One Year Old!

I am an one year old baby in academics and this post is going to be a collection of my thoughts I have had for the past one year or so (before and after joining academics). In this first post I will concentrate on my general thoughts about joining LNMIIT. In the next post I will write on my thoughts on academics versus corporate.

To change from the world of “Hi” and “Bye” types to the world of “Good morning sir!” types was not an easy transformation personally, emotionally, economically, psychologically, socially, academically and logistically. When I decided to move out of an IT job my only aim was to regain my academic strength which I felt had lost its rigour when I was working in industry. When many IITs started showing only the entry level positions for me even after my industrial experience I decided I am not going to join an IIT at least as of now. That was the first jolt on my head. To add to the misery in one of the interviews for an IIT faculty position one of very senior professor from my parent institution whom I know very well passed on a comment directly to me on face that I have lost that midas touch that I was having during my PhD time after joining the industry. Even though I felt really bad hearing those words after few days I regained my composure. I took that comment positively and this made me even more stronger to look for avenues other than IITs. With some IIITs that I was interested in did not show interest in me because of my research topic I had to seriously look for the next tier institutes. That moment I came to know about LNMIIT and a few other private institutions through some colleagues and seniors. This is the moment I got some good advice from my colleagues and seniors. I will not name any one here but they still are my  great advisors.

As you all know in India private institutions are many but very few are of “some” class. Most of these institutions are teaching institutes who go on producing and manufacturing most of the students basically for IT jobs with few for exporting them to US and other Western Institutions. They are just manufacturing industries and in most of these institutions the research part is almost zero. So my choices were very few and it made my decision easier in that sense. LNMIIT was one of the best option for me for the following reasons:

  • When LNMIIT was started the academic seeds were sown by very senior highly experienced IIT professors so the IIT environment to an extent is still prevalent here
  • Teachers are everything here. Once the course is allotted it is the teachers responsibility to handle the course in the manner that he/she wants to approach. This gives lots of academic freedom to the faculties that any older IITs enjoy
  • It is a deemed university so there is sufficient facility to create our own advanced level courses and deliver it in the sense that we want. For example, in some courses we may even take off the end semester exams and go ahead with capstone projects
  • Students should be good since LNMIIT selects most of the students on the basis of IIT JEE Main exams score and that is always greater than the cutoff for the IIT JEE advanced exam
  • Students selection is purely based on merit and merit only
  • Non-intrusive nature of the institute in the academic work of the faculties

At the same time when I thought of disadvantages I was thinking about the following:

  • Jaipur is too far away from my place of stay (Bangalore)
  • When compared to the places that I have lived in Jaipur is relatively not a very well developed city
  • Institute is not a very well known place even within India
  • Institute is primarily a UG based and so the number of masters and PhD students are very less. So it is going to be a difficult and challenging task for me to carry out research activities
  • Even within Jaipur the institute is far away from the city centre so finding schools and travelling daily to schools for my kids is going to be a very difficult task
  • Extreme climate in Jaipur is going to be a big issue. For anyone who has stayed in a place like Bangalore it is even more a bigger problem
  • Getting research projects from agencies especially the government agencies is going to be difficult and challenging

Every institution has its pros and cons due to various factors but the questions here is how are we going to take pros to our advantage and at the same time address the cons.  How did I address the disadvantages comes in the following paragraphs:

Even though Jaipur and Bangalore are too far away, fortunately, it is very well connected by air with 6 to 8 flights every day being operated between two cities as of today. Jaipur is less polluted, less crowded, less urbanised and not much traffic so its good for me – its an advantage! Institute is not a well known place in India. Yes true! But I remembered my postdoc advisor’s words – don’t be a tail in a king’s den rather join a place where you can be the head and show the path for success to others and build the place for yourself and others! Although I had heard these words quite long back it came like a lightning at the correct moment. Number of masters and PhD students is quite less but I saw that there is a high potential that we can increase this in the very near future. And I am also very hopeful that we can do research even with few of the top UG students and its very heartening to note that I have already done that with few students and many are in pipeline. So in the longer run it does not matter who he is/was what all matters is what work did you do with the students and the quality of the work. 

Institute is far away from the city centre was definitely a big issue for me – for, I don’t want my kids to suffer daily by travelling 30 kms to good schools rather I would take the burden of travelling daily. Best point in Jaipur is you could travel 20+ kms in 30 min which is quite impossible in Bangalore so when we compare distances in India we should compare the travel time only! And that too if there are other faculties who can car pool with you that’s the best thing to have isn’t it? That’s what I have got now!

Extreme climate is another big issue especially when you and your family had lived in a place like Bangalore. Hence myself and my family were prepared for this and it will be a great experience for my kids more than anything else. For me and my wife we have lived in a place in Canada where temperatures have ranged from -28 to +35 so this is going to be another experience for us. Summer has been burning hot but still my family is yet to face the winter here. So I have to wait and watch!

Research projects are just by-products of what you do. So if you do your work nicely and publish outside the projects will come so the onus is on me. Only thing I have to make sure is I get time, place and environment to do good research. In the first year my first job was to get acclimatise as a good teacher which I have done to an extend now my priority is to do good research with students and publish well!

