Saturday, November 14, 2009

Sip of a Very Beautiful Dream

The smell of the fresh chilling breeze, and the smoothing veil of the morning sunshine,
The mystic mountains afar gleaming every moment like bricks numerous, and some blush wine,
The wavering branches, the chirping birds, the rustling leaves: all making me soar on cloud nine,
But deep down some corner; some memories riding fast the winding roads in thoughts of mine.

The first pretty Winter blossom still desirous of standing amidst the blowing wind,
The dark shadow on the rustic walls of the parched paint in the walls that lean,
A blazing blue ray of hope shining at every nook and corner of the next passerby thinking it would someday win,
I sit here, peeping out of the window, witnessing a beautiful world with a sip of a very beautiful dream!

These days my schedule has been fortunate enough to allow me stay awake through the morning sunrise. A rare and mystical event that periodically showcases itself everyday, I am glad to enjoy different aspects of mother Nature in all its breadth. The mildly chilly Winter, and the advent of the comfortable times in Arizona has made me cherish Nature and life at large in a different way which I probably haven't had the opportunity to do in all the times in grad. school. Likely the last academic year here at ASU, this poem tries to captures the breezes and the storms in my mind---with a pinch of the bad times, the much-cherished good times and the uncertainty and the hope for the near future ahead. Many cheers, nevertheless, to the beautiful world we all are a part of!

Friday, October 09, 2009

Barack and His Nobel, and What It Means To Me

Despite good referrals from many friends and acquaintances, I never gathered enough time and opportunity to read one of the best-sellers in the non-fiction category in recent times; that is, Barack Obama's The Audacity of Hope. Nevertheless, for reasons beyond just inquisitiveness in the last Presidential elections (read, I was using the election 2008 trends as a part of my research involving communication in the Blogosphere), I always found that there was something about this guy; something which was bound to make you hopeful for your own future, something that is bound to create a stir in your mind.

Enough has been said and written about this intriguing personality, who after a very interesting journey, became the President of the United States back this January. I always felt a lot was expected of him. I felt that he must be under tremendous pressure to perform, because of the realm of expectations all of us had on him, and apart from acquiring the highest office in the most powerful country, at a point in time which was harder than ever - thanks to the economic times as bad as the Great Depression of the 1930s. I haven't followed him much ever since, but I kept on getting news about his health care plans, opinions on Middle East, and so on.

Today at around 2:30am in the night, I get this news (from Twitter, which is currently my primary news source) that he got the Nobel Peace Prize. Somehow I am able to relate to this event more than anything else; I feel its more of an encouragement to me than a shock or a surprise.

Since the past few weeks, my PhD has been going hard and rocky - reasons being starting from when I should graduate, to the job situation, to looking for faculty positions, post-docs etc, etc. I have been spending many a nights and days being sort of depressed, and thinking about various alternatives possible before and after graduation. At this point in time, the news of him getting the Nobel Peace under very surprising contexts somehow brings in some ray of hope in my morose life of late.

I think he is a guy who has literally proved how someone can rise up by leaps and bounds despite all odds. Everyone knows of the necessity of perseverance, but it's something very hard to implement. Everyone knows that the ultimate philosophy of life, is that one should never think of the outcome, just keep putting your best efforts, but it has never been this easy. But today when I see this guy, I feel like starting to believe in life and the world all over again. I feel rejuvenated that probably I can tackle these tough times with ease and courage. Makes me start to feel invigorated all over again, and start yearning for doing good work, as I have been doing all the while. And also be zealous and hopeful of the outcomes. Precisely, have hopes that are audacious enough to bring in the laurels eventually. After all, life is what we make it :)

Finally, Nobel is something that has always inspired me at different times and walks in life; whether it was back in 1992 as a little girl going to 4th grade and wanting to be the next scientist, or be it a morose PhD student in 2009 trying to make her way in her career through some hard road-blocks. I think this Nobel, at this time, has helped me bring back the smile I have been long longing for. Thanks Nobel, and of course, congratulations Barack :) To quote, as he said in his famous 2004 Democratic Convention:

Hope in the face of difficulty. Hope in the face of uncertainty. The audacity of hope!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

"...that one awesome thing that can change the world"

My busy life since the past several months has almost taken away the fact that I used to have a blog to maintain. I still remember the times back in late 2007 and almost all of 2008 when this blog used to be a way to vent my primary line of thought - probably as a get away from the complexities of life, its thoughts, emotions and other associated processes :). Life has taken several interesting turns ever since, especially this year, that I realize as I look back; and things which weren't too apparent when they were taking place :).

