Tuesday, March 29, 2005

First triple-pronged post

My usual posts are about one thing and only that thing. I came across something today that actually addresses 3 things that I have always wanted to talk about:

1) Macs Rock : This comes as no surprise to people who actually own macs. There is a perennial belief in the computing universe that:

Macs are good for the "creatively inclined" (the writers, graphic designers and photographers) and the more "technologically challenged" (parents, grandparents et al).

Somehow, over time, that belief begat this belief:

Macs is not for the more serious workers among us - say, for example, scientists, engineers and programmers.

I fall in that category and believe me, the second is complete hogwash. The Mac Rocketh ! It is a Unix machine, only cooler. Read more here. Oh, and if you don't want to take my word, may be you will listen to Paul Graham[1] in his essay Return Of The Mac. No? How about Tim O'Reilly[2] in Watching Alpha Geeks ? No? Now you are just being difficult !!

2) Hackers : You should have noted above in Paul Graham's essay, that he refers to hackers. If not there, you MUST have come across it somewhere or the other. Chances are, that if this "somewhere" is the television or the newspapers, you have come to believe that all hackers are crooks. Even more hogwash ! I beg you to read this ! If you want more, you can even go and get this and this.

3) Computer Science Research : Another issue that Paul Graham nailed right on the head in the Mac essay was the fact that what researchers and hackers (I hope you read (2) above) do today is what usually tends to become the dominant technology of the future. Yes, it might sound like I am tooting my own horn but I am not. You want examples? Here you go :

So there. I've said my piece(s). Thanks to Paul Graham for providing the impetus[3].

[1] if you are interested in functional programming and LISP would know him from On Lisp and ANSI Common Lisp.

[2] If you do anything with computers, you know O'Reilly Books.

[3] His other essays are equally brilliant.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

"As Time Goes By"

I just finished watching the first and second complete season of the BBC show As Time Goes By. A show that would be referred to today as a "brit-com", a term derived from the American neologism "sitcom" ... which is anachronistric, actually, because BBC was making comedies long before the American networks came up with the idea of a "situational comedy".

Anyway, back to the outstanding comedy of As Time Goes By ... that show has something that I think almost all modern day sitcoms and their trans-atlantic counterparts lack. The humor in this show is rooted in wit - actual honest-to-god wit ! It does not have to resort to buffoonery with props, inane gestures and facial expressions or even lewd and suggestive double entendres, all of which seems disguised as humor these days*. I am talking about the sort of wit that I witnessed dripping from the dialogue in Charade (to name one such masterpiece), or coming out of the mouth of the inimitable John Cleese as Basil Fawlty in the hilarious Fawlty Towers. Refreshing to say the least. Dame Judi Dench and Geoffrey Palmer are absolutely brilliant, and so is the supporting cast.

I first TiVoed this entire series from PBS and fell in love with it. Just recently bought the first 2 complete seasons and I am almost on the verge of shelling out the $100 and buy the rest of the series all at once (all seasons except the last 2 are available). This is the only TV show other than M*A*S*H for which I have felt the desire to own.

*Note: For all those who think, upon reading this post, that I am trying to put down the art of physical comedy, please rest assured. Even a dolt like me would not dare to compare the mediocrity that is today's sitcom with the genius of Chaplin , Laurel & Hardy or The Three Stooges.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Weapon Of Choice

Ok, tell me that you have seen the Fatboy Slim video Weapon of Choice. If you have not, please add it to your "I must see this" list (you do have one, don't you ?). Actually. you know what ... you can cross it off that list now, because you can see it right now, right here.

When I first saw this video, I could not believe that Christopher Walken was the guy in the video. When I picture Chris Walken, I picture scenes from Deer Hunter, Dead Zone and Last Man Standing (to name a fraction of the great stuff he has done). The dance is pretty great, I gotta say !

My image of Chris Walken took a further hit (in a good way) when I saw an old SNL episode with him hosting ! He was hilarious !! I mean it ... fabulously hilarious !

Go watch the video.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

IBM it is !

It is final. I will be interning at the IBM T.J.Watson Research Center in Yorktown, NY. I got the final offer today. Have to start looking for housing now. The duration is 14 weeks. As soon as the offer arrived, I emailed the people at Microsoft Research and told them that I was going to accept IBM's offer and thanked them for their interest.

I will be working with the Statistical Text Analytics group down at Watson. I am reading up on a lot of stuff that I will need as background. I am very excited about working in this area. Hopefully I will get a good direction towards what will become my dissertation.

I can't believe I am going to be in NY !! I am still thinking about where to live for those weeks ... NYU has some summer housing available - mmmm ... Living in Manhattan !! But I have heard that the commute is a killer. I guess I could stay in Yorktown and then hang out in the city on the weekends.

Any advice from New Yorkers or former IBM interns will be more than welcome !

