Maze & PhD

Imagine you are somewhere in a maze. And it’s dark. And all directions look almost the same. That’s how things are initially when one starts PhD.

And then when we discuss with our advisor, who knows a lot of intricacies of the maze and the way around it, one of the directions seems better and we start exploring that with a bit more confidence.

After some time (or days) again all directions look more or less similar, we are lost and feel as if we don’t know the way around. A chat with our advisor again, and things seem better and we pursue a direction that looks promising.

This process repeats. Again and again.

And gradually, we ourselves start getting to know some of the intricacies of some parts of the maze. We are not as confused exploring the way around the maze as we initially were. We know some parts of the maze so well that we can literally move around with our eyes closed!

There can be different metrics of success in a maze. Sometimes it is about finding a path out from some region of the maze. At other times, it is about finding something cool and interesting on the way in the maze itself. Not all explorations result in success (actually most don’t)! Most explorations end up in a dead-end!

These results about the interesting things we find around the maze as well as the routes we explored are the things which we share with others at conferences, and in more detail in journals. It’s our way of giving back and sharing our experience of our journey around our region of the maze.

It is good to have friends and peers who are in different stages in the maze. We can share our experiences around our regions of the maze with each other. We can help and motivate others when they feel stuck on a route. Together we can be pillars of support for one another!

The maze itself is not fixed, it keeps changing dynamically over time. And experts like our advisors can mostly predict how it will evolve in the long run. And thus sometimes things which worked in the past might not work in the future; at the same time, things which didn’t work in the past might now work due to the changes in the maze!

A comprehensive exam tests if one knows the basics of the maze and is capable to explore it around. It also tests if one is resilient against failures and is strong-willed to try again with the lessons learnt from the past failures.

Similarly, the state of the art exam is where one looks at other people who have navigated around the maze, the actions they took, the routes they explored and the outcomes they got based on it. Based on these learnings, we build upon and answer some new questions regarding some other parts of the maze or even regarding some existing regions which have been explored previously but the maze has changed since then.

Different mazes have different levels of popularity. Some mazes are so popular that there is a lot of buzz and hustle-bustle around. In these mazes, many people are interested in the new results, however, it is hard to do some novel work. Also, in such mazes, there is a tendency of peer-pressure such that people are pulled in the direction which others are moving towards. On the other hand, some other mazes are not as crowded. There may not be as many people around who can appreciate new findings and results, but that doesn’t mean that these mazes should not be explored. After all, to each his own!

Different domains have different types of maze. Each has its own specifics and intricacies. Mostly we are free to choose the kind of maze we want to explore and try to become experts in. And accordingly, we choose an advisor who can help us in the process. Ideally, an advisor is not just someone who is an expert of a specific kind of maze but also someone whose personality gels with ours.

At the end of our PhD, we pen down the whole journey around the maze, with the experiences we had around the maze, the lessons we learnt, the successes (and failures) we experienced on the way, and that’s our thesis!

And we not just become an expert in some part of the maze, we also discover ourself and our own capabilities and strengths in the process. Once someone has a PhD, the person is expected to explore and find the way around any part of the maze. That’s because it’s not just about knowing the maze well enough, but the capability to navigate in any part of the maze!

Happy exploration around the maze!

IC: https://www.flickr.com/photos/devolve/14324394240/in/photostream/

Turning 30: Looking back & looking ahead

I’m turning 30 pretty soon! And it’s literally freaking me out! I was looking back at some of my past posts and I saw my own post titled “Age is just a number!” I’m surprised that I said that! I read through it and I guess apart from the opening paragraph where I say age is just a number, everything else still seems fine…

30 is a huge milestone! Completing three decades on the planet seems like a really long time. It’s also for the first time that it feels like time is slipping like sand from my hands. This brings an image of a sand-clock in my mind, where I don’t know how much sand is there in the top part! Coincidentally, along with my 30th birthday, the calendar decade is also coming to an end. So my 30s, as well as a new decade of 2020s, start almost together! Surprisingly I had never realized this before probably because I didn’t care about my age in the past!

When we complete the first 10 years, we are just kids and it’s like just another birthday where we have fun being kids. Another 10 years and 20th birthday feels good and gives feels of turning into an adult. The twenties pass by where we mostly complete our education and start working. Life is cool! For the first time in life, the 30th birthday seems huge! It’s the first birthday of my life which is such a big deal for me, otherwise, I have always been pretty chilled out and cool about my birthdays.

I think this 30th milestone birthday is also a good opportunity to think, introspect, reflect back and plan forward. At this goalpost, it’s a good time to objectively think of the decisions we have taken, the choices we have made, our successes and failures, the lessons we have learned, the people we have met, the dreams and plans we have, our hopes and our overall Self. It looks like an appropriate checkpoint to consolidate the life we have lived thus far as well as to re-evaluate our priorities and future ahead.

I thought instead of freaking more about turning 30, I’ll collect some of the key learnings of my life which I learned while completing 30 revolutions around the Sun. We remember recent things than things far back in the past and thus even these lessons might be mostly based on recent years rather than from times long ago.

People

  1. Parents: Parents are special people who genuinely care for us (in most cases). They might not always understand us and sometimes they just fail to get the context of the things we say (probably due to the generation gap). However, it is good to remember that they (in most cases) always intend our well-being. They sacrifice so much of us, their kids, that it makes me genuinely wonder, how and why someone would do that! But they do that and mostly they do that without any regrets! At the same time, they are also humans just like us and make mistakes just like everyone else, including us. It’s best to always shower our love on them and be a receiver of their blessings, as long as we are blessed to have them in our lives.

  2. Mentors: It is difficult for family and friends to be objective towards us. Our friends are sailing the same boat as us, so in most cases, they might lack the larger perspective. And this points to why it is important to have mentors in life. A mentor is like a lighthouse; always there and ready to guide in the right direction. They can give a pat on the back as well as be critical when required. It’s a blessing to find a mentor who matches our personality and on whom we can completely trust.

    “A mentor is someone who sees more talent and ability within you, than you see in yourself, and helps bring it out of you.” ~Bob Proctor

  3. Friends: Friends make our lives fun! It’s not necessary to have a lot of friends. My friends and my friend-list are completely different things. A few close friends to count on are more than enough. At the same time, it’s always good to be on the lookout for new friends. Sometimes we never know that the people we meet might turn out to be ideal friends. Finally, it’s not necessary to have friends of similar age-group. Sometimes people elder (or even younger) can be friends. Also, people’s priorities change over time, so not everyone can be a friend for a lifetime.

