Wednesday, 26 December 2012

car headlights

As I get older, it is becoming more and more difficult to drive at night. The bright, high-beam headlights of the oncoming cars are totally blinding and force me to practically stop till the car passes me.
Is there no way to design cars that do not blind the drivers of cars in the opposite lane?
Cars are getting fancier headlamps that are more blinding than the ones before. These high intensity headlamps are deadly, since the blinding effect continues after the car has passed by.
No one seems to be bothered by this. Am I the only one affected by this? Or are others used to driving blind?
It looks like people in other countries are at least aware this problem.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

How ironic that the police has come out in force to fight back the protestors at India gate but din't do anything to the criminals. 

Saturday, 15 December 2012

private universities

I was looking at the list of private universities in India. Out of 113, only 45 have been inspected by the UGC, according to Wikipedia. It does not say what the inspection resulted in. Of these less than half are general universities. others are for special is for Homeopathy and another for Yoga. One university is for energy and oil..
Surely you don't have universities for one subject!!   It's one thing to get an illness treated as per homeopathy or to practise yoga, but a university???
I think a university should have various disciplines..sciences, social sciences, mathematics, management, arts, fine arts.......all taught together in one campus, or in linked campuses. In fact, if possible, law, engineering and medicine should also be taught in the university along with the above.
It is also the drawback of the IIT system  that they do not have enough diversity. The really good students are deprived of the enrichment this exposure to diversity can bring. The mediocre students may or may not benefit from the diversity, but one odd from them may realise he is great at  say- music appreciation. 

Friday, 14 December 2012

the energy of the young

I recently learnt about the dropbox feature and am trying to use it to access  my files - background notes for lectures, interesting articles-I-meant-to-read- but-never-did  etc from my college computer. But I am slow at getting technology, so it is taking time to figure out the most efficient way to do this.
This is the beginning of my winding up process since I retire in three months.
Retirement after almost 20 years is scary. For all my annoyance at my students, I will deeply miss being surrounded by young people. Their physical exuberance rubs off on one and one does not feel ones age. I sometimes get annoyed or exasperated at, and sometimes enjoy the silly things students do. But mostly I will miss their  energy- it pervades the place.  

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Eucalyptus in Hyderabad

The Nilgiris have large tracts of eucalyptus plantations. Around Coonoor, Ketti, and Ooty, we see a lot of these trees. Below these trees, there is a carpet of fallen leavesand not a single plant grows beneath these trees. The local people collect the fallen leaves. Amidst the trees, one suddenly sees a hut of sorts . Its roof is covered with dried eucalyptus leaves. Inside the hut there is a steam distillation unit. The unit consists of a drum, with compartments  atop a hearth. A pipe runs out and the distillate is collected in a pot. The unit is managed by a man.  He runs the unit and collects the oil from the leaves.The exhausted leaves are spread on top of the hut and when dry, used as fuel for the steam distillation unit.
All this is very well, but the trees are tall and not quite rooted deep enough for their heights. Hence, we often come across fallen trees after a storm. One evening, just about 200 metres short of our house, a tree had fallen, and we had to turn back, and take a detour through the forests. Three villages and 10 km later,  we reached home.
Eucalyptus trees  use up ground water. They deplete the already precarious water balance in the Nilgiris.
In fact eucalyptus is good for dehydrating swamps. The army housing areas usually  have eucalyptus trees planted around the colony septic tanks.
Plantations in the Nilgiris were done in the 19th century by the British who probably did not realise its impact, or even if they did, would not have cared much. But  the Hyderabad urban forestry division in its wisdom decides to "green" wastelands by planting rows and rows of eucalyptus.
Any primer in biology would tell you that monoculture does not make a good forest. Forest health depends on its biodiversity, yet the forest department insists on planting rows and rows of the same species ......... including the eucalyptus. The semi arid region of Hyderabad is already in drought condition, on top of that to deplete ground water by planting eucalyptus is terrible. Does not the forest department have anyone who understands forests?

Saturday, 8 December 2012

private colleges

Recently, I have been reading a lot of people voicing the view that private institutions are the way to go for high quality higher education. Maybe they think of ISB when they mean private. But ISB is not what private colleges are like. They are cubby hole colleges, and IIPM-like universities.

Many private colleges are run like businesses....maximise profit and minimise expenditure.  Nothing wrong per se, if you are looking at a long term goal.
But what it actually  means, is  employing low grade faculty and paying them small amounts; and employing very few teachers.......just enough to manage to make all the students pass their exams.
Expenditure on lab consumables is minimised by not having lab classes.........or at best, having just one once a week for one or two months in a year instead of the mandated once a week sessions all through the year.
These colleges do not have even a semblance of sports/NCC/NSS or any such activities, no  debate/elocution/dramatics/music- absolutely no activity at all. Just lectures morning, noon and evening, in a cubby hole for a classroom- maybe the master bedroom of a 3 BHK apartment.
That is what  private colleges I have seen look like.

ngo s

I have this scepticism about  ngo s but told myself that it is just unfounded prejudice. I went ahead and contacted a couple of well established, CSR kind of ngo s working in the area of school education, but have so far found them unresponsive. They don't even say they can't help- just dont answer mails or phones.
On the other hand, Azim Premji University was helpful in giving me time, listen to me and suggest what I could do. Perhaps my bias against ngos is not really unfounded.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Two quotes

" The ability to set standards does not come unless an institution has a critical mass in terms of quality faculty......" Pratap Bhanu Mehta in EDU Tech
Another quote
"World class institutions research centres and departments develop around a core group of faculty members who are leading scholars in their field..." Pushkar in EDU Tech
If this is true, and I think it is, then there is no hope for most Indian universities.

