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. :)
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.
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!"
Lisbon. A truly European city, deeply intertwined with its rich cultural heritage. A city of castles, palaces, and other historic structures. Of cuisine that seduces one's sense of taste. Of night clubs, bars and pubs, reflecting a vigour of the highest order. Of amazing friends, ethnic kaleidoscopes, parties and breathtaking visits.
And last, but by no means the least, of Distributed Computing. :)
What I'm going to write here will sound hard and inhuman. I am not taking any stand here and am merely elaborating on a discussion I had with someone over tea recently. The person happens to be a reputed doctor, who devotes a lot of time towards social and scientific projects that help the poor.
As the wheel of time rolls by, Mother Nature has tested a multitude of species for their ability to survive. Many have passed. Many have not. Those that did at some point of time, probably did not make it through another hurdle. This iteration goes on and only the fittest continue to breath today.
I once read that a particular kind of snake, leaves the vicinity of its own eggs as they begin to hatch. Why? Because it knows fully well that it might end up eating its own offspring. Without anyone to protect them, many of these young snakes are struck off the roster of life soon. But the few that do grow up strong. Bird Joe feeds its young until its time for them to learn how to fly, after which, the chicks are made to fend for themselves.
Hard love? It works.
The humans, being the geeks of the animal kingdom, have managed to evolve into a being of higher understanding, at least on a relative scale. Our thoughts plumet into the abyssmal depths of life and death. Our will to survive has become so strong, that over time, we continue to learn new ways to cheat the grim reaper of his harvest. Modern medicine has rendered many a disease 'curable'. Science and technology have eased our lives so much, that the amount of physical and mental strain we need to endure is going down a steep curve. Longevity is on the rise. All of this has a very positive air about it, and makes one glad that we aren't living in the past.
Our society has had a habit of preserving the weak. We call this humanity. The impaired live as long as their healthier brethren, and even breed a new generation of impaired, sending down genes into another generation. The impoverished often don't make the cut in a fast moving world, remain poor, and become parents to children who're again born impoverished. Another case is where the incompetent are taken care of society (useless people being looked after by their aging parents?), relieving the person of a do-or-die situation. This goes on and on, with the numbers multiplying rapidly.
Our weak continue to be preserved instead of perishing.
Have we defied nature's way? If yes, when will our species be made to pay for it? Are we already paying the price? If our weak become weaker, and the strong become stronger, how will this affect us as a species? I can think of way too many questions here.
But I see the sunny side here by trying to think that by trying to strengthen the weak over time, there is hope that all of mankind converges into the stronger side someday, maybe several millennia later. That soft love might be the key to survival. If so, we have yet again proven ourselves as supreme (in a king of the hill sesnse at least).
As above, so below. :)