Saturday, 17 December 2016

Whatsapp forwards are in their own universe. Some of them are totally bizzarre, but some are half right with a twist given to them that makes them dangerous. Most of the so-called scientific forwards use enough jargon to make them sound real. People believe them and children are going to grow up learning science from Whatsapp forwards.
The more dangerous ones are of course the hate messages, rumours etc.

Monday, 12 December 2016

experts

After listening to many people talk in recent times, I have come to one conclusion.

I am a Chemist. It took me many years of hard work to acquire a moderate level of proficiency in Chemistry. Therefore, I am very sure I am not proficient in Mathematics since I have not put in any work in that area. I would straight away refer to a mathematician if I ever needed to solve a mathematical problem in any of my endeavours. Similarly for Biology or Economics or any other field.
But people who have not put in that kind of work in any one area, feel that experts are just people who talk a lot and do not know much more than they themselves do. They feel they can be as proficient as the experts in any field they care to think about. We get people who think they are environmentalists, economists, historians ....They truly believe they have the expertise. This is because they do not know how the real experts have acquired their expertise; how much work they had to do in order to acquire it.
It is quite fine when this attitude is limited to shouting at Sachin Tendulkar in the TV on how he should have hit that last delivery, but not when it come to serious matters that impact other's lives.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

There's a WhatsApp fwd that's about the conspiracy to suppress Deepavali and other festivals because of the campaign to reduce or stop crackers. First fireworks are a Chinese invention. My great grandfather would not have burnt crackers, which is about 100 years ago. Even my father says in his childhood they used to make rudimentary fireworks with "sulfur and something else".
I am proud to say that there was a considerable reduction in firework frenzy this year in Hyderabad.  Cheers to Hyderabadis ......a long way to go, but we are on the right road.
Getting back to where I began, Deepavali tradition in the north is to light lamps and do Lakshmi puja. In Tamilnad we celebrate early morning before sunrise by having an oil massage, nelangu, bath, wearing new clothes, eating sweets at 5am and eating Deepavali lehyam (like a Churan ka. halwa) to compensate.
Fireworks not mandatory. So where is this supposed conspiracy in discouraging fireworks?


Tuesday, 18 October 2016

An article about  proposed courses in JNU on the philosphy of Yoga "two courses (Yoga and Philosophy and Indian Culture) that were brought for approval to the AC by the Special Centre for Studies in Sanskrit (SCSS)...". The academic council asked that the course content be reworked.

 A comment on the course content was "it did scant justice to the depth and vastness of Yoga philosophy which has been evolving and developing in many directions for over two millennia..." and "One of the untenable assumptions of the course was that Yoga philosophy culminated in Patanjali (400 CE), though it was after this period that varieties of Yoga developed and proliferated..."

A Sanskrit department that does not know that there were different schools of Yoga! It may shock them that some of these ancient philosophers were agnostic-- those who believed in the Samkhya school of thought.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

The horror of a family watching their child "voluntarily"  starve to death is not leaving my mind. Which parent does that? How painful it is if one's child becomes sick, even ordinarily sick, say a severe case of gastroenteritis. How can a mother watch this for 68 days? The violence of this is mind boggling. An angry mother slapping her child is wrong, but understandable. We can lose our temper and though violent, it is nothing compared to the horrifying violence of letting your child deliberately starve to death. This is beyond understanding.
People who say that it was her choice would be the first to deny her the right to choose if she had chosen something they did not want her to do. They mean "You are free to choose if you choose to do what I ask you to."

Saturday, 8 October 2016

online sales

Nowadays, we get full page ads in the front page of newspapers. The term "front page news" no longer exists since the front page has no news at all. Recently, we had Flipkart giving us these ads for their big billion sale. 
I am an online shopper these days. Just a short while ago, I used to say that shopping must be done after physically touching and seeing articles to be sure that is what you want, but now I have succumbed to the convenience of not having to drive through dug up roads to buy stuff.
I bought four items online over the last couple of months. The amount of plastic packing material I have collected is phenomenal. These items would have come without any packing if I had bought them at a store, but at almost double the price
I think these e-commerce companies must find a solution to this problem.Yes one needs to pack goods well to avoid damage, but find an alternative. Or have a mechanism to collect the plastic packing material and recycle them. There are also the cardboard boxes. I never throw them away (or for that matter any junk) since I use them up in my annual science fair. But most people just throw them in the garbage. They can also be recycled.
However, think of it this way....a shop takes up real estate, uses large amounts of electricity with glaring lights and air conditioners and some water. So maybe a bit of plastic packing is not so bad after all.
But in any case, Online stores! Please find a solution to the plastic packing.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Anti diabetic

