The BIG ACM post

This was a long time due. While I blabber about a lot of things on this blog, I have rarely written anything about ACM or Association for Computing Machinery. During my undergrad at NIT-Surat, it was by far the most important thing in my life, more important than academics or attending classes.

I was inducted into ACM by Sunayana on the very first Linux workshop in my first year. I was sitting behind her, on the second bench, and was making comments about the lack of knowledge of the presenter (yes, I was always into Linux), and I even answered one of the question that was posed to him and he was unable to answer. She was impressed (I am awesome, what up?) and asked me to join and I join I did. Well, Anusha Jayanti(her batch mate, my senior and ACM Vice Chair 2007-08) was with her and I thought she was kinda pretty and you don’t argue or think twice when asked by a pretty girl to join some club she is in. Actually, I had read about ACM on the institute website and was a little curious, and since this was all about computers, joining it was the most obvious thing to do. Oh did I mention, I had internals on the very next day of this workshop and I still decided to attend it. Yes, my apathy towards exams had begun.

One of the first things I was asked to do was to get people to join the ACM Chapter as student members. I, Punit and Sanchit (my classmates) took up this job very enthusiastically; we visited room to room and got people to join (and mind you joining wasn’t free) and at the end of the week we had 130+ members from first year itself, without any poster being put up or any seniors coming to give a brief talk on ACM. The three of us managed it entirely by word to mouth and door to door publicity. That year, and that was the first year of the chapter, we became the largest ACM chapter in the world and were given the Outstanding Chapter Recruitment Award by ACM.

It was in my second year I got some more responsibilities. Sunayana had become the Chair and we worked well together; and along with Punit, as well as Sanchit and Harit, we did some really good events. My first event was a Linux workshop. We had prepared well, made a decent presentation but I was not at all comfortable with public speaking and seeing a crowd of more than 100 that had miraculously arrived for the talk, I was unnerved and literally trembling. But when it began, I cooled down and everything turned out well. I used to have this tactic of just concentrating on one or two member of the audience who seemed interested in my talk and that’s what I did. Almost the entire time, I looked at just one member of the audience who appeared to be deeply interested in the presentation and I was able to deliver a decent talk; all thanks to that member in the audience, you saved the day. Of course such a tactic results in lack of eye contact with the rest of the audience but at least the audience does not see you shivering or stuttering. I have improved a lot since then, and don’t need any such tactic anymore.

It’s the people who make an organization and ACM always got the best in the institute as far as computer science was concerned. Ankur Nandwani (guy with hair like Jonny Bravo, a flirt (a legacy I inherited from him), talks in a strange accent swaying his head from side to side) was the founding Chairperson, he was way too studious and was in the good books of all the faculty. He always liked playing by the rules and his most common statement used to be “I have to talk to Jinwala Sir about this”; only later did I realize that this statement had to be the daily chant of any ACM Chairperson. Ankur’s style of leading the organization was a little laid back and he was good at delegating responsibilities (usually to Rajdeep,Sunayana, Anusha, Punit and me). He was instrumental in doing all the ground work in starting the chapter and get it up and running. Sunayana was the opposite of Ankur. Like me, she didn’t give a damn about exams and hated the system much more than I did. She has great ideas and had a finger on various things happening in the world of computer science. It was her idea to start a Linux Users Group and a Web Design Club; which we implemented and I headed. She always motivated everyone to go for research and enjoyed discussing about various happenings in the field. However, as with most research oriented people (and nerds), she was bad(sorry Sunayana) at execution. Her tolerance for tantrums thrown by the faculty and bureaucratic red tape was nearly zero and her most common statements began with “I just hate…..”. We spent long hours discussing computing, our vision for the chapter and stuff that she hated (usually some faculty or the other). While she came up with ideas, it was mostly Punit and me who implemented them. And that was a good thing, because we learnt to manage before getting to lead. When our time came to lead, we too came up with some good ideas and quite a few not so good ideas; but as far as ideas and vision are concerned Sunayana was probably the best.

