August 29, 2012

Getting Auctex working on Mac OS X

Here are the steps I followed:
*) ./configure --with-emacs=/Applications/ --disable-preview --with-lispdir=/Applications/
*) make
*) sudo make install

(load "auctex.el" nil t t)
(setq TeX-auto-save t)
(setq TeX-parse-self t)
(setq-default TeX-master nil)
(add-hook 'LaTeX-mode-hook 'visual-line-mode)
(add-hook 'LaTeX-mode-hook 'flyspell-mode)
(add-hook 'LaTeX-mode-hook 'LaTeX-math-mode)
(add-hook 'LaTeX-mode-hook 'turn-on-reftex)
(setq reftex-plug-into-AUCTeX t)

August 28, 2012

Template for SIG Alternate


% \usepackage[english,plain]{fancyref}
% \usepackage[colorlinks,citecolor=black,filecolor=black,linkcolor=black,urlcolor=black]{hyperref}
% \usepackage{amsmath}
% \usepackage{mathtools}
% \usepackage{amssymb}
% \usepackage{cite}
% \usepackage{verbatim}

% \renewcommand{\fref}{\Fref}
% \usepackage[labelformat=simple]{subfig}
% \renewcommand\thesubfigure{~(\alph{subfigure})}
% \newcommand{\tbd}[1]{[{\color{red}{\bf{TBD: #1}}}]}
% \newcommand{\etal}{\emph{et~al.}}


\title{Name here.}
\alignauthor Ranjha \titlenote{Real life dog detective.}\\
       \affaddr{Pratap Sharma.}\\
\alignauthor Zanjeer \titlenote{First famous dog.}\\
       \affaddr{Mumbai Police.}\\
\alignauthor Zanjeer II \titlenote{Inspired by Zanjeer.}\\
       \affaddr{Mumbai Police.}\\
\alignauthor Scooby Doo \titlenote{Time for scooby snack.}\\
       \affaddr{Mystery Inc}\\
\alignauthor Scrappy Doo \titlenote{Let me at him. I'll splat him.}\\
       \affaddr{Scooby's care}\\
\alignauthor Scooby Dum \titlenote{Dum Dum Dum Dum!}\\
       \affaddr{Mystery Inc.}\\





August 19, 2012

Theist or Atheist: My dilemma while using the Dawkins Scale

I wanted to find out where I stand on the scale of 1 to 7 in what I call the Dawkins scale of belief. While thinking about this scale I realized I have some serious issues with this scale. These issues arise because this scale does not account for pantheism (or the Advaita school of thought as it is known in India).

Spectrum of Theistic Probablity 

The details of this scale are as follows. The following is an excerpt from the wiki page titled "Spectrum of theistic probability" that details out the scale used by Richard Dawkins to quantify the degree of theism/atheism.
  1. Strong theist. 100 per cent probability of God. In the words of C.G. Jung: "I do not believe, I know."
  2. De facto theist. Very high probability but short of 100 per cent. "I don't know for certain, but I strongly believe in God and live my life on the assumption that he is there."
  3. Leaning towards theism. Higher than 50 per cent but not very high. "I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God."
  4. Completely impartial. Exactly 50 per cent. "God's existence and non-existence are exactly equiprobable."
  5. Leaning towards atheism. Lower than 50 per cent but not very low. "I do not know whether God exists but I'm inclined to be skeptical."
  6. De facto atheist. Very low probability, but short of zero. "I don't know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there."
  7. Strong atheist. "I know there is no God, with the same conviction as Jung knows there is one."
Pantheism vs Abrahamical Religions. 

I was curious as to where I stood on this scale; however, I faced a problem as I could not fit myself anywhere in this scale. This scale is perfectly suitable for the concept of God according to the Abrahamical religions.  People following such faiths can use this scale to quantify their beliefs.

Statue of Spinoza in Amsterdam. I had not heard about
Spinoza before my trip to Holland. For some creepy reason 
I was drawn to this statue and decided to take its picture.
I then read about this person after my trip. This had a domino
effect on my view of the world.
For me, the biggest hurdle in using this scale was the absence of Monism and Pantheism. Specifically, the forms of faith where there is no difference between the so called creator and the created. This problem is not new and is largely captured in various debates between the dvaita and advaita schools of thought in Hinduism. In the context of this scale, Dawkins tends to equate Monism (and also Pantheism) with not only Monotheism but also Atheism. This, in my opinion, is misleading and to a large extent wrong. Dawkins in his various books disagrees with such concepts and believes that pantheism is "sexed-up atheism." The essence of Dawkins beliefs is true. Indeed, the all forgiving Abrahamical God is completely different from the Brahman described by Adi Shankara and Nature described by Spinoza. Pantheism, however, is inherently different from atheism on many issues; the most important difference is creation, the bone of contention amongst all forms of beliefs. Despite these differences, I strongly believe that pantheism is more closer to atheism and has very little in common with monotheism.

