Friday, August 24, 2012

The End of my Journey to Ithaca

My B.Tech has ended, but I still haven't joined my job. This puts me in a unique position. On one side, I no longer have to worry about the next quiz or exam. On the other side, I also don't have to worry about job assignments. This leaves me lots of time to think, which I love to do. I believe that one of the greatest pleasures a man can enjoy is the time to sit back and think. Since the 4 years of IIIT-Delhi life are still fresh in my memory, I have been thinking about it a lot. There were many ups and downs during my B.Tech life and each of them had some effect on my thoughts. Maybe, at some sub-conscious level, they are a part of me now. They influence my way of thinking.

4 years ago, when I set out on my journey to Ithaca, I imagined a smooth voyage. I thought of a journey with as less distractions as possible. My goal was to become a great Computer Scientist, do cutting edge research and development and be one of the best in the field. I wanted to attain my goal and that was it. Of course, considering my nature, it was never to be like that.

During my journey to Ithaca I made many port calls. The allure of Phoenician merchandise and the wisdom of Egyptian scholars were just two of many experiences. Retrospecting, I find one particular characteristic which remains unchanged till now. I never focused, and still can't do now. Even if I was forced to focus on one particular thing (due to academic rules), I would still try to dip my hand in others. Along with Computer Science, I made sure to acquire varied knowledge. The journey was long but I did not want to hurry. I spent most of my time in activities which would never directly increase my CGPA or would even contribute to the next assignment I had. Yet, they made the journey lively. I met lots of different people, with different cultures. When I parted I had nothing to give them, except my time.

I have now reached Ithaca. I have finished my B.Tech with somewhat decent grades. Yet, I find Ithaca empty and poor. Clearly, this is not the land of paradise which I had set out for. A B.Tech in Computer Science guarantees me nothing. More than that, I'm not even sure if I like it. But Ithaca has nothing more to give me.

Have I been deceived? I invested 4 years in this journey and I did not get what I had initially imagined. Was the voyage all for nothing?

I don't think so. When I look at myself, I'm not poor at all. I'm rich with all the experiences of 4 years, with all the knowledge I collected during my wanderings. I have met many different kinds of people and enjoyed spending time with them. Had I not aimed for a B.Tech at IIIT-Delhi, I wouldn't have been able to realize this journey. This beautiful journey is more than what I can ask for. Wise with all the experiences of 4 years, I can say that I have not been deceived. I understand the importance of Ithaca.

What will happen in the future? I don't know. All I want to do is to go on another voyage.

I leave you to read and enjoy the English translation of the Greek poem "Ithaca" by Constantine P. Cavafy. When I first read this poem during this summer, I was amazed at how well it described my personal journey. I wish I had discovered it earlier. I'm copying the translation here (source: I guess you'll fully understand what I wrote above once you read it.

When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the angry Poseidon -- do not fear them:
You will never find such as these on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the fierce Poseidon you will never encounter,
if you do not carry them within your soul,
if your soul does not set them up before you.

Pray that the road is long.
That the summer mornings are many, when,
with such pleasure, with such joy
you will enter ports seen for the first time;
stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase fine merchandise,
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensual perfumes of all kinds,
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
visit many Egyptian cities,
to learn and learn from scholars.

Always keep Ithaca in your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for many years;
and to anchor at the island when you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.

Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would have never set out on the road.
She has nothing more to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have understood what Ithacas mean.

Friday, May 4, 2012

End of B.Tech

My B.Tech has ended.
Wednesday, the second of May in 2012, at quarter past 6 in the evening, the last report was sent. And that's when my academic activity for my B.Tech ended.

Right now, it is taking time for the feeling to sink in. For the first time, I have no academic work and none to worry about next semester. In fact, there's no next semester to worry about. No more assignments, quizzes, project deadlines, exams. I'm free!

Officially, I have completed all academic requirements for my B.Tech. It sounds really cliched, but I'm an engineer now!

4 years of a roller coaster ride, just came to an end. And now, I realize how much I have gotten used to the ups, downs and thrills! I'll miss my B.Tech.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

I Have a Cold in this Biting Cold

It's winter!

Yes, my semester is over and it is time again for holidays (by which I mean the time when I can work from home). December has set in. The sunlight is weak. The winds are chilly. The mercury is dropping lower and lower. The perfect time to curl up in the armchair in front of the fireplace and read a Victorian ghost story. Or perhaps write a poem about the icy weather outside. Or wear a travel cloak and walk through the snow storm.

Imagination is sweet. This is Delhi, cold enough to be irritating and yet not cold enough that it could fit my imagination of the "cold winter days". And to cap it all, I have a bad cold. With a sore throat and running nose (and not to forget the tons of pending work), I no longer want to look at winter from the poetic view. I'm dreaming of some place in the tropics where I can look at the azure sky and enjoy the sun and sand. Possibly sitting on the beach and reading a novel about sea adventures and shipwrecks. Taking a boat and going to some uninhabited island and spending some time alone there fishing. And then cooking the catch in a fire when darkness falls. What a life!