One of those myriad happenings is that I have begun to get a taste of my PhD thesis! It's amazingly interesting to see how an assimilated collection of several problems can actually tackle multiple dimensions of a larger research goal. Things before, during and after my internship at Yahoo! Research have also mostly been red and rosy; amidst incredible hard work all summer and some exciting fun times with sumptuous food in and around New York City. People around are now asking and telling me about graduating in or around the next one year, but I don't think I am ready for that yet.

This brings up the more philosophical question - when do you really think you have a PhD thesis? When is it that you think you are "done" and ready to get out and fight the larger arena of some exciting research? When are you placated by your own work? Of course I am not talking of the thousands of contextual circumstances that might hurry your graduation - for example, advisor's suggestion, shortage of funds, availability of a job you like, getting settled with your significant other, desire to move to some place for "other" reasons and so on. I am talking when do you think it comes from your very inside that you are ready to graduate?

I don't have an answer and I am looking for one. However since day one of my PhD I knew there was one reason I was doing all this, going through all the social ordeal, going against what friends are doing with their lives or even leading an extremely unusual life. And that reason was the desire to make a difference to the world in general and the research area in particular. I think the day I feel I have accomplished "that one awesome thing that can change the world", I think it'll spring from my inside that I am ready to graduate; ready to take on the crusade towards another even tougher, even more exciting than ever journey in the sands of space and time! :)

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Fall Trips - Seattle & Vancouver

For those who care, I was in Seattle for a couple of days, en route to Vancouver, Canada for SocialCom 2009. My talk's tomorrow - so fully geared! I leave Canada on Tuesday and the following day fly over to San Jose. I am going to attend the Key Scientific Challenge summit,, Yahoo! Research, wherein I have a poster presentation and a talk! Exciting week ahead!

In the meanwhile, cherished the opportunity to visit Microsoft, Redmond - thanks to a friend who works there. I must say, I liked the campus - especially Microsoft Research :) Here's a pic. Also, went up the Space Needle in Seattle; it was nice but not probably as exciting - it was like the n-th time I was going up a sky-high man-made object; some of them being Empire State Building, Sears Tower and Eiffel Tower.

Updates from Vancouver awaited - probably would check out the downtown and the harbor-side tonight! Until then, take care.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Backchannel Communication & Homophily

As I am bored to death in the flight back to Tempe from New York City (happens to be a five and half hour long cross-country journey), I thought I might just use this opportunity to write. Today, sitting at JFK I was amused to read this blog post by Danah Boyd on how the sense of being "connected" at every moment is changing our ways of interaction in the real world. She talks about the perception of "backchannel communication" in public environments and how the acts of tweeting, blogging, wiki-ing makes a one-sided conversation more engaging. The article clearly can be controvertial, but as a person born in the early eighties and a person who actually saw the entire "Internet" buzz bloom since teen age, would certainly be able to connect with her thoughts!

As Danah says while she is in a lecture / talk, she would carry along her laptop and pick up the points which are not-so-clear from the presenter and / or gather more intensive information related to the topic, or even tweet about it to understand the opinions of her social network, I am at a point where I think I can justify similar acts I have indulged in, in the past.

Since I was in high school, I always hated taking notes in classes. My idea was that, if there are something I really didn't know, or I thought I should keep in mind, I ought to be able to remember it anyways. It was kind of arrogant / crude / bad information management you might say, but that's how things have been working out for me. However, once I came to grad school, I felt obliged to change my principle a little bit! I still wouldn't take notes, instead carry my laptop, and as with Danah, would look up / read relevant or useful information that was being dispensed in the course lectures. It worked out pretty okay.

Today, with no courses left to deal with (!), I often route my inquisitveness / doubts / questions / brain-storming ideas over one of these social media sites. Two of the most useful and successful backchannel modes of communication that I have come across with are the Facebook status updates, and IM (Google Talk) status updates. And fortunately, I have often received very immediate flurry of responses about those questions from my social network!

My point here is however, not to reinforce the culture of backchannel communication. Rather the point that sort of intrigues me is that the ways we consume information has radically changed over the years - from the high school taking-notes-lecture days to today's way of asking a question to your network via your Facebook status. There seems to be a lot of hue and cry about the propagation / diffusion of information in all these social networks, but the point I am trying to make here is that even our modes of consuming that diffused information has changed drastically.