Smiles in your student faces bring miles of satisfaction and that is second to none!

Update: Corrected small typo errors

Reflection on my class

It has been years since this blog got updated. Its time to get started again!

The series of blog on “Reflection on my class”  as the title signifies will be a self-reflection on my classes in Unconventional Models of Computing (UMC) that I am presently taking for 6th semester bachelor students in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, LNMIIT, Jaipur.

First class on the first day of the year 2016! UMC as the name itself signifies the approach to do computing is unconventional. But first before going to describe about what is so unconventional about it I wanted to broaden their view about what is computer, computing, informatics and computer science. My emphasis was about this statement – computer science is not about computer but about computing! I gave some examples to pass on the message that nature also computes. For example, bio-organisms always want to survive and in order to achieve that it has various layers of protection very similar to our human immune systems. So, if nature computes can we use that naturally occurring computation somehow to do computation for solving our own computational problems using in vivo experiments? That was my question to the students. I told them this is what is our classes on UMC about – we are going to see how to use DNA strands, peptides, cells and its natural interactions to build a computational model that give rise to DNA computing, peptide computing and cellular computing, respectively.

My next idea was to make them understand with a bit more insight into how computing takes place and at the same time the problem biocomputing models faces. This I wanted to clarify even before explaining the advantages for using those models. Perhaps this can be taken as a disclaimer! For this two objectives, I took the example of our human computing evolution from using pebbles, abacus, calculators and computers. I told them using pebbles is computing. All the more when we use pebbles we represent it for some other physical object. We are finding a relation, in fact an 1-1 function. In an abacus, the same representation happens but there is a manual intervention (to move the beads) needed to do the computing – computing here basically is arithmetical operations. We have an algorithm but that is executed by a human. Now comes the calculator it also does (mainly) the same arithmetical operations (little more heavy) but once the input is given no need for any human intervention. Operations are performed automatically by the circuits inside. Now comes the basic silicon model computers where there is a stored program concept where we are offered some basic operations and we can write a program based on those basic operations and store it in the memory and can be executed anytime, anywhere and many times too. Here too, no manual intervention is needed. But in biocomputing models I showed this picture (taken from DNA Computing book)

Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 2.53.45 PM

This picture presents us with many questions. Some essential questions to ask are

  1. Processing happens in test tubes. So, if two test tube solution is going to be poured into one who is going to do that?
  2. Who is going to find which test tube has to be selected and which test tube has to be left out?
  3. We may use a robot to do both the above steps but in that case who is going to instruct the robot?

So, in general biocomputing models needs manual intervention. As of now there is no stored program or automatic execution of program concepts. But it has its own advantages if not why are we going to study these models, isn’t it?  We will see this in the next series of posts.

The Circumplex Model of Affect

It has been quite sometime since we posted anything here. Here we go! This time we briefly explain about the circumplex model of affect.

We are familiar with many emotions. Are there any relations among them? Or, are they independent? Happiness and sadness looks dependent such that when one increases, the other decreases and vice versa. What about others like surprise and happiness? We cannot directly state a relation. These kinds of curiosities lead  to the circumplex model of affect.

So, what is circumplex model of affect?

This model postulates that the underlying structure of affective experience can be characterized as an ordering of affective states on the circumference of a circle as shown in the following figure.

Circumplex Model

Figure: The Circumplex Model of Affect [Promises and Problems with the Circumplex Model of Emotion,” by R. J. Larson and E. Diener, in M. S. Clark (Ed.), 1992, Review of Personality and Social Psychology: Emotion (Vol. 13, p. 31), Newbury Park, CA: Sage. Copyright 1992 by Sage]

Originally proposed by Schlosberg [Schlosberg, H. (1941). A scale for the judgment of facial expressions. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 29, 497-510., Schlosberg, H. (1952). The description of facial expression in terms of two dimensions. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 44, 229-237.], this model is most extensively elaborated upon by Russell [Russell, J. A., & Pratt, G. (1980). A description of the affective quality attributed to environments. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,38, 311-322].

According to this model, affective states should have decreasing positive correlations with one another as their separation from one another approaches 90°. At 90° separation, two affective states should be uncorrelated with one another. As the separation approaches 180°, affective states should have increasing negative correlations with one another. Here we can observe that it is plotted in a two dimensional scale (positive – negative and high arousal – low arousal). The following figure shows 28 affect words plotted in this scale.

28 Affect
28 Affect

Figure: 28 affect concepts in circular order [Russel, J Al, A circumplex model of affect, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1980, Vol. 39, No. 6, pages 1161 – 1178].

There are some criticisms against this model. The criticisms are that the two dimensional representation fails to capture important aspects of emotional experience and therefore sometimes does not reflect crucial differences among some emotions, the model was formulated on the basis of a selection of emotions that was not guided by systematic sampling or clear theoretical guidelines, different versions of the model sometimes postulate different locations for affective states and that empirically affective states are not always located in their predicted regions of the circle, etc.

