• Honey, where did the skepticism go?

    Political speeches, advertisements, newspaper articles, sales people; they're all the same. Each of these scenarios involve one or more people trying to convince you about something. Politicians, who're often good orators, have the ability to make anything seem like rainbows and sunshine with a cherry on top, and lead the emotions of their listeners (remember Obama?). The most hollow of advertisements lead to drones of poorly informed people queuing up in groves to spend money on a product that may not be of much use. Newspapers do a great job of directing the thoughts of those who rely on them excessively for being aware. This highlights a rather disturbing aspect of our society. Why aren't we skeptical about the information we're being fed? Interestingly enough, the dissemination of scientific knowledge in the form of publications also revolves around a similar scenario. To get a paper published, authors must manage to convince a set of reviewers that the authors' work takes a step forward in expanding the horizon of human knowledge. But in the world of peer-review, a reviewer tries his very best to reject the work being presented with a thorough dissection of each and every sentence in the paper. From technical quality, to originality, to mere presentation, every little detail often matters when trying to publish a paper in a reasonably good conference or journal. When a reviewer feels that he/she couldn't unearth enough flaws in the paper, the paper gets a green. Why does this difference exist? Why do we let politicians hypnotise us with their words and lure us into a judgement we really shouldn't make? One important factor I can attribute this to is education itself, but strangely enough, we are often am more skeptical about the papers we review than the news articles we read. Luckily, for the easily deceived, Web 2.0 has been the greatest blessing of them all. Every time we read a blog post or a news article online, all we need to do is scroll down to see what comments the article has received. This lets us see how different people perceive the same piece of writing, giving us different perspectives of the same content. Twitter and other social networks allow us to hear of voices from far and wide, further helping in this direction. Read the same articles from different news sources. Having a sense of different viewpoints puts us in the rather powerful position of being able to formulate an opinion. An opinion is something we hold dear to ourselves, it allows us to make a stand. It protects us from being puppets in the drama of deception. It protects us from being mislead. It allows us to convince ourselves of something, rather than letting someone else do that for us. This simple yet powerful ability to think, is what makes us stand apart from other species on the planet. Don't relegate yourself to an existence that merely accepts what you're told. A big flaw in the educational system (at least in India), is where students are taught something in class, they nod their heads to what they're told, and they write exactly that in an examination to get 'marks'. Any deviance from what was explained in the lecture, even if it is a brilliant flash of creativity, is considered 'incorrect'. This, rather preposterous incentive, is what makes students dumber. Students are thus discouraged from thinking and lead away from having an opinion and questioning the facts. Will this ever change? I don't know. So please; Think. Ponder. Question. Challenge. Not convinced? Reject.
  • Google Summer of Code 2011 is on!

    Google Summer of Code 2011 is on. Students, what are you waiting for? Go through last year's pages to narrow down on a mentoring organisation that suits you, and start getting your hands dirty by hacking on some projects as soon as possible. Remember, the earlier you start working on your proposal, the more refined it will be by the application deadline. And if your dream mentoring organisation doesn't get selected, remember that it doesn't stop you from contributing outside of GSoC. :)

    You can find all the information you need here.

  • 2010 -> 2011

    Holding a glass of champagne in my hand, I watched as the night sky above me resonated with fireworks at the Palace Square in Lisbon, and with that, I had just stepped into 2011. I'm surprised at how much I've been able to do over the year and on how much of an improvement it is over 2009. 2010 felt like it was full of learning, good news and had quite a positive air around it. With the last of my semester projects submitted, and a very rejuvenating trip to Porto, it feels like I'm walking into the new year afresh. Once my semester exams end on the 15th, I can hopefully find some time to work on getting ns-3-click merged for ns-3.11 and get back to working on Mia Vita with INESC-ID, both of which get the top spot in my immediate plans for the coming weeks. Beyond that, I need to prepare for the epic battle in the form of PhD applications. I can also sense a lot of travelling ahead in the coming semester, something I'm always ready for. In short, 2011 looks like it's going to be full of work, travel, and fun. Can't be more perfect than this. :)
  • It's not just the system