Nevertheless, the more sort of research question that still remains unanswered is that why do some of these forms of backchannel communication create a chatter, while some just faze away? Of course, the simplest answer is that for certain topics there exists homophily between you and a significant segment of your network. However when I conducted a simple experiment to validate this by posting a very "research-specific" question as my Facebook status, I was surprised to see that many of the comments were actually not at all from people who seems to experts in the topic! Do what role does homophily play in promoting effective backchannel communication that Danah talks about? More fundamentally, does homophily (or the idea that your friends are "like" you) actually make sense in today's social-media-rich culture? I don't quite know the answer yet - but I am inclined to believing that multiple modes of interaction are likely to promote backchannel communication in different manner and possibly for different subsets of your social network. Some of which might actually not have any homophily with you at all!

Tuesday, August 04, 2009


I remember writing a blog post sometime back on the phenomenon of symmetry that characterizes our social lives and actions. This was a time prior to when I started working on the "social synchrony" problem back in last December. It's interesting on how on the same note, I am interested in the phenomenon of asymmetry, so apparent in the social relationships we inculcate in our lives!

Characterizing relationships in online social networks is of my current research interest; and I plan to look at it from the manner individuals communicate over these different media. However as most of the literature in the social sciences goes, people have mostly considered undirected edges, that is, assuming relationships are symmetric. While this can be useful to simplify the network representation, or to compute elegant network features, I am driven by my simple life experiences; and the experiences that say that 99% of the time relationships are not symmetric!

Sometime back, I heard someone saying that in a non-platonic relationship, one person always has the upper hand than the other; and that one person has the upper hand to terminate it over the other, i.e. is in a more advantageous position than the other; and also that the implications of termination are likely to be worse to one compared to the other. I don't have a good reason to think otherwise. I think while this is most true about non-platonic relationships, there could be validating evidences in most other relationships, like parents-kids, brother-sister, employee-employer etc, however good friends you can mutually be!

In current state-of-the-art, unfortunately relationships in social networks, have been over-simplified, especially when it comes to characterizing them. I would imagine that though Alice and Bob both label each other as "friends" on Facebook, it is likely that the properties of that friendship are not symmetrical to each. Such asymmetry can for example, be explicitly found in their communication patterns or can be implicit in evidences like who is more likely to follow the other - revealing sort of a dependency relationship from Alice to Bob, which might not be the case from Bob to Alice. These are just some brain-storming thoughts of characterizing the asymmetry. There could be more...

Basically this thought springs from two causes, and both of which interestingly clicked to me today in the train back home: (a) that most of the times relationships have been quite asymmetric for me, the context being different every time, and (b) social ties have rather been poorly characterized so far - we need a more realistic model that captures the directional dynamics between a pair of people, specifically based on their communication and their actions in the social front.

However, finally while I do think modeling the asymmetry is useful, how is homophily, i.e. the fact that you and your friends are alike in some manner, related to this asymmetry? Maybe a future post!

Monday, August 03, 2009

The Canvass of Complex Relationships; Facebook, Twitter and More!

One of the most amazing, but complex aspects of our lives is the fact that we invariably indulge in constantly evolving relationships with others. We mature, we develop new ones, sever some of the old ones, while move on from certain others. In other words, relationships mean to us a lot more than a binary outcome of "presence" or "absence". Sometimes some relationships to us just pause, they are neither continued nor broken.

There has been a lot of hue and cry over the Web in the recent past over Twitter and Facebook. And how they are getting more and more intertwined with our lives today. And also how they could possibly take over our entire notion of social presence. And also sometimes how maintaining profile and activity on each of them can be monotonous, tedious and time-consuming. However, I think that these online social networks have a long way to go to actually reflect our social lives transparently. Or at least computational social science, as a research field, is yet to acknowledge several of the complex manner in which networks evolve in practice, and in particular characterizing the complex social relationships embedded in our daily lives.

Come to think about the point I raised earlier in this blog - that social relationships evolve thereby impacting the way networks as a whole evolve. Unfortunately, computational social science so far, looks at network evolution merely at the level of a binary variable - relationships emerge and relationships die. However, in my view, a much more comprehensive understanding of the relationships needs to be accounted for in these social networks / media like Facebook and Twitter. I am sure each one of us would agree that several of the relationships with people on our Facebook profiles have changed from the time we made them "friends". Unfortunately, there is no way to account for these changes on the social network itself.

A possible way to understand evolving relationships could be to look at the explicit mentions of changes - e.g. two people mentioning each other in the "In a Relationship" field on Facebook. Or sometimes even implicitly - e.g. communication patterns. But still, there could be several unforeseen instances which might account for the evolution of a relationship.

