Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Love and Life's Obsession

What happens when you get obsessed with something? What does it imply to start liking and loving something too much? Do you get sleepless nights? Do you drink ten cups of coffee everyday? Does it anyways touch any tip of your insanity iceberg?

The feeling has been recurring in my life. Reasons have been wide and varied, but they all had a consistent thread - the desire to achieve something, to accomplish something. And the desire sprang from a very honest love of the subject in question.

I am sure many of you have been through such phases. However, the sleeplessness and the insomnia phases somehow frequent me more often than anytime before. Obsession is to such a degree that you feel like loving it all at once! Live life all in one moment!

It has mostly been six cups of coffee a day. And a life hunting for a new way to look at a mundane thing - "how people communicate". This is precisely what defines my current love - research. The sleepless phases are more frequent, but I enjoy them to the fullest.

What do you think about love for something which would never turn a deaf ear to you? Can your love and work match? Can your obsession find a vent to a "free"er world?

Research would never move away. It is perpetual, just as the love of things in my life have been. We might overrate love and move on, but the pining inside the heart is always there. But for once with research, I hope never to crunch that pining inside the heart.

The moral of the story is, love, live life and live your untainted abstract obsessions. Who cares about reciprocity? Life has more colors than the rainbow - you just need an eye for it!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Forgiveness: One Life Ain't Enough...

The most beautiful virtue is probably the ability to forgive others. Human beings have been ruling the Earth since the past few thousand years; adorned by our ability to think, rationalize and reason. Forgiveness is a wisdom, a virtue to be better individuals.

I want to work for the people - everyone. I want to let go past grudges; life is too short to spend like that. There is a bigger picture. We are made of flesh and blood, and that's where I want to work for.

As one of the songs in Taare Zameen Par goes, we have a thousand wings and a sky to climb in front of us. One life ain't enough to fulfill all of our dreams. But one thing I want to accomplish in this life, I want to forgive everyone for whatever reason differences have had cropped up in the past. And I want to work and spend the rest of my life for everyone.

This is my pursuit of happiness in life.

Walked I aforth in quest of that happy certain,
Forever it took in the rugged terrain of dark mountain;
A mind and body - heavy with the coal of grudges,
Till it dawned that forgiveness could take it all abreast.

I now see a soul everywhere,
A life I want to lead without letting it go haywire;
I want to kindle that candle of knowledge,
A time I want to spend, a tribute to all as a token of towage.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Stress, Life and Grad School

Doing PhD is now getting nasty. Too many deadlines to meet. The ever-heightening greed to materialize all your research ideas - get them published. Coursework, none the less as well. The desire to get noticed in the research community. Keep up with the new upcoming work being done so rapidly (read literature very frequently to keep up the pace). Writing efficient code - preventing the reinvention of the wheel. The increasing complexity of the math model. Even including organizing and backing up the data properly, year after year. And the list could go on.

There are mostly no insights in this blog post; other than the self realization of how busy life has gotten already and how much more it is going to get in the next 2-3 years. I am about to be done with my coursework next semester, so that brings up the question of whether I could take the comprehensive and proposal defense in next Spring. Not sure - depends on a lot of factors. But I think I know my thesis problem - have a broad idea. Let's see how it goes.

In a way these short term deadlines, work stress and always the penchant to learn more and discover more is the most beautiful time of grad school. All this is keeping me very busy, and although right now I am stressed, but I am loving it in a way. Makes me cross over the past - focus and look forward to something else in the near future.

I met a senior researcher from Adobe Research, Boston yesterday. Rightly said by him, grad school is the best time to try and feel free to do whatever that interests you; if your advisor lets you do that, it is perfect. Else the leisure time is always there - after all, research is a passion so could be a hobby as well. It is true - I want to make use of this time of my life in the best possible manner. He was also saying, grad school is also so nice because you don't have to worry about life - getting married, having kids, their education, your professor tenure, and the list goes on.

Though neither marriage, nor kids (of course not their education as well!) or being a professor (a long term goal ideally) isn't at all on my cards as of now and this would be the same for quite a long time I guess. But sure, it does seem grad school is really the last time you get to breathe and feel independent in whatever you want to do! I wonder why it is not so apparent!

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Rift between Industry and Academia?

The gulf of difference in the research approach in the industry and the academia is markedly astounding. Recently there was this article on the Wired blog about how Google is losing grounds in advertising with the new Web 2.0 tools coming up. The article is here. It describes how, even with the rich and extensive user data as well as data about a person's online social activities (e.g. Orkut) Google has been sticking to its conventional "search" ideas to targeted advertising and therefore losing grounds monetarily.