So the only possibilty is a very rich philanthropist or group of philanthropists investing a huge sum in building a university starting  by attracting a group of great faculty (at least part time) and providing them with what they need.
The ISB model?   

Sunday, 4 November 2012

The new blogger is painful. On the dashboard, the blog's name gets cut off. Of course, I don't  mind that so much since I know my blog's name. But when  I compose a new post, the complete screen is not visible. The end of every sentence is hidden and I have to scroll right and left to read what I have written. 

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Satyendra Dubey

"It was a damning story and pointed at several deals including the awarding of contracts under the Rs.50,000 crore National Highway Project." 
Today's op-ed in the Hindu. 
Satyendra Dubey was murdered. Some people,hired hands, were arrested and convicted, but no one from the PMO has been identified.
We all believe that Dr Manmohan Singh and Mr Vajpayee were personally honest. Now many of us are personally honest but have no great clout. But when honest people who have the ability and are in a position to make a difference, fail to do so, there is no hope. 

Monday, 22 October 2012

cell phones

In 2003, I bought a cell phone for the first time. This was because my daughter wanted to go for Math coaching. Her teacher lived quite far away and by the time she finished, it would be quite late. So I gave her the cell phone to ensure she has means of communicating in case she was in trouble or could not get an auto.  At that time, my son did not have one since I was not  so worried about his security.
 Even much later, when she lived  in Chennai, where my parents used to live, whenever she got into an auto, my father would insist she sms the auto number to him.
I live in a colony that is 4 km from the main road and buses are few and far between. Often, my daughter would come by bus to the nearest bus stop on the main road and call me - I would then go and pick her up. When there was this move to ban cell phones from school and college campuses, I was worried how she would manage.
For girls, cell phones can sometimes be a lifeline.
Mayawati feels girls must not have cell phones.

Friday, 19 October 2012


From all that one sees on the TV,  it looks like we are in  Chicago in the 1930's.
If some official opposes sale of kerosene in the black market, he gets burnt alive with the available kerosene!
Some girls get raped, we have  sociological discussions on the reasons and the girls are given some small sum of money.  No one talks about punishing the culprits--that is not on any person's agenda-least of all the police and local administration.
If everyone is corrupt, and in collusion with the mafia, is there any hope for us?

PS-- All problems solved -- it's chow-mein that's the culprit!  
Never serve chow mein and ban it from all the chinese food bandis.  There will be no more rapes.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

To continue.........
In UKG, my five year old son had to learn to write an invitation for his birthday party, in Hindi. The invitation was dictated by the teacher. What I remember of this is "मैं ने अल्प आहार का आयोजन किया है ". Who writes or talks like that?  and which 5-year-old birthday party invite is written like this?
I was not sure if I found it funny or was angry.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

making a realistic curriculum for children

Pushing too much on children makes them unable to learn...the backlog is always there and they are always lagging. This makes them lose confidence and they are unable to learn even the easy bits. If only the powers that be would place emphasis on quality and not on quantity, it would make a huge difference. If only they would ensure that however little is taught, it  is taught well and learnt well,  education would be a success story. 
I used to go to a hostel for tribal children run by our organisation. There was one boy in the 6th class who had a beautiful maths notebook-- all problems solved, very neatly written with good remarks from the teacher. These were problems on addition / subtraction of fractions.  During the course of my conversation, he admitted he could not subtract a two digit numbers from another. Then how did he do the problems in his book? He said he copied them from his friend. 
I said I would teach him. I went to the blackboard and started. Now all his friends came up and wanted to join in. So I made many columns on the board and gave numbers at random. They all noisily solved them, and in the process taught  this boy  how to subtract. He learnt it within that one hour I spent there. 
At an appropriate age, different for different children, they learn very easily. Earlier on, it's a terrible task, and they never learn. I noticed this with my two children and the ill effects of this forced teaching is still felt by one of them even after 23 years .
The Montessori system addresses this by keeping together children of different ages – say 4-6 or so and letting them learn at their own pace.
But all this requires committed teachers who understand how to judge learning outcomes.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

CII initiative

The CII (AP) has a new initiative where they bring together some representatives of  pharma, biotech and CRO companies  with local colleges to give some inputs to students about what industry needs from potential employees. They do this already  with engineering colleges. Through this initiative  industries can give some inputs to academic institutions on how to make students employable.
Students who need jobs after a BSc most often go to the BPOs for jobs and they get paid quite well. Pharma and biotech industries on the other hand do not pay students with BSc well.
The BPO jobs are sometimes good for the students, sometimes not so good-- a few of them fluorish in this new field while some others don't. But when these BPO jobs dry up, or move to Philippines or Uruguay,  then what will students with a BSc in biological sciences do? There are not enough jobs for them -- not even for those who have an MSc.  
Secondly, students are also totally undeserving of the BSc or MSc they get. In MSc, they cannot still read a chapter in Lehninger (a standard textbook of Biochemistry) and make their own study notes-- forget research papers. 
However, the most important thing they lack is professionalism.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Every year, I set a question paper for a local science talent examination for class VIII /IX /X from schools in rural and urban areas of AP. I firmly believe in a comprehension type of question paper where concepts, not necessarily in the syllabus, are explained and questions asked on that passage. I believe that it levels the playing field and eliminates the bias against those who have bad teachers. However, at the pre-question paper meeting of the academic committee, people objected to this saying it takes up too much time to answer. I do not think that is a valid objection. There should not be a fixed number of questions to be answered in 1 min each or so. That is what makes these exams unreliable. The 1 min/question makes it difficult to give questions that require thought. This leaves us  with a lot of fact driven questions and  avoiding them makes paper setting  very difficult, specially for the VIII class, where the syllabus is entirely about preparation and properties of various substances. Well I have been trying my best and so far so good.

