Wednesday, September 27, 2006

A different forward! :)

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I've been writing about heavy subjects for sometime now and even frankly even I'm tired of it(for now,that is! You can surely expect more of alerts to come in future.. But that'll be strictly after my semesters and other things!). I got a forward yesterday.... kinda different. Here it is.


I want to thank all my friends and other unknown people who have forwarded chain letters to me in 2003, 2004 & 2005 and 2006.

Because of your kindness:

I stopped drinking Coca-Cola after I found out that it's good only for removing toilet stains.

I stopped going to the movies for fear of sitting on a needle infected with AIDS

I smell like a wet dog since I stopped using deodorants because they cause cancer.

I also stopped answering the phone for fear that they may ask me to dial a stupid number and then I get a phone bill from hell with calls to Uganda, Singapore and Tokyo.

I also stopped drinking water outside for fear that I will get sick from the rat shit and urine.

When I go to parties, I don't look at any girl, no matter how hot she is, for fear that she will take me to a hotel, drug me, then take my kidneys and leave me taking a nap in a bathtub full of ice.

I also donated all my savings to the Amy Bruce account. A sick girl that was about to die in the hospital about 7,000 times. (Poor girl! she's been 7 since 1993...)

My free Nokia phone never arrived and neither did the free passes for a paid vacation to Disneyland.

Made some Hundred wishes before forwarding those Dalai Lama, Ganesh Vandana, Tirupathi Balaji pics etc..
Now most of those "Wishes" are already married (to someone else)!

You can add your own notes based on your similar experience and send them to your friends.

If ORKUT deletes my account, it doesn't matter BUT PLEASE DON'T SEND me "Orkut is
deleting accounts: Due to sudden rush..." Otherwise I'll delete my E-Mail account!

IMPORTANT NOTE:
If you do not send this e-mail to at least 913760 people in the next 10 seconds, a bird will shit on your head today at 6:30 p.m.

Give me a break!!

Monday, September 18, 2006

Death -thou art sanctify

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Hi friends,

Death is a sudden twist in the journey of life, taking us to the beyond from all that we trust and care, know and love, feel and foster. Though it has been said that death is another great journey for the well trained mind, it is not taken in the same sense by ordinary human beings( maybe that is what makes them ordinary!). Today I could see the cold sanctifying touch of Death on a happy family of which one of my friends was a part. My friend's dad passed away today morning and we had gone to their place to pay our last respects to the deceased. Though I had not met her parents earlier or gone to her home before, I could feel the sorrow engulfing me into the surrounding. I could feel her pain and empathise with her.

I went into denial when my granny died. I couldn't accept the fact that she was dead. Though my mind knew that she is no more in the world, my heart tended to believe that she was somewhere in this world where I cannot contact her. The truth took time to sink in and it did pain a lot! Though I was out of the denial mode, it didn't affect my day to day activities. Just that, when I see something which is my gran's favorite, I remember her and when I need a wise counsel, I try to think what advice she would've given had she been here. Other than that, I don't feel pain now, only a sad sense of loss! However, my family has never been the same again after the cold touch of Death. It has sanctified all of us in some way and made us grow up in a day. I could see the amount of maturity that came into my kid brother the day she died. The first twenty years of my life was not touched by sorrow and now that it has been, life is not the same anymore!

Death teaches each one of us various things. This death reiterated the fact that life is no more than a wisp of air that makes the journey to the lungs and back. What if this wisp suddenly doesn't go in or come out? Pretty scary, huh? True! I once read a proverb somewhere "Plan life as if you would live for thousand years but live life as if you die the next day". How true!! Who can say for sure if we would be alive the next moment, the next hour, the next day? But how many hard feelings, jealousy and carelessness do we employ in our day to day life making it more and more difficult for us to enjoy each living moment with our loved ones? We give an unnecessarily important place for our egos in our daily life and bloat the situation to such an extent that our relationships go to the point of no return messing what would otherwise have been a happy moment forever in memory.

I have only one request to make to the readers. Vaazhkai romba anithyamaanathu! (Life is very mercurious!) So, live life to the fullest with your loved ones. Hug them and show your love for them because they may not be around the next time. Patch up old quarrels and renew old relationships. Even if it is just a hi, it may mean the world to some one. Your smile could light up someone's day. So, go and live life, in any way you think is right! Don't waste your time in petty squabbles! So long, mates!!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Notes on the PhD degree

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This was an excerpt from an article/write up that I came across in my internet search for various stuff. It looks interesting and would surely help everyone(atleast those who are confused whether to take MS(finishable in two years) or PhD(aid is sure but takes atleast 5 years). We Indians would love to combine both :) but that is not possible.) I myself was in such a confusion earlier and had to have a dose of common sense from my family(especially my dad) and well meaning friends to come to a conclusion. This article further strengthened it :) Hope it helps others too!