  4. Everyone else in the world: Everybody will have an opinion about everything under the sky, including ourselves. And that’s totally okay. The same is true even for us, even we have an opinion or point of view about everything. But the important point here is to take others’ opinions with a pinch of salt, not to care too much about others’ opinions and to take decisions and choices based on our own will and preferences.

  5. Happy to be alone: The world might be filled with people. But there is only one person who knows us exactly how we are, and that’s our own Self. Thus it’s a great skill to be happy and calm in our own company.

    “I think it’s very healthy to spend time alone. You need to know how to be alone and not be defined by another person.” ~Oscar Wilde

    Life

  6. Money: Of course money is important in life. Money can make our lives simpler and smoother. However, it is also important to remember that money is not everything. If we take the major decisions of our life only on the basis of money, then it might not necessarily be the best thing to do. In my life, I have taken some key decisions without keeping money as the top criteria. And I have never regretted those decisions!

  7. Traveling: One of the best ways to broaden our outlook is to travel (like an explorer or local and not like a tourist). It gives us the opportunity to see the world from a bigger perspective. We understand the commonalities and differences among different cultures including why things are how they are! We learn to adapt ourselves to different environments and discover some of our own characteristics which we ourselves might not be aware of!

  8. Hobbies: All work and no play definitely makes Jack a dull and boring boy. So it’s good and essential to have some hobbies in life. It’s good to try and explore things that we are passionate about and spend some time on those. For example, I like photography, playing keyboard, reading books, etc. Whenever I take a break, I do some of these things. And these hobbies are like restarting a computer! It refreshes our brain and then we get back to our work in a much better state.

  9. Learn: Learning is a life long process. It enhances our skills and helps us gain knowledge and a broader outlook on life. It also makes us adapt better in changing times where we are able to learn things that are necessary for survival in the new context. Even otherwise, learning just for the sake of satisfying curiosity is cool!

    “The capacity to learn is a gift; the ability to learn is a skill; the willingness to learn is a choice.” ~Brian Herbert.


  10. Passion: Finding something which makes us lose sleep, something which excites our neurons and something that we don’t get bored of, is hard. Not everyone finds it! However, just in case if we think that something is a probable candidate, don’t let it go just like that! Work on it and try it out! In the short term, we might have to sacrifice or give up things to pursue it, however in the long term it is worth it! Nothing can be more satisfying than doing things that we are truly passionate about in life!

    “The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” ~Steve Jobs

    “Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.” ~Oprah Winfrey

  11. Health: Health is wealth! And gradually I’m realizing this. Until my mid-20s, whatever I ate, however much I ate and whether I exercised or not didn’t matter. My weight was constant and my energy levels always high. However, since my late 20s, I have gradually started noticing that my weight and energy levels vary based on the kind of food and the amount of food I eat. Exercise is essential! Also, it is better to stay fit and avoid illness rather than curing it! Maintaining good health requires consistent efforts by ourself, for ourself, on ourself.

    Lessons

  12. Do what you can: Sometimes our actions might seem insignificant. They might not have tremendous effects, as we may wish to be. Yet, if our actions are based on our principles and if it is what we want to do, then we should do it anyway. Repeated and consistent efforts can have a compounding effect in the long run and sometimes it is difficult to imagine that when we start.

    One day, an old man was walking along a beach that was littered with thousands of starfish that had been washed ashore by the high tide. As he walked he came upon a young boy who was eagerly throwing the starfish back into the ocean, one by one. Puzzled, the man looked at the boy and asked what he was doing. Without looking up from his task, the boy simply replied, “I’m saving these starfish, Sir”. The old man chuckled aloud, “Son, there are thousands of starfish and only one of you. What difference can you make?” The boy picked up a starfish, gently tossed it into the water and turning to the man, said, “I made a difference to that one!” ~adapted from The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley.

  13. Ownership: Taking ownership means associating our selves with the things we do. When we own something, we are responsible for it and we take care of it. Similarly, when we take ownership of our work, we connect our self with it and then we give our 100% to improve it, get it to a point we want it to be and be proud of it. Also if things we own, don’t work out the way we want them to be, we feel responsible regarding it and think of solutions rather than escape routes or excuses.

  14. Believe in our Self: When things don’t exactly happen the way we want it to be, sometimes we blame the circumstances and sometimes we doubt ourselves. Either approach is not appropriate. Of course, not everything will happen as planned, that doesn’t mean that it’s due to our incompetence, there might be so many other factors involved. Thus it’s essential to always have faith in our own self and to always be our own best friend!

    “Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” ~A. A. Milne 

  15. Be kind: Each and every one of us is on our own journey. It is always easy to judge others or be critical of others. However, just like nobody exactly knows our journey except ourself, similarly we can never know others’ true story and what is going on in their life. Thus it’s always best to be kind, not only to others but to ourselves as well. Also, not just with the people but with all the beings we interact with (like animals and plants).

    “We are all smart. Distinguish yourself by being kind.” ~Prof. Charles Gordon


  16. Have hope: Hope is the only thing that keeps us moving forward. One might have big dreams and elaborate plans but if there is no hope, then it is hard to execute what we want to do. Sometimes, the kind of things that happen in the world makes us wonder if this is the place we want to be? Are we heading in the right direction? But come what may, it is important to never lose hope!

  17. Compromise on the small stuff: Not every battle needs to be fought. It’s okay to let go and not delve into small stuff. These small issues if pursued fervently consume a lot of our time and energy than what it’s worth. Thus it’s okay to let go of small things or stuff that doesn’t matter to us and focus on the bigger goals at hand. Know which games to play and which to ignore!

  18. Ask for help: For me, it’s difficult to ask for help. It feels as though I’m incompetent when I cannot solve my own problems. Thus asking for help hurts my ego. However, I have realized that not all battles are meant to be fought alone. Just talking with someone regarding our problems doesn’t make us incompetent. On the other hand, it provides us different points of view of the problem which we might have not known or ignored. It’s okay to talk to someone we trust in difficult times and ask for help. It’s okay to be vulnerable in our trusted circles.

