Definition Of Geek

Computing today involves many different kinds of paradigms and many different kinds of talents. I can speak only to people who happen to have grown up with the strange kind of “brain-organization” that I seem to have somehow acquired; for lack of a better word, let me simply say that I’m a “geek.” I haven’t got a good definition or a good litmus test for geekhood, but I definitely know it when I see it; and I see it in about 2% of the world’s population. The main characteristic is an ability to understand many levels of abstraction simultaneously, and to shift effortlessly between in-the-large and in-the-small. A geek knows that, to achieve a certain high-level goal, you need to add one to a certain counter at a certain time.

Dear young person, if you are a geek, the world needs you, and you will never run out of opportunities to apply your talents. I urge you to take a close look at “literate programming”; it’s a way to write programs that makes me incredibly happy, several times each week. My book The Stanford GraphBase contains several dozen short examples of programs written in that style, intended to be read by humans first and machines next.

Dear young person, if you are not a geek, please ask somebody else for advice.

– Donald Ervin Knuth.

Amazingly inspirational words from the legendary Prof. Donald Knuth, featured in People of ACM, dt. Thursday, 5th June, 2014.

Bill Gates : The Tony Stark Of Our Era

This post is completely my own formulation and the thoughts here are completely my own. They have in no way been influenced by the company I work for, media propaganda, or any other means of influence. This post is based on my personal observations and opinions.

The world won’t care about your self-esteem. The world will
expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about
yourself. – Bill Gates

Recently, Elon Musk announced his plans for the Hyperloop and that was when the world went gaga! This effect was particularly felt by me on Quora, however, since the question “Who is Elon Musk?” became more popular than a viral meme. One interesting answer was the comparison of Mr. Musk to famed fictional inventor, Tony Stark, who we all better know as Iron Man. But after reading some articles on Hacker News and Reddit, it has become very apparent to me who the real Tony Stark of this world is.

It would be very hard to find a person who does not know who Bill Gates is. For everyone educated, we know him as one of the richest men in the world. For everyone working in a well-paying job, we know him as the founder of the company that has in some way or the other created our job. For the uneducated and the poor, we know him as someone who spends his days and nights fighting to save people from hunger, disease and illiteracy. This article in the Wall Street Journal was what changed my perception permanently. Most of us know about the profound effects The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has had in Africa in fighting Malaria. But I never realized, even after living in India for the last 22 years, that this man made as much headway in the fight against Polio as anybody in my country. Here is an American businessman, with so much money that he could burn it to keep his house warm, trying to save people in a foreign country for no direct profit other than the humanitarian rewards. And he is mobilizing my compatriots to do it in the best way possible.

This was after a year filled with Mr. Gates pushing the envelope further. His condemnation of pseudo-altruistic actions by his peers (read about it here), his devotion to seeing children educated the right way, especially with computer literacy (see the wonderful video here) and his promotion of innovation via his company (ImagineCup, BizSpark, Microsoft Research, the list goes on), are all testimony to his efforts. Individually, they don’t seem like much. Taken together, you get a much more vivid picture.

Ask yourself once, who is Tony Stark? Genius, Billionaire, Playboy, Philanthropist seems to be the popular answer owing to the success of The Avengers. Tony Stark is a superhero who spent his life using his genius and resources to save mankind from the trouble that befell it. While we don’t have to worry about alien races invading us, there are much more concerning and realistic problems in this world that need our immediate attention. This TED talk provides more insight. And right now, it seems that only Mr. Gates is taking the necessary action with his genius and resources. All this, while his peers go on about fancy gadgets that will change the world, but not help a single child dying of starvation. He is being the Philanthropist.

So while Mr. Musk (and a dozen others) gladly rejoices in his magnificent achievements, which I agree are absolutely stunning, calling him our era’s Tony Stark felt plain wrong to me. No matter the amount of hate Microsoft has generated for itself from various communities, this is about more than a single company. This is about global-scale problems which we as engineers are obligated to tackle. Problems that are more meaningful and have an impact. One engineer is tackling them, and I hope to follow in his footsteps. This is why, for his heroic efforts and contributions to the world, Mr. Bill Gates is the true Tony Stark of my era.

Truly an inspiration.