Notes On The PhD Degree

These notes provide basic information about the purpose of a Ph.D. program in an attempt to help students decide whether to pursue a Ph.D. degree.

The Basics

A Doctor of Philosophy degree is the highest academic degree anyone can earn. Because earning a Ph.D. requires extended study and intense intellectual effort, less than one percent of the population attains the degree. Society shows respect for a person who holds a Ph.D. by addressing them with the title "Doctor".
To earn a Ph.D., one must accomplish two things. First, one must master a specific subject completely. Second, one must extend the body of knowledge about that subject.

Mastering A Subject

To master a subject, a student searches the published literature to find and read everything that has been written about the subject. In scientific disciplines, a student begins by studying general reference works such as text books. Eventually, the student must also search scholarly journals, the publications that scientists use to exchange information and record reports of their scientific investigations.
Each university establishes general guidelines that a student must follow to earn a Ph.D. degree, and each college or department within a university sets specific standards by which it measures mastery of a subject. Usually, in preparing for Ph.D. work in a given field, a student must earn both a Bachelor's and Master's degree (or their equivalent) in that field or in a closely related field. To demonstrate complete mastery of the subject, a student may be required to complete additional graduate-level courses, maintain a high grade average, or take a battery of special examinations. In many institutions, students must do all the three.
Because examinations givan as part of a Ph.D. curriculum assess expert knowledge, they are created and evaluated by a committee of experts, each of whom holds a Ph.D. degree.

Extending Knowledge

The essence of a Ph.D., the aspect that distinguishes Ph.D. study from other academic work, can be summarized in a single word: research. To extend knowledge, one must explore, investigate, and contemplate. The scientific community uses the term research to capture the idea.

In scientific disciplines, research often implies experimentation, but research is more than mere experiments -- it means interpretation and deep understanding. For Computer Scientists, research means searching to uncover the principles that underlie digital computation and communication. A researcher must discover new techniques that aid in building or using computational mechanisms. Researchers look for new abstractions, new approaches, new algorithms, new principles, or new mechanisms.
To complete a Ph.D., each student must present results from their research to the faculty in a lengthy, formal document called a dissertation (more popularly referred to as a thesis). The student must then submit their dissertation to the faculty and defend their work an oral examination.

Relationship To Products

In some cases, the results of scientific research can be used to develop new products or improve those that exist. However, scientists do not use commercial success or potential commercial profits as a measure of their work; they conduct investigations to further human understanding and the body of knowledge humans have compiled. Often, the commercial benefits of scientific research are much greater in the long-term than in the short-term.

Research Activities

Computer Science research can include such diverse activities as designing and building new computer systems, proving mathematical theorems, writing computer software, measuring the performance of a computer system, using analytical tools to assess a design, or studying the errors programmers make as they build a large software system. Because a researcher chooses the activities appropriate to answer each question that arises in a research investigation, and because new questions arise as an investigation proceeds, research activities vary from project to project and over time in a single project. A researcher must be prepared to use a variety of approaches and tools.

A Few Questions To Ask

Many of you are trying to decide whether to pursue a Ph.D. degree. Here are a few questions you might ask yourself.

1. Do you want a research career?

Before enrolling in a Ph.D. program, you should carefully consider your long-term goals. Because earning a Ph.D. is training for research, you should ask yourself whether a research position is your long-term goal. If it is, a Ph.D. degree is the standard path to your chosen career (a few people have managed to obtain a research position without a Ph.D., but they are the exception, not the rule). If, however, you want a non-research career, a Ph.D. is definitely not for you.

2. Do you want an academic position?

A Ph.D. is the de facto ``union card'' for an academic position. Although it is possible to obtain an academic position without a Ph.D., the chances are low. Major universities (and most colleges) require each member of their faculty to hold a Ph.D. and to engage in research activities. Why? To insure that the faculty have sufficient expertise to teach advanced courses and to force faculty to remain current in their chosen field. The U.S. State Department diplomatic protocol ranks the title ``professor'' higher than the title ``doctor''. It does so in recognition of academic requirements: most professors hold a Ph.D., but not all people who hold a Ph.D. degree are professors.

3. Do you have what it takes?

It is difficult for an individual to assess their own capabilities. The following guidelines and questions may be of help.

Intelligence:

In your college and graduate courses, were you closer to the top of your class or the bottom? How well did you do on the GRE or other standardized tests?

Time:

Are you prepared to tackle a project larger than any you have undertaken before? You must commit to multiple years of hard work. Are you willing to reduce or forego other activities?