I work on social networks broadly and my research deals tremendous impact on tomorrow's new definition of targeted advertising. So I am rather dumb-founded finding out how Google is targeting advertising in a social media simply based on analysis of the textual content. This might have several limitations:
  1. On a social media, the content on a person's page could be generated by the person or by his contacts or even by people who aren't related to the person in any way. Targeted advertising focused on the person and based on the textual content would therefore fail.
  2. The person might receive a lot of spam messages / scraps (note, certain people on a social network could be spam, which a conventional spam detection algorithm can't possibly find out; "splog detection" is a separate research area therefore). However the context of these spam is no way related to the user.
  3. In a very natural setting of the society, people acquire roles in communication. When I go a party, I know that Jane is the girl most outgoing and likely to know loads of people - a role culling out of Jane's interactions with people. Why not target such people for targeted advertising?
  4. The article apparently talks of a small company like a start-up which is exploiting this idea of Influencers in the social networking advertising domain. However, they are missing out on another interesting attribute of people in a social network - that some of us are more susceptible to certain kinds of information than others. Some of us are inherently vulnerable to the influencers.
This is the strong point of surprise and rift with the academia. We have known from simulations (ref. Duncan Watts) that flow of information in a social network depends on mining the vulnerable people as well. And through our work on MySpace (still ongoing work for a journal), we want to establish the empirical validity as well. But the interesting issue is, is the industry not aware of this powerful idea? Or they don't really care about it?

Google with its million Terrabytes of data, could actually work wonders in realizing a dream of putting social networks to very strong use beyond the commonplace "friend-of-friend" notion!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Thoughts on 'God Created Man?'

Disclaimer: This post is not written to hurt anybody's feelings about God, religion or anything else related to them whatsoever. We live in a free world, expressing ourselves within our own dogma.

In my previous post I was asked to pen my ideas and thoughts on the issue of whether God created Man. So here they go.

I keep on returning to this topic in my thoughts very often - question myself and seek answers, read extensively on the recent developments in Physics and Philosophy that might reflect on this issue even remotely. So my thoughts are really diverse in this matter. But in a one liner, I don't think God created Man.

We can think human beings to be complex molecules that generated on Earth due to evolution - we are just like any complex machine, but with some characteristic traits like the ability to think, to reproduce and reason. And we are ridiculously intelligent - any complex molecule that can reach a zenith of who created him has to be really smart!

Now comes the question of why we were created - also why are we the way we are. The question draws back to why and how the universe was created. There are contradicting arguments among physicists about it, but the most widely accepted idea is that the universe was created out of a singularity, like the Big Bang. Of course the probability of a singularity occurring and the creation of complex molecules on one of the zillions of planets does not really sound like a planned Godly creation!

There is also the theory of multiverse, a hypothetical set of multiple possible universes (including our universe) that together comprise all of reality - every dimension could be explained by a different universe governed by its own set of laws. Hence in our perceived sense of three spacial dimensions and the fourth dimension time, it is possible to think that things of life occurring on Earth could have been a planned approach and describe the way things fell in place. But the reality we might might just be an illusion and could possibly have several dimensions (unknown to us) which could explain the possible creation of universe and the subsequent origin of life. So sitting in some remote corner on Earth, the chances that the millions of physical and chemical interactions would result into some complex intelligent molecules seem rather coincidental from our limited perspective!

The other side of the debate believing in the Godly creation might resort of ideas such as the anthropic principles that constitutes a "lazy way out" of accounting for features such as the apparent fine-tuning of parameters in relation to the existence of life. However, I believe the frame of reference matters. Anthropic principle saying that everything was created with a purpose in mind - a purpose to explain the existence of life on Earth, seems to be rather conditionally biased by our identity. If we could change our frame of reference and forget for a moment that we are a part of the principle's purpose itself, we might see the degree of randomness.

