Tuesday, August 30, 2005

On writing blogs...

Did I tell you something about a blog NOT being a journal or diary? Well... Some researchers do not seem to agree . That reminds me of the joke about SUN motto "Network is the computer": I once got a fortune cookie which said "Sorry for the mess-up. Computer is computer. Network is network" :-) And, in case you did not notice, at least three of the authors of "Blogging by the rest of us" are the same ones who wrote "Blogging as a social activity, or, would you let 900 million people read your diary?" Howzzzt!!

Sunday, August 28, 2005

From Africa to India Are you kidding?... Can you believe it?

I knew of the Indian presence in Africa - who could forget that Mahatma was in South Africa before he came back to India. But Africans in India? I was not sure (though I heard from a friend of mine from Kumta that there are people of african origin in the North Karnataka region). Go here for more information!

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Rime ...Part VI

Part VI


`But tell me, tell me! speak again,
Thy soft response renewing-
What makes this meeting move on so fast?
What is the committee doing?'


`Still as an undergrad before her Prof,
The committee was all lost:
Their great bright eyes most silently
Up to the CiteClassic is cast-

If they may know which way to go ;
For it guides them smooth or grim.
See, sister, see! how graciously
they looketh down on it'.

The Researcher hath been cast into a trance; for the angelic power causeth the research to move faster than human life could endure.


`But why drives on this project so fast,
Without or funding or people?'


`The funding is cut away before,
And closes from behind.

Fly, sister, fly! more high, more high!
Or we shall be belated :
For slow and slow this project will go,
When the Researcher's trance is abated.'

The supernatural motion is retarded ; the Researcher awakes, and her penance begins anew.

I woke, and our project was moving on
As in a gentle weather:
'Twas night, calm night, the moon was high :
The graduated students stood together.

All stood together near the desk,
For a lab-door fitter:
All fixed on me their stony eyes,
That in the Moon did glitter.

The pang, the curse, with which they failed,
Had never passed away :
I could not draw my eyes from theirs,
Nor turn them up to pray.

The curse is finally expiated.

And now this spell was snapt: once more
I viewed the laboratory clean,
And looked far forth, yet little saw
Of what had else been seen-

Like one, that on a lonesome project
Doth work with fear and dread,
And having once finished the experiment
Moves on and turns no more his head ;
Because he knows, a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread.

But soon there breathed an PDF offer on me,
Nor sound not motion made :
Its path was not upon the lab,
In letter-box or in shade.

It raised my spirit, it fanned my curiosity
Like a fragrance ridden breeze of spring-
It mingled strangely with my fears,
Yet it felt like a welcoming.

Swiftly, swiftly flew the project,
Yet it moved softly too :
Sweetly, sweetly came the offers-
To me alone it came anew.

And the ancient Mariner beholdeth the end of her PhD

Oh! dream of joy! is this indeed
The end of PhD I see?
Is this the synopsis? is this the defense?
Is this mine own thesis?

We drifted o'er the laboratory,
And I with sobs did pray-
O let me be awake, my Boss !
Or let me sleep away.

The laboratory was clear as glass,
So smoothly it was strewn !
And on the desk the moonlight lay,
And the shadow of the Moon.

The lab shone bright, the library no less,
That stands above the lab :
The moonlight steeped in silentness
The steady desk slab.

The angelic neighbours leave their labs

And the bay was white with silent light,
Till filling the same,
Fully many shapes, that shadows were,
In colourful dresses came.

And appear in their own bright coloured dresses and labcoats.

A little distance from the door
Those colourful dresses were :
I turned my eyes upon the desk-
Oh, Science! What saw I there!

Each coat lay flat, lifeless and flat,
And, by the lab door,
A smiling student, all grin,
On every coat they were.

This student-gang, each waved his hand:
It was a heavenly sight !
They stood as signals to my PhD's end,
Each one a lovely sight;

This student-gang, each waved her hand,
No voice did they impart--
No voice; but oh! the silence sank
Like music on my heart.