ICPC, Christmas And A Lot Of Fun

Well, December was wickedly insane, that is certifiably true now. Lots of work, lots of fun, another trip to South India and meeting up with old friends – it couldn’t have gotten any better. And the best part is, it ironically began with a very frustrating  and disappointing end to a semester. 😀

As mentioned, my end semester examinations graced the beginning of December 2012 (the so-called last month, courtesy the Mayans) and while they went well, certain events I would not like to mention really frustrated me and got me into a semi-depression state. Boy, was I glad when I was in the train back home. That was when things really started picking up. The first week involved mainly two things: Feasting on Mom’s cooking and getting the arrangements done for ICPC-Asia Amritapuri 2012.

While the first task was easy (eating really does help during depression), the second was insane, with me having to co-ordinate with my other two teammates in Surat, that too after we were informed of our selection just a week prior. While one had his brother’s wedding as an obligation, the other simply could not come and dropped out at the last moment. Thankfully, after a few hours of pings, I managed to find another teammate ready to undergo the arduous 30+ hour journey. With a lot of help from family, we managed to mail in the Demand Draft and book the tickets to Coimbatore, planning it such that my teammate could attend his brother’s wedding.

So it was on a great Monday morning, that we set out for what was my 2nd South India trip in 6 months. The train journey was interesting to say the least. I managed to find out that IIT Bombay students are as desperate for placements as people from my college and made friends with this energetic nine-year-old named Jayant. Jayant helped me enjoy 12 out of the 30 hours in the train and at the end of my journey actually wanted my autograph. 😛  I was humbled to say the least. We landed in Coimbatore on Tuesday evening and were immediately escorted to Amrita University’s Coimbatore campus where we were provided rooms and dinner. After dinner, we met up with others from our college and spent a good chunk of the night partying it out.

We all were pretty clear that none of us were in any shape to mount a serious challenge in the ICPC as each of us had been busy, myself with PG applications and research, so we decided to make use of the opportunity to enjoy ourselves thoroughly. It started with some late night Gangnam Style (and we even recorded a hilarious video) and pulling each other’s legs. The next day, after the drudgery of the opening ceremony and registration, along with the practice round, we spent the afternoon playing cards. After snacks in the evening, we met up with some Sophomores from our college and included them into our band of Merry Men. We went as a group for the special banquet dinner in honor of the participants and quite literally ate out of one plate. All the while, we discussed everything from college to love-lives to department trips, constantly cracking each other up. The sophomores really had a gala time then. The fun continued in our rooms later with more rounds of card games to some light music in the background. Man, it was awesome!

The contest was a bag of bad luck, in essence, for us. Well, we still haven’t found the error in one of our codes even though we threw a hundred different test cases at it, so I just won’t talk about the contest. We did manage an All India Rank of 64, not bad considering our abysmal preparation. Finally, the contest ended, and we had to leave so Jay could attend his brother’s wedding. We caught the late night train and I reached home at 6:30 am two days later, with my previous night’s sleep completely ruined. I whiled the day away in that sleep deprived state.

Come Sunday. Old school pals planned a meetup and we went to the most amazing pizza joint where we ate like there was no tomorrow (funny, considering it was the 23rd of December) and still had to only pay a bill of Rs. 130/person. Epic, I tell you. We were meeting after almost a year and it was amazing seeing all those old, familiar faces. Even better was 4 days later, when all us interns in Microsoft, who were based in Mumbai, met up at TGI Friday’s. Seeing those guys, with whom I had such a great time in the summer, really brought back lots of memories. Of course, we did create new ones, taking pics and tagging our intern friends in other cities to make them feel jealous. We reminisced about our brilliant summer, sharing previously unrevealed stories and reminding each other of everyone’s eccentricities.

In the middle, I celebrated Christmas with my family. We attended Midnight Mass as we always do and really thanked the Lord for his blessings upon us. Hopefully, you had a Merry Christmas as well. 😀 The icing on the figurative Christmas cake was the roast chicken special that my mother managed to bag. Surely enough, there were only bones once we were done going through it. A similar scene was for New Year’s with Dad and I doing all the preparation for a family evening on the 31st. I got a Cranberry flavored Breezer and set up Mutt, what more did I want?

