Confessions of an all-nighter

As a grad student, you can choose two out of three things in life for every semester: good grades, good sleep and good socializing. However hard you try, you can't get all three. And the fine print on the good grades is that sometimes you have to survive through tons of assignments, project deadlines and other bizarre TA issues, for which you need to stay up overnight. The funny part of putting in all those hours of thought and effort is that you're not grudging the assignment. You like the class, you love solving the problems, and you actually feel happy when you're done tackling the brain-teasers hidden in the problems. But the only catch is: they require too much time and effort. And add to that the innumerable bugs, logical errors and infinite loops that are so silly you want to tear your hair out (I've been bald four times over)... staying up all night trying to make stupid programs work doesn't seem such a bad investment after all.

Midnights are magical, you know. You keep scratching your head, wondering how on earth the software actually works and where you're supposed to edit it to get it to do what you need. When bored of staring at the screen with "a extends b" repeated in its million variations, you open your mail and suddenly feel glad to see two new emails. You start talking to the guy sitting at the next machine and discuss the obscure algorithm while you gulp down water from the "chilled" bottle you brought in more than two hours ago which has now actually become warm. Then, against all macho and guy code rules, you start walking towards the toilet and your buddy follows you there, while a heated debate is underway on whether the set union should randomize all training instances or or leave them alone. The undergrads or other friends who pass you in the corridor give you weird looks as you try to prove your point furiously by drawing random double-sigmas and epsilons in the air, calculating statistical proofs out of the blue.

When you come back, suddenly a few sections just work as you spot some stupid mistakes. You wish you had a newspaper nearby which you could roll up and hit on your own head to give a thwack. You're gleefully happy. But then, those two dreaded last problems keep coming back to taunt you: like a skimpily clad seductress who keeps daring you to go up and win her. Somewhere inside, there is a deep fear that you will not be able to make the code work to crack them, but the determination is equally strong to get them done! You set about re-reading the problem statement, the book, google searches: anything to get a clue about what that darned question is all about.

Past 3:00 a.m., the problem literally gets you. Dropping eyelids and the constant chatter of the guy at the next cube who has got stuck at the same problem and is desperately trying to wriggle something out of you leaves your brain confused. You keep shaking your head and keep talking to yourself: the mind in a complete state of chaos. You need some coffee! Ah, the magic of the sodium lamps, the empty winding roads, the lone car speeding down the lanes with hip-hop music blaring from the open window... you trudge along the sidewalk humming to yourself. The dream continues as the iPod pours "Suraj hua maddham" into your ears, and unknown to your own self you suddenly master the loop of the Yo-yo you're playing with. You walk into the coffee shop, pick up a paper at random and order your coffee. "How to avoid date-rapes" catches your eye, and you begin reading that article as you lazily sip the coffee. Suddenly, almost halfway through your cup of coffee, while you are reading about the common tactics used by the guys to lure unsuspecting girls, the idea strikes! "Of course... ", you wonder aloud, "it should be the root mean square, not the mean of square roots!", and rush through the rest of the coffee like there's no tomorrow. You wave the waitress with her eyebrow raised a hasty goodbye and rush back to your post!

After being *almost* there, the code refuses to work again. This time, you swear aloud, your voice booming through the empty lab. At any other time, there would have been a thousand eyes suddenly looking at you. At 4:00 in the morning, however, there's nobody except you and your friend, and you don't really care even if there's someone listening. A little tweak here, a little trace and debug there, and then it works suddenly! You feel on the top of the world... you wish there was someone you could shout out to and proclaim your victory. Unfortunately, no-one claps for you... you sit there and begin analyzing the results of the experiment, writing them in the report and drafting up the write-up, 'nicely'. You have a final look at it all, and then just submit it: "What the hell, I can't look at this shit any more --- if it suits him, he'll give me my marks: else I don't care". You look at the watch --- "God, it is 7:30!!". While wondering how the time flew away, you step outside the lab and suddenly realize there's sunlight. Busy morning traffic swerves past you as you keep walking back home; a fleeting smile plays across your lips with eyes lit up in the joy of having conquered something. You come home, change into loose clothes and drop into your bed. The eyelids close heavily as you keep dreaming of the little lines of code you've just completed to deserve this rest.

