Saturday, 24 May 2008

The WASE Days: The Last Semester

Like all good things, our WASE program also had to come to an end and it did, but not before four years of testing emotions and efforts. I’m not sure which one was more. Of course it was a big relief and I’m quite sure none of the ex-WASEians would want to contradict me now –almost eight months hence. As with all the semesters, out eighth semester was equally dramatic… but the end was a state of exhilaration to such an extent that the feeling started to elude as the D-day came closer. I went through all emotions right from fear to happiness and ultimately a feeling of nothingness in the final two hours. I had finished WASE. I knew that the feeling of euphoria would be short-lived, where it was just me and my thoughts… me and my thoughts of completing WASE. I didn’t want to think of the future or of the past… For those approximately 120 seconds or so, time stood still… my mind was blank as I stared into the vast openness of the Wipro campus. And to make the feeling sink in, I told myself “It’s all over… WASE is over… My WASE is over.” WASE has and will always be a major milestone of my not-so-spectacular academic life.

The end of WASE, the dream of a two day holiday weekend didn’t wait for WASE to get over. It started about one semester back… when we had finished our seventh semester exams. With only one semester between us and employment, we thought the next four months would be a cake-walk. Our perception was not wrong except for the days when the submission dates for the project were looming nearby.

I was always amazed by the capability of static analysis techniques to report major bugs quite early in the software development cycle and hence I had decided to do a project in the same field. Since the project was close to my heart, lack of dedication was not a question at all but even then it was marred with a few surprises, and that too at very wrong times… close to the end; all due to varied visions of various stakeholders. I found little solace looking at a similar chaos all around me with my fellow batch-mates. No, I was not alone… though my project was a bit different; we all were sailing in the same boat.

As the end date came nearer, my desperation to complete the project documentation and just submit the papers overthrew my dedication towards the project.

A few weeks hence, our project presentation was scheduled and believe me, the ghost of a “repeat semester” loomed heavy in the air… luckily it was not only me who felt that way. Having come this far, we were just not willing to extend the program any more. Our entire batch was evenly distributed into groups to be reviewed on different dates by different panel members.

As if the last minute rushes to submit the papers were not enough to get us anxious, the list of panel members when it was made public, made it look minuscule. The names sent a chill down our spine as we all endorsed the fact that the inevitable was about to happen. Old wounds were savagely opened. Scores had to be settled. It’s not over till its over.

By the end of the first day the verdict was out, battle lines had been drawn. Group A, B and D was being grilled and more often then not with out-of-context questions. For the logical questions, a few of our guys were dumbstruck and were having issues with communicating the project concept to the panel. The panel had consisted of professors who had at one point of time taught us in the last seven semesters. Some were good and some were hated.

My presentation was on the last date of all the days and that did give me enough time to gauge what the panels were looking for. But the only panel which happen to be talked about were A, B and D. I was to present to the E panel which luckily happened to be tooth-less and nail-less; nevertheless I took all precautions in my presentations slides, while preparing for it.

On the D-day, I was never as proud to don my Wipro shirt as I was that day. I was clear in my message to my panel: You are reviewing a Wiproite, a Wipro project was under way and there are much smarter brains at work behind the project concept. Believe me, the clear demarcation of territories helped turn the tides on our favor. My project concept stuck the panel as something distinctive and within minutes of providing the introduction they started showing keen interest in the project findings. The questions were logical and I enjoyed answering them as I loosened up and realized that I might get through quite comfortably.

My presentation lasted around 25 minutes and when I came out from the discussion, I had expected life to be different… I had completed my WASE… but why did I still feel same? Was I still the same? I didn’t feel something phenomenal, but as I walked a little bit away from the clamor and stood in solitude, it was all coming back to me… the invite for WASE, the trip to Bangalore with very little hope to clear the test, the bond signing, the first day at Wipro, the trainings in the first month, the canteen, the amphi theatre, the early morning bus rides through sparse traffic to reach the EC campus on a Saturday morning, the mid and end semester exams and last but not the least, the classes of the semesters… all this and more came back to me… all memories right up-to the very moment where I found myself standing there… staring at no-where and telling myself- “It’s all over… WASE is over… My WASE is over.”

