Abhijeet Banerjee is in the third year of his PhD. According to one of my informants, he “tells awesome stories about his undergrad days and has probably seen every documentary on this planet.” Unfortunately, I have failed to draw any of those stories out of him - perhaps they were a bit too saucy for our little blog. At any rate, his love for story telling is evident in his prose.
Where did you grow up?
I spent a substantial part of my childhood in the North Indian city of Varanasi. It is situated on the banks of river Ganga and is considered to be one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world. It is a spiritual city full of old temples and monasteries. However, for me the most memorable feature of the city remains the river ghats (stone paved river banks). If you go there in the early morning hours, you would see the sun rising over the mist on one side. On the other side you would see a seemingly endless series of stone steps leading up to numerous pavilions and terraces. Occasionally, you would find a temple or a shrine. At far you could see a railway bridge, over which sometimes you could see a train pass by.
Living in a city right next to a big river has its own advantages, such as you could go for a swim or a boat ride every now and then. Apart from the river activities, I remember spending a huge amount of time on our roof-top flying kites. Yes, in my city kites are usually flown from the rooftop and in the festival of kites the entire sky is full of kites. The festival of kites (Makar Sankranti) was just one of my favourites, we had the festival of colours (Holi), the festival of lights (Deepavali) and the list goes on. As a child I had a whole list of festivals to look forward to throughout the year and in each festival the city looked different. Even in non-festive seasons the city is a colourful place, quite full of life. A distinct feature of the city is its network of labyrinth like by-lanes, navigating which can be a daunting task for an unfamiliar person. I have had quite a few adventures exploring them!
Why are you doing a PhD?
The answer to this question probably lies in my undergraduate years. During undergraduate years I had a lot of fun while remembering to study a little bit of everything. However, sometimes during the lectures, when the professor would be explaining a new concept, I would have a crazy “what-if” idea (i.e. what if I did this instead of that, idea). Usually, I didn’t bother to bother anyone with those “what-if” ideas. Undergraduate is too much fun to bother about “what-if” ideas. However, eventually graduation drew near and I realized that only way to explore some “what-if” ideas was to join a PhD program (because at that time none of job offers I had were research oriented) and that’s when I made the choice of enrolling for a PhD. During PhD, one has the time and resources to check out all “what-if” ideas one has. Most of the time they turn out to be crazy but sometimes they do work out.
Briefly describe your research and its significance.
My research is primarily focused towards testing and analysis of non-functional properties (such as execution time and energy consumption), for real-time, embedded systems. Embedded systems are specialized computer systems designed and used for a specific task. They are everywhere, watches, smartphones, automobiles, space shuttles all use embedded systems. A real-time constraint dictates that the system (in our case, embedded system) must respond in real time. For example, an anti-lock breaking system in an automobile must react as soon as the brake pedal is pressed and not a few minutes later. Failure to meet a constraint, for such systems, might lead to serious (even fatal) consequences. Therefore, to ensure the reliability of such systems, the software executing on such platforms must be tested for functional (e.g. absence of buffer overflows), as well as non-functional properties (e.g. execution time, energy consumption).
Every year exciting new ideas are presented in this field through leading journals and conferences. However, still a lot remains to be done in this field. Let me give you an example, if you are a smartphone user you must have faced the irritating “low-battery” signal while you were doing something interesting. If you had a similar experience, I can sympathise with you and so will the millions of smartphone users around the world. Every year we have new and improved smartphones coming in to the market, each with a bigger screen, a better camera or a faster processor etc. These trends are not surprising as integrated circuit technology is approximately doubling every two years, as correctly predicted by Gordon E. Moore in 1965. However, the same cannot be said about the battery technology. The improvements in the battery capacity over past couple of decades have been very small. Such problems give rise to a host of research opportunities. Presently, applications for smartphone and mobile devices are developed in an energy oblivious way, the implication of which are wasted battery power and/or reduced battery life.
In our current research we are trying to develop tools and techniques for energy aware programming for mobile device such as smartphones. Such techniques when developed would enable the application developers to develop energy-efficient applications and enable the contemporary devices with limited battery capacity to function much better. Not only that, energy-aware programming tools (and techniques) would be useful even when better battery technologies arrives, as energy-efficient applications are good at saving energy and therefore contributes towards a greener planet.
Briefly describe your experience as an SoC student.
Being enrolled in a highly ranked educational institution is a privilege by itself. There are other perks too. Grad students in SoC have plenty of opportunities in terms of educational resources, the chances to interact with other highly skilled people in their research domains, attend interesting workshops and seminar that are regularly held in the department, etc
The most important [faculty member, to me,] would be my advisor Dr Abhik Roychoudhury, who has been there for me ever since I joined the department. SoC has so many good faculty members that it is hard to name a few. However, the two faculty members who have made the biggest impressions on me were Dr Liang Zhenkai and Dr Y. C. Tay.
I took a module on systems security during which I had the chance to interact with Dr Liang Zhenkai. I felt that he is one of the most hands-on professors I have met in the department. Thanks to him, I actually learnt how to do cool stuff such as buffer overflow attacks and XSS attacks. Earlier I just knew that these things existed and never tried them on my own.
I was also very impressed by the teaching style of Dr Y. C. Tay. He is the only professor I know who still uses overhead projectors to teach! Not only that he would haul two overhead projectors for every lecture along with various props to make us understand the complex concepts of analytical performance modelling. I really admire the enthusiasm with which he taught us in every single one of his lectures.
What is something most people would be surprised to learn about you?
I enrolled in a school when I was less than 3 Years of age and I have been in school (figuratively speaking) ever since.
Why are you drawn to documentaries?
I think that our world is an awesome place. It is full of information, lots and lots of it. However, in the rush of our day to day lives we often overlook the details of the world around us. If we look closely, every person, every single object has a different story to tell. As a person who is fond of listening to (and telling) stories, documentaries are an excellent medium for me to know new things.
Over the years I have watched a number of documentaries, some of which were very elaborate, such as “Planet Earth” (released 2006, made by BBC) whereas others were very simple, such as the “Life in a Day” (released 2011, made by people from all over the world). Varied as they might be in their theme and design, yet they have one thing in common, they are all made with the intention of conveying a message. So I guess in that sense (conveying a message), I would say the most influential and memorable documentary I remember watching would be a documentary named “An inconvenient truth”. A good documentary is a mix of a good (untold) story composed of clear and concise information and accompanied by a captivating narration. In the documentary “An inconvenient truth”, Al Gore presents the general ideas about global warming in such a manner that even the uninitiated would have little trouble following it. This documentary was crucial in changing my (and many other people’s) views about Global Warming and the dangers it poses to us.
Quick-fire! Best film ever?
Most annoying word?
Three items you would want with you if you were stranded on a deserted island?
An axe, a lighter and a shipping container full of books, preferably novels ;-D