P.S. - For those interested in a slightly different version of the same story, Praveen has a very good write up about that. I've been there done that, too! :)

Comments

  1. beautifully rendered :)

    ..and now,
    Damn you! You made me think back on my own missed time of doing it like you, and then my own graduate work. Mine was half as interesting as yours though, rush intact! :))

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  2. Gawd I miss school!! I miss stupid valuation assignments and cursing the prof (with my very limited vocab)...and I miss the rush of getting that ever elusive problem (in my case getting a balance sheet to tally!).

    As usual very well written...tu kahani banane main ustaad hai ;p

    Sky :)

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  3. wow..that didnt sound like a lot of fun! :O

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  4. A gud insight of how tuff a grad life can be :)...
    But the best part is coz u give so much of effort tht u end up getting the output, or almost end up getting the output-- a case I wud relate to myself :D
    It was a very nice read bhai!!!

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  5. Sudipta, by the way Hari's Corner is now moved to b2evolution. So the RSS feed url will change.

    Do update the RSS feed URL for my blog :-)
    http://hari.literaryforums.org/?tempskin=_rss2

    I'll read this article later, I've just been a bit busy lately :-)

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  6. there was a time when we on our way to the restroom used to discuss about how miserly the canteenwala is with the cheese on the sandwich and now u draw epsilons or whatever in thin air. God! you a nerd now? ;)

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  7. Rads, thanks. :) I too rush through my day, practically, but still life has its little surprises all the time that I can make anecdotes of.

    Sky, thanks. Tere saath baat karte karte kuchh to seekha!

    Di, It is fun, trust me. :)

    Varun, thanks, bhai! And you're right -- the fruits of labour are always sweet :)

    Hari, will check! :)

    Sajith, naah, too hot to be a nerd, remember? :D How have you been?

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  8. absolutely hilarious !!!!!!
    it has happened with me too...whenever i get stuck at a prob, i jus walk out of the house and try to go over it in a relaxed manner..and sometimes i've felt people stare at me as if i'm nuts but when i finally crack it,i've this sudden urge to rush back home n get back to the grind...and i tell u, its impossible to hide that grin which immediately comes on the face- Ms NMA

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  9. Ooh boy, I remember those days. :--( Not fun at all. My first night out, I was so depressed. :--) But, its all part of the game na.

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  10. "The eyelids close heavily as you keep dreaming of the little lines of code you've just completed to deserve this rest."
    The joy of being a student. Nothing gives anything else such a pleasure as being a student. I remember earlier you were doing a job. So you are well qualified to detect the difference.

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  11. been there done that, only that in my course I'm not the only one who's sitting until morning. There's almost everyone there until the end.

    and if i were u , I'd choose - good grades and good sleep, good socializing would happen anyway.

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  12. this is how a kaamchor projecteth himself as a hero.

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  13. Miss NMA, people stare at you as if you're nuts? :D :D I tell you --- it really is impossible to hide the grin right now :D

    By the way... yes what you say is right. :)

    SK, it really is. And you were depressed after the first night out? Hmm...

    Alka, yeah, thats true. Actually in the job such kinds of low-hanging-apple challenges are lesser on a daily basis --- being a student you can get those cheap thrills as much as you want.

    Maverick, well, they are the two I'm trying to choose anyway. But the sleep threatens to hijack the grades' share of the pie, too! :(

    And thanks for linking to my blog! :)

    Juggernaut, welcome to the club! :D

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  14. As a grad student in graphic design, I cannot agree more with those first few lines.

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  15. Very inspiring post! Keep writing.

    Cheers.

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  16. Sigh! And during semester end times, you dream code even while you are sleeping. I used to hate that feeling of dreaming lines and lines of code even when I was sleepin!!

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  17. Kevin, welcome onboard!! And as they say, great men think alike! :D

    DS, welcome onboard!

    Supremus, oh well... life kinda sucks at times! But I like it: it makes me feel alive! :D

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  18. DS, checking back... I forgot to say thanks! :) So thanks :)

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  19. Cool :) I've just started experiencing this... But I can already detect the similarities. Great post!

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  20. Alpine Path, yup, welcome to grad student life! :)

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  21. Lovely post. Brought back memories. I cannot pull these off any more, tho.

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  22. TGFI, people like you are actually the beacons of inspiration for me: those who've done their PhDs. Thank you, thank you so much!

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  23. I can relate to this now :) !!

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