Creativity:

Research discoveries often arise when one looks at old facts in a new way. Do you shine when solving problems? Do you like ``brain teasers'' and similar puzzles? Are you good at solving them? In school, did you find advanced mathematics enjoyable or difficult?

Intense curiosity:

Have you always been compelled to understand the world around you and to find out how things work? A natural curiosity makes research easier. Did you fulfill minimum requirements or explore further on your own?

Adaptability:

Most students are unprepared for Ph.D. study. They find it unexpectedly different than course work. Suddenly thrust into a world in which no one knows the answers, students sometimes flounder. Can you adapt to new ways of thinking? Can you tolerate searching for answers even when no one knows the precise questions?

Self-motivation:

By the time a student finishes an undergraduate education, they have become accustomed to receiving grades for each course each semester. In a Ph.D. program, work is not divided neatly into separate courses, professors do not partition tasks into little assignments, and the student does not receive a grade for each small step. Are you self-motivated enough to keep working toward a goal without day-to-day encouragement?

Competitiveness:

If you choose to enroll in a Ph.D. program, you will compete with others at the top. More important, once you graduate, your peers will include some of the brightest people in the world. You will be measured and judged in comparison to them. Are you willing to compete at the Ph.D. level?

Maturity:

Compared to coursework, which is carefully planned by a teacher, Ph.D. study has less structure. You will have more freedom to set your own goals, determine your daily schedule, and follow interesting ideas. Are you prepared to accept the responsibility that accompanies the additional freedoms? Your success or failure in Ph.D. research depends on it.

A few warnings:

Students sometimes enroll in a Ph.D. program for the wrong reasons. After a while, such students find that the requirements overwhelm them. Before starting one should realize that a Ph.D. is not:

Prestigious in itself

Almost everyone who has obtained a Ph.D. is proud of their efforts and the result. However, you should understand that once you graduate, you will work among a group of scientists who each hold a Ph.D. degree. (One faculty member used to chide arrogant graduate students by saying, ``I don't see why you think it's such a great accomplishment -- all my friends have a Ph.D!'').

A guarantee of respect for all your opinions

Many students believe that once they earn a Ph.D. people will automatically respect all their opinions. You will learn, however, that few people assume a Ph.D. in one subject automatically makes you an authority on others. It is especially true in the science communicaty; respect must be earned.

A goal in itself

A Ph.D. degree prepares you for research. If all you want is a diploma to hang on the wall, there are much easier ways to obtain one. After you graduate, you will have occasion to compare your record of accomplishment to those of other scientists. You will realize that what counts is the research work accumulated after a scientist finishes their formal education.

A job guarantee

When an economy slows, everyone can suffer. In fact, some companies reduce research before they reduce production, making Ph.D.s especially vulnerable. Furthermore, once a person earns a Ph.D., many companies will not hire that person for a non-research position. As in most professions, continued employment depends on continued performance.

A practical way to impress your family or friends

Your mother may be proud and excited when you enroll in a Ph.D. program. After all, she imagines that she will soon be able to brag about her child, ``the doctor.'' However, a desire to impress others is insufficient motivation for the effort required.

Something you can ``try'' to find out how smart you are

Sorry, but it just doesn't work that way. Unless you make a total commitment, you will fail. You will need to work long hours, face many disappointments, stretch your mental capabilities, and learn to find order among apparently chaotic facts. Unless you have adopted the long-range goal of becoming a researcher, the day-to-day demands will wear you down. Standards will seem unnecessary high; rigor will seem unwarranted. If you only consider it a test, you will eventually walk away.

The only research topic you will ever pursue

Many students make the mistake of viewing their Ph.D. topic as a research area for life. They assume each researcher only works in one area, always pursues the same topic within that area, and always uses the same tools and approaches. Experienced researchers know that new questions arise constantly, and that old questions can become less interesting as time passes or new facts are discovered. The best people change topics and areas. It keeps them fresh and stimulates thinking. Plan to move on; prepare for change.

Easier than entering the work force

You will find that the path to successful completion of a Ph.D. becomes much steeper after you begin. The faculty impose constraints on your study, and do not permit unproductive students to remain in the program.

Better than the alternatives

For many students, a Ph.D. can be a curse. They must choose between being at the top among people who hold a Masters degree or being a mediocre researcher. The faculty sometimes advise students that they must choose between being ``captain of the B team'' or a ``benchwarmer'' on the A team. Everyone must decide what they want, and which profession will stimulate them most. But students should be realistic about their capabilities. If you really cannot determine where you stand, ask faculty members.