  19. Okay to fail: I am also the one who always strives for success in everything I do. However, practically it is not always possible to be successful in everything we do. And with this attitude, when failure strikes, it hits real hard. Also when we just focus on the end goal, we forget to enjoy the process. Now onwards, my goal is to normalize failures. It’s should be okay to fail sometimes. I will try to synthesize lessons from my failures and try to move on rather than lingering too long over it. (But I also know that it’s easier said than done!)

  20. Perfection: In continuation, my attitude has also been to be perfect in everything I do. And sometimes, it’s good as it leads to outcomes which are of high quality. However, in most cases, it requires a lot of energy to create perfect results which may not necessarily be required. Also, perfection also has human limits because of which however hard we try, for some goals we just cannot be any more perfect. Also, this attitude of perfection deprives us of experiencing and being happy about things in which we might not be perfect. For example, it’s not necessary that I may draw perfectly, but I can be happy about whatever I draw even though it might not be perfect. Now onwards, I will try to incorporate perfection within limits (not sure something like that is feasible!) and sometimes intentionally leave things to be imperfect when perfection is not that critical.

  21. Take risks: Staying always in the comfort zone is boring. It might be safe but nothing exciting happens there. It is important for us to step outside of our comfort zones sometimes and do the things we want to do. As it is said, no risk, no return! We must be able to take measured risks in life.

    “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far it is possible to go.” ~T.S. Eliot


  22. Stay strong: In some situations in life, we are helpless. Terminal diseases, deaths, major accidents, etc. are things that are not wished for even for enemies. And yet sometimes we find our loved ones and the people we care about, in those situations. It literally breaks our heart and there is nothing much that we can do about it. Feeling helpless is a terrible feeling! The only thing that we must remember in such times is to stay strong!

  23. Accept both good and bad emotions: In a world that is constantly pushing the message about being positive, it’s relieving to know that sometimes it is okay to be not positive. We have a variety of emotions like happiness, sadness, surprise, fear, anxiety, guilt, etc. Some emotions are positive and some seem to be negative. It’s okay for us to feel all these emotions and not just positive emotions. Suppressing “bad” emotions can adversely affect our well-being. On the other hand, a better strategy is to think why are we feeling those emotions and can we do something about it?

    Future

  24. Have goals: It is important to have goals in life. Without goals, life seems meaningless. A goal gives us the purpose to wake up each day and to do something so that we are a little closer to the goal. Goals should be personalized and be regarding things that are important and meaningful for us. For example, one can have goals like losing x kgs of weight in an year or walking y kms every month or writing at least 1 paper per semester, etc.

    If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there. ~Lewis Carroll

  25. Plans: Life is unpredictable. We don’t know what will happen next year, next month or even the next day. However, that does not mean that we should just give up and let things happen as they happen over time. Our actions have the power to change the course of what can happen, just that it is not deterministic. Thus it is always good to have plans, both short and long term. At the same time, one must be aware that things might not happen exactly as planned and it’s okay to dynamically update the plans over time. Plans should chalk out a route to attain our goals.

    कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन | मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भूर्मा ते सङ्गोऽस्त्वकर्मणि || 2.47 ||

    You have a right to perform your prescribed duties, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your actions. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, nor be attached to inaction.
    – Bhagavad Gita, Chapter II, Verse 47

  26. Dream: Goals are specific. But dreams are generic. It can be about anything we want to do or achieve or see happening in our life or in the world in general. It can be some crazy idea to build something. Or it might be something that might seem to be unattainable or rather impossible. And yet, we should dream. It makes us see and imagine the world beyond ourselves and our limitations.

    Self

  27. Discover our Self: Our Self is intricate. We are only aware of some parts of it. The more we discover our Self the more aware we are. Some parts of our Self, others may be aware of, but we might not know about it. We should do whatever it takes to discover and know our true Self. Our Self is the one tangible truth that is definitely true. Meditate, practice mindfulness, practice stoicism, go on a retreat, talk to a mentor, seek a Guru, whatever works for you, do that, but discover your Self!

  28. Accept our Self: Some aspects of our Self we may be proud of and then there might be some aspects which we might not like. However, we need to accept our Self including all the aspects. Suppressing some aspects just because we or others do not like it or because we are not good enough at it prevents us from being our Self.

  29. Being our true Self: Being our true Self might not sound a bit deal, but in reality, it is! When everyone is trying to be like someone else, to have characteristics of someone else, to achieve things like someone else, it is hard not to follow the crowd! However, we can truly attain inner peace only when we are being our true Self. 

    “Is there a difference between happiness and inner peace? Yes. Happiness depends on conditions being perceived as positive; inner peace does not.” ~Eckhart Tolle

  30. Tune within: Our Self always gives us the signals when something is wrong, when something feels a bit off or when something is not aligned to our principles. If we are drowned in the external noise of the world it is difficult to focus and identify that. We need to be sensitive enough to sense and understand our internal signals. That way, we can detect and modify our course of action. 

    “When I slip outside, I fall. When I slip inside I rise.” ~Swami Chinmayananda

Looking forward to the next decade. 10 years is a long time and a lot happens in that duration. Hope by the end of the next decade, if I’m still around, I won’t be freaking out about turning 40! Also hopefully, I’ll be wiser and more at peace with my Self.

“Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back everything is different?” ~C.S. Lewis

Models of Self

Each and every one of us has a core being or Self. It is basically everything that represents us, our characteristics, our features, our likes and dislikes, our fears, our triggers, our qualities and everything else… A point which is everything we actually are!

Then we have an image of our Self, which is how we perceive our Self to be. It is not an actual or true version of the real Self but our model of who we think we are!

And then there are models of our Self made by people who interact with us. From our friends, family and acquaintances, everyone who knows us creates a representation of our Self (and we in turn create models of their Self). People with whom we interact frequently, save a model of our Self for future use. On the other hand, even strangers whom we meet momentarily, create a model of our Self, however it is mostly temporary and is soon lost.

Thus let’s say a person A who is in a 50 seater bus has 10 family and friends. He will have approx 1 + 10 + 50 models of his Self in the universe! 11 (1 + 10, his own and his family and friends) are permanent, whereas rest 50 are temporary and will be deleted probably when he gets down the bus. I like the example of a similar concept from the movie Coco, where a person actually dies when nobody has his memory (model of Self) any more.

