Sunday, October 17

Aussies-Deadlines-Ponnappa-ToI. Change.

Australians, notwithstanding the unrelated fact that they are bad losers, have implemented the two-innings-in-a-limited-overs-match format, the advertisement for which proclaimed the beaten-to-death cliche of "the only constant is change".

Ofcourse, things change. For starters, I am writing again. I am not 22M anymore, as the badge on my blog currently claims. I am 23M and firmly on track to hit 24M soon. I don't even stay in Chennai, fortunately or unfortunately. I stay in Bombay now, fortunately. I am not reachable on Facebook, as I was for most of the last year or two in college. My roommates have changed. I am earning - that is a welcome change. I am not my own boss anymore - I have a real boss, one with flesh and blood. The deadlines are not flexible, infact, they are as good as engraved in stone. Most of my clothes are clean as are my utensils. Oh, I have utensils too. Women around me cannot be referred to as chicks, females or girls anymore. They have to be referred to as women - sometimes out of compulsive polity and other times due to the organisational policies. Bunking the 8 'o clock classes is not an option because there are NO 8'o clock classes anymore, there are only 8'o clock reviews, the kind your boss would not appreciate if you miss. On another note, 8 AM in India is not just 8 AM in India anymore - it is 10.30 AM in Singapore and 3.30 AM in London. And it is 15 minutes away from the first daily submission routine, at 8.15 AM.

Apologies are now apols, presentations are now presos, "dude" has now become "mate", and "Fuck you" has now become "Sure, Sir". Change can be good and intoxicating. This change, from the wilderness of a student life to the almost artificial, perhaps farticifial, and forced-discipline of corporate life has been good and intoxicating, both, and promises to be better.

That India could get 101 medals in any sporting event is a change that is hard to believe. Much like the fact that they let someone like a Kalmadi take charge, in the first place. And when at it, Lalit Bhanot, too. [Lalit Bhanot and Kalmadi warrant an entire blog, not just blogpost, on them - they are a writer's dream]. The Games did much good. The opening ceremony, the unprecedented medals tally, performances in track and field, young sportsmen from the lesser known places of the country, the amazing victory in 4X400m women's relay, Saina Nehwal and Ashwini Ponnappa, the closing ceremony - indicate a welcome and a long, long overdue change.

One thing, though, has not changed and that is the ever-so abysmal quality of reporting by M/s Times of India. That their headline article could actually say "2 parts to Hindus, 1 part to Muslims" - in big bold letters on a day that could have left the nation torn just goes to show that someone very high up in that organisation is either deranged or just plainly incapable of being at the helm of the mouthpiece of a progressive nation. Somethings, after all, never change.

A post on the blog after such a long break warrants an explanation on the underlying motivation. Much thanks to Archana for pepping me all the time, to mom for candidly admitting that she missed my blog, to sister for blatantly admitting that she missed my blog and to a few others who did mail and "facebook-message" me prompting me to write. What tipped it off, though, was a rather unexpected fan mail (Fan mail!!) from Divish, from IITD. Thanks, Divish. :-)

Saturday, March 27

Wiki - the super tripper

On this Friday night at exactly 3AM when I was incessantly clicking the 'random article' link on Wikipedia, I realised the immense trip value embedded in it.

I started off with the Kardashev Scale -

"The Kardashev scale is a method of measuring a civilization's level of technological advancement... The scale has three designated categories called Type I, II, and III. These are based on the amount of usable energy a civilization has at its disposal, and the degree of space colonization. In general terms, a Type I civilization has achieved mastery of the resources of its home planet, Type II of its solar system, and Type III of its galaxy."

Then came Mr. Arthur C Clarke, with his three laws of prediction:

  1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
  2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
  3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
And his fourth law:

For every expert there is an equal and opposite expert.

Parallel to this is Gibson's law:

For every PhD there is an equal and opposite PhD.

In between somewhere, I jumped to "Star-lifting":

Star lifting is any of several hypothetical processes by which a highly advanced civilization (at least Kardashev-II) could remove a substantial portion of a star's matter in a controlled manner for other uses.

Finagle's law:
Anything that can go wrong, will—at the worst possible moment

Remember Mr. Murphy?

Hanlon's Law:
Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.

Sturgeon's law (and without meaning disrespect, infact as a matter of offering my respects, I think Mr. Sturgeon was a seasoned stoner):

The first is: "Nothing is always absolutely so".

The second, and more famous, of these adages is: "Ninety percent of everything is crud." (The last word is typically misquoted as "crap".)