My hypothetical solution would be to consider the dynamics of communication and other user activities across different social media. As we all would agree, our presence on different social network serve different purposes, so does our social roles change across each of them. Hence a change likely to trigger the evolution of a relationship might get reflected on one social network, while might remain rather passive on the other. A comprehensive modeling of our multi-modal actions and multi-modal communication, I believe, can explain greatly the complexity of evolution of relationships in reality.

Hopefully this would be a segment of my research this year! Look forward to it. As always, driven by life experiences, and motivated by the plethora of bliss showered on us by the Web in particular, and Computer Science in general! Cheers to "computational social science" :)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

A Time Travel, 10 years back...

For reasons more than one, I have somehow been nostalgic about the times like 10 years back, the times in high school, the times of ripe teenage! Those were probably the most rosy times of life - just around the time when you begin to think of something called "life" and what it could mean to you, in the coming years. And I am sure most of us have very pretty pictures of life then!

The point of this blog is not to say that life actually, in the current times, is horrible. Neither I am making it a point that I have seen enough of "life" to make such a statement. Rather I was just analyzing how the perception, priorities and meaning of life has changed to me, over the span of past 10 years! It's just amazing...

Back in the "Kuch Kuch Hota Hai" days, I used to dwell in an extremely emotional world. If not love at first sight, I used to believe that one day I would meet that Mr. Right and fall in love and there would be no looking back! I used to think that there would be a cute house in a calm neighborhood, with lots of flowers and trees, and we would live there happily everafter. And I also used to think that I would be doing that ultimate best job in the world and have all the comfort and pleasure of the world.

June 28, 2009 is today - a day when I know that emotions are a heavy cost to pay in the end. It's today when I have known over so many years and so many incidents that things don't just fall in place; they need to be worked out. And there's nothing as live happily ever after, life has its sinosoidal nature. And having the best job is never served to you in a platter, you have to struggle, work hard and persevere for it.

Well I don't mean to say that life means something terrible to me now. Rather I would say I know quite a bit of life now. And the definitions of different things like emotions, love, job, career, happiness, success etc have radically changed - for the better! Success to me today is not a mere "good job" which can get me that cosy home in the countryside, but to do something meaningful in life. Something that can leave a mark in the world; something which would remain worthwhile for a long time to come. And I am ready to pay severe costs for that meaning that has evolved over me in these past few years. Because, even happiness means something totally different today! It means deeply caring for certain things in life, even if it means giving up several of the pleasures :)

One of my friends recently told me that I should be fit enough for a cross-country running. I told him, there are probably a lot of other things too which I should be fit enough to be doing today! However it's all about the choices we make in our lives. If I am not fit for certain things in life, it is because of certain other things that I care for - things in which I strive to succeed. And that's what conjures up my happiness, pleasure, emotions, career and life at large today...

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Feedback Systems: Life and a Lot More!

Since a little while, I have been catching up quite a bit on ideas from other related disciplines - like the areas which do not necessarily deal with generally networks, or specifically social networks. I won't consider myself a "pro-network researcher"; a distinction that I have begun to realize this summer. Nevertheless I wouldn't consider myself as one of those guys who does social networks to leverage another complex problem, like information retrieval or classification or media summarization. My problems are very grounded; and I would like to keep it that way.

Anyhow, talking about where in the research chart I would put myself, needs an altogether separate blog post - something which I am not planning to accomplish today; at least that's not what I started out writing on! I am going to talk about an obscure connection - the connection of feedback systems to life, in specific instances, as well as in general.

As they say, to err is human (and I am intentionally leaving out the "divine" part of it, for reasons that you might already know from my previous posts!). And I have this entire blog post which I wrote on this pessimistic truth that abounds our lives. But I am going to talk of a very optimistic look-out to the entire thing today; and this connects itself to the ideas of feedback systems that I have been reading for a while.

Can you recall when was the last time you made a "mistake" in life? No, I am not talking about the mathematical, algorithmic or whatsoever mistakes - I am talking about the actions that we do - the times when you stop being a level-headed guy and do something which doesn't reflect your own self. The errors we make in our lives all the time; sometimes of choices, sometimes of people, sometimes of our goals or sometimes of our work, and the list can go on ...

What happens then? Maybe sometimes we feel terrible, we rebound. Or sometimes we just leave those mistakes there - let it be. Or sometimes we set out to make it a point not to repeat it again. Exactly like how a feedback system would work - it takes the output from an event, and refines the input to optimize some loss function - until the error is infinitesimally negligible or theoretically zero.

We all love perfection in our lives. That's why we set out to rectify those mistakes in the future; like a feedback system. And that's the spirit of life I believe! Because life is not about being perfect; but striving to be perfect, in exactly the same manner a simple feedback system would work!

