Realm Of Randomness

January 4, 2008

The Blogroll blues …

Filed under: Blogroll,Blogs I stop by,Introspection,Personal — Randomizer @ 1:12 am

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(Nevada, 2005)

When I first started blogging, at about 4:33 pm in March 2005, I never realized I would still be writing into January 2008. Much has changed, of me and my life and my experiences, and I am thankful that so many of those phases have been documented here, and I hope to continue this for as long as it remains a hobby that doesn’t occupy too much of my time. I’m grateful for the readers who stop by to read and share their thoughts on the Realm.

Sharath’s blog, the Epistles, is going on a year-long sabbatical sadly, and that is definitely a big blow on this side of the blogosphere. Blogging is as much a social activity as it is creative expression, and the Epistles will definitely be missed – I hope that the Realm remains active for long enough to announce his come back, whenever that is :) . With another site down, that also means 3 inactive blogs out of the 4 on my blogroll, the fairies seem to be the only ones left dancing ! This blog has been through a similar recycling of links at many times over the last 3 years … I remember starting out with four or five regular bloggers, none of whom are still around. Then, there was the bluebird who took off but landed prematurely, not to forget the caffeine dispenser who was around for all of June 12th to June 19th ! :-D

Sharath’s reasons seem fair enough – he wants to make better use of his time spent blogging. I would agree that if I actually asked myself every time I sat down to write something – is there some thing better I could do than this? – the answer would probably be yes, I could work out or read something informative or practice some music. But I also know that after a long day’s work, my motivation levels for these activities are pretty low. They are at a max during the weekends, but not the week days. So for me, really, it is between wasting time watching shows on TV/the internet on one hand, and blogging on the other :-P. I prefer the latter for obvious reasons.

Thus, as long as the blog remains non-intrusive in my life and I maintain some semblance of a balance between this and other activities, I’d say the blog will go on. Hopefully, I will be around to witness many more start-ups, good-bye-to-blogging-posts, as well as comebacks :).

The Blogroll will need some changes though. Let met introduce Sudhir’s blog – My Pai’s worth, and Meenakshi’s Drain Brain. The links will be on the ‘Blogs I stop by’ list on the right. Links to blogs that are currently inactive will still be around, though in the ‘ex-bloggers’ list. If there are any more bloggers who visit now and then, do let me know who you are so I can link to you as well. Here’s to hopefully a year filled with blog-worthy events ! ;)

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December 17, 2007

On graduation

Filed under: Milestone,Personal — Randomizer @ 1:58 am

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The final chapter of my Master’s pursuit has finally ended, and I cease being a ‘grad student’ for all practical purposes henceforth. A story that began not in August ’05 with my first class, but August ’04 when I wrote the GRE exam – no wait, it began way before that, when I first started studying for that damned exam – was it March ’04 ?

Oh, those stupid words – abet, abate, abash, abase, ….  aaaarrrgh! Getting through the first page alone was such a pain… and what was the point of it all, I wonder? Not once did I come across those words in research papers, or text books, nor did I ever use them when writing my thesis – and to think that these words could affect your scores by so much! After all that slogging, 1370 was what I managed – with all my points lost in the verbal section. That section doesn’t prove anything to the university – if anything, it showed your ability to memorize, an ability that of all places, is least needed at graduate school where the emphasis is on understanding and research, not memorizing. Still, thousands of budding students around the world cram their Barron’s GRE wordlists and dream of a better life…. in the land of the brave, the home of the free.

Much of a desi’s excitement on achieving his first admission, or receiving his visa – lies in this mere fact, that he’s leaving and heading west – much less that he’s going to study! But study, they do, eventually – and in what is becoming a standard immigration story – they rise from poor desi grads converting that bottle of ketchup to 2$ x 40 = 80 Rupees, to well-to-do grads buying their first lower end car, the inevitable Honda/Toyota when they get their first jobs.