Sunday, 7 October 2012


The equations between generations has changed a lot in a short while. For hundreds of years, households ran with a powerful patriarch or in some cases matriarch.
In any case, the matriarch ruled the women of the household.  A man marries a woman and sort of hands her over to his mother, for her to command. This has been the custom for hundreds of years.
But I see amongst my friends, things are different now.
The older women of today are in a cusp - they had dominating mothers-in-law and had to be docile; they are also expected to be accomodating with their busy daughters-in-law.
Their day of dominance has been left out of the menu. 

Saturday, 6 October 2012

From my old blog

On growing old
I think the two things that make old age painful is losing ones energy and ones memory....not losing ones good looks as is the popular perception.When one is 10 years old, anyone above 15 seems old. Then, when one is 20, 40 is old. At 40, 70 is old and so on. So the definition of old age is very flexible. When young, we think it is sad to be old. Of course, old age when one is feeble, helpless is awfully sad.But as one grows older, there is a sense of liberation. As we leave the insecurities of our teenage, we become more confident. In our twenties, we become independent and that's a source of happiness. In our thirties, we become parents, learn to handle professional responsibilities.We really grow. We are not so worried about what others say, we are sure of ourselves, more confident about doing what we want.What I find most liberating about being old is the freedom. A young girl cannot chat with strange people, auto drivers, co passengers in a bus. Now, I just have nice conversations with strangers---I give free advice on anything I feel like, even if they dont like it, they tolerate that nice old lady. You can bargain with impunity.... It is liberating. What is not nice is the loss of energy...I see a hill but I know I cant trek up to the's sad.I envy the young their energy

Thursday, 20 September 2012

I joined one of the MOOC s (massively open online courses- this one has about 55000 students enrolled) that have recently sprung up- to learn what the Stanford prof has to teach as well as to learn how to teach through different means and in different ways. The first two lectures were nice.
Through this and other online courses, I am hoping to come up with some method of teaching kids in schools to just appreciate learning- to view learning as a nice activity- like playing a game maybe.
Another cartoon that offends. By now, I am sure everyone realises that cartoons that are 
derogatory to religious symbols lead to an international backlash. Specially if the symbol is
islamic. Now France is spending a lot of euros to beef up security in its embassies. So why
could the cartoonist not desist? He/she knows that publishing the cartoon would lead to 
expensive security measures- spending his/her own tax euros which could have been used 
for beefing up their public schools or medicare or whatever. It may also lead to some acts 
of violence and some poor innocent person may get killed or hurt-- mind you, the artist will
get adequate protection.
Let us not even think of the higher moral value of tolerance for all religions, let us only
look at it from self interest-
Not publishing it is not going to harm anyone's interest. So why this compulsion to take 
protection under the freedom of expression and write or draw something that is so 
expensive to his/her own society?
I can understand publishing something - however offensive- that uncovers some truth that 
needs to be revealed, something that is important.  But this kind of self indulgence is difficult to understand.

Monday, 27 August 2012


Speaking of ads, there is this advertisement for a beverage--children practicing basketball/gym routines through the night with the mother urging them on and giving them this beverage.
Why does no one feel that childhood is for growing up happily without pressures?
Every child must get 99% marks and be a concert musician and be in the school cricket team and also win the 100 m dash in the inter school sports.


The "scientific" advertisements are very weird. Compounds are given some abbreviation and made to sound magical. A shampoo with ZPTO would magically eradicate dandruff. But at least there is a ZPTO that has some provable anti-dandruff effect.
But a detergent which cleans really well because it has vibrating molecules???
Are there detergents with non-vibrating molecules that do not clean well ?

Sunday, 26 August 2012


We are trying to get a water purification system for our college. I have been looking at the quotations and specifications. What worries me is the use of RO systems. Our plant may have a capacity of 500-1000 litres/hour. The ground water is quite hard....about 300-400 ppm CaCO3. The reject water will be really concentrated...say 12-1500 ppm. That water would probably not be suitable for plants or the lawn. So about 30 or 40 % of the water is wasted. On a large scale, RO is really wasteful.

education loans

A nationalised bank is supposed to give an educational loan of upto 4 lakhs without collateral/ guarantor. Last year I had nerve-racking experience with one such bank-- partly due to my own illiteracy, and partly due to the total lack of commitment of the bank staff.
My daughter needed a Rs 4 lakh educational loan. The reason the loan was required was that the UK visa rules state that the student/parent must show a 3 month bank balance in excess of the money required to pay a year's tuition + 9 months' living expense. The loan sanction was required to add up to the amount.

