Going Places is Awesome! but Travelling Blows..

I just got back from an awesome trip to India for 2 weeks but it made me realize that while going places is awesome travelling blows.

Story time, let me begin:

At the last-minute before leaving Canada our contact from IIT Kanpur requested we bring our projector to run the ARPool demo because they were having a tough time finding one that matched the specs we need (its important we get a good enough throw length or we can’t project on the whole pool table). Now bringing the projector was something I had been trying to avoid because its heavy and awkward to travel with and I had some concerns over getting it into India. Too late now I packed it up quickly before heading to Ottawa to meet Andrew for our flight. We decided that rather than have more bags Andrew would take one bigger suitcase and put the projector in his suitcase, a decision he’ll later come to regret… dun dun duhH! We also decided to go checked baggage at the last-minute because we were worried about having issues with all of our liquids and gels on carry-on, a decision we will also come to regret (yeah seriously never again, I was already on team carry-on before this but now I’ll never falter).

We fly Ottawa to Chicago where the flights are apparently notoriously delayed and ours was no exception causing us to eventually miss our flight from Heathrow to Delhi. Getting re-booked wasn’t too big a deal really  but we did have to wait in a massive queue (see what I did there). We finally get to Delhi at 4:00 AM local time, it takes us a super long time to get through customs thanks to another very long line and a border agent who can’t speak a word of English. See there was this one box we didn’t know how to fill out we weren’t sure if it was supposed to be where we were landing in India, where we were flying from or where we were actually from. The border guard just kept pointing at the blank and I kept trying to ask what to write then he looks at Andrew’s which is also blank, stamps it, lets him into India and continues to stare at me, what the heck!? Eventually I to get into India to and we head over to the baggage carousel where we wait and wait and wait. Our baggage didn’t make it - great.

We fill out all the forms and give IIT Kanpur as the address and phone number for delivering our baggage - all a little sketchy am I ever going to see this luggage? Next challenge, we were able to get an email off to the conference organizers letting them know we were delayed while we were in Heathrow but we can’t see their response without WiFi of which there is none (see WiFi rant). We pay for access to the airport lounge where we shower and finally get WiFi and are able to talk to someone at IIT Kanpur. After a lot of back and forth we finally settle on a new plan to get to Kanpur which is to meet their student volunteer in Delhi the next night at 1:00 AM and then take the train.

After another minor adventure of actually finding their student volunteer the following evening we started making our way to Kanpur. To his credit the student volunteer was great after we found him. The sleeper train itself was an experience, they really pack you in there wow, I prefer to call the bunks shelves as that’s more what it seemed like lol. The train is 6 hours and departed at 6:30 in the morning. After arriving in Kanpur we still had to drive for about an hour to get to the IIT. At this point we’d essentially been travelling for over 40 hours, had not slept when it was local night and I really had no idea what day it was. After getting to IIT Kanpur we make a few arrangements for the ARPool demo before finally getting some sleep.

Back to our luggage situation: so the day after we arrived in Kanpur we call the airport and our bags are in Delhi but there is a problem with Andrew’s bag - it didn’t clear customs because of the projector grrrrr. My bag is allegedly being shipped to Kanpur though. I did actually get it the next morning which wasn’t so bad and in the mean time we had been able to buy some new underwear and shirts on campus for not much $$. The rest of our time at IIT Kanpur was fairly enjoyable you can read about it here.

After the festival wrapped up we drove 2 hours to Lucknow for a flight back to Delhi to meet the student volunteer from BITS Pilani. We then travelled to Pilani another 6 hours in a vehicle (note that its only 200 Km… welcome to driving in India). I should mention now that Andrew still doesn’t have his luggage because customs is only open from 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM on weekdays. We meet the organizers in Pilani and check out the space for our exhibit (its 3:00 AM). The space is good but they also couldn’t get a projector with the right specs. We decide that Andrew will travel back to Delhi in the morning while I will remain in Pilani and see if we can figure something out.

The next day (seems weird saying that as I went to bed at 5:00 and Andrew didn’t even sleep but he does that a fair bit) Andrew heads back to Delhi and I start planning how to set up ARPool. We come up with a solid plan for mounting and then actually relax for the rest of the day. Andrew returns with the projector that evening after running around Delhi and the airport all day and having to pay a $300 import tax on the projector. The demo at the festival itself was a success!

We spend the next 5 days relaxing and touring around India seeing the sites which was incredible! We still had to do a fair amount of driving from place to place but it was nice to see the country side. I’ll make another blog post about the actual trip and post photos because this post is all about the travel shenanigans!

On the way back we get to the airport at around 10:00 PM for our flight which leaves at 3:40 in the morning, the rep from our tour company actually has to talk to the airport guard to let us in the airport because we’re too early for our flight. I sleep until about 1:15 at which point I go over to check in. The line is moving super slow and I kind of start the whole discussion with those around me of whether or not we’re going to make it if they don’t pick up the pace. At this point we realize that our fight out of Delhi has been delayed 4 hours and that’s why the line is so slow - they’re re-booking everyone. I wait in the line for about another hour and a half until its my turn. I get re-booked Heathrow to Ottawa direct - that’s actually better than what I had before and now I’m getting home sooner sweet! if only that was the end of it. I headed through security and enjoyed my now complimentary breakfast - gee thanks and 2 corona, I don’t care that its 5:00 AM!

