Saturday, November 8, 2008

On spin offs and 75% attendance

Recently, while going through the websites of foreign universities, I came across an interesting term called spin off. In almost every department of every good university's website, a list of 2 or 3 spin off companies is given. From what I gathered, this term implies a tech-company which got started by a successful project undertaken by one of the students or faculty of that university. An example of this would be This is a spin-off company started by a group of MIT students and it makes very animal like robots which can be useful for a lot of purposes.

This led me to wonder whether it is easy to start a spin-off company from IITD. The answer I reached was, not surprisingly, no. After coming to IIT, the first thing I noticed that there was a desire to excel in the students in one field or the other. They would go for night outs for their plays and dance practices even if that meant missing classes or getting a low CG, because in IIT, that was their forte and they didn't want to give it up. Now let's say I have an idea for a project and I will have to spend as much time as I can in making it a reality. I decide to skip the dumb classes which are a pure waste of time and work on my project. But no, there exists a rule which says I need to have 75% attendance in every course if i wish to pass it. The 75% attendance rule is the worst thing that can happen to a person who wants to concentrate his/her energies on anything other than getting a good CG. I can't register for less courses because it would be a sin not to complete my degree in 4 years. I had once thought of completing my degree in 5 years, so that I could do it in a relaxed way and read as many novels and take as many trips as I want in that time. Apparently, it's a bad idea or atleast that's what I was told.

The administration is busy inventing new ways on how to make the 75% attendance rule stricter. I even heard there was a proposal of changing the 75% attendance rule to 90%. C'mon guys. If you really want us to attend classes, get good profs, make the classes interesting and make the students realize that what you are teaching has some practical importance. Scaring the shit out of people by telling them that CGPA is everything may make the students attend classes and mug up for courses but it cannot make them interested in a course or learn anything. Even if they do learn something, do we really want a generation of professionals who hate their job? I'm sure the IIT students have lots of interesting ideas that can lead to a lot of good spin-off's, which will also make IIT rich and improve the infrastructure and the quality of education. But our system needs a serious overhaul if that has to happen and 75% attendance rule is the first thing which has to be done with

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Should I drop out?

I'm frustrated with academics now. I hate getting up at 7:00 every morning to go to a class that is really boring and also, I hardly understand anything. My passion for physics and engineering is going away slowly. If any IIT aspirant is reading this, then you better be prepared 'coz if you are not interested in what you're studying right now, then I can assure you that you will definitely not be interested after coming to IIT. Even if you are interested there is a good chance that you will lose your interest, unless it is really really strong. If you do lose your interest then the only way of continuing in IIT is either you forget your passions, accept that this is what you'll have to do if you want a high-paying job, or you just try to get good grades by putting in the least effort, copying practical readings, taking chill courses (which give good grades).

I'm not doing any of that right now, well, I have copied readings once in a while but I don't wanna continue with that. I think maybe I should drop out, but it's a tough decision, because I don't know what I will do after it. Would I go to another college once again? If yes, then which one? If no, then what will I do after it? And what about the hostel life and my friends. I have made such good friends here and I enjoy living in the hostel so much that it would be very difficult to leave all of this for an uncertain path where I may not meet people who become such good friends and connect with me so well. I do realize that in life if you want to do something, you need to take risks but I would be much more willing to take them if I took them for pursuing something I am really passionate about. Else, it would be more of stupidity than risk. So for now on, I think I'm gonna continue with IIT and attend 8:00 classes all 5 weekdays and try to listen in class :( But I am trying to find my interest and I hope to find something in which I'm so interested that I can quit IIT for it

Monday, July 21, 2008

Wanted: Cheap Coffee houses

Coffee houses are cool. They are coming up in droves in Delhi, NCR and other metros but there seems to be one problem with all of them, they are bloody expensive. Coffee houses are supposed to be places where the young can chill out, relax, have coffees and hang around with their friends. But, generally buying a Rs. 50 coffee is not acceptable to the average college going student. Agreed, they have excellent coffee, but I believe the same coffee can be served at half the price and still the profits can be covered up by the increase in volumes. A very small percentage of college going crowd prefers to hang out in Coffee houses like Barista or Cafe Coffee day. They're generally filled with the people who are earning. C'mon guys. Coffee houses should be young, McDonalds doesn't sell it's burgers at the same price as it sells in U.S. or Europe. We desperately need coffee houses catering to the average Indian consumer.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

It's good not knowing

This world is a beautiful place. Even though there's crap happening all around but as they say, beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. It's just the way you see things that make them good or bad. One of the things that I find really amazing in the universe is that you don't know what's about to happen. If someone, by chance has the gift of finding out what is going to happen in the future, I suspect he would be a very sad person. Even the most pessimistic person in this world is not 100% sure that bad stuff is going to happen to him. There's still a little chance that something good can happen. Although, that is another thing that his pessimism will not allow him to appreciate it.

