Thursday, June 26, 2008

Passions etc.

Perfection could be a myth, but not the desire to excel. And there is only secret ingredient to excel and succeed. And that is passion.

I am intrigued by the myriad of people shining in their own areas of expertise every now and then. After all, what does it take to be "them"? Is it the passion to shine, the passion in what they are doing, the passion to make a difference to the world we live in?

When I went to Hypertext 08 last week, I was impressed to meet some of the top notch people of my research community, e.g. Jon Kleinberg (just to refresh, the CS guys, he is the one who came up with the HITS algorithm in the IR domain). And amazingly, as much interesting and thought provoking his talk was, more was I surprised to find out how much passionate one needs to be about one's work to reach such a zenith. The same holds good for any other desire we cherish in our lives; be it art, photography, gardening or cooking. We just need a very honest and sincere desire to excel.

To me, for a long time, success was a habit which I had to live up to. But ever since I joined PhD, my thinking in this respect has changed quite a lot. I am no longer driven by the fact that I need to succeed because I have been doing so all this while. Rather, I have a much bigger picture to look at; a much larger vista to paint, and a much profound arena to strike a difference at. And the primary motivation that keeps me going all the time to try to excel is to make a difference to the world we live in. To make a mark which would benefit one and all tomorrow. To make our society more rational. To make the lives of our children and grandchildren smoother, easier. To make our civilization more worthy to nurture a better tomorrow. To be able to understand our basics, our nature. And finally, to be able to have the capability to inspire a new generation with ideas which could be the forerunners in making the world a much better to live in.

I don't know if this is what you will call passion. But yeah, my desire to excel is an attribute of these thoughts running in my mind all the time. After all, what is PhD and life at large, unless it is useful to the world tomorrow? I want to excel, excel in a manner which could arm with all the atributes needed to be a forward thinker, the next sunrise.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


There are times when you need scope, time, opportunity and motive to retreat to self. It soothes your mind and makes you feel serene and better. I am in a self-retreat phase. Not sure if it means being in recluse for a while and just submerging myself into work. But yeah this is what construes my current mood. After all, "life is not so perfect" and you need retreats to get accustomed to its little and big surprises everyday.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Pittsburgh trip

However much I deny, I have to admit I had a very adventurous but scary trip to HyperText 08 in Pittsburgh and my subsequent travel detour to Niagara Falls, NY! Some of the highlights are here.

I was staying in the nice dorm accommodation of the conference people at University of Pittsburgh campus. Everything was nice and cozy, with a perfect view of part of the downtown from my 16th floor room. But the one week before the conference was so busy for me that I didn't get a chance to sign up for the Internet access in the dorm. The result being, the day I got done with my presentations and wanted to leave for Niagara the morning after, I found out I don't have a print out of the directions. It was late and I was tired enough not to motivate me to go back to the conference hotel for the directions either! Hence I called this friend up and noted down the directions to Niagara.

But I have noticed, driving alone always gives me ideas to be adventurous. So while coming back, I took a detour somewhere in upstate NY off I-90 and drove into the countryside with vast vineyards. It was so pretty, and the lush green and the serene environment with people using big machine to maintain their lawns was amazing! The countryside of this country is so very different from India, but yeah I loved it!

Now the big task was how to get back on I-90 from those country roads! And given that I had a car with no GPS and neither written directions. The best bet was a gas station. But unknown city with lots of unfamiliar and unfriendly people. And then no one with me, topped with the fact that no one would possibly know if something would happen to me! But yeah, with all that I managed to reach Pittsburgh.

Also got this opportunity to drive in heavy rain - with about 10 feet of visibility. Yeah, it doesn't rain in Arizona, so I am not familiar with the rain-driving at all! And guess what happened as the final end of the trip! I got lost in Pitt downtown only to reach airport so late, that I missed my flight to Phoenix. Lucky me, the guy at the Continental counter was nice enough to book me on the next flight :)

All in all, the trip was quite an experience! I am pensive at the end, but I learned several things. First, get directions well enough. Second, be prepared for driving in any weather. And third, keep enough time buffer before driving to airport when boarding a flight!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

HyperText First Day Experience ...

Whenever I come to a conference, I realize how much life has to offer! It dawns on me,

"The woods are lovely dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep."