However we tend to observe that many real life problems could be solves deterministically and aren't very random (chaos theory). This beats the idea of a chance and advocates the anthropic principles of existence of life. The principle says that:

  • If there were a large number (possibly infinite) of different physical laws (or fundamental constants) in as many universes, some of these would have laws that were suitable for stars, planets and life to exist. The anthropic principle could then be applied to conclude that we would only consciously exist in those universes which were finely-tuned for our conscious existence. Thus, while the probability might be extremely small that there is life in most of the multiverses, this scarcity of life-supporting universes does not imply intelligent design as the only explanation of our existence. Critics of this argument point outthat the cause and the effect have been reversed by those who claim that the universe seems to be fine-tuned for our benefit. Critics cite the vast store of evolutionary evidence which shows that life is perfectly and naturally tuned to the universe it arose in. Fossil, genetic and other biological evidence abundantly supports the observation that life adapts to physics, not the other way around. **
I am not trying to place any sort of convincing idea here that God does not exist, and that obviously could not have created Man. But as the scientific arguments say, there isn't enough evidence to support the presence of a super power. But I am not demeaning the readers who think otherwise. It is a free world and everyone has the right to cherish his or her own set of beliefs. The catch being, none of the schools of thought have much clinching evidence to support their beliefs.

There is a thin line of difference between belief and truth. Who knows what the truth is! It is our beliefs for now, and as far as they take us! To quote what Wikipedia says, "The hope is sometimes expressed that once a grand unified theory of everything s achieved, it will turn out to have a unique "solution" corresponding to the observed universe."

However, it seems less likely that all the physical laws were intentionally fine-tuned for conscious life as we experience it - ruling out the possibility (as of now) of God having created Man with any conscious purpose.

** Wikipedia: Multiverse

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Technology and Us

Who does not love to, or at least compulsively use technology today? Everyone of us do, in some way or the other - be it for our education, our business, or for our pleasure. But what we expect out of technology is very astounding and strikingly different. This is coupled by what we expect from technology compared to what it could possibly cater to!

You ought to find sometime to take a look at this section in Wired which apparently hosts photos as "badges of honor for human freedom fighters around the globe". If you are not clear what this means, it shows the best ten pictures depicting some gruesome fate some of us have brought to technology from time to time - ranging from hammering down laptops, burning motherboards, thwarting computer monitors or cracking Blackberries! Yes, you read all this correctly, and trust me, some of us do really engage ourselves in such activities!

The point of this blog is however, not to criticize those people - they could draw any possible fate to their technological gadgets. What I am rather trying to point out here is much profound - our life's inter-twining with technology.

Man develops technology to find a servant to cater him better. Sometimes these endeavors strives to quench our intellectual thirst, nurture our intellectual curiosity. But time immemorial has seen technologies turning into vices rather than confining themselves to human virtues or the Earth at large. It is our responsibility; blaming the technology is simply wry.

In the article people have expressed dissatisfaction at compatibility issues or issues like certain gadget getting out of vogue. However, man who, today is so much dependent on technology possibly has lost a sense to think coherently that cursing the technology is lame, everything is subject to temporal evolution. Technology is meant to make us wiser, not to cringe our logic. It is in the benefit of Nature that technology is still made the servant and we the masters. Its vices are not inherent in it, but it is us who need to be more responsible.

If you have considered leaving Orkut or Facebook because you are annoyed with fake and junk profiles, and you curse the whole online social networking technology for that, whom would you blame those junk (or not-so-liked) people in the real world in the very first place?

Blame game does not make us wise; let us use our conscience to develop into more responsible and sensible individuals.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional

I just read somewhere: Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional. But ironically enough, we often spend our precious times suffering from the ordeal that pain causes us. We fail to take the pain as a part of life, we fail to realize that life is sometimes governed by circumstances over which we don't really have control, we retract from learning from the sources or causes of the pain. We suffer, till time turns into an eternal savior to relieve us.

The toughest thing in life is how to look ahead and not turn around and look back - whether golden times or dreary moments. If you can look way into your future, you will see that life can be made beautiful again. It can again be adorned with all the love, care and success that are sought after.

We cannot change the past, unfortunately. But we can define our future. Past is gone - a remnant left in the sands of time, a few grains of sand that have run through the sneaks of our hands. Just let it go. After every sunset, there is always a sunrise.

We have heard and read about it so many times at so many occasions. People, things or circumstances that cause our pain deserve forgiveness; but suffering for their inflicted pain ought not be our cup of tea tomorrow morning. Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.

Life is to look forward - and I can already see, admire and breathe in its beauty.

Quote of the Day: Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Why Religion? Why Not Science?

