Code~Decode: My First Successfully Organized Coding Event

Code~Decode

The Second Round, i.e. the HackerRank coding round in progress.

I’m delighted to write about the coding event: Code~Decode which I organized as part of my college fest, Inceptum. I’ve come to imbibe the attitude that nothing comes easy in life:- There will always be worthy challenges just waiting to be overcome when you’ll set your foot on a new adventure in life. This event was no different.

I’ve been the HackerRank Campus Ambassador (C.A.) for quite a while now. Since the very beginning of my experiences as a C.A., I’ve longed to nurture a coding culture in my college. Many of my colleagues are involved in a wide array of fantastic projects and personal pursuits- from App and Web content development to quizzing and blog-writing. However, there always remained one domain that was primarily unconquered and untouched for quite a while:- Competitive Coding.

For reasons unknown, there were few takers for competitive coding in my college since the time I initiated my undergraduate studies. There were a few seniors( and juniors) who exemplified great coding performance and ambition. But largely the virtues of this realm haven’t permeated through the students. I’ve always viewed it as a necessity than a luxury. Your coding and data structure basics MUST be strong. There is no way around that truth.

The Entrée

In-order to do justice by my coding vision, I accepted the role of C.A. at HackerRank and waited for an opportunity to arrive to realise this vision. It sprang up in the form of an open position as the coordinator for a coding event. I had to say Yes.

Me and my great pal Asheesh Sharma, together brain-stormed and came up with the layout for the event. We decided to have two rounds, the first being the preliminary round comprising of MCQ questions and then the coding round. The first major challenge was to select and prune the questions which we wished to include in the event. It took a lot of work, but I finally made the decision to have 13 questions for MCQ round, and 5 programming challenges for the coding round.

Then there was another concern:- where would we host the questions? Initially, I decided to have the preliminary round, as an off-line event (reminiscent of the old paper-pencil school days 🙂 ). But then it dawned upon us that the cost for getting 5 pages printed for each team,with an upper bound of O(30) on the number of teams that might turn up, was pretty scary [5 pages*30* Rs.4/page = 600 rupees approx.(considering the prize money was 1,000 rupees, you get the gist)].

Hence we quickly went about finding the perfect hosting platform for MCQ questions, and voilà! we had testmoz.com to our rescue. (It turned out to be a brilliant choice, with the platform even providing CSV sheets for candidate scores- stuff that makes you wipe tears of joy any day).

Presumably, it was all set, we thought. But there were bigger challenges awaiting us that day, as we shall see now.

Main-Course== Served.

Once I set my foot in college, I quickly realized what studying in a government college entails:- the computer labs where the event was to be held, were both locked. Puzzled and still reassuring myself that permission had been procured, I talked to the head coordinator. It turned out, he was completely unaware of the promise he had made the other day about having procured the permission to use the labs. Major disappointment.

Then started the great race where me and my friend ran pillar to post, from the H.O.D.(Head Of Department) of Comp. Sc. Dept. to uncooperative lab assistants and then to cooperative teachers. After a delay of about 1 hour, we finally got the labs operable for the event. Add to this the pressure to manage the burgeoning number of students (both from our own college and teams from other colleges) who gathered outside the labs.

I quickly took charge of one of the labs and initiated the testing procedure, limiting the first round to 30 minutes. Thereafter I repeated the same in the other lab and tended to the requests for sheets at both places. Then there was the challenge of supervision and answering all the queries from all the participants once the round was over. After taking heed to all the concerns, errors and queries, we were through the first round. Phew!

 

My Armour of choice for the day: Courtesy HackerRank Ambassador Program. Yes, its awesome and Yes, you'll have to earn it.

My Armour of choice for the day: Courtesy HackerRank Ambassador Program. Yes, its awesome and Yes, you’ll have to earn it.

Time For Desserts!

Finally after grabbing a quick bite (read byte), I was back in the labs with the results in my hand. I declared the results. We had selected 11 teams, all of whom scored above the test grade average of 50% marks.