First the bank manager kept dodging me...come in the evening...come tomorrow etc. Then, she asked me to show all my fixed deposits which added upto more than my loan amount.
(What about the 'no collateral' rule?). The to-ing and fro-ing went on for about a week.
Then VERY grudgingly, she sanctioned the loan keeping me and my offspring on the edge for days.
After sanctioning the loan, she had to give a letter stating the fact. She worded it poorly, and I did not realise that. Secondly, she had given my account balance statement on an ordinary piece of paper, not on the bank's stationary, the import of which I did not realise. This resulted in the visa being rejected due to lack of proof of sufficient finance.
Then a harrowing scramble to get the balance statements on bank stationary for which she gave us a hard time and then gave it grudgingly, after charging me Rs 40 for one printout page; a revised statement that the loan had been sanctioned required me to pull strings-- something I hate doing. Finally the visa was given one day before the term started. A phoned request to the school at UK got us the extra time (so different from our own officialdom). Then I went to the bank again and asked if all formalities were done, and did my daughter need to sign anything else...etc. The manager said everything was done and I could avail of the loan anytime I needed it. Since I did not want to start paying EMI till I needed to, I asked if it was OK to take the actual loan amount after three months. She said it was fine.
Three months later, a new bank manager came in. He said the loan amount cannot be released to anyone except the student. The student must come to India, sign papers and accept the money. Or go to the embassy sign an affidavit that her mother can accept the loan.
That's when I finally gave up!
It was not a problem, since my daughter did not really need that loan, we just needed it to add up to the required balance at the time of application. But what if she had? she would have had to take a week off, spend 1 lakh, come and sign papers.
If any Indian student, aspiring to study in the UK is reading this blog, please note-- all financial statements must be on paper with bank logo, signed and stamped. . Nowadays, banks give statements on plain paper, signed and stamped, but it will not do (all banks gave me my account statements on plain paper). If an education loan is availed of, the UK govt expects that the bank state that it is sanctioning an unconditional loan-- this many bank managers are not willing to do. One has to come to some understanding and ask the bank to go as far as it can. The UK visas are given on points basis and it is all 'yes or no'. So there is no room for any explanation.
Further, regarding the loan-
The loan amount sanctioned, or a part thereof must be drawn by the student while he/she is still in India. The count down for the EMI starts the day the money is put in your account. You cannot think that since there is enough money to get through the first few months in the foreign country, one can take the money later and start paying the EMI later. That logic doesn't work.

The sad part is, though I have a PhD, I was almost an illiterate in this matter, and so was my daughter. I did not check for the bank logo, and assumed that a signed & stamped statement is good enough. Nor did I go through the visa consultants, since there was no time to find a reliable one.
However, the bank managers must be aware of all this and could have taken a little care while furnishing me the documents. 'Customer care' is just a department those two words don't mean anything to them.

Friday, 10 August 2012

CP Snow

In England, till the mid twentieth century, science and scientific education was  considered inferior,akin to tradesmen  and an education in the classics considered a true mark of an intellectual.-- and England dominated the thinking of the western world.  In the 50s, CP Snow lamented the fact that science education was abysmal and warned that this would cost England dearly. His was the transitional generation where slowly, scientific thought was considered important - probably, the philosophical implications of quantum mechanics helped or maybe the WWII changed perceptions and scientists became important.
In ancient times, philosophy and science were indistinguishable-- Archimedes, for example- was he a scientist or a philosopher? In Ancient India too, the scientists were the philosophers.
When did science become a trade?
Now it has gone to the other extreme. The humanities are considered inferior. A person studies for a BA only if he cannot do anything else.
Coming back to CP Snow, he proposed the idea of two cultures. He experienced it first hand, being a scientist by training and a bureaucrat by profession (or should I say livelihood?) and a writer by choice. His friendship with other writers and scientists of his time, gave him ringside view of their ways of thinking.
This idea of two cultures has come up again in an article that I finally ended up in starting from a post in a blog. AK Ramanujan's father tells him "the brain has two lobes" when asked how he can reconcile astrology and astronomy.
That is what I keep thinking whenever someone asks ' how can a scientist believe in god?' Alice, one can believe in "six impossible things before breakfast".  We all have many irrational beliefs. We all have many facets to our thinking. We none of us behave in a linear fashion  or following a standard equation set out for us.

Monday, 6 August 2012

coaching classes

So you think the JEE has spawned a rash of coaching classes. Well so has CLAT,  IAS and many other exams.
But a new phenomenon is the "seminars"and the expert consultants for the NAAC accreditiation..
So your college is planning to get itself accredited? There are "experts" who will tell you what to do, what files to prepare, how to present them. They hold "seminars" for the NAAC coordinators of various colleges and give them "tips"-  just like the coaching classes do. They, it seems, will even write the "SSR" the self study report for the college. This makes the assessing team suspicious about who wrote the SSR when they visit a college, and makes them ask specifically for the team that wrote it.
What next? Maybe a coaching class for those who want to start coaching students?

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Why does IISE have glass-fronted buildings? or are they some solar energy harvesting panels? The pictures on their website show huge glass fronted buildings which, unless they are solar panels, does not gel well with an institution called indian institute for sustainable enterprise.


Most of us who have built our own houses, know that, in India at least, it is foolish to have too many windows on our western walls. The summer sun through the glass makes for unbearable green house effect.
How come all architects who design office buildings, believe in glass-fronts? It does not require much scientific knowledge to realise that it  is foolish to trap the heat. The airconditioning bill would soar. So even if the architect  is unthinking,  why are the owners of such buildings not aware? Why can we not have office buildings that are not  glass fronted? Let in fresh air and cool the office except those few summer months when we can have the AC?
Another mystery to me are hospital buildings. Most OPDs are underground with NO ventilation. Why? so that even a seasonal flu maybe passed on unfailingly, not to mention MDR tubercolosis? The AC ducts servicing the rooms are filthy. Why? what's wrong with good old fashioned windows?  those that let in outside air-however polluted? I would rather breathe in diesel flavoured air than MDR baccilli.

Thursday, 2 August 2012


The way to inculcate research skills in teachers in undergrad colleges is to tie up with good research Instts/University centres around, give the teachers 2 or 3 years leave and enable them to conduct research at these Instt.
The Instts have the infrastructure, and for 2 years the person can focus on research and can really make some good contribution. The college should ensure that he gets his salary either from UGC, DST or some such source, or pay him themselves (if possible). There should be a roster, by which they can be sent in rotation and the extra workload taken up by the others in a distributed manner or by employing a 5 or 10% excess faculty.
The UGC used to have an FIP / QIP program which did just that. In 1970s and 80s the IIX where I did my PhD, used to get lecturers from colleges coming in for 3 yrs to complete their PhD. After 3 years, they would complete any left over work by working evenings/Sundays /vacations. This ensures that UG teachers are exposed to research of fairly good quality.
Why replace a good system with a dubious one of conducting research without access to literature, lab or equipment?

