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Semester 7

December 10, 2007

After spending 3 months in the US, travelling on fast cars, trains and jets, when you return to India and the car on the way to IITK, gets stopped by a cow standing in the middle of the main road, you can’t help smiling and feeling good about getting back 🙂

Well, like I said, it felt to be back 🙂 and I had a lot more enthusiasm in me than when I left. The sem was going to be a standard IITK-CS sem loaded with projects apart from the usual exams. Given that this was a critical sem career wise, I decided to do some planning for a change.

I took a Video Production course expecting it to be light thus giving me more time for placements and apping (it turned out to be time intensive mainly cos I ended up going to most classes and tried to do things a little sincerely :P). I also took a finance course (which was the eventual reason I actually sat for the finance companies).

I gave TOEFL in September and GRE in October. I didn’t really prepare that well for either of them but did reasonably ok in both. I had made this plan for the semester scheduling my preparation for core/consulting/finance company interviews along with GRE, TOEFL, SOP writing, contacting alumni etc but somehow things got postponed and in the end November got really busy.

A lot of my time that semester went on this initiative called PAS. It is basically a web based system to streamline the placement process at IITK. Since it was the first time that it was being deployed, there were quite a few minor issues but on the whole things went smoothly.

November was the busiest month of my entire stay at IITK : on one hand I had to prepare for placements while also write my statement of purpose for grad school applications and if that wasn’t enough, the 5 semester projects and endsems also came along, not to mention having to manage PAS. But somehow I managed and eventually I got placed with Lehman and Tower Research on December 1 which happened to be Day 1. I guess apart from having prepared, the one thing that did help me was having seen the placement process happening for the past 3 years which tends to remove the nervousness since you feel you know what kind. Maybe I someday will write a post on placements at IITK (and in general the IITs) – there are a few myths that one tends to hear in the media, from seniors etc that need to be cleared.

Weeks 10,11,12 – Texas and wrapping up the projects

August 5, 2007

I spent a week working on the search engine, doing some optimizations and also adding a feedback mechanism so that we could compare our search engine results with that of Live/Google. I also worked on the transaction ads protocol and finalized it.

On Friday, I again headed to the airport after lunch. The flight to Dallas was via Alberquerque (incidentally the place where Microsoft began). I stayed there with my mom’s cousin who incidentally is a Director at Microsoft Dallas. I last saw him when he visited us in Muscat but that was probably over 10 years back. It so happened that his parents were also visiting at that time so I got to see them too after about 6 years. We went around to a few places in Dall including the Microsoft campus there, which at least in terms of refreshments was identical to Redmond 😉

I returned on Friday and started winding up the 2 projects I had worked on and started on a third project. The last week was a little hectic because apart from winding up the projects, I also had to pack. I somehow managed to pack whatever I could into my suitcases and stuffed the rest into Nilendu’s suitcase without him noticing 😛

We left on the 28th, a Saturday from Seattle to Chicago and from there to Delhi and then Kanpur.

The summer was easily one of the best summers I had. I got to visit a lot of places in Washington, California, Oregon, Hawaii, Michigan and Texas so am really happy with the amount of fun that I had. In terms of work, my mentor seemed happy with my work and Microsoft eventually filed 3 US patents in my name based on the three projects so on the whole I guess the summer on the whole gets a 10/10.

Hopefully I’ll get to visit Redmond again someday 🙂

Week 7,8,9 and Weekend 9 – California

July 13, 2007

I spent the next two and a half weeks working hard and the final result was a usable search engine that could be accessed by typing in the URL, typing in a query and clicking Search. The query then went to a crawler which at run time downloaded a lot of pages, extracted the text, removed common words (called stop words), stemmed each word to its root, generated term frequencies, calculated the scores of each page and finally selected the top 10 pages and sent them to the user’s browser as a HTML page.

On one weekend, the IITK interns at Oregon State University came over along with the other Indian interns there. Somehow, 20 people managed to sleep in our 3 bedroom house 🙂 We ended up going to Seattle and looking around. We also went on this cruise around Eliott Bay.

Wednesday, July 4th is a national holiday in the US. I took  Thursday and Friday also off and went for a 5 day trip to California.

