Thursday, December 14, 2006

Time Compression

Recently came across a post in a friend's blog which inspired me to this (after a long pause again! :) ) There has been quite a bit of lament about the lack of innovativeness in research. I don't claim to be a good researcher, nor do I represent the research community in any way, but I feel that an important aspect seems to be missed everytime this issue comes up. True that today research environment is commercialized, and that we in an ideal world, need Archimedes' who were more bothered in finishing a circle than saving his life, but that's a big subject of discussion in its own right. What I thought I could mention is something what I call "Time Compression"...

Great path breaking discoveries occur, but they take a time. Remember that there was a phase of almost half a century before the velocity thing came when there was not much happening, and in fact Niels Bohr (I think?) was asked by his professors to switch to Biology because nothing much was happening in Physics. The point is, when we make such observations, we unconsciously look through a thousand-year timeline of achievements when we need to compare the present. As is commonly the case with astronomic numbers, the human mind tends to lose track of how long time spans really are, beyond a certain point. To borrow some ideas of Kuhn, it is not really fair to expect revolutionary breakthroughs to occur every now and then - we might still be in the phases before such a thing could occur. So when we say that life on the research front has been pretty uninspiring, we need to bias our views taking into consideration the inherent human cognitive limitation of not being able to judge time spans. Innovation is perhaps a gifted retarded kid - it will take its time, but surely surprises us with what it has in store once in a while. Mankind is prepared to wait...

Friday, June 30, 2006

IRL intern ki "Ram Kahani"

This was a play we interns here at IBM IRL played out to the rest of the lab here. Supposed to be a subtle parody on the life of an intern. There are parts of the play which would need you to have been in IRL, so don't blame me if you can't comprehend it or don't find it funny :)

[ The stage is divided into two parts, one part depicts a cafetaria in a college, and the other, a room at IBM IRL. The protagonist of the play is a guy who has just returned from an internship, and is whiling away his time at the cafe talking to an enthusiastic junior who is keen to know more about the internship. So, the junior asks questions, and the intern answers, painting a rosy picture. What he exactly means by each of his answers is something which is shown in the other half of the stage as flashback. So, the play shuttles back and forth between the two parts of the stage. (Now don't blame me of copying Mani Ratnam in Alaipaayudhe/Saathiya :D) ]

## Cafe ##

{ Summer Intern: SIC }
{ Junior: J }

SIC: Yaar, kaisa jagah hai yeh. Ek coffee vending machine bhi nahin hai...

[ J enters ]

J: Wow! Really great to see you back. How are you doing?

SIC: Well, I am fine!

J: I was keen to ask a quite a few questions. So, how was the IRL experience?

SIC: Well, it was fun... We were innovating... on demand!

## Flashback ##

{ Summer Intern: SI }

[ SI is listening to music. Some interns are talking about the football match the day before. SI joins. Suddenly the phone rings ]

SI: Hello.... Yes sir.... Yeah, I am almost done with the paper sir. In fact I was discussing the pros and cons of the approach with some of my peers here. Sure, I will be there in a minute...

[ Hang up ]

SI [to a friend, who is now near him]: Are, woh download link kahaan gaya yaar... Kal match itna interesting tha, I forgot to download the paper I had to read...

Friend1: What, you didn't even download the paper?!

SI: Oh God, it's taking too long...

Friend2: I think the title should do!

SI: Yeah, should.... "Techniques for Spatial Database Optimization"... Ok fine, that should do...

[ Goes to mentor ]

Mentor: Hi! So, you read the paper.. What do you think about the approach?

SI: Sir, I had an idea. We could enhance their work by using dynamic programming for spatial database optimization. Intuitively, it should lead to a considerable speedup.

Mentor: Looks good... May be you should come up with a prototype and test its performance...

SI: Sure sir...

[ Both exit ]

Narrator: Ah well, so this is innovation on demand... Whenever in doubt, add a bit of dynamic programming and intuition...

## Cafe ##

J: Wow! that's exciting. What exactly did you work on?

SIC: hmm.. I better see the paper and tell you... [Sees paper] Efficient troubleshooting of systemic anomalies inherent in cognitive agents.. It's not yet over!... dispersed over large networks susceptible to obfuscation attacks... Wait, wait, there's still more... caused by massive character stream display interfaces written in legacy languages.

[ J is perplexed ]

SIC: Basically, it is an interdisciplinary work between artificial intelligence, intrusion detection technologies and language systems...

## Flashback ##

Mentor: My current research focus is on applying Artificial Intelligence techniques to Planning. I would like you to develop a communication framework for mobile agents dispersed in an environment.