Grad school to us desis is like our first bicycle ride without the training wheels. We are pushed along initially by our loyal companions, and when they see that we’ve gained balance, they let us go – and before we know it, we are on our own.

Well, the ride was great… and like a virtual diary, this blog and its readers have shared my thoughts through the whole deal. I wonder how many more stages of life this blog will continue to document – I am hoping that this medium lives on for a long, long time.

Finally, the training wheels are off – all the GRE words, all the application forms, all the revisions of the SOP, all the applications for assistantships on campus, all the courses, all the long nights, all the tension surrounding my thesis – the first chapter to my new life in the US has ended.

I have graduated.

November 12, 2007

Adaptation and the American dream

Filed under: Introspection,Milestone,Musing,Personal — Randomizer @ 3:58 am

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The last month has been great, busy with so many milestones – turning 25, moving to a new city, and getting my first pay-cheque :). After the much awaited internet service was set up at my place, it seems like I can finally get back to making some changes in my online world as well ! 

Moving to Houston was pretty exciting, as for the first time in my life, I am living completely on my own. I had rooommates or family at all points in my life, and it was great to turn 25, while holding the keys to an apartment and a car in the much sought after US of A – something that I never dreamt for myself when I was growing up in the 90’s.  It is amazing how quickly my life changed – not too long ago, I was sharing a really tiny room in Bangalore with 2 other people, hand-washing my clothes on Sunday morning, and owning the rights to only 1/3rd of the space in the common Godrej wardrobe.

Thinking about the shift fascinates me in so many ways, on so many different levels… For one thing, the exact same person is viewed and valued so differently from one nation to the next. It’s like you are valued at $x when you got on the plane in Mumbai, but when you got off in New York, you and your profession were suddenly valued at 10 times $x, though nothing about you changed on the flight…  At the same time, someone else on the flight might have lost a lot from that flight – like maybe the European man who found himself valued by the Indian hospitality industry at 50 times his value during his vacation there!

I guess this is exactly what trade and business is all about – except that in this case, you yourself are the product in question.

Another interesting thing about the shift is – that one event, making the move from one shore to the other – resulted in such a different life. I can so easily picture an alternate reality in which I am still working and living in Bangalore, and pretty happy with it as well. So that brings us to another question… how many other events just like this are out there, that we are missing every day as the result of (a)resistance to change (b) ignorance (c) or the desire to try and be happy with what we have?

Finally, things like these remind you of all the places/environments/situations where you functioned, succesfully and perhaps happily… and gives you a sense of invincibility – that your environment will just absorb you into its system, wherever you go, and keep you comfortable.

We are all chameleons that way.

August 29, 2007

What IS the thesis?

Filed under: Academic,Milestone,Personal — Randomizer @ 2:50 pm

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( img from http://www.phdcomics.com/ )

Good news from this side. I passed my thesis defense yesterday, and barring a few corrections I’m done with all work for my MS degree. :) The ‘PhD Comics’ strip whose link I’ve posted above has been doing a great service to grad students like me throughout our degrees, so hats off to Jorge Cham, the creator.

While I’m neither a PhD student nor plan to be one anytime soon, ‘the thesis’ did give me a glimpse into research life and really what grad school ought to be about. While tons of my friends opted out of the thesis option earlier on in their master’s degree and went for a more straightforward track to graduation by choosing courses, a few of us stuck on for whatever our reasons were: Most of us, out of passion / interest in our fields, a few others to add value to their resumes, others to see if they were cut out to do a PhD, and even others just to make their Master’s something different from their Bachelor’s degree. Maybe by the power of The Google, this post will help someone decide which to choose, someday.

