Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year 2010

I wish you and your family very happy and prosperous new year 2010.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Well, Its so boring to be a teacher in India

If you don't believe me, check out FSP's latest post and comments on bizarre things students do while attending a lecture. May be things have changed in India since I used to be a teacher (9 years have passed), but I still believe probably not up to this extend.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A beautiful movie

I thought to share a film about the beautiful world we live in. It is as beautiful, as terribly troubling, as hopeful and exciting as how each of us choose to live every day.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jqxENMKaeCU&feature=player_embedded

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Picture Gallery 3: Chicago

Chicago is one of my favorite city in the world. The city has a beautiful downtown and charm of its own. Here are some of the pictures:

Downtown Chicago
1

2

3

4 Bahai Temple

5

6 Swaminarayan Temple

7

8

9

10

11

While in Rome...

Yesterday I had to go to Indian consulate for my daughter's passport renewal. While any kind of bureaucratic work inside India can be quite painful, my experience with Indian mission abroad has been quite fine (This is my 9th year outside India). Most of the jobs get done on the same day while passport can be done in a week (Those readers, who are in India, can you imagine that you can actually get your new passport in a week?).

The most funny thing is to see the behavior of Indians and officers inside the consulate. While in most cases, officers at the consulates are quite accommodating and polite, many people behave very rudely with them. Yesterday, one of the gentleman demanded explanation from the officer why they need a week to make a new passport? To my surprise, officer at the counter was ready to explain it to him and also offered him to talk with higher officer if he had any more questions. One other swamiji was specially approached by an officer and was asked to wait for an hour so his job can be done immediately and he don't need to come back again in few hours/days.

When I narrate my experience to my non-Indian friend who is very much familiar with the working of Indian bureaucracy. His remark was that Indian officers were not polite or professional, but were just behaving according to the place (means the very same people will behave very differently inside India). I only wish if there were more westerners around Indian offices in all cities...

Friday, December 4, 2009

Patriotic but still a junk

We have a great culture and one of the oldest civilization, no doubt! But it still amazes me that how self-obsessed and self-pampered (and also misinformed) we are when it comes make fake claims about Indian culture and civilization. Here are some examples taken from a recent spam email message I received from an old colleague:

- दूनिया सबसे पुराना लोकतंत्र भारत में अस्तित्त्व में आया था.
Many countries and culture claims about the oldest democracy. A Google search will bring many result with different claims.

- भारतीय सभ्यता सदियों से अपने अस्तित्व को बचाए रखे हुए है.जबकी दुनिया की सभी पूरानी सभ्यताएँ मिट गई.
Completely false. All civilizations continuously evolve and Indian civilization (or culture whatever this claim means) is no exception. We have influence of Arabic, Persian and European Culture on us and current Indian culture is very different from the civilization which existed even few hundreds/thousands years before, forget about the original Indus valley civilization.

- भारत ने अपने 10 हजार साल के इतिहास मे कभी किसी अन्य देश पर आक्रमण नही किया. भारत पर अनेकों आक्रमण हुए हैं और भारत ने अपनी आधी से अधिक भूमि खो दी है. लेकिन इस देश ने कभी किसी देश पर हमला नही किया.
I have biggest problem with this propaganda. Thousands of years of submissive behavior has left us with low self esteem or less correlation with reality.

- वाराणसी अथवा बनारस दूनिया के सबसे प्राचीन शहरों मे से एक है. भगवान बुद्ध ने ईसा पूर्व 500 मे बनारस की यात्रा की थी. बनारस दूनिया का एकमात्र शहर है जो अति प्राचीन है और जिसका अस्तित्व आज भी है.

Again not completely true and misinformed. Here is the list.

- संस्कृत सभी भाषाओं की जननी है. सभी यूरोपीय भाषायें संस्कृत पर आधारित मानी जाती है. फोर्ब्स पत्रिका के अनुसार कम्प्यूटर से लिए सबसे उपयुक्त भाषा भी संस्कृत ही है.

- I don't even know what to do about this fake claim.

- दूनिया की सबसे प्राचीन और विकसित सभ्यता भारत में सिंधु घाटी मे विकसित हुई थी. 5000 वर्ष पहले हडप्पा संस्कृति फल फूल चुकी थी.

Wiki article of civilization. while it is true that we have one of the older civilization, but oldest known civilization is Mesopotamia civilization according to current archeological evidence.

- बेतार सूचना माध्यम की खोज जगदीश बोस ने की थी, लेकिन उनकी खोज सुर्खियों मे नही आ पाई और इस खोज का श्रेय मारकोनी को मिला.

and so on. There were many more claims in the emails (complete list is given at the end of this post). I just chose few points to give example of such propaganda email.

We have a great culture but I really don't know what it means. Our culture is good mix of Hindu, Islamic and Christian culture just because of nature of our history. What we call our culture is not completely our own. Having lived in Middle-east, Europe and USA, I can tell that lot of what we call as Hindu culture is some form of derived Arabic culture influenced by British and now its moving towards badly influenced western culture. It is not true that only we are keeping our culture, most of the countries are trying to preserve their own culture and languages.

When we make propaganda about Bose we forget, that one single individual or invention don't lead to development of science or society. We don't have the system of nurturing young brain where we can produce many more Bose. We rely on spontaneous finding of talent of single individual whether it is Bose or Sania Mirza, and then pamper it. One of my friend from an Russia tells me that they had system of tracing child potential for sports at early age in Soviet time and then they used to train thousands of such children, and then there is a good chance that one or two of them will go to world level in their own games and then there is a chance that one will be leader in his field. The same story goes in Europe, US etc in every aspect of life, science or sport. we need that aggressiveness and competitiveness. We need to train thousands of young people in every field to be competitive in the world.

There can be lot of discussion about almost all of these facts, but short story short, we need to learn to criticize ourselves instead of pampering ourselves about old historical facts, this is the only way to lead to a progressive society. We need to understand that all these facts are hundreds/thousands of years old, and our contribution to the world in last 3-4 century is negligible. I consider only Mahatma Gandhi as our single contribution in recent time, nothing else.

I believe modern day India needs to concentrate on where are the areas which need to improve: in education and research, in Health care, in bureaucracy and so on...Some time back there was a news paper article that climate change could lead to reduction of crop in South Asia in next decade, which could lead to disaster and increase in hunger in India. As an educated people, we need to look into these detail and try to raise the awareness in society and government instead of pampering ourselves with misinformed facts.



Here is the list of all claims:
Subject: Facts about India

1) दूनिया सबसे पुराना लोकतंत्र भारत में अस्तित्त्व में आया था.

2) भारतीय सभ्यता सदियों से अपने अस्तित्व को बचाए रखे हुए है.जबकी दुनिया की सभी पूरानी सभ्यताएँ मिट गई.

3) भारत ने अपने 10 हजार साल के इतिहास मे कभी किसी अन्य देश पर आक्रमण नही किया. भारत पर अनेकों आक्रमण हुए हैं और भारत ने अपनी आधी से अधिक भूमि खो दी है. लेकिन इस देश ने कभी किसी देश पर हमला नही किया.

4) भारत का लोकतंत्र सबसे बडा है.

5) वाराणसी अथवा बनारस दूनिया के सबसे प्राचीन शहरों मे से एक है. भगवान बुद्ध ने ईसा पूर्व 500 मे बनारस की यात्रा की थी. बनारस दूनिया का एकमात्र शहर है जो अति प्राचीन है और जिसका अस्तित्व आज भी है.