But soon I heard the clash of cups,
I heard my Prof's cheer;
My head was turned perforce away
And I saw a convocation appear.

The Prof and the Chairman,
I heard them coming fast :
Dear Lord in Heaven ! it was a joy
The graduated students could not blast.

I saw a third--I heard her voice ;
It is the Dean good !
She singeth loudly her scientific limericks
That she makes in her homestead.
She'll hear my story, she'll mend the
CiteClassic disaster as it stood.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Here's something I'd like you to read!

Long back, Rukun Advani ranked a book with Malgudi and The Remembered Village : being a die-hard fan of both, I tried to get hold of Here's some one I'd like you to meet in vain for several months. In every book shop I knew or happened to pass-by, I asked for the book; spelt the author's name for doing a computer search; rummaged through several old book shops; finally, it dawned on me that it indeed is out-of-print. It looked such a pity - more so, because, by then, I had already read The cooking of music and just loved it.

Finally, Praj came to my rescue: Yes, he had seen the book in Eloor - to which library also I was introduced by him: two of the innumerable things for which I should be eternally grateful to Praj - when we are on that topic, I first saw a photograph of Raja Rao - this time no prizes for guessing thanks to who - well, the list can go on for ever - but I am digressing.

After a few unsuccessful visits to Eloor, I finally managed to get the book issued: I read it, recommended it to everybody I met in the next few days, and read once more, and before returning the book, read the passages that I liked for one last time. I also made one of my colleagues, Deep, to read the book; and we had great fun in repeating incidents, sentences, or a phrase from the book, to each other. All good things come to an end, and I had to return the book to the library - I did it with such a heavy heart. To know that there is such a wonderful book, but you will not be able to read a passage from it at your will, is such a pain. However, I kept referring the book to my friends (and, sometimes, even acquaintances).

Finally, the gods smiled on me. Last Saturday, Kiran made me glad with these tidings: Permanent black has brought out a hard cover edition called Raga'n Josh which contains both Cooking of Music and Here's ... (and hold your breath, just for Rs. 395 - and since I bought mine in Strand , as usual, I got a 20% discount on the cover price - to own such a treasure just for Rs. 315! Well, when gods smile, they sometimes grin from ear-to-ear). Like my friend Shencottah says, it is worth pining for a good book, when you know the pleasure that it would bring you on the day you own a copy of your own.

Sheila Dhar's Raga'n Josh is truly a classic - a book of myriad pleasures - it will make you laugh; it will bring tears to your eyes and truly move you; it will bring the experience of listening to music on to the pages of a book; it will make you repeat some of the sentences and incidents to yourself and chuckle alone at the coffee house; and, it will make you long for some of the music and musicians of a bygone era with such intensity - in short, like all great books, there will be a marked difference between the you, before Raga'n Josh, and the you, after Raga'n Josh.

So, go forth, buy the book, read it, and, Welcome to the Sheila Dhar fan club!

The Rime... Part V


Oh publication! it is a gentle thing,
Beloved from pole to pole !
To Gutenberg the praise be given!
He sent the gentle acceptance from Elsevier,
That sweetened my soul.

By the grace of the holy Printer, the ancient Researcher is refreshed with reprints.

The silly preprints on the desk,
That had so long remained,
I dreamt that they were printed:
When I awoke, the reprints arrived.

My hands were inky, my computer busy,
My speech was full of hints;
Sure I had distributed in my dreams,
And still I mailed my reprints.

I mailed, and could not feel the time :
I was so light-almost
I thought that I had died in sleep,
And was a blessed Doc.

She heareth sounds and seeth strange sights and commotions in the lab and the library.

And soon I heard a roaring sound :
It did not come anear ;
But with its sound it shook the drapers,
That were so thin and sere.

The upper storey burst into life !
And a hundred fire-flags sheen,
To and fro they were hurried about !
And to and fro, and in and out,
The library books danced in between.