Our model of our own Self is the most important thing for us. There are some characteristics of ours which we like and thus project in our model of Self. On the other hand, there are some characteristics, which we don’t like and we try to project its opposite in our model of Self. However hard we try, we always know when we are not being true to our Self. It’s one thing to not know some of the qualities of our Self and it’s another to project the negation of the qualities of our Self. In the long term, such inverse projections might be very detrimental. There are also some features of our Self which we ourself might not know due to a variety of reasons! And discovering these characteristics can lead to a much more complete representation of our Self.

Most people form a model of our Self, based on the model which we project. So let’s say if I project that I’m kind and repeatedly show this quality in my behaviour then people believe that I’m kind and create a model of me which is also kind. Also, if we project a lot of things which we are not, then the peoples’ model of our self, our own model of our self and our true Self are very different! And it is difficult to navigate in life with drastically different models of our Self.

Apart from creating a model of our Self, we also care how others create a model of our Self. We have high expectations of how others should perceive us and think about us and we act accordingly, sometimes even with it’s not true. The more people we interact with the more models of our Self we care about. Ideally it is great if we don’t think or care about what others think about us and just be the way we are! However that’s hard to do. In that case, another option is to have fewer relations which in turn leads to opinion of fewer people we care about how they model our Self.

If one is really lucky, then one might find a mentor who can see some part of the true Self and not just the version which we are projecting to the world. These mentors can be crucial on the road to self discovery as they can point us towards something which we ourself do not know about our Self.

It is of utmost importance to discover our true Self. Because that’s the only thing which is permanent and real for us. Rest everything in the world are other people just like us and the environment in which we exist. Our Self is the only thing which exists with us all the time! It is there with us since our lifetime, from our birth to death. We may have a lot of family and friends, but each one of them is busy maintaining and projecting their model of Self. No one is truly there with us in this world. We come alone and we go alone. And we only see the models of other people and never their actual Self. We get to interact our model of Self with others’ model of their Self while we are alive. That’s why our own actual Self is the ONLY truth that we know of, for sure.

Probably that’s why it is such a big deal to discover our Self. And our Self is always with us. We need not necessarily go on retreats and trips in order to discover our Self. We can find our Self wherever we are! Whether it’s while sitting in an office chair or relaxing in the bed. However, some places might be more conducive to discover our Self that others and one can always go there if it helps, for example a mountain or a beach!

Discovering our Self is not an easy task! I’m not even sure if it is possible to do it in a lifetime! One of the ways of discovering our Self is by learning to focus our mind to look within. And inside, it’s like an ocean! It contains everything, the good, bad and ugly. The good part is fine but it’s really hard to accept the bad and the ugly aspects. However, each of us has all three aspects and the sooner we accept it the more true we can be to our Self! Self discovery is a three step process: Discover, Accept and Project. Discover the characteristics of the the true Self. Accept your Self and its characteristics as it is. Project these characteristics in the model of your Self.

Our goal should be to project the model of our Self and behave in ways which match the characteristics of our true Self. In this way, other people will also build models of our Self which are similar to our model and our true Self. And thus all the models of our Self will have a lot of things in common, and the similarity among the models will be high.

Let’s move on the road of Self discovery!

IC : https://pixabay.com/photos/audience-crowd-people-persons-828584/

One must be a lil’ crazy to be a Researcher!

When others are thinking of buying a house,
We think about the next big research idea!
When others are buying big flashy cars,
We prefer to cycle around in our green campus!
Thus, one must be a lil’ crazy to be a Researcher!

When others are going abroad for vacations,
We wonder where the next conference we present, would be!
When others have holidays, they take a break from work,
When we have holidays, we get more things done!
Thus, one must be a lil’ crazy to be a Researcher!

While others are busy with their 9-5 (rather 9-9) jobs,
We too are busy in our lab, but for as long as we want.
They are doing what they are told is to be done,
While we tinker around thinking what else can we do!
Thus, one must be a lil’ crazy to be a Researcher!

Others come back home, exhausted after the day,
Even we are tired after a hectic day (or night).
But they hit the bed, and immediately fall sleep,
While we keep on thinking before we finally sleep!
Thus, one must be a lil’ crazy to be a Researcher!

Others might have a well-defined plan of getting things done,
While we go around trying new stuff one-by-one.
While others can be successful, by heading the road more travelled,
We are expected to take the road less travelled.
Thus, one must be a lil’ crazy to be a Researcher!

Research requires a different kind of aptitude to life,
Where things that matter to us vs others, might be a contrast.
And that’s okay, as different people roll differently,
Anyway, life is not a rat race, although rats want it to be!
Thus, one must be a lil’ crazy to be a Researcher!

Being a researcher, is a lifestyle decision and choice,
It requires different values and preferences.
We cannot turn on and off being a researcher over the day,
It requires a constant hum in the background, in our brains.
Thus, one must be a lil’ crazy to be a Researcher!

Research requires a fire to know and find out more,
To think, reason and argue and then let our ideas roar!
To doubt what everyone believes to be true,
To innovate new stuff from endless brew!
Thus, one must be a lil’ crazy to be a Researcher!

We value innovation, over a fixed static technique,
We value uncertainty, over knowing how exactly things are going to be!
We value our freedom, over high-paying hierarchies,
We value exploration, over exploiting the known!
Thus, one must be a lil’ crazy to be a Researcher!

We face failures and rejections, every now and then,
The one experiment we present was a result after many that failed.
These successes and failures are a part of our usual routine,
We learn the knack to make progress, however hard things have been.
Thus, one must be a lil’ crazy to be a Researcher!

The role of a researcher is hard!
Sometimes, literally requiring our blood, sweat and tears!
At the same time, it is one of the most satisfying roles!
Where self-growth is one of the most!
Thus, one must be a lil’ crazy to be a Researcher!

PS – In the image above, researchers are like the few branches growing their own way as compared to all other branches of the bush!

Tomorrow

No one knows what will happen next.

One goes for a walk and will he come back?

The meal one had, might be one’s last.

One might go to sleep never to wake up again…

The chat with someone might have been the last.

Let’s resolve things then and there

It’s better not to leave things for tomorrow.

