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Krishnan Eswaran

May 18, 2011

This time around, we converse with Krish Eswaran, a software engineer in Video at Google.

Kush: You say that you are not currently active in the research community. What are your thoughts on this blog post about having a research career at Google?

Krish Eswaran: The blog post was interesting to read, and it helped me crystallize better what I think are the differences between being active in the research community and working at Google. To do this, I’m going to make an analogy to musical composition, and let me say from the start that I don’t know anything about composition as a profession, so this analogy is both a product of ignorance and a convenient way to draw a distinction. Don’t take it too seriously.

Let’s say there are a group of people whom I’ll call the composer community, almost all of whom studied music theory for many years. This group is told to compose music and that they will be judged by their influence as composers: how often other composers quote their style and/or passages. The composers might be commissioned to compose pieces for performers, but there’s no guarantee that a particular composition will ultimately be played.

Let’s take another group: a jazz band. Not everyone in the jazz band studied music theory for many years, but they’ve all played and enjoy playing music. The jazz band is judged on how well they can execute a performance: how well they play together. There might be a member or few members who enjoy composing and writing music for the group, and in some sense, one could argue each member is composing on the fly when playing a jazz solo. Members can also choose to transcribe a performance or even individual solos into a composition, but it doesn’t bear any significant weight in how they’ll be judged.

Now, if I were in a jazz band after having studied music theory for many years and wanted to convince my friends who’d also studied music theory to join, I might emphasize the fact that yes, there are opportunities to compose music in the jazz band, and by the way, the jazz band I’m in has a lot of people who’ve also studied music theory for many years, in addition to those who thought their time would be better spent playing in bands. However, I would expect the people I were trying to convince to feel comfortable helping to execute the parts of a performance that have nothing to do with composition, which may not be the case for everyone.

Lav: Interestingly, one of my colleagues at IBM holds a doctorate in music composition, and today he was showing me the results of a music morphing system that he had developed many years ago, not dissimilar to face morphing. Which musicians’ works do you think would produce the most interesting morphs? Ludakrishna and Antonín Dvořák? Paul Simon and Dispatch?

KE: It’s easier to approach this question through individual songs since musicians’ styles can change. I think the most interesting music morphs would provide some type of contrast, and I can immediately think of two categories: very different songs that conjure up similar memories and superficially similar songs with subtle but significant differences. For the former, music morphing Europe’s “Final Countdown”  to Kanye West’s “Diamonds From Sierra Leone” while face morphing Will Arnett into Kanye West would be pretty cool. For the latter, music morphing Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” to Faith Hill’s “Breathe” while face morphing Lav into Kush would be really cool, as well.

As an aside, a cool way to test a music morphing algorithm might be to divide up a song into smaller segments and see how it would morph the different pieces together.

K: Thanks for the music videos on YouTube.  How did you get into bush-hogging? Do you bush-hog in any of your work these days?

KE: My financial aid package in college was tied to working on a research project, but I was so overwhelmed with my course load that I took a break from the project I started my first year. When I felt ready to start again my second year, my interests had shifted, and I went looking for something new.

During the beginning of the fall semester of that year, I sent an email to Toby about the projects in his video lab, all of which sounded really cool to me. I didn’t hear back so I continued talking to other professors about a pie-in-the-sky idea I had at the time. I was almost set to work with one of them near the end of that semester when Toby responded. We met and discussed the projects in his lab. He assumed by then that I might be talking to other professors and continued to encourage that. It was fairly noncommittal.

During the spring semester, I sent him another email saying I was interested in joining one of the projects we had discussed, but there wasn’t an immediate response again. This time, I decided to go directly to his lab and talk with his students. In doing so, I found a starting project, sent an email to Toby letting him know what I was working on, and eventually worked directly with Toby on a signal processing problem that had more to do with neuroscience; however, the initial project led me to the work of other professors when applying to grad school, one of which was Kannan’s.

Fast-forwarding to the present, issues of rate and distortion continue to play a role in my life, and I’ve also been gaining an appreciation about the need for speed.

K: How do you levitate?

KE: In the Fall of 2001, I walked into the dorm room of two of my friends and mentioned in passing that I could float like a character from Street Fighter. They laughed and asked me to demonstrate, and while I had never floated before, felt the need to prove myself. After the demonstration, they stopped laughing and got out a camera.

Here’s one of the photos they took. Your readers should be able to combine it with the anecdote they’ve just read to figure out the secret.

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