Leading a voluntary organization has its own challenges. No one is legally or contractually bound to work for you, you have motivate them, threaten and beg if needed, to make them work. Most importantly, you have to yourself set very high standards of work ethics so that when you ask others to perform, fingers shouldn’t be raised at your own performance. Also ego management is a very tricky affair, you are managing a team of equals and that must always be at the back of your mind; you never know when something just manages to hurt someone’s ego.

No discussion about my time at ACM can be complete without Quest. We decided to do something big and like every other club in the institute, we too wanted our very own fest. So in came Quest, a two day computing event. There were a lot of things going against us; this was the first time a computing event of this scale was happening in this part of the country and there were very few students interested or even good at programming; and even among those few, most were ACM members and helping organize the event. Plus, we got delayed in starting off because of some administrative red tape which was beyond our control. There were two other fests (Autofest and Entrumeet) by two different clubs in the institute about to happen around that time in the college; so there was huge struggle for sponsorships as well as good people to work in the team. We had openly told people that they should expect to get any sort of monetary incentive to work for us and that kept away a lot of people from working for us, some of whom were really good at organizing. We wanted to be a taint free event. The fight for sponsorships and participants from other colleges ensured that that the people in the other two events undercut us and even spread false information about Quest in other colleges. On the days of the event, regional politics by these two clubs caused many students to abstain from our event. The ACM chapter was always against any form of regionalism and we did not employ a tit for tat strategy.

However, the biggest problem with Quest was probably my lack of trust in the commitment of my team, which proved to be a very misplaced notion. I was bad at delegating and impatient for results, as a result of which I ended up doing almost everything and micro managing even the smallest of tasks. When I trusted a person, I gave them complete freedom but if I didn’t I had the habit of interfering in their work. Most of the time the person in question was trustworthy and it was only my fears that prevented me from trusting. And I paid for this heavily during Quest. Of course I ended up trusting and delegating more and more towards the end of the preparations but it was too late then. Nevertheless, my team member surprised me with their ideas and commitment for the event. Akshay and Bimal did an admirable job with managing the events, something I had planned to micro-manage. Biswaranjan did a great job on the Infra end and got his hands dirty with the arrangements. Harit organized the best ever press line up and the smooth press conference impressed the administration. Punit was much much more than just the Sponsorship head. In retrospect, having two conveners, the other being Punit, would have been a better idea. May be I should have been the events head instead of being the Convener. The juniors too did a great job and worked hard in every way to make the event a success. Kudos to them.

I thought Quest would slowly die out as we won’t be able to find interested people. I have been proved wrong this year with more than 400 participants and a very very successful run of Quest. Undoubtedly, the current team has pulled off the impossible.
I think my contribution to ACM was in giving it a proper shape and structure. Ankur was the initiator and Sunayana was a dreamer who had great ideas. I was more into managing and getting things done, building a proper structure, laying down rules, guidelines, dos and don’t and giving the chapter an overall character. We presented the image of a free and fair club, where people are chosen entirely based on merit and not based on regional dynamics. By taking a stand on not fudging our financial statements for personal financial motives, even when that meant that we did not always get the best people to work for us in Quest, we set a precedent for all other events; some followed it and some didn’t. At ACM people did not command respect they earned it; and that was true even if you are a senior. We empowered juniors and they could do their own events or freely argue with us. We made ACM the place to be if you are interested in computing.

 

Besides Quest being a success, 6 teams from the chapter will be participating in the onsite round of ICPC which is a great achievement for us. Kevin Patel needs to be thanked here as he is the one who guided these teams. The current chairperson Deepak (who like me wants to do an MBA) and the vice chair Shrey deserve a round of applause. They have taken the chapter to greater heights and I hope we will continue doing well. We succeed because we choose the best people and give them complete freedom to do their thing. Last year’s interviews were one of toughest and we asked people to write algorithms and solve conceptual questions on the spot when they were probably expecting some globe HR questions like “Why do you want to join ACM?” Some of those questions were taken from Microsoft, Google and Directi interviews. We also set the benchmark high for every generation of members and the final outcome of such a system is that we get better people every year.

