This blog as might be apparent from the title has to do with running, biking and basically other outdoor individualistic sports, sometimes extreme, such as rock climbing . But don't be surprised if you find articles on work, personal life, music and even philosophy, this blog is an exception in this aspect in the blogosphere of running blogs and I am trying to revamp the blog to make it more runner friendly. You might want to look at the sidebar titled 'categorised', which as is obvious, categorizes my posts into different areas of interest.
The other thing that might interest many people is a section on 'running videos' and 'general videos' on the side bar, which I keep updating now and then.
I plan to bring in more posts on running and biking, with some added colour, so as to make them 'complete'. That's about it for now.
As a post-note, I have run a half-marathon, but I am yet to attempt a marathon, which through some concerted effort and time should happen in the future, but that ofcourse is not the culmination of this blog, it would on the contrary be something to jumpstart this blog onto new vistas.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Where am I headed?

This post might seem suspiciously similar to a blog with a similar title I posted a while back: Where do you go?. Well it is similar in the concerns expressed, but the context(expect a lot of word and meaning dance on this word) is different.

The following text is structured into 4 sections. Each section is independent of the other and can be read as such with minor interlinkages. Section II is essential to this post and is relevant to my current state of things, the rest of the sections are add-ons and sometimes plain fluff. But, you might find sections III(connecting three seemingly different fields) and IV(inter-linkages and abstraction) more interesting than the other sections if you dig technical stuff.

Section 1
Section 2
Section 3
Section 4

I. Introduction

 Jump to II 

Where am I headed? I find myself asking this question often, so much so that I have a notion of being "lost in life", and it comes up as a status message on google talk inadvertently while I keep reverting back to 'available' and my friends seem amused. Not sure the previous sentence made sense, but yeah, the sentence is open to interpretation: The meaning you look for, you shall find. Now, another thing I am also 'being' these days is philosophical. Infact you can look to the right of this page and see that a whole new blog has transpired because of this tendency. One might argue that this post should rightfully belong to that 'other' blog. I have my reasons for posting it on this blog, anyway, where am I headed? Right now, nowhere in particular, I mean I need to get back home and catch some sleep, but that can wait.
But seriously, where am I headed? Well again, nowhere in particular. I mean I have just started out on a Phd, where do you think graduate students are headed? I mean for another 4-7 years, depending on my procrastinating abilities, I shall waddle around looking at the ducks at the Drumheller fountain in the campus, as I pass by them to my lab and back everyday. So yes, there is research and temporary coursework to fit in the details of these 4-7 years, but the big question is where's the big picture?

II. Levels and states

Go back to I
Jump to III

There are three broad levels and many states that can describe 'where I am headed'.

The broad levels are basically all plausible possibilities that I can see myself getting into, say 5-6 years down the line. The states are essentially what happens within the context of these levels, it can describe what I think of where I am headed at any given point. The levels and the corresponding states are described as follows:

Level 1) Get into the industry after my phd, earn dollars or rupees and life goes on.

: This is a fuzzy thing right now, I am not particular about earning big money and hence my aspirations in this field are negligible as of now.

Level 2)
Continue research after a Phd, which can happen in a few ways: Faculty at a university, Research scientist at an organization or industry.
I am describing a few possible states at this level:

State a)
Big picture clear, but the details are fuzzy: Here I refer to the 'area of research' as the big picture. This state is more or less a temporary problem and is usually considered normal. Can be worked out. I mean you will have glitches in your research and you may be less motivated at times than others, but you are sure which area you want to work on right.

State b)
Deatils are on, but the big picture is fuzzy (similar to 'lost in life' I mentioned earlier):
Now, this means that you are doing research and course work, things that grad students do, but you are not sure if you want to stay in the area of reasearch you are currently on. Now, this by no means is a temporary problem, indeed to determine if this is a problem at all requires time and thinking. It's like when you say, 'give it time, things will sort out for themselves'. Only that, we are talking 4-7 years in a given area and once you are decided on an area its hard to shift to areas that are a little unrelated.

Hence area of research needs to be more or less the same, with minor variations over time.
My state right now is that my big picture is a little fuzzy in that I am undecided on the level of theoretical or mathematical rigor I would like in my research. I am also undecided on whether to decide anything about this undecisiveness. To understand the previous statements in detail, visit section III.

Level 3) ??. The ?? or question marks are fuzzy areas: Things that I am 'open' to, things I am not clear about, dreams, etc. For instance, I am 'open' to the idea of being an entrepreuner, but I recognize fully well that I lack the skill sets especially on the financial and managerial aspects required for a successful start-up.

State: This is ofcourse a wild dream, but I am just open to it as of now. Entrepreuners are the order of the day and are needed big time back in India, is one idea I believe in. We have a lot(or many??) of IT startups but how many technological start-ups? What are the core needs that India might face in the next 10 years? Well these are really broad questions and may have little to do with one being an entrepreuner per se, but one needs to be aware of the state of things before plunging into it and I am sure I would be more aware of these details as I proceed down the time line. But its nevertheless fuzzy right now.