The coding round was intense. The selected teams battled it out for the top spot in the 45 minute round that saw coders furiously overcoming the 5 challenges that I had selected for the event. Their were a few heart-stopping moments in between when the Internet dropped in between. Luckily the server room guy was available at hand and sorted out the trouble both the times.

At the end of those grueling 45 minutes,the winning team emerged( to everyone’s surprise and delight as well): Two school kids from Modern school, Barakhamba Road grabbed the top spot. Second position was secured by the team which comprised of two fellow programmers, one from DTU and the other from A.N.D.C. college respectively:- Anmol and Parag.

 

The Experience and The Glory

What did I learn from it all and take home that day? Well personally, it was an incredible personal achievement for me. I was able to pull off something which I had envisioned to do since the time I picked up competitive programming. Of course, a lot of work still remains to be done:- questions which need to be solved, a programming society which I plan on setting up with my fellow programmers..quite a long list,mind you. But for me, taking the first step was crucial. Most importantly, to provide an opportunity for others to enjoy the thrills of coding and achieve something through sheer hard work:- priceless.

I made new friends, met awesome people and strengthened my love for coding even further. Thus, it was a pure joy for me. However I can’t forget to state the lessons I learned as well (the hard way really) to:-

  • be punctual in practise
  • you can’t be careful enough, best of preparation is a necessity not to be underestimated.
  • have the foresight to anticipate troubles you’ll likely encounter and overcome them in a timely manner.

I definitely want to move ahead from hereon- to add more such chapters to my life and to be the reason for someone’s sense of pride and happiness. Giving back to the world and community is a liberating experience. I hope we can all be privy to this priceless sentiment, and fare well as voyagers,and as conquerors.

Me with Asheesh (right) catching some well-deserved rest.

 

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In Remembrance of my GrandMother..

This post has been long overdue. I intended to release it on September 16,on my grandmother’s birthday,but owing to my exams the same week, I couldn’t complete it. But I decided to publish it at least before September ended.

Grandma~Shri Kusum Saxena

 

My reminiscences of my days spent with dadi always seem to bring a smile upon my face. I find myself unable to fully express the longing I’ve always had to relive those days again,for at this moment I’m overwhelmed. The memories rush to me,never failing to brighten me up,never an unpleasant day that I recollect. Always it’s been love,that she showered upon her children,selflessly,affectionately and above all,always with a smile and a laughter that would instantly melt your heart.

My Grandmother’s name is Shrimati Kusum Saxena.  She was born on 16 September,1933 to a proud father B.D.Verma. She got married to Shri A.G.Saksena in 1953. By education,she was a matriculate graduate.

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The picture above of my Dadi with my Dadaji, might give you the impression of her being a solemn person. But on the contrary,she was the most lively person you would have ever had the privilege to meet. She would smile for the smallest of joys to the most memorable ones. She would smile for strangers,for the flowers in April,for the cat strolling in the front-yard or for the mailman at the doorstep, just to make you feel warm and beloved. She cracked silly jokes,like me and my sister did,would laugh with us and hug us like we were the most prized of her possessions. She would scold us too,when we acted stubborn,but would never leave us with a frown for more than a few moments.

There was ever more to her than just that. She was courageous,the kind made of true grit and steel. No matter how trying the situation or how unforgiving the circumstances,she would brave them all. She stood up for what she believed in,always. As an instance,she was a staunch supporter of Congress Party,for she truly admired Indira Gandhi.

But the most venerable trait of hers was the selflessness that you would rarely come across in a human being. The kind which would move even the most stone-hearted among us. Her love and devotion to her family knew no bounds. She would take me out for strolls even when it was late in the evening. She would cook the best of meals,at a moments notice when some guest would turn up at our house late at night.In moments of grief,sickness or suffering,she was there for her family,without fail,and with no complaints. Me and my brother used to play in her lap for hours,quarreled with each other as to who would get the opportunity to be carried in her arms,and ultimately turn up happy when both got an extra chocolate at the store. If there exists such an ideal as living for others,then she sure exemplified it to the greatest degree.

