On cultural events and simulated annealling

As part of my “Artificial Intelligence” course three years ago, I had learnt about this search technique called “simulated annealling”. I learnt this again as part of an advanced course in Operations Research. It is used to solve problems where solving rigorously is not feasible as it would take too much time.

Continue reading “On cultural events and simulated annealling”

Accident

As I was speeding along ring road driving into campus a few minutes ago, I was witness to a horrible accident. A bike in front of me, travelling at 60+ (kmph), hit a pedestrian who was crossing the road. The gentleman was trying to cross the road at a point where normally vehicles seem to zip. And what makes it more amazing is that there was a traffic signal and zebra crossing barely 20 metres away.

Won’t we Indians ever learn? Do we continue risking our lives while a little care could have done the trick? Or do we have to enforce “zero tolerance zones” everywhere in order to teach ourselves traffic rules?

(my first short post! hurray!)

CS@IIT vs. IIM

Some stuff in this post may appear controversial and a little condescending towards some of my past/present classmates. I apologise for all egos I’ve hurt in the process and maintain that I am not taking a personal dig against anyone. I am just putting in some of my observations.

When I attended the summers process a few months back, half the interviews started with the question, “How do you compare IIT with IIM?” and I spoke volumes about culture, RGness, attitudes and the like. Given my 5 years of experience in these institutes of national importance, I thought I’ll put down some stuff which I didn’t mention in the interviews due to the pressure to be politically correct. I’ll leave the oft-mentioned things such as culture, hostel life, etc. and focus on the attitudes of the people towards acads.

I spent four years in IIT Madras. Having gotten a good JEE rank, I was fortunate to sit in the same class as some of the other top-100 JEE rankers in the country. Many of them had decided on a career in research in Computer Science at a time when I was learning my tables. Extremely focused, extremely RG, extremely muggoo I must say. Except for a few freaks, my class of 30 odd was a largely homogeneous bunch. And I was among the most vela guys around in my class, I believe.

IIMs, for a long time, have stressed that academics isn’t the only metric and they try to maintain a good balance of people from all walks of life in their classrooms. My class of 60 odd here has a few IITians, some engineers from ‘second rung’ colleges, some economics grads from some of the ‘pseud’ colleges, some commies (BComs for the uninitiated), a couple of CAs, a medical doctor (!!!) and a vast majority from engineering colleges whose names I hadn’t even heard of before I came to IIMB.

Way back in school, we had a nice bunch. People who have now ended up in all walks of life. The general level of academics wasn’t too low. Still, I, as the class representative, could easily manage to unionise the class in order to get things done or to get classes/assignments cancelled. I simply loved the arrangement.

After this, IITM was a rude shock. I seemed to be the only guy in town who had no clue of what to do in life (this is specific to my branch). People were so focused. Everyone used to listen patiently in class. They would come up with good pertinent questions when called for. People would select courses saying, “This will be a good resume point when we apply for the post of professor 15 years from now”. They welcomed any extra assignment load saying it would be a “wonderful learning experience”. They used to get extremely pally with profs right from day one – extremely important for that all important recommendation. And the “untransparent” system in which grades were given (most profs refused to show us our end-term papers) ensured that this licking would bear dividends much before that recommendation was asked for.

This class was extremely tough to unionise. Only on one occasion I managed to lead a dharna to the professor’s office and get a couple of assignment deadlines postponed. The only result of it was that by the time I was done with my assignment, my classmates had all gone two steps ahead – the end result being that I was penalized for my marks. Through a mix of careful selection of groups and judicious freeriding, I somehow managed to get my way through.

After this, IIMB was again a rude shock (I am writing this based on my last 8 months’ experience). People here seem to be least interested in most courses. People here too have a fair idea of what they want to do in life but the number of such people is few. Despite having fixed seating, everyone rushes to the last row in class. Sit there, sleep sometimes, eat, chat, etc. Most profs here don’t seem to mind then – only they screw us in the grades at the end of the course. In IIT, the one time I slept in class my prof gave me a zero on five for Class Participation (CP) and my grade fell from A to C because of that. And the generally high decorum meant that the average grade was pretty high. Here, people consistently piss off profs due to low attendance, sleeping in class, no CP at all and the like and in the end get screwed by the profs in the grades – and then cry to academic council to do something about it.

Another downside to the system of selection here is that in some courses there are few “studs”. In IITM, whatever be the course (including those I topped by a huge margin), whenever I had a doubt, there would be definitely half a dozen people in my own batch who were able to solve them. That doesn’t happen here in a few courses and I feel kind of _________ (can’t get the word for it now).

