Improving my lexicon

I started preparing for the GRE recently and stumbled upon the conundrum of preparing for the verbal section of the GRE. I was under the delusion that my vocabulary could burgeon by the enervating process of reading a myriad of books without looking at the meanings of the words explicitly but it now feels like that was only a dilatory instinct and an ersatz for descrying the meanings of enigmatic and byzantine words. I thought it was antediluvian and anachronistic to carry a dictionary whenever I started reading something but I feel now it that might have actually helped me in the long run  🙂

I might sound like a callow avaricious fellow writing doggerel but I beseech you to stay with me. This draft is definitely not the apotheosis, acme or epitome of my writing. I don’t want encomiums for this writing but hope that it would be efficacious in being emollient to a young lad who might have stumbled upon this piece with ennui in his heart.

Anyhow, from here on, I would like to share a pretty interesting observation I made recently. When we generally read anything, we don’t pause every now and then to look up the meanings of unknown words because it feels that it might hamper the reading experience . But, I now feel due to the cardinality of the set of queer looking words being finite(and probably less than 10,000), by the pigeon hole principle I would have encountered the same words several times. Anyhow, I used to read books earlier from their paper copies and thus it was not very easy to look up word meanings. But now, thanks to my Kindle Paperwhite, it’s a breeze looking up word meanings. I hope more people start using e-book readers 🙂

Sugar is the new Tobacco

Hey folks, I felt like this would be a good place to share one of my Facebook posts.

“Calories_in – Calories_out is the most important factor which affects weight gain” is a blatant lie being perpetrated by food companies like Coca-Cola through their shameless ads and lobbying.

Irrespective of how much you exercise, it really matters from where you get your calories. X calories from carrots and X calories from coke are processed by your body in vastly different ways. Most of the coke calories end up getting converted into your tummy but that’s not true for the carrot calories.

Fun fact: If you drink coke without the added phosphoric acid it contains, you will vomit immediately due to it’s insane sugar concentration.

In the 1960’s, tobacco was marketed exactly the same way coke is being marketed these days. You could see ads of famous actors endorsing tobacco, advertising boards everywhere, canteens selling them etc etc……

It’s just a matter of time(hopefully) before the widespread effects of coke(processed foods) became public knowledge and we see ‘WARNING! this food causes type II diabetes’ on food packets similar to cigarette pack warnings.

You would see ads in movie theatres where a future Mr. Mukesh would be lying on a hospital bed as a 20 year old obese guy about to die due to type 2 diabetes telling you that coke was responsible for his death.

Here’s the youtube link to the video which enlightened me regarding this issue.

Climate Change!!

I watched this amazing documentary on Climate change called ‘Before the Flood’ narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio. If you haven’t watched it yet, I urge you to do it now!!

So, after watching the documentary I’ve been thinking of ways in which I can change my own lifestyle so that I can decrease my carbon footprint. I’ll keep adding to this list as I get more ideas:

  1. Try to make use of the day time as much as possible over night time. This will reduce my electricity consumption.
  2. From now on, I will print stuff only when absolutely required, like assignment submissions or other things where I need to submit hard copies.
  3. Carbon emissions of Beef >> Chicken >> Vegetables. I don’t eat beef anyway and where I live it’s not even available for consumption thanks to Hinduism absolutely shunning the killing of cows. But I do eat chicken and mutton. I lived as a vegetarian(consumed milk products and eggs) for 3 years(till April 2016) and gave up on vegetarianism when I lived in Singapore because it’s NOT easy to get decent vegetarian meals in Singapore. You have to invest additional time and energy for that  and I wasn’t really interested in doing that. So, I started eating meat again after I lived in Singapore and then I continued doing that after I came back to India as well.I’ll go back to my vegetarianism now and continue doing that till I feel that I would need to invest too much time and energy to maintain this diet.

