the moment the handshake was completed, a terminal screen showed up with the login and password to be keyed in then (much like today's putty). So after logging in to the Internet terminal, I wait patiently as the terminal window starts showing weird characters, and then poof! , the modem disconnects. After resolving the Issue (which was merely to close the login terminal after dial-in), Windows 95 reported that I was connected to the Internet, with the small modem icon in the system tray!

So I fire up MS Internet Explorer v2.0 (which came pre-installed in my copy of Windows 95), and then wait patiently for something to come up. I was just staring at a blank page. I picked up a magazine that I had got about a month back which featured some Internet websites, so I randomly choose a site from their list. I typed in the address patiently, and hit enter. Suddenly, a animated logo Windows appears to by flying, and after a full 5 minutes, I saw a green-colored page.

I was seeing my very first HTML webpage. It was a Star-Sports cricket page made for the Cricket World Cup of 1996. Since Google didn't exist back then, one of the engineers from my dad's company recommended a site called Altavista for all my searching requirements – (the site was decent, it kept me company until Google was launched in 1999-2000). By the end of the day, I downloaded Doom in a file format that I'd never ever seen before (.zip), and also discovered a nifty little application called WinZip. I was totally hooked on to the Internet!

At QR 6 an hour (approx. 75 Rs.), it wasn't cheap, and the arrival of the Internet bill was a monthly scolding session from my parents. Within a few months, I switched to Netscape Navigator 2 (the precursor to Mozilla), Then when Windows 98 was released, IE completely obliterated the competition and Netscape became defunct. It's nice how Netscape is kicking IE's ass with its rebirth as Firefox now.

Even after I came to India for Higher studies in 2003, Dial-up internet was still the only way to go online. Also, my previous college had sucky 64k ISDN lines to its labs only, so the only way I went online back then was using GPRS through my mobile. I'm greatly indebted to Airtel in Kerala, since they allowed me to go online at a reasonable rate of 250 Rs./month unlimited access. Sure, the speed was just a little better than the first time I went online on the 28.8K modem, but it did a good job of keeping me connected to the world as I slogged away for 4 years in a village to complete my B.Tech.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Tech-Nostalgia (Part I)

Sometime in 1992, back in Doha, I was sitting at home, doing my Homework like a normal 7 year old, and my Dad pulls into the driveway. My big bro (12 years old at the time) sprints out and jumps up and down. Dad's got a smile on his face as he gets out and opens the trunk.

Inside, there were 2 big heavy white boxes. I was still trying to figure out what was going on. The excitement was clearly showing on everyone.

I had not much to look forward at that time. There was just that State-run TV that showed 30 minutes of cartoons a day, and otherwise, I was just a kid who sat at home, reading some of the children's books that were lying around.

So we bring the boxes inside, Mom gets a cloth to wipe clean a table we had to put it on. As we unboxed the containers - I saw what looked like a small TV, and a big white metal box. It was a sight to behold at the time: Like some contraption that came from the future. My brother was busy glancing at the manual, and we placed all the equipment one-by-one on the table. After frenzied searching in the manual, we figured out what needs to be plugged into what. So finally, when everything was in place, we said a small prayer and plugged it in to the wall socket and pushed the power switch.

This, my friends was my first contact with a computer. It was an 80286 IBM-Compatible PC manufactured by a Taiwanese company called MiTAC. The specifications (as I remember) were:

  • 80286 Intel processor Clocked at 12 MHz
  • 4 MB RAM
  • 40 MB HDD
  • Colour Monitor attached to a VGA Graphics Adapter
  • Standard PC-AT 101-key Keyboard

So, we waited in awe as the Computer fired up, Saw many rolling digits (which I know know is the BIOS), and finally this prompt showed up:


That’s when we knew that the beast was alive, and ready to take input. So, my brother and I sit on the table, all excited, and type:


We saw some lights flash, we were scared out of our wits, as the computer took some time to process what we just typed. And then, all of a sudden, the computer spouted out:

Bad command or Filename

OK. The computer was talking back to us, but didn’t make much sense. I thought I'd try to introduce myself. I tried typing:


Again, as the computer tried to process it, it then said the same thing:

Bad command or filename

Dad comes in and says... “Boys! don't spoil the computer by typing garbage. I'll get an engineer to help you people use it.”

So, we then switch of the computer, and after a day's wait, my dad brings home a computer engineer from the company, who taught my big bro some fundamentals. He brought a big bag of 5.25" Disks and put them in one by one and typed so many commands as the computer just kept generating screen after screen of text that made no sense to me. Finally, after my begging my brother later when he left, He taught me the first few commands I’ve ever used on a PC:




That, my friends was the point where I fell in love with computers and computer games :)

Meanwhile, check out the promotional video for MS-DOS 5 (the OS described above), back when M$ was desperate for the $$$'s here.