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My days at Theoretical Comp Sci Lab @ IIT-M (TCS Lab)

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I have been wanting to write this post for a very long time. The reason being simple enough, It changed a  lot in my life. When I joined fresh at NIT Trichy and completed my first year, I was more into programming and algorithms. Used to sit in I-Lab and do some of those SPOJ problems( yeah!! when I was in First year, I-Lab was good and it wasn’t filled with gultis watching videos on you tube and orkuting ). At that point of time, I was more interested into getting a Stud job once I complete my college. But now after 4 years at NIT-Trichy, I am dropping  an offer to join Cisco and heading for Masters at Univ of Wisconsin Madison. I can attribute all of it to Prof Pandurangan and his TCS Lab  🙂 .

Akhil and myself were on the same boat looking for profs to do project work on back in 4th Sem. I was more inclined to do an internship sort of thing at some startup or some small company but was also looking out on the academic sides. One afternoon, when we were busy spamming the inboxes of many such IIT Profs, Akhil mentioned  about Prof Pandurangan and  told me how his papers regularly appear in ACM’s Conf. And thats when I started mailing him and was fortunate enough to get his reply. Later he came down to our college( he was in the Board that certifies the Departments for some approval) for an official visit and said he would talk with all those interested in taking up internships at TCS lab. We were greatly amused by the way his lecture just kept us hooked on to the topic. One year into the department, I never felt like I was actually learning something new and exciting until I was attending his lecture(yes!! Mohan was taking a course in both the sems that year :P).  And thats when I decided to try out the internship and was very happy when he accepted to host a couple of us at IITM :).

So began the wonderful days at IITM TCS lab. The first time , some 8 of us were working under him and unfortunately he could only let us into the lab and not into the IIT M hostels :). So myself and Akhil stayed in the classrooms of KV School. The School was closed for vacations and we had the whole big black board all for us to scribble. Though technically, I should say we stayed at the Lab for 75% of the time in a day :).  TCS Lab was more than what we expected, given the condition of Labs at NITT( the 3rd semester, we didnt even have the labs ready and the next sem, I remember the server crashing most of the time :P) .

This was also when we were being taught what research work is. Until then I had no clue what it was to get a publication, a peer review, do a survey, Proof techniques etc. And a whole new exciting world of things was thrown at me. The  first time, I spent my time mostly reading papers and getting to know my area well. Akhil, myself and Bharathwaj(from IITB, a engg physics Student) were assigned to work on Multi Party Computation and Information Theoretic Security. In Research, you get excited when you know that the stuff you are working on is barely a few years old and there is a lot of scope for Research work.  Also Prof Pandurangan was taking a summer course on Algorithms and it was a Bliss!!. Till date, I havent enjoyed any class as much as I have enjoyed sitting in his classes :). Unlike other guys from my coll who were working on  Provable Security and trying to write a Survey, Prof let us work on a Problem right away :). We had to solve couple of Round Complexities in VSS and most of the day , it would be sitting in the TCS Lab and discussing if this works or that works with Akhil and Bharath(also a bit of chatting online with college friends and visiting the canteen freq :P). Bharathwaj was a step ahead of me and Akhil and always had a clear idea of whats wrong and whats right :). He helped me a lot in figuring out few mistakes too.  Whenever, we had a small idea we thought would work, we would run to Arpita and Ashish , who were doing  PhD under Prof. Now these two deserve more than a special thanks from me cos, I haven’t seen some one so dedicated as them :). In fact, whenever I consider my self if I have to do a PhD in future, I ll be weighing myself against them to check if I am ready :).

The one thing about TCS Lab is that you can find a lot of interesting people to discuss and chit chat including Prof Pandurangan. He would come around the labs, chatting with each one about his work in progress and crack a joke that would have us all in splits :).  He would also tell us what it takes to get a good publication out of students.After a few interactions with him, I was more than convinced to not just stop with B-Tech and get a stud job, but to definitely do a Masters.  Back then, the Lab would be full with so many  students that people who walk past the corridor, would mistake the place where we keep our foot wear for a shop that sells footwear :P. And some or the other old Student of Prof would visit the lab, not to forget the box of sweets that come with them. We had a tradition in TCS lab that who ever gets sweets for Prof  [which according to records, he never touches 😉 ], also gets a box of them for the lab inmates. All this experience with the Lab was something I could never dream of getting at NITT :). I dont think any Prof would comeback at Ten in the night to the lab and have discussions till late midnight at NITT ( many of them dont even come to dept in the day time !).

