Winter is Coming, to Rochester

by Krishna Tippur Gururaj, Computer Science MS student

I am from India, a land where a tropical climate is the norm for most parts of the country. I am from the southern part of India, where temperatures range between 60 degrees and 100 degrees Fahrenheit. I had never seen temperatures below 32degrees, let alone see snow!

When I received my admit from RIT, I was thrilled to be starting grad school. Family members and friends who were aware of the weather in the Northeastern US used to tell me about the inclement weather that awaited me here but I figured, if it is an inhabited place, it cannot be that bad. I mean, why would humans choose to live in such a climate if it was so difficult to live in.

I first arrived in Rochester in the month of July, a time and weather that I learned later were like rays of sunshine on a cold, dreary winter day! As the fall season started, temperatures gradually dropped from the 70s to the 50s, I soon realized what I was in for in a few months. When the first snow fell during Thanksgiving week, it was such a beautiful sight. That snowfall was unexpected so even though it was not a lot, RIT had given us a snow day and classes were cancelled. I thought that maybe this (about 6-10 inches) was a lot of snow and was the limit, which explained the snow day. I was so wrong! The next few months I saw snow on the ground which didn’t melt for weeks, a snowstorm which halted all movement for 72 hours due to nearly 4 feet of snow everywhere, and a freak windstorm (winds reached ~80 mph) which knocked out power for large areas in Rochester for nearly 96 hours.

The winter months in Rochester can get quite gloomy and take some getting used to. Once the daylight savings were disabled in November, the sun set by 4:30 PM which disoriented me to no end the first few days. The days can get bright enough at times to fool first-timers like me to think that the sun’s warmth could be felt.

I was excited by all the snow the first few weeks, and I was impressed by how smooth life went on despite the climate. Roads and walkways were cleared well enough for commuting to be possible. Eventually, I got used to the snow-covered landscape everywhere I went, and though the cold did not go away till May, I kind of missed it when the summer came around. I guess I cannot wait for the next round of biting cold, snow, thick jackets, gloomy skies, and foggy breaths.

A sneak peak into my life…

by Sanjay Varma Rudraraju, Computer Science MS student

The clock is ticking and the blog post is due in a few hours and I am running across campus to get to the library and finish my work. As I dash through the cold air to start working on the post, I bump into friends who wave and smile. In my head as I try to find a space in the library, I scold myself for procrastinating yet again and continue to open my laptop whilst thinking about my topic for this week.

After several debates with the little angel and devil on either side of my shoulder, I make up my mind to write about an average week in my life. Well the first thing I can think about is my classes and considering the fact that my major is Computer Science I have to really speak about the copious amount of homework that we are given every week. Out of the three courses that I am taking this semester, one of them is research intensive course and other two are high level graduate courses that require me to spend a lot time apart from the class and homework time. My days are filled with me reading research papers in the domain that I am working on and also working on an open problem which would help me validate my learning. If I am not in my classes or reading research papers as I walk across the campus, you will find me working on campus at either the Library or the Graduate Enrollment offices. The best part about working at these places is that you get to work with amazing people who are less colleagues and more friends. If I am working at the library, I get to work with a team that takes cares of the daily functioning of the library and if I am at the Graduate Enrollment office, I work with a team that is trying to help prospective students in understanding if RIT is the right fit for them. The thing that stands out to me at either of these places are my bosses who treat me as an equal and a friend. There are days when I just drop by their office and chat about life and they are always there to help me or just listen to me babble about my life.