Me with Dadi.

Me with Dadi.

 

The Follow-up To The Python GUI Project

I am well aware of the fact that I didn’t post any updates on my GUI python project which i had come to explain in my previous post. Can’t help but lack of time and semester exams have kept me busy for quite some time. But as one of my good friends pointed out,a man must keep his words,hence I shall finish the sequence with an article detailing what really transpired after I set my foot on this challenging adventure.

[A little Yin-Yan style Python Logo from me.Interested,anyone?]

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So,finally we settled on the following configuration for our project:

  • PyQT4 for the front~end[GUI] of our project.
  • PyGame for the interactive coding portion of the algorithms.

After going through many other alternatives,I chose to settle down with the above configuration. PyQT, being a more general purpose framework for developing desktop style applications,had a lot of features to offer. Its also quite flexible in its usage,allowing convenient GUI designing,modification and making additions to your current project. Simply irresistible,had to go for it.

Lo and behold,the mighty PyQT!

Lo and behold,the mighty PyQT!

Pygame was a discovery I’m glad me and my friend,Prateek Kumar Jain made early. We were searching for a suitable graphics package that didn’t make exceptional demands in terms of comprehending the technicalities..and was fun to use too.

Cute Pygame logo :)

Cute Pygame logo 🙂

PyGame designed Algorithm Visualizer Module ,courtesy,Prateek Kr. Jain.

PyGame designed Algorithm Visualizer Module ,courtesy,Prateek Kr. Jain.

 

 Trials and Tribulations-The Journey!

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Well,as it so often happens in life,its the journey which defines you ultimately,is certainly not the primrose path you envisioned it to be!

Once I had set my foot on this adventure of epic proportions(a little exaggeration I believe!),there was no turning back. I was quick to come up with a basic GUI layout,a bare-bone definition of the desired functions, and an action plan on how to get the show on the road(of which now,when I reflect,I can confidently say,I knew nothing about). But it turned out,I had come to underestimate the task at hand.

Pitfalls

First,my assumption,that PyQT would be easy to use,turned out to be blatantly false. Its a fairly complex platform,which consists of two primary domains which require mastery:The front-end,which is easily dealt with using the QtDesigner module and the back-end, which consists of using the Qt specified suite of python classes. Now both these domains intermingle,with the resulting software being very powerful,but equally complex to build. It has the concept of ‘slots’ and ‘signals’: just another name for functions and the data supplied to the functions respectively.

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The back~end generated code for the GUI,with hand-coded software functionality.

Secondly,getting the functionality down to actual code implementation was a hurdle that I didn’t forsee. I came to realize how much hard work goes into coding even the most basic of software features-an easy click of the mouse button and a new menu opens or a new shape appears-all so easy to the eyes but a surprisingly arduous coding feat.

The piece of code that took my sleep away :D

The piece of code that took my sleep away 😀

 

The Struggle,Pain and The Moment of Triumph

Well I worked my way through the PyQt’s intimidating maze of classes and GUI elements. Then I had to figure out a way to connect the chosen elements to the desired functions-all of which made my eyes go red and the moon to wax and wane with me.

After toiling for long,editing the logo,getting the GUI right,generating the code,furious command prompt usage and then hand coding the backend,the software was complete.

Now the algorithms part is another tale,which required 500 to 600 lines of code programming using PyGUI python module.

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My teammate Prateek helped me with coding them and getting them to work properly.

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It worked flawlessly. Our software is by no means a complex or large scale project. It’s a small scale application,with few resources and a simple GUI and basic operations. But the satisfaction I got out of completing it:priceless.

I learned to respect desktop application coders,got to code a bit(a lot! :P) and understood how to make things work,even when nothing seems to be.