I just had a look at a recent Google Easter egg. To see it, just go to and type "let it snow" in the search box. And see what happens. Snow starts falling and frost forms on the window. After a while the search button changes to "Defrost".

The thing is, I generally like exploring these Easter eggs a lot. They add a nice touch of fun to technology. But I somehow didn't like the timing of this particular one. Google can really be insensitive sometimes!

Monday, August 1, 2011

If I Searched for the Hallows

Excerpt from "Ankit Sarkar and the Digital Hallows"

Ever since the net was discovered, the have been people who have sought to control it.

The evil person can split his presence on the net. The more evil he is, the more horcrux-bots will he create. To fully exterminate his control of the net, all horcrux-bots need to be destroyed. Only a truly evil person can achieve this much control.

I'm not evil. Yet, I too sought out a way to become master of the internet. Hallows not horcruxes.

The Elder Comp is the most powerful computer on earth. The Resurrection Hard Disk has the ability to fetch any data from anywhere, even if it has been shredded. The Invisibility Encoding makes a person literally invisible on the net. These three digital-hallows combined makes a person master of the internet. No one can know who he is, no firewall can stop him, no data download limits exist for him. He is invincible.

I however do not recommend you to go search for it. I have wasted countless hours. My CGPA has come down a lot. I still do not know what to do after this year. And I still haven't found any of them till now.

Every time I think I have found the fastest computer, there appears one more faster that it. Every time I lose data, some of it remains lost for ever. And every time I think I have found the perfect way to be invisible, I get caught by "Cyberoam".

The hallows are a fool's lure. Do not go after it.

Explanation for the random piece of writing above:

Today is the first day of my last year of undergraduate life at IIIT-D. Hence I had put up this status
Today is the beginning of the end (first day of the last year at IIIT-D)
This was a comment I got (from Tuhinanshu, my batch-mate).
this part should be named Ankit Sarkar and IIITD's hallows.....part 4
To continue the fun I posted a comment which you just read above. Initially I wrote it and then deleted it. Later I modified it a bit and posted it again. It seems people really liked it a lot. I'm not sure if you'll fully understand it though (unless you're a IIIT-Dian) since many references are local to IIIT Delhi.

And I gotta credit Ujjwal Gupta for his suggestion of posting it and preserving it for posterity.
I only regret that I have but one 'like' to give to the above post.
You should totally have this in your notes section. Or on your blog. This message needs to be spread to every nook and cranny of the internet!
Since he wanted to give many likes, it is only fair that I give many thanks. But then I don't feel like typing it over here. Here's the next best thing.
  printf("Thank You Ujjwal\n");

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Last Summer Holiday at IIIT-D

"The holidays are about to end."

Those are the 6 words I'm literally dreading for the first time. It's 27th today and my institute reopens on the 1st of August. That leaves 4 days. 4 days to switch from the relaxed holiday routine to the strict demanding life of a student. 4 days to complete all the sleep I want and some extra for the next 4 months. 4 days to decide which subjects I have to take next semester. 4 days to think and finalize my B.Tech Project (BTP). 4 days to go over the entire summer once again in my mind...

This summer was so much different than the previous two of my college life. I did not do multiple projects like the previous summers. I tended to sit at home most of the time and remain online. I didn't go to IIIT-D as frequently as in the previous summers. Yet whenever I went, I made sure to have a glass of Nestea (Nescafe's Lemon Iced Tea). This was my last summer of undergraduate life and it is painful to accept the fact that there might not be anything called "Summer Holidays" ever again.

I tried out some things this summer which I hadn't done for a while or which were completely new. Web designing and image editing was something I had last done in school. That time I had used Dreamweaver and Photoshop. This time it was Microsoft Expression Studio and GIMP. It was a different feeling to do something like this, when all I had ever done here was programming and making presentations. A new thing which I started was learning the Japanese language. I had a keen interest in all things Japanese since a long time, and decided to learn the language on the suggestion of a friend. Hopefully I will not be needing subtitles for watching anime in the near future.

One of the best experiences was volunteering for the B.Tech counselling. This time it was done over two days. It was fun advising the parents and students who had mixed opinions about IIIT Delhi. Once again, I realize painfully that this is something which I will miss next year. I also applied to be a mentor to the first years (another last time). The orientation is tomorrow and unfortunately I have a bad cold since yesterday. I'm not sure if I will be able to attend. I hope I can.

I had a lot of sleep this summer too. Well, next 4 months are going to be pretty heavy. Might as well stock up on some sleep. And I loved this slow and relaxed way of life and wished I had spent the previous summers like this too. That's a regret I have. I wish I hadn't been a workaholic.