Finally, as an elected representative, Graduate Senator, I work with the Student Government to represent the entire graduate community at RIT. In this role, I work with various offices/committees at RIT like the Office of Graduate Education, Co-op Services, Graduate Council, University Council, etc. It gives me a chance to be a voice for the graduate students at RIT and present the issues at the council meetings or to the heads of the offices/departments. Although it has been a very short time since I started working in this role, what makes me truly passionate about my work is knowing that I help improve the experience of graduate students at RIT. Although it sounds like I have a lot on my plate, never did it stop me from going out with my buddies on a Friday night or watching the latest superhero film (I am a Marvel Fan, Shhh..!). In my 15 months of being at RIT, I transitioned from a graduate student who used to be overwhelmed with homework to a graduate senator who is overwhelmed with homework and a lot of other work. During this transition, I made several friends and learnt things that I could have never learnt in any other place. All I want to say is that, graduate school is tough but you can always enjoy as long as you plan your time well. Umm, I am pretty sure I am running late to my next class so I got to run (*so much for good time management*).

Ciao!

7 Things to do this Thanksgiving Break

by Ami Patel, Computer Science MS student

Staying in Rochester this Thanksgiving? Worry not, we got you covered. Here’s a list of things that you can do if you aren’t going home. If you make it to the entire list, or want to share your experience at one of the events, please share your story with us at gradstudent@rit.edu.

1. RIT’s Global Unification
Happening this Saturday, November 18 from 7 pm – 9 pm, Global Unification is the largest multicultural event here at RIT. Immerse yourself in the vivid performances from various cultural clubs and experience the spectacle that highlights the cultural and ethnic diversity at RIT. Check out the event details.

2. Concert: Trans-Siberian Orchestra
Staying in Rochester and not attending a concert? That’s un-Rochester-like. The American rock-band, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, is having a concert at the Blue Cross Arena on Wednesday, November 22. How often you get to hear them perform live the Wizards of Winter or Sarajevo/Christmas Eve? Event details here.

3. Thanksgiving Meal at The Commons
Don’t feel like going anywhere? Get to The Commons on Thursday, November 23rd with your friends and savor the traditional Thanksgiving Meal prepared with love and warmth by the wonderful chefs. Hours: 12 pm – 5 pm.

4. Enjoy some Southern food at Cracker Barrel
Cracker Barrel is an interesting place where you can enjoy classic homestyle Southern food along with shopping gifts for the Christmas. Their Country-store-like shop has all the fun merchandise that takes you down to the childhood memory lane. Make sure you go through their Music collection and don’t miss to check out those antiquities hanging around in the store and the restaurant. The hash brown casserole is a must try. Location: 2075 Hylan Dr., Rochester, NY 14623. Hours open: 7 am – 10 pm

5. Remember Rembrandt at Memorial Art Gallery
What about time-traveling 5000 years in art history? Memorial Art Gallery has a permanent collection of more than 12,000 objects ranging from medieval to contemporary times; including works by Rembrandt, Monet, Homer, Cézanne, Matisse, El Greco, Cassatt, William Congdon. MAG includes a large number of women artists from era’s when sexism made participation in arts educations an exception. George Eastman’s collection is a must-see along with their current exhibition of Wendell Castle Remastered. Did you know that student ID can get you admission tickets at a reduced rate? I know you are excited. Here’s the location: Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, 500 University Ave, Rochester, NY 14607

6. Black Friday Shopping!
How can shopping not be part of this list? Drive or take an Uber to Eastview Mall-30 minutes drive from RIT-located in Victor, NY, is a great place to shop all those fancy brands along with enjoying some food with your friends. Don’t forget to buy yourself those warm and cozy Christmas themed plush pajamas. Location: 7979 Pittsford Victor Rd, Victor, NY 1456

7. Marvel vs. DC?
Marvel or DC, Thanksgiving is the time to support both. Watch Thor: Ragnarok and Justice League and, get into a debate again. No matter what the debate is, I’ll still be a Marvel fan. 😛

Happy Thanksgiving!