Did you tune your feedback system yet? I am trying to tune mine :)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Life in Retrospect

People often say - you can never unfold time in retrospect in the same way as it naturally unfolded then. Take the example of a PhD student's thesis. Good research (in the sense a good thesis which indeed makes a contribution to the relevant area) is never done in a day; neither is it ever dictated from a month or even an year's of single line of thought. Rather the process is more or less recursive - we hypothesize, we test, we validate and then come back and re-examine our hypothesis again. The process continues until we are able to hit the so-called "scientific truth" - okay maybe for many of us, the "technological leap".

Thesis ideas don't bloom in a day - people rarely would have their ten chapters of the actual thesis figured out in the very first month of their grad school. However, when you look back at a good thesis after seven (or hopefully several) years, it gives you the feel, the girl or the guy dreamt of doing the exact same thing and expected the exact same results the day s/he was born. We know that's often not the case though (okay not talking of Turing Award winners here)!

Life looks different in retrospect. It lends us a spectacle which enables us analyze the past in the context of a number of variables that have come to emerge and affect our lives in the present. Hence when we look back, we feel that life in retrospect has happened the way because they were bound to happen that particular way! Some people would call it luck. But I woudl refrain from digressing into that - needs a separate post.

Retrospective thinking and the conclusions derived from them are often misleading, or are at least quite illusive. However it is of utmost necessity in life. When I look back at my life retrospectively, I feel happy. Because I feel I won't have been probably sitting her writing this blog about my weirdest philosophical thoughts unless things happened the way they actually happened. I feel, in retrospect, life molds us in a (sub)optimal way which can help us lead our lives in a manner which we, if we want, would be able to justify to ourselves, if not another ten people.

Since I was a kid, everyone used to tell me - look forward, think about tomorrow, don't brood over the past, etc etc. But sometimes the retrospect helps. It gives you the courage for today when you think of the hard times you have had tide over in the past. It tells you that wherever you are, it's your sequence of actions that has led to this, and hence you are the one who has responsibility of your own life - not some other random contextual factors which had just fallen in place in the past. Precisely, looking at life in retrospect makes us ready to tackle a tough tomorrow. Yeah several times, if not always.

When I look back at the person I was in 2007, exactly two years back, I feel strange sometimes. I feel strange at the manner (and also the fast pace) I have evolved as a person, learnt of life's greater responsibilities, started to take things as they come and to love the things I do, and do the things I like, as long as it's justifiable to the larger set of people you care about. If life had been hard then, it was like that for the today I have.

And the today I have is probably for something more meaningful tomorrow...

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Thoughts in Some Wet Wind

I can smell the wet air and can feel the damp soil,
I can ride oceans and seas to find the first summer foil;
In a country with some unknown crowd and words of a less learned strain,
I breathe in and dwell in a dreamland of body and some brain.

Sometimes the blowing wind would shudder a tremble in me,
As I hold a hot cup of coffee and attempt to look through my bunch of key;
The key which locks out a future of some hope and some memory
Of past and of the let-go days' territory.

I stand as I feel the wet rainy wind blow my face,
I see, I hope, I expect, I disgress
To a future adorned with all the best of the gone-by times,
And a lot to do for those yet to come - but yet what rhymes
Is a promise - a pledge that life has bore all through,
As I enjoy and work my way as a ship's crew.
A journey as meandering it could be
Yet as many dreams as there could possibly be!

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Europe Trip: First Accounts...

Much wanted for is a blog post, precisely a travelogue, which depicts my Europe trip. I must say, it was one of the trips I would never forget - whether it is from the career point of view, or just for my mere love of traveling. My trip was short, but very sweet, and the places that I traveled to were Madrid and Paris, both in western Europe. A per-day account follows from this point onwards. In this blog I have accounted for my first three days in Madrid. The rest, along with the Paris blog would follow soon!

Apr 19: I started from my home early morning, helped by Uday to get dropped at the airport. I needed to get a domestic flight first, to Chicago, and then had a connection to Madrid on the Spanish airline Iberia. The one stress that I always had before I started my journey was my 100% ignorance of the language in either of the two countries. Apart from a "hi" and a "thank you", I had no clue about how I would express myself out there. Much before I started, friends recommended I learn a bit of Spanish and French, but my ever-busy schedule did not let me a single opportunity to do so. My Chicago flight was delayed, almost by an hour due to bad rains there. Though I was skeptical I am going to miss the connection to Madrid, which would mean staying a night in Chicago, things fell in place when the Iberia flight was delayed as well! I embarked on my journey, when I figured a significant number of the passengers were Spainiards.
The flight was long and boring. The food was mostly continental, and so were the drinks, ref. Heiniken (not one of my favorites). This wasn't the real feel of Spain yet!