6) भारत ने अंकों की खोज की थी. शून्य की खोज भारत के आर्यभट्ट ने की थी.

7) दूनिया की प्रथम विश्वविद्यालय तक्षशिला में ईसा पूर्व 700 मे स्थापित की गई थी. वहाँ दूनिया भर से आए 10 हजार से अधिक छात्र पढते थे. इसके अलावा भारत में नालंदा जैसी अति आधुनिक विश्वविद्यालय भी थी.

8) संस्कृत सभी भाषाओं की जननी है. सभी यूरोपीय भाषायें संस्कृत पर आधारित मानी जाती है. फोर्ब्स पत्रिका के अनुसार कम्प्यूटर से लिए सबसे उपयुक्त भाषा भी संस्कृत ही है.

9) दूनिया की सबसे प्राचीन उपचार प्रणाली आयुर्वेद है. आयुर्वेद की खोज 2500 साल पहले की गई थी.

10) ब्रिटिश हमले से पहले भारत दूनिया का सबसे अमीर देश था. भारत को कई यूरोपीय एवं मुस्लिम हमलावरों ने लूटा था.

11) समुद्री परिचालन का आविष्कार सिंधु नदी के किनारे 6000 साल पहले हुआ था. अंग्रेजी शब्द नेवीगेशन मूलत: संस्कृत शब्द "नव-गति" से लिया गया है.

12) पृथ्वी द्वारा सूरज की परिक्रमा करने मे लगने वाले समय की गणना सदियों पहले भास्कराचार्य द्वारा कर ली गई थी. उनकी गणना थी 365.258756484 दिन.

13) "पाई" की खोज बुधायन ने की थी और उन्होने ही पायथोगोरियन सिद्धांत को समझाया था. यह 6ठी शताब्दी की बात है. उसके काफी समय बाद यूरोपीय गणितज्ञ इस बारे में जान पाए.

14) ज्यामिती और अलजेब्रा की खोज भी भारत मे हुई थी. जहाँ रोमन और ग्रीक सभ्यता के लोग मात्र 106 तक की गिनती जानते थे, वहीं हिन्दू 10 घात 53 तक की गिनती कर सकते थे. इतनी बडी गिनती तो आज भी नही होती.

14) बेतार सूचना माध्यम की खोज जगदीश बोस ने की थी, लेकिन उनकी खोज सुर्खियों मे नही आ पाई और इस खोज का श्रेय मारकोनी को मिला.

15) दूनिया मे सबसे पहले बांध और जलाशय भारत मे सौराष्ट्र इलाके मे बने थे.

16) शक राजा रूद्रदमन 1 के अनुसार सुदर्शन नामक एक सुंदर झील रैवातका पर्वत पर चन्द्रगुप्त मोर्य के समय मे ही बना ली गई थी. इतनी ऊँचाई पर मानव निर्मित इस प्रकार की झील जैसे अन्य उदाहरण उस काल मे नही है.

17) शतरंज अथवा अष्टपद की खोज भारत मे हुई थी.

18) शल्यचिकित्सा के जनक भारत के सुशुत्रा थे. 2600 वर्ष पहले के भारतीय चिकित्सक पथरी, अस्थिपीडा, आँखो के मोतिया तथा प्लास्टिक सर्जरी जैसी कठिन शल्य चिकित्सा भी करते थे. अनेस्थेसिया का उपयोग करना भी उन्हे आता था.

19) दूनिया की सबसे प्राचीन और विकसित सभ्यता भारत में सिंधु घाटी मे विकसित हुई थी. 5000 वर्ष पहले हडप्पा संस्कृति फल फूल चुकी थी.

20) दूनिया की 25% से अधिक जनसंख्या हिन्दू, बौद्ध, जैन अथवा सिख धर्म मे विश्वास करती है. इन सभी धर्मों का उदय भारत मे हुआ था.

21) शून्य और अंकगणित का आविष्कार ईसा पूर्व 100 मे भारत मे हुआ था.

22) भारत दूनिया के उन गिने चुने देशों मे से एक है जिसने अपनी स्वतंत्रता अहिंसक आंदोलन चला कर प्राप्त की .

23) दूनिया मे वैज्ञानिको और इंजीनियरों की संख्या के मामले मे भारत दूसरा सबसे बडा देश है.

24) भारत अमरीका और जापान के बाद तीसरा ऐसा देश है जो स्वदेशी प्रोद्योगिकी से सुपर कम्प्यूटर बना सकता है.

25) भारत जैसी धर्मनिरपेक्षता अन्य किसी देश मे नही देखी जा सकती है. भारत मे जन्मे चार धर्म हिन्दू, बौद्ध, जैन और सिख को दूनिया की एक चौथाई आबादी मानती है. भारत मे 3 लाख मस्जिदें है, इतनी तो किसी भी मुस्लिम देश मे भी नही है. यहूदी और ईसाई धर्म के अनुयायी भारत मे ईसा पूर्व 250 और 50 साल पहले आए थे और यही बस गए थे.

26) देश की स्वतंत्रता के बाद सरदार पटेल की कुशल निति के कारण 500 से अधिक रजवाडे भारत संघ मे शामिल हो गए. दूनिया के अन्य किसी भी देश मे ऐसा उदाहरण नही मिलेगा.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Hilarious Clip

Those of you, connected to scientific research is going to love this video clip.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Mode of Denial

Last week I had my doctor's appointment and while waiting for my turn in the waiting room, I was browsing some travel magazine. There was a section on India tourism inside the magazine and in the section, there was an ad with a picture of herd of elephants and big bold note "we still believe in joint family system". Now this is a mode of denial. Like any other society, India is also going through changes and as globalization is increasing, there are visible changes in the Indian society and family system, specially in the middle class. I am not saying that all changes are for good (who knows it anyway) and I am also not saying that we should not highlight the selling points for getting more tourists. But there is a contradiction in what we think we are and what the realities are. Now, what we need is more of smart and unbiased social scientists and anthropologists to study and analyzed these social changes and break some of the myths about our family system.

Picture Gallery - 2

Some of the readers of this blog came from while searching about Jaipur Zoo to the page I have put here earlier. Actually, Google shows very few images of Jaipur zoo and this image is one of them. Curiously, when I Google Jaipur, I was very much disappointed to see the that the most of the images came from travel agencies and hotels and they are heavily photo-shopped, which means they were heavily modified for the advertising purpose. It is very disappointing to see the pictures of Hawamahal without the shops around and does not give clear picture of the city. Shops which sells clothes, jewelery, art work are integral part of Jaipur experience. Here are some of the pictures of Jaipur, India:
















Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Picture Gallery -1

There are times when I feel strongly about something and want to write and there are times when I am contended just to read different things and don't feel like writing anything. For these times, I will share pictures from my camera from different places around the world. I have been fortunate enough to travel to many destinations inside and outside of India for various reasons. Some pictures are recent and some are old, some are taken by me and some are by my spouse, but I consider them important enough to communicate about the place (I will label them according to the name of the place). Here is the first series about Rocky mountains in Colorado, USA during summer:













chipmunk

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Comparison

As a first generation immigrant, it is inevitable to constantly compare the life outside and inside India. My daughter goes to school and it is also inevitable that I constantly compare her school experience with my own schooling experience. Here are the random list of things which I like in USA and which I miss from India on very regular basis. This will give idea to many people in India what to expect when going out. One thing is certain, that you need to be very open to understand why certain things are the way they are, and don't start blaming to everything which doesn't seem the way it seemed in India. The list is in no particular order.

- First of all, I am really happy to get a chance to see different countries and people. This experience made me richer in every way.