Occam's Razor, now famous thanks to Dr. Gregory House: entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity.... Occam's razor may be alternatively phrased as pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate ("plurality should not be posited without necessity").

Hofstader's law (he could probably be the only guy who beats Sturgeon):

Hofstadter's Law:

It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter's Law.

And to end this post, the Drake's equation:

"It is an equation to organize our guesses about the potential number of extraterrestrial civilizations in our galaxy, the Milky Way. It is used in the fields of exobiology and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI)."

And well, just as a reassurance, the Mediocrity principle:

The assumptions of mediocrity principle is the notion in philosophy of science that there is nothing special about humans or the Earth.

Saturday, February 27

That one blemish in Sachin's career

At the very outset, I wish to reassert my loyalties towards the country. Although, I would not mind Rahul Gandhi becoming the Prime Minster of India in the near future and would like to see Pakistani players being included in IPL, I am NOT a traitor. In fact, although I cannot remember very clearly what was my opinion on the Sonia-Gandhi-was-not-a-born-Indian-but-wants-to-be-PM issue, I think I would not really have opposed it tooth and nail.

But I am not a traitor and neither should my opinions in this post be used to judge my patriotic feelings.

That being said, let us talk about Sachin Tendulkar. Undoubtedly, he is the man of the moment. He is the favorite son of the nation and has successfully and deservedly captured the imagination of a billion minds. What he could do at 36 is a testimony to the character of the human being within Sachin. Never the one to be involved in a controversy (unless it's the Shiv Sena, which harps on dragging celebrities into controversies) nor the one who's commitment and love towards the game can be doubted, Sachin's knock of 200* at Gwalior is a stamping of his supremacy on the game. This knock has most certainly taken Sachin into a league of his own, perhaps a league into which even the all time great Sir Don Bradman would have struggled to make it.

The only milestone I'd love to see Sachin conquer is a triple ton in Test matches. In about a year, he'll be playing his last World Cup and a player of his calibre and a man of his virtues does deserve a share in the highest cricketing honour. As rightly pointed by Harsha Bhogle in this article, he could plan for it but he doesn't hold the key to a win in a team sport. It must happen, he cannot make it happen.

So, we can only hope that his 36-year-old body and his teammates ably support him in this endeavour. I'd also love to see Sachin leave a un-erasable mark as a match winner. Sachin is still not in the same club as the likes of Steve Waugh and Brian Lara. Steve Waugh, who is not as gifted as Sachin, has won matches for his country and at times single-handedly. It probably helped that he had a team which could ably play around him. Lara, a genius by himself, has certainly taken the West Indian cricket to new heights. Given his talent, combined with his deadly aggression, he has batte(re)d innumerable oppositions out of the match. Lara did not have the same cushion of a talented team as Waugh. Lara, in my humble opinion, is the greatest match-winner of the past decade.

Sachin, on the other hand has come dangerously close but never made it there. During the period which was till now being referred to as his prime - the '99 Sharjah innings against Australia - two back-to-back centuries that helped India clinch that series, Sachin was at his best ever. My memory of Sachin as a match-winner deserts me there. Perhaps, his performance in the 2003 World Cup is worth a mention, where he hit the likes of Shoaib Akhtar and Andy Caddick for towering sixes. Sachin getting the better of Shane Warne during the home series of 2001 is also a showcase batting performance of the era.

That said, Sachin has got India mindboggingly close to epic victories: The '99 Chennai test against Pakistan where we lost by 13 runs after a heroic knock of 136 by Sachin. He had gotten India close to victory, where there was none to be seen. He got out with India needing 18 runs and 4 wickets in hand. We lost. Another instance is the recent 175 against Australia at Hyderabad. The whole nation was on its knees reeling under the brilliance of that knock. Chasing 351, he got us there, almost.

The Gwalior innings and his performance over the past year has certainly made people rethink. Sachin is one of the greatest ever sportsmen in this era. I would love to see him end his career as a match-winner too. I wish in the next few months upto and including the World Cup, Sachin erases that one blemish I see in his career. He can certainly do it - one billion people can't be wrong!


There is an interesting discussion on my Facebook profile (oh yes, Facebook can be used for constructive discussions too!) - on whether Anwar's knock of 194 at Gwalior was better than Sachin's 200 at Gwalior.