So much to accomplish - I feel, one life ain't enough!

More to come; I got three ideas sitting in the plane which seem interesting to me and I want to explore working on them. Though still very blooming state, the issues that these ideas raise could be useful to the community.

On a related but separate note, I am loving Pitt - it's a different kind of city than the west coast and the typical north-east US. The lush green, the nice weather, the hilly relief and the captivating downtown sort of came as a good change to me, after a long time.

Tomorrow big day; two presentations coming up in the same session. Have to be geared up to the fullest! Evening is conference banquet dinner plus cocktail party. There is a short detour to Mt Washington as well where I plan to take a wide spectacle at the pretty Pitt downtown!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Short-term Goals

I have so many times felt the need to have short term goals in life; they are the mile markers that keep us going; preventing us from getting lost in one or many of the serpentine labyrinths of life. Those goals need not necessarily be work or academics related; but could be anything which make us feel good, cater to our happiness or just make us feel a sense of accomplishment. It could be traveling, painting a picture or cooking a new innovative recipe.

Our lives today are busy beyond what we can imagine. And often such a life takes away the very essential sap that makes life worthy of enjoying. Short term goals come handy. They show a clear path towards an accomplishment. And an accomplishment often keeps us engaged enough not to revert our thoughts into things which are not so important or do not deserve enough time and attention.

People have called me workaholic time and again. And then I know how prone to emotions I am whenever it relates to something close to me. A balance is the key. When you have a short term goal, you rivet your emotions towards making it a success. And then being workaholic helps greatly!

I think short term goals also make us seek new changes in life; help us realize that there are new dawns in life; bring to us that for certain things "enough is enough" after a certain amount of time and that life needs to move on with another short term goal. These goals are the saviors to people like me who have an insatiable penchant of new changes and sense of accomplishment in life.

After all short term goals also tell us that everything is transitory in the sands of time. Moving on to newer beginnings and goals is the law of life, most of the times for the better of us.

I look forward to having two short term goals every month from now onwards. The first is, accomplishing a significant research endeavor or a part of it. For example, it could be a conference paper deadline, or could be finding a new observation in the data. The second one is something which would rejuvenate me for the next short term goal. It could be, I drive somewhere, take a nice picture or write a nice poem: things which would re-iterate to me that life needs to move on, but with all the satisfaction of living; leaving behind traces, and learning from them, instead of pondering, repenting or moping around with them.

After all, after a certain point of time, for most things "enough is enough", unless you consider that the thing deserves you, your time and your effort and attention.

At the end I am not sure if the blog made sense at all. All I had to say is that we all need short term goals to live. And to move over things of the past. And look for better things in life which make us better.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Utah Trip

Please also check my Flickr here. Monument valley, Utah was awesome fun. Ever since I came to Arizona, I always wanted to check out Utah. And so this is almost like fulfilling a long cherished dream of travel!

One insight I have gained for the breadth of traveling I have done since I came to US. And the insight is that the most famous tourist places like Grand Canyon, Statue of Liberty or Niagara Falls are not the best places where you will enjoy in the deepest core of your heart. It is rather these less known places like Monument Valley or Horseshoe bend where you can vent out your heart to accept all the visual pleasure.

After all, life is full of surprises. And traveling is no exception! Mother Nature is the most mysterious and amazing thing in the Universe, and then she unfolds her inexplicable beauty and grandeur in the most unexpected places on Earth!

Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder; but surely, you need to have the knack and eye for it!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Quoting "We Build a Better World"

There have been three major instances in my life when I felt the ardent need for a stronger women representation in the research community. And those were the times that made me think the role I could play in contributing something towards promoting this gender diversity.

The first instance was when I attended a major conference Workshop to find out that I was the only female presenter there. And when on the second instance, one day I came across the list of 100 most genius living people in the world, to my utter dismay, I found out that there were less than five women in the entire grand vista. And the third instance was last year’s Grace Hopper conference in Orlando, when I was moved to ecstasy to hear Frances Allen as the first female recipient of the prestigious Turing Award in its forty years of illustrious history.

