Friday, October 24, 2008

ICARUS - 2008

the RGIT technical festival
25th, 26th and 27th September

Fly on your way like an eagle; Fly as high as the sun
On your wings like an eagle; Fly and touch the sun

And fly we did.

The technical festival of RGIT has held many names in the past but they have always been committee fests rather than a pure college fest. This time however it was different. All the student bodies including IEEE, ACM, ISA, ABIT and SAE hosted a technical festival and for the first time we got to introduce it as an RGIT TechFest. The neo-story of ICARUS was finally underway.

Undoubtedly the vibrant spirit and high enthusiasm that went into the preparation of the festival reflected in the participation during the festival. The schedule of the festival, which was sponsored by the likes of HP, AMD-ATI, Nitco, Indian Odyssey, IMFS, KIC and IMS, basically consisted of elimination rounds on the first day for Robotics and LAN Gaming and final rounds the next day. Other events like Website Designing (Spin a Web), Coding (Code-Father), Virtual Stock Exchange (E-lal street), Paper Truss, Blindfold Typing, Technical Paper Presentation, Aeromodeling Competition (Touch the Sun) and Rock Jam took place on the first day. Photography (Click n Present), Junkyard Wars (Scrappy Affairs), Ad-making (Ad-Mad) and Treasure Hunt (Conquest) were the second day events. On the third day RGIT hosted a BarCamp that we called Camp-Icarus.

Robotics and LAN Gaming, the so-called evergreen events, received an overwhelming response with participating teams from RGIT as well as other colleges like SP, DJ Sanghvi, Somaiya, VJTI and Vidhyalankar to name a few. Over 40 teams competed for each of the four robotics tracks (Yin-Yang, 'High'-way, Child's Play and Tug-a-bot). AMD-ATI brought their ASUS machines and hosted Call of Duty 4 on LAN. CS, NFS Encore (where the gamers had to compete in various NFS Versions), FIFA 08 and DOTA-Warcraft were extremely competitive and popular. Again over 40 teams registered for CS, over 80 participants in FIFA and NFS. Besides these events, Click n Present, Scrappy Affairs, TPP, Code-Father and Conquest received a participation of up to 20 teams per event.

Needless to say that the organisers and event heads had their hands full but we absolutely loved that. Certificates were distributed in the Valedictory function on the 2nd day to the winners of the events.

Camp-Icarus on the third day had upto 200 online registrations and upto 15 presentor registrations again online ( Two rooms with projectors and wi-fi was provided for everyone who wished to use them. Other Camp-Icarus goodies were given and free food was served along with coffee. A less than expected turn-out actually proved to be a blessing in disguise as the discussions ended up being more open and absolutely everyone participated. Hence the basic purpose of a BarCamp was satisfied. The presentations included 'Why Vertical and a Photoshop Tutorial' by Shashank Pisharody and Rohan Balchandani, 'Funding your startup' by Mihir, 'Meri Bhi Website Hogi' by Saumil Parekh, 'Promoting and Monetising your Blog' by Manan Kakkar, 'Podcasting' by Dinesh Soni, 'Useless Talk' by Neeraj Pattath and 'E-Pass' by Nitin Anand.

Let’s just say we flew and we touched the sun 
and we shall continue to do so in the years to come.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Technology at the Beijing Olympics 2008

The 2008 Olympics at Beijing will without a doubt be the pinnacle story of the year 2008. The hype before the event, the protest by the Tibetan ‘revolutionaries’, then the opening ceremony the brilliance of which completely stunned the world, China taking an early lead at the games followed by the US, the tumbling of records courtesy of Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt and then the Closing Ceremony. China played perfect hosts and gave this generation a spectacle that will be remembered forever.

The theme of the Beijing Olympics revolved around Green Olympics, High-tech Olympics and People’s Olympics. The slogan ‘One World One Dream’ was exactly what was showcased. The stand out feature besides the sports was the obviously advanced technology that China put on display that made the world stand up and take notice. In this issue of Blitzkrieg we shall review this technology and try and understand how far we have come or how far China has come to entertainment perfection.


The Beijing National Stadium or the ‘Birds Nest’ today stands as the largest steel structure in the world. The architects for the stadium were Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron. It’s a neat 80,000 seater (the Wankhede stadium is a 40,000 seater) and took four years to be completely built. The initial plan of a retractable roof was later scraped to improve the structural stability during seismic disturbances. The Bird's Nest has its own lightning protection network due to its seamlessly welded steel structure. The membrane covering of the Bird's Nest is curved and double-layered, providing decorative, soundproof, wind-proof, rain-proof, and even UVA protection to its already impressive body. Pipes placed under the playing surface gather heat in the winter to warm the stadium and coldness in the summer to cool the stadium.

