Sunday, 27 March 2011

peculiar observation

Just now, I am using my desktop. The keyboard was dirty and so I had brought some cotton-wool and spirit and was cleaning the keyboard. A small fluff of the cotton flew and got stuck on the screen. So far OK.
But, when I was viewing my blog, the dark blue background made this white fluff look orange. When I switched the screen to another page - white background, or light blue background, it looks normal.
As a rough guide, a normal object appears orange in ambient light if it absorbs blue and reflects the orange. However, the screen is emitting some dark blue light-- I get this far. But further, I am stumped!

Security

A recent blogpost brings me to the subject of security in crowded public places.
One big city railway station 2009... an entry was setup with a metal detector through which about 20 diligent people like me queued up and went and had our bags checked. The rest of the sea of humanity that visits the station on any given day, just walked in anyhow and the three police personnel watched them.
Again the same station some other day in 2009, people were let in from the side entrance with a constable checking the bags with a metal detector. They then put a small sticker on my bag and let me in.
What is the point?
Another big railway station 2008.... My son and I were going to Chennai, and we had a couple of large suitcases. I stood at a spot looking after the luggage waiting my son. I noticed an abandoned suitcase with a hole in it. Ten minutes later, it was still there. I got a little worried and moved behind one of the large pillars-- just in case. Another five minutes, my son came. I went off to find a policeman on duty I found one and informed him about the suitcase. He peepd from his position and there it was at some distance. He stood and watched it. Then two cleaning ladies came along. They said it was just an empty suitcase.However, they went to investigate. It was really just an empty suitcase, probably abandoned since it had a hole in it.
Come to think of it, what else can you expect?
Only solution--If you are religious, pray to God --if not, become religious and then pray to God

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

smaller dams or reactors

In every case, I vote for caution-- be it GM food or large nuclear plants or large dams. These things are not reversible...you cannot say "Oops! sorry" and move on.
When I was a child, all movies had Films Division documentaries before the show. One was on the rupture of the Koyna dam due to an earthquake. Many people had warned about this, but were told that they were anti technology, anti progress etc.
The same kind of dismissal of nay-sayers has happened years later in the case of the Tehri dam.
I am sure any odd person who was concerned about having so many reactors together at Fukushima would have also been told the same thing and any suggestion that a mega earthquake could strike would be countered with an assurance that all precautions had been taken.
I am also sure that in the case of the Jaitapur reactor complex, teh same thing will happen... "all precautions have been taken" " no earthquake above 7 on the Richter scale will ever hit this area" etc. until something does happen.
Instead, why not have more number of smaller things -- whether dams or reactors?

Saturday, 19 March 2011

The army wife

The Army wife is unique. One year she makes her home in a bungalow that had once housed Winston Churchill - a bungalow with a dozen rooms half of which need not be used (but still has to be dusted daily) with a garden enough to grow maize, seasonal veg, all kinds of flowers and have a lawn as well. The next posting lands her in half a barrack with two tiny rooms and she sets up her home in that too with equal ease. At all times her home has to be spic and span.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Our very own Cosa Nostra

An insider found hanging. "The man who police hoped would tell all" according to NDTV.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Friday, 11 March 2011

old films

Chupke Chupke and Sholay are two films that I did not see when they were released and even if I had, might not have appreciated. But now I appreciate them, specially the former. I have seen Chupke Chupke on the TV many times and never feel bored. I don't know what makes some films immortal-at least for some people.

language

"There is a huge amount of research which shows that the language skills are the best predictor of being a successful professional, and that is why the entire world considers these skills as amongst the most important parameter for both under-graduate as well as post-graduate admissions."
Tell that to the Board of Intermediate Education, Andhra Pradesh.
All the junior colleges and hence all students who enter the degree college, consider language skill of least importance. In college, the students bunk most of their English classes and all their second language classes because they consider it to be a total waste of time. No amount of explaining that language is the only vehicle for thoughts, is of any use, because all through their school and junior college, they have been told that they can ignore the languages. Most of the students I see have very poor language skills whether it is English or their mother tongue.
"the degenerate orbitals split up" is the same as "the d electrons split up" and I cannot make them see that it is not only not the same, but splitting electrons would be amazing new science..

Sunday, 6 March 2011

coaching -- again

An interview with the toppers of last year's CAT is all about strategy and practice. So the person who has a test-cracking technique and has practised a lot can get 100 percentile. Of course inherent ability has to be there too. This is where the coaching industry scores.
Now this is not a bad thing for CAT since a degree in management means you are going to work for/ start or some business. Here such skills like strategising, juggling with what you have etc is important. So the successful test taker will also make a successful manager. The coaching matches the future career requirements to some extent.
But when it comes to science or research, these are not the most important skills. At a basic level, you cannot even make a curry without planning, but beyond that, science requires other skills. So coaching is fine for CAT, but is it fine for exams like GATE? or even for the JEE? Is coaching developing the kind of skill needed for that particular career? Therefore, should such exams be "coachable"?