For all we know, that tomorrow might never come…

Let’s call that person we have been thinking since long,

Leave that long pending note.

Say the things we had always wanted to say.

Act like there is no tomorrow!

Nothing is known, anything can happen

So it’s better to be kind and compassionate with all.

To let go of small things, which don’t matter much.

To not get into fights, accusations or even cold wars over petty issues.

Cause once one is gone, one is gone forever!

There is no coming back, however much you wish!

“You act like mortals in all that you fear,

and like immortals in all that you desire.”

Seneca

Love-Indifference-Hate (LIH) Spectrum

Our connections with people teach us a lot about life and relationships. However each of these connections are unique. So I was thinking of a scale or spectrum on which everyone we know can lie. And one way that I could think of is the “Love-Indifference-Hate spectrum” on which all the people we know from family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances to everyone else we know lies. The spectrum can be visualized as follows:

Love-Indifference-Hate Spectrum

The position of a person on this spectrum is based on all their interactions over a period of time. A single event mostly does not have a significant impact on their position. It is a cumulative metric.

This spectrum is unidirectional and asymmetric i.e. for each person, it only shows how others value or perceive the person. Everyone we know lies somewhere on the spectrum and we lie on the spectrum of people who know us. These two are independent and thus the regions where we and other person may lie on each other’s spectrum might be very different. For example, person A may be in the love region of person B whereas person B might be around indifference region of person A!

At the love extreme lie people who deeply care about us and are concerned about us. They are genuinely interested in our well being and will support us in every possible way. They will give real feedback even if it is negative sometimes. For these people, our existence matters…

In the indifference region lie people who interact with us as and when required, in a mechanical way. They do not have any specific bonding or concern towards us. They have a “whatever” or “I don’t care!” kind of attitude with respect to us..

The other extreme is hate. These people might be envious of us and may not always wish well..

Not everyone lies at the extremes of the spectrum. Some people are even placed somewhere in the intermediate regions. For example, between love and indifference lie well-wishers who will support or help if we reach out to them. Similarly in the region between indifference and hate lie people who may just not like us for whatever reasons..

My guess is that most likely, LIH spectrum has a normal distribution. Although it might not necessarily be balanced. Most people lie in the indifference region, very rare are at the two extremes i.e. love and hate and then some are in between.

It is useful to know who lies where on our LIH spectrum. Once we identify who lies in which region, we can intentionally decide how we should interact with them, and where we should position ourselves on their spectrum. Specifically, people in the love extreme are precious! Mostly, if we think of it, there are only a few countable people who lie there. Their presence is invaluable and we must take care of these people. They are like our lighthouse! Sometimes when they don’t act as we wish, it’s okay to let go instead of reacting.. Similarly it is also good to identify people in the hate extreme although it might be harder! It’s okay to consider what they say but not necessarily take it to heart. Also it’s better to show indifference to these people instead of reciprocating with hate.

An interesting point is that we ourself lie on our own LIH spectrum. The most we talk to is ourself! Based on the kind of dialogs we have with ourself and the self affirmations we give, we can ourself be in either of these three regions. Ideally, it is best to be in the love extreme, and to drift slightly depending of different situations. Also i think it might be dangerous if ourself lies in the indifference or hate region of the spectrum for too long. And if one identifies that that’s the case, it’s best to reach out to someone and seek help…

I think LIH spectrum is an scale on which everyone we have ever know lies in a standardized way. It is like a common ground for all our connections. It gives us an idea to perceive who lies where on our spectrum and where we lie on others’ spectrum based on how we choose to interact with each other. It’s like synthesizing all the actions and feeling with respect to a person to a single point!

P.S. – Let me know if someone is interested in designing some experiments and doing simulations based on this idea..

Bethany School Days

It has been more that 12 years since the last time i was at Bethany! I have never been back there even once since then (hopefully i will go sometime). I remember some things and i have forgotten some, so i thought it will be a good idea to pen down my memories in a blog post.

In this post, i am intentionally not naming any specific teachers or friends as i can’t mention everyone and i don’t want to leave anyone out…

I was part of Bethany Convent School from class 2nd to 10th. I have some wonderful memories of school. The teachers there literally created the foundation of my life. The quality of teaching was so good that me and all of my classmates never went to tuition class till class 10th! And these days we see school kids in nursery and KG going for tuition classes! The teachers there were top notch and most of them loved teaching! From facebook i know that many of them teach even today…

Although Bethany is a Catholic led school, there were teachers and students who were Hindus, Muslims, Christians and others. I have friends from all the religions and it was always fun to know about their festivals, traditions and customs. We celebrated Eid, Diwali and Christmas with same excitement! There were never any implicit or explicit ways to enforce any religious beliefs on others. Even in the moral science class, we were taught generic life principles while the Christians were separately taught about Bible. Looking at the intolerance in people over small small issues these days, i think Bethany specially created a notion in us that progress as a whole is only possible by taking everyone together ahead as they are without enforcing our beliefs on others!

They knew back then that rote learning is of no use in the long term. I remember, when i was in class 3rd, they was an announcement that from now on in the exams, the questions won’t be just from the questions at the end of the chapter, they can ask anything from the textbook! I remember there was question, “Which is the longest bone in the body?”, it wasn’t there in the pre-defined questions and i didn’t remember the answer and the teacher wrote on my answer sheet that the answer is “Femur” and to study the chapter thoroughly 😀 Even in higher classes, it was never mandatory to answer the questions, exactly as it was taught in class. We could write it in our own words and it would be okay as long as the answer meant the same / similar thing.