After our first internship, we were extended the opportunity to continue  working in the winter also. Prof was always insistent on making us realize  how Research is not a one-summer-outing thing. I still tell my juniors who are onto doing research project the same thing. Don’t think of it as a Summer Project or something you get to do for getting a Certificate.  A certificate can get you nothing in my opinion. So I said to myself, that I am not gonna give up unless I get a good publication out of this. Also Aishwarya and Anugrah joined me during the winter and we were looking at a new set of problems, hoping to solve them. By the end of it, I almost got some results and it so happened to be the new year eve.  During my  6th sem, I was mostly spending my time writing the paper for submission when one fine day, Arpita and Ashish spotted  a flaw in it :). And it rest there until the next summer when I went back to lab.

This time, I was totally working on a diff prob, AMPC. And suddenly one evening, I got an idea for the proof to work around the flaw in my previous result. Finally I had a perfect working one(though it was a very simple solution). And Prof wanted to send it for CANS 09   which had the submission deadline in  a week or so. So once again we were off to writing the protocols, changing a lot of stuff from old paper, adding new.. And we had a 23 page paper for a conf that allowed only 18 pages with appendix :P. And this is when Arpita and Ashish clearly demonstrated to us how many papers they have successfully authored. The draft before Arpita and Ashish did the corrections looked so amateurish. We had no idea what point to highlight and what to leave it for the reader to understand himself.  Using notations, skipping unwanted statements and proofs… learnt lots from them:). My desktop would have draft_1 draft_2 … and so on :P. We worked till some 2 in the labs. Did a lot of night-outs in lab (never heard of students even using labs outside the lab hours back in NITT). It felt exciting and like a whole diff world to me :).  Later in August, we were delighted when the paper got accepted. Should thank Sharmi and Vivek too for all those night outs. We used to go to Basera at 2 in the night after doing all the corrections to paper. At times, Sharmi n Vivek’s 2 yr old son Shvithin would come to lab and play around. Such a delight to watch prof and him talk :).

All this made me transform from a guy who aspired to get into a Stud company back in 3rd Sem  to a guy who wanted to go for higher studies by the end of 6th Sem.  Ironically, Akhil on the other hand who  wanted to end up doing research at the end of coll back then  is now heading to join Facebook :).  I still have no idea what it would have been if I hadn’t gone down this path but I am sure it would have been less exciting for me :). The admits that I got would never have been possible if not for Prof’s motivation and support:).  I owe it all to TCS lab , Prof  Pandurangan , and my other friends over there( Its actually a big list 😛 ). Those late night chats, running from TCS Lab – I to TCS Lab – II whenever we have something to discuss with Arpita and Ashish, Prof always trying to kalachify Shriram and Kalai, running to the Staff canteen for tea/cofee/icecream/lunch, the stay at KV school, latex work, Seminars, Prof’s jokes, Treats.. a long list of things I ll be missing when I go to Wisc Mad 🙂

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Written by Sathya Narayanan

July 16, 2010 at 10:24 am

Group Pic at CANS 2009

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I like this pic.. spot me 🙂

Written by Sathya Narayanan

January 15, 2010 at 9:59 am

CANS 2009 at Kanazawa, Japan

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Last winter was the first time I had crossed south India, to attend the ACM-ICPC Asia Regionals at Kanpur and this Winter turns out to be yet another memorable one with me travelling outside India, the first time,  for attending the 8th International Conference on Cryptology and Network Security (CANS 2009) held at Kanazawa, Japan. My paper was selected  in the conference and I was  funded by the conference for presenting it (thanks to them, my first international tour was funded :P). I was all excited because this was the first time I would be flying in an aeroplane. Flying on an aeroplane had always been on my list of to-do things and it was really great to have made it before I finished my college :). So I was all set to start my trip on 9th December. I had completed my apping process well ahead to give some cushion time for preparing for the conference and  do some winter shopping.

8th December :

My parents were the most excited to see me board the flight at Bengaluru. We started from home and had a nice 4 hour drive to Bengaluru Airport. Went to my cousin’s house and picked her up  too :). If it wasnt for my cousin, we would have really struggled to find the route to airport in Banglore. My flight was scheduled at 00.30 hrs on 10th morning and I was at airport arnd 2100hrs on 9th. I was mainly worried about the customs check as I was carrying both my hard disks with me  ( about 600 GB plus of movies and TV series 😛 ). There was a big sigh of relief on my side when they didnt check my stuff. Connected to the Wifi at aiport and bid good byes to all my friends and then I remembered that I hadnt taken my lan cable.