There were lots of things I couldn't figure out even in these 3 months. I still don't know what to do after this year when I pass out. Should I go for higher studies or do a job? I haven't yet figured out my true area of interest in computer science. There are a group of areas I like but none as of now which I can say is my true interest. I haven't yet finalized my BTP. More important, I couldn't decide which courses to take the coming semester. For the time being though I have decided to stop thinking of all these. This summer I had to face a lot of disappointments (other than the ones above). Thinking about them constantly makes it worse. I don't want to do that. I just want to forget it.

Overall, this summer was far from being a perfect summer. There were islands of happiness surrounded by the sea of gloom all around. It can hardly be called productive (in the workaholic sense of the word). Yet I still think it was the best I have had. I learnt lots of important lessons which I wouldn't have had otherwise. Some of it was painful though and I still mentally wince when I think about it.

I'm reminded of a quote (and the main theme) of an anime called Kino no Tabi (Kino's Journey). It says, "The world is not beautiful, therefore it is". I can apply the same here.

This summer was not beautiful, and therefore it was.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Search using Images is now a Reality

(This post was written some weeks earlier but somehow I never published it and it remained in the drafts. Some references might be a bit outdated)

Finally it has happened! We can now search for an image using another image. Yes, Content Based Image Retrieval (CBIR) has finally been rolled out by Google. You can try it out on Google Image Search.

I can't express how it felt when I saw it has been released. Indeed, it was like a dream come true. A new and long awaited dimension has been added to search. No longer are we constrained by words. Indeed, a picture is worth a thousand words.
I was (and still am) fascinated with this idea. So I thought of writing about it

Since my fourth semester (around Jan 2010) I had been fascinated with this idea. At that time it was something new to me, something I had never thought about. Basically it was this - "how would it be, if we could search using images?". Now what got me into thinking this? At that time I was taking a course named Research Methods. Our instructor (Dr. PK) had created a mailing list for discussing about interesting research. One day, he posted a link. 
Picture-driven computing: New research could enable computer programming based on screen shots, not just code.
This got me thinking. If they could program using images, then why not search using images? That's when I started getting excited about this topic. I replied enthusiastically to this post and I described CBIR in brief. At that time however I didn't know much. On searching more I found out about Google Goggles and Tineye. During the summer holidays, I devoted my spare time to find out more about this topic. The ACM Chapter at IIIT Delhi releases a half yearly newsletter called Kaleidoscope. I was part of the editorial board and wrote an article on CBIR. (You can download it here)

After going through some research papers, I felt like creating a working prototype. The Next Semester (5th sem Aug-Dec 2010) I took the Image Analysis course. That's when I thought of doing this. I and my friend Vibhas took up this as our course project.

Needless to say, we did not even aim for creating a web image search engine with CBIR. Our aim was only to create a working prototype with somewhat good accuracy. The image would be stored locally in the computer. We worked on it throughout the semester (and gradually realized that CBIR is not an easy thing to implement). Every research paper we read, gave us a new idea but at the same time pointed out the problem with another. We decided to focus only on colour, shape and texture out of which only the colour based algorithms worked with a relatively good accuracy. Even then there were problems - a search with red apple turned up images of a red Ferrari.

A Screenshot of our Image Search Engine using CBIR

Even though our implementation did not use any sophisticated algorithms, it was a wonder for many. When it was showcased in the Research Showcase, lots of people were excited to try it.

Now that I understand how difficult it is to implement on a large scale, I give me heartiest congratulations to the Google Team. You guys did what I could only dream of!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

It's Summer!

It's summer in New Delhi again. The third week of May is about to end. The days are characterized by the early rising and late setting sun. No longer is it pleasant to go outside after 10 in the morning or before 8 in the night. The afternoons are particularly unbearable. In the evening, a warm breeze blows.

Yes, summers are oppressive, particularly in Delhi. I remember how India had the system of summer capitals during the days of British rule and wish we could have the system again now. I don't ask for shifting the entire government machinery to a new would be too costly. All I want is that the government declare a new capital for the summers. The seat of the government can still stay here, but I would move out. It's just wishful thinking and impractical - that's what most would say. But for me, the summer capital reminds me of the old world which I can only experience through the words of Kipling and Ruskin Bond. A world in which life is about enjoying the cool breeze of the hills, reading novels, meeting with interesting people and writing about them...

But then there's a part of Delhi summer life which I can't live without. It is the afternoon (ironically) - which according to me is the best time of the day. There's a sense of comfort in being in a room with curtains drawn, the sun-rays outside lighting up the curtains, the dim light in the room, the fan on full speed above and lying down on a soft bed. For passing the long summer afternoon, a siesta is a must. Nothing beats it. And I look forward to it a lot. Sometimes I take a book to read and slowly immerse myself into another world, till I can stay awake no longer. Then I slowly fall asleep, the book still in my hands. I love the ambience of the room. I love the pleasure of reading a book. I love the siesta.

More than anything I love the dreamy atmosphere. And the pleasure of doing nothing.