Wednesday, 1 August 2012


There are universities around Hyderabad where it is quite easy to get a PhD.
There's Rayalseema University, there's Palamuru University. From Marathwada University, many of my colleagues get PhDs.
All this is to "enhance quality in higher education." --we need more PhDs in our staff in order to get a good grade in the assessment. Every year, 5 or 6 people register and couple of years later get a PhD. We are overflowing with PhDs. They all do 20-24 lectures a week + admin work + work on their research.
There was this recent encounter with an assessment team. You take your students to visit a research facility and have photos as evidence, it does not count as an activity to help students. You need to have letters, feedbacks, reports, budgets and expenditure statements to prove you took 20 kids on a trip to a research lab. Most of the arrangements for our trip were made telephonically and a couple of emails. No formal letter - ergo trip did not happen. However, all that is quite OK-- next time, I will remember to write letters in triplicate; but the comment about research "whatever be the quality" being necessary has really depressed me enormously.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

assessment of colleges

For a college where 75% courses are undergrad courses, where teachers typically have a 22-24 classes/week and a whole lot of admin work, how much research activity can there be?
A remark made by a NAAC assessing team member that the college must produce much more research, "whatever be the quality", has made me wonder. What is the reason that one must "do research" of dubious quality, in order to become a good teacher of undergrads?
I think this kind of "doing research" between the 3rd and the 6th period lectures, is no good for improving teaching skills or research skills. The people who do such research, rarely visit any library, do not have access to online I always wonder how they go about their research.
Some people get research grants for this kind of work. I think the grant could have been given to a more serious researcher, or the money could have gone to build a lecture hall or library or some such resource.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

New post-retirement option

Sometime back, there was this mail in my inbox asking me to become a guide for students enrolled for a PhD. I let slip this lucrative career option of facilitating others to get fake PhDs.

Now a new scam could be my post retirement option for making money.

In the continuous evaluation scheme for CBSE, students are given projects to do. Some enterprising ladies have set up "project manufacturing units".
They work from home, charge a couple of thousands and make projects for different school children. These professional projects would of course earn these kids good grades.

Like I said before, every solution has a problem lined up next to it.

posting articles.

There is one thing which I am not clear about. Would be grateful if some reader would clarify.
Suppose I am a subscriber to a journal/magazine (paid). I receive articles online.
Suppose I post in my blog, an article from the magazine-with proper attribution ,stating name of magazine, issue and author of article. I am allowing non-paying readers to access what was paid content.

Is that illegal / legal but objectionable / perfectly fine?

Sunday, 15 July 2012


Further to my previous post, like I wonder how reliable the student feedback on our teaching are, similarly, I wonder how reliable the continuous evaluation scheme in schools are. Can teachers rise above personal preferences, friendship with parents of their pupils, or just cussedness and evaluate children honestly? I have heard many children say that no matter how good their projects are, only X will get good grade.
There are some students who may not be likeable, but may do great work. Will teachers be objective enough to give them good grades? However, continuous evaluation does relieve the exam pressure.
The depressing conclusion is that no system covers all bases.


We have a system of student feedback where students evaluate their teachers on various parameters. I teach a class that is made up of 3 sections (all sitting together). Each section has different subject combinations in addition to Chemistry. The total class strength is around 60.
In my evaluation, for the parameter "class control" two sections have given me 4.2 and 4.5 on 5 and one section average is 2.5.
They all sit together for my class. A low value of the parameter "class control" means that I allow the class to get noisy and that I am not able to get their attention for my lecture. So how can I get different values in the same class for a parameter that is not very subjective ?
In fact, I did not really pay much attention to this when I got my report, but my colleague in the Chemistry Dept had also got a similar score in the same parameter and mentioned it to me.
Is the feedback format faulty? or do the students not understand what is to be done? Or do they just randomly mark whatever they please and it has averaged to 2.5 ?

Thursday, 12 July 2012

future economists

I was watching the graduation ceremony of the LSE. A surprising number of Chinese and Indians in the graduating class......they form the majority, specially of the BSc degree awardees..... and further, a majority of these are girls.
I hope these youngsters will turn the world economy round and change the world order where 10% people have 90% of all the wealth.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

These are some of the private universities I have come across-- there are some more.
One of them, LPU, has this lovely website with nice pictures. The library looks amazing, the buildings are awesome. Their TV ad is also impressive-- 18000 students accomodated in their hostel!!! I mean, 2000 young men and women are tough number to maintain in hostels. (However, the name 'Lovely Profesional University' is a bit much.)

In some of them, you cannot find out anything about the faculty and in others, there is just some details about the few top profs. - nothing about the rest.
Galgotia has 5,
Amity has 4
Could not locate any in the Sarda U website--maybe I didn't look hard enough
LPU --cannot find any names.
They are all voted ' best university' by some organisation or the other.
I really wonder what they are really like.

On the other hand, SRM and VIT etc have websites with much more relevant information. For example, VIT and SRM have NAAC accreditation.

Sunday, 8 July 2012


Is professionalism a teachable trait?
In continuation of my previous post, which led to some discussion, I just repeat myself...can we make a professional? not necessarily good engineers or whatever, but just instill professionalism as a way of life in most of the children such that they carry it throughout their lives?
Is it possible if started early enough, to instill professionalism?

Thursday, 28 June 2012


There is a lot of noise about the JEE. The IITs want to take in the best students who clear their class XII.
Is it possible to have an institution that will take anyone who comes by, and turns them into excellent professionals? Is that a do-able goal?