There is a report in the Wire about CSIR's new anti diabetic drug.
"The drug is said to contain extracts from four plants mentioned in ayurveda and so, according to NBRI principal scientist A.K.S. Rawat, has no side-effects."
When a scientist says that plant extracts by definition have no side effects, it is appalling.  It is excusable when lay people say "It is natural and has no chemicals, so it is safe", but when scientists say it, it is terrible. Even a masala ingredient like  khus-khus has side effects as anyone who has over-indulged in bisi-bele or khus-khus kheer will tell you.
Rawat sahab, the main principle in Ayurveda is that the exact method of preparation and exact combination of ingredients are what lead to a medicine being efficacious and safe. Emphasis is placed on how a plant is to be collected, stored, treated and incorporated into medicines. Any deviation from the prescriptions is said to make the medicine ineffective or even unsafe. A simple example is castor oil which is used to cure both constipation and loose motions when administered in different ways. The methods used to prepare metal powders where they are heated to high temperatures and ground sometimes a hundred times, are said to make them non toxic ( I don't know if this is true, but this is something that needs to be studied in view of the huge difference in properties of macro and nano scales)

“The traditional knowledge from ayurveda is certainly valuable for discovering new drugs for diabetes,” Bhushan Patwardhan, professor of health sciences at Pune University said, adding: “But it should be based on scientific evidence for safety, quality and efficacy”, which is absent in the case of BGR-34.
Which brings me to an earlier post about Sanjeevani.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Meritocracy

"In a society where the brightest children are separated from their peers at the age of 11 and groomed for entry into the elite, the monopolisation of power and wealth by a tiny minority has the air of legitimacy. "
When I had to join college, I had an NSTS scholarship and was bent on studying Chemistry. In Madras, I ran from pillar to post and could not get admission into a BSc Chem course inspite of passing my ISC exam with a state rank in UP. Every day I would visit colleges looking at the 2nd list, 3rd list etc, and once a man asked me kindly " Did you not get a seat? My daughter just got in, she had got 37% in her PUC exam and so she got in only in the 3rd list " . I did not get admission. I used to think it is so unfair that I could not get in because I was an upper caste girl. Tamil Nadu had huge reservations even in the early 70s. I was very bitter, but managed to get into a college in Bangalore.
Over the years, though I see a lot of misuse of the reservation system, I do see the importance of giving a leg up to those who have had no opportunities for generations, and personal grouse aside, it is important that we address inequalities if not for the sake of social justice, then at least in self interest since inequalities breeds unpleasant social upheavals. While merit is a quality necessary for progress in societies, so is diversity.
Trump's 3 am tweets rival a hyper 14 year old. Imagine if he becomes the president, heads of states and his own cabinet will dodge meetings with him for fear their discussions will be on twitter by 3am.
"OK, so this is the plan to capture the head of ISIS, but don't let the president get even a hint of it"

Monday, 19 September 2016

daycare

The high quality daycare that IISER Pune has started will reap huge dividends for them, maybe even in the short term. This I hope will encourage others to follow suit. There are still a large number of women capable of becoming phenomenally good scientists who do not achieve their potential simply because they have children. IISER may see brilliant women scientists coming to join there as faculty. As of now, women enter the work force if they have mothers/mothers-in-law willing to care for the children. This means the older women do not get to live their dreams. This generation of young women may have mothers who agree to give up their dreams for the sake of their grandchildren, but the next generation of grandmothers may still be at the peak of their  own careers when their daughters give birth. Unless we have high quality childcare at work places and a liberal leave policy for new parents, we will lose a lot of brilliant women. We see from the class XII results that girls very often  outdo boys in academics but fall behind along the way. I hope this generation of girls grow up to be great, fulfilled women and the establishment sees that they have a lot to gain by this.
 

Friday, 9 September 2016

When I began teaching, I had no idea if I was doing a good job or not. The first few classes were not very good. In fact, my first year, I floundered. Later I got the hang of it and felt comfortable, but did not know if I was good. This was before the age of student feedback for NAAC.
Once I got this heartwarming email from an old student on how he hoped to teach the way I did and  suddenly I felt maybe I was good. At least for a few students thought so. It also made me realise that I had lost touch with my PhD guide who had been a real mentor. So I dug out an old letter from him and renewed our correspondence, only now through phone calls. I could hear in his voice that it made him happy to hear from me. Luckily, in the last one year, he moved to Bangalore which I visit often, and I was able to meet him and his wife. I am happy I visited him a couple of times before he passed away. 
Over the years, specially on teacher's day, I get a few emails or phone calls from old students and it makes me happy. It is good to be a teacher.