Apr 20: I reached in the Barajas Intl Airport in the morning, about 11:30 am local time, which is nine hours ahead of Arizona time. I knew how to get to the hotel from there - went down the terminal, got some currency exchange and walked to the Metro station. I had to change at a certain station in the middle and then had to walk to the hotel which was hardly about 200 meters from the station. At this point what really helped me was Google Maps street view. I had already looked up where the station was and how I needed to walk up to the hotel. So when I walked out of the station, it felt I had been there already! Good God, technology!
The hotel was 3 star and so quite upscale as far as the amenities and the hotel associates were concerned. They would speak English, so it wasn't an issue for me. The guy helped me take my bags to the room and I thanked him "Gracias". To my surprise, I found the elevator to be really small, even at a upscale hotel - unlike the ones you see in the States where you can virtually sleep! The room was nice and cozy. I quickly freshened up and got ready in formals. I had to run to the conference venue where one of my friends / ex-colleague was presenting his paper at a workshop. I took the Metro again and used my Google Maps street view experience to find out the conference venue easily!
The conference venue was quite different from the locality my hotel was in. It looked new and the buildings you would see were new and quite urban, much like a regular office area in the States. I registered for the conference onsite and quickly moved on to the room where that Workshop was. Soon after had lunch and checked out some talks.
That day I was terribly jetlagged. Had to return to the hotel about 6 pm because I was too sleepy to even sit upright! No dinner, I came and dozed off.

Apr 21: This was in fact the real "free day" at the conference, because most of the talks were not of interest to me. So me and the friend who was presenting there went out after lunch at the conference to visit the Palacio Real (The royal palace of Spain). For the first time we saw the real face of the city! Madrid is adorned by lots of old buildings which have survived hundreds of years. However the Palace was a different story altogether. It was beautiful and elegant despite being old - something you would hardly see in the architecture in India.
Unfortunately the palace was closed on that day so we walked around some church, and took a nice walk at the Plaza Mayor which is a 17th century historic locality in Madrid. We caught some glimpses of Madrid life - narrow streets, old houses, canopy windows, a painter and the regular people.
On our way back, we were surprised and pleased to come across with the official welcome to the Indian President! Apparently Pratibha Patil was visiting Madrid at the same time as a National tour. So we were coincidentially a part of the entire royal welcome she got - horses well enamoured with jewels, nice vintage cars and what not! As a second coincidence we met one of my collaborators and her friend there as well!
We paused during our walk next to grab some coffee. Just to give you an idea, a small coffee which is half the size of the ones you get in Starbucks here, costed 2 euros. We sat and chatted nicely for a long time. We din't even realize it was two hours already!
I had an invitation from the Yahoo! party at the conference, so I had to rush there. Going there was nice fun. Though technically not a Yahoo! yet, but as a future Yahoo! person it was nice to interact with some of the people there. I tried the Yahootini - which is a vodka based Martini specially made on account of the Yahoo! party!
I returned back to the hotel at about 10 pm. Again I was very tired, but worked on my talk a little bit, which was scheduled a couple of days later.

Rest of my account would follow soon. Hope this left you excited! :)

Friday, April 10, 2009

I am Back

A lot of guilt, a host of news and a mountain of work are what I return to the blog with after around two months of complete silence. Though everything went on so fast and I hardly realized time has been ticking its way quicker than I could realize, yet I have always missed this favorite pastime of mine!

Time has kept me unbelievably busy of late. Several things have been going on, the most important of which being that the time to consolidate my PhD has arrived, rather astoundingly soon. Suddenly I am getting the feel time is running out, and I have so many things to do. And that life is short. And that the effort needed to fulfill the lone desire of my life - to bring smile to tomorrow's world, still looks like a far-fetched dream. But with the current state of affairs, I am certain I would make it there someday. :)

The moment when I am penning this blog, I have several things up on my schedule. Firstly, it is my Spain trip for attending the WWW 2009 conference. This is my first visit to the conference and I am glad to let you know that I would be a presenter there in the Rich Media track. Also planning on a very short trip to Paris. Some family is there, so I thought it would be a great opportunity to catch up with an aspect of life I have almost forgotten about ever since I started PhD.