Wednesday, 27 June 2012


In my school, we used to do 'comprehension' in Hindi and in English. The English one was more complex than the Hindi(second language).
We were given a passage to read and then had to answer questions based on that.
In geography to, we had something similar. We would get a large map of some small was a small town in the West Indies for my 10th class exam, for example. The map had latitudes & longitudes, contours, water bodies, marshland, harbour etc marked and we would be asked questions based on this map. .. what would be the climate, nature of the crops grown, possible livelihoods of the the people there etc. You just had to give logically reasoned answers, and it would test your ability to read the data and derive information from that.
This is all that is required to test a person and sift the ones with"innate ability" from the rest.

I set papers for a local science talent test for school kids. I do not stick to the syllabus. If a new concept is clearly explained, then the child should be able to deduce the answer even if he has never come across the concept before. In fact, I give one comprehension passage and ask 3 or 4 questions on it. In fact this levels the playground for those who are innately good, but have not been taught well in their schools.
I do this at class 8,9,10 level, but I am sure it can be done for the 12th class students.
Then no one can guess what questions will be asked, so no coaching is possible. Or, if children are coached to think, read data and deduce information, such coaching is not a bad thing at all.
One may ask questions from any field of engineering and science and need not stick to any syllabus.

Monday, 25 June 2012

pesticide manufacturers

British Petroleum has a subsidiary- BP Solar - where they develop alternative energy sources. Companies are reinventing themselves.
Why cannot pesticide companies do the same?
Surely they know how harmful their products are.(the person on Aamir Khan's show must be pretending). Imagine if even one of them had the foresight to start research on more benign pesticides and had by now developed a couple! What a great business opportunity that would be!!
Instead, they spend money trying to prove BHC and DDT are totally harmless! Why do they not look at the long haul?

Sunday, 24 June 2012

pesticides..satyameva jayate

Maybe it makes for good TV viewing, but seriously, when two parties in a debate take on black and white positions, we have no means of understanding complex problems.
Anyone who has grown up, knows that very few problems have easy answers. If they did, they would have been solved long before.
Vandana Shiva has strong views on the use of pesticides in farming -- that many of us have heard many times.
A CEO/MD of a pesticide company firmly states taht all accounts of harm caused by pesticides are lies.
Where is the possibility of a debate?
I am old enough to remember the taste of food before pesticides and fertilisers and hybrid varities were introduced. The taste was better. However, housewives spent considerable time putting dal, chillies, rice and sooji out in the sun regularly. This was a daily job consuming an hour or so and prevented the food from getting infected by pests. Failure to do this meant worms in the sooji, insects in the dal. How many of us can do that nowadays?
I also remember the standing in queue for food ration. There was genuine food scarcity. We lived on inferior PL480 hand out.
So the use of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides did increase food production and decrease food wastage due to pests.
However, this should have been treated as a short-term solution for food scarcity, and meanwhile, other sustainable methods researched. THIS was not done.
There should have been a control on the use of fert/pesticides, ensuring that none were overused. In those days, everything was under quota/control. So why weren't fert/pesticides?
Even now, pesticide companies, instead of pretending BHC is as good as vit B, could steal a march by developing environment-friendly variants themselves. They can educate farmers on precise dosage, provide scientific consultancy- they could make money out of this.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Public schools in the 1960s and 70s

Some of the public schools in our country, really had excellent facilities. My school has 2 games fields, tennis courts, swimming pool ( In my days, we had to share the pool with the boys' school. ), a good gym, all with good coaches. The neighbouring boys' school had much better facilities. It had 7 fields, a superb gym, cricket, football and hockey fields, swimming ....
The standard of sports and even the march past was excellent. We would get hit with a baton if we did not march to time. Nowadays, no school has a good march past. My children's school had a very ragged one. I was no good at sports, but could see the high quality. The boys' schools had a even higher standard than ours.
At that time I would have been horrified if I had to be given marks for sports, since I would have barely made a C grade, but now I think it is a good idea. There are some children who fail in academics, get berated by teachers.. but they are sports champs. Their day in the sun comes during our sports meet. This ensures almost all children get some sense of achievement.
In those days, such schools ensured everyone got something to achieve at.
In fact, the year I joined the school, I got an ovation for not wasting stationery-- (I had bought the least number of excercise books)!! I also got an end term prize for progress!!!. You got the progress prize if you improved.....even if you moved from last in the class toe to say just 15th position out of 30 children.
That is how rewarding should be done.
On the first day of the ISC exam, the Principal accompanied us to the exam centre, and gave us chocolate and her usual piece of advice..."Keep your wits about you"! She was good at her job.

The Standard Bearers

The NDA at Khadakwasala is an impressive establishment. I have always known that it makes a "man out of a boy". People who have gone through that training are able to multitask easily in their professional life. They do more varied stuff with their lives. They are not demotivated by criticism. But watching the film made on the NDA, is a wonderful experience.
Those who think IITs have a hectic schedule, need to see this.
Their academic curriculum is a little technology oriented, as perhaps is the need of the day, but I think they should include more psychology. Afetr all, their whole career is some form of HR management or the other.

Another thing is all colleges both regular and professional must have rigorous courses on ethics..with readings and case studies --not just question-answers like we do in other subjects.
Is that feasible? Maybe not!

Saturday, 9 June 2012

entrance test

Amidst all the drama of the 'mutiny' from IITK and so on, my two bits worth is--
How does anyone think having all ones hope riding on one day one exam is less stressful than writing 3 or 4 exams, one of which may click?