In terms of work and computers, I managed to complete one of my Machine Learning projects while in the train back and also worked on some other things in the meanwhile, such as configuring PintOS, generating and publishing my own public-private cryptographic key pair, and setting up Mutt on my machine to allow me to forevermore communicate securely with my family friends. These are the main reasons I have put this post here and not on my other blog.

Concluding, what was supposed to be the last month of mankind, turned out to be a pretty good one (barring unrelated and unfortunate incidents in Newtown and New Delhi). College has officially resumed and I am back to the daily grind, but it is comforting to know that not only were we 3 the only teams who truly enjoyed the ICPC, but I caught up with family and friends and managed to make the most of my vacations, just like in the summer.

Eviva!

Soothsayer

I and a bunch of guys at my college decided to take part in the Atos IT Challenge and try to win ourselves a trip to the UK for the 2012 London Olympics, the theme being Smart Mobility.

Our college was one of the lucky ones to have been selected to participate in this contest and I can see the competition from my institute itself, if not the entire world, is pretty nerve-wracking.

My team consists of Arth “Vyarth” Patel, Nimit “Lame-it” Shah, Sunny “Not Funny” Shah, Jigar “The Dafda” Dafda and Yours truly.

Having vetoed the original idea for a mobile disaster management system, I suggested a smart app that can mine and learn from the User’s history, match that with the current trends in the world and filter it with his/her geo-location to give the User some truly meaningful information that is highly relevant to their current situation, with all the data-crunching taking place on the Cloud.

This competition gives us a great opportunity to learn about a new field, Mobile Computing, a new platform, and also a chance to practice some of the AI techniques we’ve picked up in the past few months. But the biggest plan is to possibly Patent our idea. That would be TOTALLY COOL :-D.

Our idea page is here. If you liked our idea, please don’t hesitate to click on the FaceBook Like Button.

Now let’s hope the judges deem our idea worthy of selection so we can make it into the next round and begin the development stage.

Eviva!

Cloud Conclave 2011

The weekend of 18-20th November was awesome!!! I had taken part in this contest called “What’s Your Cloud Idea” conducted by Amazon (Yes, the Amazon.com Amazon) and YourStory.in. The contest was for students from all over India and it involved coming up with an innovative idea to use Cloud Computing. Now being a Computer Science Major, I took part and even though the idea was pretty lame in my eyes, apparently, the guys at Amazon loved it and I was thus invited to Cloud Conclave 2011 at the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore where I was to be felicitated by the CTO of Amazon, Dr. Werner Vogels himself! 😀

Now for why the weekend was awesome. For starters, this was going to be my first technical conference ever since I started College . Secondly, I was travelling to a place which was more than 1000 kms away from my current location, all alone. And finally, I was going to meet my cousin brother Shobhit (who’s studying in IIM-B) and some of my friends from college who were working in Bangalore.

The journey was brilliant! I had to skip a day of college in order to make it there. I caught a train on the eve of the 17th and was at home in Mumbai by nightfall. Next day, frantic packing and prep for the flight to Bangalore. By 1:00, I was at the domestic terminal, making my way to security check, and enjoying every moment of it! The flight was full of people who looked like they were returning from some form of business meeting. Heck, even the guy on the seat next to mine was working on his laptop before take-off (I am suspicious he worked for Renault).

I made it to Bangalore by around 5. Thanks to my father, a vehicle and accommodation had been arranged for. And thank God for that! Bangalore is a complete and utter mess when it comes to traffic. It took me a good 2 hours just to cover 20-25 kms!!

The climate was great however. It was pleasantly cool and seeing the tech capital of India was an adventure in itself.

Now about Cloud Conclave: The morning before it started, I met up with an old friend, Sanchit Suman and we had lunch together at KFC and relived the old times we had when we were both in college. After that, I picked up a great senior and friend, Prakhar Gupta (who is an engineer at Microsoft!), and we made our way to the Conference.

We made it to IIM-B with plenty of time to spare and I was awestruck at its beautiful campus. I rang up my brother and met up with him. He was kind of busy due to an Alumni meet, and thus asked to call him after I was done. We made our way to the Auditorium, where tonnes of others in suits were registering themselves. After a little chat with one of them, turns out most of the people there were professionals and I was seemingly the youngest there.

