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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The One where the quarter ends

So the best time in the quarter is when it ends! And you are basking in the California sun in the spring/summer/winter break! Yeah, welcome to CA baby, its sun-shiny all year round. Weather news apart, its interesting to see how the classes that i took this quarter designed their last class of the quarter in a real fun way! So the three courses I took were (in short), Databases(CS245), Global Entrepreneurial Marketing (MSANDE 271) and Intro to Biomedical Systems Design (BMI211/CS271).

CS245: So Hector has this real kewl idea of having a joke-break in the middle of his classes - just to wake people from going into deep slumber. The class is usually in the afternoon so people cant sometimes help going to sleep. The thing is that one guy has to volunteer to tell a joke, of course its not necessary that one do it, and in that case Hector comes prepared with his own list of poor jokes, but usually some or the other wise guy cracks a very smelly and geeky joke. Anyways, at the end of the quarter, the guy with the best joke gets the Stanford InfoLab Tshirt (pretty much a collectors item as larry and sergey were both part of the InfoLab here - though it was called the DB group then). And yea, yours truly won a Tshirt this quarter. But yet again, I was second best, Hector had 2 prizes, 1st and 2nd. Ushah won the first prize, so I am happy that both prizes stayed in Allahabad! So I am the official comedian of the class, and judging by my grade in that course, I probably was just that - a comedian!

GEM: The last class just blew me over, if you have got access to SCPD, you better watch this class - coz it was by far the most i have laughed in a class here at Stanford. All the teams (about 8 of them) had to come prepared with a 2 minute thing (could be anything from a song, a skit, a youtube video...) to present as a lessons' learnt exercise in class. And by God the teams did a jolly good job of it. Here are a few excerpts:

By Rachel Dyke and her team:

Wallace: Sons of GEM, I am Donna Novitsky.

Young soldier: Can’t be - Donna Novinsky is 7 feet tall.

Wallace: Yes, I've heard. Raises money by the billions, and if VCs were here she'd win them over with only a 2 slide DDART and an economic analysis from her arse. I am Donna Novitsky. And I see a whole army of entrepreneurs here ready to TALC any product. You have come to cross the chasm, and chasm crossers you are. What would you do with the marketing toolkit? Will you market?

Veteran soldier: Market? With only the toolkit? No, we will join the Fortune 500.

Wallace: Aye, market and you may fall into the Chasm. Give up and take your offer. And collecting your pension many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that for one chance, just one chance to come back here and tell our competitors that they may spend their millions, but they'll never take our market share!!!

Wallace and Soldiers: GEM Forever! (Scotland forever!)


Wallace: Sons of Scotland, I am William Wallace.

Young soldier: William Wallace is 7 feet tall.

Wallace: Yes, I've heard. Kills men by the hundreds, and if he were here he'd consume the English with fireballs from his eyes and bolts of lightning from his arse. I am William Wallace. And I see a whole army of my countrymen here in defiance of tyranny. You have come to fight as free men, and free men you are. What would you do without freedom? Will you fight?

Veteran soldier: Fight? Against that? No, we will run; and we will live.

Wallace: Aye, fight and you may die. Run and you'll live -- at least a while. And dying in your beds many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that for one chance, just one chance to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they'll never take our freedom!!!

Wallace and Soldiers: Alba gu bra! (Scotland forever!)

(Probably wont make much sense unless you have taken the course).

Grant and our team did this youtube video(final version differed from this one):

Of course the last presentation the teaching team made was such an inspiration and I totally recommend this class.

BMI211: Amar has always been great and brought good people to speak in his class, but this last lecture he got a former alum of the class to come and speak on CPOE systems from San Francisco, who has his own startup and he gave a really inspiring talk. Left a lasting impression.

So all in all, my take away from the last quarter:
  • Jokes win TShirts
  • A successful business is a Tango - it takes 2 - product and product marketing
  • Speak few words but speak convincingly like you totally believe in it

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Back to School - this time Stanford.

Hey! Finally the finals are over. And phew what a relief! That they were disastrous - is another story. Screw it, this post is mostly a sort of an answer to more than a couple of queries I have been getting over the past couple of weeks since the people who are gonna be at Gates and Packard started sending out admit emails!

