Sunday, October 30, 2011

Hacking the Lack

We found that a lot of people were customizing the IKEA Lack table, which is a square side-table that is quite cheap (a white one is $7.99). Here are some examples of what people have done.

We decided to hack a Lack too and showcase a 500 piece circular puzzle that we had made. The Lack table-top is a 55cmx55cm square, and the diameter of our puzzle was almost a perfect fit. The puzzle was set and "frozen" together with Modgepodge (which you can get at any art store) and pasted to a cardboard piece. We then glued the cardboard back of the puzzle to the top of the table.

Next, we wanted a flat table top that is transparent. We bought a sheet of acrylic from Home Depot, and cut it to size. Now ideally you should use some tools to do this (the best one is a laser cutter). But we did it manually, and it took forever (about 20 minutes of scraping for every cut you make, followed by a careful snapping along the cut). The acrylic was kept level with four carpet savers.

Finally, we added some decoration with paint. Since the puzzle was a set of scenes from Romeo and Juliet, we added a quote from Shakespeare along the table edge ("What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."). We also drew some red roses to go with the theme. Just think of it as our way of sticking it to the crazies who believe in Anonymous:

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Cricket: right through the stumps but not out

When I was a kid, I watched a Pak-SA match live, where the ball went right through the stumps without dislodging the bails. Its really hard to get people to believe that this happened, but it did. Finally, someone posted the video on youtube, so I have proof.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Flying blue pig: An alternative transit solution

In contrast to my previous and serious aerospace post, we make a more light-hearted investigation into flight. We do this by making a silly flying blue pig. It can sort out all the public transit problems in your city. Just install a ginormous fan in the center of the city. Passive flying pigs will take up the wind and travel along circular rails.

Have a look at our prototype (with sound and voiceover):

Thursday, October 13, 2011


I've been thinking about what sorts of careers are right for me. I like research, and I want to keep doing it. But it turns out, in this complicated world, there are a many definitions of what research actually means and, therefore, a variety of things I could be doing. I recently took this to an extreme in a previous lighthearted blog post.

Instead, in this post, I want to explore the space of conventional research careers. There are lots of resources online to help make the decision, like this one from MIT. Here is my take.

So first I thought about the types of `hats' that I wear when I'm at work. At different times I am one (or more) of these three:

As a scientist, I work on theories (and theory) and do experiments. As a scholar, I study previous work by looking at records (books, publications, journals...), collecting a lot of (perhaps obscure) knowledge. And finally, as a technologist, I enjoy the latest gadgets and their impact on society, and I do tinker once in a while.

So what types of jobs would allow me to express my inner scientist, scholar and technologist? Well these three types of `hats' enable three corners of a space of careers:

There is a rough mapping between scientist -> research, from scholar -> teaching and from technologist -> development, but its a little more complicated than that. In fact, each of the three career nodal points require a bit of each `hat'.

The sad thing about the career space is that compromise is inevitable. If you love to teach, and you want to go to either a high-school or a liberal arts college, you'll eventually have to reduce the amount of time you spend doing research or hacking (or do those things in your free time, which would affect your work-life balance). Same holds for a development position at, say, a software company.

From my experience, most positions tend to pick only two of the above career foci. For example, industrial research positions have no teaching, and so they've picked research and development. All industrial labs fall in a spectrum of R&D. Now granted, there are interns, but its a limited form of the third vertex. Similarly a professorship position is both research and teaching (and writing grants, but lets leave out stuff we hate). You do get the odd prof who hacks apps and creates good infrastructure code, but its pretty rare.

The bottom line: conventional post PhD careers involve severe compromise on at least one of the types of things grad students might enjoy. You can always include the thing you compromised on, but it might eat up into your work-life balance, since its not something you are evaluated on, at your workplace.