Whoaa. That was long. But have I covered everything? Well no, not at all. There is just so much to write and I will keep that for some other time. A lot of what I am, professionally and personally, is because of my long association with ACM. I got to do cool stuff, met and worked with some really cool people and made some great friends.

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My first Barcamp…Barcamp Mumbai 6

Wow. What an experience!
Attended BarCamp Mumbai 6 today at SP Jain Institute of Management and Research (SPJIMR). This was my very first BarCamp and so I was unsure what to expect. I reached the venue at 6 in the morning as I had reached Mumbai early and had nowhere else to go. I had prepared half of my presentation on the bus to Mumbai and wanted to finish the rest provided I get a place to charge my laptop. On finding the gates of SPJIMR closed, I headed off to the Andheri Railway station hoping to find a plug point. Once again I was failed by Mumbai. By now hungry and tired I reached a KFC outlet which had opened at around 7:30, which again could not provide me with a plug point but I did find the next best thing, breakfast and that too, chicken. So I had some breakfast. But I still wanted coffee and a helpful guy at KFC told me that one Barista outlet nearby would be open. So I headed off to Barista for my morning cuppa. However, to my dismay, the outlet was to open only at 9 and I decided to sit outside. By now, having had a nice breakfast, mother nature was giving its call and I had no place where I could go and answer it in solitude. I was however relieved that the Barista outlet opened at half past 8 and I hopped in, dropped my bags (one containing my laptop and the other containing lots of Netbeans and OpenSolaris Cds) and answered mother nature’s call just in the nick of time. Once done and much relieved, I had the best start of my day with two cups of double espresso and proceeded to finish the rest of my presentation. Then I headed to the venue at 10 AM.

I got my session registered and selected a time suitable to me. Then I lay down Cds of Netbeans and OpenSolaris 2009.06 on the floor of one of the auditorium and on a desk at the other so that interested people may collect them. I also kept a bunch of OSUM Laptop stickers for whoever was interested. Soon a horde of people started picking them up and there were some queries coming my way. In all I had kept a hundred Cds in all and by the end of the BarCamp all were taken and many had stuck the OSUM stickers on their laptops. Someone had also brought Ubuntu 5.10 Cds to distribute.

Next was the introduction ceremony where everyone introduced themselves in 30 seconds followed by another chance given to attendees who wanted to take sessions to give a very brief intro about what they are gonna talk about. Then the people who wanted to talk were asked to choose a timing for their talk and mark that time on a board placed outside with a post-it not, in many ways like a physical wiki. The sessions were divided across two halls. The first session I attended was by Manan Kakkar who spoke about the tech blogging scene in India. Some of his tips and ideas were good but I found his tone admonishing and patronizing at times and his idea about tech blogging seemed a bit myopic because of his presumption that all tech blogs only report tech news. This was followed by one on solving Rubik Cube and What History can teach us about prospering in the tech age respectively.

The session that I like most (beside mine of course) was the one of Scaling web apps by Vaibhav Arya of Skenzo as bits of it related to HPC which is my area of interest. Lunch followed and I chatted with Amitabh Jain who was to present a talk on Django Framework to be parallel to mine. He is a techie-turned MBA from IIM-A-turned entrepreneur and techie again. Talking to him again made me think if should reconsider my decision to go for MBA, or should I do a Masters in Comps. Soon after lunch I attended a session on Zopte, a web based dynamic website creation and hosting tool. I wanted to go deeper into it but mine was the next session and hence I was busy re-reading my presentation.

I had realized during the introduction session that the crowd was only party techy and that too relating to web technologies. And my talk on Parallel Application Profiling using Scalasca was strictly cutting edge High Performance Computing. Actually I had wrongly assumed that one must speak of ones original work at a BarCamp and my Scalasca work was the only original worthwhile work I could claim of. Had I known the target audience I would have probably talked on JavaFX or Zembly or FBML. Nevertheless I decided to do my best to talk about HPC, Parallel Apps programming, Profiling and Scalasca in my span of 20 min, hoping to create a world record of sorts. As expected, my session had a little more than a dozen people, most had left after reading the title. Still I decided to give it my best and skipped slides which I knew would be too technical. I had prepared those slides while on the bus and at Barista the next morning, so they weren’t exactly my best creation. I finished up my session fast and was asked quite a few questions and all were on the basics of Parallel Programming and MPI which I tried to answer to the best of my abilities.

