How good is the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) for Masters in CS?

My answer on Quora to the question “How good is the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) for Masters in CS?

The Computer Science and Electrical Engineering (CSEE) department provides good opportunities in terms of advanced course work, pursuing research at the Master’s level, and good faculty in the research areas especially in Artificial Intelligence (Machine Learning, Robotics, Semantic Web), Computer Graphics and Vision, Security. The department encourages students to pursue research both at the undergraduate and at the master’s level as well. As a graduate assistant and international graduate student, I found the CSEE staff extremely patient and helpful (especially with the international students). The professors in the department are very helpful and approachable. It is also good to see that they are very active in both research as well as teaching. The CSEE department has been recruiting faculties who have graduated from top schools. The most recent hires in the past 3-5 years come with PhDs/Post-doc experience from MIT, University of Washington, University of Massachusetts Amherst.

The trip that almost did not happen

The Sydney Opera House and the Harbor Bridge
The Sydney Opera House and the Harbor Bridge

Wednesday morning. October 23, 2013 [Australian Eastern Time Zone]. I took a seat in large conference room in the Sydney Convention Center. Dr. Ramanathan V. Guha, computer scientist and Google Fellow, was about to begin his keynote at the 12th International Semantic Web Conference on the impact of on the world wide web. I had made it. Barely 2 hours ago, I had landed at the Sydney International Airport. I rushed to the hotel; refreshed my self and headed out to the Sydney Convention Center. This, however, was not how I had planned my trip. I was supposed to reach on Monday morning, Australian EST. However. Read on.

Saturday morning. October 19, 2013 [US Eastern Time Zone]. I wake up and check my email. No news from the Australian Immigration office. My flight to Sydney, Australia was at 5.30 pm. I waited for a few more hours. No news till noon. I went ahead and canceled my flight. I was supposed to attend the International Semantic Web Conference (ISWC) 2013 between October 21 and 25 in Sydney. I had applied for visa nearly four weeks before my trip and it still hadn’t been processed.

On Sunday evening, I hear from my adviser. He had reached Australia and talked with the local chairs of the conference, who in turn put in a request for immediate processing of my visa. On my adviser’s suggestion, I rebook my flight for Monday evening and wait for my visa.

Monday morning. October 21, 2013 [US Eastern Time Zone]. Same story. I wake up check my email. No news yet. Around 9.00 am. It was there. A visa was sitting in inbox. Thanks to the efforts of my adviser and the local chairs of the conference, the Washington DC embassy issued me a visa first thing in the morning. I was going to travel after all. In the next four hours, I hurriedly pack my stuff and rushed to the airport. As I boarded my flight to Los-Angeles (LA) from where I was going to catch my connection to Sydney, I was still shaking my head. Never at such short notice, I made such a long trip.

With no in-seat flight entertainment (yes, you read it correctly), a John Grisham novel, The Racketeer, picked up at the Baltimore-Washington International airport kept me entertained through the long flights. Nearly five hours to LA and then another fourteen odd hours to Sydney. If I may add, a minor adventure on flight was averted. I didn’t get a chance to request vegetarian meal in all this melee and I was more 90% sure that I am going hungry all the way to Sydney. Fortunately someone else who had requested a vegetarian meal had canceled and that food landed on my tray !

Immigration and customs at the Sydney international airport went off without any adventure. I boarded a train from the airport to Central Business District (CBD) area of the city. Central station as well as the buildings and streets around the station reminded me of Mumbai. The old British architecture was evident amidst bustling tall modern buildings. More like Churchgate area if you know Mumbai. More about Sydney later, perhaps another post.

Looking back it was an interesting adventure. The week leading up to the conference, I was unsure whether I would travel or not. I tried reaching out to the Australian Immigration office for an update with no luck. The day before and the day of travel was even more tantalizing. My friends and colleagues had just one question for me – are you going or not ? Perhaps from Saturday all the way upto Monday, I was waking up every morning, not knowing whether I will be spending the evening in Baltimore (and United States) or not !

