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.