9th December:

Boarded my flight(Thai Airways)m and there I was taking my first flight :). Didnt feel anything during the take off, but had some problem with my ear whenever the plane makes a landing. I had to change my flights at Bangkok and was again online from the Wifi. Bankok airport was big with chinky girls were going here and there :P. I boarded my next flight to Kansai and this one had to stop inbetween at Manila for half an hour and then finally landed in Kansai at around 7.00pm local time. So I had three take offs and three landings in my first plane trip :D. Not to forget the food and the Thai airhostess :P. They kept asking me “Do you want scotch or wine or rum?? ” .. If only I was used to drinking :P. Drank loads of  juices , watched a couple of movies and then I was finally in Japan. Kansai was cold and raining a bit. We checked into Hotel Seagull. They had arranged for a pickup from the airport and I  totally loved the Kansai International Airport. It is located on an artificial island and connected to mainland by bus and trains. So when the plane lands, it looks really awesome like landing on a ship or something :D. I was so tired of the journey. Since it was my first plane journey, I didnt sleep at all. So I was almost awake for around 48 hours. Checked into the hotel and slept off.

10th December :

The actual plan was to get up at 9 and look around Kansai. But I actually got up at 12.30 and by the time I was ready, it was around 3 in the evening. And then we were off to Universal Studios, Japan (USJ). Took a train from one of the stations closer to the hotel and reached the airport and then took at JR pass for roaming around. Train are costly in Japan( well they are not the only ones that are costly. Everything is costly in japan). It was a ten minute travel in local train and it cost some 410 JPY( about 205 INR). Reached USJ at around 5 in the evening at realised it would be open only till 8 in the evening.There was some twilight pass for discount and we grabbed them and started looking around. Went for couple of adventure rides and really loved it :).  I  especially liked the Holywood Adventure ride and The Spiderman Ride. Came out and was happy to see a Mc D. That reminds me to tell u something as a precaution for Indians coming to Japan and especially gultis who are used to hot and spicy food. Japan food is colourful and looks  delicious but no spice at all . Not even a bit. So I mostly kept myself to Mc D that I frequently found at all the palces. Japanese people are so friendly. They dont talk english much. But whatever be the case, they be so polite and explain you in the best possible way. Something I admired in them. And they eat less and no spice in their food is the reason I guess they manage to stay very  healthy. I never could spot a fat woman in my whole journey. So after USJ, we were all set to go back. Took a train from USJ to Nishikoju and had to change trains from there to Airport and reach my hotel from there. But we were lost in between at Tennoji when  we got into the wrong train. I realised it half way the wrong route and had to change trains, come back and board the right one. Was really exciting because train s ervice stops here at 12.00 in the night and starts again at 4.00 in the morning. So we had to rush really and get on to the last trains at all the stations:). That pretty much was my first day in Japan. I loved the trains and the people.

11th December :

After a day in Kansai, I was headed to Kanazawa where the conference was set to take place  from 12th – 14th  December. I had to go back to airport and pick a local train to Osaka and then board a superfast train Thunderbird  bound to Kanazawa. People were so organized here. You could travel in reserved compartments for the same cost as long as the seats are empty the train was so fast. Went through lots of tunnels enroute Kanazawa and one of them was like some 10km  long . Reached Kanazawa around 4.00 in the evening and being the northern part of Japan, this was more colder than Kansai. Checked into the Hotel Toyoko Inn – Korinbho. The room was just awesome with a spectacular view from the seventh floor.

12th December :

This was the first day of the conference. The conference was at Ishikawa Prefectural Museum and was a 10 min walk from that hotel. After having my breakfast, I was headed  to the conference. Did the registration and my presentation was in the first session. So met my Session Chair Prof Mark Manulis and it all began. The presentation went well and we were  set to have the lunch at the Kenrokuen Garden. This is one one the oldest of most buetiful gardens in Japan. It has the oldest fountain which doesnt use any motors but only the natural difference in the water pressure. The garden was so spectacular and amazing. I clicked a lot of Pics and we had a group Photoshoot. And then we were served traditional food in one of the restaurants inside the garden. This was the first time I had to eat with chopsticks. By now, I had made a good rapport with Jorge Nakahara ( whom I initially thought was a student, but turned out to be one of the session chairs in the final day 😛 ). There were cofee breaks in between the sessions and this was the time to interact with different people.  Not to forget the awesome donuts :). They made sure we had around 10 varieties each day. Before lunch, we had one of the invited talks from Prof Adam Smith from Penn State University. In the evening, we were headed to Excel Hotel Tokyo where  our first banquets was hosted. It was so grand and there was so much variety of food and drinks. They served the traditional Sake in a traditional wooden cup. Met a lot of new folks again, one of them being Prof Adrian Perrig from CMU. Had a nice interesting chat and one of the Professors made a nice dinner speech. It was a speech to explain  the sake brewing. It was stored in a wooden barrel which had to broken open with hammer. So some of us were called on stage to do the breaking and  there was a funny presentation on how to break the barrel in the lines of breaking a cryptographics scheme. People were literally rolling on floors with laughter on hearing the dinner speech and some like Prof Perrig excalaimed saying “This was the best dinner speech I have ever seen” . After the dinner we had a ‘gagaku’ ensemble performance. Gagaku is the oldest classical music in Japan, and it s performed at the Imperial Court or temples and shrines for several centuries. It was traditional and elegant. Returned back to room at around 11 in the night after a lot more interaction. Talked to the CMU prof about applying to CMU and he was positive and gave some nice pointers.