Finally! My Frankenstein is alive!

Finally! My Frankenstein is alive!

Hence,I hope whosoever stumbles upon this post may take heart in the fact that anything can be achieved,turned into a reality,if you’re willing to go the distance for it. Since our limits,just like our fears,are often just an illusion 😉

 

 

 

How Microsoft Impacted My Life.

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Microsoft..The one company that evokes such a multitude of emotions that you’ll be surprised how the world would be without it. The dream of all the Great Indian nerds,Microsoft represents more than just a corporation,it represents an era. The blood,sweat and drool that is profusely showered by all the bachelors of technology to get hitched to this company is indicative of a legacy that is seldom observed,that too in a domain ever subjected to forces of constant change and innovation. From being a staple in the lives of countless people,to being the harbinger of happiness,fun and amazement,now THATS what this corporation truly is.

 

MY STORY

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Well,my affair with Microsoft began a long time ago. As a child,I use to sneak up-to my aunt’s computer,just to spend countless hours playing Minesweeper or trying my best to get the cards in order while playing Solitaire.

All the things we did to keep that smiley smiling :)

All the things we did to keep that smiley smiling 🙂

Then moving on from the retro look of Windows 98,the little boy ushered into the classy,genre-defining look of windows XP only to fall even more deeply in love with with Windows.I fondly played the Space Cadet pinball or doodled away on MS-Paint,a passion which I had come to hone right from the Win-98 days.

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pinball

I would spend hours on MS-DOS prompt,trying to remember and recollect the ‘chdir’ or the ‘copy’ command,and trying to make sense of all the messages that the prompt so lovingly,like a mother scolding her child,would display on the screen whenever I erred.

The one logo that sticks in mind forever.

The one logo that sticks in mind forever.

Then when I grew up to be a teen,MS Office,specifically PowerPoint and Word,turned into my second home. With the zeal to prove and to complete the task at hand,I toiled and endeavored to make slick,eye catching presentations or that essay/story that the teacher had been asking for a while.

word excel poerpoint

If you didn’t recognise from the very first look of the logos itself,I don’t know what you did with your summer vacations!

After that point,there was no turning back. I was happily married to all things Windows and Microsoft,from making web pages and running them on Internet Explorer,to getting the first taste of internet,or playing around with files and folders,making the quick brown fox jump over the lazy dog and the ever mode uplifting startup sound.

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Now,I won’t be lying if I were to say that I find the words ‘computer’ or ‘laptop’ synonymous with ‘Microsoft’ or ‘Windows’. Skype,Hotmail,Xbox or even my Lumia 520 Windows phone are a constant reminder of what Microsoft has come to represent: A way of life.

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PLAN TO CHANGE SOCIETY BY BEING A MICROSOFT STUDENT ASSOCIATE

For all the benefits that Microsoft has bestowed upon me,I find this as a great opportunity to show my gratitude and return the favour as well. By becoming an MSA,I’ll take up the task to promote Windows phone usage among college students,who sadly,are often mislead and unaware of the amazing functionality that can be achieved by switching to Windows smartphones.

The right way forward

The right way forward

Skydrive,Hotmail synchronisation and the Xbox control through the smart phone itself are some of the coolest features which come to my mind,but alas,remain unknown to my peers.  I intend to achieve the above by organising Windows phone enthusiast meets,where exchange of ideas,thoughts and demonstration of the sophisticated yet awesome features can be made. This stands to be of value to society as well,as access of information in a coherent and engaging manner is what ultimately gives rise to creativity.

Other means of contribution,as an MSA are:

1. Promotion of Hotmail and allied services over social media platforms,to tell users of the seamless and effortless synchronisation of Mail and contacts thus enhancing productivity and device-independent usage.

2. To generate enthusiasm for Microsoft application development,organise college level competitions.

3. Organising ‘I love Microsoft!’ events in college,wherein fun,fast paced debates and extempor style battles will take place,with an attractive prize up for grabs.