I am not generally cribbing about IIMB and my classmates. In fact, the system here does have numerous positives. For one, the class IS unionisable – which means it is easier to get assignments cancelled/postponed. Then, the level of RG here is much lesser. And it is easier for me to do pretty well in some courses which involve some degree of analytical thinking (a lot of people (not all, mind you) from non-IIT backgrounds have a little trouble in this). The list goes on.

The only thing that comes to my mind right now is that neither system is perfect. They seem to be like two opposite ends of the pendulum. If you consider them to be two stools, I fall right between them. Why is it that I don’t “perfectly fit in” to either system? Has either IIT or IIM been a mistake on my part? Does there exist at all a premier institution which is balanced in this regard? Or is it that such a place simply doesn’t exist, for then the world would be perfect?

Whatever it is, I am extremely happy that I have the “IIT-IIM” tag on me which I hope will help me in a big way in getting ahead in all walks of life.

Where is the youth gone??

Unmaad is going to get over in a couple of hours. Moksha and Parikrama have already gotten the crowds swinging. The closing party will start in a couple of hours. And what am I doing right now? Sitting alone in my room with floyd playing in the background and writing this stupid piece of shit. The two complementary passes I got lie before me in my desk drawer. I’ll probably keep them for keep sake.

I still remember those days during Saarang at IIT Madras. Those days when I was still a geela undergraduate (seems so long ago now). The ultimate aim for all of us during Saarang would be to patao a girl. We would all bathe daily, shave daily, wear our best clothes, save up money and what not – just for those fifteen seconds of fame when we would be seen talking to that girl from some outside college. The ultimate sense of achievement would be to partner an outsider girl to one of the various dance workshops. I must confess that I “achieved” nowhere near this and the max I did was to have a loooooong chat with a girl whom I’d known for several years!

The ends justify the means. Irrespective of what people’s motivation is, it is a fact that we had a great deal of enthu for saarang. Saarang meant leaving the room at 8:55 sharp and not returning until late in the night. It meant that we never had grub in the mess but made do at the various food stalls with the free coupons we got for being a coordinator or a volunteer. If we had nothing to do, we would just “put beat” in the arena. There was of course the bigger goal of trying to put line to one of the pretty outsider girls.

During the last couple of days, I had every single meal in the mess. I stayed in my room for large parts of the day – especially on friday when I was setting my quiz. The only reason I ventured out was for three quizzes – two I attended and one I organized. And briefly for a party yesterday night. Else my only company has been the comp and Bridge Baron.

It is indeed funny but the very things I used to find interesting and motivating a year ago seem so pointless and trivial nowadays. Having ‘been there, done that’, there’s hardly the urge to do anything hifunda. The thin crowds too don’t help. And I have, of late, realized that too much footage is too bad and hence have been trying to maintain a generally low profile, which I must admit is a little hard to do. Earlier, I would like to be in the thick of things. Now, I’m content with taking something that I believe I can do well and simply doing it well. My work doesn’t extend beyond what I have agreed to do.

I attended a concert by Indian Ocean and STrings yesterday. At a similar concert last year, I had simply danced the night away. Yesterday, I stood quietly among friends looking around and commenting on the Besura voice of Faisal Kapadia. At many points of time during the show, all I wanted was a corner – a corner where I could sit down, sip coffee, make small talk with a few good friends and enjoy the Gamakams in the Indian Ocean compositions.

I am wondering what has befallen me. It is known that people change, but do they change so quickly like I have in the past year? Maybe not, as I spent my first month here in IIMB in a kinda culture shock and took time to adjust. Does environment have such a big impact on one’s personality? Having adjusted to a new environment, how will one react if pur back in the old environment? Have I lost my youth in my efforts to get over my “geelapan”? These are some quesions I may answer in subsequent posts.

I know the ending of this essay is bad but im feeling too sleepy so I’ll generally end it without caring for too much else.

Philosophy – Life is a game of cricket

Musings: These are random thoughts that crossed my head after a party. this being written at 0330 hrs, i’m not sure if the quality of writing matches up to my usual level. However, you can take it that all that i’ve written is “straight from the heart”.

Being a true blue middle-class (as of now) Indian guy, I am assumed to be able to carry out intelligent conversation in three areas – politics, movies and most importantly, cricket. In this respect it was damn insightful to find out the similarities between anything you do and this wonderful game.

The normal maxim followed in a test match is – give the first hour to the bowlers and take the other five. In normal circumstances, unless you are a Sehwag or a Jayasuriya or an Afridi, it is impossible to score at a brisk rate from ball one – unless of course if the bowler is pathetic. There is nothing sweeter for a batsman to feel the full face of the bat meeting the ball. He doesn’t feel confident unless and until he has met atleast one ball with the full face of his bat, irrespective of the runs he’s scored.