III. Brief diversion into intepretation of optimization in Math, Industrial Engineering and Transportation:

Go back to II or I Jump ahead to IV

This diversion is essential to understanding the context behind my dilemma and can be read independent of the rest of the post.
Consider the three broad areas of transportation engineering, industrial engineering and Maths. At first these may seem unrelated areas, but a closer look can bring out possible connections.
Transportation engineering has to deal with operation and management of transportation systems. (I am more into the operations part of it, though management and operations are inter-related for example in decision support systems). Transportation systems could be systems involving rail transit, bus transit, air, shipping, etc. Transportation, again is a very broad area, atleast to transportation engineers(you see how narrowed down research can get) and the area I want to work on is optimization applications in transportation. Now here, what we have is a methodology (optimization) being applied to a field (transportation). For instance, I can have a problem where I want to optimize the operation of a transit system i.e optimize the routes and schedule of the transit to minimize costs, waiting time, etc.
Now, industrial engineering is again a pretty broad field with connections to mechanical engineering in inventory control, etc, and operations research. Operations research is the science of optimization: how to twiddle or tweak the parameters of a system so that the system performs better. It basically is a methodological field with applications in many fields including manufacturing, electrical systems , transportation, chemical engineering, basically any problem that entails "better performance".
So you have the nail(optimization) and the head(transportation in my case), you can't really separate them out, but you can state the degree to which you would like to use each of them or look at each of them - basically your focus.

Now, we are already heady with all the nails and heads and the hammering, along comes math to make it even more bumpy. Math is again a very broad field with topics ranging from abstract algebra, number theory, optimization, calculus, harmonic series, etc.
Did you just notice that optimization came in the list. So how is "mathematical optimization" different from what industrial engineers call "operations research".
Again its the area of focus: Mathematicians tend to be more rigorous, they are more into the mathematical "exactness" of the subject. There is a structure, there are axioms, theorems and proofs. You can't just state something loosely about optimization methods without inviting criticism from Math professors (and this has been my personal experience). Everything needs to be laid down in white and black.
Everything's got to have a proof. That's the bottom line.

So we have just seen three broad areas of research and as you proceed from Math (optimization) to Industrial engineering (operations research and its application) to Transportation Engineering (Pure application), things get pretty watered down in terms of 'preciseness' and the 'theoretical rigour', but they also get pretty exciting, since the real world is by no means laid out in black and white and unpredictability arouses excitement. By the way, there is a whole area of research on unpredictability: Stochastic processes. Reasearch in transportation is sometimes very data oriented(e.g. Intelligent transportation systems) and hence a whole lot of time is spent interpreting data sometimes in an unstructured manner and this is where I am currently facing a problem. This is where I am 'lost', I want to decide very soon, the 'degree of theoretical rigor' I want in my research and this could mean shifting directions, shifting research and getting more of the 'nail' than the 'head'. Getting more of the nail, could either mean bringing in more theoretical rigor into research(can get very boring at times) and possibly shifting into researching better optimization algorithms and techniques or could mean taking the middle path also known as operations-transportation or OR-Transpo and actively update myself on current state of the practice in optimization, all the while keeping tabs on potential applications in transportation(congestion in container ports, public transit, intermodal transportation, etc).

So what am I doing about me being lost? Well, I am alert, I am keeping options open and let's see how things go.

So to describe my state in level 2, I have brought in my understanding(or lack thereof) of optimization in math, industrial engineering and transportation - Interesting.

IV. Related and unrelated final comments

Go back to I or II or III

Post-script and Gripe:
This whole division of areas of research into engineering, science, philosophy(yes even that), humanities, arts (making a good power-point presentation is an art, as many would agree) at a very broad level don't make sense, since new science, new engineering are merging rapidly with other fields. Quantum physics necessiates the need for an observer, it brings in subjectivity and consequently philosophical paradigms. Many inter-disciplinarly fields of quantum-bio-computing, mathematical finance, and possibly Philosophy of science(really?) call for inter-disciplinary collaborations and we are now seeing a shift from traditional divisions of knowledge into such and such areas to this, that and them areas put together. I see this in some universities: Department of electircal engineering and computer science or department of civil engineering and engineering mechanics, etc.

Post-Post script: Why does optimization fascinate me. We all seek perfection in life, in work, in relationships, etc. However optimization is not just about perfection, which could also mean being effective. We are looking for efficiency in this effectiveness, the thought that there is one possible way or a set of possible ways in which a system can perform at its optimum is something fascinating. But then a question arises on the context of this optimization. What scale are you looking at? How big is your system, etc. You can be efficient in a given system but can cause unfavourable ramifications in a system nearby or a related system. So you see, subjectivity comes into optimization too. But operations researchers are very clever, for that matter engineers too, they restrict themselves to the 'scope' of the problem. This restricting to the scope is something environmentalists don't appreciate apparently(in a related context). But all is not lost, this 'scope' is broadening, as we see the effects of our technology on the environment and we are in a general sense, becoming more aware of the need to broaden this scope - this inter-disciplinary thing is one way in which that can happen.

Post-post-post-script: This post purely describes or questions where I am headed in terms of a career in life. Other possible connotations are out of scope of this blog and are left to the reader's imagination.


Priyank said...

This post is incomplete. To complete the 'directionlessness', you should add the complex function of your love life. Tell me when you figure that out.

Arbit said...

lol..If you go to section 4 of this post, it says something about 'scope'. So yeah, love life is out of scope of current discussion :)

EP/ UK said...

nice. but nice try you'll be able to resolve it any time soon. these thoughts will keep coming back to anyone who thinks about lue and hence cannot be resolved even if you are in one of those levels or states. :( unfortunately.

Arbit said...

Hmm.. true..

Kennenisa Bekele with the WR

Robbie Mcewen and steve o'grady - The 'Nudge'