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

"Ending The Feud"

Ok, so I used to write ... a lot ! Poetry and short stories were my favorites. I have not written anything in a while - various reasons (nothing that can't be classified as lame). I wrote something yesterday. At first, I was not sure if this was the right place to post them. But then I thought about it and here is how I convinced myself :

1) It IS a "green idea".
2) This IS my blog.
3) Shameless self-promotion is the way of the world.

Anyway, if I hear comments on the order of "what is this crap?!" and "for shame !", I will rethink the move. Until then, enjoy:

Ending The Feud

Must we fight?
I know I have paid little attention to you, old friends,
in the years gone by,
for reasons that, now, matter to little or no ends.

Tumultuous times ... those years were,
recovery from a broken heart arrived slow.
Rose-colored glasses came off,
and a good helping of life came in tow.

Although refuge I did seek,
among your brothers, born of fathers and mothers nobler than I.
Faithful companions they proved to be,
more animate than untrustworthy humans, a worthy ally.

Pens and papers, they were to be feared,
fear of pain and solitude, that accompanied you in those dark days.
I learned to live ... no, exist
without the craft, without the art - carry on in a dull haze.

Today I feel the void,
it has grown big and black.
Today I discern the need,
I must have my craft back !

And so I genuflect and ask for forgiveness,
please end this crippling blight.
I must have you in my corner,
because, to live ... I must write !

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Firefox has a commercial (finally) !

Just read on the fabulous Ad blog - AdJab (I discovered them because they were doing live online coverage of all the superbowl commercials and so I did not have to sit in front of the TV all that time) that an enterprising student at the Savannah College of Art & Design has made a slick firefox commercial. Very nicely done.

I am glad to see that Firefox has had its first step in direct media advertising, no matter how small.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Instant Text Collages [Update]

There is now a better way to "spell" your favorite words using pictures. This is better because:

a) It uses Flickr

b) It gives you the HTML source for the "spelling", so that you don't have to do the screenshot hack that I had to do in my earlier post.

Of course, there is an invariant here ... it remains cool-but-useless.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Lion In Winter

I am watching the new The Lion in Winter - the one with Patrick Stewart and Glenn Close - and it is pretty good. Well done, well acted, well presented, but you know, I sincerely don't understand the reason for (re)making this movie. Is there a single mortal soul out there in the world, who thinks that there was something wrong with the first one or that someone could do it better ?!! I mean ... how could you possibly play Henry and Eleanor better than Peter O'Toole and Katharine Hepburn ? Isn't that ... well ... impossible ?

No, seriously ... I am asking.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Instant Text Collages

I promised myself when I started this blog that I would not post links to cool-but-useless stuff that I find here and there while traipsing on the internet. Well, I guess there comes a time to break every promise.

This is very cool-but-useless !! It allowed me to turn this :

Nitin Rules !

into this :

[Note: The above image is a screenshot. The website actually gives you a separate image for each letter. I was just too lazy to copy each one separately and put them together.]

Monday, March 14, 2005

Indexing Jon Stewart

Just read on BoingBoing that someone has written a script that parses the free clips of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart available on Comedy Central and puts them in this central place. And without ads !! Hmm ... to describe how awesome this is, let me reach into my vocabulary bag and see what comes out ... oh, it's an old friend - w00t !!

BTW, I am sure I have mentioned the brilliance of Jon before.

[ Update: 11/8/2005 - The site is no more. Sad but given the URL, inevitable ]

A comment on comments

Was browsing the old posts' archive for some info and saw that people have left comments on my old posts as well. Some comments highlight the things I don't know - like the fact that Diane Sawyer is married to Mike Nichols. Others are just fellow bloggers passing by and being kind. Didn't know about these since I had forgotten to enable the notification feature for my blog. That oversight has been corrected (I was going to say rectified, but I have an aversion to that word. I am kind of anal that way !! Get it ? Rectified ? Anal ? ... Never mind !)

To all of you who take the time to read my posts and leave comments, I say a big and resounding "Thank You !!"

Amul Hits

So, I grew up on a brand of Indian butter called Amul, and what delicious butter it was! They also used to have these sketches on their boxes. A new one every month. They covered everything ... political satire, obituaries and even public service announcements. I used to go to the local grocery store just to read the latest one. Ah, good times :-)

Just found out on the awesome Metafilter that they have put all of these sketches online and called them, aptly enough, Amul Hits. Since I have been here in the US, I have been missing out on these. Good to know that there is one place where I can just go and read up on the latest sketches. They have ones going back as far as 1976.

BTW, if you don't know what Amul is and how it works, read it here. This is one of the most successful cooperative efforts that directly benefits the farmers in Indian Villages. The story of the ad mascot The Amul Butter Girl is also pretty cool.

I looked around in the 2004-2005 section and here are a few of my favorite ones:

On Athens Olympics 2004 - August'04

Bush v Kerry - November'04

On the ownership issue in the Reliance Group between brothers Mukesh Ambani and Anil Ambani - November'04

Friday, March 11, 2005


So, Google said no for the summer internship. Ah, well, I was over-reaching anyway. I don't think I am smart enough and plus the interview was as bad as it could have been.