I left shortly after lunch on Tuesday for the airport. The Delta flight took off from Seattle at 5 pm and this time I was flying alone. The plane reached Los Angeles at 7:30 pm. I first took a airport van to the Aviation Boulevard Green Line station. From there, I took the train to Norwalk station (this is basically identical to the Delhi Metro). From Norwalk, I took the Metro 460 to Harbour Boulevard. I got off just outside the entrance to Disneyland and saw people coming out with smiles on their faces 🙂 I took the No 43 bus from there to the Hostelling International Fullerton hostel and reached around midnight.

This was my second time at a HI hostel (the first was in Hawaii). Here too, the staff and guests were very friendly. I slept off soon and got up at about 7 am. I had breakfast and then went to the bus stop from where I caught the No 43 which dropped me outside Disneyland.

I had bought this 5 park California Fun Pass which included a 3 day multi-pass to Disneyland and California adventure park, a day pass to Universal Studios Hollywood, a day pass to the Sea World at San Diego and a day pass to the San Diego Zoo.

I went on to the Disneyland entrance and entered after showing my pass. I suddenly felt that I had lost 10 years from my age 🙂  Every single character, every single tune playing in the background was familiar. I then headed for my first rise, the Space Mountain. I had to wait in the line for about 20 min before I got to go for the ride. It was basically a fast roller coaster ride – what made it interesting was that we were supposedly in space which meant darkness all around which made it a little scary especially if one is sitting right at the front (like your’s truly) and appears to be hurtling into darkness.

Once the ride was over, I observer that the wait time had become 1 hour for that ride. Disney has this concept of a FastPass wherein you could get a pass in advance and stand in the FastPass queue which was much shorter – the constraint however is that each FastPass has an expiry time and you can issue a new FastPass only after the one you have has expired or after 2 hours.

So, I decided to do some optimization. I quickly grew 10 years older to become the IITK CS guy, and sat for 5 minutes during which I marked all the rides on the map along with the wait times and designed a traversal that would enable me to go on all the rides with minimum waiting time and minimum walking, taking FastPasses in between. I believe this might have been an NP complete problem. Anyhow, once this was done, I once again grew 10 years younger and strolled ahead 🙂

A few hours later, I had completed all the rides that had appeared interesting in Disneyland. I also got to watch the famous Disney Parade and a few other shows. It was late afternoon by now so I headed to the California Adventure Park which is opposite Disneyland and is targeted more at adults than children. There were a lot of interesting rides here too with the general speed of rides being much higher than in Disneyland.

My favourite ride in Disneyland were Space Mountain. In California Adventure Park, my two favourites were California Soaring and California Screaming.

In California Soaring, there is this huge hemispherical screen into which the audience is lifted into. Then there is a simulation wherin video is shown on the screen (and since you are inside the hemisphere, it appears like a real life experience as you can look up or down and see the sky/land) and there is motion to simulate flying over the clouds along with water and perfume sprays when we fly over the seas… on the whole a very realistic experience.

California Screaming is a very fast roller coaster ride. How fast? Well at one point, my train went in a loop during which I was upside down and did not even feel weightless (by now all those of you who gave JEE must have thought of sqrt(5*g*R) 😛 )

It was soon becoming dark so I headed back to Disneyland to see the July 4th Fireworks. After that, I headed to the exit, caught the 43 bus and returned to the hostel.

The next day I again went to Disneyland/California Adventure Part, only this time Devika was also there. I also got to go for some of the rides I had missed the earlier day. Disneyland is really enjoyable, the only issue at times can be the walking which would make you tired by evening. But then there are lots of places where one can sit inside and just watch clips playing on the screen.

I reached the hostel again late at night, totally tired out. The next day we went to LA to Universal Studios. The park was interesting…they show you how the special effects is done in the movies. There is also a tour around the studio where one gets to see various sets including the set for the filming of War of the Worlds (complete with the crashed plane). There were also a few rides and costumed cartoon characters including Spiderman, Shrek, Fiona and Donkey 😀

I reached the hostel again but this time a little earlier and again went of to sleep fast. The next day, we went to Sea World. Sea World is in San Diego which is a 2 hour drive from Disneyland and so, it was past noon when we reached. Sea World’s main attraction is the ‘Believe’ show. There are also other shows involving dolphis, orcas and seals. One can also see penguins and polar bears.

I reached the hostel again at about 8pm and slept off. The next day I woke up and found that apparently there was a bus strike. Luckily for me, one of the staff was going off duty and so offered to drop me till the Disneyland entrance. This is what makes Hostelling International different from a lodge – the staff are helpful. In return, I gave her my remaining Disneyland Pass. She was quite happy since she hadn’t been to Disneyland for quite a few years.