A way to make more money

While we haven't heard any statistics for the past couple of years, graduate students used to estimate the ``payoff'' using the starting salaries of Ph.D. and M.S. positions, the average time required to obtain a Ph.D., the value of stock options, and current return on investments. For a period of at least five years that we know, the payoff was clearly negative. Suffice it to say that one must choose research because one loves it; a Ph.D. is not the optimum road to wealth.

The good news:

Despite all our warnings, we are proud that we earned Ph.D. degrees and proud of our research accomplishments. If you have the capability and interest, a research career can bring rewards unequaled in any other profession. You will meet and work with some of the brightest people on the planet. You will reach for ideas beyond your grasp, and in so doing extend your intellectual capabilities. You will solve problems that have not been solved before. You will explore concepts that have not been explored. You will uncover principles that change the way people use computers.

The joy of research:

A colleague summed up the way many researchers feel about their profession. When asked why he spent so many hours in the lab, he noted that the alternatives were to go home, where he would do the same things that millions of others were doing, or to work in his lab, where he could discover things that no other human had ever discovered. The smile on his face told the story: for him, working on research was sheer joy.

Monday, September 04, 2006

What is life?

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[Introspective post alert: Not for the weak at heart!]

What is life? This is a question that has been rankling me for the past few days. It is so difficult to find a comprehensive answer to this question that even great seers and wise men and women down the ages have failed to reach a conclusion, or they have reached their own conclusions based on their personal experiences. In this, they are not unlike the common man who decides something or forms an opinion based on some experience he had had in life.

Now, why did I go to such a contemplative mood? I ran into one of my school friends who has played with me, learnt lessons with me and generally had fun in school. She is one who could see the comical view of any situation. But then, she was not academically inclined and preferred the company of other stuff to books(my exact opposite!) Then came end of school and we parted ways. What do you talk to a person with whom you’ve lost touch over 6 or 7 years? Naturally, you update yourself with information(whether that information would be useful, that is a difficult question to answer!) Then comes an eerie silence when both of you, now mature individuals, try to recreate the old times air but are too deeply mired into the present to do so. This is more so when the person in question is not your best chum(with whom you could go on and on about anything) or a person so less known that you can say a quick hi and bye! So, after the usual ritual of exchanging info, we were stuck in that silence. To me, she looked like the girl I had left in my 8th or 9th standard. It never stuck me that she would have had other experiences which would have molded her to what she is today. It was the same to her. She knew me only as the fun loving person who used to make the lunch hours memorable with her jokes and antics. Whether she was expecting me to pull out any tricks now, I don’t know. But she was clearly surprised by the way I handled the matter in the call which I received in the middle of our conversation. She remarked that I had changed and said “So goes life”. Now what was this? I never found anything different in me! I am the way I was and am.

On retrospection, I found a great deal of truth in her statement. We do expect our friends and others to remain the same as we had left them(more so with our childhood friends, we expect them to maintain the same childlike qualities they had when we parted. It is kind of difficult to accept that the girl who played tag with you is a happily married lady catering to the needs of her husband and in-laws and expecting her first child.) It does not strike us (atleast me till this meeting) that they would have faced different experiences and changed their personalities(though the basic characteristics cannot be changed. Or, can they?) Had I been the person in 8th, I would have danced in the rain for the news that came. But, two years in Avila and four years in college has taught me more and steadied me. It has taught me to take things lightly, come rain or sunshine.

It was the same with her. For me, marriage is a very big step(to be taken only when I achieve my self set goals of studies and career). It is a commitment which I am not ready to make for now. But, for her, it is life now. Her life revolves around her husband, his needs, her in-laws, their needs and so on. True, I too might reach such a stage sometime in life. But not this young! She laughs when I tell her of the plans I have for future and the expectations I have about life. Her expectations from life now are totally different. She was the same person who played with me after school hours, who shared the canteen samosa with me and built dream castles of winning the public exams hand in hand. She was the last person I could imagine clad in a traditional sari settled well ahead of any of us in our class. I finally wanted to ask her, in no uncertain terms, what happened to the dreams we had shared in school. But then, I knew that that question would have led to untrodden paths which both of us have no need for. When it is kind of difficult to explain the changes occurring in the people you meet in daily life over a period of years, it would be, no doubt, a Herculean task to do it for people not seen for six years. Further, though she is my chum, I suddenly felt a strange sense of detachment which is hard to explain. She was the same person about whom I cared for (even how she spent her time on Sundays and planned our weekday activities together). But now, I know that I can’t care for her in that sense. Though my care for her still remains, it has taken a different dimension. I now care that she leads a happy life with her husband and kid, a healthy and prosperous one with no shadows in the path she walks. Guess, this is life!