Istanbul Travelogue

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Prologue…

I did M.Tech. from IIIT-Bangalore in 2012-2014. In the last semester at IIIT-B i did thesis on the effects of entrenchment on cooperative behaviour. It is based on Multi Agent Systems and Game Theory. Had the best time of my academic life so far doing research in an area which i found very interesting. I successfully defended my thesis and graduated. My dream was to get the paper based on my thesis accepted in a good conference. And as they say, if we try hard enough, our dreams do come true! 🙂

We submitted our paper in one of the tier 1 conference in the domain of multi-agent systems. And then one day we got the mail informing about the acceptance of the paper 🙂 I was on cloud nine! It is the best thing that can happen to one’s thesis.

With the acceptance came lots of things and planning to do.. Had to submit the final camera ready paper, create a poster and most importantly look for funding for travel to attend the conference. I would like to thank my employer for funding my trip and giving me the opportunity to present my work and attend the conference. It made things a lot easier. With a tatkal passport, tickets and visa, i was all set to fly to Istanbul, Turkey, the world’s fifth-most-popular tourist destination. 🙂 My first foreign visit! Luckily the Prof. under whose guidance i had done my thesis was also coming with his family 🙂

The Trip…

We boarded Boeing 787 Dreamliner of Qatar Airways! One of the most hi-tech planes of today. And for a window seat lover like me, the huge electrochromism-based smart glass windows were the coolest thing! There was a small stopover at Doha and then we headed to our destination, Istanbul. In the first look itself, Istanbul looked beautiful. Clean roads lined with lawns and trees and with an amazing view of sea, fast moving cars and a pleasant weather just like Bangalore.

We checked in at the Zeynep Sultan Hotel. It had been recently renovated. Had a nice, small and cozy room at a reasonable price in the heart of the city. Major landmarks like the Blue mosque were at a walking distance from our hotel.

We were mainly busy at the conference. It is the first tier 1 conference i have attended. And the difference was obvious. Met people from all over the world. Had interesting discussions during breaks. Our presentation was good. Also attended many other talks and presentations. Saw many posters and demos. So many tracks went on parallelly that sometimes i wished i could be in multiple places at the same time! It was a great learning experience. It was cool to meet so many people from around the world who are all excited about a particular subject (MAS). Also got to see the amazing high quality work that gets accepted in a top conference. I hope i will do more such quality work and present in similar conferences in future 🙂

We also visited the SoSLab of the Boagazici CS department. The university is beautifully located with a wonderful view of the strait. It has a lush green campus situated uphill. Had interesting conversation with the Prof. and students of the lab. Talked about topics like topic modelling, annotations, social semantics, sentiment analysis etc.

Did some sight-seeing in the evenings and over the weekend. Istanbul is a huge city with so many places to see that even a week will be less. The two major highlights of our tour were – the Bosphorus cruise, a two hour cruise with a breathtaking view! We saw wild dolphins! It was awesome 🙂 There were a lot of jellyfishes in the strait. The view on both sides was beautiful with lots of mosques, high end houses with there own yachts, huge suspension bridges and deep blue water and sky! The second highlight was our visit to the Galata tower, one of the oldest towers of the world! Its like the Eiffel tower of Istanbul. The view from up the tower just cannot be described in words! I could stand there forever. The blue strait, houses on slopes with orange slanted roofs, the European and the Asian side and the cool breeze! Enjoyed snacks in the cafe at the top of the tower 🙂 We descended via stairs and saw the tower’s built from the inside with the stony walls and small openings for natural light. We travelled by the world’s second oldest tram which was literally pulled uphill using huge automatic pulleys! Also went to the blue mosque and the gulhane park which were close to our hotel. I promise i will wake up early morning everyday and go for a walk if i have a park like gulhane park close to my house 😉 Huge trees, blooming flowers, chirping birds, lush green lawns, Turkish tea and an amazing view of the strait!

We thought food might be a problem as we are vegetarian. However we mostly found something good to eat 🙂 The breakfast at our hotel was good. I have never tasted such juicy strawberries before. One must try figs and olives in Istanbul. Also tried turkish bread and pizza which was yummy. Our plain Indian dal is called lentil soup in Turkey 😛 which was also good. We found a pure vegetarian restaurant and had delicious falafel! Tried so many new dishes. For food connoisseurs like us it was fun 🙂

The grand finale of our trip was the idyllic time we spent at a cafe in the gulhane park overlooking the Bosphorus. It was a calm and peaceful evening. The sky was slowly changing colours and slowly it was getting dark. And then gradually the Asian side lit up! The view was fantastic. Ships and yachts were sailing across the Bosphorus. We had a yummy HUGE baked stuffed potato (which we craved for since day one :P) and endless cups of turkish tea over interesting discussions. If only time could be paused, i would have paused it then… forever.