The Green Olympics

Tremendous efforts were taken to make the Olympics as eco-friendly as possible. They seemingly shuttered old blast furnaces, replaced torn up streets with subway lines, upgraded sewage treatment plants, they planted tens of millions of trees and pulverizing a nearby mountain for fresh soil. The Bird's Nest was rigged with an intricate rainwater-capture system to feed the infield grass. The National Aquatics Center (the Water Cube) is wrapped in a high-efficiency thermal polymer skin. The Olympic Village was outfitted with solar-powered showers. A fleet of electric buses along with 3000 lithium-ion garbage trucks was arranged. Even grim old Tiananmen Square now boasts energy-efficient streetlights. Phew! And after doing all of this there were still complaints about the city’s pollution problem. I guess some things never change.

The Opening and Closing Ceremonies

The Opening Ceremony truly set the stage for all the great things that were to occur at the Olympics 2008; the Closing Ceremony beautifully wrapped it all up. It is impossible to put into words the spectacle that was the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics 2008. The Bird’s Nest stadium was the venue for both the events. Beijing mobilized all its science and engineering capability, including satellite monitoring and cloud seeding, to prevent rain from spoiling the extensively expected Olympic opening ceremony on 08/08/08 at 8:08pm. The city officials fired 1,100 ‘rain rockets’ (laced with silver iodide to break the convective clouds) to help keep the rain at bay.

The performance itself was the responsibility of Zhang Yimou (a renowned film director). Thousands of drummers and people worked in perfect synchronicity with the help of monitoring systems that kept track of where everyone should be through identification codes. The ‘ShenZhou 4000’ control system used during space missions was used in the control center of the opening ceremony. A gi-normous 147 meter by 22 meter LED screen was laid at the centre of the ground embedded with over 44,000 coloured LED’s. The display is one of the largest in the world. Tiny Led’s were also embedded on the costumes of the performers.

A 55-second firework sequence of the Beijing sky was partly a computer generated graphic placed perfectly into the coverage at the perfect moment. Beijing used smokeless powder wherever possible for fireworks in order to reduce pollution . The ‘globe’ was made out of aluminium and rose from elevated platforms. Gymnast Li Ning was immortalized when he ‘space walked’ carrying the Olympic relay torch and finally lighting a wick that led to the cauldron atop the Bird’s Nest thus declaring the Beijing Olympics 2008 open. Images of worldwide torch relay were projected on the screen resulting in a breath-taking display.

The Games

We finally come to the actual sporting competitions which is what the Olympics are mainly about. The timing/measuring equipments had to be as perfect as humanly or robotically possible. Nowhere was this more apparent than at the 100m butterfly stroke (swimming) where Michael Phelps bagged his 7th Gold Medal by 1/100th of a second. The pool at the Water Cube was termed as ‘fast pool’ and almost all the record-breaking feats were connected with the Speedo LZR Racer. The LZR suit, designed with help from U.S. space agency NASA, keeps swimmers in a corset-like grip which is said to allow the swimmer to maintain the best body position in the water for longer duration and reduce drag.

RFID (radio frequency identification technology) was embedded in tickets and official accreditation passes. Journalists were for the first time able to navigate the Olympics INFO2008 system from their own laptop via a wireless network. About 4 billion people from more than 200 countries and regions watched the games on TV. China’s Netcom transmitted all the television signals by using high definition technologies. The Commentator Information System were made available to broadcasters in their country of operation, instead of at the Olympic venues. The commentators could access real-time results and data feeds, as if they were onsite.

China was the biggest winner at the Beijing Olympics, not just because they bagged 51 Gold medals and 100 medals in total, but also because they had the desire to show the world their greatness historically, financially, technically and ofcourse at the management and organization level. The Beijing Olympics of 2008 is a tribute to the people of China who made this event as grand as it was.

Reference : the Official Website of the Beijing Olympics 2008

Ubuntu, Synaptic and Wine

Ubuntu has been officially rated as the most popular linux distribution from the years 2004 to 2008. The word ubuntu basically means 'I am what I am because of who we all are'. True to its name, Ubuntu is a community developed operating system that is perfect for laptops, desktops and servers. It contains all the applications you'll ever need, from word processing and email applications, to web server software and programming tools. Ubuntu releases a new desktop and server release every six months. Ubuntu is especially designed with security in mind. Hence, security updates are also a regular feature one has free access to.

