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.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012


The problem with our exam system is numbers and lack of knowledgeable people to correct the answer scripts. Answers must be in a form that can be corrected uniformly to avoid unfairness. No critical essays or analytical problem-solving can be corrected so.
If the JEE was written by about a thousand students, you could have had a major section in the exam that asks the student to write a critical analysis of some problem and solutions for the same. Marks can be awarded on the basis of the originality of the solution offered and the nature of the critique. This would probably ensure that only really good thinkers are admitted and also eliminate the coaching culture. However, the problem is the numbers.
Similarly, state universities must cater to a few lakh students and also take into account political realities. Lecturers and students from the districts vehemently oppose "tough" questions. They oppose introduction of more comprehensive syllabi since many lecturers are not learned enough to teach the basic concepts in the subject.
At the valuation centre, we are told to try and pass everyone and to give marks if the key words are written on the paper, no matter in what context. (This also explains why students think I am a nitpicker if I object to sentences where the d-orbital is in the electron).
Hence, it is not possible for the university, even if it recognised the problem, to change the exam system.
Perhaps a two stream BSc would solve this, but I really don't think so.
There could be a pass course and an honours course. The pass course can continue as it is doing, but the Hons course could be allotted to a few select colleges and students expected to study seriously. Only those truly interested in the subject must take it up.
However, after a couple of years, it will be seen that all students want to enrol in the Hons course and then couple of years later will want the syllabus to be diluted and questions not so "tough" in that too There will be a political storm and the university will convert the pass course into an Hons course.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Who will start a change?

There was a comment on my previous post that students must read better books and publishers must publish them. However, students who read good textbooks, think about the subject and write down their thoughts in the exam will probably fail in their exams.
The system is like this:-
In November or so, one of us lecturers gets a confidential letter from the university exam branch, and asked to set the question paper. An unwritten rule is that you must set a paper that is similar to the previous exam papers. A huge hue and cry will arise, if the question paper is 'tough' with student unions and MLAs involving themselves in it.
After the exams are over, we, the lecturers get letters from the university exam branch and asked to report to them for 'spot valuation'. A meeting is held for individual papers....chem paper I has say 40 valuers who meet, discuss what answers must be there on the paper and what marks are to be allotted to each part of the answer. If there is a question for 5 marks, then, in order to ensure uniform valuation, the 5 marks are subdivided-- say 2 marks for definition(as given in the textbook) 1 mark for example, 1 mark for the balanced equation (as in the book again) and 1 mark for the diagram given in the textbook. The student loses marks if any of these components are missing or not according to the textbook.
Thus a student who may understand chemistry well, but does not write as per these prescriptions, may even fail in the exam. Hence, he has to follow these textbooks.
The lecturers cannot change the pattern of the question paper and the student cannot answer in an unconventional manner. Who will start a change?

Sunday, 25 March 2012

'khayali pulao'

I normally do not discuss my future plans with anyone, since I very often do not implement them. However, this time, I am sure I will regret it to my dying day if I do not implement the current plan of teaching in schools. Hence I talk about my plans to whoever I come across, interested or otherwise, in order to put pressure on myself. I hope I do implement them and my plans do not end up as another 'khayali pulao'.
There is a boy , a school dropout, who sells vegetables near my college. I tried to convince him to rejoin school, volunteering to go and talk to the principal of the nearby ZP school. But he refused.
I am sure, in class, he would not have been able to answer a question like 7+8=?, but at his shop, he weighs the vegetables and calculates the price(sometimes for 170 g of beetroot @ Rs 13 for 250g or such odd weights) and totals up.
This is what I would like to address. A child who is unable to cope in school, has skills that are similar to what is needed in school. There is some block.


Every now and then, some college lecturer publishes a book covering the current University syllabus. This is invariably a cut and paste job done in the two months' summer break. There are no references (forget in-text documentation) at all. Each chapter deals with the topic exactly as some other author has done(who might have also copied from another) and has a set of problems and diagrams chosen from different existing textbooks, typed out in order and then sent off for publication. Local publishers publish them; sometimes they even commission such books. This is done in all colleges.
Lecturers who write such books are given awards.
A talk on plagiarism---rudimentary stuff, not complex ethical questions where debate is possible, a talk similar to one that must be given to undergrad students--- seems to have offended some people.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

dehydrated water pills

I had posted a link to Amazon long back. Today, I just visited the Amazon site again. now there are 13 peoples' comments 12 of whom are all very thrilled with the product.
Can you believe it?