From a Line to a Triangle (and Pyramid)

To address my dilemma I thought of drawing my thoughts on the various forms of belief and faiths I had come across. I am not confident of being able to capture all forms of faith in a planar graph, however the ones I have come across tend to fit in the following triangle. I must confess that at times I think of this as a top view of a pyramid with Agnostic at the top (and not bottom thanks to some atheistic arrogance).

I realize that I have navigated over the surface of this triangle (or moved within this pyramid) over the years. When I was young, I was on the line joining Monism to Monotheism, somewhere between Monism and Polytheism. With times, thanks to reading comics of Madhavacharya and Shankaracharya,  watching my great-grand mother worship Raghavendra Swami, and living with people from all over the world, my view of the world has changed. Currently I am slowly moving to the centre of the triangle having Agnostic, Pantheism, and Atheism as its vertices. At times, to save some time on useless discussions, I call my self atheist and an agnostic.

Position Fluidity 

I do not know where my beliefs shall converge before my last heart beat. I also do not know if this figure shall a) burst out to more dimensions with time, or b) converge to a simple straight line like Dawkins. I personally would have loved to have the clarity of people like Dawkins to simplify all the beliefs on a straight line.

I am certain that beliefs evolve with time for most of us. The sad things is that some people tend to retrace their steps and become born again believers of certain faiths. I wish and strongly believe that I shall not end up as one of them (whom at times, due my atheistic arrogance, I tend to call morons thanks to their weird questions).

Despite the differences in our beliefs I wish that each one comes out from the adolescence of blind faith and starts to think rationally and critically. Such rational and critical thinking is essential to shed light and be open minded on these issues. For starters I would recommend videos from QualiaSoup; I have embedded one such video that I found useful in becoming more open-minded.

August 17, 2012

Respect over Fear: A tribute to Harold Sir

During my school days at St. Vincents,  I had a physical training (PT) teacher whom we all knew as Harold Sir. I did not know his last name, Joseph, till I saw this obituary being shared on Facebook a couple of days back.

Harold Joseph, or Harold Sir to me and my classmates, stood apart from all the other PT teachers we had. Though he used to sit with the other PT teachers, in a room near the primary assembly area, he was visibly more disciplined than the rest. For example, one could easily spot him in a crowd -- you just had to find a person with the perfect posture. His spine would be as straight as any line can draw and his physique could put any olympic gymnast to shame. At St. Vincents the entire batch for a year used to be randomly shuffled into four divisions.  Each division that had him for PT was to a large extent, thanks to being naive, sympathized -- he never missed any class and was very particular in mixing exercises with sport. Some PT masters would just make us run one round of 400 m around the field and then hand over the footballs and basketballs. Harold Sir was different: he paid attention to the PT drills, push ups, sit downs, and other exercises, and would give the footballs only after the exercises

His face was always free from any emotion -- he was a no-nonsense kind of a person. I only remember him being visibly happy on very few occasions. For example, when someone ran by pacing a 400 m run well; I remember him saying "Very Good!" with smile to me once on one such occasion. Because I used to play tennis, I once overhead him express his  pleasure on watching the technique of one of my classmates (Ankush Chabra) during a tennis match.

His past was always mysterious to most of us. It was normal to hear stories floating around during lunch breaks that he was some senior member in the armed forces. The stories evolved with each passing year -- the smaller the kids floating the stories, the more hilarious they used to be. But the essence of these stories -- he had some military past -- was undeniable. This was also evident because during most march pasts that had members from the Indian Army marching with our NCC troops. During such march pasts the senior Army officers attending the event would look up to him with respect.  On one such occasion I remember that the chief guest, a senior military officer, got up from his seat and walked up the place Harold Sir was sitting and greeted him. For me it was his death that shed some light on this mysterious past; I just came across an article on him in sakal times titled,"Harold Joseph, St Vincent’s PT instructor no more." Indeed he was an officer in the Indian Navy. Now the only mystery is the number of enemy ships and submarines he sank with his bare hands.  