From there I took the Metro 460, Greenline and the airport van and reached the airport. The flight took off in the evening and reached Seattle at about 10pm. The 5 days were definitely worth it and the time at Disneyland was my happiest during the intern 🙂

Weekend 6 – Hawaii

June 23, 2007

On Friday, shortly after lunch, I left for the Airport. I actually was quite late but reached the airport 45 min before my Seattle-Honolulu flight. The other 3 guys had reached the airport an hour before me and I caught up with them at the boarding gate after grabbing a burger on the way from Burger King.

The flight took off at about 5:20 pm Seattle time. Since I had checked in late, my seat was not in the same zone as the others. I ended up sitting next to the window. The girl who sat next to me struck up a conversation which eventually led to her trying to (unsuccessfully) teach me Hawaiian – in the end all I learnt was ‘Aloha’ and ‘Muhalo’ (hi-bye and thank you). The flight reached Hawaii six hours later at 8:11 pm Hawaii time. I got to see the sunset fron the window and it was beautiful.

Once we landed, I headed to the bus terminals, caught the No 20 bus to Waikiki. Once we reached, Rishi and me checked into the Hostelling International Hostel at Waikiki. This was my first time at a HI hostel and I must say that it is really good and the people are very friendly and helpful (especially in recommending places to visit and things to do).

I slept of soon and woke up as per Seattle time which turned out to be 4 am local time in Hawaii. Then I went to the beach to watch sunrise. Needless to say, it was beautiful. Then on the way back I bought a few burgers and returned to the hostel to wake up Rishi. Then we met up with the others and proceeded to Hyatt where we got on to the bus from Roberts Hawaii.

The bus basically took us around the circumference of the island of Oahu starting from the Waikiki beach. We got to visit Diamond Head, Hanaoma Bay (the coral reef here is really beautiful and next time I go there I plan to go snorkelling), the Northern Shore (where we got to see some of the biggest waves in the Pacific) among other tour points. The northern part of the island was quite windy and it was good that I had taken my jacket.

We returned at about 5pm to Hyatt and got off. Nilendu claimed he knew a shortcut to the hostel but unfortunately it wasn’t so short and moreover, it took us through the private Sheraton beach. I went back to the room to freshen up and change after which I returned to the beach. I sat there for about 2 hours watching the sun set. It was a very relaxing experience and for some reason reminded me about the IITK campus. After that, I went back, had dinner and slept off.

The next day, again I woke up at 4 am. I went to the beach again to watch the sunset. There was this store that rented out surfboards so I went and got one and started trying to surf. It was my first time at surfing – I managed to ride two big waves in an hour which I guess is good for a start. Surfing is another thing that I would like to try out…it requires patience to paddle out to the Pacific and wait for a big wave and subsequently stand up and keep one’s balance but the thrill is well worth it 🙂

I went back to the hostel, packed up my stuff and caught a bus to the Aloha stadium. The Aloha stadium is where a big market is located where you get Hawaiian shirts, handicrafts, perfumes etc. I spent about 3-4  hours there, having lunch in between. Subsequently, I caught a bus to Pearl Harbour, where I visited the USS Arizona memorial. After that, I took a bus to the airport and caught the 9pm flight back to Seattle. The trip at $850 was a little pricey for a weekend trip but it was worth it.

Week 5 and Weekend 5 – Detroit, Michigan

June 12, 2007

Work speeded up suddenly. I was able to finish the first part of the project in essentially 2 days. Then a new intern came, who shares the office with me. Until then I had a ‘single office’. He is about to finish his PhD from Maryland, is ex IITM and is working with me on at least 2 projects. I haven’t seen my mentor much in the past week since he has been at home most of the time, busy with his new born. In the past 2 weeks he has given me all kinds of tips on marriages, wives, mother in laws and stock markets 🙂

I skipped work on half of Thursday and Friday to go to Detroit to visit my first cousins and uncle. I reached on Friday early in the morning. Thanks to the 3 hours timezone difference, I woke up only at noon the next day and didn’t do much in the afternoon. In the evening we went to my aunt’s workplace, a counselling centre. After that we went to church for a special service since the Bishop had come. After church, we went shopping and then back home.