Some of the questions are about the fact that people get admissions, not only from stanford, but from other top cs/ee programs around the US as well, and in some cases they also get a tuition waiver and stipend etc, so it sort of makes it difficult for them to decide where they should go. My suggestion - "Forget about every other college/univ if you have an admit for MS in CS at Stanford or for that matter in any other dept". As with nearly every other engineering department in Stanford, the Computer Science Department is arguably the best CS department on the planet and it is right in the middle of silicon valley - in fact stanford and berkeley together fuel the entire silicon valley and are responsible for much of the innovation around here. So if you are involved in high tech/engineering, there is no better place to be at than Stanford. And if you are someone with a slightly entrepreneurial bent of mind, then you better get your ass here, this place has entrepreneurship in its air! (Disclaimer: There are specific areas with CS/EE which are perhaps better at other CS/EE Depts in the US, but overall, nothing beats Stanford)

Another question is that of Research Assistantship at Stanford and also Teaching Assistantship at Stanford. Well if you can code, and also demonstrate that you can code well, then there is a lot of opportunity for an RA in the numerous research groups all over campus. The CS department itself has many positions open and so does the EE department, but if you are also in the mood of phd, then its slightly more easier. But even without that, EE is like the biggest deparment on campus (or so i have heard) and hence has lots of positions. But people get a lot of programming related jobs at SLAC, Medical School, Medical Informatics, Radiology, Genetics Research, Mechanical related research groups, vagayra, vagayra, vagayra...and of course other engineering deparments, etc. You need to convince people that you can do the job and have some past expertise/experience in that field, and you are in! You cannot expect to get an RA if your chief motive is to learn!! Although, what you can get is a chance to do an independent study under a professor here for units that may count toward your degree, in case you want to learn something and again it needs some convincing.

I dont want to be biased here, so for other departments, especially like Mechanical, there also exist a lot of research assistantship opportunities. And people in the MS&E program also manage somehow to convert an independent study into a 25 or 50 % RA over the course of a few quarters. And so is the case with other departments also, but not everyone is assured an RA.

The TAs are actually called CAs here - course assistants. So the thing is that you need to take a course to actually TA for it! But that could change if you are a PhD candidate and not a Masters candidate. Oh, and btw, to CA for a course, you also need to have scored an A- or above to be able to become the CA for it ;)

Another thing on RAs is that the only thing that determines that you get an RA in the first quarter is - are you ready for this - luck! Believe it or not, the only thing that will get you an RA right in the first quarter is basically keeping your eyes and ears open. And of course persistence. Here are a few reponses i got when i was looking for an RA. People who are nice try to help out but then its not that simple. But most of the guys(CS and EE) have an RA by the second quarter and the rest by the third quarter. It may also happen that you get an RA for a few quarters and then have to look for another the rest of the quarters. I forgot to mention above that, just like the more than one tax slabs that we have in India, there are more than one kind of RAs - 2 to be exact - a 50% RA (which covers 100% tuition and pays really good stipend! - 20hrs per week) and the 25% RA(which covers 50% tuition and pays 0.5 times really good stipend - 10 hrs per week). God only know why they call them 50% and 25%, am sure some guy missed a multiplication or a decimal point somewhere!

Campus jobs - so till the time one doesnt get an RA, they can work at other places on campus - these are jobs which pay by the hour (in the range from 13-25 $ per hour) and are good for pocket money - and there is not dearth of such jobs on campus. These jobs range from everything from administrative (think clerk) to jobs in the lib, to programming jobs on short term, etc. In fact there are lists that people should join in case they are not already on it regardless of their dept - ee-jobs@lists.stanford.edu,
wics_jobs@lists.stanford.edu (dunno if this works)
soccerforfun (this one is if you like soccer - not for a job)

You need to send an email to
majordomo@lists.Stanford.EDU with the body - 'subscribe recruting' if you wanna subscribe to recruiting list, without the single quotes.