Reading journal/conference proceedings vs Arxiv articles

This is a note to my future self. I realised today(not exactly today… but, felt it more strongly today) that if I wanted to understand a paper which was already published in some journal/conference, it is better to first read the conference/journal version over the arxiv version. Although it is true that the arxiv version is unbounded  and yada yada yada, it is a fact that the published version has better explanations and also shows which parts of the paper are ‘more’ important.

This realisation dawned on me as I was reading the article ‘Characterization of Binary Constraint System Games’ by Cleve and Mittal. In the 3rd page of the arxiv version, I couldn’t understand why the ‘c’ condition was correct and but when I read the same sentence in the published version, I saw an explanation for that in brackets immediately following the sentence!! Aaaahhh. I resolve today that from now on, I will read the published version before the arxiv version (if both are available).

Archaic ways of publishing research

It just seems strange that the way research is communicated to the world hasn’t changed much since a long time. Even today, the primary way that research is communicated is through articles(primarily text with images sprinkled here and there) published in journals/conferences.

Isn’t this very old fashioned given the fact that we have very high quality video recording capabilities available just at our fingertips? I was reading the paper ‘Rectangles are Non-negative Juntas’ and was struggling to understand a lot of things in the paper and luckily, I found a link to some slides made by one of the authors which were available on his homepage. This graphic representation certainly helped me get a better understanding of the paper. What I don’t understand is why we don’t have such slides for most, if not all papers published? In fact, I think every paper published should have a video available on youtube by one of the authors trying to explain about the paper.

Learning from Social Media:

I think there are some interesting things scientific researchers can learn from social media trends. Facebook posts and Quora answers with photos generally go on to reach far more people than those without photos. Similarly, I think papers which have associated videos or slides reach far more people than those without.

My first 3 weeks at CQT

It’s been nearly 3 weeks since I came to CQT. I did not make much progress in these 3 weeks but hope to make good progress from now on since I now have more clarity over what I should do in these remaining weeks. One of the goals for my internship is to understand and present the paper ‘Rectangles are Nonnegative Juntas’ by Zuckerman et.al . Till now, I felt intimidated by the paper since I couldn’t really understand anything in the paper after reading some paragraphs in the paper. One way I can approach the paper is by going through every line and trying to understand the things I don’t understand. But, I feel this is too much pain. Therefore, I want to adapt the less efficient(?) but easier way by building up from the basics. First things first, I haven’t yet done any course on the Theory of Computation and I have a constant nagging at the back of my head that I can’t really talk or understand any complexity classes without a clear understanding of what it means to compute. Therefore, my plan for the following weeks is:

  1. This week’s goal is to finish the course on Automata theory on coursera: https://class.coursera.org/automata-003 . This should take around 6×4=24 hours.
  2. After finishing the automata theory course, I intend to read, understand and solve problems from Chapters 1, 2 and 12 from Arora-Barak’s book on Computational complexity. – By the end of next week. Chapter 1 & 2 should take around a day each. Keeping 3 days for Chapter 12 and Lectures 1,2 & 3 from http://www.tcs.tifr.res.in/~prahladh/teaching/2011-12/comm/
  3. After doing the above steps, I am sure I will have a little more confidence to tackle the paper head on. Then, I will skim the entire paper once from starting to end and try to gauge what other things I would be needing to understand the paper.

After passing through this mental ordeal of the 3 weeks without any progress, I have come to the definite conclusion that getting to a publish-worthy idea within these 2 months is close to impossible and that shouldn’t be my goal.

Singapore & CQT

Yesterday was my first day at Singapore and also my first at CQT. Singapore is a beautiful country. Coming from India, I was pleasantly surprised to see such well planned and clean roads. The cab driver from the airport informed us that the Rain Trees beside the roads leading out of the airport were brought from Africa as saplings several years ago. A word of caution to anyone travelling to Singapore from India: Do NOT take the postpaid SIM cards available at the Indian airports, the prepaid ones from Singtel in Singapore offer pretty good rates.