I wish, in the future, countries around the world make travel seamless. Surely, you should not require four – six weeks to get a travel visa.

The Allnighter

Dedicated to all my (current and former) lab-mates in the Ebiquity Research Lab and my other friends who tend to pull off many allnighters ! 🙂

Originally posted at PhDComics, “Allnigther” (copyright Jorge Cham)

Free Classes at Stanford University

Stanford University will be offering the following classes online and free, starting January 2012 :

Non Computer Science courses:

Which courses are you planning to enroll ?

The Indian Sweet Trick

Source : event took place in my lab a few months ago. You may have heard of the Indian rope trick. My grad school lab mate coined a new one : “The Indian sweet trick”.

Definition : Indian sweet trick – Using sweets from India in tricking a person to forget things

Here’s the story behind it. My lab mate, lets call him X, came into the lab to get some coffee and a printout. One of us who had just returned from India offered some Indian sweets to X. With sweets in sight X forgot everything and ended up talking about sweets! Fifteen minutes later, X walked out with a handful of sweets ! Next day, X comes in with the same purpose and was offered some more sweets. X goes to coin “Don’t pull the ‘Indian sweet trick’ on me again” !

Just another a day in a grad school research lab ! 😀

Tilak’s vision still lives on

While it is still not clear when and how Ganesh Chaturthi started, it mostly used to be a family affair.  People used to have their own Lord Ganesh idol in their homes for celebrating the festival. Lokmanya Tilak, saw the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi as an opportunity to bring people together and in 1893, he started organizing Ganesh Chaturthi as a public festival. Everyone one – Hindus, non Hindus, Brahmins, non Brahmins would come together. And as they say, rest is history. Ganesh Chaturthi became a widely celebrated public festival all over India, especially in Maharashtra.

Fast forward to 2008 – I moved to the US to pursue higher education and I realized that how powerful the thought of Tilak was. We are still carrying on the the legacy and the idea with which Tilak started Ganesh Chaturthi – bringing everyone together. For 5 days, majority of the Indian students in UMBC (and same is the case with most other universities in the US) come together and celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi. For the students here, it doesn’t matter whether they celebrate this festival in India or not. But they do come and celebrate it here in the US. It gives a sense of belonging and togetherness to everyone – as Tilak had envisioned, it brings everyone together.

And this is just one instance amongst many that you will find which shows how simple yet powerful Tilak’s vision was.

A special thank you to …

Post Master’s thesis defense, I decided to write up a different kind of acknowledgement. Inspired by Chaitali’s blog a few years ago, this one acknowledges all those, who we should be thanking too, but we forget about them!

First off a big thanks to my laptop (a Dell Inspiron 1525) and the Dell desktop box I use in my lab for being my constant companions, all through reading of papers, writing the code developed to test my approaches, writing my thesis, making presentations etc. Both Windows 7 & Linux Mint 7 served me well ! Thanks to Microsoft Word and Latex, during the writing part of my thesis and a couple of papers that I have worked on so far. Thanks to the Ebiquity lab printer, printing out countless reference papers and thesis while I proof read it.

Microsoft PowerPoint was awesome. Without it, making good presentations would have been difficult. It helped me win the best presentation award at the UMBC Graduate Research Conference 2010 and prepare a good presentation for the defense as well! Be it snow, rain or heat, my car, the Mazda Protege (a car with the Semantic Web connection 😛 ) was my constant companion. The car was a big help, when I wanted to stay late in to the night in my lab. Mr. Capresso in the Ebiquity Lab, churned out countless cups of coffee to keep me awake !

Last but not the least, Life would have been difficult if it wasn’t for Mr. Google and Mr. Bing ! Thanks a lot ! And yea apologies to all other softwares, systems that I did not name here due to lack of space ! 😀

PS: I did a lot of practice talks of my presentations and my defense in the basement of my house ! Thanks to the basement as well for listening to the same talk again and again ! 😛