Bethany gave me some of the most awesome friends for lifetime! I am not in touch with most of you guys, but i do remember most of you.. From having lunches together, playing games like Basketball, participating in events, interesting discussions in class to just growing up together! You guys made school life fun! 😀

Some of the memories i remember of my school days (it’s a long list in random order)…

  • There were just two openings in class 2nd and more than 50 kids had applied! We had a three hour entrance test! Me and one more girl were selected and the school put up our answer sheets on the board to justify to other parents why they took us and not others 😀
  • The day i joined, there was some song competition in which the entire class participated and i felt so left out..
  • In class 3rd, the two sections were interconnected and there was a door in between. Whenever one section made noise, the teacher from other section would come and say, “why are you making classroom a fishmarket!” 😀
  • In class 4th and 5th, when we started writing with ink pen (which was a big deal back then 🙂 ) we were taught to write in cursive the proper way, and i’m sure if you check anyone’s handwriting from my class, it will be nice and beautiful!
  • In one class, when the class teacher used to be absent due to some reason, she used to send me detailed notes as to what was to be done in each period, so that we were on track and didn’t waste time. And i liked that kind of responsibility.
  • In primary school, we used to discuss freaky Aahat stories (a horror show) in breaks! 😀
  • As kids, it was fun for us when teachers used to ask us to bring chalk sticks or to keep the notebooks in the staff room 🙂
  • In primary school, we used to quickly finish writing the exams so that we could play with our bench mate till the time is up 😀
  • Whenever a teacher was absent, we had a substitute teacher and in primary school we always wished that our substitute teacher was our games teacher or PT Sir so that we could go out and play 😀
  • That reminds me of the games class, it started with some basic PT exercises and then we were free to do whatever we wanted. Our games changed over the years… From just running around, Skipping, Hide and Seek, Ice-Water, Kho-Kho, Man in the middle, Kerchief game, Badminton, Table Tennis and Basketball.
  • We were divided in houses by color: Red, Green, Blue and Yellow. I was in Blue house and blue was my favorite color. But almost all my friends were in Red house. In our graduating year, Blue house won the best house award 😀
  • Specially in classes 8th, 9th and 10th we had some interesting poems in English and Hindi literature and we had some very interesting discussions in class. I don’t remember the exact discussions now, but they are some beautiful memories.
  • Parent teacher meeting and result day was a big thing! We were curious what comments we would get in the report card and what our teachers would tell to our parents. Also it was fun to get new books each year and to put covers on it during the vacation. I read all the English and Hindi chapters as stories as soon as we got new books 😀
  • In class 10th, slam books were a craze, people filled them up with glitter pens 😀 That reminds me i should look for my slam book somewhere 🙂
  • We said prayers atleast three time a day, in the morning assembly, before going for lunch and before going home.
  • I was part of the school choir and i was so fun to sing some of those songs! The first song in our song book was “All things bright and beautiful”.
  • Our morning assembly had a specific structure: Prayer, Prayer Song, 5 minute meditation, Thought for the day, News Headlines, Message from the Principal, Another Song, Pledge and National Anthem. We had speakers in every class, and on all days, except one day we had morning assembly in the classroom.
  • On every Thursday, we had a long meditation session instead of the usual assembly. One of the teachers used to conduct the meditation starting with breathing exercise and then there used to be a long pause. One student used to go to each of the class room around that time with a dhoop (incense stick). The school had a unique calm vibe during those meditation sessions. Our school knew about the benefits of meditation for students before it was a fad!
  • The sports day and annual day were so much fun! We used to prepare for it for weeks in advance and it used to be a grand event.
  • Celebrating festivals was awesome! We used to have inter house patriotic song competition on Independence and Republic Day. And i still remember how the auditorium used to sound and the overall vibe when 50 kids sang Vande Mataram or Maa Tujhe Salaam or Chhodo kal ki baatein! It literally gave goosebumps!
  • For major festivals, we used to have a separate longer morning assembly with related cultural programs like skit, dance and song performance and talks!
  • There were boards for each house and there used to be (monthly?) competitions as to which house decorated their house board best!
  • Being Secretary in the school cabinet and then winning the Best Cabinet Member award are some of the memories i cherish! One of my responsibilities was to conduct morning assembly everyday.
  • Our school library was a cool place and it was stacked with books! Those days i was a huge Enid Blyton fan and read Famous Five, Secret Seven, Adventure Series and Malory Tower series. Later i read some of the classics here. We used to have one library period per week when we had to issue and return books. However one week was too long for me, i used to gulp down these books in a day or two! 😀 During summer vacations, one special request, i used to get multiple books issued to read over the vacation.
  • We were so competitive during school days, and i guess that’s why i got it so much ingrained in me. After exams, we could never wait till the result day to know our rank in class. So around 10 students in our class, each created a table with person wise and subject wise marks. We updated the table when we got the marks of any subject. Finally we totalled it out to calculate relative rank and percentage! I mean seriously! 😀 Just like it is prohibited to reveal salary details in corporate, it should be prohibited to reveal marks to others in school 😀
  • In class 9th biology, when we had the plant and animal kingdom hierarchies and weird names and it involved so much of memorization! That’s when i decided i won’t take Biology after 10th.
  • In mid school, our science notebooks had the left page blank and the right page was ruled. We used to draw the related drawings on the blank page. I was really good at drawing from plant details, organisms like amoeba to digestive system. Getting a good, very good or excellent for a drawing used to be a big deal 😀
  • Till primary school we had Art and Craft class where we learnt drawing and making origami. From secondary school it was converted to SUPW, where boys learnt painting and girls learnt a variety of stuff like different stitches, knitting etc. I started with these things but sometimes it was difficult for me complete them as it needed a lot of patience and repetitive work 😀 So finally i used to seek my mom’s help 😉
  • Those days i could write really nice essays with relevant quotes on a variety of topics very fast. I have hardly written in hindi after school, i hope i haven’t forgotten the script!
  • Our campus was awesome! There were huge neem trees all around. A huge ground to play. A big auditorium. And spacious well lit classes with big windows! A seat near a door or window was treasured 😀 There were benches under the neem trees all around the ground and that’s where we chilled in our games period and lunch breaks. The red and white brick building had a charm of its own!