- I like the cleanliness in all the countries I have visited or lived (List is long: Israel, Russia, Germany, France, Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium, USA). Streets, buses, trains, restaurants, toilette, you name it and it is much cleaner than it is anywhere in India. No, don't blame Indian climate (Israel has very hot, sandy and dusty climate too). I think it needs real efforts from people and government to keep the city clean. I miss garbage cans in Indian streets at regular intervals and I think there should be serious campaign to educate people about the cleanliness. We also have high density of population which makes it very hard, but still there is scope of improvement.

- I miss people, food and clothes from India. I miss my friends and easy atmosphere of chatting at workplace. Even though I eat Indian food, it doesn't taste the same as it does in India. I also hate dressing dull, boring top and Jeans everyday. I miss variety. I don't like that everybody has to dress black all the time to look cool. I miss colors. I miss dressing cotton, silk in beautiful colors and shades. I miss warm weather.

- I love the fact that as a 5 year old, my daughter has much more opportunity and exposure to learn different things than I had or normally kids in India have. She has excess to rich library in her school which has thousands of books appropriate to her age. These are story books, books about science, mathematics, nature and animals. There are poetry books exactly for her age. She has exposure to Bharatnatyam, piano, belle or any other sports she would like to play. She can go for ice skating in winter and playground everyday in summer and fall. She has seen Indian culture and western culture and this makes her richer in experience. She can appreciate the different things from different culture. She has seen many countries so probably will not have fancy ideas about the culture and countries. She has exposure to Indian music and western music. And no, she doesn't hear the stupid nonsense that Indian music is all spiritual and western music is superficial.

- I like that I live in very international community inside the university campus. Its very enriching experience. Not all the Indian people are nice, as well not all the people from other countries are unapproachable. I have been able to make a good balance of friends from different parts of the world with whom I meet on regular basis to sit, chat and eat.

- There are libraries, theaters and museums around. There are forest reserves around where you can walk. There are botanical garden and nature conservatory around. There are museum devoted to insects, bugs and science around.

- I like the efficiency of system and you really enjoy your work whatever you do, whether you are scientist, doctor, lawyer or anyone else. Professional opportunities in USA are incredible and you will have all chances of growth. Politics at workplace is everywhere, but somehow system allows you concentrate on the work as well. You will spend less energy for fighting on trivial issues (although it does happen and don't expect that human being are anyway different everywhere), but you can avoid that if you want.

- I like the fact that almost all the information about anything is available online.

- I like the fact that if tomorrow I decide that I want to quit science and do something else in life, there is no restriction. I can enter university again to study whatever I want and start a new career, or I can do something else. People are more flexible about these things and almost all the work is respected, that makes easier for people to decide what they actually want to do. There is a piano teacher in my neighborhood who earns equivalent to a professor in the university.

- As I mention in my previous posts, bureaucracy is generally more efficient. That means you will have less hassles for any kind of routine work.

- and finally it matters that you start liking wherever you live. There are pros and cons of every place, its all a matter of being comfortable with oneself and one's surrounding.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Indian Bureaucracy

In my previous post, I described an example of efficient and fast bureaucracy. I wanted to give few examples of Indian bureaucracy which is slow, inefficient and corrupt, but somehow I do not feel like writing about it. My this week's feeling is more of sadness than anger. When the whole system is like that, it is wastage of time and effort try to describe that. I will just write few points which I think should be addressed in order to improve the overall quality and efficiency of Indian baburaj.

- Time: Time is an important factor for efficient administration. In most developed country, there is a time limit of processing each request made by public. Once you gave all the necessary document, it becomes responsibility of the office to process it and return back to you within few weeks. Some jobs can be done in the same day and some jobs needs more time. What is needed is to place strict time limit for each type of routine job each office handles or there should be consequences for the office for delay. Can you imagine, that German rails pays 10 euro to passenger for each 1/2 hour delay in trains? In Russia, there is a rule that once you gave papers to the office, they have to give you back needed document within 4 weeks. Its their problem what they do inside the office, but if they don't get back to you in 4 weeks, there is consequences for them. Unless there is consequences, there is no way to insure timely disposition of services.

- Efficiency: Major problem in my opinion with Indian bureaucracy is pyramid structure of system which is most inefficient in dealing with routine tasks. For example, when I was working in government college, most of the paper work had to go to the higher education department at the state capital which causes significant delay and corruption. I had to go state capital or keep in touch with an appropriate babu each time I needed something to be done. This is very inefficient system and way to encourage corruption. If someone needs a birth or marriage certificate from municipality, again the file will run from bottom to top until it gets sign from the top officer for that. Instead, power should be given to the first person who receives the papers so that he can deal with the situation by himself unless there is a complexity in the case for some reason. This way it will be easy to fix accountability and time limit as well. In current situation nobody is responsible for delay or inefficiency.

- Transparency: This one will be most hard to implement given the secret nature of everything in any Indian office. Recently, when we were looking to buy an apartment in my city in USA, we were surprised to find that the prices from past 20 years or so are available online, so you can actually see how the prices grew over the years of any particular property or area of interest. But in Indian offices, so much things are hidden in the name of official secret that it will be hard to implement transparency.

- Parallel Processing (can not find better administrative word for this, I am not administrator after all): Most of the efficient system relies on giving the same power to at least 2-3 people within the office, so if one person is absent, someone else can finish the job. Once you remove all the reasons for delays, system delivers by itself.

I will add more points as it will come to me. But for now, I can only hope that citizen of India get better system which they deserve.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Bureaucracy: what it should be and what it shouldn't be

I will write some real life examples (either from my experience or from experiences of someone I know) of bureaucracy with the idea of what it should be like and what it shouldn't be like. Dear readers, please consider providing your experiences (positive or negative) of Indian bureaucracy as well as bureaucratic system of the country where you are living, to make this discussion richer. The idea is to provide readers from India what they should fight for. When I talked with someone in India, they seem to be fine with corrupt, slow and inefficient system until they know how to get around with the system. Their frustration only comes to fullest once the usual things doesn't work or if they do not want to follow the bribe route and still want to get things done in efficient manner.

Positive: example 1

- One of my Indian friend worked in Germany for few years before moving to USA. He contributed to the pension fund in German system while working there. Now, there is a rule in Germany, that you can claim your contribution 2 years after leaving the country if you have no intention to return. He had no idea about the process, so first thing he did was to write to Germany Embassy with his question. In few days, he got response from the Embassy with the links of forms he can download from internet and which he need to submit to the pension office to complete the process.

- He filled the forms (they were simple 2 forms) and send them with necessary evidence of his work to the pension office. Now, there are 5 pension offices in Germany and he had no idea where to send these forms, so he send to one office which he thought might be most appropriate for his case.

- in 3-4 weeks, he got response from the pension office which deals with such case (not the one where he sent the forms, but they forwarded his forms to the right place), and he was asked to submit an additional form. Of course, copy of this additional form was included in the letter. This form needed signature from German Embassy/consulate, or any other public notary from the USA. It was a verification form that indeed this is the person who has requested the pension refund.

- Since my friend lives in the city, where there is a German Consulate, he decided to go to the consulate directly. It took him sitting in nice sofa for half an hour until one officer came to talk with him and in few minutes, she came back with the form signed. Then she asked him- Do you want us to send this form for you to the pension office through diplomatic mail? Pleasantly surprised, he said fine, and his job was done.

- It took another 3-4 weeks, and there was money in his bank account which was transferred from Germany and an accompanying letter explaining the details of money with the contact details of the person in case there is any problem.