This blogpost(thanks to prof Giridhar) is one viewpoint. The engg college entrance exams are perhaps the most coached-for exams-- particularly the EAMCET in AP. Is that why the students learn very little?
Coaching is nothing new. Oxford had its crammers for the various scholarships they had...the cram system is well established there since centuries. Does it produce scholars?

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Appreciating the pioneering scientists

I find it difficult to make students appreciate the pioneering scientists.
To go far back, it must have taken unimaginable courage for that first human to have taken fire from some source and use it. He or she would have to overcome a great instinctive fear to do that.
When I teach the course titled "Science and civilisation", I try to make them imagine what that must have been like-- the extraordinary courage of such unnamed, unknown individuals --and to appreciate what they have done for the human race. Maybe some students do.
But when it comes to chemistry, I don't think I do a good job at that.

Friday, 4 March 2011

microfinance

Why is microfinance suddenly in the news for the wrong reasons?
First it was the suicides in AP and now the Grameen Bank and its tussle with the Bangla Desh govt.
Apart from the problems created by the collection methods, finance to SHGs is being attacked with the contention that it has social repurcussions-- one woman says that since she could not pay back her loan on time, her relationship with her group members is strained. That's serious in a village. There is the contention that some people take microfinance and buy themselves luxury goods instead of using it to start some enterprise. They are then not earning enough to repay. This leads to mounting debt and suicide.
There is the AP court ruling ordering regulation of these MFI.
However, how has Ela Bhatt managed her SEWA for so many years, growing to great heights without any such controversy?
It is difficult to know what is hype and what is true about the current crop of MFI.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Kids' prayers

A link
http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/video/video.php?v=1636447999119&comments

I liked the efficiency advice the best-- why kill people and then make new ones?

A rehash

This is a copy paste of an early post in this blog. What I have said re BSc also holds for economics, sociology etc.

When I see some of the boys and girls who go to various colleges, I wonder why they are there. It is obvious that they are not interested. They do not wish to learn whatever is taught to them. They just want the degree. They do not attend classes, give fake medical certificates and just a week before the exams, buy themselves a guide book, memorise a few answers and pass the exams. Why should they waste time and money doing this? I seriously believe a BSc or BA is for those who wish to learn something. But societal compulsions makes it imperative for everyone to get a degree. To enable such students to pass, our exams are also tailored to this mode of "study".
So I suggest, in every subject, there should be two streams-- One catering to the guide book types and another that provides an in-depth knowledge of the subject. You get your degree by passing anyone, but if you pass the second option, you get an honours degree. The honours degree should have stringent attendance requirements, lab requirements, and the questions in the examinations should test the analytical abilities, language skill and general awareness of the student.

Another alternative is to bring technical education (like ITI and polytechnics) into the mainstream. You can get a BSc in electrical works or a BA in office management. A BSc in horticulture can set you up as a high end garden landscaping consultant and a BSc in wood technology can setup a carpentery and interior design company. This reduces the pressure on everyone to "do" science. They get a BSc degree anyway. The BSc science programs will then cater to students who want to study Physics/ Chemistry/ Biochemistry etc. Then we can make the science courses truly rigorous.
Until this pressure of everyone needing to get a BSc is reduced, there is no hope for undergraduate science education in India.

Fragility of children

Nowadays, children are mentally fragile. Why?
I know I looked after my children with much greater care and attention to detail than my mother did for me and my brothers and she did more than her mother did. The young mothers I meet now do even more than I did.
But is this fine tuned attention making them too sensitive?
Children commit suicide if their parents say they cannot give them money to buy something fancy or if parents scold them for not studying...minor things. It is scary.
Maybe a bit of healthy neglect is good for the kids.

in praise of not praising indiscriminately

I had posted earlier about praising children excessively. Here's some research on this.
It does not talk about the quantum of praise, but on what you praise. I totally agree that praise should be for the genuine effort made by and the sincerity of the child rather than on the outcome.
In life, outcome is not always proportional to effort and diligence. A child must grow up to value herself highly if she has done her best, no matter what the outcome.
However, self worth is quite ephemeral. I do not think it is fair to put all the responsibilty on parents. My childhood was peppered with stories of boys who studied under the street light and suffered neglect but rose to be great men. These boys had no praise, some of them had to live on charity....each day of the week, they would be fed in different households. No one told them they were great. Self worth is a much less cause-effect phenomenon and perhaps comes from something within us.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

GM foods

"Genetically engineered organisms can combine with naturally engineered human bodies in bizarre, unexpected and tragic ways. We may have started to come to terms with the synthetic modification of life, but we still have a long way to go before we understand how the different parts of the natural and artificial worlds dynamically interact with each other in ways that we cannot anticipate. There's miles to go before we can sleep."

This is the reason why GM foods need far more testing than they have received. I can understand that Monsanto doesn't think that way, but that biologists don't understand this, I can't believe-- then why do so many of them swear by GM foods? There are other ways of increasing food production which can be explored-- vertical farms for one!