I haven’t played too much cricket with a leather ball (again like a good Indian, I play tennis ball cricket and watch REAL cricket). However on the few occasions I’ve played, I’ve realized the importance of the ball hitting the face of the bat sweetly. Till that time there’s a certain twang in your hands whenever ball meets bat. But connect once and all the irritation is gone and you can start belting the next ball onwards.

In life too, I believe, it’s extremely important to ‘settle down’ before embarking on any kind of mission. Take the case of starting a conversation with someone, a situation I’ve oft faced in the recent past. After the initial introductions (the toss; assume you win it and elect to bat), comes the time when the other person has to bowl to you. Not knowing your strengths/weaknesses, she’ll simply want to play safe and the first few balls will be wide outside off stump. You generally put a good ‘well left’ on each of them. However, she’s not Glenn McGrath and soon there’ll be a loose ball which you can latch on and meet with the face of the bat.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve hit the ball past the boundary or just put a good ole’ ‘forward defensive stroke’. All that matters is that you’ve managed to connect. It is only a matter of time before you can connect a few more and then there’s no stopping you. By now, she’ll have also realized your strengths and weaknesses and bowl accordingly. Except for the rare occasion when she’ll try to stump you at all the wrong places, it is likely that she’ll play along. That’ll be the beginning of a (maybe long) innings.

For people who didn’t get the metaphor, when you meet someone, you have some teething problems in starting a conversation. You start by fielding some innocuous stuff such as talk about the weather (or better else about politics, movies and cricket) and soon enough there’ll be an opportunity where you’ll suddenly feel that you’ve ‘settled down’ into the conversation. After that there’s no stopping you. Things simply happen and that is the beginning of a long comfortable conversation.

Using this as a base, I think I can classify the people around me as different bowlers in contemporary cricket. Some are Jason Gillespiess. Each time you start with them, you feel Dizzy (pun intended) and need to go through the entire process of “settling down into the conversation”. Then there are others like Henry Olonga whom you can start belting right from part one. Most people, of course lie in the middle.

When people talk of “personality development” and “becoming pseud” it is about increasing the number of Olongas and decreasing the number of Gillespies in your life. It is all about becoming a better batsman so that you can “settle down” extremely quickly irrespective of the bowler who’s bowling. The ‘studdest’ (Forgive the language – i’ve just come back from a trip to good ole’ IITM) person is one for whom every bowler is an Olonga and can start thulping anyone from ball one.

Moral of the story: When someone asks you to improve your personality, they’re only asking about improving on batting skills.

PS: Speaking of parties and cricket, given the way a few people dance I believe it would be prudent to go to the next party like an opening batsman – fully equipped with pads and other accessories – my dynasty almost came to an end thanks to a classmate today.

Saarang – an outsider’s perspective

The first thing that strikes you as you drive into IITM is the flurry of banners and promos around the gate. Every single tree and probably every single blade of grass has been covered with banners. A couple of years back, such scenes could be seen only at Mood Indigo at IITB. Now it looks like Saarang too is selling its soul.

As I go in, I walk in to the AV Quiz finals at 9:30 a.m. expecting the event to start in another ten minutes (the event was scheduled to start at 9). I am pleasantly surprised to see the quiz in full swing and a substantial audience in place. Compare this to our times (I?m speaking like an old man now) when every event started at least an hour late and not more than two rows of seats at CLT would be filled.

The quiz itself is damn good. In fact it feels so good to have this wonderful event back after a one-year layoff. Some questions go over the head of the audience but there are enough brilliant ones to keep them interested. The only sad part is that there are no chocolates, t-shirts, etc. for audience questions. Also, a certain degree of professionalism could be brought into the quiz by powerpointing the questions instead of going about them in an ad hoc manner.

Last year, we had spent substantial newsprint in lamenting about the amount of noise at the informals arena. People don?t seemed to have learnt and it is impossible to make any kind of decent conversation in there. If I remember right, a Prof had told me in 2nd year that the chief purpose of such fests is to network with people from other colleges. With this kind of noise in the most public area of all, I don?t see that happening.

I am also startled by my change in attitude towards saarang in the last one year. Last year I was an enthusiastic, geela undergraduate wanting to improve my network at every available opportunity. Now, as a post-graduate student who is here as a visitor, I don?t see any point in doing all this. Sitting in a junior?s room while listening to what I can hear of Kay Kay?s soulful music, I don?t regret not going for the show. So much unlike the last four years. It?s not that I don?t listen to this kind of music anymore. It?s not that I hate Kay Kay. It is not that I didn?t find company. The only reason I can think of is that after Shankar Mahadevan (not of the Lisa variety)?s show in 2002, I?ll never be able to come out of a Light Music show totally satisfied.