I land in Heathrow and make my way to Terminal 3 (I know this airport good now) where I have to go through security again. Somehow I get selected to have both my bags completely searched and they throw my stuff everywhere. This is the second time today that my bag has been completely searched. This doesn’t really bug me for privacy reasons it bugs me because it was slow and stupid - what’s the point of looking at my bag under x-ray if you’re going to throw my stuff everywhere? I make it to the flight counter and present this paper that British Airlines gave me to Air Canada and they stare blankly apparently they don’t know what this paper is wtf! I go back to BA and it turns into BA telling Air Canada that I am booking on this flight and confirmed and Air Canada saying I’m not while in the meantime the flight takes off with me still in Heathrow - awesome guys! I blame BA, Air Canada and British Airport Security for delaying me so long at security for missing that flight. BA then books me on a flight to Toronto later that afternoon which worked out okay. I have to transfer back to Terminal 5 for this flight and of course go through security again, but hey do they check my bags this time when I have plenty of time - nope! After my flight and a 3 hour bus ride and I was finally back home - roughly 37 hours of travelling.

Seems like on the way there I got screwed by checking my bags and on the way back I got screwed by going carry-on, there’s just no winning!

tl;dr going places is awesome but travelling blows

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APOGEE '13 BITS Pilani

I just finished exhibiting at my second festival in India, this one was called APOGEE ‘13 and was at BITS Pilani and I’ve got to say I think I am starting to get the hang of these festivals!

Overall I had a better time at this second festival, I think this was probably mainly due to having a better idea of what to expect and a better understanding of how things work in India, also this festival was also slightly smaller and seemed a bit better organized. Since this stop was added fairly last minute there was also less pressure on us with the demonstration and it was more of a collaborative effort to figure out how we could get everything setup for the festival which was nice.

We’ve never really come up with a standard way in which we mount the projector above the table for ARPool which has led to some “interesting” setups but I have to say what we rigged up at BITS Pilani is probably my favourite, I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.


Awesome, for reference compare this to our setup in London!

During the setup we were introduced to a very appropriate Hindi word / saying jugard which roughly means “hack it together” or “as long as it works”. A lot of India runs on jugard!

The demo was again a huge success - probably less people overall than Techkriti as it was near the end of the festival but those that came out were very interested which made it very fun to present. The students here are very sharp - I mean very sharp - and most of the students we talked to were only first or second year. I really think they are getting something right with their “general” first year here at BITS as it is much more broad and deep than ours at Queen’s. I can’t tell you the number of times I asked someone what they were studying after talking in depth about ARPool for 10 minutes expecting to hear computer engineering or computer science to find out that they were in first year civil engineering (sorry civil engineers back home). Also they have a mandatory course in Linux for all engineers :)

I briefly mentioned it earlier but another thing that made it really awesome was all the help we had setting up. At Pilani, and in retrospect a bit at IIT Kanpur as well, it really felt like we (being us and the students) were setting up together rather than us setting up for them. We all wanted the demo to be a success! We actually trained a few local students on how to run the demo on their own so that we could keep it running while we went and grabbed dinner (and a nap)!

ARPool Extrinsic Calibration
The awesome crew from BITS Pilani that helped us setup ARPool all the way until 3:00 AM

At BITS because the festival was smaller we were able to better interact with the students and learn more about their college, life etc. Here is a picture of one of our friends Mayank in his dorm room:

Mayank's Dorm, pretty much what its like back home!

On one of the evenings we were invited to Mithali where the BITS Music, Dance and Mime clubs performed for everyone’s entertainment. The Mime club was mainly in Hindi but it was still entertaining and judging by the audience’s reaction it must have been very funny. The Dance club was probably the most impressive, its pretty hard to reduce their performance to words but it was awesome! The music club performed a variety of traditional, hindi rock and classic rock songs all of which were really well done. The students at BITS are very talented both technically and in the arts!

I've seen the real Aerosmith and these guys did a better dream on

I really liked presenting at the festivals and it is something I would definitely consider doing again. Big shout out to all the people that helped make this happen! Now its time for a bit of a vacation in India!

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Techkriti '13 IIT Kanpur

Earlier this year ARPool and myself were invited to give a demonstration at Techkriti ‘13 at IIT Kanpur in India. I’d been very busy with my thesis and First Robotics so I hardly noticed this trip creeping up on me when suddenly I was boarding a flight to India, or rather a flight to Chicago to Heathrow then finally to Delhi!

I really had no idea what I was getting into or what to expect from the festival when I arrived and to be honest even now that the festival is wrapping up I’m still not really sure what I got into lol!

I got to meet and present along side Marshall Strabala architect of the Burj Khalifa and 2 more of the world’s ten tallest buildings, Boaz Almog quantum researcher, TED speaker, and inventor of quantum levitation (http://youtu.be/VyOtIsnG71U), Michael J. Foreman a NASA astronaut and Trace Bundy the acoustic ninja (http://www.youtube.com/TraceBundyFan) along with several others with less impressive titles or nicknames who were none the less just as interesting people to spend the festival with. Only here at this festival do I get to be placed in some sort of group with these impressive individuals as almost an equal; craziness!

The ARPool demo itself was a great success!

The festival itself was quite interesting, we never really knew exactly what all was going on. Undergraduate students from IIT Kanpur would sort of just come collect us when we were supposed to do something or be somewhere. Talking with the other presenters this seemed to be just how things run here. Definitely an experience. I really have no idea how things get done in India but they do get done! Its very different from events in Canada there wasn’t really a schedule posted somehow it all just happened - amazing! Just like driving on the roads here, they don’t really have rules and the lines might as well not be there but somehow it just works and people get around without a bazillion accidents. I just can’t understand it!

Another thing I really couldn’t get over is people wanting to have their picture taken with me, that and being called “sir” - it was too weird!!

Me and one of our hosts Ishaan

All in all I had a great time at Techkriti ‘13 and IIT Kanpur!

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