Monthy expenses?? Well good question, really depends on the person as such. But here is a brief financial analysis:

Housing+Medical Insurance = $600 - $900 per month (depends on where you live and what medical insurance you have - i suggest Cardinal Care as it is comprehensive but expensive, Housing - if you go for a 1room/double occupany - its going to be 200$ cheaper than a 2room/double occupancy, per month)
Food - (going by an average of $15 per day on 3 meals (roughly $5 per meal) you can do that math which amounts to - $450 per month (this can be significantly reduced if you cook yourself - around $200 if you cook yourself)
Groceries - keep aside $150 here per month
Phone calls - with a $10 Reliance Call Card here you can talk for more than 2 hours to your girlfriend in India - so there is hope for those entering a long distance relationship!
Travel - if you are a good boy and study is all that you do - you wont be doing a lot of traveling to San Francisco or even Palo Alto, within stanford the idiotic Marguerite Shuttle is phokat ka $0!
Initial (First Time) Expenses - Microwave($30-50), bike ($50-$300), Laptop ($700-$1300), rest of the things depending on person($anyones guess!)

These figures would really depend on your kind of lifestyle, so keep that in mind. Also, the biggest expense is always gonna be the tuition - $7620 for 10 or less units per quarter, and if you want to have time to breathe, there is no point in taking more units than that in a quarter. But if you wanna be a smarty pants - its over $11k per quarter for over 10 units in engineering.

Books - well unless you really know what you wanna study here its difficult to decide on which books to bring, i did in fact bring books from india to this place, but i ended up not taking those courses and so it was really not worth it. You can also try to get books from people who took that course last year, so you really dont need to bring all books, some can a be brought along. Many books are not that costly on amazon - especially the ones which are 'used and new'. BUT - If you are planning on giving quals, then you might as well bring the whole basta(bag) - as much will fit in your boria-bistar.

Internship paisa - In an internship here you can easily make anywhere from $4k to $8k, average being $5K (this is my guess), per month. So for a 3 month period, you can probably make some good amount of money, if you dont squander all of that on alcohol, clubing, and gambling ;)

More fundas:

  • Stanford opens so many doors, its sorta a ticket to... well...many thing which wouldnt be possible elsewhere, so if you have an admit here, dont give it up that easily.
  • Plus the weather! If you have traveled in the DTC buses from Dhaula Kuan to Iffco Chowk in the middle of summer or a packed BMC bus from Majestic to Vijaynagar in April, you know what heat is like. Welcome to Hotel California, where the sun always shines but never too brightly to scorch you. This part of the world has some of the best weather all round the year.
  • Great companies are near by - so internships and jobs are much easier to come by as compared to going to a college which is not in the middle of so much industrial activity - but dont think its going to be a cake walk, competition is so high that sometimes getting even a single offer could be really really tough.
  • Indian stores are nearby, in fact I am munching on Haldiram's Khatta Meetha Mix as i write this - damn its getting over fast!
  • Great pedigree and peers!
  • Great opportunity to polish those social/extra-curricular skills in terms of classes on dances, singing, playing instruments, playing any game that exists (count cricket out), though with 3 courses and an RA (which is 1.5 courses worth of load) you probably would be lucky to get proper sleep, let alone take that Salsa class with sweet chics in it.
There are probably many more questions that you might want to get answered, I would try my best to answer them on email/blog. Though i may be a bit sluggish in replying, depending how hard i am getting whipped here!

Hope this helped :-)

Monday, March 19, 2007

I only wish if I...

You know that feeling right...that you wish you had done something in the past which you missed out on because you never paid too much attention to it, or you were too shy, or just didnt have time or may be the stars conspired against you. I am feeling that right now. I know its the finals and I should be studying and deep inside my books and Hector's slides, but somehow I am a bit sad that I missed out on what I did. And that thing is - gaming on the LAN at my Alma mater, the Indian Institute of Information Technology, Allahabad, for short IIITA. I only wish I had gamed and gamed till I dropped. I only wish I had cursed/shouted myself hoarse in that Advanced Programming Lab in CC1. I only wish I knew the moves to ducking and blowing the brains out of my opponent out there on the LAN. I wish I knew that when someone said 'Fire in the hole', there was no fire in no hole.