The facts of the case are:

1. Anwar had a runner through-out the innings
2. Sachin had 20 overs of power play which Anwar did not.
3. Anwar had just returned to ODIs after a 4-month injury break.
4. Anwar scored it at Chennai in May,which is much more testing at 40C than Gwalior at 29C.
5. Anwar scored it on foreign soil.
6. Sachin scored it at the age of 36, while Anwar did it at 29.
7. Anwar's bowling attack had Kumble & Prasad, Sachin had Steyn and Parnell.
8. Anwar's opposition had a weaker fielding attack than South Africa.
9. Gwalior ground was smaller compared to Chennai.
10. Pitches during Anwar's times were not designed for ultra-high scores. Gwalior was.

(With inputs from Archana and Shankar)

My personal opinion is that Anwar's innings ranks higher than Sachin's. What do you think?

Like I said at the beginning of the post, I am not a traitor and neither should my opinions in this post be used to judge my patriotic feelings. :-) I love Sachin as much as you all do!

Friday, February 26

How 'engineers' get to screw the nation and notes on IIT degree as an 'investment'

It is 3:15 AM. I just got back from an energetic and engaging discussion with a bunch of friends. That discussion has prompted me to write about the most-favourite topic of mine. The IITs. The discussion was more general in nature, talking about the education system as a whole.

Let me start with a brief incident that I encountered on a Sleeper Class coach when I was travelling from Pune to Bangalore.

Two railway employees were talking about their kids. One of them mentioned that both his sons got into IITs this year. The younger one ("woh bade wale se zyada hoshiyaar tha") joined IIT Bombay and the elder one joined IIT BHU (sic). (The whole discussion on whether BHU is an IIT at all, is something I have already ranted about here). He went on to explain how much he spent on the studies of the two kids and it obviously ran into lakhs.

He seemed to extremely pleased with his 'investment'. Paraphrasing that gentleman's comment, the gist of what he said is this - "If I had invested the same amount of money in a plot of land, it would have given me certain returns after a few years. Instead of that, I have invested that in my kids and since they have gotten into IITs, my investment is worth every penny and the returns that I expect are much more than the returns I'd have gotten on the plot of land."

This gentleman had just put words to the feelings of lakhs of middleclass Indians. Thinking about it, it makes perfect business sense. For a middle-class Indian, it is a gamble. 'Invest' in your kid's JEE coaching and hope to reap benefits of the investment. It is, without doubt, a high-risk-high-return game. 2% of investors get the desired returns. 98% are forced to write-off the investment as non-performing asset(s).

Well, strictly speaking, of the 2% who ultimately make it to the IITs, a considerable fraction don't end up being 'high performing assets'. Indeed, of the 98% too, a considerable fraction turn out to be 'high performing assets'. That's their good fortune and hard work. But what irks me is the fact that an entire generation of 'Engineers' are being misled into Engineering and Technology courses, primarily driven by peer pressure and false information. The premier newspapers of the nation leave no stone unturned in this regard. The much-hyped, but utterly sub-standard Times of India comes out with articles that are factually incorrect and ones that are meant purely to capture the imagination of the populace. Many a articles distort the information in a manner that will ensure that the copies sell, compromising heavily on the fundamental spirit of journalism. This article in the Economic Times is a stand-out example. An IIM degree might fetch you a 1.5 crore job. But is that the point of the MBA degree?

To the Indian middle-class bystander, such articles fuel his desires to be rich. They force him to rethink the path that he had set out for himself. In that article, he sees himself as the protagonist. He'd do a quick cost-benefit analysis - If I spend a year preparing for CAT and then another two years at IIM, at the end of it, I'll be earning 1.5 crores an annum. Tax deducted, I will still be able to earn about 8-9 Lakhs a month. Oh, that is sweet. Let me chuck whatever I am doing, let me prepare for CAT!

There! thanks to some masala-journalism, you have a miserable victim. Now, multiply that by about 3 Lakh people, and you have the state of today's management aspirants. Please be careful to note that nowhere in his thought process did the bystander include anything about becoming a good manager, which is what the MBA is supposed to do, I think.

As it turns out, that front-page news article on ET was false as per this blog post by IIM Ahmedabad.

Pan across to the undergraduate engineering scenario: You have 9 Lakh such engineering-aspirants, who are being misled into pursuing engineering degrees (as opposed to becoming 'Engineers') simply because at the end of the dark tunnel, after enduring 4 years of whatever they throw at you, you will land a job in an MNC. Oh, and congratulations, you are an engineer too!

When I take a step back, I realise that an entire generation of people has no idea of why they are doing what they are doing. 9 Lakh people X 4 years = 36 Lakh man years. Discount that by about 10% - I'd like to believe that atleast 10% of the people are doing what they are doing because they WANT to do it - you still have about 32 Lakh man years being utilised sub-optimally, that translates to 8 Lakh man years being utilised sub-optimally every year in a country like India, that prides itself on being young and resourceful. You do not need to be Paul Krugman to identify that should these 8 Lakh man years be put to 'better' use, the overall efficiency would drastically increase and the country can actually benefit immensely from being 'young'.