On Saturday. again I woke up late, had breakfast and went to the Henry Ford Museum. It was a place where I’m sure any mechanical engineer would have loved to go (or even an engineer in any other field) … they had a lot of engine related items in the museum, including cars, planes, steam engines and so on. I spent about 4-5 hours there in total. After that, we drove to the Canadian border. It was a pleasant place with a nice breeze. I also got to see the headquarters of the big 3 US auto manufactureres – Ford, Chrysler and General Motors.

After this I went home, had dinner, played for an hour with my cousin on his Xbox and then went of to sleep. The next morning I got up, had breakfast and went to the airport. The flight back to Seattle was a little bumpy. I was watching Ice Age on my Creative Zen…and a lady who was sitting next to me (and was about to become a grandmother in a day) kept looking at the screen, so in the end, we watched it together, followed by ‘Little Manhattan’ before the batteries ran out. I reached Seattle in the afternoon, went to have lunch at Subway, did some shopping and went back to the house.

Week 4 – Change of Residence

June 12, 2007

Work went on as usual. I got some results on the first project and began working on the 2nd project. I also issued a tablet PC from MSR, just to see how it is to use one. I decided to shift my residence and stay with the IITK guys for the rest of the internship. As a result my weekend was spent in shifting things. We had planned to go to the Olympic Park on Saturday but again, procrastination ensured we stayed at home till it was too late to go 🙂

On Sunday, I went to church in the morning and shifted all my luggage to the new place in the evening. I also bought a bicycle. It is pretty good compared to my bicycle in India (with all due respect to my old bike) – it has a really good suspension and gears. . . of course it cost about 5 times as much as my other bike.

Week 3 and Weekend 3 – Portland, Oregon

June 12, 2007

The weekdays went as usual. We had a 3 day weekend since Monday was a holiday, so I went with two of the US interns to Portland in Oregon, which is the state immediately to the south of Washington. It was a 5 hour drive. We left on Saturday morning and reached at about 1pm. We checked into a hotel, left our stuff there and set off.

First we visited Powell’s bookstore, which is the biggest bookstore in the world with over a million books for sale. One needs a week to properly see the store, but in the few hours I got I managed to see some sections…there were books on every possible topic and age…there was a room called the ‘Rare Books room’ which had books that were pretty old and costing quite a bit….I saw a book for $2500.

Anyhow, after this, we went for a movie (Hot Fuzz). The movie was supposed to be a comedy but I kind of didn’t like it that much though it was funny in a way. We finally got back at 11 and went to sleep.

The next day we woke up at 10 and went to the Portland Saturday market. It’s called Saturday market but is also open on Sundays. It is a big area full of stalls that sell all kind of things. There were also stalls that sold all kinds of food. We spent a few hours here and then left for kayaking. We reached the starting point, got on to our kayaks. I was in a kayak with one other person. There were others in single kayaks. Kayaking was different from rafting but still pretty nice. I kind of like kayaking a little better since you kind of have more control of the boat compared to rafting where you essentially are one of the six people controlling the raft. After kayaking, we went around the Pearl district and went back to the hotel.

On the third day, we again woke up late. We went to have brunch and then checked out and loaded the luggage into the car. Then we went to Washington Park. There were quite a few nice things to see there. One was the Rose Garden where I ended up spending a lot of time. There were also other gardens like the Japanese garden in the park. We stayed there till about 3 in the afternoon before leaving. We came back to Seattle and I slept off after having dinner.

Week 2 and Weekend 2 – Whitewater Rafting on the Wentachee

May 20, 2007

The weekdays went as usual, on the project. The projects are kind of confidential and so I am not supposed to write about them in detail. I slowly became familiar with all the buildings. I implemented the protocol in C#. I hadn’t coded much in C# before but it is pretty easy to pick up  and so I didn’t read any tutorial, I just started coding with the help of the Autocomplete feature.

During the week, I went to get a cellphone. Unlike India, here cellphones tend to be tied to the service provider (like the Reliance hansets). I got a Tmobile connection with about 480 minutes of talk time for $80.

On Saturday, I went with the other IITK guys, exploring Bellevue. Sunday, I went river rafting with some other US interns. It was a nice experience… 6 of us in a boat down the Wentachee river over class 3 rapids. All of of got wet but it was fun. Then there was a dare from someone on the other boat wherin a person had to stand on the edge of the boat, tilting outward, holding a  rope tied to the inside of the boat for support while the people in the boat paddled, with those on one side paddling forward and those on the other side paddling backward, causing the boat to rotate clockwise. I went for it…I didn’t fall the first two times but the third time I fell into the water. It was cold and the current was strong but I managed to get back on the boat in one piece.