It's just good, not knowing what's about to happen. It's happening to a lot of people around the world everyday - you think that you have life all figured out, when it suddenly strikes you in the face and something totally unexpected suddenly happens. It just tells you that no one has life completely figured out. Everyone is surprised one time or the other. That, I feel is beautiful. And I don't think we are supposed to figure out life completely. If we ever do, it would be a sad day in the history of humankind. Although, I think that god would not let that happen. Life can't get too boring. Just believing that whatever shit you're in, you'll get out of it if you believe you can. This is where god is important. God gives so many people the faith that they are gonna come out of shit some day. Even if you have a little bit of optimism to appreciate that happens to you, I think you'll do just fine. As a tribute to Steve Jobs - Stay hungry, stay foolish.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Arushi murder case and the class system

I guess it was 17th or 18th May that the news of Arushi murder case came and had all of us hooked to our television screens or newspapers. The case has aroused a lot of public interest similar to the interest that was shown during the Jessica Lal murder case. I will not go into endlessly criticizing the news channels and the U.P. police as that I feel has been rightly and appropriately done by the print media a lot. I want to talk about an aspect, which I read in an article in one of the daily newspapers by Barkha Dutt. What she wrote was that the "Arushi murder case" has brought out the inherent class system in the Indian people and our print media.

First of all, the name given by the media to this case - Arushi murder case
not Arushi-Hemraj murder case or Noida double murders or something like that. People have almost forgotten that a second murder had taken place that night, and the media does little to remind them. While Arushi's photo is shown almost everyday in daily newspapers, Hemraj's murder seems to garner little attention. This just shows that in our country, if a rich man or a rich man's daughter dies, it is news but if something like this happens to the poor, it is hardly of any consequence. We have almost turned a blind eye to the poor people dying in our country everyday. It's almost as if they don't matter. About 10 days after the murder, 60% of the front page of 'The Times of India' was covered with new developments of the Arushi murder case, a whole article on what Nupur Talwar had to say, and on the bottom of that page, overshadowed by the Arushi murder case was a small article on how 16 gujjars had died in agitation. A friend of mine once told me about an outrageous statement of the Sharia law which goes something like - "The word of a man is equivalent to that of ten women", which essentially means that under Sharia law, if a man says something in court, more than 10 women must contradict him to disprove his statement. There seems to be something like this in India - 100 poor people killed will evoke as much sympathy as 1 rich person.

Even though we're a nation of a billion I still feel that each and everyone of us matters. We all have a right to live. We can't weigh two people on who has more right to live, even if one of them is the Prime minister of India and the other is a poor labourer. As we move towards more civilization and education, we should move to an egalitarian society in true sense. Earlier, people used to be discriminated for no reason at all - women, disabled people, people with diseases, people of "lower castes", etc. The sad fact is that all of that hasn't gone away till now. We talk of being in the 21st century and we are still unable to eliminate the basic prejudices in the minds of our people on baseless premises. I just hope we can move towards a world with more tolerence, more love and a world where hatred almost becomes extinct.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

My thoughts about teaching

I decided to write this to express how I feel about teaching. It's one of the most fun things that a person can do. I feel that besides being one of the most noble professions, it is also one of the most pleasurable (if you are good at it, that is). If you are teaching a topic, it would be safe to assume that you are at a higher level than your students in that topic, i.e. you have more knowledge and/or a better understanding than your students. The first step of teaching is getting to your students' level, thinking and understanding what your students know about that topic and how their minds work. Now, to teach them what you know and they don't, you slowly get them to your level.

For example, if you are teaching physics to a group of students who are studying it for the first time, you can proceed in two ways. A bad teacher will start of with boring and monotonous equations, and by the end of class will have succeeded in conveying to his students that physics is also one of the things which do not have any application in practical life and is just boring theoretical knowledge. A good teacher, however will start by talking about things which all of the students have observed in their lives, by starting to think at their level, and himself becoming just a curious student trying to find out why are things the way they are? Then he could go back in time, to find another curious guy searching for answers after he saw an apple fall and the answers that he got (god knows why it never struck him that his shit always fell down and did not go up or just hover in mid-air). The trick is to make the students curious and interested and make them realize that if they use their own common sense, they will not be wrong.

This is the beauty of teaching. Understanding your students first and then making them understand you. And if they now understand it better than you, then it just proves that you are a good teacher.

Teaching in some ways is similar to writing. Authors who just keep on scribbling whatever comes in their minds and in whichever order do not make good writers or story-tellers, because they just end up giving their own confusions to the reader. To become a good writer, you need to have clarity in your own thoughts and ideas, organize them, and present them in a way such that it forms a clear picture in your readers' mind. This is quite similar to teaching. The aim is to form a clear picture in your students' mind. A professional may know a lot about his/her field of interest, but all good professionals do not make good teachers. This is because what may be obvious to them is not always obvious to their students. They may take a lot of things for granted and assume that their students know them which they may not. And they may go on telling stuff in any order because they understand everything, but if it is not told in the right order, it will form a very garbled picture in the students' mind. If you, however start from what your students already know, proceed in an order so that things are always clear to your students, you will form a very clear picture in your students' mind. And in the process, you end up understanding it much better and with much more clarity yourself. That, I feel is beautiful.