Thursday, 1 September 2016

I believe oil "migrated" from ONGC wells to Reliance wells in the KG basin.
Maybe Reliance should have built a Wall.....
Maybe some money will migrate into my bank account from someone else's.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Burkini ban

What is the world coming to? Here we object to scantily clad women and the French object to or are threatened by clothed women!

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Sajeevani again.. I have just been made aware of the obvious..... there was this one mountain in the Himalayas that had Sajeevani. But Hanuman took it to Sri Lanka. So why are they looking for it in Uttarakhand?
Like the govt of Uttarakhand, I too did not think of the obvious.
So if you believe implicitly in the Ramayana look in Sri Lanka. Give 25crores to them.
Or do we selectively believe in our mythology, sorry history?


Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Sanjeevani

Twenty five crores to find Sanjeevani. Wow!
What I am curious about is that after finding it, how can you prove a man would be dead, but has come back to life because of this herb? Can we also find Amrit and Som ras? There is a lot of debate about what exactly Soma was with ephedra being the top contender.
But seriously, I think it makes sense to systematise ancient knowledge specially in medicine. The money could be better spent in conducting scientific studies on many of the  Ayurvedic medicines and either prove or disprove their efficacy. It could also be used for better training of Ayurvedic practitioners since many start practicing after a 6 month postal course.
In the old system, a boy starts learning with his father or guru from when he is maybe 7 years old, progressing finally to preparation of medicines and to diagnosis, maybe 20 years later. His training would therefore be rigorous.
Now we get students who failed their MBBS and so decided to do a 6 month course in Ayurvedic medicine. That's dangerous since many Ayurvedic medicines are deadly if misused. 

Monday, 1 August 2016

Prof J

My PhD guide was an exception to the usual profs at IIXs. He cared for the welfare of his students, definitely his research  students. He was understanding when personal problems overwhelmed me and did not question my lack of progress.
Instead he helped me change track that led me to a new area of research. He allowed me to pursue theoretical work when his interests lay elsewhere, even getting his friend to help me learn the basics. He showed me how to live without letting ego get in the way of good judgement. His equanimity was exemplary. I learned much more than Chemistry from him.
He passed away few weeks back.
He was a true teacher.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

gold again!

To continue from a previous post,  I see from the ET report that they used GC-MS and that the gold was in the ionic form.  I am out of touch with the modern developments in Chemistry, but from what I remember, GC with or without MS is used for volatile compounds. How did they estimate gold in the ionic form using GC-MS?
What eluting gas and what stationary phase was used for this, if it is possible?
I get these forwards on Whatsapp that proudly announce the building of a huge temple in the US or the chanting of the Bhagavad Gita by white children in the UK. It is seen as a sign of how great we are! That's really nice. But that's really nice of THEM! So we must encourage our children to chant prayers from religions other than the one they follow. That's what it means. If you think it is great that there is a huge Venkateswara temple in a country that's predominantly Christian, the equivalence would be a huge place of worship for a non predominant religion in our country.
The Whatsapp group has people of normal intelligence, but this simple equivalence seems to be beyond them!

Saturday, 9 July 2016

All that glisters is not gold

I would have thought that "scientists" working in a science department would have some knowledge of chemistry, or at least enough to know that elemental synthesis requires extraordinary conditions. If you find 3 mg/L gold in the urine of a cow, the grass you fed it must have had much more. So lets look at the wonder grass instead.  According to them, the clear indication of the presence of gold is the yellow colour of the urine. Really? "All that glisters is not gold, often have you heard that told..." or in this case all that's yellow is not gold.
What method did they use for the estimation of gold I wonder.
It reminds me of the crime-drama serials I love to watch---CSI, Bones etc where they do a GC-MS of some tissue sample and it shows sharp peaks labelled Na, CN etc. 