His biggest lesson and his biggest gift to me is defining respect and detailing the process to command respect. He is amongst the teachers that command respect. But this respect is the result  of distillation of innocent childhood fears, and Harold Sir refining it with time to produce respect in the purest form. He is the perfect example of how pure respect leaves a life long impression. Most primary school students began by fearing him. His presence and his name read out as the PT master for your division would be associated with trembling feet for a few. Trembling feet were completely natural thanks to his physical appearance -- standing with a posture supported by a gravity defying straight spine and muscular enough to sink ships with his bare hands. With each lesson his qualities distilled out every measure of fear to produce pure respect. It is difficult to express in English, but the best way as to how I saw him was "स्तिथप्रग्य" -- no-nonsense, disciplined, and the absence of any kind of favoritism. His dedication to his work is largely unparalleled. He truly loved to imbibe his qualities and his knowledge is each child and paid complete attention to each and every student in his own special way.

I wish that all kids can experience at least one lesson from a true teacher like Harold Sir!

August 10, 2012

Finding Apartments in Nice, Antibes, Juan les pins, or Sophia Antipolis: For PhDs, Erasmus, and Interns

When I began my Doctoral studies at INRIA Sophia Antipolis, the biggest worry I had was finding a place to live and getting adjusted to life in France. Luckily the French Riviera is an amazing place for International students. The people here are nice and finding an apartment is not very difficult.

Useful Websites 

Here is a list of websites that I found useful during my apartment search.
  • : This is good site if you would like to move in a colocation (flatshare). I found the places I lived in [ and] using this site. The site is very nice and it uses google maps really well to give an idea of the neighborhood. The site is also well managed and to be honest a bit addictive. Another reason why I like this site is because I got to interact with the owners directly and I did not have to pay any money to agents.
  • This site is good if you want to rent an apartment with with your friends. A couple of my friends used this site to get in touch with agents in Nice. Nice is full of rental agencies and most of the houses are managed by agencies. It is very rare that you can get in touch with the owner of the house sans agencies to rent a house. 
Apart from these two sites, the other sites me and some of my friends found useful were: 
  • : This site is for university residences and private residences suggested by the university. You can also see some listing of the private residences in internal list of Univ of Nice. The University office at Sophia has some boards where people can post their rental ads. I saw similar boards at the Fac de Lettres as well.  
  • A site for private residences where you can find studios to rent.
  • : This is specific for studios in Sophia Antipolis. I lived in their Oxford residence for close to a year. 
  • : This is like the craigslist site in the US. 
INRIA Newsgroup

If you are in intern, doctoral student, or a post doc at INRIA then you have access the inria logement news group. Ask you colleagues for the steps to subscribe to this internal news group. Similar news groups exist for CNRS, Eurecom, and other research institutes. 

Some other pointers and terms used

There were some terms that I found confusing and it took me some time to get used to their meaning. Also there were some things about renting places that are specific to France. Once you meet a couple of owners and agencies you get used to these terms and their usage. 
  • garant : It is the caution money that needs to be paid to the owner. In most cases this is refundable and, like all caution, some amount may be deducted based on the damages during your stay. I would recommend that you explicitly confirm to make sure that you will get this money back. Feedback from past tenants is useful on the promptness of the owner and agency on refunding the garant.
  • Insurance: Most likely you will have to buy insurance for the place to rent -- even if it is a single room in a colocation. Depending on the place you rent most banks support insurance from individual rooms to the entire apartment. The charges at most banks are similar. Contact the bank where you have an account for details. In some cases some agencies include the insurance price in the rent. So it is better if you get this clarified
  • Electricite,  Eau et Telephone: These were the three things I could not live. In some cases the price of water, electricity and telephone (internet) is included in the rent. These are typically mentioned as (tout compris). In any case explicitly ask your owner and agency for the amount you need to pay. At times you might also need to pay something more for building maintenance such as cleaning of floors, heating, and collection of garbage.
Attend Parties

However, despite all these pointers, the best way approach for a doctoral student is to find a temporary place, attend parties of lab-mates, and talk to people and get their feedback. This clarified most of my doubts.  Also this is the best way to get feedback about agencies and house owners. 

I must confess I have been lucky on the places I found, and the people with whom I lived in Nice. I therefore hope that you too have a good luck for your house hunting along with an amazing time during you stay in French Riviera.