    I came across something on my Facebook wall recently. A student from my former university was complaining about professors being incompetent and totally disconnected from research, about assignments being worthless, and the technologies covered in the curriculum to be out dated. The student feels this is the reason why many students end up opting for MBA related studies, and very few have the urge to continue with a Masters or PhD in engineering. The problem here is two fold, and what is being raised here is just one half of the issue. I speak in the context of of my former university itself, because that's what I've seen personally, but it shouldn't be too different elsewhere (at least in India). The fact that students end up doing engineering and opt for streams they have absolutely no interest in, is a pivotal part of the problem (pretty much the stereotype highlighted by the movie, Three Idiots). The problem in my opinion is, students spend such a huge deal of effort trying to get into institutions like the IITs and NITs, that they completely miss the bigger picture. This much of a pressure on students from their families and society itself to achieve such a short sighted goal? Three time repeaters aren't a very rare sight in these institutions (to the readers who don't know, a repeater is someone who spends a whole year after their schooling, to prepare for a bunch of competitive examinations that decide your admissions to the top brass of universities in India). So at this point, you have a whole legion of students, exhausted from running the hamster's wheel of competitive examinations, with a near zero correlation between their choice of studies and their interests. The motivation levels drop to really low levels, and they pretty much _give up_. They expect to be spoon fed like they always were at their coaching centers, and any deviation from this is flagged as "poor teaching". It isn't rare to see students whine along the lines of, "Why does he expect us to do things which are not taught in class?". A professor I knew didn't want to raise the difficulty of the assignments because every time he took even the smallest of steps in that direction, it would end up with just one or two students actually submitting the assignments, and the rest complaining about the difficulty level. About the technologies being outdated, I tend to disagree. In the field of Computer Science, classical theory is important because that's what underlies a lot of real world implementations today. And the most important aspect is, learning about solutions to problems in one sphere helps give us a perspective of solving problems in other spheres as well, sometimes completely unrelated. For instance, pick up concepts taught under the "Operating Systems" tag like Synchronisation and IPC, and you've already learnt how to be careful when designing networking protocols and other distributed systems. With the sheer amount of knowledge encapsulated in the world of open source projects, knowing how these concepts apply to practical systems is only as far as a few clicks on the internet. I never learnt so much about computer networks from my coursework than I did through my involvement with the ns-3 project. The same orders of magnitude apply to my programming skills and systems design too. There are a lot of people out there who can help you, and this is precisely the kind of empowerment you get by leveraging the potential of open source and online communities in general. All you need is a few teaspoons of motivation, and you're good to go. After all, _you_ would want to do something about the situation you're in. Knowing a few such students who're as keen on learning more about the technologies in their chosen areas of study is all you need to keep going ahead. You learn more from your peer groups than anywhere else. EMDC has given me a good taste of this, thankfully. And lastly, the professors themselves. I personally agree that not all of them are perfect, they're humans are after all. But some of them do good research, are excellent mentors, and their guidance can go a long way in shaping what you are. If you've got the drive, they can make you do wonders. But they really aren't obligated to wake you up from sleep to enlighten you. In computer science terms, it's more of 'pull' processing than 'push' processing. Approach these professors, ask them what their research areas are, see if you'd like to give these fields a shot, and go for it. At my previous university, the Computer Science and IT departments together had close to 120 students per batch of undergrads (a total of 360 for 3 years, excluding the first years), around 30 masters students per year (a total of 60 across two years), and a few PhD students as well. Now ask yourself if it's possible for a handful of faculty members to ensure that all students are driven enough to be interested in their subjects. I'm not defending the system. I totally agree that it is flawed. But I just feel that we are all to blame here. So what choices are we left with? 1) Either wait for the system to improve. 2) Try to change the system. 3) Try to not to care too much about the system, but strive to be competitive. I personally prefer option 3). To conclude, you _can_ work around the flaws of the university education system. But it's you alone who should want to do so, don't expect anyone to push you to.
  • Inch by inch