In continuation of my previous post, as Julie points out, getting a good job is tough.
In college, we may focus on academics, but that may not get us the job we want.
In fact, very often, the 9.8 GPA person is not the one whose career graph soars for the next decade. The required skill sets are not totally similar....barring the basic need for reasonably high intelligence to get 9.8 gpa, as well as for doing well in ones career.
Sometimes, we don't know what the 'good job' for us is. The problem is, we need to decide this at an age when we are not experienced enough to know.
Sometimes the job we had to take is actually the right job for us........or maybe we grow into it, like a shoe.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Bioscience careers other than docs

I am supposed to talk to students who have passed their Inter/XII class in the bioscience stream about possible careers open to them other than becoming doctors or dentists.
Many children and their parents believe that if one does not get admission into an MBBS course or at least a BDS course, life is over. So we hold a set of talks every year to show them other possibilities. We invite these children from neighbouring schools and junior colleges.

The point is, how convinced am I that biosciences offer good career opportunities?
Yes, a few of my students are doing very well in research labs. Some in related management, biotech management etc. But what of the not so good ones?
But the same question can be asked in any field. After an MBBS, will you get a good job? Yes the good ones get into Fortis/AIIMS/CMC , but many end up as duty doctors in small time nursing homes.
So, just as there is no guarantee after an MBBS, so too after a BSc+ MSc.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

honesty and effectiveness

In our country we have smart clever and intelligent dishonest people. Then there are the honest, but not very effective people. There are of course, foolish and dishonest people.
Where are the smart, intelligent, caring and honest people ?

The clever dishonest people are too many to enumerate and also, I might get sued for defamation.

There is Anna Hazare, who could have done so much if he had better understanding of things in general, and constitution-governance-politics in particular. In short, if he had been a 'thinking' man
There is Gen Singh who could have quietly done a cleanup of the army if he had been more clever/savvy/ cunning or whatever the right word is. He could have made a precisely targeted strike and routed the enemy.

But where is an example of a caring, intelligent and effective honest man in some position of considerable power, who has achieved some cleanup action?

Monday, 28 May 2012

research in colleges.

A couple of months back, I had given a talk to my colleagues on plagiarism. I am not an expert on this subject, but I do know more than my audience.
The college management had decided a few years back to honour and reward anyone who published a book or a research paper. Every Sept 5th, we have a ceremony to honour these lecturers. This led to a race for publishing textbooks and research papers. Most of the books are cut-paste jobs (literally). Hence the talk.
During the interaction after the talk, one of my colleagues, who had registered for her PhD, told me that her research guide admonished her and told her not to write her own stuff. He told her she must re-search what is already there and present that. This is the view of most research guides who cater to this UGC-driven race for PhD.
In the talk, I also managed to get in edgewise, my two bits worth about experimental data ...importance of reproducibility...since many have published papers based on experiments done once only.
However, I doubt if I have made much difference to the existing culture, but have probably made myself unpopular.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

The cartoon

Many school or even college kids are literal. They do not 'get' satire, metaphors, analogies..etc. That has been my experience. There are exceptions, but this is generally true.
The 'debate' in the parliament about a cartoon in a textbook makes me believe that not having a cartoon is more important to the MPs than poverty alleviation, food security,education reform, or other such issues since these issues are not debated with equal vigor.
Many upholders of freedom of speech have been outraged and ask "So, are we staring at the demise of the Political Cartoon? No future Shankars, Abus and R K Laxmans?" But no one is objecting to cartoons in newspapers. I believe such cartoons are perfectly fine for a magazine or newspaper, but are out of place in a school textbook. I agree with the objections, not to the cartoon itself, but to its inclusion in a textbook.
However, is this such an earth-shaking problem to cause such a hooha? Now they are reviewing all textbooks!

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Intermediate examinations in AP

This year, the Intermediate II year result led to a lot of disappointment with many (31%) failing in Physics. The AP Board of Intermediate has advised students to study from the textbooks prescribed by them and not the material given by the 'corporate colleges'.
Students are upset because the questions asked in the exam are not from previous question papers that form the question bank. That is why many failed and even those who passed, did so with less marks than they expected.
The BIE says that the questions are from the prescribed textbook and NOT outside the syllabus. They have threatened that next year, other subjects will have similar questions.
There will be a re exam on the 16th May.
That is education in AP!

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Bioscience again

In theory, the future of bioscience in India, is rosy.
We have a Genome Valley in Hyderabad, which is a biotech cluster. We have R&D in pharma companies like Dr Reddys. We have contract research organisations, clinical research institutes.........
But our college that offers 4 BSc courses in bioscience stream, has very few students ,though compared to other colleges, we are much better off. Many colleges in Hyderabad have closed down their BSc bioscience courses. Our 2006 intake was 185 students and our 2010 intake was 35. Last year saw an upward trend again to 65. I hope this year we get 100 students admitted.
However, the quality of students is not what it was 10 or 15 years ago.
In the XII/ Intermediate, very few students take up biology. Here, it is still considered a choice for the not so bright person(can't do math type).
I don't know if the situation is similar in other places ( I think it is if you see the cut offs in DU), but there is not much hope of the best minds getting into biology or biotechnology.
Secondly, biology has become much more quantitative in recent years. So the logic " you can't do math, so take up bio" does not hold up anymore.
So where are you going to get the people to carry this great leap forward in Indian biosciences?
I hope the IISERs do the needful.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012


Future of Indian bioscience


A few days back the Math lecturer in my college was telling me about her experience in trying to show the larger picture during one of her math lectures. She gave some analogies, brought in other stuff. End of the year, a student told her "you just talk, you don't teach any math"

My experience with analogies is similar. During a lecture on adsorption, I mentioned that this was one way heterogenous catalysts work...a molecule fixed on a solid.....etc. an analogy just struck me and I said "If you go to pick your friend up at the railway station, he gets down from the train and starts looking for you--you reach the platform and wander around looking for him, it will be a looong time before you meet up. Instead, if he gets down and stands still, you just walk to the platform and find him in a few minutes."
The term exam question on adsorption got me answers all about railway stations. I swore NEVER to use analogies again.