What is emotion?

There are a lot of words related to emotions that we use every day – happy, sad, confused, wonder, contented, etc. we never had any doubt about what they mean. When we use these words to communicate, we never doubted whether the other person will understand it or not.

What comes to our mind when we hear these words?

For example, what comes to our mind when we hear the word ‘happiness’?

It must be a smile or laughter. We remember cry or a frown face when we hear the word ‘sad’.

Is this what emotion is all about?

Definitely not.

According to Nico H Frijda, there are three components for emotions.

  1. Behavior/expression
  2. Subjective experience
  3. Physiological responses

Laughter, cry, smile, frown, etc. are behaviors that are associated with certain emotions. Apart from these expressions, we can observe bigger and more significant behaviors also as part of emotional behaviors, like throwing something when angry, patting a pet when affectionate, etc.

Apart from these, there are feelings or experiences that are associated with each emotion. It is very difficult for someone to explain this experience even though everyone experiences it. It is more like ‘the self’ or the ‘I’ within us experiences the emotion. This is evident when someone explains their emotional state like “I feel sad”, “I feel happy”, etc. The assumption is that if people emphasize on “I feel…” there must be something special about that feeling.

Another thing that comes into picture is physiological responses. For example, shivering, palpitations, etc. We use some nice phrases to represent the physiological changes.  ‘Broken heart’, ‘butterflies in the stomach’, etc., are some phrases we use to explain some of these states.

When we face an event, we generate all the three mentioned above as a response to what we face. This phenomenon is called emotion.

Emotion Vs Thinking

“Well, that person is very emotional!”

“Don’t be emotional!”

How many times have we heard of statements similar to this? I guess it should be almost every day. What is the objective to coin sentences similar to these? Have we thought about this? I think one of the main reasons to brand a person by saying he is emotional is to mean that he is not rational; he is not applying his mind. Now should we think emotions are hindrance to rational thinking? If your answer is yes then you are right but one fact is you are still in olden days! Because in the olden days people thought emotion is a hurdle to think rationally and logically. Plato said “passions and desires and fears make it impossible for us to think”. Descartes also said in the same vein that emotions keep the mind from pursuing its intellectual process.

In the recent times (50 years is recent in research unlike technology for which it is ancient!) researchers, especially, psychologists have explored the many positive roles of emotions in cognition and intelligence.

I am not going into the technical details to explain the positive roles of emotions in this post but I would like to suggest few examples which can substantiate to an extent the positive roles played by emotions.

Herbert Simon in one of his paper in 1967 argued that emotions perform the critical important function of interrupting normal cognition when some unattended goals require attention and servicing. This is a very important feature of emotions — in the broader sense this is called as internal goal management. The other main use of emotion is as problem solving tool. This too, was pointed out by H. Simon. For example, let us see a person who is going to perform on the stage for the first time. Just think of his varied mix of emotions. He is happy that he has got an opportunity; He fears that nothing unexpected things happens; He is anxious about his performance and the response from the audience. These are few emotions a normal person will go through. Happy makes him/her in a positive frame of mind. Fear makes him to prepare for the eventualities that he might face when he performs on the stage. Anxiousness makes him to perform to the liking of the audience according to his belief (leave out if it is ultimately a success or failure). The liking is with respect to him — he is seeing the expectation of the audience through his perception. So what we infer here — emotions are driving forces to take necessary actions for the expected events. Emotions are also in the abstract sense an umbrella term to seek solutions. I mean to say each emotion is mapped to few set of solutions. Fear can occur for various events but each occurrence of fear in a person will drive him to apply the solutions associated with fear either to run away, prepare to face it, get some help from someone and so on.

So emotions are not hindrance to thinking but the moral is to use emotion and thinking in a correct proportion. Correct proportion is very hard to define here. It comes only through experience and it also depends on one’s own personality.

Thinking without being emotional is learning to drive a car by reading books about driving; learning swimming without touching the water!

First Post

We feel a different kind of nausea! That’s why this title for the blog! Let us explain why in the sequel.

First, we will set the context by introducing ourselves. We two, Nirmal and Sakthi, are part of ECOM research lab, Infosys, Bangalore. For the past few years we have been reading on various topics like emotion, cognition, interpretation, intelligence, consciousness, perception and related stuffs. Our objective is to study about human (emergent) behaviors and to look it in the computational perspective.

The topics mentioned above are peculiar in the sense that most of the people think that they understand themselves and what happens around them, but we feel that this ‘understanding’ is a bit more complex than it looks like. Also, we feel that the limit to one’s ‘understanding’ is closer than they appear to be. In this blog, we intend to write about our journey in this intellectual adventure and other miscellaneous stuff that might include music, photography, chess and so on.

To be more precise most of our posts will be about the research papers that we have read on these topics together with our views. We feel that by “throwing” these things here (now you know why we call it as nausea!) and making a diary of events about whatever we know, whatever we have read, observed and inferred we would be able to string together the various discrete looking ideas and make something useful!

We hope it would be useful.