Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Cuil- New search engine on the block

Yesterday, I came across this news item that talked about a new threat to Google. It talked about the launch of Cuil (pronounced as "cool")-- a new search engine that has the power to challenge Google. The feature that struck me was that this search engine company was started up by former Google employees. At once, I decided to check it out.

When you get on to the website, what strikes you is the small text box where you are supposed to type your search. The text box should have been larger and more prominent. Cuil has the feature of searching while typing. That is, as you type, it starts suggesting the complete term that you might be looking for. The search results are shown in a table format, that carries a brief description of the matter on the website, along with its link below. A new feature is "Explore by category". This column appears on the right hand top corner and allows you to search as per the categories formed by Cuil. For e.g., typing "Lata Mangeshkar" results in categories like "Indian Film Singers", "Hindi Language Films", etc. These form a drop down list and you can select from them too.

While Google ranks Wikipedia pages at a high level, Cuil doesn't seem to do so. In many searches, the Wikipedia link appears at second row, first column position. While Cuil claims to be the world's biggest search engine, it is not able to dish out relevant results for simple searches. For e.g., my advisor has a webpage for more than five years. On Google, type his name and his website comes out first in the search results. However, Cuil fails to throw any results pertaining to my advisor's name. It throws only one result related to some patent he had filed three years ago. I have not tried any complex searches, but I doubt whether Cuil will be able to give relevant results. For this, their indexing has to improve tremendously.

Cuil has not as yet been fully launched. To submit a website for indexing, the webmaster needs to send an e-mail to Cuil. This feature may get automated in the future. It also lacks various specialised features that Google currently provides (Google Scholar, Books, Groups, etc.). The positive feature is that Cuil doesn't collect any data a-la Google to "enhance" user experience. So, privacy of users is protected.

By and large, Cuil appears to be a good player, and would be promising enough if it improves in the near future. But today, it is nowhere near to Google in terms of the relevance of search results. If it grows well, it might get swallowed up by Mircosoft or Yahoo to fend off competition. Or vice-versa. You never know!!
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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The age is adding up

It was a wonderful late-evening. The signs of an impending rain were visible. The wind had come to a standstill. The drop in temperature was being felt by the body,which, sitting on a cycle, was riding back towards the hostel. Not because of the hunch of rain, but because some books were left back in the room and also hunger was not allowing any concentration.

While gliding my way back, down the slop after main-building (the boys call it the H-11 slope), I saw a couple of UG-freshies enjoying their first few days of IITB. A rough calculation told me that they were born anywhere between 1989 and 1991. They were younger than me by almost a decade!! This translates to almost two generations below me. I remember, in the 1990s (when I was entering my teens), my generation used to be called Generation-X (Gen-X). Some cycle company had come out with a cycle named "Generation-X". This means that the Gen-Z has entered IIT, while Gen-X seems to be still loitering around, sticking to the student tag. I try most of the times to avail the "student discount", when many of my peers have become parents.

Coming back to my cycle ride, I started thinking of what have I achieved in all the years that I have existed on the planet. It happens to me a lot of times, especially when I see kids come off their age. They are eager to don the mantle that I have been used to for such a long time. What have I done to move on to the next mantle? Look back in time, my mind says. Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj had already won a few battles by the time he was 26. He had a kingdom and commanded the respect of various local "vatandars". He was a thorn in the eye of Bijapur, by that time, and killed Afzal Khan at Pratapgad when he was around 28 years old. I try and think of my acts of bravery. None emerge!! Sad to say that, but it is a fact. The only killing that I have ever done is mosquitoes!

In the meanwhile, my ride nears its end, as I reach the hostel. I dismount the cycle and walk back to my room, still thinking. Thinking that only a year and half ago, I was amongst the crowd that was targeted by marketers to sell their product. Now, I am slowly drifting into the crowd which is not on the centre of the marketing radar, because this crowd has the money, but doesn't splurge. But, did I enjoy being under 25? No, because I was a student most of the time, and hence no money to splurge. Do I enjoy being on the plus side? Not much, because I am still a student, so no money accumulated. The pitfalls of doing a Ph.D., my mind says. I accept. If I intended to earn money and splurge it, I wouldn't have joined a Ph.D. I wanted to earn enough knowledge and splurge it. I would never be the target of any marketing company. I spend only if it is possible and essential for me to do it.

Suddenly, my eyes veer towards the calender. Annual Progress Seminar to be held in the 2nd week of August. Less than 20 days left!! All thoughts go off the mind abruptly. And I chalk out my tasks for the next day. Have to get some results to show the progress. Otherwise, the "student" tag may stretch for a bit more longer time.
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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Students' protests at IIT

Last week, on Saturday, the students of IIT Bombay carried out a peaceful candle-light protest against the introduction of reservations in faculty positions at IIT Bombay. The students are absolutely right when they say that this is a wrong move on part of the government. IIT Bombay is an institute, where very few candidates manage to succeed in getting a faculty position. In the past one year, my own department has seen more than three open category students (the surnames made it obvious that they were from the general category) being rejected because the interviewing team did not find them good enough. These were candidates with a Ph.D. from prestigious universties and had work experience as Post-docs with reputed advisors. Some of them held a B.Tech. degree from one of the IITs itself.

Such has been the selection procedure at IIT, that despite a shortage in the number of faculty, they are not hiring any Tom, Dick or Harry. Now, when candidates are hired just because they have a caste certificate, and not enough credentials to match the rigour of work at IIT, it will naturally lead to a drop in teaching standards. A student who enters IIT may inflict harm on just himself/herself, if he /she doesn't manage to cope up with the curriculum. However, if a teacher who doesn't meet the IIT mark, comes in to teach, he/she causes harm to entire generations of students. And if IIT is not in a position to terminate the services of the teacher, then around 35 batches of students are likely to suffer. While it is acceptable for a trainee to be of standards that may be a tad below par, you cannot accept at trainer whose skills are below par.

The Minister of Human Resource Development should understand that not everybody is cut out for every possible task. Allow the under-privileged to find their core competence based on opportunities provided to them during their training. Please do not let them occupy positions just because they have a caste certificate. No person with below-par skills should be allowed to be at a position from where he/she has a potential of damaging various careers.
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