Hence,I conclude my blog post by hoping for the best and expecting more innovation and creativity to well-up from this beloved and trusted corporation.

thank-you

A GUI Software Project In Python [Challenge~To~Self]

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As part of my Software Engg. project,my entire class was subdivided into groups of 4 people and asked to develop a fully functional,semi-professional software complete with documentation and all that jazz. Many of my peers opted for a rather monotonous,”C++ programming language” approach and went down the well trodden path of churning out mediocre,non-GUI(or Visual Basic simple GUI) based software. But the adventurer in me would never let me do that. And as Robert Frost said in his excellent poetry composition,

The Road Not Taken

I took the one less traveled by,

So I’ve decided to up the ante by coding in Python(fairly proficient in it) and using a GUI development kit[TKinter or pyQT] as my weapon of choice. Easier said than done! The main challenges I currently face are:

soft_model

  • Choosing a software development model which will fit my requirement just about right{if you’re thinking its too much for a college project,think again,as the IEEE SRS(Software Requirement Specification) explicitly requires details about the model choice tha you make}.
  • Assessing the viability of the multitude of project specific ideas that I’ve come to pen down with my group-mates.
  • Finally,going ahead and *attempting* to code this monstrosity,not to mention the technical aspects to master while using the GUI framework,yikes!

Ah! Dilemma! But what’s life without sleep-less nights and the all encompassing emotion of being screwed?  No fun becoming a Computer sc. Engineer without having engineered a penny’s worth of decent work,now isn’t it?

I’ve got a lot of work at my hands,but pain’s the name of the game.So I’ve started my pilgrimage by knocking on the doors of pyQT and initiated the learning endeavour right away.

I’ll keep posting more interesting challenges as they come up(more like a journey log) and probably point out all the things that go right for anyone with the remotest interest in undertaking such perilous voyage.

New Form of Carbon is Stronger Than Graphene and Diamond | MIT Technology Review

New Form of Carbon is Stronger Than Graphene and Diamond | MIT Technology Review.

New Form of Carbon is Stronger Than Graphene and Diamond

Chemists have calculated that chains of double or triple-bonded carbon atoms, known as carbyne, should be stronger and stiffer than any known material.

The sixth element, carbon, has given us an amazing abundance of extraordinary materials. Once there was simply carbon, graphite and diamond. But in recent years chemists have added buckyballs, nanotubes and any number of exotic shapes created out of graphene, the molecular equivalent of chickenwire.

So it’s hard to believe that carbon has any more surprises up its sleeve. And yet today, Mingjie Liu and pals at Rice University in Houston calculate the properties of another form of carbon that is stronger, stiffer and more exotic than anything chemists have seen before.

The new material is called carbyne. It is a chain of carbon atoms that are linked either by alternate triple and single bonds or by consecutive double bonds.

Carbyne is something of a mystery. Astronomers believe they have detected its signature in interstellar space but chemists have been bickering for decades over whether they had ever created this stuff on Earth. A couple of years ago, however, they synthesised carbyne chains up to 44 atoms long in solution.

The thinking until now has been that carbyne must be extremely unstable. In fact some chemists have calculates that two strands of carbyne coming into contact would react explosively.

Nevertheless, nanotechnologists have been fascinated with potential of this material because it ought to be both strong and stiff and therefore useful. But exactly how strong and how stiff, no one has been quite sure.

This is where Liu and co step in. These guys have calculated from first principles the bulk properties of carbyne and the results make for interesting reading.

For a start, they say that carbyne is about twice as stiff as the stiffest known materials today. Carbon nanotubes and grapheme, for example, have a stiffness of 4.5 x 10^8 N.m/kg but carbyne tops them with a stiffness of around 10^9 N.m/kg.