And the coming wind did roar more loud,
And the drapers did sigh like sledge ;
And the reprints rained down from my mail box :
Table mine stacked with papers from edge to edge.

It was a Sunday, and still
The reprints kept coming :
Like monsoon rain,
Came non-stop the mail,
In quantities unbecoming.

The colleagues in the lab are inspired, and the research moves on;

The fundings did never increase,
Yet now the research moved on!
Beneath the publication sprees
My labmates worked without a groan.

Nor spake, nor they moved their eyes;
They worked, they wrote; all the time,
It had been strange, even in a dream,
To have seen thus, the labmates mine.

The advisor advised, the research moved on;
Yet never came a project new;
The colleagues all worked day and night,
Which never before did they do;
They worked in the lab like lifeless tools-
We were a ghastly crew.

The labbies mine, all
Stood by me, knee to knee ;
The labby and I shared the desk,
But she said nought to me.

But not by the grad students, nor by the post-docs and emeritus professors of the Department of Institute, but by a blessed troop of undergraduates, sent down by the invocation of the thesis adviser.

'I fear thee, ancient Researcher !'
Be calm, thou Post-Doc!
`Twas not those grad students that left in pain,
Which to their labs came again,
But a troop of undergrads best:

For when it dawned-they dropped their work,
And clustered round the coffee pot :
Sweet sounds rose slowly through their mouths,
And from their bodies passed.

Around, around, flew each sweet sound,
Then came in voice one:
Slowly the sounds came back again,
Now mixed, now one by one.

Sometimes a-dropping from nowhere
I heard the cuckoo sing ;
Sometimes all little birds that are,
How they seemed to fill the library and lab,
With their sweet jargoning.

And now 'twas like all instruments,
Now like a lonely flute ;
And now it is an MS song,
That makes the heavens be mute.

It ceased ; yet the lab work went on
A pleasant noise till noon,
A noise like of a hidden brook,
In the rainy month of June,
That to the sleeping woods all night
Singeth a quiet tune.

Till noon we quietly worked on,
Yet never a break did we get :
Slowly and smoothly went the work,
Moved onward from dawn to dusk.

The doctoral committee carries the thesis as far as colloquium, in obedience to the angelic professor, but still requireth vengeance

At the end of years nine,
From the doctoral committee,
Came the blow; and it was them
That stoppt the thesis mine.
The colloquium was done
But the work came undone.

They found holes, in theory
Experiments mine and analysis :
In a minute they tore apart
All the delicate arguments-
In a torrential flow
Came their counter-arguments.

Then like a pawing horse let go,
They made a sudden bound :
It flung the blood into my head,
And I fell down in a swound.

The Doctoral Committee's departmental colleagues, the invincible faculty of professors, take part in their wrong ; and two of them relate, one to the other, that penance long and heavy for the ancient Researcher hath been accorded by the Doctoral committee, whose members go on a Sabbatical.

How long in that same fit I lay,
I have not to declare ;
But ere my living life returned,
I heard and in my soul discerned
Two voices in the air.

`Is it she?' quoth one, 'Is this the girl?
In the name of laureates Nobel,
With her shrewd analysis she gave a blow
To the CiteClassic, great and noble.

The professors who bideth by themselves
In the textbooks and journals
They loved the paper that explained
But shot by her with her analysis.'

The other was a softer voice,
As soft as honey-dew :
Quoth she, 'The girl hath penance done,
And research more will do.'

Monday, August 08, 2005

Kudos to Cham on his making it to Nature!

PhD comics never fails to amuse me (and a few more of us in the lab): we also love reading Cecilia's blog. Each of us could identify with each of the situations described in the strip even though, we are doing our graduate studies in India, while Cecilia et al are doing theirs in Stanford: this, in my opinion, goes to prove that the gap in research culture in IISc is not very different from that elsewhere. So, I was very happy to see this note in the latest issue of Nature. Great job Cham and keep it up!