Now, can you imagined the process, if there would be similar case with India? Can you imagine if you had actually worked in India and needed to do similar process with Indian bureaucracy?

This is it. Processes could be as simple and straight. These may be the underlying simple reasons for many people not wanting to go back to Indian system.

I will continue this series giving another real life example of Indian bureaucracy in my next post.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Indian Bureaucracy and Attracting Talent

I have written previously (here, here and here) about attracting talent (I mean, people who otherwise don't feel obligation to return out of nostalgia and family obligations, and looking for more professional opportunities) from abroad to Indian education system. Today I will write about a big negative factor which will affect you regularly whether you return to some big name institutes or any other university, and that is to deal with the Indian bureaucratic system either in the university you will work (or Institutes) or in the city where you will live. If I have to mention single most important factor for not wanting to return to India, it is the administrative system you have deal with while working. Even in a college in small city, you can find talented motivated students who are joy to teach, but my experience with the bureaucratic system is mostly negative while working for years there. Recently, I had a very bad experience, that's why this post is generated.

When we talk about Indian bureaucratic system we actually talk about British bureaucratic system as it was during the colonial time. There are two factors in this, first that it was designed for the population whom British were governing, not for their own population. So the idea was to create a system for the population keeping British person as supreme authority. The babus and middle level officers we have in our systems(I don't understand their presence as well), most probably were middle men to communicate between masses and a final authority (typically a British guy) in every matter. Now front forward, that system is still continuing more or less even after 60 years. And since British were ruling the India, system was based on mistrust. So in current context you cannot trust population and basically you don’t need to deliver. I am not a political science person, but this is my explanation of Indian bureaucratic system.

For every single matter (big or small), files moves slowly upwards and reaches to top level officer for approval and there is no provision of delivery or time-line, so it can take months or years before your matter will be resolved. Since there nobody accountable for anything, you really can not do anything other than greasing babus and trying to do things fast. In my opinion, the root cause of problem is pyramid structure of administration where all authority is with the highest level officer and middle level people are not accountable for anything and also do not have power to take any decision at all.

If you are used to western system where in my experience (my sample is from 3 different developed countries) there is almost no direct corruption in routine office work. In most cases, the job is done either on the same day or following day. In case there is some delay, it is explained, and can be followed up by an email or phone until it is over. In most cases, if you provide sufficient papers, its the job and responsibility of the officer to resolve the matter as soon as possible. If you ever plan to return to India, be ready to get frustrated with the system on routine basis.

Of course, I hope this will get better but it may take decades before some professionalism comes. Its hard to change mind set and work ethics of whole system.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sand Art: An Amazing Video

These days I am in mood of art, so I will share an interesting video with you all. I liked it very much and I hope so do you. Its very dynamic and the beauty lies in the pictures as well as its creation from sand and colors of light on it.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Get Crafty

After years of sleeping somewhere, suddenly my creative surge came into existence after a Rangoli project at my daughter's school. I had done some oil paintings long time ago but since then never had chance (or wish) to do anything. I am into sand paintings these days. While I was searching some motivation ( or design) for the canvass I bought for the purpose, I came across this beautiful site which seems to get contribution from many talented artists. I hope you will also enjoy as I enjoyed browsing its pages.

Fall colors

I have been following with interest discussion related to IIT entrance exams at the blog of Nanopolitan. He makes many valid comments about the extreme pressure created by the exam on students as well as about coaching centers. In the country where job security after traditional education is so scarce, the obsession with IITs is hardly any surprise. Maybe we need statistics of from IITs and also from big companies about percentage of non-IITians people they have in their top work force. I am pretty sure that it is not so small. In my experience of living abroad in 8 years at different institutes/universities, I have seen equal number of IITians (add IISc alumini here as well) as well as non-IITians in foreign universities pursuing masters, Ph. D. and post-docs (though not enough statistics to make any claims). These facts once available can be widely publicized, which might help in easing students and their parents from excess obsession with IITs.

The more series issue related to extreme coaching, other than the financial burden it puts on families, is burn-out of young talented students. Even successful students who managed to clear the JEE exam, will have tough time in focusing again after this level of coaching. And those who failed will have tough time in accepting reality and getting on with their life. It is extremely unwise for the country to use the potential of young talent in this way.

Meanwhile, its almost the end of autumn in the cold country I am living, so here is some pictures which I took over the busy weekend.



Friday, October 16, 2009

Happy Diwali



I wish you all a very happy and joyous Diwali.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Everyday Mathematics

I came across this beautiful site created by University of Chicago School Mathematics Project for young children to increase mathematics learning in their daily environment. Its beautifully designed with simple activities for children and parents.

http://everydaymath.uchicago.edu/

Learning can be so much fun if combined with passion and imagination.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Home Schooling

Education, in its current form, where an average child spends for 20+ years in school/college/university etc. to be able to useful to the society, is very recent human endeavor, for past 200 years or so. This is the need of post-industrialized society where the demand of highly specialized individual is higher and such long education years are necessary. Modern societies need more people who can do specialized tasks other than the manual jobs, and therefore higher need for educated people. Also, since these jobs pays well as compared to traditional jobs, it becomes a good investment from the point of individual/family as well. But like everything else in this world, this form of structured education has its own pros and cons.

First, about pros, since it outweighs the cons, otherwise , we all would not be sending our kids to the school anyway. Education, in its current structured form, other than providing formal learning of different subjects, serves many other social and emotional aspects as well. It creates an artificial environment for a growing up kid. This environment provides opportunity to explore many different specialized field to the child such as language, math, science, art etc etc in very coherent way. It also provides an artificial world to the child where s/he is mainly expose to the kids of similar age group, thus sharing a common growing up experiences (this is also cause of many other problems but nevertheless it brings many joys). School in its current form is an wonderful organization for growing up. It is kind of protective environment for the young people where they are removed from the real world experiences and can focus on development. The math, science or social science you learn in the school is long forgotten, but the foundation it built is ever-lasting. Wherever I am today, it is only because of my education. I have many fond memories of my schooling years, and also some of the life long friendship.

Now about the cons, in my opinion, the biggest disadvantage of such organized uniform education is that it creates a herd of people (according to people who oppose the formal school education in its current form at early years). In most cases, unless you are lucky to have other experiences, it removes personality from person. Of course, when you are teaching a big group of students, you can not have personalized education suitable to your personality, interests and needs (remember, we are not talking about the society where everyone should be only doctor or engineer, I am talking about society where it is fine to be an artists as long as this is what one likes to do).

Even if we assume that these cons are big (or exaggerated), in my opinion, the pros of current system outweighs heavily, and thus we are all sending kids to the school. My 5 year old daughter gets so much of exciting rich experience in her school (I will write about this on some separate post) that I personally think I can not provide to her in home. Of course, most of her problems later will be because of peer pressure, but I consider this also as a part of growing up process which is important.

So when I first learned about the home schooling, I was bit surprised. A simple Google search will bring you many more results. Later, I found out, that there is a strong society who believes in home schooling and for many parents, the disadvantages of uniform education and problems of peer pressure on young mind, is too big to send child to the school. In recent years, I have met many parents in my neighborhood, who believe in home education at early years. They take years off from work to educate their child according to the state curriculum, arrange meetings with other home schooling parents to provide social experience for themselves and for children, and try to provide as rich social and learning experience to the child as possible, but with full control. This was new to me and I found it intriguing. This is only possible in developed countries where people can afford such options, not in India where the struggle for survival is still too big, but anyway it is an interesting thing to know.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Concentration of Indian academics around the globe

This is merely a small sample (few hundred hits in last 2 days), but this map of recent visitors of this site gives some idea about the concentration of Indian academics (who else might be interested in content of this blog anyway?) around the globe. It is no surprise that most Indian academics are located in north America and Europe (of course, other than in India :)), where there are more opportunities for scientific research.