13th December :

The second day of conference. Again awesome donuts during all the cofee breaks and nice talks.  We had a invited talk by Prof Adrian Perrig from CMU and the second banquet. This one was about a 45 min drive from conference venue and they had chartered buses. It was a Wataya menu. The food that was served to us was made from rare ingredients taken from adjacent mountains and places. They cooked fish  in the farmer style. Fresh water fish cooked on fire was interesting but again no spice :P. After the banquet, there was a traditional taiko drum performance ‘Gomando Taiko’. The players were dressed in farmer-style clothing. It was composed of two parts: drum for joy and drum for exorcism. It was an unique and courageous performance with the tradition of 1300 years. We were headed back to hotel in the same busses. Met a lot more people over the lunch.Went for shoopping in the afternoon after lunch. This supposedly is my first venture at shopping by myself. Was fun and the shops here  have a great collection. Bought lots of stuff to take back home and for friends.

14th December :

The final day of CANS 2009 and I met Prof Josef Pieprzyk. My paper solved the same problem in Information Theoretic Setting that  his students had solved it in cryptographics settings. It was really nice talking to him  and kept telling me about his trip to India for one of the Indocrypts.  And then he introduced me to Prof Yvo Desmedt from University College, London. He is an exciting researcher with lots of energy and enthusiasm at a very old age. Cofee breaks were more of interaction with people and I really loved talking and getting to know new people. In one of the breaks, there was this guy Jerry Ray who came and introduced himself as the CEO of Secure Age. Its an MNC with various offices at San Francisco and lots of places( which I dont remember now). He was here to meet people and look for some new ideas for his company. He recently seems to have started a new office in Tokyo and invited me :). He was so nice to offer me his card and asked me to call  whenever I come to Tokyo or was interested in doing an internship :). Lunch and Banquets were the interaction times :). During banquets, it was so informal with professors telling about their wifes and lifes :P.On how they met their wifes and life changed after it :P. It was nice listening to them :). We also had a inivted talk on this day from Craig Gentry. His talk was “Computing on Encrypted Data” and it was more on my lines except that I was working with a the same problem on different approach. Really liked his talks and got soem new ideas to work on. Later met him and had a chat over lunch. Went for more shopping as the conference ended. By now I had almost spent my 46000 JPY that I brought with me :P.

15th December :

We were supposed to check out of the hotel today and had no idea what to do after that. So I checked out and  went out to check out more places in and around. Went to the Kanazawa Castle Park and it was awesome. Came back to hotel and was drinking loads of cofee from the cofee vending machines. Though I had checked out, they let me stay in the lobby(where there was free wifi again :P). Left to Kansai Airport on Thunderbird train at around 6 in the evening and spent the rest of time at the airport, online. I hadnt slept the whole night. Kept chatting with some or the other guy online 😛 and downloading too :P.

The Trip Experience :

Looking back, I definitely feel like coming back to Japan with my friends and roaming around. Though with Indian food packed 😛 and loads of cash. Cheap shopping is an oxymoron in Japan :P. Apart from these, I really liked the Japanese people. You look into some one, be it a guy or  a girl irrespective of the age, they will slightly bow their head and wish you.  And one more notable thing over here is that life is very peaceful. I havent seen any political chaos or stickers at any of these places. Everything is well organized though. I asked a friend of mine who is studying in Japan about the politics and how people manage to stay low on politics and he replied saying he has been here for about 6 months and is yet to figure that out :P.