Just as impressive is the new material’s strength. Liu and co calculate that it takes around 10 nanoNewtons to break a single strand of carbyne. “This force translates into a specific strength of 6.0–7.5×10^7 N∙m/kg, again significantly outperforming every known material including graphene (4.7–5.5×10^7 N∙m/ kg), carbon nanotubes (4.3–5.0×10^7 N∙m/ kg), and diamond (2.5–6.5×10^7 N∙m/kg4),” they say.

Carbyne has other interesting properties too. Its flexibility is somewhere between that of a typical polymer and double-stranded DNA. And when twisted, it can either rotate freely or become torsionally stiff depending on the chemical group attached to its end.

Perhaps most interesting is the Rice team’s calculation of carbyne’s stability. They agree that two chains in contact can react but there is an activation barrier that prevents this happening readily. “This barrier suggests the viability of carbyne in condensed phase at room temperature on the order of days,” they conclude.

All this should whet the appetite of nanotechnologists hoping to design ever more exotic nanomachines, such as nanoelectronic and spintronic devices. Given the advances being made in manufacturing this stuff, we may not have long to wait before somebody begins exploiting the extraordinary mechanical properties of carbyne chains for real.

Ref: http://arxiv.org/abs/1308.2258 : Carbyne From First Principles: Chain Of C Atoms, A Nanorod Or A Nanorope?

Cancer Causing Plants-Straight Out Of Science Fiction

Aristolochia

Recently I stumbled upon an article detailing the attributes of a plant named Aristolochia and why its so infamous. Apparently,it is a well known carcinogenic plant genus meaning it has been earmarked as a known source of cancer causing substances. But what really troubled me is the fact that it is most widely used as an active ingredient in ‘Herbal Remedies’ and in weight-loss supplements. Now that’s scary because many of us are prone to exposure to this plant’s derivative in some way or the other.

But that was not the end of it. As my curiosity took hold, I was compelled to try and gather more knowledge on the concerned subject. To my surprise,I found that it is in fact the subject of many researches that are currently in progress.And the outcome so far is appalling as new plants are being discovered which show active carcinogenic compound presence in their distinct parts like leaves, or stem.

An excerpt from an article stated the following:

Zeng Yi, a researcher at the Chinese Institute of Epidemic Diseases Prevention and Treatment, has discovered 52 varieties of plants containing cancer-causing substances in a study of 1,693 herbs and plants. He said many ornamentals that people were familiar with had a substance called Epsteln-Barr that could induce cancer antigen virus.     Epsteln-Barr could induce the EB virus to transform lymphocyte, which then grew into a tumor, said Zeng. The plants could even spread toxins in the soil

In the article,its mentioned that many common ornamental plants like touch-me-not and Crotons do show a potential tendency to cause nasal cancer,as was reported in Guangzhou region of China. Although a plant named Oil Drum has been essentially blamed for being the prime source of carcinogens in the region.

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Touch-Me-Not

As I further progressed onto my little adventure,I came across more names: African Milkbush and Sassafras among many others.

Sassafras

Sassafras

The sticky sap of the African Milkbush is viewed as a potentially important cause of Burkitt’s lymphoma – the most common childhood cancer in much of Africa. The sticky,white sap of the plant,often used traditionally in Africa for making herbal medicines and glue,has been found to increase the activity of Epstein-Barr virus which is known to induce cancer in its victims. Sassafras which is routinely used in making herbal tea is suspected to be a carcinogen.

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African Milkbush (Euphorbia tirucalli)

Well at this stage,we can infer that certain harmful chemicals in nature are bound to be present,so that they may be carcinogenic is not something extraordinary. However,I was able to confirm the existence of an alternate explanation which is both logical and scientific. As pointed out in the hyper-linked article here,

But it’s clear that plants contain many compounds that are meant to deter humans and animals from eating them, like cellulose in stems and bitter-tasting tannins in leaves and beans we use to make teas and coffees, and their impact needs to be assessed.

