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Friday, December 31, 2010

30 Day Challenge for December

My 30 day challenge for December - 'No using Microsoft products' finally ended. Here's how I found alternates to get my work done.

OS - Ubuntu Linux 10.10 (Maverick Meerkat)
Browser - Google Chrome 8.0 for Linux
Office Suite - Google Docs (Online), Open Office 3.2(Offline)
Messenger - Empathy (Contains all contacts from Gmail, Windows Live and Facebook Chat)
Email - Gmail (My school email which is hosted by Hotmail is routed to Gmail, so I did not have to log in to hotmail to check my school email). Although I don't use any clients, I have Thunderbird installed as a backup.
Games - I don't play many games. I stick to the Zynga ones more these days.
Music - Rythmbox Media player and an iPod. I used SharePod to update the iPod instead of iTunes because there is no iTunes for Linux 'yet'.
School Work - Eagle for Linux from CadSoft for designing PCB boards and yes I stayed away from MPLab IDE for a month.

I could not avoid using Windows XP in the labs at school as the authorities did not permit me to install Linux on any of the school machines in spite of me insisting that its absolutely free. But to minimize damage I used XP to the minimal amount. I worked on hardware that did not require me to use the computer too much all through the month. There is no MPLab IDE for Linux yet, so I did not have  a choice in that matter, but I stayed away from code too. Occasionally I joined my colleague to help him get past bottlenecks in programming.

Here is the funny part. Only when I passed day 22, did I realize that I use a Windows Mobile cellphone. But then again, Windows Mobile 6.5 was such a disaster of an OS that I did not use it for anything except calling, messaging and alarms. I preferred using the wifi on the iPod touch while I was on the go. So technically, the cellphone would not have made much of a difference.

I am a big fan of Open Source products. Hence the funny challenge for the last month of the decade. Inspiration from Matt Cutts.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Funny Transitions - I taught myself to use Open Source Software

Years ago, with limited pocket money I found it hard to buy proprietary software. So I had to share computers with various family members in order to get my work done. Then came the switch to Open Source. I enjoyed a lot of the products that were available free of cost. Over time, I enjoyed using them so much that one day I eventually would give up my Windows OS and install Ubuntu. Now though, it seems like slower computers with bulky applications are not fun anymore. Now I find that I am gradually giving up Open Source software as well and switching to doing my work online. Numerous web apps make it a whole lot simpler to work.

Recently, I taught myself to use Picnik because while working on an important project Gimp gave way and crashed. When I restarted it, all my work was lost because I had forgotten to save it periodically. So is the case with office applications. I cannot afford the Office Suite from Microsoft. Even the student version seems to be quite costly when compared to the price of the alternate products - free. For many years, I used Open Office. These days, I am slowly shifting my work to Google Docs. Firstly, because they I love Google and their products and secondly because its free and easy to use. It also helps me to do away with my pen drive as the only thing I need to access my files now is my email address and password. It seems to be ironic that as the cloud gets stronger and stronger, local disks drives and computers are getting a lot weaker and prone to crashes thus making people trust them even lesser than they used to
It was a lot of fun using Picnik and it was a great learning experience for me as an amateur in photo editing. So is the case with Google Docs. I hope to eventually shift to the new Chrome OS once it is released sometime next year.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Programming on the PIC18F4520 microcontroller

Yes! I am finally doing this. The code below was used by me for programming on the PIC18f4520 microcontroller for our Embedded Controls and Applications (ECAPP) project. This took a while to come up here as a post because I could not locate the actual file that I had saved. As a matter of fact, I am still searching for it.

The code below is the second to the latest version that I had used for the project with my group. It has not been complete as per out project requirements and therefore may contain bugs and errors, particularly in the comments section. Some of the comments that denotes values used in the main() and the ADC portion may not match the actual values that the functions are designed to do. The names of variables and functions may look a little vague, this is because they are closely related to the topic given and were meant to simulate various conditions in the project. If you know what you are looking for, you will understand what you are looking at with minimal effort.

The code below consists of topics that cover areas such as interrupts, timers (all three), ADC, PWM, CCP/CCPCON, Serial ports and the related code to configure the COM ports. Note that the code used to configure the LCD is configured as a separate lcdheader.h file. All of the programming is written in C and compiled and run using MPLab from Microchip Technology Inc.