But I can only wish, for I never did play. And now I regret. Anyways, at least I play Foosball now, big scale down from gaming on the LAN, but oh well...I guess i took the road less traveled.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

More about life as a grad student

Hi Guys, thought that instead of acting as a reporter for events on campus, I was act as a reporter for happenings in my life. So been a really hectic journey this quarter. Its almost over with finals looming over my head. This last part of the quarter is really one big roller coaster. Anyways, kinda funny what happened to me last weekend. And dont take this as a revenge post or me trying to get back at someone - but this guy that I know here - he ditched me 3 times in 2 days - I got up at 9:30 on a Saturday to rendezvous with him (we had to go somewhere) and he was fast asleep till 12. Then, we had to order something from the market, and he never even called me to ask me what I wanted, so I was left without milk and bread - no breakfast for next 3 days :( . Then after promising to show up for a thing we needed to go together - he didnt even have the courtesy to call and cancel - no, his mantra - "Just dont show up and people will understand!" Well for people reading this blog, just a simple word of trying to be punctual, trying to be on time, goes a long way, i mean you dont have to hold the door open for me while we both are exiting Starbucks, but at least dont slam it on my face. I felt like such a fool, you know how that saying goes, fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice and shame on me!

Anyways, and this week an exact opposite thing happens. Imagine this - you scrap someone (random) with a query on orkut and they actually reply back with details in an email! On further questions, they call you for exact and detailed information. My God I was impressed. Thanks R**m! I mean these little acts of doing a little bit more than what people expect really really do you a lot of good. I mean it might not get you a PhD in Computer Science, but it will make the world a better place. I dont know if I am sounding philosophical, but hey - I really believe this.

In other news, I now blog for the Unofficial Stanford Blog . I posted a blog on Holi last week. Probably wont post for a while, finals are really killing me. And also, my research work has been hectic for sometime. I am building this online tool which will help microarray researchers and clinical researchers. And the whole apache permissions and PHP had given me a tough time, but thank God with some help and lot of hair-pulling I have been able to get somewhere. Even under all this work, I took some time off to watch this movie - Road to Guantanamo. You can catch the trailer here:

Its a real powerful movie, showcasing some really sad events which took place post 9/11.

In other news, Suchit finally made it UC Santa Cruz for his PhD in Computer Science. Alok Parlikar is also coming this way, probably going to CMU (might change to Wisc-Mad). Folks from IIITA are waiting to hear about their admits from Stanford and so am I. All the best guys.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Thomas Friedman and the First Law of Petro-Politics

So the last week was the Entrepreneurial Week as promoted by the US Congress and also celebrated with fanfare here on campus. But also, we had the prestigious Stanford Environment Conference - Energy Crossroads, 2007. And though the entrepreneurial week kickoff had some really good speakers (I wanna blog about that later), the one guy who blew me off my feet just by his oratory skills and the way he drove his point home was the NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman. I mean the guy is a genius. Fit to be the President of the US, the guy is so sharp and has such a keen intellect. I mean his 1.5 hour long lecture was at no point a boring thing - he kept his audience spell bound at all times. For example he would say - 'please switch off all your cell phones, pages, pace makers, etc'. And the close to 2000 people in the Memorial Auditorium would burst into laughter. But he put forth some fascinating ideas which were like thus (the draft is kinda rough as I am mostly reproducing my notes which i took while listening to his lecture):

1. Projecting America in a green way could be a way to re-unite the nation in a new way.

2. Jobs, Temperature and Terrorism are the big questions facing America at the dawn of the 21st century - but cannot be addressed by an America divided in red, blue and green states.

3. After ww2 Eisenhower used the threat of communism to build the highway system - to move weapons - lead to atrophy of railway system - US became addicted to cars - i(Friedman) am not here to propose radically altering our car culture - but we do need to fuel our future in a clean way - the next president has to unite us on clean energy.

4. We (the US) is funding both sides of the war - buying oil from Saudi Arabia and thus funding the 15 out of the 19 people responsible for 9/11 (who were from Saudi). Suggested reading - "The Looming Tower" by Lawrence Wright.

5. The First Law of Petro-Politics: The price of oil and the freedom operate conversely - as the price goes up pace freedom goes down, if oil is at $30 per barrel people in states like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Angola, Nigeria will demand and get more freedom, but when it is close to $70, less freedom in the countries.

6. The US army was a critical instrument for civil rights in this country - if the army goes green - it could be a hugely important institution for making green the new red, white and blue.

7. If China keeps growing at 8% a year, it will have the same per capita as us in 2021, will have a per day consumption of oil equal to 99 million barrels, while the world today produces only 84 million barrels.