Overall, this trip has been an amazing experience. Its a treasured memory for a lifetime 🙂 Rarely things turn out to be better that what we imagine (atleast for me) however this Istanbul trip is an exception, it turned out to be much much more awesome than what i had dreamt 🙂

Bag of words…

Blue. Water. Fishing rods. Selfie Sticks. Reflections. Huge bridges. Speeding cars. Trams. Dolphins! Jelly fishes. Sea Gulls. Birthday. Cruise. Chilly winds. Galata tower. Sloping orange roofed houses. 2 and 4 engine jets leaving streaks in sky. Long walks. Useful pre-trip advice. Turkish music which sounded same. Blue mosque. Huge grand bazaar. Byzantine ruins. MG Road. Full moon background and mosque minarets. Blue symbol which wards off evil. European windows which open from all sides!  Royal shoe polishers. Cats. Lots of cats. Extroverts. Sufi round-round dance 😛 Pide. Strawberries. Olives. Natural Jams. Honey. Huge bread loafs. Vegetable salad. Hot chocolate. Cakes. Different varieties of cheese. Copper tea pots. Mini rice cooker. 3 course rice meal. Fast trams on road. Ice cream vendors. Turkish delights. Baklava. Dry fruits. Spices. Saffron. Sumac. Aryan (buttermilk). Kurus fasulye (white beans cooked in tomato gravy).  Geeky jokes 🙂 Asterix and Obelix. Morse code. ᗅᗺᗷᗅ. Big Bang Theory. Skype Watsapp Viber.  Greenery. Blooming flowers. LOTS of pics. Memories. HAPPINESS.

Some key takeaways…

  • A line which makes us happy when we are sad and sad when we are happy – “This too shall pass!”.
  • Buy experiences, not things. It may seem to be counter-intuitive, but its true!
  • Never give up. Even in case of failure, make the corrections and try again!
  • Sometimes things may not seem to be perfect immediately, but in hindsight, they mostly do!
  • All the hard-work, perseverance and tons of effort seems to be worth it and more when we visit places and attend top conferences.
  • A tier 1 conference is actually number 1 in the quality of work and diversity of gathering!
  • Well maintained water bodies and/or historic relics within city can boost tourism.
  • If the people have basic civic sense, even a city of 14.4 million people can be spotlessly clean.
  • Cats looking like statues may actually be real. 😛 Cats and dogs can happily coexist! Cats actually do not care! 😀
  • Traffic woes are the same everywhere!
  • Trip hangovers can last reallllly long. Even after a week, sometimes i feel i am in Istanbul!

Thanks…

  • Thanks a lot to my Prof. under whose guidance i did my Masters thesis. I look upto him. I have learnt a lot from him, about the interesting courses he taught in college and more importantly about philosophy of life! Thanks a lot for being my guru and mentor!
  • Thanks to my employer for funding my trip and giving me this amazing opportunity of presenting and attending the conference.

Epilogue…

Istanbul is a beautiful city. An amazing conglomeration of people, religions and cultures. Hope i get an opportunity to visit Istanbul again! My first foreign visit is like a cluster of happy memories! I have enjoyed each and every moment of the trip. Hope to have many more such experiences in future 🙂 Life’s good ! 🙂

Exams end, Happiness begins

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Learning is fun, but exams are not !

Today is the day which i will remember throughout my life. I gave the last exam (Geographic Information System) of 20 years of academics from Nursery to M.Tech 🙂 In future if i do a PhD, may be i will give more exams but as of now this is the last one.

Assuming there are 10 subjects to study each year. 4 exams every year – 2 tests, a half yearly and a final. This means 40 exams every year for 20 years. OMG i have given around 800 exams till now !!! Even i can’t believe it 😉 But even after giving so many exams i always had exam stress. That’s because i am a perfectionist. And since 100% perfection is impossible to achieve, i was never 100% satisfied with my preparation for exams. Till the last moment i felt i could do something more. I know grades are not everything, its our attitude and work that defines the direction in which we move ahead in life. But still i was always worried. The stress, the tension, the anxiety OMG !!! I am sure exams are the biggest stress causing agents in a student’s life. Anyways the exams have ended for me for now. And i am very very happy 🙂

Seriously, can’t a better technique be devised to test one’s understanding of a subject. Are exams the only way out ? Is it right to study only for doing well in exams ? (Most do that !) What about the stress which sometimes degrades our performance in exams ? And also are we not limited by the syllabus of the exam ? (Who has time to study something extra, right!) I was lucky to take two courses which are graded differently. Its called Mandate oriented learning, a technique devised by Prof. Srinath. Click here to know more. I liked it a lot as it gave me the freedom to study topics as per my choice and style. It aims that the class as a whole has a collective understanding of the subject and thus we got a platform to share what we understood with one another.

Life itself is an exam and every day is a new challenge. I am sure after giving ~ 1000 exams i am ready to face the exam of life ! It is probably the most difficult exam as the syllabus is unknown, it is a surprise test, you cannot copy from anyone, no one can teach it, it can only be learnt by one-self, others can only share their wisdom. But however hard it may be, bring it on !!! I am ready 🙂

On a lighter note, i would like to share my happiness with all of you with this video. Enjoy!!!