Thus,plants are much more resilient and adaptive than we can possible comprehend and that too at a very deep level. It has been scientifically confirmed that certain grass species in pre-historic grasslands used to deposit silica based compounds on their edges to injure any herbivore attempting to eat them.This alone lead to the extinction of many herbovore species. Also plants are able to communicate with each other through exchange of gases about any incoming herbivore. All such behaviour point out to the extremely sophisticated nature of plant-life.

Hence I’ll go ahead and conjecture at this point that this could very well be an active defence mechanism deployed by plants to prevent their consumption. If its true then the most intriguing of all questions would be as to what levels of lethality the plants can develop carcinogenic compounds in thier bodies  and to what extent are they going to be successful if such a biological hostility is perhaps real. Also are we going to find more such adaptations in common plants too,especially those which are nutritionally important, in the future?
I hope my fears(and conjectures) would be proven wrong. But then again,just like we fight for our survival,plants do it too. So my hypothesis is worthy of a thought or two.

I conclude by pointing out that one must be very cautious while making use of any plant or plant based product whose dietary and nutritional impact is not well documented. Such things often make their way into dietary supplements,’Herbal'(this word though pleasant to the ear is deceptive!) preparations and concoctions ,drugs and tonics and any product claiming to have ‘healing properties’. So beware! Even if their cancer causing nature is not established they may turn out to be simply poisonous and affect you adversely. Rest lies in the hands of mother nature and scientists!
Croton-common Ornamental Plant

Croton-Common Ornamental Plant

Surfing On The Cloud~An Observer’s Perspective

cloudy with a chance of meatballs!

Pardon me if you were of the opinion that this description relates to the fictional act of cloud surfing! However if you thought ‘cloud computing’,then you are certainly at the right place.

This entry will aim to illustrate very briefly about what its is, how it came into existence and why is it so damn important these days that every major firm is in someway or another actively engaged with this new technology. Lets commence!

Cloud what?

Alright I know its a very basic and perhaps easy query to handle for many of you but for the uninitiated,its critical for me to expound.

Here it goes:

Cloud computing is a concept wherein multiple devices including computers,smartphones and tablets are connected through a real-time communication network(most commonly the internet) for a variety of purposes like sharing of services,resources,management of organization and the like.

I would like to point out that this definition is highly condensed.However if you seek a very detailed and technical definition,please refer to the following link: Wikipedia Cloud Computing Entry

What does it really mean,Sire?

Ah,now that’s a good question. We know what it means literally,but what is it conceptually?Let’s explore.

Cloud computing involves sharing of services on a very large scale. But network models like LAN,and WAN have been doing it for decades,so how come its different?The answer lies in the fact that the ‘cloud’ offers a great deal of new utilities and features,previously unheard of. As an example,you can host a single software on cloud and it will be available to as many people as you want to. On a network model like LAN, the physical interconnection of devices enables only the sharing of basic features like hardware resources and files. As in the example above,we can say that the cloud network is more closer to a virtual working environment,unconstrained by physical limitations. But that’s not all. It transcends many of the previously supposed boundaries,hence in the world of today,it’s being hailed as the next BIG thing.

History: The Fine-Grained Truth

It is true that the origin of the term ‘cloud’ with reference to computers is obscure. The closest explanation as to the choice of the word would be that just as a collection of a great number of objects at a distance appears to be a single mass,a collection of various services,apps and platforms appears as a cloud to the user devices. The cloud symbol was first brought into use by companies offering VPN(Virtual Private Network) in 1990s.

A famous quote by Professor John McCarthy(MIT’s centennial celebration in 1961):

Computation may someday be organized as a public utility,just as the telephone system is a public utility,”

Mr. McCarthy was a true visionary. His vision is close to realization in the world of today.