playground2

  • Eagles used to circle over the ground during lunch breaks and would sweep down to pick up a fallen chappati.
  • Our class was very united. At no cost did anyone rat out others, we faced the consequences of our mischiefs and pranks together 😀
  • Every group had a specific place for lunch. And it was fun to discuss stuff and have lunch together! In primary school, we were in a hurry to finish lunch as soon as possible so that we could play.
  • We had to make thermocol models in classes 10th and i remember i had created sulphur extraction cut out and reproduction in amoeba cut out myself! It came out really well, and all these models by each one of us were put up in the labs.
  • Science labs were cool! From looking at things under a microscope, creating a herbarium file classifying leaves, experiments like titration to doing experiments with lenses and prisms it was always so exciting!
  • The motto of our school was Love and Service 🙂 And the logo is below:

logo

  • We had an yearly school magazine, and we submitted articles and poems which were shortlisted and included in it.
  • Visiting Sisters who stayed in the convent on Christmas, admiring the crib they decorated and relishing the Christmas special cake was fun!
  • We dressed our best on yearly class photo shoots with ironed shirts, blazers and polished shoes. Now it is so fun to look at our own and our friends’ younger versions in those photos 😀
  • After entering the school, there are two trees, the left one was planted in front of us on some occasion.
  • All around the school, there were boards with inspiring quotes written. Just near the stairs near the KG section was the quote – “Great minds discuss ideas, Average minds discuss events, Small minds discuss people. ~Eleanor Roosevelt.” One needed to just walk around the school to get inspired!
  • Maths was always one of my favorite subjects! I especially liked trigonometry. During boards, we did rigorous practice of maths problems as this was the subject we wanted to score a 100! I still remember i made a mistake in the income tax calculation problem in my boards and missed the 100 because of it  😦
  • Once a week, we had to wear white dress in school. It was fun to wear our house t-shirts on that day. The school looked very colorful and bright. Also sometimes white shoes were checked and it was required that the white shoes are white and clean. We had chalk pieces to our rescue in such cases 😀
  • It was so exciting to take part in a variety of events. In class 3rd, I wore saree for the whole day with such ease, where we were showing how people in different states of India dressed! Our team went till the state final in Indian Science Congress in class 7th where we created a project on importance of nutrition. In a science demo, I presented metal ball rolling in a loop to show centrifugal force.
  • Celebrating birthdays in school was so fun. I could never celebrate my birthday on my birthday as Christmas is always a holiday. It was all the more fun when it was your best friend’s birthday as in that case we took a round of the school distributing toffees to all the teachers 🙂
  • In primary and mid school we used to have dictation test to make sure our spellings were correct. There were separate grammar books in English and Hindi. Thus now, mostly our spellings are correct and our grammar is good and we cringe when someone makes such kind of spelling / grammatical mistakes.
  • Sanskrit was a difficult language to learn. And if you didn’t understand it correctly, then a lot of memorization was required! Still remember – ti, taha, anti 😂

Overall, Bethany Convent School was an awesome school! We knew this back then too, but in hindsight it is even more evident.. I have some of the most precious memories of this place! Had some of the most amazing teachers who loved teaching and were actually interested in shaping us and cared for our well being. Made some amazing friends for lifetime whom i can always reach out to even though i might not be in regular touch with them.

Thanks Bethany for being an ideal school that a kid needs as a foundation for life!

I wish i was not in a hurry to grow up back then, probably would have had some more fun in school then! They say school days are the best and most carefree and fun days of our life, but then, kids in school don’t know that when they are in school!

P.S.

  • My friends from Bethany, please feel free to add some of your memories of Bethany school days in the comments.
  • All pics except the first one are from BCS website.

Thought Experiment: Deep Learning on Life

Quick Refresher on Neural Networks
A feed forward neural network (referred as NN in future) has three types of layers: input layer, hidden layers and output layer. There are two main stages of using a NN: training stage and testing stage. In the training stage, the input is fed via the input layer and then it passes through multiple hidden layers (that’s why it’s called deep) and finally through an output layer. At the output layer, we get the output of NN for the given input and we also have the corresponding expected output. The difference between expected or true output and computed output is called ‘loss’ and it is backpropagated through the NN and the weights of the hidden layers are updated so as to minimize the loss in future. This process is repeated multiple times to train the NN. Then at test stage, a new input is fed to the NN and we get the corresponding output.

Applying Deep Learning and Neural Networks on Life

life_NN

I thought it might be an interesting thought experiment to try applying a basic Deep Learning Neural Network model on our life! (Probably effect of too much Deep Learning 😀 ) The overall idea is shown in the figure above. All the inputs from the five sense organs (things we see, hear, taste, smell and touch) are transformed and fed as input to the NN. The deep hidden layers further process this information. At the output end, the output is transformed into multiple output metrics like happiness, satisfaction, peace of mind, monetary benefit and many more. Our life’s NN is mostly in training mode. Each and every experience is transformed and fed into the input layer and then it passes through hidden and output layers. For every experience, we have its corresponding expectation called the output vector. Our expectations have a different score for each of the different output metrics. And the difference between expectation and output called loss is backpropagated to train the NN. Thus our model is trained by the experiences of our life so far. Every experience is a training sample. At test time, we give the test experience as input to this trained model and take some major/minor decision based on the output which affects the experiences (future inputs) which we will face in future. Thus the decisions we take in our life, at any point, are based on the experiences we have had in our life so far and our expectations of each of those experiences.

The usual Gyaan derived from NNs:

* Sometimes we think some people are crazy when they take certain decisions in life, however it is wrong to judge others as we can never put ourselves in other’s shoes firstly because we don’t know what all things they have experienced in their lives and secondly because we don’t know what exactly are their expectations from their own lives. So it makes sense to stop judging others!

* Sometimes, our own decisions may seem crazy. That might be because the weights of our output metrics (expectations) might be significantly different from the usual weights of other people, and in such case, it makes sense to embrace our crazy self!

* Training our life’s NN, just in itself is very hard task! And then if we start taking other people’s expectations into account while training our NN, it is very difficult to attain a stable convergent model. So it makes sense to live our life and make decisions in our life based on our own terms and stop caring about the char log (random strangers)!

* If we have too high expectations in our life, then mostly the loss is also higher than usual and the model is frequently updating. These frequent updates require more energy. So it makes sense to be prepared and to practice to stay strong in order to efficiently keep training the NN in case one has very high expectations from life. Similarly having no expectations doesn’t make sense, because in that case, the model does not have any guidelines. Thus it helps to know and set our expectations in advance.

* It is difficult to train NN with little data. As we experience new experiences, we train our NN better. So even in case of our life’s NN, acche din (good days) are coming as we keep experiencing new experiences!

* Sometimes if you feel that life is screwed up (you are stuck in a local minima or a saddle point) and the NN of life is not doing any good, it is ALWAYS possible to make some changes in the parameters so as to resume effective training of the NN. It will be hard but not impossible. The loss function will always have its ups and downs. Stay strong, have hope and don’t give up!

