Precog Diaries – A Roller Coaster Ride

It all began with a mail from PK in November 2014, commending my performance in his courses (CSE 545: Foundations of Computer Security and CSE 51SP: Internet Security and Privacy). It always feels great when a professor pats your back and even more when he offers you to join his research group! Precog is a different place altogether in IIIT Delhi, its not just a Research Lab, it is a “dojo of learning”. Randy Pausch once said “… experience is often the most valuable thing you have to offer …”. I was fortunate enough to spend 18 months here and I believe it has been an extremely rewarding experience. The tribe at Precog is a mix of ‘Super Cool’ PhDs, ‘Fantastic’ RAs, ‘Brilliant’ undergrads and ‘Awesome’ postgrads doing wonderful work on security and privacy in Online Social Networks, all headed by the guru “PK”.

The lab culture is amazingly open and you can approach ANYONE for help and knowledge. It’s great when you have wisdom trees (AKA PhDs) dotted all around the lab and you can seek shelter under any one of them. I personally feel right mentorship is vital for research and Dr. PK has been a very strong guiding force. Initially I worked with Anupama (Ph.D. students) on the problem of social reputation manipulation in OSNs where I learnt a great deal of new technologies and preliminary data analysis. In 2015, Precog was granted a government project where the theme was to understand and analyse disclosure made by employees of an organisation on OSNs.

I am grateful that PK considered to chose me to work on this project which also aligned with my thesis work. We explored six social networks to identify employees of a subject organisation and collected public posts about the organisation. We analysed this data in multiple dimensions like popularity, reach, sentiment, source of influence and geospatiality to discover actionable intelligence and results which could aid the organisation to leverage the information and monitor the content for sensitive disclosure. A system based on this work was developed that can collect, analyse and visualise information being posted by employees of an organisation. I was thoroughly supported by PK and Precog-er’s especially Rishabh (Ph.D. student) sir who collaborated with me on this project. I’d like to extend my gratitude to them for all the guidance and motivation.

Some of the lessons were learnt hard, but I believe that’s important because it makes them so valuable. Apart from work, Precog is also a fun place and we have had loads of celebrations for our achievements in the past year. It has also given me an opportunity to take part in conferences and workshops and interact with researchers having similar interests. It has been a great time at Precog and I will always cherish working here. Some beautiful memories of the past year ..

Below are some pics from the group!

Memoirs from South Asia Workshop 2015 at NUS School of Computing

Life often throws surprises at you, some of which delight you “awesomely”. I had no idea I would be selected for this prestigious workshop when I applied for it in the month of March. I took a chance telling myself that our advisor (PK) believes that we (Precogs) are deserving enough for this opportunity. And it paid off on a fine morning in April when I was pinged by Ms. Aminah Ayu, Program Coordinator for Graduate Studies at NUS telling me that I had been selected for the workshop with full scholarship support. I am grateful to our advisor for encouraging me for this.

I was screened out of more than 160 applicants on the basis of my SOP, research interests and future goals. I was happy that I’d be visiting one of the best universities in South Asia to get a glimpse of their research and life. The 3 day program was scheduled from 27-29th May. I arranged for tickets and travel documents and reached Singapore on the midnight before the workshop. Traditionally workshop participants are accommodated in Sheares Hall which is just a 10 minute walk away from the School of Computing.

Even though I had reached late, I got up early on the first day, excited and looking forward to the talks and meeting new people. Walking down the sideway to SoC, I met a group of undergrads from IITK and came to know that most of the participants were from India and a handful from Sri Lanka.

The first session began timely with Mr. Chan Mun Choon introducing the program and Mr. Roseblum(Dean, SoC) delivering the welcome speech and Mr. Abhik RoyChoudhary giving us an overview of the Graduate education programme. Lunch and tea breaks gave me an opportunity to talk to fellow students and I was happy to see that we at IIITD are doing good work when it comes to comparing with IITs and other IIITs. It was great talking about ideas and humoring about college life and the prospects that lie ahead.

On the first day we were introduced to the research being carried out NUS in the domain of Data Management, Software and Security. I particularly found the work of Dr. Talel Abdessalem for Access Control and Reachability in Social Networks interesting. Also the talk by Dr. Liang Zhenkai on Application Architectures for Critical Data Isolation introduced me to some new concepts and ways which were captivating.

I spent the evening exploring the campus and the nearby attractions. University Town at NUS was fabulous in every sense, lively and brimming with students. It also had a nice food court apart from the auditorium, theater and a local shopping store. I had a lovely dinner looking over an aerobics team practicing for a competition. I explored Marina Bay late that evening and found it to be a beautiful walk, before I called it a night.

The second day session was a bit shorter where the professors from Department of Information Systems talking about different areas they are working on. It was mostly on Cloud Computing and Social Networks and I found myself engrossed in some excellent ideas that they talked about. Prof. Quang described how he studied influence on friend circle on OSNs in times of disasters  while Prof. Chen described how the legal community is adapting to the invent of cloud and how comfortable companies are taking their projects to the cloud infrastructure.

It was followed by a guided tour of the campus and a group photo session in the lobby of School of Computing. The evening was eagerly awaited as we were to be taken for a Night Safari at the Zoo. It was an amazing outing – we had a lavish dinner at the dining area in the zoo and saw a stunning fire show before proceeding to the tram cars that were to take us on the ride. The ride and trails showed us an impressive collection of mammals and reptiles that the zoo boasted of. The encounter with giant bats in the cage was the most thrilling of all. It was a great end to Day 2.

The final day was devoted to talks on Media and Artificial Intelligence and engaged us with the fascinating work of Dr. Preeti Rao and Dr. Wang Ye who described how systems are being developed to teach music and local languages. It was very interesting to see that music can actually help i healing people with locomotion disorders such as in Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Wang Ye even took us for a tour to his labs and explained how they synthesized musical pieces and how they aided in the patient’s treatment.

Dr. Silva showed us his award- winning student projects on building low cost systems to aid general people while Dr. Anand talked about Energy Efficient Gaming Applications with Mobile Cloud Computing.

The workshop ended with some of us sharing our experiences and Dr. Abhik RoyChoudhary handing over certificates to each participant. The evening was spent exploring a place called ‘Little India’ and catching up with an old friend before I headed back to Changi airport and bid goodbye to Singapore.

As the 0640 flight took off for New Delhi, I couldn’t help but ponder over the wonderful experiences of the past few days. It’s one of the few good things that will go down the memory lane. I am thankful to the organizers at NUS for making the workshop and stay at NUS a memorable one.

For more about this workshop, do read Vidushi’s blog on her NUS visit in 2012!

Pic: Myself during the visit.