Monday, September 14, 2009

Snobbery of Elite Educational Institutes in India

Disclaimer: This post is provoked by an anonymous comment at the blog of Nanopolitan. I have no intention to disrespect anyone from any institutes.

If you read regularly the reader's comments on the pay scale related posts at the blogs of "Life at IISc" or "Nanopolitan" (just to clarify, I am talking about comments, not the blogs by itself, both of these blogs are very thoughtful and respectful), you can clearly note that

- In many cases, commentator from IISc or IITs think themselves above and beyond anyone and everyone, and they heavily disrespect other higher education institutes (They call it UGC pay scale faculty) in every form. This form of snobbery goes beyond any normal etiquette.

Female Science Professor has a nice post on Micro-inequities. She writes:

Micro-inequities are ways in which people are ignored, disrespected, undermined, or somehow treated in a different (negative) way because of their gender or race (or some other intrinsic characteristic).

A micro-inequity can be very micro. It can involve an action or words or even a tone of voice or a gesture. The inequity can be a deliberate attempt to harm someone or it can be unintentional, rooted in a person's perceptions about others.

Whatever the source and however minor each separate event, over the years the cumulative effect of these little incidents, words, and gestures on an individual and on various segments of society (academia, business, even within families) is not so micro.


One of the commentator of her post notes:

Has anybody else read "Outliers"? Among many points in Gladwell's book is that the number of small advantages given to Canadian boys with certain birthdays in the hockey league leads to a professional hockey roster almost exclusively made up of men who have birthdays in certain months. He points this phenomenon out over and over again, in many different contexts - consistent small advantages, over time, lead to great advantages, perhaps even to great people, or "outliers". Why, then, would the same not be true for any discriminated against group, in any field? I don't understand why people are not open to this line of thinking, and are not open to asking themselves what they can do to try to help remedy these situations when they arise.

The inequities (actually they are not micro by any standards) has become a norm in the case of central universities, state universities and colleges in India as compared to IITs and IISc. Some of these institutes has much older history and has served as a education centers over the decades/centuries. They also serve much larger population as compared to IITs or IISc.

The purpose of these universities are very different than IITs or IISc. It has to be clearly understood that the purpose of universities or college is to provide basic education to a large amount of population whereas the purpose of IITs or IISc is to provide specialized education to select group of students. Both are equally needed and are important for a society. A society needs everyone. A progressive society needs specialized engineers/scientist (assuming that this is what IIT/IISc graduates do) but more than that it also need doctors, lawyers, teachers, accountants etc etc. After independence, the attention and privilege IITs/IISc got over the years, it helped in building up a class of people from these institutes who think themselves superior than everyone else. This is a dangerous attitude for a healthy society. State universities, Colleges, and central universities are at huge disadvantage because of this attitude. This attitude coupled with many other factors (mostly politics), has constantly led to deterioration of Indian university system and the result is devastating. The simple fact that IITs/IISc alone can not serve the need of this vast country is good enough to understand that our university system needs more attention, money, care and most importantly respect for India to progress towards prosperity.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Admission Process for Ph. D. in Business Administration in an American University

After my post on admission process for Science and Engineering Ph. D. program, some readers were interested about the admission process in American business schools' Ph. D. program. Knowing that the page still remains the most popular page of this website, I asked my friend (lets cal him "V" here), who is a Ph. D. student in a top business school, to write about the admission process for the readers of this blog. Below is his response:

V'S PERSONAL GUIDE TO B-SCHOOL APPLICATIONS

First things first - know why you want to apply to the business school. The PhD program is geared towards training students for academic positions, although many students end up taking positions in the industry. A majority of students at top-tier business schools seek academic positions in other business schools, although industry positions can be lucrative. In my opinion, if you are sure you want to work in the industry, it may not worth doing a PhD, unless you have a passion for accumulating degrees.

Most schools open up their admission process in September before the year starts (so for 2011 admissions, it would be Sep 2010). The application process consists of the several steps but one needs to choose a specific area or department that you want to apply to, although some schools allow you to choose multiple departments. Each department makes its own decision - its almost as if you were applying to different schools. Therefore, its important that you know which area you want to do research in. The school's website usually lists all the areas and it varies by schools. Some of the common areas (or their variants) are:

• Finance
• Business Economics
• Marketing
• Operations Management
• Organizational Behavior
• Strategy
• Econometrics and Statistics
• Information systems

As far as the application process is concerned, it is well-documented on a school's website. I list the common one below along with my comments:

1. Testing requirements: GMAT/GRE is usually required. Most schools list mean or median scores of the accepted students. In top schools, it is usually over 700. You may choose to prepare yourself (using books) or register for training classes offered by various companies (Kaplan, Veritas Prep etc.). For GMAT, some of the recommended books are:
a. The Official Guide for GMAT Review – HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
b. The Official Guide for GMAT Verbal Review – VERY HELPFUL
c. The Official Guide for GMAT Quantitative Review – VERY HELPFUl
d. Official GMAT Practice tests – available at mba.com for free – very true to the real test
e. Kaplan book w/CD - book is OK and the practice tests are tougher and not completely representative compared the real tests
f. Cracking the GMAT with DVD – explains the concepts very well, especially for novices, the questions are relatively easier. I highly recommend to first finish the official guide first.

As far as GRE is concerned, I don’t have direct experience with it, but I have heard Kaplan is pretty good – make sure to buy their Q-card package/exam vocabulary.

2. Transcripts: schools need to know that you took your coursework seriously and didn’t fool around. Schools are usually looking for candidates who do very well in courses as I think its an indication of how committed you are towards your academic success.

3. TOEFL - for international students. However, if you have a degree from US/Canada already, then it could potentially be waived.

4. Statement of Purpose (SOP) or Statement of Intent - VERY Important. Schools need to know why you are the right candidate as well as reasons to reject you. The 3 key things that you want your statement to reflect are: (a) why do you want to do PhD and why now, (b) why this particular subject area (Finance, OM etc.) and (c) why the particular school. Hence, a good understanding of the area becomes important. It always helps (but not required) if you can talk about some areas that you may be interested in (and certain faculty members). Previous publications and research work is helpful but not necessary. Also, there is some confusion on whether a Masters degree is required. A Master degree, though helpful, is not a requirement to enter into the PhD program.

5. Recommendations: anywhere from 2 to 4 depending on the school. It is strongly preferred that you get them from academics who are familiar with your previous research work and can vouch for it, for example your past adviser. In my opinion, you should get recommendations from a professor who will say excellent things about you. Having said that, if you have a decent amount of work experience, you may get one from your manager as well.

Some things to remember about the application process:

• Deadline: The deadline for application to most business school runs from early December to February - most top schools have their deadline before or on January 1.

• It may not be a bad idea to contact some faculty members whose research you particularly like to get a better idea of what a PhD program in that particular area entails.

• Make sure you give your self enough time before the deadline to prepare yourself and take GMAT in time.

• Please check with the school’s website to check whether the department you are applying to accepts GMAT or GRE or both. Some departments, although they accept both, prefer a certain test.