If you have been following the democratic presidential candidates and the programs and bills they seem to be approving, debating on or thinking to work upon, you will see most of them are things like health care, immigration problems, religion, terrorism, education etc. These are definitely the burning issues for elections in any country today, and the politicians need to have clarity in their policies towards tackling these problems; more so, because they connect directly to any commonplace person in the country - these define the basis of our existence and society today. However it is very interesting to note their inclination towards exploiting the issue of religion, often to their own benefit, than participation in a science debate! Is it because people are more sensitive to religious issues than science? Is it because people connect to religion more, and take science rather for granted, or to be something which only a handful of people take interest in?

If you would take a peek into the Wired blog to keep yourself up-to-date with the latest technological endeavors, you will notice that as reported here, the two most promising candidates for the 2008 presidential elections, Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama, refused to attend a science debate, whereas in their other debates they would directly or indirectly always pull up the issue of religion.

It is unfortunate that the politicians who are going to spearhead a nation for probably the next two tenures are turning a deaf ear to scientific issues. Scientists and environmentalists from round the globe are worried about global warming and energy crises, and a nation where power is dissipated almost next to wastage, a nation whose main backbone runs on power mostly derived from non-renewable exhaustive sources, these two issues are customary to be considered for a whole next generation's survival. The count of deadly challenging diseases are not on a dip, rather everyday reaching newer heights beyond the expertise our current technology possesses. Under such situations, America needs probably a more scientifically-conscious candidate. Despite the fact that both Obama and Clinton have their own set of skills in certain policies, and they have huge public thronging behind them, their outlook towards scientific issues are rather disappointing.

The question remains, how is America's next President going to define the fate of this country or the ones associated, about issues that are currently being pushed back so much...

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Tandoori Casserole

Do try this innovative but really simple recipe! This serves three people.

Main dish:

Green, yellow and red bell peppers (4 nos.)
Yellow and red onions (2 large nos.)
Large Tomatoes (3 nos.)
Freshly cut Pineapple pieces (1 / 4 th of a whole pineapple)
Red chilly powder
Garam masala
Ginger Garlic paste
Vegetable Oil

First of all cut all the vegetables in 1 inch x 1 inch square sizes. Now in a large bowl, mix the vegetables with salt, red chilly powder, garam masala and ginger garlic paste and leave it covered for 30 minutes. After that pour yogurt and little bit of oil on the mixture and further mix well. Cover it and leave it on your pantry for another one hour. In the meanwhile turn on the oven to 350 F. After the mixture is ready, pour it over in an oven safe casserole and turn it inside the oven. Keep checking and after 30- 45 minutes the casserole should be done!


This thing should go well with mashed potatoes or jeera rice.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

To All the Teachers...

The biggest challenge of teaching is how to explain a higher level concept using lower level ones. You can always explain lower level concepts by higher level concepts e.g. explain a triangle using a random walk model - you start from any node and traverse the edges with random probability. If you come back to your starting point in exactly three hops, then the figure is a triangle. Interestingly, the point to note here is that triangle is a kinder garden concept, whereas random walk model is a senior level or graduate level concept in stochastic processes.

But observe how challenging it was for our kinder garden teachers to make us learn math, arithmetic / counting or the language alphabets. We didn't have any sort logical background absolutely, and that made it all the more difficult! Teaching graduate level courses are much simpler. The instructor knows the people in the class are smart enough and have an inherent niche for acquiring knowledge and exploring things without much external intervention. And with easily available knowledge sharing paradigms like the Web, learning for grown-up people with certain logical look-out has become all the more easy.

The greatest of the teachers are therefore probably not someone who taught me random walk model in grad school. Rather it is someone who taught me plane geometry or arithmetic. It is not about whether or not I could understand the string theory in physics, but how did I learn the three laws of gravitation.

Teachers have a great role to play for a new upcoming generation - they mould them, trigger the intensity in them to acquire newer knowledge and think out of the box. They are responsible for inspiring and reaching a much wider array of inquisitive folks. And that's is the trigger for a civilization's progress towards a far-reaching utopia.

To me, knowledge is nothing unless it is shared - it is the only thing which if you give away, you get richer. And teaching, to me, is the most noble profession. My heart-felt regards and thanks to all the people who have played the role of teachers in my life, to all the people from whom I have learnt something so valuable enough, that it could attempt to make me a little better in life.

Sunday, April 06, 2008


Saturday was a busy day - some pics of the evening outing...

Life is difficult. Often we are not sure what we really want, or rather what would make us happy. We run across the illusive river of life, thinking the grass on the other side is always greener. Until we get really done with life, and feel like running away from everything. Has this happened to you ever?