Career Connections – Apple Visits RIT

by Sanjay Varma Rudraraju, Computer Science MS student

The Golisano Atrium was filled with hundreds of students in anticipation to talk to one of the most admired companies in the world – Apple. Apple Inc. is an American multinational technology company headquartered in Cupertino, California that designs,  develops, and sells consumer electronics, computer software, and online services. Apple was at RIT to hire students from multiple disciplines into various teams like Siri, Maps, etc. I approached some of the recruiters to get their perspective on “Why Apple likes RIT?” and the answers or feedback that I got was nothing short of amazing. The recruiters say that one of the reasons that they come to RIT is the amazing co-op program and the great coursework. When Apple recruits students they want students to be around for 6 – 8 months so that they get to participate in a complete release cycle so that they can better assess the students and also the students get to know the team and see if they would like to come back to work full-time. The recruiters mentioned that RIT students are very knowledgeable and the coursework prepares them with necessary skills required for a professional setting. During the event students approached teams and discussed the open positions and some of them were called the immediate next day for interviews. I got around talking to some students who got to interview with the company the next day and they loved that the event was very organized. Also, a couple of students mentioned that the constructive feedback at the end of their interview was very helpful and this would actually help them improve their skills.

Getting Around Rochester – Renting a Car

by Krishna Tippur Gururaj, Computer Science MS student

 In my experience, driving around in a car is usually the most convenient way of getting to places in the US. Whether it is for weekly grocery shopping or to head out of town for a weekend, a car is quick and gas is quite inexpensive.

As a graduate student living close to campus, I had not felt the need to get a car for myself immediately after coming to the US. After spending a year at RIT, I realized that there were many places around Rochester which were worth visiting; Niagara Falls, and the Finger Lakes region to mention a few. I did some research on car rentals and found them to be affordable. For example, a sedan for a day would cost somewhere around $40, which when split across 5 friends seemed like a good deal. Some of the popular car rental companies are Budget, Avis, Enterprise, Hertz, and Zipcar.

It turns out that most of the car rental companies either have a rule of only renting cars to drivers aged 25 or above, or require drivers below the age of 25 to pay a premium to be able to rent a car. Fortunately, I belong to the former category.

The only exception to this rule is Zipcar; they rent cars by the hour and the price includes gas so you don’t need to worry about how much you drive. They have cars available on our campus (right by Grace Watson Hall) so I find myself using this option when I want to quickly go pick up groceries or some such similar shopping. They require you to become a member; the process of getting the membership card (mandatory to have one before you can ride) may take about 2 weeks.

Companies like Budget, Avis, Enterprise, etc. rent by the day and usually have no limit on the distance driven. The pick-up locations for these are close to campus, either at Marketplace Mall or at the airport. The sign-up process for these is all online and usually can be done within a short period.

For ID purposes, if you have a state ID or a US state driver’s license, it is enough. If you have neither of these and are a foreigner, I would suggest you to carry your passport to be on the safer side.

Zipcar puts a user on a monthly insurance plan which is renewed automatically every month unless cancelled manually, whereas the other companies let you buy insurances with every ride you book.

The state of NY allows non-US driver’s license holders to drive a car using their foreign driver’s license if it is in English. I found this rule to be beneficial in my case as it allowed me to tune my driving skills in an automatic-geared car without much headache. Having said that, I urge everyone to educate themselves about road rules, and to drive safe! Safe travels!

Artificial Intelligence at RIT

by Sanjay Varma Rudraraju, Computer Science MS student

Artificial Intelligence today is what the dot-com boom was a few years ago. We hear the term everywhere and there has been an explosion of advancements in the field. Although people use the word loosely, Artificial Intelligence as we know it is comprised of various topics like machine learning, natural language processing, robotics and many others. These tend to fall under the broader term cognitive technologies. From driverless cars to Alpha Go, the world has seen advancements which have only been a part of science fiction movies. As a kid I loved science fiction, be it the Jetsons who lived in the future with holograms and advanced robots or Marty’s cool hover board from the Back to the Future. I always wanted to live in a future with such great advancements and today being part of an event at ROT discussing about the possibilities of such a future was very exciting.