Monday, 23 April 2012


We Indians lack self confidence...I don't meant he constant looking westward for endorsement of our lives, but on an individual level. It is this that makes us belligerent when someone puts forth a counter argument to our own precious views. .... I see myself doing it often and I see it in others very often. Arguments are always personal. Most of us cannot argue dispassionately.
Perhaps this is what makes it difficult for us to be world class in certain areas. Maybe a forceful person makes a good business leader, or a good army commander, but a person unable to appreciate contra views makes a poor thinker.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Why me?

I got this in my Inbox.
Why me? In what way is my qualification (how do they know what it is?) 'suitable' for me to receive this mail?
Do the analytics used by Yahoo tell them that my mail id shows that I am not averse to a bit of fraud here or a bit of con there?
Also why don't they employ someone to edit these and check the grammar?

Hello Hse_agt
You have a perfect qualification but there is no university diploma?
Interesting and highly paid job to approach the dream. We will confirm your professional status. You want the fast and effective decision, we will help you.
well, quickly and Cofidentiality assured! Bachelors, Masters, MBA and /or Doctorate (PhD) .
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Sunday, 8 April 2012

My mother's blog.

My mother could have been a concert-level musician if she had not been forced by circumstances to stop training. However, she knows a lot about Tamil Bhakti music... Devaaram and Divyaprabandham. So I tried to set up a blog for her. The problem is she doesn't live here and I need to download the Tamil font for her. Now I have roped in my brother (she lives with him) and hopefully it will get done soon.

Friday, 6 April 2012

A repost

I got this invite to be a research guide out of the blue.
I resigned my post doc in 1983 and have not done any research since. So how did they pick me to be a guide?
If I had accepted their offer, I may have been richer by a fairly good sum. Some student(s) would have got a PhD under my "guidance". Those students would all be getting their UGC scales.
Not just that, my college would have been proud of me and I would have been on our college honours list next Sept 5th. Another benefit would have been that this fact would have been good for a few points in the Self Study Report that we just submitted to the NAAC.

In view of so many benefits, I wonder why I did not reply to that email.

Monday, 2 April 2012


The rush to somehow beg, borrow or buy a PhD is something I have been lamenting about in my blog. This is a fallout of the requirement by the UGC for a PhD if one wants one's scale etc. This is the driver of this gold rush. An article , thanks to Vishwesha Guttal

Sunday, 1 April 2012

a talk

A talk to listen to for various reasons-
One point that I would like to quote here is that very often we don't understand dynamics of complex systems, but still confidently predict outcomes in such systems. He points this out with slum clearance and relocation but I this is what I mean to point out about Bt crops.

just thoughts..

There are many things that need to be improved in the Indian Army as in all other institutions. Many concessions given to make life in remote cantonments comfortable, can be misused. As in any other section of society, there are many bad elements...those who embezzle, who steal diesel, misuse facilities. There are those who overstep their brief when dealing with people in disturbed areas, acts of human rights violation....
But there are also many who work hard. Jawans who work non stop, for years. The amount of physical work they are capable of is amazing. They leave their families behind and sometimes,
do not get to see their new born babies till the baby is walking and talking . They cannot question orders. "theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die".
If you meet an infantryman, jawan or officer, after the 1 month exercise ( annual training session) in the Thar desert, you would mistake him for a person just out of some hospital.
In the Thar, they brave the heat, the ubiquitous dust, snakes and scorpions.
Then there is the posting in the high altitudes. The 4 months of snow when you see nothing but white stretches, living in those temporary accomodation. The cold--the altitude sickness....
They get pay and allowances which do not go very far. The other ranks, retire when they are 40 or 45 years old,when their children are not yet settled. Their pensions are smaller still.
While the Army should introspect and weed out the rogue elements, the rest of the armed forces, must be given a better deal.

Saturday, 31 March 2012


I do not understand why making a statement about the deficiencies in our army when a BRICS conference is underway is any worse (or better) than making it at some other time. People keep harping about "such a statement, specially now........." Will the Chinese premier not get to hear about this if the statement had been made some other time?
Agreed, news is censored in China, but excuse me, the Premier does not mean himself when he says no one can read uncensored news.
In any case, I am sure, the Chinese have a very good assessment of our Army's capabilities on their own and don't depend on NDTV for their information.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

9th class

I recalled my old grouse after comments on one of my previous posts---
This image is a reproduction of what is given in the 9th class physical science textbook to explain what a polarised atom is. When the two dots are together, the atom is polarised, and when the two dots are on opposite sides, the atom is not polarised.
I really cannot think how I would explain the concept of polarisation to 9th class children. (No QM) Any ideas are welcome.

gluten intolerance

There is a huge rise in gluten intolerance in the last 5o years. I have read about this a number of times. I hear of many cases of nut allergies amongst children in the US....neices, nephews, whereas, I have not come across it in India-born children. I am sure, in the US too, nut allergies were not common 50 years ago.
As for the wheat, "Additionally, modern wheat is very different from the wheat your ancestors ate. The proportion of gluten protein in wheat has increased enormously as a result of hybridization."
Perhaps a similar theory is possible for nuts.
When they started hybridising wheat
, I am sure they did not know this would happen. (assuming the conclusion in the quote above is true).
This is an unexpected fallout.
Such unexpected fallouts are what I am afraid of when we let bt crops loose in the environment. Fifty years hence, someone will publish a study that says "eating bt potatoes is the cause of ------- disorder."

disclaimer:-There is another theory for this gluten intolerance, as for autoimmune diseases, that excessive hygiene and lack of exposure to pathogens during childhood leads to an immature immune system and this creates the responses.

I watch this TV show called Blue Bloods. It is about a family of New York Police Department officers. The show is fictional and makes all ...