Friday, April 04, 2008

To err is human

To err is human. It is so true that it cannot be emphasized any more. But how many of us rectify ourselves - learn with those experiences? Even if we do, are people around us ready to forgive us?

The question also is, sometimes we just try to rectify our lives instead of our real mistakes. We start hating the cause of the mistake - "yes, I did this [mistake] because X was acting weird..."

It is so easy to push off our own faults to someone or something else. The exam went bad because the question paper was so freaking hard. I have no time for tennis, because of so much work. I had break up with her because she was not being so nice to me. And the list could go on.

I am not saying that those people lie. It is probably true in some respect. But no problem is unsolvable, I believe. If the exam was hard and you didn't do well, then work harder the next time. If things are not being so nice between you and your significant other, then talk it out and make things fine. I am a firm believer that it all lies on our own will to make things right in life. No another person is to blame, or no another thing deserves to be hated.

When things start going wrong, we seem to take the shortest and the easiest way out. We blame the symptoms of the problem, instead of going in and trying to find why things are wrong. Hatred is seemingly such an easy solution, unfortunately.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

"Random" Musings

For the gen X people (like you and me), have you ever realized how many times you use the word "random" in your conversations? Just look back and see - I was almost freaked out today!


I suddenly realized that the handful of people I talk to most recently, I talk only in English. Going back to 2001-03 since when I lost touch with Bengali other than talking to parents and roommate, seems like now I am losing ground on Hindi altogether as well. I ran into this girl I know in my department in the elevator, and happily asked "To exam kaisa tha kal?" I felt so weird - felt like after ages I am talking in Hindi. And more astonishing, after a couple of sentences couldn't but get to English suddenly. Sad, sad. I don't want to lose my confident grasp on the three languages any time.


The new domain of my research interest is, can we find a mapping between the second law of Thermodynamics and communication evolution in social networks? How does entropy fluctuations affect our communication? If you have any insights on your personal communication behavior, do let me know!


This talk I have been waiting to attend since quite sometime - but to utter disappointment didn't find it very interesting. Surprisingly don't know why none of the students tend to ask any questions!


I made nice chicken tacos today for lunch - should be able to post its recipe soon. A quick dinner suggestion, if you have left over daal from last night and wondering what to get for lunch the next day, I make it easy for you. Make the daal thick by boiling and evaporating most of its water. Take a couple of corn tacos and stuff it with the thickened daal, lettuce, hot salsa, avocados and cilantro. A very healthy quick lunch is ready for you!

More next time - on some heavy philosophical stuff. By the way, what is your take on smoking?

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Find out your Love Language

I feel love is anyways over-rated - a complex emotional artifact of the living mind. The site says, unhappiness in relationships is often due to the fact that we speak different love languages. Sometimes we don't understand our partner's requirements, or even our own. We all have a "love tank" that needs to be filled in order for us to express love to others, but there are different means by which our tank can be filled, and there are different ways that we can express love to others.

The question is, how many of us really understand this, till it is too late to rectify things?

My Primary Love Language is Quality Time.

My Detailed Results:
Quality Time: 11
Acts of Service: 6
Words of Affirmation: 6
Physical Touch: 6
Receiving Gifts: 1

Take the Quiz!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Our growing "Technical" Sense of Humor

I am amazed at the complexity in which things evolve over time. We grow - and surprisingly enough we often don't realize it until we look back!

When we were kids, I remember the April Fool days - the worst jokes would be "look there is a bird shit on your head" - and that was it - fool the friends! Technology has entered deep into our blood now, especially the past ten years - thanks to all the web technologies. Consider all the April Fool hoaxes that Google has been coming up with since as early as 2000! You can find a full list here. Please refer to the very funny ones like the Google TiSP where they intended to provide free high speed internet using the power from flushing your toilet; the Google WakeUp kit where they are determined to wake you up in the morning, going as far as spilling a bucket of water on you; and of course this year's hoax of the Custom Time where they apparently solved the issue of the grandfather's paradox! To add more fun April Fool hoaxes: that Taco Bell has bought the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia and named it Taco Liberty Bell and that Bill Gates was shot dead by a lone gunman at a charity event! Some of them do sound ridiculous, and some not so nice.

Coming back to jokes - thanks to all these websites hosting so much geeky jokes - phdcomics and XKCD. The funniest part is, they say,
  • Warning: this comic occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors).
Good fun stuff!

On a different note, I am planning on starting a research blog soon under this blogger profile. You are welcome to visit that, should you like bubbling ideas and crazy thoughts on future technology!