SI: Gee! That’s really simple. Since all agents are mobile just program them to utilize their calltime.

Narrator: Well, so much for the cognitive agents...

Mentor: [Shocked. Takes some time] That’s not exactly what I had in mind. Anyways, you could also assist me in designing strategies for Intrusion Detection Systems. [Gives some papers] Take a look at these and try to test our model on massive codes for obfuscations.

Narrator: After a week...

SI: Sir, I have successfully tested our model against massive character stream display interfaces.

Mentor: Sounds good. We should write it up, so that we could submit it to some conference.

[ Both exit, now the SI is with his friend ]

Friend: Yaar, your mentor was all praise for you today... Code dikha zaara? [looks at his code and is puzzled] What? Hello World!

SI: Yeah, this is a character stream display interface...

Friend: But, how is this a massive code...

SI: Oh, it should be massive na... What about... adding a loop of 1000 around the print statement?

[ Friend is left speechless ]

## Cafe ##

J: That's mind boggling! How was your work environment?

SIC: [Murmuring] Cold... [To friend] Cool.. I mean, real cool...

J: It must have been an interesting experience to work on a research problem. Did you guys have lot of meetings?

SIC: Oh yes, it was very stimulating. In every meeting, we were encouraged to work independently. They showed lot of confidence in us.

## Flashback ##

[ Mentor in his room and an intern walks in for his first meeting ]

SI: Good morning Sir, my name is Vishnu.

Mentor: Hello Vishnu, you may call me Anil. Feel free to contact me anytime. You have to make the best possible use of your stay here at IRL. You can access my calendar on Lotus Notes to see when i’m available.

SI: Ok Sir. When do we meet today?

Mentor: It is 10.00 now, at 10.30 i have a meeting. After lunch I have some work up to 3.00. From 5.30 i have a telephonic conference with the USA team. So...

[ SI thinks to himself ]

Voiceover: I must find out if there is a team working on constraint satisfaction, I seem to be getting a lot of test cases.

Mentor: You were saying something?

SI: Never mind sir, so I deduce that you are free at 11.30?

Mentor: Ok.. let us meet at 11.30.

[ SI exits ]

Narrator: It's now 11:35

[ SI enters his mentor's room ]

Mentor: Hello Vishnu.. let us discuss now...

SI: Sir.. I had been looking at a few things...

[ Phone rings ]

Mentor: Hello... Yeah... Yeah... Oh OK, I am coming in a minute, we will have to discuss our itinerary. [To SI] Vishnu.. I have to go now. Let us discuss sometime in the evening or tomorrow. Oh no... I will be gone tomorrow. Ok, let us keep in touch via email. Do work hard!

SI: [Dumbstruck] OK Sir.

## Cafe ##

J: Well... was it all about research only? Wasn't there anything else? I mean... like entertainment.

SIC: No, actually there’s this wonderful group in IBM called the Idontclick club. It organizes lots of events to keep the IBM people engaged, apart from their research work. But the icing on the cake was those month-end parties we had out there. Really, that was the icing on the cake. We used to have a blast out there... fulltime masti.

## Flashback ##

{ First Guy: D }
{ Second Guy: D's friend, DF }

[ Two guys standing, as if addressing an audience ]

D: Welcome to this month's party end... uh.. I mean, month end party... So, is there any one who had their birthday this month?

[ Waits for sometime ]

D: [Murmuring to DF] Looks like it is going to end pretty soon this time...

DF: Look, some hands are up...

D: [To one of the guys who has his hand up] Oye! toone to last time bhi haath utaya tha... Har bar cake cut nahin kar sakta... chal, baith...

D: Aw, so there's one. So, let's sing a Happy Birthday for him..

Chorus: [In a bored voice]

Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday dear...

D: Ok, ok.. theek hai.. Guys, I know you all had a great party. Goodbye!

## Cafe ##

J: That sounds awesome. But, you must be kept very busy otherwise right?

SIC: Well yeah.. I must say that the work involves a lot of concentration. In fact, we was always on our feet.

## Flashback ##

[ It's 3.55 PM, and SI is staring fixed ]

Friend: What are you staring so focused at? Are you thinking about some algorithm?

SI: Shhh...

Friend: But what is over there? Oh... a clock... You got a...

SI: 3.58

Friend: Uh... I was asking if you got a meeting with your mentor sometime now?

SI: No [continues staring]

Friend: Whew... that’s some concentration!

SI: 3.59....... 60.. 59.. 58.. 57...

Friend: What the hell are you so excited about?

SI: It's almost time!

Friend: Oh! Wait... Your internship was about a paper which was submitted a week back. Are the results going to be out? But wait... one week is too less a time...