Friday, 13 May 2016

I have written earlier about my problem with teaching polarization of an atom or ion in class IX of the state school syllabus, when electrons are considered to be small particles with negative charge.
This post about school science is another case in point.
There was an article by Joan Mills maybe 30 or 40 years ago when she had to undergo an IQ test to join school. There was a picture of a girl with medium sized hands and palms and three gloves, one very big, one very small and the third the same size as the girl's hand. The question asked "which glove belongs to Mary?"
The little Joan was very puzzled. Maybe the small glove actually belonged to Mary but had shrunk in the wash, or maybe Mary's mother bought her large gloves thinking she will grow into them. Another aspect she thinks about is that the right size glove may fit Mary, but maybe it belonged to her friend and she stole it or borrowed it. Then it would not be Mary's, though the right size. With all these doubts in her mind, she could not answer the question.
Exam questions are simplistic and most examiners do not appreciate out-of-the ordinary answers. So a child that over-thinks is as likely to fail the exam as a child that cannot think at all. 

Saturday, 9 April 2016

election

The population of the US must be a fraction of ours, and that of the state of Wisconsin a fraction of any of our states.  Yet, they are not able to make proper arrangements to see that everyone gets to vote. In many places according to this video, there was confusion and they blame it on the new rule that everyone must have a valid voter id. Cheers to the Election Commission of India who manage to conduct the election with almost 900 million voters all with voter ids. 

metallurgy in ancient India

With all the pseudoscience ascribed to ancient Hindus, one real scientific/ technological achievement
is described here.
Another is the Iron Pillar presently near the Qutub Minar.
The hyped up pseudoscience does great disservice to the real scientific achievements in our history.

language

When my children were born, I decided they can learn English and Hindi once they start school, but before that, they must learn Tamil. Secondly, I don't know baby talk in any language other than Tamil. Both my children spoke Tamil till age three and then suddenly, if I spoke in Tamil, they answered in English so that by the age of about 4 or 5, they spoke only English. I never realised when that happened. Now a Star trek fan has tried teaching Klingon to his son. His results explain a lot to me

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

I wish we could elect adults to our parliament

Past precedent is always an excuse for future crimes.
This is the logic my bickering children would use whenever one of them was pulled up for some act that violated the code of conduct set for them by me. The answer to any question starting "Why did you........." was always  "But last week you didn't say anything when he did this....." blaming the sibling for a similar violation which I had apparently failed to chastise. I then become defensive trying to recall what that was all about and the momentum is lost.
Every discussion on the TV news channels is a replay of this. It brings to my memory the years when my children were bickering pre-teens. I wish we could elect adults to our parliament. 

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Thinking is fine, but learning is what I'm here for.

There is a Chem course where the faculty has tried over a few years to teach analytical thinking by making students observe expts, formulate hypotheses and find answers.
This is a part of a student feedback for this course
"The teacher is good in his field. He encourages us. But he doesn't define things. Thinking is fine, but learning is what I'm here for."
It defines everyone's concept of TLE- everyone who has a say in defining curricula. So much so that though I recognise the need to, I doubt if I could successfully teach what these people at Nebraska are trying to.
Just saying, if it is good logic to say I cleaned up a lot of mess and so I am allowed to make a big mess, what about doctors and surgeons?
So now that I did 8 heart transplants and saved 8 people, I can maybe kill off my mother-in-law who always interferes in my life- then after 8 more......hmm let's see maybe that ........ 

Friday, 11 March 2016

Dr Dog, PhD in English Lit

Prof Makarand Paranjape has also had a dog attending his class regularly (at around 9-10 min in the video) . I had one attend all my BSc Chem lectures- all - I, II and III year lectures, and then next academic year took up residence in the MSc Biochem lab.
http://midwaypersonal.blogspot.in/search?q=dr+dog

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

There is a fad for eating salads and uncooked food, in the belief that it is healthier. I once annoyed my then teenage daughter by asking in a Subway if he had any cooked filling for the sandwich. Most of my erstwhile colleagues would look askance at me since at any college party, I prefer to eat the hot samosa rather than the mayo laden veg sandwich  (I have seen the kitchens of the sandwich supplier when I have been in charge of ordering the food). In India in particular, we do not even clean raw eggs. They are often contaminated with chicken droppings. Secondly, vegetables are stored in unhygienic conditions. Another aspect is that the organic vegetables are grown using dung as fertiliser. So vegetables eggs are all definitely contaminated. People think I am weird because I never eat salads or drink juices outside my own house. I am happy to see this post.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

ancient hindu science

I am waiting for the references from ancient hindu scriptures where it was said that gravitation was manifest as waves. I am sure it will come soon enough!

On the other side of this, some studies, still in infancy, but nevertheless science. 