Coming to the AI retreat that took place on February 17, 2017 at RIT was one of the most interesting days I had after coming to RIT, it was a daylong retreat which explored the advancements in artificial intelligence with a focus on RIT’s role. Speakers from various companies and institutions spoke about the work that is being done in the industry. One of the most captivating sessions, in which I was deeply immersed, was the topic “AI 2.0: brains for bots” by Mr. Max Versace, founder of the Boston University Neuromorphics Lab and the Co-Founder and CEO of Neurala Inc His company is a pioneer in deep learning neural network software that could be deployed on ordinary processors with low cost sensors. Apart from Mr. Versace I also had the pleasure of listening to Mr.Robert H. Bo Ewald, President of D-Wave International, who talked about quantum computing and the big names in industry that have been investing and relying on quantum computing. The presentation reviewed some of the thinking, fundamentals and activities behind quantum computing, starting with the ideas originally introduced by Richard Feynman in 1982. Later we had a presentation by Roman Yampolskiy who talked about the Future of AI and also discussed Artificial General Intelligence and its effects on humanity. It was a very thought-provoking presentation which was thoroughly enjoyed by both students and faculty.

Post lunch we had discussion groups with topics like “Impact of AI on Education, Ethics, and Law, Vision and Language and Cognitive Science and Bio-inspired Computing.” I personally had participated in the Vision and Language discussion group that discussed the ongoing work in the industry related to the topic and  brainstormed ways that RIT could start their own research in a related field, potentially making a real difference in the world. Because RIT is one of the largest technological colleges in the world for students who are deaf or hard of hearing inspired the group to discuss the potential that Vision and Language has to help them in many ways. There were discussions about Automatic Captioning, which would be of great benefit, and also other such great ideas which really made me feel proud that the Tigers at RIT, with the help of their faculty, are indeed trying to make a difference and work towards advancements in the field. The day ended with a note from Jeremy Haefner, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs at Rochester Institute of Technology, who promised that he would see to it RIT as an institution would support the research that the students and faculty will be working on from this day forward. It was a very special moment for me knowing how supportive the college is towards students and its faculty and then I realized I made the best decision by coming to RIT for my Masters.

Before I end this post I would like to repost some reflections that the Provost has communicated to the entire RIT community about this retreat –

The working title for this retreat is ‘Move 78’. This bears an explanation. Back in March of this year, there was a historic matchup between the Google computer system named ‘AlphaGo’ and Lee Sedol, one of the world’s best Go players. (The game of Go is considered to be one of most cognitively challenging strategy games because of the vast number of possible moves; for example, there are 20 possible opening moves in a game of chess and 361 in a game of Go.) And in a 5 game series, AlphaGo defeated Sedol in 4 of them, thereby sending shockwaves through the Go and cognitive computing communities.

What is truly fascinating, however, are two ‘moves’ from the series. In Move 37 of Game Two, AlphaGo astounded Sedol with a play that experts never saw before let alone anticipated. Sedol took an unheard-of 20 minutes to respond. At that point, it looked grim for Team Human. But in Game Four, Sedol, wanting redemption, knew that he needed more than just the expertise he had developed in playing Go all his life and so dipped deeper into his creative well. His play, in Move 78, did just that. It astonished not only the Go world but AlphaGo itself. This move has become known as ‘God’s Touch’ and Sedol went on to win Game Four.

This story inspires me. As I think about the vast implications for the seemingly unlimited potential of cognitive computing, I could imagine a very bleak future. But I prefer not to. Rather I have tremendous faith in the creative and imaginative power of the human mind. To quote Wired Magazine,

“[Move 78] showed that although machines are now capable of moments of genius, humans have hardly lost the ability to generate their own transcendent moments. And it seems that in the years to come, as we humans work with these machines, our genius will only grow in tandem with our creations.”

The future isn’t scary; it’s exciting.