    I've been gazing out the window all night. There was nothing that could disturb me, not even the patron of sleep itself. My friends and I were to go to the winter fair the next day. I was too excited to listen to my body screaming for rest. No way my friend. Not when I'm riding my train of thought. It's been snowing hard all night in my little mountain town. In any other home, the next morning, you'd the see the man of the house in a fit of rage. "The snow is going to make me late for work!", he'd complain. Not in my house though. Father doesn't work. Father left his job several years ago and became an alcoholic. More aptly said, he was fired. They deemed him incompetent. How much effort does it take to wash dishes anyway, I've always asked myself. Maybe when I'm old enough to work, I'll continue the task my father used to do. Mom will be really happy if I buy her new clothes. The crystal flakes piled up ever so slowly. Wonder why they don't have the slightest bit of resemblance to the flowery shapes they normally depict on television. At least it was shown that way the few times I've seen them on my friends' television sets. I don't have one at home, of course. Mom tells me we had to exchange the one we had a long time ago for food coupons. She misses it deeply. Sleep stabs me in the back. I have a nightmare about the grim reaper chasing me. I startle to the sound of some boys screaming my name. Darn. I fell asleep too late, and didn't realise it's already time for us to leave for the fair. I apologise to them. "Get your poor ass up man! We'll miss any first participant prizes!", the impolite one said. My other friends were quick to snub him for that comment. I didn't mind though in any case. They were my friends after all. I freshened up quickly, and slipped into my favourite winter coat. It's an old one, in my favourite colour, orange. Actually, it's the other way around. It's my favourite colour because of the coat itself. We left my home soon, dragging ourselves across the snowy pavement. My friends were talking about their favourite TV show, and how their mothers didn't appreciate them watching it. Vulgar comedy, they'd protest. We laughed our way to the fair. The guys wanted to try the rollercoaster ride. I wasn't too keen on it. Not because I was afraid, most certainly not. I didn't have any more money with me than to buy a pretzel. My friends hopped on for the ride. I didn't want to look like a loser. I hated that. Not that I was to blame for this. Luckily, the ticket collector realised my situation. With a smile, he told me that the ride's on him. Robbed of my humility, I stepped into the only free coach. Murphy decided that it should be the leading car, and it be empty, that I have no ears to my side that could hear my screams. My friends were right behind me. I hoped that I give them an entertaining view. The ride ensues, and we make the tortorously slow ascent to the peak of the hill. The descent begins. Maybe I should have stayed out of this, or at least tried to lie that I was scared back there. Pride can take you into the worst of situations at times. But the thrill of danger tickled me, I could feel my fear being blanketed by the adrenaline rush. But a voice told me I wasn't going to make it. It was the same voice that would never lie to me. Maybe it was God, who I prayed to everyday. God never lied to me. The father in our church said that God loved the poor, so it was only natural that He be honest with me. The ride becomes uneasy. I feel my carriage shaking more than it is supposed to, at least in my opinion. The first loop begins. What I saw next, convinced me that the voice in my head was saying the truth. There weren't any carriages behind mine. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the rest of the train back at the peak of the hill. My carriage wasn't supposed to go down so early. Something was wrong. Terribly wrong. I could see people below running around. Random as it was, it clearly etched out the word 'panic' in my eyes. The wheels slipped. I couldn't tell whether it was weightlessness or just my soul preparing itself to leave, during the penultimate moment. I was upside down. The ride's motor down below moving closer and closer to my face. Time nearly froze in that last second. The pain was excruciatingly slow. I felt bad that I wouldn't make my mother happy. But I was happy now that she had more food coupons for herself now. A light shone brightly in my face. Death was so predictable. My soul slowly left its grip of my body, and I had a clean view of myself now. I love the colour orange. And just then, I felt the resonance of my friends screaming from the top of the summit: "Oh my God! They killed Kenny!"... "You bastards!"