• In my opinion, writing SOP is the most critical part. SOP allows you to convey information about yourself that other documents (transcripts etc.) don’t necessarily convey; so use it wisely. That’s also one place where you can differentiate yourself from the pack. Make sure you take time to think about it – write concisely, clearly and make sure to edit it before you send it. Grammatical and spelling errors are your worst enemy. In terms of length of SOP, the general rule of thumb is 2 pages (single-spaced).

• The application process of almost all schools is now online (and that’s how the schools prefer). However, the paper-forms are also available for most schools.

• School’s websites remains the best and the most accurate sources of information about the application process and the PhD program in general. Make sure to check their FAQs.

A few comments about the PhD process:

• PhD program usually takes 5 years to complete (in some areas it is 6). Usually, the first 2 years or so are focused on coursework and the remainder on research. Students have a chance to experience research in earlier years via summer papers.

• Finances/Stipend: Most top schools pay the tuition of PhD students – in addition, they pay an annual stipend which varies with each school but is usually enough to cover living expenses for one person.

• A word of caution: PhD, by nature, is a lonely pursuit and you have to be mentally prepared for it.

DISCLAIMER: Please note that these are just my opinions and based on my personal experiences. There could be many factual errors in the information I provide. The best source of information remains the websites of the schools that you apply. So, applicants are strongly recommended to read the information on school's website before you apply.

GOOD LUCK!


Thank you V! We appreciate your time and effort.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Schizophrenia and Indian Society

Since I started this blog, I wanted to take up this subject but was afraid to touch because I wanted write it with sensitivity. I also wanted to bring something useful to the discussion without being offensive to anyone which is hard when what you really want is to criticize.

Schizophrenia or any other mental illness is a taboo to many societies and so much so to Indian society. But in our case we have unique phenomenon because of complex social and religious structure of the society.

When one of my relative was going through the initial phase of schizophrenia, his family tried everything from religious offerings, to blame it on some supernatural power or bad luck. Only thing they were avoiding was to go to the doctor and get some real help. Because of taboo associated with mental illness, they were not ready to seek medical help. This continued for years and situation got worse with passing time. Finally when there were no other options, family took the boy to a mental hospital and got the treatment which this boy really needed. As soon as the treatment started, the boy started behaving normally, and functioning well. There was so much suffering in between and I can see the social reasons in denying the treatment to the patient. Now years after, medicine still continues (an unfortunate situation with schizophrenic patients), but he has a family with understanding wife and kids. He works and earns a living for his family. The situation in his case is not ideal, but no better or worse than any other family which has some kind of illness.

This is a good website with explanation of common symptoms and outcome of schizophrenia. Mental illness is like any other genetic illness which sure affects some percentage of population in every race depending on their genetic specificity. There is nothing good about having a mental illness, but so is the same with any other health related problem. What we need is more awareness in the society with early medical help for the patient suffering from the problem.

In India, in every city, there are number of people who claim to have some spiritual or special power because they claim to see/hear/dream some god or goddess. People worship these so called gurus/devis, and seek solutions of their own problems. I am not against the psychological help these so called gurus provide to people without damaging their self esteem, who otherwise can not afford a professional help, but the cost and sufferings of not-treated patient with mental illness because of these gurus is enormous and can not be underestimated. I was wondering if these so called special gurus/devis themselves are the cases of very good acting, some real belief to gain followers and/or position within the society or some kind of mental illness by itself.I don't know the answer, but I am curious!!!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Fight for the position of the best Indian Institute

There is an interesting discussion going on at the blog of Prof. Madras on the article of Dr. Ganagn Prasad about the ranking of Indian research institute. If you read comments of this post and other blogs which discuss the topic, the main issue seems that which institute is better within India and why? You can also read all the short comings of the study at these comments and postings.

I am less interested in knowing if IISc is slightly at higher rank due to biology or if IITs are at lower rank due to high undergraduate teaching load. Also, it is known fact that NITs or any other state university will have even lower rank than IISc or IITs because of many factors. In my opinion if you take a look at the article of Dr. Gangan Prasap or article of prof. madras, one thing is quite clear that all of the top institutes in India can be grouped together in similar class. They may be little better or worse compared to each other, but far below in the research output compared to best institutes on the world. What are reasons and what can be done to make our best institute even more competitive? I would be more happy to discuss and see discussion on this line instead of the usual fight between IISc and IITs. Similarly other interesting questions are, what can be done to improve the quality and quantity of research output of NITs or State universities. what are the realistic expectations?

I have been to IISc and in my opinion it is pleasure to be there and do science there. You have world class facilities with motivated students and faculty and excellent campus. so what can be done to make it even better than what it is today. Can we have more "Science" and "Nature" articles from IISc or IITs? what is lacking?

I have also worked at a state university and can tell that if they are bringing any single article out in any international journal, it is an achievement by itself. The current atmosphere and support level is pathetic at these places and one should not expect increase in research output of these institutes without changing overall structure of the system and without providing adequate support in place. Also, one should be realistic in the expectation.

Here are some of the points which come to mind:

Administrative Structure, Interference and Colonial Hangover: This factor is one of the major factor for low motivation and output in any Indian Institutes and universities. Indian administrative system relies on no-trust policy and pyramid structure for decision making. This leads to unnecessary harassing and delay in any work which faculty wants to do. Be it purchasing of some instrument for research, or attending some conference abroad, adding new courses or going to sabbatical, administration is biggest hurdle in smooth functioning of these institutes. You need lengthy process, permission of highest authority (in state colleges, it means principal secretary of Higher Education Department sitting in state capital) and sometime bribe to babu. Without changing it, I can not see how things can be improved at the level it is expected.

Poor Infrastructure: This factor is specially important for NITs, state universities and colleges. Most of these places don't have basic library facility (that means no access to any international journal in the field) and other experimental and technical support needed for research. Faculty is loaded not only with teaching load, but lot of other administrative or even clerical load. While working at state college, I have worked in examination cell (checking total of students marks), admission committee(sorting hundreds of applications according to the board examination marks etc), counting attendance of students and providing data to the principal, checking stocks (that means counting old things in the store room of the department), as an election officer during national, state or municipality elections. Most of the faculty time at state universities, colleges and NITs are consumed in these clerical work leaving little time or motivation for any scholarly activities. These jobs are mostly clerical and using faculty for these jobs are wasting their motivation and talent.

Money: Experimental research needs money and academic freedom for faculty. More private partnership to research programs could be partial solution to this problem.

Any other suggestions, dear readers?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Friday, August 7, 2009

Attracting Talent: Ramanujam Fellowship

Brain drain from India to developed world is a serious phenomenon. Reasons are many fold which I will not go into detail in this post. I read it somewhere which I can not find anymore, that there are more Indian scientist working in United States than Indian scientists in India. Science in India is in dire state and is seriously is in need for more scientist to improve the quality and quantity of scientific research in India. On the other hand there are scientist who wish to go back but don't know what to expect and where to start. There need to be many fold efforts to bring back Indian scientist from abroad.

Ramanujam Fellowship seems to be one such step in right direction. It may attract even the established people who want to work in India for a short time. There are more such short and long term options needed for people who are still undecided and thinking about their future. This may be best bet for India to be competitive in the world of scientific research.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Adoption in America

I met this couple last year in one of the local play ground. They were in their late 50s, very successful academics in their respective field and they were with 2 year old twin boys. They were bit older to be a natural parents of kids and also boys had darker complexion same like most Indians have as compare to the white complexion of the couple. My first assumption was that probably they are the grand parent of the children. In university campus, it is very common to see mixed race families. But as I came to know them little better gradually, it turned out that the kids were adopted children of this couple and were Incas (South American native residents) who have similar looks and complexion like we Indians. Since then I have seen them on regularly basis and always admired their wish and ability to adopt children at their advance age.