One regret I have had in the last four years has been my inability to stay up through a main quiz final. I hope to correct this aberration tonight. So strange that you realize the value of something only when you lose it.

My successors Nisheeth and BoFI seem to have successfully carried on my newsletter legacy. Articles are as juicy as ever. Hope the tradition continues and the newsletter go on in full force (unlike what has happened in Shaastra). And to plagiarize myself, for Saarangs may come and Saarangs may go but pertinent observations go on for ever.

why MBA

This was written in the form of a letter to a few of my friends doing their PhDs in Computer Science in different universities in the United States.

I was reading The Code Book by Simon Singh last week (definitely recommended). While reading about the different types of cryptography (including RSA and Diffie-Hellman), I suddenly started wondering what made me wander away from CS. Till the end of 2nd year I wanted to pursue a MS?. But suddenly when I arrived in madras for the 5th sem, I wanted to do an MBA, which is what I?m doing now.

I have a feeling a major reason why I left computer science was my ego. I considered myself (and still do) equal to all you people. Now, many of you are doing what they call cutting edge research and are going to pursue PhDs. I don?t see more than a handful of you (like Pratibha) who?ll MS-ditch. To put it frankly, cutting edge research has never fascinated me. It involves thinking about a topic which MAY become useful a few years down the line and if you are lucky enough to be alive when that happens, you will become really famous. Else you may never be able to reap the fruits of your labor.

I must confess that I am a very impatient fellow and would like to see immediate results for whatever I do. I am not the kind who?ll wait for years just to see whether what I?ve done has been of use. I think I?d be much more comfortable in doing something, selling it immediately and reaping the benefits.

The only way I could?ve done that while remaining within the confines of Comp. Sci. was to get into development. But my ego simply wouldn?t allow me to get into this kind of stuff which is considered inferior to cutting-edge research, which I believe is what most of you are doing currently and would be taking up as a career. Given this and the fact that I didn?t like the hardcore research, it definitely meant a goodbye to comp. Sci.

Yet another reason why I got disgruntled with research was the metric used for evaluation (number of papers) and also the increased (and rather unnecessary) formality introduced into the writing of papers.

I believe that formal standards were initially introduced so as to set a kind of standard and to facilitate more effective communication. After all, the entire purpose of a paper is to let your work be known to the world in the larger interest of humanity. However, with standards generally becoming more complex beyond a limit, all this formality encouraged was to fill the paper with unnecessary symbols and try to make it as hard as possible for the reader to comprehend (which ultimately defeats the entire purpose of the paper). Also given the cliques under which paper acceptances operate, this would indeed be a hard paradigm to break.

Here I am, sitting in my hostel room in IIMB, reading up a case for tomorrow?s Strategy class. I fully agree that management papers are less interesting to read than computer science papers, especially Harvard Business Review papers which are the worst of them all. However, I don?t intend to pursue a career in academics. And unlike in Comp. Sci., here a career in industry isn?t looked down upon. It must also be mentioned that MOST of our faculty here have substantial INDUSTRY experience (post-doc and being a lecturer doesn?t count for INDUSTRY experience).

I will be doing my summers at JP Morgan Securities (as I?ve already told you) and hope to get a PPO from there. I have been informed that I?ll be working in the area of Interest Rate Derivatives (which, in fact, involves quite a lot of advanced math). I have also been told that I?ll be using loads of Automata Theory, along with other related stuff, in the work I do. The products that I develop will be immediately sold to clients (here, UK-based financial institutions) and benefits will be reaped. In fact, I?m also supposed to be involved in the selling part. (please note that the above paragraph has been written based on hearsay. I?ll be able to provide a more accurate account of my work in June). The only downside I can see right now is that I?ll have to wear a suit to work daily.

I do feel sometimes that given the heavy research focus of CS@IITM (especially the ?BTech profs?) I may have missed out on some of the more interesting aspects of comp sci. I may have actually liked some of the more ?real? work going on but because of the allocation of profs and lousy floating of electives (with each elective coming only once every 3-4 years) and me giving up on CS in 3rd year, I have actually missed out on them. When I did my OpMan course last term, I felt I should?ve done mech (though I could never come to terms with drawings). When I see the lousy traffic in b?lore, I feel that I should?ve done Civil, specialized in Transportation and worked for India?s infrastructure. When I look at anything close to DSP (not the Merrill lynch kind), I think I should?ve done elec.

Thatz all I had to say folks. Now back to my case on Strategy 🙁