Note: All the code below is publicly made available with my group mates' consent. 


Wednesday, November 17, 2010


I turned 21 today. This post honoring the passage of time in my life would be regarded incomplete without...

...You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun

And you run and you run to catch up with the sun, but it's sinking
Racing around to come up behind you again
The sun is the same in a relative way, but you're older
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death...

                                                    -- from 'Time' by Pink Floyd

Till next time... <3

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A student friendly Mocha Latte recipe

The mornings these days in Singapore are rainy and chilly.  A few days ago, it rained so heavily that I was awoken at 4 am with the sound of the rain pelting on my bedroom window. This carried on all through the morning and eventually forced me out of bed. Although it ruined my sleep, it was so nice that I sat beside the window watching the rain bounce of the concrete floor 6 storeys below. I grabbed my phone and tweeted sleepily about craving for a hot cup of coffee.

Later that day one of my colleagues at work helped me make a hot cup of mocha latte. It was so nice that I thought I should share the recipe. I call this a student friendly version of the mocha latte recipe as I found it quite easy to make and it required minimal resources. So here goes...

What you'll need:
My first ever mocha latte
Coffee Powder - 2.5 tablespoons
Sweetened chocolate powder - 1.5 tablespoons
Milk - 1 cup (roughly 250 ml)
Chocolate Syrup - 2 teaspoons
Sugar - Optional
Marshmallows - Optional


Add the coffee powder to about 70 ml of water and boil it to make a really concentrated coffee solution (This is something alternative to an espresso if you don't have an espresso machine at home). Naturally, strain (filter) the coffee residue from it so that you are left with only the solution. Add the chocolate powder to this mixture and stir briskly till the solution is slightly viscous and brownish black in colour. 

Heat the milk to about 140 deg F and add it slowly to the above mixture, stirring constantly as the milk is being poured. Add sugar as per your requirement. Add some foam to the top of the drink and put 2 -3 pieces of marshmallow. Decorate the top with the chocolate syrup.

Now you would be in a better state to appreciate the beauty of a rainy morning. =)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

In conversation with Mdm. Oei. Tsu Min, Charmaine.

An edited version of this article was featured in the July 2010 issue of ENGINEERRUS (The official magazine of Temasek Engineering School) under the title of "Please Hit Me!". Below is the original transcript of the article that I had written before it was sent for editing and publishing.

How would you like to have whipped cream splashed onto your face repeatedly for 4 hours? An engineering school lecturer did just that in the name of charity. Urging students and colleagues to have a go at her, Ms. Charmaine Oei, a Communications Skills lecturer urged: “Please think of all the bad things I’ve done to you, and now you can take revenge”.

Amidst her hectic schedule, she spared time to tell me about her rather remarkable experience. It all began when she and her care group were brainstorming ideas for the CCN Day. Their stall, being located at the concourse level near the Short-Circuit canteen, was right in the middle of the excitement and prospects for a good earning looked promising. They settled on a game stall that they said was going to be ‘different’. Two of the ideas that arose from the discussion were dunking a person head-first into a tub of water and throwing pies at someone’s face. While the former was deemed a little too violent, the latter was still worth exploring. Flinging pies at a person’s face may have looked really exciting; however, no one volunteered to be at the receiving end. After further discussions, they settled on plateful of whipped cream instead of the pie. This attracted just one volunteer. So Ms. Oei surprised everyone by agreeing to be the other. “I thought it would be fun” she said, adding that she didn’t think of it as a big deal.

While the stall did attract a huge crowd of surprised visitors, however, not many people stepped up for the challenge. Both students and staff were equally hesitant inspite of Ms. Oei literally “begging” them to take a shot at her, at least for charity. While those who did step up for the challenge ensured that they missed their target, other simply paid the money but refused to take the shot. “It was a unique learning experience” admits Ms. Oei. Her perception of students changed forever after that. “I realized that they are not vicious but very respectful”. The greatest thing she said she learnt was that people are naturally very considerate and supportive about CCN day. “I didn’t feel embarrassed at all, instead people appreciated the hard work that we put in” adds a modest Ms. Oei.

Along with another game of guessing the number of chocolates in a jar, her class was able to raise a total of $89. When asked if she would do it again next CCN day, she happily agrees but expects to see more volunteers. We may see her again next time, with more innovative ideas. Perhaps it might be something about dunking a person head-first into a tub of water. 