I attended one more session and then left as I was tired and wanted to go back to Surat and sleep. Overall it was a great experience. I met school kids, entrepreneurs, professional blogger, coders, a really varied crowd and you could learn something from everyone.Overall an enriching experience. Looking forward for more.

So guys I will call it a day now. Am dead tired, need sleep and my back aches from having sat for nearly 32 hours. Good night.

More photostreams

http://www.flickr.com/photos/49216912@N00/sets/72157622437738567/
http://www.flickr.com/search/?q=bcm6&w=28713479@N00
http://www.facebook.com/album.php?page=1&aid=324009&id=674155580
http://www.flickr.com/photos/37217830@N07/sets/72157622564142670/

Awesomeness as I see it

I have been part of various committees and organizations in this college. I was deeply involved with the ACM Chapter as a volunteer, then a Secretary and finally as the Chairperson. One other organization that I have been involved over the last one year is Renesa, the college monthly mouthpiece. I have been the editor of the tech page for over a year after Sunayana quit Renesa (Yes, like in almost everything I followed my Tech mom’s (Sunayana) footsteps here too).

The last year we really did not work much. We could not bring out the promised number of issues and never made it on time. I would not blame any particular person or persons for this. It was a collective failure. A failure to understand what Renesa meant to the college, a lack of dedication and enthusiasm. We used to have meetings where some gave ideas but which never got implemented or were implemented poorly. I myself wrote boring articles for the tech page and mostly they were hastily written. Another reason why the editors were not interested in writing good articles was probably the fact that nobody ever read those. People were mostly interested in the college gossip page called “Rumor Mill”. The rest of the pages were used for various innovative purposes like tissue paper in the canteen, making kites etc. So that dampened the enthusiasm of the writers. Of course this is not just a fault with the readers, if the content fails to generate interest a large part of fault of course goes to the content writers and planners. In all Renesa had become just another thing that the college does. Just another slightly colorful piece of paper.

Now come to this academic year. A new team was formed with Nijeesh Padmanabhan , Ashwin (a)S(s), Srividya, Thomas, Swati and Shruti at the helm. Nijeesh is the editorial consultant and chief designer. Ashwin S and Srividya are the chief editors. Thomas along with Swati and Shruti are the impact consultant (btw, do magazines have such designations? 😉 ) . And what was the difference this time? Well these guys had a vision. They really wanted to “Change our world” with Renesa. They wanted it to be platform for people to think, to learn and also have fun. Most importantly, they expected people to read it and love it. Renesa, to these guys, is not a thing that they have to do, it is a responsibility they love to execute. And this is the vision they propagated to the team, specially Nijeesh, Ashwin and Thomas. And motivated they were. Earlier where we had to pester editors to write articles, this time we had an avalanche of articles and most of them very good ones. It was hard to decide which one to print and which one to reject. Our first issue had 33,000 words in 16 pages. To include that many articles, we reduced the font size. Readability suffered because of that and I have assured by Nijeesh that this wont happen again and I take his word for it because he wants his balls intact.

The design too was awesome. Never before did Renesa have so many colours and my respect for Nijeesh’s designing skills has risen considerably. We printed Renesa in glossy paper and people loved it. Our editors debated endlessly on what to write, how to write on the Renesa mailing list. In fact, my mailbox received at least 15 Renesa mails a day. Last year there used to be 15 mails per month. We put up a new Renesa site. As of now, the site does not contain much content but we expect usage to pick up. The site is my job so I am thinking of ideas to promote the site. Our alumni read the issue and loved it. We got lot many mails of appreciation from them. Some even circulated the issue among their colleagues and relived their college life through Renesa. Students sent SMSs of appreciation with one even saying that he loved the issue so much that he was afraid to read it, lest it get damaged or wrinkled.