Monday, 19 March 2012


I had wondered, with my admittedly limited knowledge of physics and engg. , why there were no airconditioners/refrigerators based on the Ranque Hilsch vortex.
Here is a paper

self congratulations

Young women these days are so much better focused on their lives than those of my generation. But on a self-congratulatory note, let me say that they are so because we, their mothers brought them up to be so.
I asked my daughter few months ago, if she wanted to get married in the traditional manner of my finding a suitable boy, and she said emphatically "NO" So there the whole matter ended unlike my parents who manipulated and made me feel guilty and finally made me agree to the same question.
I get a lot of pressure from relatives about when I plan to 'get her' married and I too emphatically say 'when she wants to'. I have also managed to keep my husband out of it.
So I think self congratulations are in order.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

success stories.

I keep complaining about my students and their shortcomings. Here is the other side.
Two days ago, an alumnus came to give a talk to our current students about his work. He is post-docing at a medical center of a good University in the US. Another classmate of his is doing the same. A third one is close to completing his PhD. One other has a research position at the NIH. From a previous batch, one is postdocing at Berkeley, another was at Harvard. So these are some of our success stories in science.
There are a few in the services...Army/Navy/Airforce- a few of them women officers. One in the IPS. Then there was this batch in which quite a few have started their own businesses. A few of them very successful.
So, inspite of not knowing if the electron is in the d orbital or the d orbital is in the electron, some of them succeed. Which just goes to show d orbitals are not all that important even if I have to spend 20 lectures on them.


In a year's time I will be retiring from my job.
For me and many women like me, our workplace provides the only social contact other than relatives. After work and household chores, there is no time or energy for having a social life outside these two spheres. So retirement is quite scary.
Secondly, the daily contact with young people is definitely uplifting. They provide some purpose, some laughter, some energy in my life. After retirement, I may just have senior citizens for company-- those who I look upon as 'old people' forgetting my age.
For all my rants about them, I will miss my students the most.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

some existential questions

I may have written about this before since this bothers me from time to time. This time it's triggered by Abi's post. So, here goes...
Many years ago, my children were small, and I found myself very intolerant of their minor transgressions. It worried me. For some other physical problem I went to a doctor. There, I discovered I was hypertensive and the doctor prescribed some medication. I took the pill and lo behold! after just a couple of days, I was much calmer, much more tolerant of my childrens' transgressions....a much better person!
So, I am a better person on the basis of a few milligrams of a chemical compound. Which is the real me? the very irritable person before the medication, or the much less irritable person after taking the medication? What kind of person I am, is defined by some chemical. Then, if my irritabilty had not been just a case of yelling at my children (bad enough) but had gone to a higher level, like shooting at a stranger who bumped into me on the road, or some such thing, is my crime not really mine? Also, since there is a medicine that has made me calmer, there must be some other chemical taht makes me angrier. If I was given that, and then committed a crime in anger, am I not culpable?
Our brain works on neurotransmitters...chemicals control whether I am sad, happy, angry, even my thoughts, to some extent...everything that I think define me.
So if everyone is given exactly same cocktail of such chemicals, can we all become people with one type of personality?
Like frontal lobotomy was used years ago to treat violent psychotics, will this dehumanise us?
It seems like that.
But why should it? In any case, it's the chemicals that determine what kind of person I am.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Advertisements on Television

I was just thinking about the new printer ad, when I read a remark on it in my friend's blog. The ad says you must buy this printer for your child to do well in school-- all that printing for projects etc. Why did it catch my 'eye' ? Is it any worse than the energy/milk drink ads that say that unless you give your son this drink, he cannot do well in his exams or in the gym competition or whatever?
I don't really know. Maybe because it is more specific...or maybe because the so called improved version of education is also so trivial.
There is this breakfast cereal ad that many women were annoyed by...where a husband needs his wife to climb upstairs to hand him his socks from the drawer next to him.
However, I always find our ads entertaining sometimes more so than the program.

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 ...