To write, or not to write: that is the question:

I am talking about writing blogs, and the answer to that question is the same as what the Cheshire cat told Alice in the wonderland: "it depends a good deal where you want to get to". Abi in some of his posts has discussed the perils of blogging and the reasons why academics blog: in the most recent piece in the series, he gives a few examples of people who lost their jobs thanks to their blogging activities and ends his piece with two suggestions, viz., do not volunteer information that you wouldn't in a personal interview, and, do not say vile things about your colleagues and workplace. And, these two suggestions of Abi find their echo in an article titled Blogging as a social activity, or, would you let 900 million people read your diary? published by Nardi, Schiano, and Gumbrecht in the Proceedings of the 2004 ACM conference on Computer supported cooperative work. This paper, by analysing the language used in blogs, and the reasons why people blog, establishes that blogging is indeed a social activity: it goes on to list some of the motivations behind blogging - (among other things) to let people know about your activities and whereabouts, to express opinions and influence others, to seek others' opinions and feedback, to clear one's thinking, and to release emotional tension. So, if the reasons for your blogging is the last, you have to be more careful (and, probably, think of keeping a journal/diary instead of a blog): otherwise, blogging is the way you ought to go from here!

Thursday, August 04, 2005

The Rime... Part IV


The Banquet-Guest feareth that a Plagiarist is talking to her ;

'I fear thee, ancient Researcher !
I fear thy smooth hand !
And thou art long, and lank, and white,
As is the sifted sea-sand.

I fear thee and thy languorous-eye,
And thy smooth hand, so white.'-
Fear not, fear not, thou Banquet-Guest !
A plagiarised paper did I never write.

But the ancient Researcher assureth her of her noble research life, and proceedeth to relate her terrible penance.

Alone, alone, all, all alone
Alone in a wide wide world !
And never did a prof took pity
On research mine so snarled.

She despiseth the creatures of the Academe

The many speakers, so clever!
Did get their papers rejected and lie :
And a thousand thousand slimy students
Lived on: and so did I.

And envieth that they should publish, and so many lie rejected.

I looked upon the rotting Academe
And drew my eyes away ;
I looked upon the rotting Department,
And there the rejected papers lay.

I looked for journals, and tried to write :
But or ever a paper had been writ,
A wicked scrawl came, and made
The teeth my prof and labbies grit.

I closed my eyes, and kept them close,
And the balls like pulses beat;
For the journal and academe, and academe and journals,
Lay like a load on my wary eye,
And rejected papers were at my feet.

But the curse liveth for her in the eye of the authors of rejected papers.

The cold sweat melted from their limbs,
Nor rot nor reek did they :
The look with which they looked on me
Had never passed away.

A grad student's curse would forever follow
The adviser that did unwisely advise:
But oh ! more horrible than that
Is the curse in a rejected author's eyes!
Seven years did I see those sights,
And yet I could not plagiarise.

In her barrenness and sadness she yearneth towards JIFLU (Journals of Impact Factors Less than Unity), and other proceedings that still reject, yet still publish; and everywhere her paper gets rejected, while the journals continue their periodic rejection, and keep increasing their impact factors.

The rejecting JIFLU went on rejecting,
No consideration did they show :
Only regret letters for papers mine
Did they write; It was such a blow.

Silly were there reasons of rejection,
Like grammar and spelling and such :
Where the rejection letters lay
On my table in such an array
It was terrible mess to search.

By the rejection letters of JIFLU she beholdeth noble researchers of great achievement.

Beyond the glare of the academe,
I saw the researchers supreme:
They moved in orbits of shining white
And papers they wrote with such insight
That light did flow from them in a stream.

With the rejection letters in my hand
I watched them sincere at their job:
Neither awards, nor name,
Did they care for or for fame ;
Papers to journals never did they off fob.

Their diligence and their happiness. She blesseth them in her heart.