Hmm, my first "depressed" post.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Visualizing Escher ?

In my Information Visualization class today, we were talking about visualizing tree data, like filesystems in computers, ontologies or any other hierarchical data genre, and one of the tools was a Hyperbolic Tree Visualizer. Apparently, they got idea from this sketch by the brilliant M.C. Escher. I was really impressed.

I have always found Escher's work to be amazing. His work elegantly expresses blatant violations of physical laws and beautiful challenges to perception, but to see an actual tool built around one of his works is pretty cool. Here is my favorite Escher sketch from 1961, Waterfall. (If you don't see anything wrong with that picture, look again!). This has been my desktop wallpaper for a long time.

I asked Prof Shneiderman if he thought that Escher truly was the inspiration for the tool and he said "Probably not". Ah well, dreams live on.

If you are a big fan like me, you can also buy a book of his prints - the one that I have and love. And for more on the relationship between arts, mathematic and computer science, check out Douglas Hofstadter's awesome (and long) book - GEB.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Someone actually reads what I write ?

Just read a comment on the previous post that I have been picked as the TenDot Bleek Site of the Moment. I don't know what to say !! This is awesome !! For all you people that are too lazy to click and scroll, here is what TenDot had to say about my blog: Sweet. A CompSci PhD student with an eye for content. Clean lines, lots of links. I give it an A+. w00t!

You know the word "w00t" and anything related to me have never been together in the same sentence ... until now. w00t !! And now I proudly display the TenDot badge:

I say again ... w00t !

Suketu Mehta

Just read that Suketu Mehta has won the second prize in Barnes & Noble's Discover Great New Writers Awards for his first work - "Maximum City : Bombay Lost and Found" (Suketu Mehta). I remember a fantastic piece he wrote for the New York Times magazine about his experiences with Indian cinema and essentially, his rediscovery of bollywood. Hmm ... may be it is online. May He-Who-Knows-All can find it for me. Voila ! Here it is - Bollywood Confidential [Warning: registration required at nytimes.com]. Awesome article ! I am glad I saved that issue.

Anyway, I am happy to see that he is being recognized. I added his book to my wishlist. Oh, speaking of which, here is my wishlist. So, if any of you are ever in a dilemma about what to get me for a gift ... *wink*

Sunday, March 06, 2005

The internship standoff - IBM or Google ?

So, I had applied for research internships for this summer at IBM and Google. I interviewed with IBM this past Tuesday. My interviewer was Kishore. Pretty smart guy all around and very nice to talk to. I was not really that nervous even though I should have been (The man came up with the evaluation metric for the the area I work in - Machine Translation or MT) !) We chatted for about 30 mins about what all I had done in MT and what his interests were and so forth.

He called me back on Thursday and gave me the good news. Well, good and bad, actually. Good news, of course, that I had been selected for the summer internship program. Bad - I won't be working with Kishore's group. I will be working with another group that works on statistical techniques for named-entity tracking and co-reference resolution. Kishore said that there is virtually no distinction between his group and this one, since they use the same tools and techniques, mostly Maximum Entropy techniques. Christof also brought up some good points about this: 1) No one in our research group actually works on this area, so i will be able to provide this unique focus. 2) Since the tools and techniques are the same for both MT and what I would be working on, nothing is actually stopping me from applying the same to the MT problem.

So, all in all I am pretty excited about IBM. It's the T. J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown, NY. Stacy told me that that's only about an hour from the city. So guess where i will be on the weekends ? :-)

Now, about Google, I have an interview next week. Assuming I get in (which is a big assumption, their interviews are supposed to be pretty rigorous), I would be in quite a quandary. All right, let's weigh the pros and cons:

+ I will get to work with Franz Och, one of the stalwarts of MT and the creator of the state-of-the-art MT system.
+ Google = Cool.
+ Get to live in California for 3 whole months, and that too close to San Francisco.
- Probably have to sign a Non-disclosure agreement and will not be able to publish the research that I do or use it for my dissertation.
- New entrant in the area of Natural Language Processing (including MT).

+ Well respected and established research groups in NLP and MT (The first word-alignment based translation models were called IBM-models, for God's sake! )
+ IBM may not be cool but it is a research giant.
+ IBM has always had strong academic ties and they publish a whole lot more than Google. Good chance of publication and of doing real and meaningful research.
+ Close to NYC and also to MD.
- My work would not directly be in MT.
- No Franz Och.

Well, I listed the pros and cons but I still don't have an answer. I guess I will worry about it if and when the time comes.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

I give up !

Yes, Guriqbal. I do! You win! I will send an email out to all the old classmates today. in fact, the email is ready. It's a tad long, though. Well, I guess 5 years is not a short duration either. Anyway, succumbing to nostalgia doesn't seem that bad. We'll see if (or how much) I regret this decision later. If I do, I know who to blame !!