Week 1 – Summer’s here

May 13, 2007

I arrived at Seattle on May 7th, a Sunday. My relative had come to the airport to pick me up. I reached home, wrote a few mails and slept of in an hour and woke up in the evening. Then I had lunch-dinner and was on the comp again.

The next day I was on the comp most of the time and also keeping my documents ready for the orientation on Tuesday.

Tuesday was when we had our NEO (new employee orientation).  It was about 4 hours long and we basically got our account created and then had a 3 hr lecture on Microsoft, policies, legal issues, benefits and so on.

After lunch, I went to the new intern lunch at Microsoft Research. I met my mentor there and talked to him over linch. The VP of MSR gave a short talk on how MSR has progressed in the past 15 years. After lunch my mentor took me to my office and gave me my login and password. Then we went to Startbucks and discussed about the projects. He talked about 5 projects and asked me to choose from them. We talked for quite some time after which I narrowed it down to two projects, both related to the web : one on page ranking and another on a protocol design problem.

I then had to go back home, so I tried to find the bus stop where my bus stopped but in the end couldn’t find it after walking around for an hour and so I called my relative who came and picked me up. Anyhow, from the next day onwards, I was able to find the bus stop.

At the office we get an unlimited supply of cold an hot drinks and also popcorn. I tried making popcorn but as soon as I finished, the smoke alarm went off and they evacuated the building….I am not sure if my popcorn making had anything to do with it or if it was a routine fire drill 😛

The rest of the days were typically like this : I would wake up at 630, check mail etc till 745, then have breakfast, get dressed and come to the office either by catching a direct metro bus or by going with my relative to his office which is in Microsoft’s Sammamish campus and then taking a shuttle from there.

I would reach work at between 930 and 10 and then spend 2 hours checking mail, chatting etc. Then for lunch I either would go to the cafeteria or microwave something in the office and eat. The cafeteria food was nice but there weren’t that many dishes that I liked. An average meal comes to $5.

After lunch usually I feel a little sleepy and so, I generally am not that productive. In the end, I generally end up doing work from 2 to 4:30 and somehow I am able to do quite a bit of work in this time when I am able to focus.

Then to go back home I either take the bus at 6:30 or I take the shuttle to the other Microsoft campus at 5pm, sit in the library there and come off with my relative.

I didn’t do that much in the first weekend…on Saturday I went to the house where the other IITK guys were staying since there were planning on going to Seattle but thanks to all the procrastination, by the time we were ready it was 4pm and eventually reached the bus station at 4:40. I decided to drop out since it would be late by the time they got back from Seattle but then my relatives were planning to go to Seattle that evening and so I also went with them. I went to the top of the Space Needle. It is a high tower like place from where you can see the whole of Seattle. There are binoculars to zoom in quite a bit. The breeze was nice and cool since it was close to the coast.

On Sunday I went to church. It was similar to the churches in Muscat/India.

In the evening, I had dinner with a friend who was a year senior to me in school and now is working at MS.

Sem 6

May 3, 2007

Once again, it’s been a long time since I blogged. No real reason, just the inertia.
The sem was reasonably okay…looking back, it has been the heaviest sem so far but per se I won’t say it was difficult.

I had taken the usual CS courses (compilers, algorithms, AI, distibuted algorithms) and Psychology as my HSS. I really enjoyed psychology…easily one the most interesting courses I have had. The course projects in general were pretty intensive but still enjoyable. Outside acads, I wasn’t involved in too much…there was the usual senate duties till February end and the development of an internship management system (an extension of my databases project that I did 2 sems ago) that the placement office is using.

On the whole I would give this sem a 9/10 in terms of satisfaction… a lot of things surpassed expectations but at the same time there were disappointments. But I guess that’s how life is. Now, I have a summer to look forward to…an internship at Microsoft Research at Redmond, near Seattle, in Washington.

Packing up my room was something that really was a headache but in the end I managed to pack everything. Somehow during the packing I felt a bit down since except for me, almost everyone’s parents seem to be there to help them pack/plan their trip, what to take etc/see them off at Delhi…well once upon a time I wanted to be independent…I suppose this is what it means.