Major League Bathos

My viva voce happened today.  6 months of work, followed by 4 months of no work (and I mean NO work), followed by 2 months of work, all judged by two people who are determinedly extremely uninterested in what you are saying for 30 minutes. IITM knows how to make a fellow feel useless.

In robotics, among the most difficult tasks to get a machine to do is to adapt to unexpected situations. Have you tried lifting a cup of coffee, only to find that the cup was empty when you thought it’d be full? Have you perhaps tried to take a step down a staircase that has already ended? Disappointment about the coffee aside, the ways your arm and leg muscles adjust to the unexpected change in load are mechansitically quite complex. And to get a robot to do this is incredibly hard.

I feel like that robot. I went prepared for murder. My murder. Instead… nothing. In George Costanza’s words, “NOTHING!”.  A few quibbles about report formatting aside, I was asked basically to explain my analysis better in the report, and told that the reason the part of my work that didn’t work didn’t work is because I was trying to square a circle. All quite nicely and at 40 dB.

‘OK, dude, that’s all we have for you. Go on.’

Like I said, major league bathos.

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A languid afternoon

Some thoughts:

1) The fastest supercomputers that are built are usually special purpose supercomputers, i.e., they sacrifice generality for speed. I remember reading about one which could compute how a protein created from a certain strand of DNA with millions of base-pairs would fold over itself. The loss of generality also means, however, that these specific-purpose supercomputers aren’t classified as the fastest supercomputers that have been built (Wikipedia says the ruling body makes its adjudications based on how fast the machine can LU-factorise a large matrix).

On a related note, my mp3 player can handle even video files, but ask it to shuffle when it’s playing and it slows to a crawl – calculating which number to go to after 27 must be tough indeed – the stupid thing. I’ll have to burn a shuffled playlist into it in the first place.

2) How is it that Chennai allows the screening of Sex and the City? I thought people here were the kind of folks who sue a well-known actress for daring to suggest that premarital sex may not be all that despicable in the 21st century. (Just so one doesn’t think I’m overdoing it, I’ll add that the case against Khusboo went to the Supreme Court of India because the Madras High Court refused to grant her relief from the cases against her. ) [ UPDATE: Also, see this and the comments therein. Anna University wants students in colleges here under constant video surveillance.]

The resolution, as far as us bunch of tam-junta at my lab can work out, is that Khusboo was talking specifically about Indian women – she said men in India should get used to the idea that their wives may have had other relationships before marriage. And this was considered an affront to the modesty of all Indian women, and Tam women in particular (why every Indian woman is required to be modest is something nobody has bothered to ask) – we pride ourselves on being prudes of the highest strictures, you see. But when it comes to women of other countries talking about sex (which is the same as men here watching fair-skinned women talk about sex) there’s no problem; those people have already been assumed to be less civilised than us (and the men here can do whatever they want), it’s our women we want to keep from becoming immodest.