I hope I was able to form a clear picture, of what I wanted to say, in your mind.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Barely passed

I am an IIT student and I just finished my first year. In my last semester in IITD, I had this course called CHL 110 (Transport phenomena). This course was taken by a prof. who made his subject as boring as he could. Although he wasn't a strict prof., but he had what they call an "uncanny knack" to bore students to death. After 2 semesters in IIT, I've realized that 90% of how interesting the course is, depends on the professor who's taking that course. So in the first three classes, I had realized that this was going to be one hell of a boring course. And I think when he taught this course the last time, hardly any students were turning up for the classes. So this time, he had made a rule that in the final evaluation, there would be 5 marks out of 100 for the attendance - a student having 100% attendance will get 5 marks and a student having 75% will get 0 (and one having 87.5% will get 2.5 and so on...), and if you have less than 75%, sorry dude, you'll have to repeat the course.

Well initially I made my efforts to attend as many classes as I could, but then they started getting torturous. And moreover the class was from 4-5 pm. There were also 2 lectures from 2-3 pm and 3-4 pm of Mathematics and Physics respectively. Now I had missed a couple of these 2-3 and 3-4 lectures so I wasn't following anything in them. So eventually I started missing these classes, getting my attendance signed by someone else (I have taught so many people to sign my name that it scares me). And this time was a great one for an afternoon nap. The problem was that although I slept at 2 and planned to get up by 3.45, these plans never worked. I always got up after 4. In the CHL class, there was no scope for proxy as the prof. called out every student's name and by the end of 2 weeks, he knew almost every student by name and whether he/she was present or not. So till the 2nd minor, I had missed 11 classes (we could only miss 14 in total) and hence could only miss 3 in the rest of semester. But I made a huge effort to get my lazy ass to the class after minor 2 and by the end of classes, I had missed 12 classes out of 14, just one after minor 2. I got 0.77 marks out of 5 for attendance. Also, in the marking scheme, the prof. had put aside 10 marks out of 100 for assignments, which at the end of the semester I realized that he hadn't given any. When I asked him about these assignments, it turned out that these 10 marks were for participation in the tutorial class. Participation?? What was this, 6th class English period or what? I hadn't given a hoot about participating in the tutorial as I didn't know anything. He had once even remarked to me - "What's the point of coming to a tutorial if you are not interested in doing anything?". I would have liked to ask him the point of keeping marks for attendance but I didn't. This is the thing about Indian education system - 13 years in school teach you to shut up in front of your teacher even if he/she's talking crap because they can make your life hell after that. So anyways, I got 1 out of 10 in the "assignments" (I had once done a question on board in the tutorial, and that was the only time I had participated) and my PMT (Pre-major total) was 13.94 out of 65, which meant that I needed atleast 16.5 out of 35 in the major for passing (30%).

The day of the major came. I didn't sleep all night except for just 30 minutes. Not like the students who have studied everything and are anxious whether they'll do well and hence can't get any sleep, but like the students who have hardly studied anything before this and one night before the exam, their ass is on fire as it's do or die for them. If it wasn't for that fire I wouldn't have studied anything for the major like I didn't for the minors. So I did study. This was the last major. I had studied a bit before the start of the majors and worked really hard the last night. I didn't even get time to eat breakfast. The major was from 8-10 am. It was of 30 marks. Fighting hunger and sleep, I started to read the questions. There were four questions. I needed to attempt atleast 20 marks to be on the safe side. For the first half hour, I wasn't able to do anything. Then I went out to have some water and take a break. I came back after 2 minutes and started doing the paper. It was going well and in the end I finally felt that I had done a decent amount. Decent enough to pass (or so I thought).

The results came. I had already failed in the Physics and Maths courses (the ones in which were coinciding with my afternoon nap). And incidentally, I was 75 % sure that I would pass in Maths. I was desperate to pass in CHL. One of my friends was in the insti at the time when the papers were being shown and he went for seeing the papers. He called me and told me that I had scored 14 out of 30. Now since the PMT+major was of 95, I scaled them to 100 and guess what? My total turned out to be 29.4. I felt really bad. Failed in 3 courses out of 6. But suddenly I realized that there was still a hope. I scaled my major marks which were out of 30 to 35 and added that to my PMT. The total came out to be 30.27. Now I wasn't sure how he would scale the marks. I told my friend to ask him and he said that he would scale the major marks to 35 and add that to the PMT. I was thrilled. I hadn't been so happy since a very long time. I went around the hostel shouting, "Main pass ho gaya, Main pass ho gaya". Even though I would have to repeat the other 2 courses, I was really happy that I didn't have to repeat this one, and attend the torturous lectures once again. Even after scoring 1/10 in assignments and 0.77/5 in assignments I had passed. I didn't have any guilt for not studying this course properly because it just sucked so much. I was just plain and simple happy that I had passed.