Where I've Been

Thursday, December 21, 2006

National Instruments in Singapore

This blog entry is specifically intended for those NIers who are hungry for a taste of what cool stuff is happening in NI Singapore. For non NIers, please see the bolded disclaimer in Daily Life in Singapore. Always remember: Do not read my work related blog entries and drive.

Probably the coolest project I’ve done so far involves becoming a Singapore TV celebrity. True. The Singapore government has decided that not enough budding young Singaporeans are finding the tech field “cool”. As a result, they’ve decided to sponsor a reality show. But nothing as boring as “Survivor”, “American Idol”, or “My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance”. Nope, it’s an IT reality show. Exactly: not boring. Basically, teams of students from different secondary schools (that’s a Singapore term that means “high school”) compete against each other in different tech related events. Each series of events is an episode and different teams can have their players eliminated or penalized. I actually was able to help design and implement one of the events. Cool eh?

The idea was to have Lego Mindstorms NXT Robots navigating an obstacle course at the nearby Singapore Polytechnic.

But the competitors weren’t there. They had to follow a set of clues that led them to a mall downtown. There they found some info that allowed them to log into the LabVIEW Web Server to control a computer located at Singapore Polytechnic. That PC in turn controlled the NXT Robot navigating the course through Bluetooth. The first team to get their NXT Robot through the obstacle course first won the event. Here are some cool shots of the teams receiving instructions at the mall from the hosts of the show. The hosts are standing there at the left of this picture.

The hosts are clearly “young” and “hip”.

Here are the teams seated at a coffee shop at the mall, configuring their laptops to control the NXT Robots.

The camera crew took some excellent footage of me answering some questions from some of the teams. The hosts even called me the “mentor”. I was very flattered. I think I blushed.

The episode will be airing sometime in February, after which I imagine I will be a highly sought after "mentor" for other "young" and "hip" Singaporean shows. It will be on Channel 5, which is the biggest English language channel in Singapore with several hundred thousand regular viewers. Stardom.

Another project I have been working on since I arrived has been with the Singapore military. Earlier today I returned from a visit to their facility where I was troubleshooting the system we developed with them. I went through all kinds of security and they finally led me to their lab which was abuzz with varied RF equipment. I stayed most of the day, running several tests with multiple configurations and taking some data for further investigation (that sounded pretty “engineering” right?). Couldn’t take any pictures of that though. They’d shoot you.

Besides that, I’ve worked on several other big support issues, including quite a bit of IMAQ stuff. I’ve also given and am currently preparing several training sessions for the AEs.

Well Merry Christmas to all! Tomorrow will find me en route to Korea for a Spears Family Korean Christmas! I’ll probably end up running into this guy:

hopefully with a car.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Malaysia: Johor Bahru

I think this time I'll write about Malaysia and the fabulous fun I've had there. About a month after I arrived in Singapore I had a free day one weekend so I headed across the border to Johor Bahru, Malaysia, or as it is more popularly known locally: "JB".

This involves a ride on the Singaporean MRT (Mass Rail Transit, same thing as subway (not the sandwich chain) or metro (not the prefix to -sexual)). Then a switch to a bus that crosses the Straits of Johor. Here are those very Straits viewed from Malaysia:
As at any border crossing, you fill out an arrival card and go through immigration. Usually these arrival cards are available all over. Here in JB however, you get to stand in line while an octogenarian hands you an arrival card for a small fee. And, if you're a Westerner, you get to pay a dollar. Every weekend, a few hundred thousand people come through this crossing, thus making arrival card distribution an extremely lucrative retirement job (helpful tip for those of you close to retirement).

After only a few minutes in Malaysia I had a new friend who met me and took me to get some refreshments. He even paid! What a swell guy. As in most cases where you're befriended by a local within ten minutes of border crossing, this guy later tried to rip me off. He managed to get some money out of me after a lengthy confrontation. I've thought many times on this topic, in fact each time I get ripped off while traveling. My solution is to set aside a certain amount of money as "I'm gonna get scammed" money. The alternative is to isolate yourself and mistrust everyone you encounter, which defeats the whole purpose of travel: to broaden your perspective and appreciate new cultures and viewpoints. Most of this money seems to be lost in the first few days of arrival in a new place which can be disheartening, but that's also the time when you're most willing to explore and meet new people, so it's only proportional. Just some observations, on we go then.

Well before getting ripped off I went about and saw some of the sights of JB. Here is a graveyard that would be very painful to sit on:

And here is a very big mosque:

This is where the Sultan of Johor lives.
Malaysia has a bunch of Sultans, one for each state (almost, really 7 of the 9 states). Every few years they rotate who is Yang di-Pertuan Agong (king) of all of Malaysia from the pool of Sultans. Even if you're not Yang di-Pertuan Agong, being Sultan is a great job, you have some nice palaces, oh here's another one of his palaces.

You get your own army, and you and your family even get to kill the common people if you like. True that, the Sultan beat his golf caddy to death a few years ago for laughing at a bad shot, and his son killed a man in a night club. But that's ok, being Sultan and thus being enlightened or chosen by God or something like that, you're pretty much free of retribution from everybody that pays to support your modest lifestyle. Good thing we don't have anybody like that in the good old USA, right Kennedys?

I drifted a little out of the city to a little town or "kampong". The houses are built on stilts because the surrounding area is under water at high tide. At low tide it looks like this:

I didn't stick around for high tide because I saw this menacing guy coming down the streets

About this time is when I was ripped off. My wallet a little lighter I set out to find the only thing that would refresh me: Pepsi.

Yes, that is an official, laminated certificate you see from PepsiCo at the top of the display. But honestly, who in recent years has doubted the inevitable advent of Pepsi footwear? Were not the harbingers clear enough? First Gatorade controlled by Pepsi, then Fritos and Quaker Oats. Look at the signs people, shoes were only the next logical step.
Oh, if you could only know the sorrow in my heart when I realized that Malaysia, like Singapore, does not yet have the manufacturing facilities to produce shoes big enough for these two feet of mine. Maybe George's visit to the APEC summit in Vietnam will change all that (fingers crossed!). So the Pepsi shoes, which were to be the envy of all the kids at school, and finally launch me into the cool clique, were left with a longing backward glance. What couldn't I have accomplished with a pair of Pepsi shoes? The world will never know.