One of the biggest challenges I always faced ever since I joined the Doctoral program
was the under-representation of women in the Department. I am not happy enough when my friends and acquaintances console me saying that I am doing great in my career being a girl. For, I believe talent is genderless and unbounded by the deep-grained biases we have about women not being competent enough. There is an ardent need, I feel, to strike a change to our society and such realm of thinking that it entails.

A conference like Grace Hopper comes as a great rescue to my motivation – a dream where every woman would consider herself competent enough to take to the list of the 100 most genius living people! I believe it would be a great opportunity to meet, get inspired and in turn motivate other fellow companions who have taken the courage to tread the challenging path of being a woman researcher.

The conference could play a great role inviting greater number of women to paint together the colorful sky of research, irrespective of considerations of race, color, creed or societal bias.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


First some ramblings from life and its learnings. Life is stranger than fiction, but still the 'show' must go on. You get or lose the most unexpected things from the closest people: sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. Life is full of surprises, and people are like seasons of Nature - it doesn't take time to change colors. And sometimes, when we are stuck at the crossroads of life, life looks like a singularity, a state when none of the rules or laws seem to be holding good. But singularities are the dawn to newer beginnings and life unfolds with all its surprises, sometime, somewhere, in some manner. The toughest thing in life is to trust life itself. And when we can do it, we win over our lives! And it is a great feeling!


On a different note, I came across this list of 100 most genius people in the world. Tim Lee, the inventor of WWW, ranks first, surprisingly above Steven Hawking! And believe it or not, Osama Bin Laden shares 43rd rank with Bill Gates. Do you see anything common between them? And yeah for the geeks, Page and Brin are 20th ranked, while film maker Steven Spielberg is 26. I am intrigued by the number of artists, musicians and composers in the list! And the large number of British people and only one Indian (and it is not Narayan Murthy or Anil Ambani!). The number of Iranians, chess players and boxers in the list is also interesting! But there is less than 5 % women which is very unfortunate.


ACM HyperText's keynote address is by Jon Kleinburg. Hope to listen to some thought-provoking talk!

Monday, June 09, 2008

A 'Sour' Question

One of the biggest conflicts we face in life, time and again is the battle between dream and reality. But even more amazing is the way we still keep hoping, even after being hard hit by reality so many times - dreams which keep us alive.

I was a very commonplace teenager; a girl who believed in dreaming, of love and life, of passions, of feelings, of movies overflowing with love and emotions - a perfect life with a perfect partner. Years have passed on, and life has taught enough of its sweet and hard lessons both. I have matured mentally, begun to understand of responsibilities, of life's more hard truths and of the fact that life is not so 'perfect', neither is there probably a 'perfect' partner.

When all of us know this, why do we look for the ideal match? Why do we want that all of the things we are short of would be complemented by that 'other' person? Why do we have to be so much finicky when we know that if the same question is raised regarding us, most of us won't stand the test of perfection? Why do we always have so much to complain about the other person rather than try and amend it? Is it because life always gives you another chance? Or simply because we want to run away from the toil of making a more perfect life with a not-so-perfect person?

Love happens - even after so many years, I believe that. But the question is, why is it then so easy for us to walk off when love was there? I see an utter contradiction here. I know we all are materialistic; but then isn't love over-rated? For, if it really existed the way I thought as a teenage girl; if love really made a perfect life with a perfect partner, in a surreal world with dim stars, blue buildings, pink curtains and no sorrows, would life ever have been this difficult? Would we ever have those special people or objects walking away from us? Probably not.

I really think life is hard. And the dream of a surreal world with dim stars, blue buildings, pink curtains and no sorrows where you and your partner "live happily ever after" is really a myth. Love happens, but it needs to be re-worked time and again. We embark on that surreal dream world the moment we fall in love, but unfortunately we often miss out on how to "make love work".

And then yet there's hope. As you would see in the movie Sex and the City, people spend their whole lives hoping to find the love of their lives, in some manner. But yeah, it is a movie. How about life? Does the "live happily ever after" concept exist? Or are we dwelling in our very own created Fool's Paradise?

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Art and Science: A Tagore Perspective

At several points of time ever since I can trace back my conscience, I have always been intrigued by the relationship between science and art. And then which one is more superior; which one subsumes the other. And then it did also occur to me: why do we at all need to make such a comparison?