* At any point in time, every person is at a different stage of training their NN. Also every person has faced different experiences and has different expectations. Structurally and parameter wise also, the NNs will be very different. So it does not make any sense to be competitive and compare each other! It makes sense to share strategies which help in training the NN better. Life is actually NOT a race! Cooperation is better than competition!

* If you find mentors who genuinely care for you, then preserve and nurture those relationships, they can guide and motivate you in difficult times. Same thing applies to real friends and family, they can be your pillars of support. It makes sense to learn to network and build lasting meaningful relationships. (Networking can be hard for introverts like me, but then it is all about quality not quantity!)

* Our education is like initialization and running few initial epochs to setup the NN of life. Initial conditions are very important. Also the closer our education is to real life, the better prepared we will be in future! Stop memorization and rote learning.

* Just like high end GPUs can significantly improve the training speeds as compared to normal CPUs, similarly we can make the life’s NN train much better if we maintain good health. It makes sense to eat healthy, exercise and stay fit.

* Sometimes if we compare two consecutive iterations, we might not notice any significant change which in turn might make us doubt ourselves and our abilities and we might question if anything is truly happening? are we on the right track? and so on. It is very rare to get great short term results. It makes sense to be patient and focus on long term results.

* Even if you meet or exceed expectations on one of the output metrics while the other metric scores are significantly low (for example your experiences have a high monetary value and low score of peace of mind or vice versa), in that case, overall the loss is going to be very high i.e. things are going to be hard. It also shows that lopsided expectations and outcomes are bad and it makes sense to work towards holistic, all round development.

P.S.

* Ofcourse real life is a lot more complex and no model can exactly mimic it. This NN model is also an attempt to model some of the significant features of life.

* I could have titled this post as Feed Forward Neural Network on Life but then Deep Learning on Life sounds way cooler! 😀

Sailors

Michael_Zeno_Diemer_-_Ship_at_Sea
Ships in the Sea

The oceans and seas have sailors young and old,
Having ships to sail around the world.
Some ships are simple while others made of gold!
Yet all sailors have a common aim to sail to lands unknown.

Every ship at any point in time is hit by different waves,
Yet if you think, at an abstract level, all waves are the same.
Some waves may be gentle while others may hit powerfully hard,
Every sailor must be prepared to face the waves, gentle or hard!

The oceans and seas will have fishes, pearls and icebergs as well.
Similarly the approaching land might be a desert, jungle or a volcano.
The sailor must be prepared to tackle and learn,
From the varied diversity of sea and land.

Some sailors know where they want to go,
While others just go on along with the flow.
The unknown lands may be near or far,
They may be exactly what the sailors imagined or completely apart.

Some relax and have fun while being off sea,
Make merry and celebrate on the stable land.
While others use that time to enhance their anchored ships,
And make themselves stronger to face challenges.

All sailors by nature, never like to stay on the land too long,
After few days, months or years on land, they feel the oceans calling for their souls!
They then pack up to explore new lands,
Afterall how long can a sailor be on land?

Sometimes, after repeatedly sailing and living on shore,
Life may seem like an endless loop!
But then staying at a point may be comfortable,
However then there is going to be nothing new!

While sailing and on land, they meet fellow sailors,
Make friends with them and learn from each other’s experiences.
They must however sail independently,
As all ships are designed for one sailor alone.

Sometimes, sailors may envy other sailors’ experiences or fancy ships,
But then all these are enhancements while the primary goal for all is to sail.
Nothing stops sailors with smaller or simpler ships from sailing to better lands,
And to improve themselves, as well as their ships with resources available at hand.

Over a period of time, all sailors experience sailing as well as living on different lands,
Each of their experiences are very different and yet the same from a higher stand!
The more they travel and the more they explore,
The deeper they can unravel their own selves to the core!

Image Source – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Michael_Zeno_Diemer_-_Ship_at_Sea.jpg

Tips for Vegetarian food in China

Vegetarian? Traveling to China? Then you must be worried about what you are going to eat there. Most people eat non veg there. Almost all the restaurants serve only non veg food. Then how are you going to survive? People who have never been to China will tell you similar things. Worry not, here are some tips which might turn out to be useful for the vegetarians.

First, the hotel you decide to book is very important. Check the details, see reviews and pics online. Make sure that they offer a nice buffet breakfast. Make sure there is sufficient time to have a nice and heavy breakfast. I used to have milk and cornflakes, boiled eggs or omelet, waffle or pancake, some fruits and juice, baked vegetables like potatoes and tomatoes and any other vegetarian dish that might be served. Also if possible keep some fruits and pieces of cake in your bag to munch later. And after such heavy breakfast I was ready to start my day.

I had brought sufficient stock of some ready to eat Indian dishes. MTR has a lot of options of such items. I just needed to add some boiling water and the dish was ready in 5 mins. There are options of poha, upma and suji halwa. Poha was my favorite. I also had cup noodles and haldiram’s bhelpuri for change. Before leaving the hotel I used to keep one of these ready to eat dishes in my bag to eat just in case if I don’t find anything to eat during the day. In China, at most places one can get hot water.

Adjust. Even with some veg options you can make good things to eat. For example I used buns applied butter added a few slices of cheese added some veggies and my veg burger was ready! I ate a lot of desserts and fruits. Try to eat something out of whatever is available.

Experiment. Try out other veg options which might be available in restaurants. Check with the chefs that it contains no meat or fish. With recent vegetarian and vegan trends all over the world, there are some Chinese vegetarian restaurants. Also i heard that some Buddhist temples and the places nearby serve vegetarian food, although i didn’t get to visit such places.

Indian restaurants! Atleast in big cities like Shanghai and Beijing there are many Indian restaurants. Plan and go there in the evening. I went to Kebabs on the grill in Cool Docks in Shanghai and it was my favorite place in China. They were so nice as they created a special veg combo meal for me as I was traveling solo. I searched for Indian restaurants and went to the ones which were easily accessible. And I had some of the yummiest Indian meals!

Install HappyCow app. It show vegan and vegetarian restaurants nearby. It also has ratings and reviews. In a new city, this app can be a life savior!

Ignore the people who say that there will be nothing vegetarian to eat in China. Let me know if these tips were useful and add more tips to get tasty vegetarian food in China.