Some of the obvious cons of the thesis option are:

  • Graduation date is uncertain: Sure we’d all love to leave at the end of the 2 year mark, but be ready to stick it out for at least an extra summer, or an extra fall. If you have any hard deadlines for graduating, which you absolutely have to meet, the thesis option is risky.
  • Research work is no cakewalk: Whether you are working on something original, or working on something already out there, you still have to have a thorough knowledge of what has been done, and where your work stands in the overall scheme of things. An idea that you are pursuing and implementing for 1-2 months might unexpectedly fail, or you might come across a paper that proves in no uncertain terms that your idea will not work. You have to be willing to scrap months of work pursuing the solution. In other words, failures are a part of the deal
  • Your advisor chooses your destiny: If you are stuck with too demanding an advisor, or one who you find hard to approach with your doubts/problems, you are going to be in a rut. Many a times I have come across advisors who are so full of themselves that their students avoid meeting them or asking doubts out of fear that their doubt is too trivial/silly to ask. Of course you need to do your homework before meeting your prof, but you have to find an advisor who is approachable as well. If your only choice is some haughty, demanding prof with dozens of students, who is very demanding, consider opting out !

Some of the pros of doing a thesis are:

  • You’ll be a part of something big: The academic world is bursting with ideas, with some of the smartest brains in the world pursuing answers that could change the future. Being a part of that pursuit is something you can be proud of. Making solid contributions in terms of publications would be ideal, but writing a thesis is a contribution as well and serves as a piece of informative literature for whoever is interested in this area.
  • You’ll be an expert in something, and will have a ~100 page document to prove it : Spending over a year in a subset of a problem, reading through papers, books, articles and tons of other online material, you have no choice but to end up as an expert in that field, no matter how big or small that field is.
  • Job interviews: At job interviews, you will always be asked questions like ‘tell me about a project you have worked on’, or enjoyed. If you were like me, and did not have too awesome a project or a contribution in your academic/professional life prior to grad school, this could be your chance to do something about that.
  • Skills that you gain: Searching for and learning how to use a solution used in another problem to work in your problem, brainstorming to find your own solution, reviewing technical papers out there, learning how to explain your ideas in person as well as in writing… these are all skills that you gain along the way, before you even realize it.
  • Something to look back on and be proud of: Ask anyone who has done a thesis, and he/she will very proudly speak of his work. True, it’s a daunting task, but it is worth it in the end. Even if the company you join doesn’t value it more than the non-thesis bloke (and this might be the case for lots of companies), what you gained for yourself, the sense of accomplishment, and the contribution of your time/efforts to the progress of science will surely make it worth it.

If anything, doing a thesis is like running a marathon. It’s painful, and you’d rather be lazy and say ‘Nah, I’ll pass’. But there’s no denying that running the marathon will make you stronger… and crossing the finish line will be a moment you will cherish for a long, long time :)

August 25, 2007

Home stretch

Filed under: Musing,Personal — Randomizer @ 3:14 pm

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(img from CSU)

It’s been a marathon, alright ! But finally I can see the finish line … in the form of my defense on Aug 28th. But what I’m enjoying the most right now is this bursting feeling of excitement , the feeling of ‘I just can’t wait till ___’ .

One of the best parts about academic life is that we arrive at such moments every semester, or in the case of school, every year. Right in the middle of your final exams, studying for some painful subject like social studies or software engineering, your mind would take you through every damn thing you ever wanted to do in life, imagining you’d do it in that vacation immediately following that exam. Of course, whether or not you’d do it, or just laze around doing nothing is a different story altogether, but the dreams are rich and vivid nevertheless…

Back in the day, I used to plan how exactly I’d celebrate that first day of freedom – Ridding my room of every piece of visible study material, tearing up exam sheets, and just being overjoyed for the heck of it. In undergrad, my friends made the agony even more painful by having countdowns starting as long as 40-50 days in advance ! ‘This day next month we’ll be free’ !

I’ve been thinking that this is one of the last times I’m going to have that feeling, at least for a while, of bursting excitement, of endless days of fun hanging just beyond your grasp. My list of things to do, places to visit, people to meet, games to play, movies to watch and food to eat is growing rapidly. It’s funny how the ‘home stretch’ takes a literal form here because beyond the finish line actually lies a trip back home, hopefully for a month of fun and relaxation :)

I just can’t wait.

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