Even today when I am in one of those philosophical moods, I try to find a ground. I have often talked to friends and I always hear extreme opinions: some of them say they are great in their own places; some say science is guided by rules which could be reproduced in a similar fashion every time, but then the same piece of art would be different every time the same artist makes it. Art is an expression of human emotion and thought which is very complicated. But none of those conversations sounded satisfactory to me until today when I wrote this blog.

Today I happened to read this conversation that Tagore had with Einstein back in 1930. Both were established in their own fields: being the proud recipients of Nobel Prizes for their much admired work in art and science respectively. However apart from a jovial flush of pleasure reading the conversation of two great men of all times, I felt, as I read it, it tended to answer my question of the relationship that art and science share. It was more than another conversation: because it was between two people so smart in their arenas yet completely unaware of the other. I felt how closely intertwined art and science are as far as our perception of the physical reality and life at large goes.

I find it marvelous to notice some of the interesting analogies that Tagore puts to connect Einstein's work on Relativity with human passions, music and life. I am amazed at the way Tagore explains how a very restless, ever-changing, unruly and transitory human thought process still yields a calm and harmonious individual. And about how music though bound by its own set of rules still lets the singer the liberty to mould it in his or her own way. And then how lines and colors though completely different, come as a harmonious whole to make a piece of painting beautiful. The analogies between these pieces of art and the laws governing quantum physics at the probabilistic atomic level and the organized element level are quite intriguing!

I believe the question of whether art or science is better is vague and meaningless. Both coherently describe our existence and the way universe is organized. It really depends on the frame of reference. To a painter, a cloud is a bright white patch coloring a blue vista; while to a physicist it is an ensemble of water droplets due to surface evaporation.

The same rule of a frame of reference applies to our lives. It is really how we perceive it. Happiness or woes, opportunities, farsight, planning: it all depends what we are looking for in life. And in most cases, life gives it to us: sometime someway!

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Another Friday night ...

I learned to play pool today. It was nice fun! I felt once you are conversant with the tactics, there is a lot of strategy involved to actually play a game. But today was the first day and I could drive three-four balls into those holes! So I am happy now.

We did considerable club hopping today. First we went for food; then we got a cover-free cheap drinks deal and so thought of checking out the bar. Third was Margarita Rocks, one of the college people flooded clubs in Tempe downtown. We got bored somehow and thought we will go to a bar with nice pool tables, and that's where I learned to play! Finally we ended Friday-ing with a trip to a Hookah bar with some Margarita flavored hookah. I didn't like it much today somehow - it was too strong with tobacco :(

Next weekend we might plan a trip towards the north border of Arizona and Utah - hopefully my long cherished desire to see Monument Valley will be fulfilled! Let's see!

The weekend after I am off to Pittsburgh for a conference. Fingers crossed: I have to present two papers!

Summer I have a very very packed research schedule - have to complete an older journal paper and a new journal paper should go underthrough! Pray I complete all of it!

But the fun of the day: I learned pool! So now I have more things to do in bars than just reach there wearing good clothes :P

Thursday, June 05, 2008

A very quick sandwich recipe ...

I tried this self-made variant of sweet and sour chicken yesterday and it came out great as a sandwich spread! I would call it butter and garlic sauted chicken, later cooked in sweet and sour sauce. The technique is very simple:

Marinate the chicken pieces (pieces very small in size to be later used as a sandwich spread) overnight using any herb and garlic based marinade. The next day, take a flat frying pan and melt some (unsalted) butter in it. As the butter is melted, add some chopped garlic and saute it. Later, add the marinated chicken, add a pinch of salt, cover the pan with a lid and simmer till the chicken turns white and is cooked in the steam. Once the chicken is cooked and the released water is evaporated, you will notice the butter and garlic starting to stick to the chicken surface. This is when you know the chicken is done. Now add the sweet and sour sauce and a little bit of hot sauce to it and mix well in medium heat. Observe so that the mix is sticky and not completely dry. Chicken spread is done!

Take two slices of wheat bread and spread mayo on one slice. Put a leaf of lettuce, a slice of Swiss cheese, a slice of tomato on it. Spread the chicken on the other slice and stick the two pieces together. Your sandwich is ready!