Monday, 8 February 2016

Schools

"Schooling without learning" is the opinion page article by Dr Geeta Gandhi Kingdon.
It deals with the lack of learning outcomes and the fact that the application of the RTE criteria is leading to the closure of many small private schools which were serving some purpose. They may not be good, but are better than many government schools. These are schools that charge about a few hundred rupees/month.  She also mentions that the UP govt for example, is closing down many govt schools in addition to closing private schools for not meeting the RTE requirements.  So the net result is that more and more children are coming into the school-going age group, but there are less and less schools they can afford.
Governmental logic is the same. Cars are polluting so prevent people from using cars-that's good, but then are they to fly to their workplaces? Should we not improve and increase the capacity of our public transport before we ban cars?
Similarly, should we not strengthen our govt schools and THEN crack down on defaulters in the private sector?
The same day news in Deccan Chronicle says that teachers in govt schools are opposed to the system introduced this year whereby an SMS is sent to the DEO giving a daily report on teacher attendance student attendance and about the mid day meals. The teachers feel that the SMS system is a violation of their rights....rights to what? right to bunk school?

Saturday, 30 January 2016

I have tried to upload the videos of the science fair many times, but they don't seem to work when posted in the blog. Not being too tech savvy, I may have to simply delete those posts if I can't figure it out soon. Any suggestions are welcome.

beating retreat

I love marching bands and in particular the Beating Retreat after our Republic day. I watch it almost every year. I wait eagerly for the 'Abide with me', specially the bells. This year, it started with the lovely 'Kadam kadam badhaye ja'. But then, there was this composition 'Agyat Youvana' that had an Indian classical component with tabla, violin, etc. That is just not done. I like classical music, I enjoy both instrumental and vocal music - but in a marching band?   It violates the basic requirement of a marching band...it has to march.
I will listen to Zakir Hussain or Taufiq Qureshi or any other tabalchi separately and enjoy them thoroughly, but not at Vijay Chowk on 29th Jan.

Friday, 29 January 2016

ancient languages

In one of my previous posts, I had said that I felt deciphering ancient languages had, to my mind, a little bit of unjustified extrapolations. Here is one

http://www.sci-news.com/othersciences/linguistics/science-indus-script-sanskrit-language-01777.html
While describing one symbol, he gives a reference (called Spokensanskrit) and says that "Kavari" means umbrella in Sanskrit. However, I could not find this meaning in any regular dictionary.
The dictionaries I saw give "Chat" as word for unbrella and that fits with the commonly used words like chatrapati and chatri.
The symbol looks like the Kavadi that people in Tamil Nadu still carry and dance with, sometimes in a trance, during certain festivals. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HtcdZr9GByY
So if at all the term 'Kavari' is to be associated with that symbol, it must be linked to or a precursor to Tamil. Iravatham Mahadevan's thesis is that the Indus language is Dravidian.
I find it difficult to judge what is serious academic work and what is mere fanciful extrapolation. In this case, use of a website called Spokensanskrit as a source makes me suspicious.

Friday, 15 January 2016

teaching in India

There is some talk of "Brain Gain" describing people, usually in STEM fields, returning to India after working abroad, usually in the USA.
What I would like to see is one of these academics from a notable US university becoming a professor in one of the minor state universities. I shall refrain from giving examples.
It would be an eye-opener of epic nature!
Thirty years back, it would have required some adjustments for the new professor, but it would have been within reason. But now, the story is very different. I wish someone would try and write about it. That would be my nominee for the book of the year.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

video 5




This was a rocket powered by vapours from surgical spirit and ignited by a kitchen gas lighter. This was enjoyed the most.
The others include a Gauss gun, a quiz board that lights up when answered right, and the light beam from a laser pointer bending along the water flow.
Most ideas were from you tube videos and the Toys from Trash videos, with some modifications when required.

video 3


video 2


A few of the models in the science fair at the school I go to.

Monday, 11 January 2016

net neutrality

I discovered John Oliver recently and have been watching his old videos. Here's one on net neutrality......"big corporations like Google, Facebook signed up for net neutrality.."
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fpbOEoRrHyU    see at about 4 55 min.
Ironic!!

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

higher ed in India

http://thewire.in/2016/01/05/watch-the-occupyugc-protest-has-just-put-out-the-coolest-video-ever-18609/

Vedic people

In my school days, the Aryans populating India were of central Asiatic origin who entered India from the north west. Then there was this hu...