Of-course not everyone shared my panel and the luck that came with it. Bhav, a very close friend of mine had a demon as a member for his panel, lets name him Mr. J. Our panel member did not share a very pleasant rapport with the entire batch and I can assure you that the feeling was mutual. Mr. J had achieved the rare distinction of not taking notice of life beyond the 8086 micro-processor and when Bhav had explained his project on Supply Chain Management, it was not surprising to see the Mr. J stare as a 10 year old was being explained the concept of Integral Algebra. Not to mention, Bhav’s 15 minutes presentation was a little too much for his [peanut sized] brain and having hurt his ego with enough unknown knowledge he asked Bhav to stop his presentation and declare that he understood nothing. Neither do we expect you to know it Mr. J, life has moved much ahead. After a few futile efforts, Mr. J asked Bhav to either take a “FAIR” rating or come up with a fresh presentation a couple of days later. Bhav was asked to report his decision in the next half an hour. Bhav consulted a few people who belong to the IT industry and came to the common conclusion that: (a) how much ever he tried, he might be able to teach a donkey about Supply Chain Management but Mr. J (b) Mr. J was still nursing old wounds of the past years and would not let go of Bhav so easily, and (c) last but not the least, Bhav like all other wanted it to be over once and for all.
The encounter had reached a much higher altitude; it was no longer confined to the walls of the assessment room. For Bhav it would be better if he took a back step and agreed with what Mr. J had to offer. With his decision made Bhav met Mr. J again and conveyed his willingness for a FAIR rating. Mr. J had just started enjoying this combat and Bhav raise the white flag… this pissed him off and he stared at the unexpected twist, unsure of how to respond, with bloodshot eyes. Bhav smelt revenge and just to have some fun asked him if he would stick to his words and award him a FAIR rating. This time his already bloodshot eyes sputtered enough venom to kill himself. Having settled his score, Bhav had a dramatic ending to his WASE as he closed the door behind him and walk with a light heart.

A month or so later we received our provisional grades and one of my greatest achievements in life slipped down memory lane. Like it’s said—“Savor the journey, the destination is a mere state of mind.” Our WASE was also a journey and if we try to find that one exact moment when we felt elated—for me it would be the entire journey.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

The Lost Hour

“We’re already late by an hour” Rennick told me. I looked at my watch, it was still 5:45 PM and we had another 15 minutes more.
“Are you still drunk?” I mockingly asked him; he didn’t talk gibberish earlier in the day.
“Today is the last Sunday of March…” that was some fact he was telling me, so he’s not completely knocked out, I thought, but still could not figure out how does the last Sunday have an impact on us getting late, when we are 15 minutes ahead of schedule.
“Daylight saving Sourav… we moved ahead by one hour last night”.
“Daylight saving?” I thought to myself, yes that is something I had heard about, but what is it? Rather why do we do it? Is it enough to move the hour hand by one? Not to be bogged down by some phenomenon, I had decided to spend some time to understand this, as I got into the bus.

My quest took me not only to medieval times, but made me read a bit about the earth’s revolution around the sun and the impact that it has on the changing times. Having been in India which is quite close to the equator than other European nations, I never had undergone a need for the daylight saving. But as the latitudes increase, the reason becomes more and more resilient as to why the concept of daylight saving came into existence. The culprit is the earth’s axis.

As kids we had been taught that the earth’s axis has a slight tilt. Due to this the far regions away from the equator will have an impact on the duration for how long the sunlight is available; more during summer and less during winter for the countries close to the North Pole and the vice-versa for countries close to the South Pole. The deviation in the sunlight availability is quite high and this requires for adjustment in our time as well. For the regions closer to the Equator there would be equal day and night hours all year around.

Daylight saving is not new. In the ancient times, a water clock with a series of gears rotated a cylinder to display hour lengths appropriately for each day. Our ancient civilizations adjusted daily schedules to the sun more flexibly than modern Daylight Saving Time does, often dividing daylight into twelve equal hours regardless of day-length, so that each daylight hour was longer during summer than during winter. After ancient times, equal-length civil hours eventually supplanted unequal; so civil time no longer did vary by the season.

It was Benjamin Franklin, who had suggested that Parisians [citizens of Paris] economize on candles by rising earlier to use morning sunlight. Later in the year 1905 Daylight Saving Time was invented by William Willett during one of his pre-breakfast rides when he observed how many Londoners [citizens of London] slept through the best part of a summer day. An avid golfer, he also disliked cutting short his round at dusk. His solution was to advance the clock during the summer months, a proposal he published two years later.

Willett’s 1907 proposal argued that DST increases opportunity for outdoor leisure activities during afternoon sunlight hours. Obviously it does not change the length of the day; the longer days nearer the summer solstice in high altitudes merely offer more room to shift apparent daylight from morning to evening so that early morning daylight is not wasted.

There is a saying that wealth is the root cause of all changes. An earlier goal of DST was to reduce evening usage of incandescent lighting, formerly a primary use of electricity and thereby utilize the energy judiciously. This would only be possible if the evening reduction would outweigh the morning increase, as in high-latitude summer where most people wake up well after sunrise. Moreover the retailers, sporting goods makers and other businesses benefit from the extra afternoon sunlight, as it induces customers to shop and participate in outdoor afternoon sports. Conversely, DST can adversely affect farmers and others whose hours are set by the sun. For example, grain harvesting is best done after dew evaporates, so when field hands arrive and leave earlier in summer their labor is less valuable.

I would not be going into the depths to explain how it is done, since different countries have different times of doing it and not all nations do it together. Since 1996 European Summer Time has been observed from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October across the European Union.

In reality we don’t lose an hour in March and gain an extra one in October, rather we tweak the clock to make life more enjoyable. That was a short description on how I found my peace of mind back after coming in terms with the lost one hour. The change in the schedule is so systematic that you just go ahead as if that hour was non existent. But for me… well, I’m waiting for October to gain my lost hour.