Monday, February 19, 2007
The first thing that struck me was that this guy was tall - man he was really tall! And he was wearing this black overcoat looking more like a CIA agent than a computer scientist! He asked me the time. I was like Oh My God - the Great Don himself is asking me for the time - it was 10 minutes to 10. "There are still 30 minutes for the train", assuming that even i was heading North toward San Francisco where he was going. "Oh my train is gonna be here in 10 minutes, I am going to San Jose". "Oh..!", he said. Anyways, he had a small folder with him and sat down
on a bench at the platform. The sun was bright without a cloud in sky - the typical sunny California weather. Now, I didn't feel like bothering him as he had opened a set of papers and was going about his business of being a computer scientist - even on the bench - but I still had to talk him. I couldn't give up this once in a lifetime opportunity.
So I walked up to the bench, and started - "So Don, can I ask you something? Why did you give up email so early on?". I know it was dumb questions given he has the answer on his website but still i needed a pick-up line! "Oh i have it on my web page, and the thing is that I couldn't even get started with work before 1pm as I was so busy answering people's email - and so i decided to give it up. Plus I had used 15-19 nears of email and that i thought was enough for a life time. Plus sometimes people would send me problems who's solutions they would expect and if i couldn't come up with one they liked, I would have to hear lots of unpleasant words". Me said - "So how much money did you end up giving as part of your books claim of giving money to people who pointed out errors in your book?" - Another dumb question I think - "Oh I think i have given out around 25K dollars as rewards! But people are nice and then don't en cash the checks, I just filed my income tax returns but i saw that none of the people had en cashed the checks - I saw to them - take a xerox of the check and keep that and en cash the original". Another question - "So how did you get started on La TeX? I mean we have a rumor going on in India at least in my school that you had a graduate student who had problems and in order to solve those problems you guys ended up creating LaTeX". "Well", he said, "that is not true about TeX( i felt like a fool calling it LaTeX!), the thing was that i wrote books and the publishers at that time printed them out in such a manner that made me cry! So decided to do something about it - and then I had a graduate student who was very smart - but you know the thing is that PhD is kinda weird a degree - in the sense that its not like BS or MS that you dont have exam to pass to get the degree - so therefore, a good student is not necessarily a good PhD student, and a good PhD student is not necessarily a good BS/MS student. Like my father, a wonderful man God Bless him, could never be a good PhD, but he was an excellent student. So I told this student of mine to try a couple of problems as warm up problems and see where it goes. And so he worked on it a bit. Plus I in a class that I was taking at that time - we were working on how some tools we used could help music researchers in their work - the thing with music is that their notes, when written on paper, cannot be half on one life and half on the other - and someone pointed out in class, we can use a similar structure for text formatting as well!".
In the middle of the conversation, Don asked me where i was from and what my background was. He wrote my name on his paper in his folder!!! That was exciting! He told me he had heard about the trouble in Kashmir. He knew a bit of Bengali - he said. I asked him where he was going in SFO, he said there was an invitation from some Stanford Society and then there was an Opera Premier that he really wanted to go to! And he showed me his tickets for that too. Then I told him what Jeff Ullman had mentioned to us in his Data Mining class - "In Computer Science, these days, you don't need to solve an NP hard problem to make money, all you need to do is make a video uploading site, what us your take on that? - Too bad my train just pulled into the Cal Ave station - and I had to leave - but without a smile - Don said - "He is a pragmatist! Goodbye" in the same breath!
Never in my life have I wished the train to be late as last Saturday. And thank God it was late that day by 7-8 minutes.
Saturday, February 17, 2007
Tom Kosnik, who by the way i just admire - part of the faculty team for GEM, posed a question in class - "Name a few companies you would want to work for?" - Of course everyone named companies like:
- a few startups
- Sequoia Capital
- IBM Research
- Kleiner Perkins
And then I heard two names - Infosys Consulting and Biocon. Ok - it was me who said Infosys consulting - but man the moment I heard Biocon from someone who was not an Indian and probably never lived in India - i couldnt believe my ears. I mean this is a really really sought after class and that too in Stanford - a class of 86 people - some of them - the smartest people on the planet - and they want to work in Biocon! Man this is just fantastic. Anyways, thought I would tell all you guys out there that we are really building companies which people want to work in - not just people living in India - but people across the globe - has mighty India arrived?
About Gaurav's blog and the Forbes article, well, the thing that someone took time out to bullshit us, well that in itself sorta says something! I think the comment on Gaurav's blog rebutting the arguments was really cool. I somehow agree with the view that complacency is really not requrired, we need ever more Ratan Tatas, Narayan Murthys, Kiran Majumdar Shaws et al - and need to do something about the living standards, the infrastructure, but we are getting there - and the point about solving all those problems first and then going forward with rest of the things is at best an idiotic thought. The article sort of smack of a veritable rebuke if anything, the author had facts to back it - but i did not see any reason to use language which would come off as offensive to people like me and you(perhaps). Khair, take home message I think is that it (the article) was a good reality check - and we need to keep reminding ourselves not to slow down - as the sang in Lagaan - "chale chalo chale chalo!"
Sunday, February 04, 2007
Then on the other hand I think - I may well be that frustrated grad student on campus!! Trust me I am not - but something is surely amiss here.
Which brings me to another related topic - why are the American born kids of Indian parents called ACBD - i think i know coz i was something close to that - born in India but grew up outside for a significant portion of the time. The reason is that when they are out of their homes the culture around their American friends is really different from what they are taught in their homes by their parents - parents born and brought up in India. So, its really not their fault. And probably unfair to call them ABCD, its really not their fault.
BTW - for the uninitiated - ABCD = American Born Confused Desi
Thursday, February 01, 2007
Q: So Ambassador, are you people in India worried about Hindu extremism?
A: Yes! Yes - period! So the I was taking to someone yesterday and i told them what makes us Indian - its not a piece of territory - its not our flag, its not even out national anthem - its our tolerance and respect for diversity, diversity in religion, races, cultures, languages, even culinary diversity! We are not just tolerant, but are respectful of someone else's cultures and beliefs. India was a civilization first, then a nation, then a state.......and he continued......
Anyways, so I went up to him and he was really very approachable - even though he was surrounded by the top ranking government people. So I said to him - sir i am rahul thathoo and i belong to Kashmir. Now a while back there was a talk on campus about how India and its alliance with Israel was a terrible thing. Sir, what do people think that Muslims of the valley are the only sufferers, what doesn't India make it a point to highlight the pain and suffering of the Kashmiri Hindus. I mean we are refugees in our own country - and what is the government doing for us. People think that there are only Kashmiri Muslims who are the sufferers, I mean who will think of us. Just because we are fewer than them doesn't mean that we would be thrown to the dustbin.
His answer was more of a soothing reply - I know what you are taking about and I feel your pain, believe me I have visited those parts of Kashmir. And I know the exodus was so fast and you guys were really made to leave faster than what happened to people in the Balkans. But we are doing ....... someone else interrupted him then.....leaving much to be said (and done!).
We ended on a good note, he shook hands with me and my roommate who was also there, and gave his business card to both of us and left in his luxury (small) limo.
Hopefully he will remember the Kashmiri Pandit plight and will let the international community know about us and our plight.