What follows next is a flurry of papers - my target this year has been to "consolidate" - finish up all the unfinished work and then gear towards a last final hammer on the final nail of PhD. I am glad, stressed and excited to be in this phase. More like I always wanted to be here!

Look forward to a very exciting summer as well! Let's see what interesting research is in store then! For the rest of the tidbits of my life, I would keep you all tuned. Possibly by blogging more frequently! :)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

About Slumdog

Much has been said, talked and written about the strong Oscar contender movie, Slumdog Millionaire, by Danny Boyle. One friend told me Danny has shown India in bad light. Someone else told me that the movie didn't impress him at all, he found it all a hype. And some other friend told me that the movie has been making so much media coverage and is a strong Academy award contender because Danny Boyle is not an Indian.

I appreciate constructive criticism. However often people forget to see the positive aspects of whatever they are criticizing. If Slumdog showed India in bad light, brought out the poverty our fellow people face, showed how little kids have to face "life" at such a tender age, isn't it true? Just living in metros, working in a software company making shit products for clients here, eating Rs 1000 dinners or sipping coffee from Barista or appreciating India's lunar mission doesn't change the reality in these slums. If a movie is made around that theme why is it bad?

Guys, please get rid of this Indian and not-Indian judgment. Why can't someone appreciate the movie as a piece of good Art? I mean what is the problem appreicating someone as a human-being, without bringing in distinctions based on color, race, community or country? At the end of the day, we are all human beings right? And if someone makes a movie vividly showing the reality faced a bunch of young kids in a slum in India, what is bad in it?

To this context, let me tell you this experience I just had while I was browsing Facebook. I usually don't click on the ads you get on your right hand side toolbar, because most of the times they are not useful to me. But today I saw an ad which led me to this link, giving the context of the Slumdog movie:

I was very intrigued to find such a manner to use the ads on social media sites. Moreover, I am glad the movie Slumdog is being used for a generous non-profit cause. This is for all of you who have been criticizing the movie - did DDLJ had the caliber to make such a societal impact? No, of course!

People, learn to appreciate others, respect their talent and their endeavors. That's the only way to making yourself a little better! Criticism doesn't have to be a fad. Appreciation and criticism need to go hand-in-hand. After all, we are all trying to build a better society together, isn't it?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Sometimes Winning is Everything...

The real research is one which springs from your real life observations of small things. And how those small things relate to a bigger philosophical endeavor. Research is neither for earning money, nor for being famous neither about merely being sincere at work. Unless there is a high level motivation to relate your work to the bigger picture of the society, please don't consider this line of thinking!

I am a newbie in this never-ending run for getting better, precisely called PhD - with an experience of about 3.5 years, where your sole job is to do "path-breaking research". I am yet to make a mark in the sands of time with my work, but I have learnt one thing clearly, that unless you can convince yourself why you are doing what you are doing, there's no point carrying over a hollow endeavor. You need to be as much convinced about your work as you can explain it to a stranger you meet in the subway one fine morning, and after listening to you, he or she would be ready to think that your work is going to be the technology which would redefine the world tomorrow!

Success I believe is bound to come that way; should you culture this passion. And also, PhD is not another degree. It is about living your life all over again, in a new light, and where you see your work getting inter-twined as a fine thread in the numerous strands coloring our daily world. Right from sipping a cup of coffee sitting at a cafe, to your turning off the night lamp before going to sleep, you should be able to reflect on your research problem in some manner or the other, in some nook and corner of your life.

Research is an alter-life, and PhD a road you tread to reach that goal called excellence. It transcends all boundaries; all you care for thereafter is the well-being of one and all, even the strangers you meet everyday in the subway...

PS: This post is precisely meant for those of the readers who think they might consider doing PhD at some point of time. Or for those of us who are new to this world called 'research'. Question your instincts before you take the leap. Bring out the creative artist in you even if you have an engineering background - trust me, all it takes to do good research is a innovative eager mind, and a desire to better yourself everyday!

I would like to conclude with a few lines from the title song of SRK's movie 'Chak de India':

Sometimes winning is everything...

As a researcher, this needs to be your sole aim in life; winning being bettering yourself every morning you wake up, and then using your better self to contribute something meaningful to the world. Because as they say, winning is not about competing with someone, but with your inner self...

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Another Crazy Analogy!

Long back, since my high school days, I always used to love fundamental science, and Physics in particular. Though I no longer do the basic sciences, working in an area like (online) social networks which is of widespread interest to people spanning over multiple disciplines, as economists, sociologists, physicists and of course computer scientists, I can see a lot many correlations with fundamental sciences, especially when I am thinking at a high level!

