Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Times They Are A-Changing

We have all done our bit of monkeying around in school and though I was the kinds that other kids made fun of because I didn't monkey around much, I still did get my bit of scolding and even a slap from a teacher (I know!) for fooling around. I remember once we irritated our teacher so much that she said she wont take a class for us again. It took a lot of persuading and cajoling to get her in our class again.

In my second year at IIT, we had a rather young and cute looking English teacher who was very aware of the fact that she was young and cute looking :). So one evening when she was taking a class she suddenly looks up and says "Who was it?", we are all stunned, we all look at each other clueless as to what it was that had made her rosy cheeks redder with embarrassment or anger. There was silence for a while, pin-drop and awkward silence, suddenly we knew who did what and we broke into a peel of laughter. It happened again, "it" was a tweet (of a bird. Boy! These days you got to clarify) which the teacher mistook for a boy whistling at her. For a couple of classes we could all notice her a little embarrassed and red cheeked at the incident.
Time passes, we grow with the bittersweet memories of the past, laughing at our mistakes. Sometimes we learn from them and many a times we can't fix what we broke. And sometimes, tables turn, the pestering kid of yesterday will be pestered by his own kids tomorrow. As for me, I get to teach a bunch of imps.

I am a part of an NGO which aims to bring awareness to the society by teaching the younger generation about their rights and responsibilities. The course is wonderfully designed for 8th class students as a no credit course with a year end project. The project itself involves creating real solutions to real life problems like Garbage disposals, mismanaged road network etc. Now it all sounds fun, at least to me it does but only till I enter the class, for once I do, the ruckus that those small devils create bring back those fleeting memories of the teachers we so cruelly tormented and Bob Dylan's old song...

The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin'.
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin'.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

IIT & Rickshawala

This was an interesting mail forward I got. Not very sure of the authenticity, but definitely fun and worth a read.

There were two rickshaw-walas vying for our business, when we wanted to go to Sankat-Mochan temple in Benaras. I agreed to go with the one, who was about 20 years of age, seemed like a regular young rickshaw-wala, but I found something interesting about him. I was not proved wrong.
He wanted Rs 50, we said Rs 30. We settled for Rs 40.
Here are the highlights of the conversation that ensued, while we rode the rickshaw:
"Aap kahan se aaye hain?"

"Bijness, ya kaam karte hain?"
"Naukri karte hain."
"Internet mein."
"Humara bhi kuch wahin kaam lagwa dijiye."
I just chuckled.
"Main try kar raha hoon engineering padhne kee. Achchi naukri lag jaayegi tab."
"Achcha?" I asked a little interested.
"Haan, delhi mein Guru Gobind Singh Indraprashta University mein engineering ke liye apply kiya hai. Achchi hai woh university."
"Haan, achchi hai", I agreed.
"Haan, kal hee maine JEE bhi diya."
"JEE matlab, IIT ka?"
"Haan, Joint Entrance Examination" he pronounced it perfectly.Just to make it clear to me what JEE stood for. "Mushkil hota hai exam."
"Haan, 2 saal toh log padhte hee hain uske liye, asaan nahin hai."
"Delhi mein Akaash coaching institute hain na?"
"Haan, hai."
"Aapne kya padhai kee?"
"Main engineer hoon, aur phir MBA bhi kiya."
"Kahan se engineer?"
"IIT Delhi se."
He swung back, surprised, a little delighted, and smiled. "Ok, aapke liye Rs 30."
Swati and I laughed.
Swati asked "Padhai kab karte they IIT ke liye?"
"Bas, rickshaw chalaane ke baad raat mein". Then he added
"Kismein engineering kee aapne?"

"Toh aapki Chemistry toh badi strong hogi."
"Nahin, aisa nahin hai."
He continued "Yeh bataiye....jab Mendeleev ne Periodic Table banaya tha tab kitne elements they usmein?"
Now it was my turn to get surprised. He was quizzing me. I said "Shayad 70-80."

"No, 63" he said sharply. "Kaunse element kee electronegativity highest hai?"
Swati was laughing, and I didnt try too hard and said "Pata nahin."
"Flourine", he said confidently. Without a break he asked,"Kaunse element kee electron affinity highest hoti hai?"
Now I was laughing too and said "Nahin pata"
"Chlorine. toh aapka kaunsa subject strong tha?" clearly having proven that my chemistry wasn't a strong point.

"Physics", I said.
"Achha, Newton's second law of motion kya hai?"
I thought I knew this one. "F=ma", I said.
"Physics is not about formula, it is understanding concept!", he reprimanded me in near perfect English. "Tell me in statement"
I was shocked. Swati continued to laugh.
I said "ok, Newtons second law, er....was...."