O happy researchers! no tongue
Their diligence might declare :
A spring of love gushed from my heart,
And I blessed them unaware :
Sure my kind prof took pity on me,
And I blessed them unaware.

The spell begins to break.

The self-same moment I could write :
And from hands so free
Came a CiteClassic, and sent
The academe into a spree.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The Rime... Part III


There passed a weary time. Each project
Was parched, and glazed each student.
A weary time ! a weary time !
How glazed each weary student,
When looking Codeward, I beheld
A something in the indent.

The ancient Researcher beholdeth a sign in the program afar off.

At first it seemed a little speck,
And then it seemed a plateau:
It grew and grew, and took at last
A certain shape, I knew.

A speck, a plateau, a shape, I knew!
And still it grew and grew:
As if it played hide and seek,
It appeared and disappered and flew.

At its clearer approach, it seemeth her to be a conference paper : and at a dear ransom she finds her own money to attend the conference.

With projects run dry, with salaries stopt,
We could nor work nor talk:
Through utter helplessness all dumb we stood !
I dipped into my saving, I wiped it clean,
And cried, A conference, a conference!

A flash of joy ;

With projects run dry, with salaries stopt
Agape they heard my abstract:
Gramercy! they for joy did grin,
And all at once they started mailin'
As they were preparing the abstract.

And horror follows. For can it be a conference that comes unannounced and without financial assistance?

See ! see ! (I cried) they accept no more !
Hither to work us weal ;
Without an announcement, without assistance,
They run a conference!

The conference name was all a-flame.
The last date was well nigh done!
Almost upon the last abstract wave
Rested the stroke of pen ;
When a strange mail came suddenly
To us from the conference Chairmen.

It seemeth her but a fake conference.

And straight the conference went into problems,
(Did you hear the joke? Oh No!)
For the conference managers accepted
Fake papers produced by a robot.

And the conference organisers are seen to be bogus scientists (and profit-oriented business house managers)

Alas ! (thought I, and my heart beat loud)
How damagin is this inference!
The first paper of mine to be printed
In a proceeding of a fake conference !

The Conference is run by a Crooked-Professor and his ghost of a secretary, and no other academic in the Confernece committee

And is this the acceptance letter
Did we see, and rejoice?
And is that Professor all the Committee?
Is that a GHOST? and are there two?
Is GHOST that professor's choice?

Like Conference, like committee!

His letters were junk, his acceptance bogus,
His defence of his actions was rather bold :
His refereering was all hocus-pocus,
The Night-mare PROF-IN-GHOST was he
Who thicks researcher's blood with cold.

Ghost and Prof-in-ghost have diced for the conference's plenary speaker, and he (the latter) chooses the ancient Researcher.

The nice invitation alongside came,
And the twain were casting dice :
"The game is done ! I've won ! I've won!"
Quoth he, and whistles thrice.

No escape from the fake conference.

The conference date nears ; the programme drawn :
At one stride comes the talk ;
With far-heard whisper, o'er the academia,
Spread wide and far, rumours dark.

At the conference talk,

We listened and looked sideways up !
Fear at my heart, as at a cup,
My life-blood seemed to sip !
The lights were dim, and thick the fight,
The speakers' face by OHP lamp gleamed white ;
From the audience rose like a whip-
The protests about the faults
Of a code that ran and gave no seg-faults
In the first compilation- with a chirp.

One after another,

One after one, at a deady pace,
Too quick for groan or sigh,
Each gave his talk with a ghastly face,
And cursed me with his eye.

The speakers present fake papers and are heckled.

Four time fifty living men,
(And I heard nor sigh nor groan)
With heavy thump, and aplomb,
They talked away, one by one.

But Prof-in-Ghost begins his introduction of the ancient Researcher.

The fake talks did all of them vie
To give and, finish in time,
Every speaker, as he bid good-bye,
To the chair's bell's chime!

Author's note: It is a common belief among programmers that a code that runs at first compilation without error messges or segmentation fault is wrong.