Have you ever heard of the popular one-liner taught at high school on Mechanics - it is easier to pull a cart than to push it? I found a very interesting correlation of this idea with the on-going research by Duncan Watts on refuting the Influentials' Hypothesis - that the idea that a few handful people trigger big sociological phenomenon is actually a myth.

Imagine a company interested in marketing their business idea / product over a community interested in technology-savvy products. Whom should they spend money on? The influentials (if they exist) who would "push" their idea / product; or a set of susceptibles (people prone to accepting new ideas) who would "pull" novel ideas / products from external sources?

The analogy looks very obvious with the Mechanics example of distribution of force while pulling / pushing a cart. A pull takes less effort (less expenses in the company context) to market a business idea :)

A very crazy correlation, but could not help thinking on the line of distribution of force in the context of high school Mechanics!

PS: More "pull" based models based on recent discussion with AK (Teddy): any web-based search (or any search thereof) is a "pull" model because the results are supplied based on queries from the user who is trying to pull in relevant information. A very challenging "push" model to cater to useful information to a user could be for example, automatically filtering RSS feeds (e.g. Google Reader) of users to "push" them only "interesting" information. A recent work from me on these similar lines of motivation has been done here. It has been accepted to be published in WWW 2009 to be held in Madrid, Spain in April.

Monday, January 12, 2009

... he makes the impossible *possible*...

""A.R. Rahman is nothing short of a melodic genius," Andrew Lloyd Webber has said. "I admire his unique sense of harmony, his staggering rhythms and his melodies that take an unexpected twist that no Western composer would dream of.""

This is an excerpt from the popular political blog Huffington Post, in the context of Rahman getting the Golden Globe for composing the score in the movie Slumdog Millionaire. Any such statement is an understatement of what he is capable of, and so it goes without saying how much is the depth and breadth of Rahman's fan-following ever since the 'Roja' times; and also the fact that I am certainly one of them; an apparent celebrity, but a very commonplace man whose achievements, hard-work, patriotism and dedication to work has always left me mesmerized. Coming from a very ordinary family the way he has been climbing the stairs of success by dint of sheer faith in himself makes me believe: nothing is impossible.

The world is not so bleak; there are still some people who believe in themselves, tiding over all odds, never being victims of the circumstances, and always cherishing the belief in themselves that they have a goal in mind that they need to reach; all the other reasons that come across on the way then lose significance. Honest, truthful and strongly determined people like Rahman practically prove this philosophy; and shower drizzles of hope everywhere, time and again.

No life is without a purpose. And when we know the purpose of our lives, there's no stopping. We can make the impossible *possible*.

I am fortunate I live at an age where there are folks like Rahman to keep sowing the seeds of hope that success is definite, should you want it from the bottom of your heart. The goals I have set in my life and big, large and heavy; but I am hopeful that as long as I see people like Rahman reaching their much coveted zenith, there's no reason I wouldn't be able to equate my dreams and goals to the life ahead, even if it costs my whole lifetime!

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Munmun Goes 'Pro'!

To start New Year 2009 with a bang, I went 'pro' on Flickr! All the thanks goes to AK, and also to Yahoo! :D A Canon 40D sometime late this year, with the standard 18-55 mm lens, a zoom lens (70-300 mm) and a wide-angle 10-12 mm lens; and then I am all set to go! Going 'pro' on Flickr was something I was looking forward to since a long time - came soon enough :) Please find the 'pro' Munmun here! Note, though not 'pro' before, I had a reasonable public exposure on the mere 132 photos I have out on my profile, with a current count of 9279 views. Photography is a hobby I have generated very late, like a couple of years back, say compared to my other creative pursuits like writing (11th standard, 1999) or cooking (B Tech Final Year, 2004-05) or traveling (B Tech 3rd Year, 2003-04). Like all of these creative pastimes, I found it inexplicably captivating. I want to nurture on this hobby more, possibly increase my exposure, hone my skills (I still consider myself an amateur-to-intermediate photographer) and thereby cherish my all-time love of Art.

The pic you see above is taken at the Monterrey Bay, in California during by new year visit to San Jose. It is a very pretty place, I am referring to 17 mile drive there. The drive is also very pleasant, beautiful and the Pacific shores are marvellously serene. Strongly recommended on your next pleasure trip!

The interesting thing about the pic is that no editing was done on the pic, not even cropping; fresh out of the camera memory card. The colors of the sky you see are the natural sunset colors. I also love the composition of the pic; the silhouetted foreground comprising the trees and little hills give a great sense of mystery to the pic.

Wait and watch. More of photography to come shortly!