Cloud computing was essentially introduced into the collective conscience of the Internet by Amazon,back in 2006. Jeff Bezos saw the potential of offering hardware capacity as a service to others and thus launched his elastic compute cloud(EC2) service in August,2006. Whilst most people were sceptical of the viability and future prospects of his venture but as it turned out,it was a major success. What EC2 team did was they offered online hardware capacity at a certain fee(very economical at that time) and they supplied it over to the  network to you for purposes like hosting websites,managing network traffic and so on. They would construct data warehouses based on storage predictions from the existing market demands and lend its usage to the organisation or group requesting it. Additionally,they incorporated scalability,i.e, ability to handle variable traffic flow or to be precise, very heavy usage traffic flow. With this model,they took the hardware prerequisite for an online startup out of the equation. Hence they fared very well.Many companies like Adobe and Netflix benefited out of this service as the need to buy reliable,efficient and fast servers was quelled.  This is called IaaS[Infrastructure as a Service]. Since then,Amazon has renamed the service to Amazon Web Service(AWS).

Google introduced its App engine in 2008 which is an example of platform as a service(PaaS). They combined the concept of providing a platform for hosting and developing web Apps.

Since then,the field has seen many new entrants and a mass movement of companies shifting operations online using Cloud as the vehicle.

Cloud Structure and Types

What type of clouds exist?let’s see:

The above image excellently shows what the 3 distinct types of cloud computing mean. We have SaaS, PaaS, IaaS. We discussed the latter two. SaaS or software as a service implies providing the functionality of a software to the end users over the network without the requirement for the users to have a copy of the software on their terminal. A very good example is Google Docs, wherein you can view documents online and there is no need for having the Google Docs Software Engine to be present on your system(Note:you can’t obtain it,so don’t start googling!).

Another noteworthy point would be that cloud computing can also be classified based on the usage pattern and security levels like Private clouds,Internal clouds and external clouds.

The Structure

figure-2-cloud-computing-archictecture

Alright we’ll not go into too much technicality but let me give a basic idea:

Client software: The one that the user runs on his machine,e.g. web browser.

Middle-Environment:The platform over which the content has been hosted,dealing with details like language supported/used(Java,PhP),apps installed on the framework,type of framework etc.

Cloud Resources:Hardware(including physical space,servers),Virtual Machines ,Database etc.

To Infinity and Beyond!

We know what a cloud is,its historical background,its structure and its types. So,now what? That’s exactly the question that the industry is asking right now.What are the limits? Where are we headed?Are their any limitations? The current perception of this technology is that its a step in the right direction. If you can setup organisations by renting the resources rather than buying them, you have the power to compete with the Gods. With AWS for example, at a certain fee you can host your content on the cloud,run whole websites,manage them effectively and  scale your online operations to handle as many users as required. Considering the fact that Online presence for anyone has become critical these days,its a potential goldmine. Also the the whole structure can be protected in the most reliable of ways even allowing muti-tiered security. Hence your content remains safe too.

Its uses are as varied as its benefits. Many of the online education platforms like Coursera and edX use Cloud for hosting their content and services. Most blogs,social networking sites(Facebook) and e-mail sites(Gmail) use Cloud. Online transaction sites are using Clouds. Most web-apps and games are hosted on Clouds. So quietly Cloud Computing is entering our lives in more profound than ways we can imagine.

So,its all goody good,right? Yes and no. Why no? The primary reason remains that you might not want to relinquish control over all of your resources and capital to another firm like Amazon. Whether for privacy of your content,or not trusting another person with your sensitive resources, you may loose sleep over this reason. Secondly, you  become dependent on the vendor,effectively locked with them. Any downtime they experience,you’ll be getting it your way too ,if you desire to change to another vendor due to some reason,you’ll have a tough time.

Alas dilemma! Not really. For all the spots and freckles on its face,cloud computing gives you way more than what your capacity may be. So,right now we can safely assume the advantages of Cloud Computing outweigh its potential disadvantages. What about the future?We’re yet to fully understand the implication of this technology as of now. Just as Google’s search engine generated curiosity in 90s and turned up into an overlooking giant in the 2000s, the future,though bright is still filled with expectations and obstacles for this Tech. Let us wait then, and enjoy the Cloud filled sky for now!