SI: 3... 2... 1... There it is... I gotto go... I gotto go...

Friend: But where?

SI: I gotto go...

Friend: Would you mind telling...

SI: Hey look, Amit lost the TT series to me yesterday. That loser challenged me today again. I am going to go now and win again... Oh! I am late!! [Hurries]

Friend : [Gapes, frustrated, speechless] Well... best of luck!

## Cafe ##

J: Hey... all this sounds cool. I must think about an internship there next year. But just one thing confuses me. How did your orkut scrap count increase from 600 to 6000 over the summer.

SIC: Err... We are getting late for the lecture. We better hurry.

[ Both exit ]

Narrator: Well, little do people realise that IBM is a global company. It's all about online collaboration.

[[ THE END ]]

Well.. that's the play.. and yeah, a couple of pics for the Narrator, Scriptwriter (Assisted by some others) and the Director :D ...

That's me narrating...

...and here's the director with some sound advice for the actors :p ...

Hope you liked the play!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Inside Eureka

Lots of stories, anecdotes and even ad campaigns have based themselves on the legendary bath tub story of Archimedes. Coming to think of it, Archimedes was so blessed. History must have seen so many researchers who spent their lives searching for one, just one moment of inspiration. So many would have died without achieving this moment of self-glorification and satisfaction. Really makes one wonder as to what could drive a person to such craziness of readying him/herself to spend a lifetime in search of something whose existence itself is uncertain.

Such, is the power, immense joy, and dizzying high the search of truth offers. Many mock at me at using the net-name "and yet it moves" for anything connecting me and the internet, be it my email ids, all my login names of online services, and why, even the url of this blog! Many have come up with quite a few alternative interpretations (and I must admit, many quite hilarious as well) for this name as well. But it is the tenacity of one Galileo Galilei to mumble these words about earth, despite being forced by a dogmatic church to accept an unscientific geocentric theory, which bowls me over. What could have driven a person to put his life at stake to press a point over one's belief in truth is something perhaps only a researcher could understand.

From the viewpoint of a person into computer science, the scene is no different. You start off with writing code for a purpose you know yourself is trivial or stupid or useless or a combination of the three, land up with troubles, try to debug the program for hours, lose sleep and hunger, and jump a few inches and let out a shriek enough to frighten all those around you when you realise that it's all working fine. Take a step back. What did you really achieve? Well, in most cases, almost nothing. Well, why are you ecstatic then? You don't know. As a matter of fact, very few in that state actually know. Reminds me of what one scientist (I forgot the name.. Oppenheimer or Bohr?) who was involved in developing the thermonuclear bomb had to say when someone asked him why he was doing this despite knowing the possible fallout of this project. He just had to say, "It's beautiful"! Is this stupidity? Idiocy? Craziness? Well, I guess we will never know the answer.

It is true that it is still only a miniscule section which gets drugged over the pursuit of truth. I guess nature wins hands down once again in its judgement of proportions. If it is dreadful to think of a world filled with drug addicts, we have a similar case in our hands here!

Saturday, May 20, 2006

When do I think?

(Yes. I am blogging again. After yet another gap of 10 months. Will I sustain it this time? I don't know, and will probably never. Well, it doesn't hurt trying once again, does it? :) )

The power got cut in the evening. For an hour I guess. With the lashing rain pleasantly surprising this temporary delhiite battered by the heat, the best option available to me was to close the door, and lie on the bed pondering. Pondering about what I need to do over the next few days. Pondering about my long term goals. Pondering about how to achieve them. Pondering about all the nice coding stuff I plan to do once in a while. Pondering about life. Pondering about how it meanders it's way through monotony. Pondering about how you end up forcing monotony by yourself. Pondering about addictions and obsessions which you thought you never had. Pondering over how much of your life is spent entertaining them and catering to them. Pondering about what had bid you goodbye disgusted by this monotony. An adrenalin rush to change life for the better. Pondering over whether such changes would be realistic. Pondering over nothing.

It is interesting to observe how many thoughts within you had craved for letting themselves out at the first opportunity of finding a state of mind not preoccupied by anything in this world. Time divides itself amongst sitting in front of the comp, daily chores, work, meeting with friends and an occasional outing. And thoughts turn helpless and mute, unable to find a slot in your schedule. In a way, god bless powercuts at nights. It forces upon you to be aloof from everything in this world, especially when you are unable to be detach from it voluntarily. It atleast reminds you of what you have trained to do as a homo sapien. Think. Think to improve. Think to rejoice. Think to live a life. Think again. Think twice. Think.