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Connecting to TP-Secure on Linux (using Ubuntu 10.04)

My previous post on this topic involved connecting to TP-Secure using Fedora 11.0. That was when Ubuntu 8.10 refused to cooperate and crashed repeatedly. The good news now is the latest version of Ubuntu (Version- 10.04 Lucid Lynx) connects perfectly to TP-Secure without any hassle. The procedure is the same as Fedora 11.0.

The previous distro - 9.10 was known to have problems connecting to the Internet due to a software bug involving drivers. Its a known issue and I was faced with a similar problem. Even connecting to an ordinary WEP connection proved to be a challenge. This problem was addressed widely across many forums by people who faced similar problems. All these problems are solved in the new version.

As for me, I'm currently enjoying Lucid Lynx. The purple interface is really nice and it comes with a lot of handy programs like Gwibber and Empathy IM. The IM in particular is nice because it helps to chat with friends from Facebook, Gtalk, MSN, Yahoo etc. simultaneously. The boot time is noticeably fast too. A program called Wubi Installer makes installation alongside Windows really simple.

Its like you feel encouraged to try it. For me, this upgrade felt like a real image makeover for the Ubuntu experience. I'm enjoying it and hope you do too.

Till next time,

Saturday, May 15, 2010

How I learnt Time Management the hard way...

These days I'm so caught up in the middle of things that it hardly leaves me any time to do something I totally enjoy 100%. Of course, I enjoy doing everything that I'm involved with right now, but there comes a time eventually that when things don't work out the way you want them to, it gets on your nerves. In my case, I'm left with no choice but to finish it because there are other things that have to be attended to after that. But then again, you don't achieve the results that you hope to achieve because your attention keeps getting diverted due to various reasons. So, I decided to do some things differently.

I recently attended a leadership training camp conducted by by school's international student's interest group. We began with a personality test that identifies you on the basis of an important characteristic that broadly classifies you as a person. When working in a team or a committee similar to the one I'm in, it becomes a lot easier to choose the person you want to delegate tasks to. The test was conducted in part by our beloved Ms Boey, TPIS advisor and mentor.

My test results showed that I'm a very conscientious person with a strong penchant for detail. For me things are never 'fine' or 'okay' until they meet my expectations, which is something that I noticed about myself and it takes me more time to arrive at decisions than most others. This is after analyzing the pros and the cons of my judgement. This could be a good or a bad trait depending on the situation I'm dealing with. Something that I noticed was that when I applied it to my studies, the outcome is something thats very impressive, to both myself and others, particularly my teachers. People are happy with your work and ask you if you want to try out something similar or more challenging. The offer is often irresistible particularly if you've enjoyed working on that particular project. Unfortunately, that may not be the only project at hand and finding a time slot to allocate for the new one can often leave the others in jeopardy. Meeting deadlines becomes really hard and the process leading up to it can often leave you exhausted to do anything else. I learnt this the hard way. Procrastination is something thats easy to do but is never the solution. If looked upon it from the correct perspective, it can have a tremendous influence on ones own personality. When you ask yourself the question 'Why', it often highlights your weakness or the method of approach that you're probably getting wrong. This approach did it for me. It helped me find out that it is better to excel at a few things rather than being an average at many others. So these days, I'm more cautious when it come to accepting responsibilities, no matter how tempting it may be.

This doesn't mean that I have a relaxed schedule now. Boy oh boy, I'm already paddling in deep waters. I sleep much lesser than the hours required, that doctors recommend to people my age, and you'll probably find me answering my cellphone even in the wee hours of the morning. But then again, one of the key advantages I have on my side is age. I am young and I know I can push myself a little further every time. And as time passes, I keep getting better and better. And whatever I do, I try my best to enjoy it. Even the all-nighters seems enjoyable. I'm just wary of reaching my tipping point.

As for my conscientious nature, I think I'll let it be there for a while and take care to be that way only when required. In places which doesn't require much detail, I'll forcefully pull myself out of it. By doing this, I find that I have a lot of time to do carry out my errands and I'm able to achieve the results that I had hoped to achieve. It has been a great learning experience for me personally and I enjoy every bit of it.

Till next time,

Ciao, <3