8. You cannot tell China and India that we have gone dirty, you go green. In fact China and India already warned us.

9. This year(2006), what shocked me, daffodils in my drive way in Washington DC in January, first time in living memory, Moscow had a Christmas without snow, UK had the highest temperature since it started recording its weather in 1600s.

10.The good news is that people are alive to the problem - we have to avoid going past the doubling of the CO2 level in atmosphere as compared to the eve of the industrial revolution. Here is our challenge - if we do nothing - we will go past doubling in year 2056 - to avoid going past that doubling - and help India china and Brazil - for us to do that will require the biggest industrial project in the history of mankind.

11. 26 trillion watts of energy are required by then, we generate 13 trillion - if we wanna continue to grow from 13 to 26 in a clean green way - we will basically have to generate the rest of the 13 tri from green means - if we do it from nuclear power - we need to build 13000 nuclear reactors - that is like little over 1 a day for the next 30 years.

12. the only thing that can drive tech innovation at that scale is Wall street - challenge is to get green power down to the china price - if we dont have clearn green power scalable to prices in china, India and Brazil - we would be worse off - the real math problem is how do we get these clean green techs down to the China or India price

13. We want to own the technology - but we want to do it at their price - to scale at the china price - unfortunately we dont have an energy policy in this country but energy politics.

14. How nuts is it to invest in ethanol - God bless California - because of the regulations of this state - per capita use of electricity has been flat for the last 30 years - what CA is doing should be should be federal regulation.

15. Who can name the latest energy innovation in this country - dont bother - nuclear power - 1955 - Germany is buying all the silicon - they dont even have Sun out here in Germany - I was in Texas - we have the Saudi Arabia of wind between here in texas and North Dakota - but he had to go to 10 diff regulatory utility companies.

16. Toshiba makes the nuclear plants in Japan - they hv a 40 yr plan - do u know a company in the US with a 1 yr plan.

17. Where is the million person march for green energy - did i miss that - most social reform movements in history - start as protest movements - build a coalition and show that to the government - so i am where i began - the good news - green is the new red white and blue - but are we fooling ourselves?

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Holi at Stanford - Desi Ishtyle

Holi, the very popular annual Hindu Spring festival was celebrated at Manzanita Park this last Saturday with lots of colors, water and some mud as well! Holi marks the onset of spring in India. So why is Holi celebrated?? Well there are various stories in ancient Hindu texts but the three most important reasons can be found here.

But on campus the Hindu Students Council had really done a good job of guaranteeing a good party sans alcohol! People smeared each other with colored powders (gulal) and threw water on each other. Of course as the party progressed, puddles formed on the ground, much to the enjoyment of everyone. In fact the moment I entered the park, a gang of 5 caught hold of me and dragged me into the mud and smeared it all over me! That was my initiation into the Holi celebrations. People then started sliding in the mud which by then had become so slippery - it was difficult to even walk without slipping. The desi music was loud and the DJ was good, people danced to popular Holi numbers like "O Rang Barse" and various others. It was nice to see people from various countries and faiths participate with equal zest. But one thing that was missing was Bhaang (Cannabis sativa)! This is a herb which causes people to laugh a lot! Believe me, drink a litre of it and you wont stop laughing till the evening. In India, Bhaag is mixed with milk and served as something called 'thandai'. Last year on Holi (I was in India then), i just couldnt stop consuming it and I was out for 2 days, in fact I went beyond laughing, I was so high - I couldnt come down for the next two days. And unlike, alcohol, the high of bhaang is sticky, no coffee, no cold shower will ever help you!

Back to the Holi on campus - so after people were done with the Holi on Manzanita Park, it was time to wash themselves - and Stanford with its many fountains provided the perfect second round. A few good men (and women) who remained after the official party, then walked over to the Red Hoop fountain! Everyone jumped in and tried to create a whirlpool inside it. Next on the cards was the Claw Fountain - again - whirlpool. After this we all walked down to the Tanner Fountain in front of the Hoover Tower. On the way, we met a bunch of tourists looking at us semi-clad, almost cavemen like people strutting down white plaza. To one of the bewildered souls I said - "Welcome to Stanford!".

So, colors, water, mud, fountain hopping were what Holi 2007 was all about at Stanford. If you think you missed one helluva party, there is another Holi going to take place on the 25th here on campus. That is going to be a bigger party!