The conference started late (Dr. Werner was stuck at traffic :–P), but once it did, it was really brilliant! The keynotes by Dr. Werner and Dr. Vaidya Nathan really showed us how leveraging Cloud Computing could really carry forward our projects and businesses, how we could minimize error costs and how Cloud provided a level of ease in scaling and security that was tough to achieve anywhere else. The Q&A was the best part as the crowd asked some really interesting questions which were answered adeptly by Dr. Werner, Dr. Nathan and Shailendra Singh of Sequoia Capitals. Really informative and mind-expanding stuff here!! Here‘s a great piece that summarizes the keynote in a very crisp manner.

Finally, once it was over, I met Rutayan Patro and Tapan Deka, more friends from college and with brother Shobhit, we went for a guided tour of the campus where one of my favourite movies, “3 Idiots” was shot. We took some great snaps at the landmarks of the institute and had a great little evening walk.

Finally, the day had come to an end. We bid our goodbyes, promised to do something like this again, and made our way to our respective destinations.

The next morning was again frantic, in the sense that I had an 8:00 flight, so I had to leave the guest house by 6:30. Left in time, made it on time, boarded my flight, reached home, caught the evening train to Surat, and was greeted with cheers from my friends!

The weekend really was one of the best! 😀

P.s. For more about my idea, please go here.

Quest Impressions

Finished with the ACM Chapter’s Annual techfest Quest last week and am pretty proud of how it went.

Considering it was scheduled parallel with my college’s Autumnfest, we had hoped that the Autumnfest mania would help Quest flourish. But alas, the weekend on schedule was a 4 day weekend with Dussehra playing the spoilsport.

So what if the student turnout wasn’t as tremendous as we expected? There was a decent crowd for each event and we received rave reviews for the type of innovative events we came up with. Especially impressionable on people’s minds was the MFQ quiz, which literally stands for “Mind F@!#ing Questions”, with a combination of questions from mathematical logic as well as crazy C programming.

The maths logic part really gave some insightful, if not humorous, details about how people think, and especially fun was the way people reacted on finding out the correct answers.

Nimit’s Cryptathlon also had strong participation and had people tongue-twisted with various crypto techniques. And lest I forget, Arth managed Code Wars in a surreal manner, paving the way for further growth of this event modeled on the  world famous TopCoder format.

The last but not least event was the fantabulastic talk by Dr. Anu Vaidyanathan. She discussed not only her research in location-based services, but gave us valuable and indispensable  advice on Intellectual Property Rights (which is the least understood Right in India) and life in general. The best part was the committee interacting with her over lunch and getting to know the woman and teacher rather than the computer scientist. Of course, having ex-chairman, Sandip Dev there alongwith us just tripled the fun quotient.

As a parting note, I would just like to say that after Quest,the grievance committee minutes were passed and within the week we should get permission for Linux login to all department machines as well as the complete removal of the development hindering Turbo C compiler. 😀

Eviva!

A Tiny Update And A Very Smart Lady.

Well, just because I haven’t posted in a while, doesn’t mean in anyway I am whiling away my time. 🙂

For starters, ACM Student Chapter Chairmanship is starting to get really hectic now, especially with our annual fest, Quest this weekend. Over that I just finished a week of mid-semester examinations, and am glad whatever results I have received so far are satisfactory. Couple that with quite an amount of self-study, over 30 ICPC problems accepted since the 50-mark post and some exploration in Mac OS and FOSS, I am surprised I even managed to get most of this work done…

Talking about Quest, this year we, on the recommendation of ex-chairman Sandip “Sandy” Dev, have invited Dr. Anu Vaidyanathan, and boy are we glad we did! This lady could be the embodiment of the ACM committee hopes and dreams for the year! She was actively involved in undergraduate research, has enough research papers to publish her own journal, has a record for the fastest Ph.D and is a superb Tri-athlete!! Whew….she makes my schedule seem like a walk in the park. 😛

Dr. Anu will be talking about Mobile and Pervasive Computing, two very up-and-coming fields in Computer Science and I hope that if you are reading this, you will give a serious thought about coming for this seminar. It’s on Sunday, the 9th of October at 11:30 a.m. in the Computer Department Seminar Hall.

Well, that’s all for now, and hopefully I should have some cool stuff to publish the next time I post.

Eviva!