Friday, August 10, 2012

Myna's Struggle, Two Girls and Computer Science

Today morning I could just come closer to the main entrance of UCSC building complex. I heard a huge noise. There were three birds on the ground in front of the auditorium. Two were Crows and the other one was a Myna. The crows were pulling the Myna from two sides and Myna tried it's best to escape from this trouble. I didn't think twice even though I could be interrupting some natural event happening in the environment everyday. I didn't care. I just wanted to save the Myna.

When I run towards them, the two crows flew away while the Myna was still on the ground. One leg of the Myna was trapped in some kind of a nylon string. Because of that it was in trouble. I think the Crows were trying to take the advantage of it. Anyway I tried my best to remove that string but it was not that easy. And also the bird seemed so weak and I thought it was going to die. At this time a good idea came to my mind. The Department of Zoology in University of Colombo has lot of bird lovers. I have seen some events they organise every year about birds and different kinds of other animals. I thought they could do something. So I took the bird and walked towards the Department of Zoology.

Near the department, there were two girls having a chat and I talked to them. When they saw the bird they quickly responded by taking it from my hand. They said they can fix that nylon string problem and take care of the bird. Then they ran into their department building. So, there was nothing left for me to do about the bird.

While I was walking back to our UCSC building, some nice things came into my mind. When I was doing Mathematics back in my A/Ls, I felt like Mathematics is the greatest thing in this world and any other subject is just nothing in front of it. When I started to do Computer Science in university I felt like CS is the most powerful collection of knowledge within the human knowledge boundary. Sometimes it felt like we know a huge part of human knowledge base when I approach my final year. Today I learnt the lesson of the importance of experts in different fields thanks to the Myna, two Crows and the two girls. If we didn't had people with different interests and passions on different subjects this world would have become so different than today. Thanks to this diversity of passions, humans are still ahead of any living being we know in this universe.

Friday, August 3, 2012

An Unforgettable Collaboration

About a year ago I received the opportunity to work with a wonderful person on a wonderful research journey which is now about to end. Lakmal Weerawarne (for me, Lakmal Aiya) worked as a research assistant at WASN lab playing a leading role in our most of the research works in Sustainable Computing Research (SCoRe) group. He is now leaving us to work for his Ph.D at University of Binghamton. I closely worked with him in most of the project works throughout past time period producing lot of unforgettable memories which will last a life time. All those moments of challenges, difficulties and happiness move around my head just like everything happened today. This is my personal memoir of that wonderful collection of life experiences I earned working with him.

    During my third year first semester at university everybody in my batch were so busy finding a place to do their internship training in the second semester. I didn't had any rush or uncertainty in my mind since I had decided how and where I should spend my internship period. It is Wireless Ad-hoc Sensor Networks (WASN) laboratory at UCSC. I had been voluntarily contributing to some of research works at WASN lab since my second year and therefore it wasn't a new place to me. I knew that if I need a semester full of research, WASN is where I should be. In this way I became a member of WASN lab in my internship started in March, 2011.

    From the beginning Dr. Kasun, my supervisor assigned me to different project works where I played a supportive role to the research assistants who were mainly working on those projects. He had a plan to start a new project of deploying the database abstraction of sensor networks on a smart home application. This work goes beyond the conventional sensor network hardware platforms we were working with those days since we needed lot of specialized hardware and related low level software components to make this new project a success. Dr. Kasun said that a new research assistant will join with the lab to work on this project from the Physics department of University of Colombo. I was supposed to work with him in this project after this recruitment.

After about a month, Lakmal joined with us. Even though he was not coming from a computer science background, he seemed a quick learner. He easily understood everything we were working on our sensor network projects and immediately jumped into the subject matter. He was really passionate on embedded and ubiquitous systems related works making him the main contributor in this smart home project. We become good friends from the beginning. The early days of the project went smoothly without any issues and we were generally easy going. Later on, unbelievable challenges and tough times occurred in our works and when I look back about those days, I feel we would not get through those tough times if both of us didn't had the required amount of patience and the trust on the capabilities of each other.

    A typical day starts with some particular part of our problem and we work on it carefully. Lakmal set up hardware components and write low level drivers for them while I work on the high level database abstraction layer works. When we integrate all these things and program our applications to MCU in sensor nodes, unexpected results come out. Sometimes it takes several hours or even worse several days to figure out which went wrong in which component. We missed our lunch so many number of days since both of us didn't wanted to stand up from our seats to go for the meals leaving our mind blowing problem alone in the lab. When we felt too tired, we went to the canteen at about 4 or 5pm and ate something while drinking tea. However our typical days didn't end here. We usually left university at about 8.00pm after struggling with our project works. If the university does not close at 8.00pm, I'm pretty sure we would have even stayed all the time working on our project. There's a nice array of words which can explain our situation in those days briefly. "When the going gets tough, the tough get going" That's exactly what happened. The more the problems got tough, the more we got encouraged to fix them.

    A different kind of a task was done during this time period adding another set of experiences. A school in Ampara district had received some grants to buy few computers for their school. The principal of that school had heard about our Linux based PokuruPC project where a single computer system unit can be used by 4 people with 4 monitors, 4 mouses and other peripheral devices. Even though they had money to buy about 5 ordinary computers, if they use PokuruPCs they could have 12 computers. Dr. Kasun asked our research group to visit that school in Ampara to set up their computer lab. So our group including Lakmal and me went their and stayed at Ampara for about 2 days and we did a little workshop for the school kinds to make them familiar with computers and Linux. I wrote an article about this journey those days which you can find here.

After my internship period I started my 4 year at university and therefore I couldn't be at the WASN lab all the time. However still our collaboration on the project works continued. Another nice thing was the WASN course in the 4th year first semester. While Dr. Kasun handles the lectures of that course, Lakmal was the person who carried out all the practical stuff. When comes to course works I think he is a little bit tough guy. All the reports and other stuff had to be properly prepared and after each practical in every week he asked questions from the students which were not that easy to get through sometimes. We couldn't do some serous work together after I started my 4th year since I had my own works to do. But after some new interns from my junior batch started working at WASN lab we all did some more improvements to the smart home project making it much more usable.

In my short life time in research works at university, I have been working with different people on different projects and I can honestly state that Lakmal is the best research colleague I ever had. I learned a lot from him and he improved my enthusiasm towards research works and academic life to a great extent. So, even though I'm losing a great research colleague I ever had, I wish him success in every step he move towards his Ph.D and the rest of his life and moreover I wish one day we will again get a chance to work on a tough research work and publish together.
"When the going gets tough, the tough get going"