" 'Was' nahin, 'is'!Second law abhi bhi hai!" he snapped at my use of 'was'.
Surely, my physics wasn't impressing him either. "Yaad nahin, I said"
"Force on an object is directly proportional to the mass of the object and the acceleration of the object", he said it in near perfect English. "Aapne M.Tech nahin kiya?"
"Nahin, MBA kiya"
"MBA waale toh sirf paisa kamana chahte hain, kaam nahin karte."
"Nahin, aisa nahin hai, paisa kamaane ke liye kaam karna padta hai." Didn't think too highly of me apparently anymore.
In a minute we reached our destination. We got off and I told him that he must and should definitely study more, and that I thought he was sharp as hell. He took only Rs 30, smiled and began to leave. I got my camera out and said "Raju, ek photo leta hoon tumhari". He waved me off, dismissed the idea and rode off before I could say anything more....leaving me feeling high and dry like a spurned lover.

Damn, what a ride that was! India is changing, and changing fast.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Cause and effect

I love economics, that does not go on to say or even hint that I understand economics or the complex and lengthy policies that FED/RBI comes up with every now and then. But I do find it absolutely interesting to see the cause and effect of seemingly unrelated things. How we react to changes around us. How a seemingly simple .01% hike in interest rates change our long term and short term goals. And more interestingly how the basics of economics apply to our everyday decisions.

There is this very famous principle of return on investment, you give an orange to a guy, he will eat it with a relish; give him two, he will love it more but give him three, he probably wont eat the third one so happily and the fourth one he will probably leave. Basically it says that you cant keep giving the same incentive/reward and expect more and more output from it. There is another one which I like, this one talks about the counter-intuitive greedy approach, where a group of people all competing for something try to get the best for themselves, but as a group they lose as they don't see that the equilibrium though slower than the optimal is best for everyone. Simple example, there is a narrow lane, all want to get to the other side, the best is that they form a queue and all can go smoothly if one of them decides to be greedy and jump the line, they will all get stuck in a jam that could take them much much longer than being in the equilibrium state where they take more time than the best(jumping the queue - 0 time).

Anyway, I was reminded of this because of a study I came across today, it basically talks about food price index and the riots around the world. Found it pretty interesting, knowing that a behaviour as abstract as rioting is related to something measurable and controllable as Food price index gives me hope that we can create a world with lesser riots and more peace.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The most stunnning illusion EVER

I am sure we have all seen numerous illusions but this one so darn stunning that I literally let out a shriek seeing this one.

Look at squares A and B. They are the same shade of gray. I am sure you wont believe this, I didn't, well take a printout, cut it into 4 pieces, take the squares A & B side by side and see for yourself. Lazier ones can use mspaint/gimp to see the magic.

Brightness and color can have powerful effects on perception. In this illusion created by vision scientist Edward H. Adelson of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Our brain does not perceive the true brightness and color of each square but instead determines the brightness and color of A and B by comparison with the squares surrounding them

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Edward de Bono and String Theory

Every now and then I am sure we hear of analogies that seem to make absolutely no co-relation to the topic of discussion to anyone other than the analogizer [;)]. I once had a friend, lets call her XXX who used to boil down allllllll things known to mankind to a sambar wada problem [XXX if you are reading this, I am not talking about you, its about some other friend who has that sameproblem interesting habit ;)]. We have a long interview process for a candidate and we sit together to decide if the candidate is the right choice. She goes - "He is an idliwala and we want to make samosas!". We have a week long sales meeting trying to see if a product makes sense for India market, she says: "We are trying to sell idli in Chandni Chowk" [which in all probabilities meant that its not going to sell ;)]. I could go and on with how everything from string theory to making tea can all boil down to idli sambhar problem but then it wont leave anything for your imaginations :). It sometimes gets entertaining to watch an analogizer stretch his analogy thin to demonstrate that indeed it does make sense.

The other day in a casual office chat AR says "Retail business is like doctors". No worries... I didn't make head or tail of it either [however if you did, read on to make sure that you got it right and if you DID get it right, Hats off to you for the lateral thoughts (as an aside, the same AR just helped me remember the phrase "lateral thinking" by asking me to google Edward de Bono!)]. Anyways, what he meant to say was that professionally unless you are well known as a Doctor or a Retailer, you dont make a lot of money. He went on to explain the analogy; A small retailer cannot make a lot of profit unless people know him, at which point he can go on to charge a premium for the stuff he has, a smaller retailer needs to offer the stuff at the lowest price he can afford to attract customers. NOW do you see the analogy? Well.. honestly I dont :) :)

On the brighter side however, these analogies truly show how wonderfully human mind works. Relating two seemingly very different things to better understand the problem at hand, to see a pattern in the chaos is a quality of a beautiful mind.

PS: If you are thinking how the image of the brain relates to the post. Well.. Its not about relativity.. is it?