After putting our luggage at Clementi East Lodge, I and Pavan(he’s another intern at CQT from IIT Bombay , we came together from Hyderabad) went to CQT to meet Prof. Rahul Jain, our PI for the intern according to the VISA application letters. He was very warm in welcoming us to CQT and Singapore.

After getting our access cards to our office spaces in CQT and our ID’s for the NUS WiFi, we chatted with Prof. Jain on various topics. I intend to keep posting regularly on this blog regarding my work at CQT and hope that I would be able to contribute to some scientific progress by the end of this 2 month period( read as ‘try to get a paper published’).

Random Stuff

The title is meta 🙂 . I’ll describe a little about ‘randomness’ which is an important topic about which I studied in my course project in CS682: Quantum Computing.

What does it mean for something to be random? Or if we get more precise mathematically, given a string of numbers how can one say whether the string was produced by a random or a deterministic process.

Consider the string all zero string 0000000…0 ‘n’ times. Is it really ‘random’? It seems like most people wouldn’t agree with that. But, how does anyone know? Intrinsically, what is the difference between the strings 000,000,000and 164,236,334? If we assume that our device produces any digit from {0,1,…9} with equal probability, then the probability for both the strings is 10^(-9). Surprisingly, what this means is that both the strings are equally probable. Then, how does it make sense to call 164,236,334 ‘more random’ than the the all zero string?

Aaaah! Now, we realise that ‘randomness’ is not as trivial as it might seem. We need a strong definition of randomness before we discuss anything about the randomness of a given string/event. I encourage you to ponder over this question for some time as this is really interesting and trying to understand the nature of randomness can lead to profound philosophical and physical truths which you might have never thought of before. I encourage interested readers to check out this link where you can find out more about randomness 🙂

Reflections

Yesterday, I watched the movie ‘Surya: Son of Krishnan’. It struck a chord with me and reminded me of the fact that I am mortal. We are all supposed to die.

I remembered one line said by our philosophy professor: “To philosophise is to learn how to die”

Death: This is one feeling we should all be always aware of. Remembering that our life on this planet is finite is a very powerful feeling. We should try to live everyday like it could be the last day of our lives. This is infact true, today could be the last day of my life. And this statement holds true for every day. But this again brings me to a very important and valid question: “What should I do? (or) What am I supposed to do with this life?”

I feel the ‘anguish’ described by Jean-Paul Sartre. ‘Man feels anguish. Man is anguish’.

I also recently watched the video ‘Hawking 2013’ on youtube. Stephen Hawking practically faced the situation everyday for more than half his living lifetime. He felt it much more dramatically than most other people because, externally it looked like he was much more closer to death than all of us. He took ‘advancing humanity in understanding the nature of the cosmos’ as the ‘purpose’ of his life and put all his life and blood into it. This feels like an apparently noble goal but in the end, the question again comes up “What do we get out of going deeper into the nature of the universe where every step only increases the complexity of nature but doesn’t simplify it”.

Philosophy of Life

I often thought about the question ‘Why do I live?’ when I was in my 11th and 12th grade and tried asking some people older to me. I did not get any satisfactory response from anybody I knew. I went through the grind for the JEE and then after coming to IIT Kanpur, I still wasn’t satisfied with life in general because I felt that I had a *missing* part somewhere. This was at the beginning of my stay at IITK.

Now, I am in my 4th semester and can say confidently that I have gone through a roller coaster ride as far as my philosophical thoughts are concerned.

In the process, I have read several books and gone through several experiences which have definitely changed the way I look at the world fundamentally. I was completely in the grasp of the  ‘cult of Krishna’ at IITK headed by Prof. Laxmidhar Behera for around 6 months and could only get out of the cult primarily due to the intense efforts of my brother.

In the journey, I changed from being a person who didn’t care about religion to a very devout Hare Krishna cult member to a hardcore atheist. I guess the radical transformations have a lot to do with my present age. The journey was pretty exciting and I would be very interested to narrate it some other day 🙂