America may be responsible to world's all evils as per popular propaganda, but I have seen many positive sides of Americans as well. The part of America where I live is somewhat better educated and is ready to give back to the world. Adoption from poor families from different part of the world is one of them. I have seen many adopted children in the neighborhood in past 3 years. I know couple of Indian girls who are adopted to American families. These girls are getting education in best private school as well as learning Bharatnatyam. Their adoptive parents are going all the length to provide some glimpse of the culture to these children of their country of birth. This quality is at least appreciable and I wish more and more orphan children get home in the family who are loving and nurturing and who are trying their best to provide rich experience to these children.

Coming back to the couple where we started this story, I recently saw them with another 3 month old daughter. They were beaming with happiness on the new addition in the their family. Boys were also very possessive of their sister and was coming to see what she is doing again and again taking time away from play in the sand-box. There may be many negative issues associated with adoption in general, but it is important to highlight and raise positive aspects of adoptions more.

Finally, as per this book adoption affects 60% of Americans. Well, that's a big number by any standard. It at least seem so looking at my neighborhood. May this phenomenon continue to spread everywhere as we need more and more such parents in this world to help spread positiveness of life.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Raksha-Bandhan in 21st Century

My 5 year old daughter performed everything which was told to her for the Rakhsha-Bandhan day. She put "Haldi", "Kumkum" and "Chawal" on her 2 year old brother's forehead and then put sweet on his mouth before tying the Rakhi on his right hand. Then she demanded that he should do the same for her and tie the Rakhi on her hand as well. She don't understand why only brother is supposed to protect/support her. Being elder she thinks the opposite and she understands that she is stronger then him and actually she is the one who is protecting/supporting him many times. What a wonderful idea!!! So her brother did the same and tie the Rakhi on her hand. Rakhi in its old form doesn't make any sense in today's world where brother and sister both can be capable of supporting each other. The main idea is a strong bond between them. Since in old times, it was the sister who needed protection and support more often, it did make sense to tie the Rakhi on brother's hand and in exchange brother promised to protect and support the sister whenever she needed it in her life. Now in 21st century, when woman is more empowered and can do the same for her brother if needed, tying Rakhi in sister's hand makes this wonderful festival of brother and sister bonding more relevant and beautiful. And we did skipped exchanging money part as I think it is not relevant to the spirit of Raksha Bandhan.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Inspiring story of an outstanding woman

This is a story of an outstanding woman Janet Rowley who has received America's highest civilian national award for 2009 "Presidential Medal of Freedom". Her decades of work in cancer research established that cancer is genetic disease and provided ways for more precise detection and treatment for the disease. While reading her story it is hard to ignore the fact that she stayed at home after getting medical degree while working part time to raise her 4 children before finding her way back to the scientific research. Her story is inspiring and intriguing. At the age of 84, she still drives her bicycle to her work and continues to work for understanding the mechanism and cure of cancer better. Here is the link of the story for anyone who wants to know more about her.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Life style and life expentancy for Indians

I visited a Hindu temple in my city yesterday. One of the striking thing you note when you visit Indian temple or Indian market in USA is elderly women and men in their 60s walking crippled or with the support of a stick or relative. This is in striking contrast where average American population at this age group seem to be very healthy and active. They go for swimming and gym regularly and care for their own health at much greater extent then average Indians do. Even average American children seem to be more active and aware in sports as compared to Indian population who pushes for academic excellence at the expense of sports and play activities for children. Many of my Indian friends agree with these observations.

While digging in the internet, I found a data chart of average life expectancy of different countries. Life expectancy is a measure of quality of life for people in that country. You can see that India is doing very poorly on the data sheet and is at 145th place amongst the countries. No, don't tell me that because of great Indian family system we don't need to think about our own health. This is crap. We have huge poor population who don't have excess to healthy food and good health care, so the average low life expectancy. I don't know what is the life expectancy of Indian middle class, but my guess is that it is also not very high as compared to average Indian population. The major reason of low life expectancy is life style (combination of fatty and oily food with low intake of fruits and vegetable combined with low level of exercise) as well as lack of quality health care in India. I don't know the data, but looking at the amount of Indians who need support at the temple, I was wondering if there is a big difference in data of middle class Indians in India and average Indian population abroad? Which is the dominant factor to affect longevity, life style or quality health care system? Maybe I need more research to reach any conclusion, but one thing is sure, we have a long way to go...

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Welcome to Tatvi in this blog forum

Tatvi, an assistant professor of physical science in one of the elite institute joins today on this forum. Together we hope to create interesting discussion around academia and life in general. Welcome aboard Tatvi!!!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

summer break

These days its hard to write anything due to various summer related activities, so blogging is more sporadic. Once summer is over, I will be able to write more regularly. Here is a beautiful evening picture of a boat in the lake Michigan.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Feynmann and his Charisma

Every physics student at some point of time gets in love with Richard Feynman and his lecture series on Physics. Here is a good news for Feynman fans, Microsoft has launched the video series of messenger lectures series online with the new research website Project Tuva free for public to enjoy the beauty of physics being told beautifully. You will need to install Microsoft's new browser silverlight though in order to watch these videos. Go enjoy it!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Encyclopedia of Magnetic Resonance is online

This is exciting news for magnetic resonance (NMR and EPR) community that Encyclopedia of Magnetic Resonance is available online. Encyclopedia has great introductory articles on almost all topics in the field of solid state NMR, liquid state NMR, MRI and EPR, and is a great resource for everyone in the field. here is the link.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Playgrounds for children

Whenever I go to India to visit my family in a sleepy cute town in central part of India, I miss a simple, safe and secure playground in the neighborhood where children can play. Playing and physical activity for children is very important, and it should not be ignored. As population have been exploded over the years, all the open places where children could play freely are gone and converted into buildings. The only park which city offers is often overcrowded and is not sufficient for the big population. This is something society can take care with or without the help of Government.



There can be small play places build in a small space something like in the yard of an apartment buildings, or any other free small space. Schools will not like it, but their play grounds also should be open for public since they receive financial aid from the government which is public money. This is just an idea but I hope our children can have access to more safe playgrounds within their vicinity where they can run and jump without being fear of getting into coming car, scooter or bicycle.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Random Musings

One of my old student (lets call him N here) wrote back to me after reading some of the posts. Its always interesting to hear back from old students and know them more. Now when they are more wise and mature, its interesting to talk with them while connecting old links. here are some of his random thoughts and my responses;

I think you must have seen Generations of young Mind getting Shaped, that were filled with Dreams and hope --- ( read BSc 1 st year) ... and going down the lane.....
You must have felt in , seen it , experienced, at times have felt helpless as well.
Some went ahead and touched the sky. I do not know how you have coped with it.


Dear N, this is the part and parcel of being a teacher. You see students coming and going, and there are all kinds of students in any given classroom, some very focused and some have hard time sitting there. Sometimes you get attached to them and pour your heart in their learning and sometime you just watch them from distance. Some students comes back again and again and tell what and how they are doing and some never return, but at the same rate there are always new students coming in. So life goes on...

I do not know how you coped with the Uninspiring Surroundings and people around and there were many.

This is a bigger challenge of working in state college in India where there is hefty politics and rigid bureaucracy. When I felt saturated with surrounding, I went out to explore new dimensions.

For me it was Unraveling of the Imperfect World and a Big Sense of Disappointment from what I expected it to be as part of GROWING UP. Suddenly the Cushy life of School and College was replaced by REALITIES that we live under.

