Tuesday, 29 October 2013

The Economist has an article on the dangers of an education system that focuses on competitive examinations.
Is education getting any less frenzied in India? Getting up at 3.30 am to go to an IIT coaching class from 4.30 am since when you are 15; writing 20 entrance tests...
Then there are these random aunties asking you why you are not in an IIT when both your parents went there (it happened to my son)
Are there perhaps a few smaller number of parents who put their children through this torture?

Sunday, 27 October 2013

drinks chiller

I had once wondered if the Ranque Hilsch vortex could not be used to make cheaper air cooling systems. Here's a drink cooler using another/similar vortex. Awesome! just cool it when you need it and the fridge space can be freed!

Monday, 21 October 2013

Never look at the big picture.

Reading a blogpost on open access reminded me of how closed access is sometimes.
When my younger kid started nursery school, I thought that the 3 hours she was in school could be spent reading up on current research. So I went to a research institution in the city, and asked their librarian if I may just read in their library. He was very nice about it and even got me a temporary pass made. However, he soon got transferred out. The next person was downright scandalised that I was using the library.  He said that I must pay Rs2500/ per annum. That was a large sum in 1990  and I wasn't earning a single paisa. So I had to give it up.
His logic was that my reading /leafing through journals would make it necessary  for more frequent rebinding and costs would go up. He really said this!!
This institution is funded by public money. I am a member of the said public. No one is likely to browse through JCS Dalton or Spectrochimica Acta to pass the time of the day till the movie started, or some such thing....JACS is not Femina! In fact after a gap of 6 years, I had to struggle to get through a review article and usually took quite a few visits to complete reading one. So why would the librarian not encourage the few people who wished to read journals? It is the effect of being in a bureaucracy.  Never look at the big picture...only read the fine print.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

A lesson for our state universities
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/03/science/expecting-the-best-yields-results-in-massachusetts.html?pagewanted=2&ref=science

One has to set some learning goals and stick with them  no matter how disgruntled the teachers and students are. Students may fail if they cannot learn what they are supposed to.
Our state universities have this policy of improving their "score" of numbers who graduate.  Hence the learning goal post is moved closer every time there is a curriculum "revision".
I used to teach more advanced topics 10 years ago than I did when I retired.

Monday, 14 October 2013

PhD and college teaching again

Whether a teacher in a college must have a PhD in order to be effective is an issue. I am of the opinion that being a good teacher has little to do with a PhD, but I do not have any data to  support this.
Here is an article-
"Data produced by the Glendale common final system enabled me to study how student learning varies across the classrooms of different instructors. On average, full-time instructors outperformed their part-time colleagues, and students learned more in the classrooms of instructors with an M.A. than those with a Ph.D. But the identity of indivdual instructor was a much stronger predictor of student performance than any specific characteristic." 

Read more: http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2013/10/11/way-produce-more-information-about-instructors-effectiveness-essay#ixzz2hf1iXP65 
Inside Higher Ed 

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

this and that

I have a set of aunts and uncles who would keep saying that the water woes of Madras can be instantly solved if they desalinate the sea water and denounce the government for not doing so.
They also used to say that "it is so simple - just connect all the rivers of India - it will solve all our water woes". When young I did not see it, but as I grew up, I saw that they all think in black and white. I begin to suspect it is a typical of Madras-living Tam brahm 'mamas and mamis' of that generation.

I was reminded of this when I just heard a talk by Subranium Swamy where he gives nice facile solutions to all problems in the country.
"Connect all the rivers"
"Bring back all the money stashed in the Swiss banks" etc

His target audience......Mylapore mamas and mamis.

 A study on river linking in a region of India. They highlight some of the problems.

Swamy is an economist. I am sure he knows better than anyone else the consequence of infusing large amounts of money into our, or any, country.

As for my uncles' desalination scheme:-
According to Wikipedia, sea water has  3.5% salt on an average. A conservative estimate is that 1 million people will require 250 million litres of water per day for domestic use.  If they all rely on sea water, that would generate about 8000 Kg of salt per day on desalination. Assuming Chennai has about 5 million people, that is 40000 Kg of salt produced per day.  How much of this will get used by industries? Where will we put the remaining?

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

contract teachers

In the college I used to work in, the staff -- both teaching and non teaching were recruited through some selection process and put on a consolidated pay. After 4 years, they were put on a pay scale and their services regularised. Those recruited, barring a very few,  were usually very keen to work and put in their best efforts. But once their services were regularised, many of them slacked off. This was glaringly evident in the behaviour of the support staff. The cleaning ladies would just vanish from sight and if there was something to be cleaned in the lab, we had to do it ourselves. I have spent many hours cleaning conical flasks and beakers. This difference was not so glaring amongst the teaching staff-- perhaps because their primary job is teaching and one does not like to stand in front of 50 young people and teach badly if one can help it -- but still, the enthusiasm was considerably less after regularisation.

A report thanks to this blogpost. This study shows that recruiting contract teachers in govt. schools improved the quality of education considerably. The contract teachers were much more regular in their attendance and did their jobs better compared to the 'regular' teachers.

When I was a child, festivals were fun. They were about good food, perhaps new clothes, some token praying (from the kids' point of vie...