The editors are putting in everything they got. No one calls it work. We call it fun. Some of us are now accused of not having a life beyond Renesa because Renesa constantly crops up in our discussions. Some of the new things that have been included this year are “Jack and Jill” where we publicize about a guy and a gal of our college who have had significant achievements so that others can emulate them, “Reviews” where we have reviewed not just movies and books but also gadgets, restaurants etc, Guest articles by famous people (Shashi Tharoor wrote for the first issue), “Faculty Speak” where we ask a faculty to write, “Walk when you talk” where we interview a member of the college administration and College Band Review where we review the music bands (all Rock bands as of now) of the college. Also the Hindi editors are doing a fine job. And with this month’s issue you can expect some really good stuff from them.

All this was good. Now the bad part. Where we went wrong? Well for one the font size was too small. Some people even asked for a free magnifying glass with the issue. There were too many spelling and grammatical errors in the issue. I am sure we can all do with a bit more proof reading.

As for my tech page, I am trying to move it from being a Computers only page to a more general tech page. I want to cover all branches of science and engineering. So suggestions and ideas are welcome.

Do visit our site www.svnit.edu.in/renesa and download an ecopy at http://www.svnit.edu.in/renesa/files/renesa.pdf

And finally, I would like to praise the marketing and distribution team for distributing some 1800 copies in 8 hours, delivered room to room across 11 hostels. And thats an awesome feat considering that there are only 4 people in Marketing. They rock.

As for my role in Renesa, I do the tech page and a bit of humor articles apart from making useless funny comments on the mailing list, abusing people and using expletives that would put many rappers (and Christian Bale) to shame. In all, I have taken it upon me that we never have a dull moment on the mailing list. Kudos to me  for that.

Finally,
@Thomas: The above praise to you was probably the first and the last time I did that. Please do not expect such magnanimity again.
@Ashwin: I still love my abuses and nothing will stop me from using them.
@Renesa Team: You guys rock and so do I.

Things to do

Another “things to do” post where I can brag about all the things I am doing and will do

  1. Sort out the errors in my SCALASCA code. Yeah even geniuses make mistakes
  2. Write an article on atheism for our college mag -Renesa
  3. Write the Tech Page for Renesa
  4. Write two book reviews for Renesa
  5. Write an article on blogging for Renesa
  6. Start on my final year project which I am doing for Sun Microsystems. Details later. Its a secret

My last post was a rather stupid and funny (some find it emotional and I must say that was unintentional) take on Love and Love Aaj Kal. My page hits jumped to nearly hundred in a day. So I guess I will have to write some more on these lines.

Some ideas:

  1. How not to do ‘franship’ with a girl? (I believe Gujju guys really need it)
  2. How ‘not to’ ask any sort of help from ‘her’ friends? And how you will end up totally screwing your chances by doing so
  3. 10 reasons why honesty (or anything even close to it) is certainly not a good policy
  4. 10 reasons to not join SVNIT
  5. 10 reasons to not be a programming geek
  6. How to sabotage ‘her’ impending wedding–  10 clues from Bollywood and Hollywood
  7. 5 tips on how to bluff your way through a tech talk.

WTF?

Trying to create and account at Joyent and host my Facebook App for Imagine Cup, but even the page isn’t loading.They are giving me this error

Proxy Error

The proxy server received an invalid response from an upstream server.
The proxy server could not handle the request GET /facebook_sign_up.

Reason: Error reading from remote server

Now thats bad…

This summer!!!

Exams over. Now lots of free time. Am still at hostel. Will be here till May 20th to finish my imagine cup project. 24×7 Internet at hostel. So I can get all my work done.

After May 20th, I will head over to Bangalore for my internship with Sun. I will be working on Solaris and am looking forward to it.

While at Surat, I will also resume my gym. Plus am planning to join guitar classes, a long cherished wish.

Updates

Here are a few updates:
1. ACM Quest 2008 is finally on a roll. We are now working franatically
2. New ACM Team for 2008-09 has been formed.
3. Certain things I thought I would quit and/or forget are back again.
4.Certain things I thought I would never forget are on the verge of being forgotten.
5.Am participating in Imagine Cup 2008
6. SVNIT Linux Cluster just might see the light of the day.
7. Am doing CAT coaching at IMS.