I guess this strikes to most people when they go out of known boundaries of school and college and go to real world. In real world, you need different skills for survival then what you need to go through school and college. This phenomenon is very common. School creates a very safe and comfortable environment for growing up children, but it also isolate them from real life challenges. That's why when you are old and wise, you still look back and cherish the moments you lived in school. However beautiful that environment is, you need to get out of it at some point and face the real world and its challenges.

The most interesting thing in your blog was that I noted was that you made effort to
remember your Student's name and that was Really a shocked I must Admit, that
how even one of the Fearless used to Fear you out of Respect.
It was fun to see this.


Following this comment, I added one more point on my previous post Effective Teaching, that is Authority. yes, as a teacher I need to have balance, where students can come freely to me with their problems but at the same time I need to have authority in the class to avoid unnecessary disturbances inside my classroom which were common in our college during my time there.

It is always fun to hear back from people whom you knew decade ago as a student. Come back again N, with more comments and questions!!!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Writing: An Important Skill for Scietific Career

There was an interesting comment yesterday on the most popular page of this blog How to enter in science and engineering Ph. D. program in American university. This comment is worth a separate post, as it talks about an important skill needed for scientific career. The reader said:

Writing is intensely involved in all stages of masters and PhD studies starting with the application essay "Why PhD/MBA/MS". Then come assignments, papers, presentations and several other challenges for an effective communication.

Writing is an important skill for many profession, but when it comes to scientific research, it becomes vital. You need to communicate your science in an effective way at all stages of your career. Publications and presentations are integral part of this profession. Presenting your scientific results clearly and beautifully is a skill which comes with time and practice, so it is important for anyone who is planning to go for Ph. D. to start spending some time mastering this skill. Reading all forms of literature is first step towards writing.

A useful discussion on writing dissertation can be found here.

Indian education system still don't put enough emphasis on writing skill as part of the curriculum at any stage. This is a serious drawback in our system where all emphasis is placed on memorizing the known facts and reproducing it as precisely as possible without any variation. Writing at any stage needs serious thinking which should be encouraged at the school and college level.

Finally to read a beautiful piece of writing which I read yesterday, go to this link.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Effective Teaching

I was reading a wonderful post by PalMD about hope in hopeless situations. It narrates stories to explain that how effective communication is important for a doctor when telling a patient about their health conditions. Although I am not a doctor and never had life and death situation in my work place, but the rule applies in teaching profession as well. You can easily motivate or demotivate a student from the way you talk. He comments

To be an effective physician, you must also be an actor of sorts; not in the sense of pretense, but in the way you pay attention to everything your words and body do, and how your audience reacts.

and I was thinking about the similarity with teaching. Many times after a very satisfying classroom experience, I used to feel like an actor who preformed well. I have been told multiple times that I am a good teacher, and I always felt that I was good in creating mood in class and setting up stage, making initial steps even before starting to teach anything. Once students are interested and motivated, it is much easier to teach them complex subject and teaching becomes a lot more fun. Here are some simple rules I used to follow while teaching, for anyone who is planning for a teaching career either in school, college or university;

- Prepare thoroughly. There is no short cut to this. Students respect to the teacher who has good grasp of their subject. Also, if you are well prepared, it is much easier to pay attention to student's reaction in the class and solve their problems in understanding the course material.

- Whether it is board teaching or power point presentation, your pace of teaching should be matched with majority of the class level.

- Effective communication is a two way process. Students should be able to approach to you with their questions without any hesitation.

- Know your students. As a teacher, you don't need to know all students personally but it helps if you know their first name and about their interest level in the subject you are teaching. I used to spent first few weeks trying to remember names of students, and it was very helpful throughout the course. It makes personal connection and instead of teaching mob, you starts teaching individuals. I have seen dramatic rise in awareness in students once they knew that I know them. It was also much easier to talk with them during the class if I noticed that someone is actually looking puzzled or distracted.

- Be comfortable and face your students all the time. Most ineffective teachers are those who face board or presentation screen all the time without making eye contact to students and without paying attention to reactions of students. Many times students don't say anything, but it is much easier to guess from their faces if they are following you or not.

- Authority. Yes, you should have full authority in your class. It should reflect from your body language and voice.

- and finally you really have to enjoy the fact that with your efforts you are bringing joy of a subject to your students. If you don't enjoy it, students sense it very fast and everything is lost.

Teaching is fun if you take joy in leaning of your students.

Reforms in Higher education in India: Yashpal Committee Report

I have been reading with interest Yashpal Committee report (link) on reform of higher education system in India. It is very broad and does a wonderful job of identifying gray areas in Indian higher education system. It also suggests ways to improve the system. Since I have been through state college and state university as a student and as a teacher, I am little skeptical about the final outcome of the suggestions. As with any initiative, implementing of any idea remains a problem in India. But lets keep it aside and try to highlight few key points of the report. It says

We are also convinced that Indian higher education as a whole cannot go far without our paying equal attention to the State universities. They are also Indian universities and a large fraction our students will continue to come from them. Many of them are as good as our Central institutions and should be given a chance to fly. We should think seriously about the manner in which the motivation and resources are enhanced all over the country.

State universities and colleges are the most neglected places in Indian higher education systems. We can only hope that they will be given their due place in the system.

Undergraduate education in India is mostly done through affiliated colleges which report strongly discourages. It suggest two ways to improve the situation, first, to initiate undergraduate education in university itself, second, to encourage colleges to become full fledged university. I would like to see one more suggestion in the report or as an implementation, to encourage all college and state university faculty to visit IITs and IISc during summer for enhancing their skill in teaching and research and if possible to go abroad for some period. Without such exposure state colleges and university faculties don't have role model of what they can achieve within the system. There should be merit based scholarships which promotes such measures and give chance for people from small place to see how an institute should be for scholarly output.

it further highlights the problem of bureaucratic administration in Indian higher education system in India;

Finally, we would share with you the prevalent feeling in the universities that there is too much inspection, interference and delay in their dealings with State and Central Governments. I am sure universities and colleges should themselves share some blame in this regard, but we need to move away from this blame game. We have to devise somewhat different, more efficient, funding management system. We have made some recommendations in this regard. We would recommend that universities should become self-regulating partners in managing the overall education system. Continuous monitoring and inspection cause delays and lead to corruption. Some suggestions in this regard have also been made.”

If you are part of IIT or IISc, you probably don't have idea about bureaucratic control a faculty has to go through in state university and colleges in India. Excessive control hinders any real progress in the system. Any bright and enthusiastic person either will get frustrated and give up, or leave if possible.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Reading Suggestions for 4-5 year old Children

Here are some reading suggestions for 4-5 year old which are fun:

The Cat in the Hat
Do Like a Duck Does
Marshmallow
Green Egg and Ham
Kami and the Yaks
Animal Nursery tales
Stories from Panchtantra (The version I have is in very poor English, nevertheless these stories are interesting concepts for a 5 year old)
Can You Tell me How to Get to Sesame Street?
INSECTS
Sharks
The Seven Chinese Sisters
Fish is Fish
Hoover's Bride
One Grain of Rice
365 Penguins
Make Way for Ducklings
Blueberries for Sal
Millions of Cats
The Ugly Duckling
Puss in Boot
The Enormous Turnip
The Classic Treasury of Aesop's Fables
The Llama who had no pajama (added on 15th Oct) - we recently got this one and it has collection of funny poems

Enjoy, if you have a 5 year old in your home.