The conference was exciting indeed and so was the hospitality. The steering commitee announced that this was the biggest CANS ever and the best organized one with lots of notable people attending.  Turns out that I was the only undergraduate here and every one seems to be surprised on when they ask me “So which area are u working for ur PhD ? ” and I reply saying I an undergraduate. Met loads of people .. French, American, Egypt, Germany, Italy American, Mexican, Australian, British, Japanese, Chineese couple of folks from Microsofy Research USA, IBM Research, AT&T labs and  private corporates.  Got to know about their local traditions :D. I am really happy that my first conference turned out to be so amazing. And not to forget, I got the proceedings in which my paper appears. Its LNCS book no 5888 pages 21-40 :D.  My only disappointment being that I didnt stay there till it started snowing :(. Looks like its due snow 3 days after my departure. Happy memories and I am looking forward to the Bombay trip to RK’s home next week with a gang of 11 😀 . And finally, thanks a lots to all those people who helped me in the travel preps. My cousins Veni and Vandhana gave me so much tips that I almost felt comfortable venturing out :D. And to sudharshan from Japan who helped me a lot in getting to know stuff here and giving me  his voip 😀 . I called up all my friends back home and did some thing funny too :P(more on tht later). Thanks for the CANS commitee for the funding and Prof C Pandurangan for  giving me all these opportunities :).

Kanazawa is a beautiful place to visit and especially the Kenrokuen garden and the Castle Park. Kanzawa literally translates to  “gold land” and u can see a lots of shops selling gold artifacts and leafs. A great place to shop if u have enough money :P.  A mix of modernity with natural surrounding. Thank to CANS 09 for choosing this venue. The next CANS is set to take place in Malaysia :).

Written by Sathya Narayanan

December 20, 2009 at 6:03 pm

New Year at Theoretical Comp-Sci Lab

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2008 ended  with a bang for me . With results declared on new year eve , i was delighted to see a 9.64 GPA with all the efforts i put in ( refer this ) .Lots of guys were actually not happy with results coming out on new year eve .The next thing i was happy was succesfully downloading  the Ubuntu 8.10 repository using deb mirror  from the IIT M Mirror . I had downloaded some 24.8 GB of data in some 2 hours . I am planning to set up the repository back at coll so that we have a local mirror (seperate post on using debmirror coming up ) . With this the new year eve ended on  a high and i had made some working solutions for the research problem at hand. It  was  a overwhleming  farewell gift of 2008 🙂 .img_2010

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2009 had a great beginning too.It was much of a surprise . After wishing everybody a happy new year , i was off to lab . I hadnt been doing much of work this winter , so i thought of not wasting the new year day. Also there was supposed to be a class on randomised algorithms by Prof C. Pandurangan which i didnt want to miss . So I reached lab around 10 in the morning . And then I  discussed my solution for Private Matching with Prof and Phd students and finally i had some meaningful outcome for my brief winter stay at Theoretical Comp Sci Lab ( i think i have been to lab only for some  10 days in total ).So I finally got a  green signal to write my kutti results  and i should soon be sending it for a journal publication soon 🙂 . Hope it goes on well . I was exited with the new year beginning on a good note .

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More fun came when the guys here  at lab decided to cut a cake and celebrate new year. So they got 2 cakes ( eggless becos prof is strictly vegetarian)  , some snacks and two big bottles of Cool Drinks to lab and soon prof joined us for the celebrations , giving his wishes .We put the camera to a good use  and also took pics group wise  ( perfect security , provable security , graph theory , game theory )  with professor. It was all fun. The atmosphere was unbeleivable .Something i cant get back in my coll and i enjoyed it completely here . Suddenly people started asking prof for his birthday treat. The guys here actually celebrate 4 birthdays of prof . One his actual birthday , his star birthday , the one in his pass port, and the one in his official records 🙂 . And apart from this they also celebrate all transitive closure events of each other’s birthday 😛 . (Looks like its more fun doing research 🙂 ) .img_2035

Soon we were headed to Cafe Coffee Day (yeah CCD 🙂 ) here, with prof and we were around 20 people . Formed a big circle over there in CCD and the rest is all wht usually happens in any treat 😀 . After the treat we again took pics . In all it was a memorable new year . It was followed by a lecture on Randomised algorithms ( which i am planning to blog on soon ) . No one who sits in Pandurangan sir’s class leaves without getting inspired by the subject that he takes. And so was I.

In all this new year was entirely opposite previous one. On the eve of the 2008 new year , me and my dad met with an accident and we were in CMC Hospital . My dad had a minor fracture in his right shoulder and we came back home only on Jan 1st morning after spending the whole night at hospital .So i am really thrilled with this new year beginning on a high . 🙂 🙂

Written by Sathya Narayanan

January 1, 2009 at 5:55 pm