With an image, video and text in this post, i can also submit this in the Weekly Writing Challenge – Multimedia Storytelling.

Interview Experience at IIIT Bangalore

Edit – I have graduated from IIIT-B. You can find my IIIT-B journey experience here – IIIT-B, My Alma Mater.

My interview for the MTech at IIIT-B was scheduled on May 03rd, 2012. It was mentioned in the call letter to report at the institute by 9AM. So I along with my Dad started early and reached the institute at 8AM. I was given a gate pass at the entrance. The institute is so beautiful. It is surrounded by trees and there is greenery all around. IIIT-B was my first preference to do MTech and after the first glance of the college my decision felt even more correct. Here are a few pics…

Since we reached somewhat early we were told to wait in the campus. Some other students had also arrived with their parents. At 8:30 AM we were called one by one and given the check list for the day. In the check list there were four rows stating Things to be done – receiving check list, biometric test, document verification and interview. After completing each stage we had to get our checklist signed. So my first stage was over in a moment :).

Next I was told to go to room number 160 for biometric test. We were told to sit as per our registration numbers and wait. There were two sections one for people who had got Gate waiver and the other for those who had come through the entrance exam. In the beginning they were calling us one by one. But then they started calling randomly. In the meantime a person came from a bank and told about easy loan schemes for students. Finally my turn came at 10:30 AM. In the biometric test they took a photo and scanned the index finger of both hands. Stage two over :).

Now I had to report to room 133 for document verification. My documents were all ready. I just arranged them in the given order and again waited for my turn. There were also facilities for students to get their documents photo copied if they didn’t have it. My documents were verified. Stage three over :).

The volunteers there said that my turn would come in half an hour so I could take a break. So I waited there and revised my presentation in my mind. I was hungry so my Dad suggested that we should go to the canteen. We went to then canteen and also had a better look at the campus. Some students like me were also there having snacks. We ordered samosas, veg puff and cold drinks. It was tasty. Now I was feeling much better with something in my stomach.

Again I was back in room 133. I interacted with some volunteers. I got to know a lot of interesting stuff about the college. I asked him so many things but I forgot to ask his name :D. At this point I would like to add that the volunteers were very helping and friendly. They will help and guide you in the best possible way and answer all your queries. Finally my name was announced and that my turn would come soon. I was told to move to the holding area where i was told to sit and wait for my turn for the interview.

There were around 7-8 cabins where the interviews were being conducted. I was both excited as well as a bit stressed. A Sir called my name. I had butterflies in my stomach :). That Sir gave my form to my interviewer and moved out. Finally my interview started …

Firstly I was asked to introduce myself in about 2 mins. Sir listened very attentively and asked a few questions in between. Then he gave a short introduction about himself to make me more comfortable (a very good attempt on his part to make the interview easy for me :)). He asked if this was my best Gate score. He asked about my favorite subjects. Next he asked me to give the presentation. At this point he told me beforehand that he would stop me as soon as he got the inputs since there was limited time, so there should be no feelings of disrespect (another superb gesture on his part!). So i gave my presentation, and after about 3 mins he stopped me. I was a bit nervous as i had only given the introduction of my topic. He told me that my presentation and communication  skills were good. Next he asked me why i didn’t join TCS. Also to name a few companies i would like to work with in future. In the end he asked me if i had any queries. I asked a few questions and he gave its answers. With this my interview was over. Stage 4 which was the most tricky stage was complete 🙂 !!!

My interview was superb and went fine. I was sooooo happy! We had lunch at the college canteen which was OK. Next we roamed about in the campus which was simply awesome. Here i would like to mention that there is a small pond with some ducks. Oh ! it was so scenic. I just wanted to join this institute now :)!

Finally the good news came on May 14th, 2012 that i had been selected ! I was very very happy ! Out of 751 people who were interviewed, 150 were selected and i was one of them 🙂 I had always dreamt of this day. After visiting IIIT-B i had a strong urge to be its part. At this point i realized that if we strongly want something and dream about it day and night and also put in the required efforts, then the whole universe helps us in fulfilling our dream 🙂 (I know that it is a dialog of a movie but anyway this is the first time i realized that it is true :)).

Campus Tour of IIIT-B

PS 1 – Today i am sitting and blogging from train and will reach IIIT-Bangalore on July 13th, 2012  to join the institute. Yippee 😀
PS 2 – You can read my journey to IIIT-B for interview here – My First Flight Experience
PS 3 – I have closed comments as i have answered almost all the queries related to this topic. Please go through the queries and my replies in the  comments section and with a 95% probability, you will get an answer of your question as well. Admission is on the basis of Gate score. There is no way i can predict whether you will get admission on the basis of your score. Just see last year’s cutoff and hope for the best. Best of luck !