In order to install any software in Ubuntu the following code needs to be written in the terminal window :
sudo apt-get install name_of_package

Synaptic is an advanced package management application that can install and remove every package available to your system. Synaptic comes pre-installed in the latest Ubuntu release - 'Hardy Heron'. This essentially means that there is a comprehensive list of softwares that are popular and will efficiently work on Ubuntu and ofcourse more importantly are completely free to use and modify. So you type the name of the software you wish to use in the search bar; the packages that you'll need to install are displayed. Now all you have to do is select them. Synaptic will automatically download and install the software for you. Not only that, you can easily remove/uninstall an application/software using synaptic by by simply unchecking the block next to the software name.

If you simply must run your Windows programs, chances are you can make them work with Wine. The goal of the Wine project is to develop a "translation layer" for Linux that enables users to run native Microsoft Windows applications on it. The developers of Wine insist that it is not a windows emulator because an emulator would add an extra software layer on top of the native operating system, which would add memory and computation overhead and negatively affect performance. Instead Wine provides alternative DDLs (Dynamic Link Libraries) that are needed to run the applications. These are native software components that, depending on their implementation, can be just as efficient or more efficient than their Windows counterparts. That is why some MS Windows applications run faster on Linux than on Windows.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Free Software, Open Source and Linux

The essence of the free software and open source movement is that the users are treated like co-developers and therefore have access to the source code of the software. Furthermore users are encouraged to submit additions to the software, code fixes for the software, bug reports, documentation etc. Having more co-developers increases the rate at which the software evolves. Linus's law states that, "Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow."

But what are these movements really? The rest of the article should clear the picture for you.

Closed source or propriety software implies that the producer of such software has set restrictions on the use, modification, copying, or republishing of the software. This involves restriction in the source code access often through copyright and patents.

The free software movement aims to promote user's rights to access and modify software. It aims at giving the users freedom by replacing propriety software under restrictive licensing terms with free software. Richard Stallman the pioneer of this movement maintains that ‘free’ here stands for freedom to distribute rather than freedom from cost. The problem that this ideology faces is that companies consider such software as anti-commercial since they are available at zero cost.

The open source movement in contrast maintains that some intellectual property law needs to exist to protect cultural producers. It is the same as free software in concept; however, the various licenses that exist often makes it difficult to understand the legal implications regarding the privileges and restrictions of using open source software. Commercially, however, open source is more accepted than free software.

What is commonly referred to as Linux is actually more appropriately a GNU/Linux operating system. The GNU Project uses the Linux kernel developed by Linus Torvalds and supported by thousands of programmers worldwide for its operation.

The Debian Project have made common cause to create a free operating system. This operating system is called Debian GNU/Linux, or simply Debian for short. Work is in progress to provide Debian for other kernels, primarily for the Hurd which is produced by the GNU project.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Cuckoo's Egg - Book Review

The Cuckoo’s Egg by Clifford Stoll is an entertaining account of a true life experience that made the author an American hero. The story is about Stoll, an astronomer turned programmer who tracks down a hacker through the labs of Lawrence, Berkeley (where he is stationed) all across the USA and then across the Atlantic into Germany where he finds his hacker nemesis. The origin of all this is an accidental spotting of a system accounting error of a mere 75 cents on the server that Stoll is assigned to maintain. Determined not to let the matter go, he snoops around and locates a user named ‘hunter’ and then starts tracking his every move by simply printing his keystrokes. 

He watches the hacker enter from Tymnet, copy a Trojan horse program (ie the Cuckoo’s Egg) onto the computer through a gaping hole in the Berkeley Unix system, waits for the system to run the Trojan horse and gain super-user privileges. And through the Berkeley System he goes on to hack into systems like Milnet that contain crucial information about the US military and Navy.

This book is a landmark in itself since it prompted the US government to start taking the matter of Computer security seriously as the hacker turns out to be an agent working for the KGB. This is apparent from the fact that even though organisations like the NSA and CIA seem interested they claim its not under their bailiwick to start an investigation. The FBI don’t seem interested since the case doesn’t involve a ‘half a million dollar’ loss. The story is well woven with Stoll’s description of his everyday life, the fact that he bakes chocolate chip cookies and that he is a ‘master sulker’. A must read for anyone who loves networking or cares for computer security.


When things magically happen,
they always seem wrong.