The media has a major role to play in how a country shapes up. Everybody joins the IITs assuming they have hit a jackpot. At the end of four years, irrespective of what you are and what you do, you'll have a heavy wallet. If you are lucky, you will end up with that 1-crore job, about which your news daily had reported just days back. Is this not what they think?

And that has as much basis in reality as Avatar! Reality is vastly different. But reality is boring. And hence, reality doesn't sell. Consequently, reality is hard to find. As long as the Indian thought process and decision making is based on fables and wishful thinking, our populace will never take a moment to THINK. They will instead race with the other rats of their generation towards the jackpot which, I suspect, is just an illusion. Twenty five years hence, when we realise this, I can only wish it would not be too late.

Tuesday, February 23

A post for the times when I did not post

I must admit I have not been too busy. On the contrary, time has been rather generous on me. Blogging, I realised, is just like my dual degree project - DDP - (it is a year-long project that one needs to finish in order to graduate and redeem the times spent during college) - when you start your DDP, there is a lot of motivation to keep working every day and finish it bit-by-bit. After a fortnight, it is "there is always a next week".

Nonetheless, I am thankful to three specific people for rekindling the blogging energies in me - Archana, who for reasons beyond my conscious understanding, likes my blog. Laddoo, who had the time and inclination to remind me, from halfway across the world, that my blog "needs attention". And my Mommy dear for diligently following my blogs without any attempts to 'censor' them to make it suitable for all ages. The tipping point, though, was this blog - one of my faculty member's blog. If a professor can find time to write a blog, so can I! For those who have read my previous posts, the same professor has been referred to, in a couple of previous posts too, albeit not in the most recommended manner - atleast not for a final year student with an incomplete DDP.

To be blogging on a Tuesday afternoon is sure sign of atleast one of the two things: an uncontrollable desire to write OR an outlet to kill time. I suspect it is a holy combination of both. My guess is that it'll stay this way for the better part of this semester - until May, or until I finish my DDP, whichever is later.

Tuesday, September 29

Why PPTs are important to attend

The resume and the interview process form a very integral part of the corporate recruitment process. No wonder, then, that you'll find every Harry and his kin writing books on self-improvement, developing communication skills, resume-writing and even interview-dressing. End of the day, it is about marketing yourself. Ofcourse, some may debate that it is about selling yourself. I believe marketing would be more apt.

The best form of learning is hands-on. Is that not why they say you need to have industry exposure before you do an MBA? In case of a resume-submission process, there might not be much room for error but there definitely are opportunities to learn from your immediate surroundings on how best to market yourself and how best not to.

Take, for example, the Pre-Placement Talks (PPTs) that are currently happening on campus. The idea is that each company will speak to final-year students and market themselves with the objective of luring students to join them. It's an exercise to impress (of which, another form is the recruitment process of resume-GD-interview).

The students read about the company and it's karma on their website and if the company is particular good or particularly bad, they read about it in the newspapers as well. So, when a company comes on campus to talk to the students, they have an hour or two to impress the panel - which in this case, consists of the students. The standard trick is to get a few recent graduates and ask them to talk about the company, get a hot-ish HR chick to run through the "what we are looking for" slide and get a couple of guys, who can talk. And talk in a manner that can save their lives if it comes to that.

And when you sit through these presentations every other day, bartering a considerable amount of sleep, it is hard not to make a mental note of best practices and worst practices, which is why I love attending these PPTs.

A few things that a company just MUZN'T do are:

  • Paraphrase the sentence "We are the most awesome company in the world and we kick ass!" and repeat it every other minute. The rationale is: If you are so awesome, it is likely that we know it and anyway, saying it a trillion times doesn't make you more awesome, it just gets onto the nerves of people. [Resume tip to self: Do not SAY you are confident, smart and a team-worker; SHOW it through activities]
  • Open the presentation with a guy who has no clue of how to keep an audience engaged. And worse, one who reads out his slides and carries a heavy Indian accent. It is like GMAT or GRE, your "level" is determined by the first few questions you answer and then it gets progressively difficult if you do well. [Resume tip to self: Highlight your best on the front page. By the time the resume-reader reaches second page, he would have already decided]
  • Start at 5.30 PM and go on till 8.00 PM. What's that statistic about attention-span of human beings - 20 minutes at the most or the like. So, two and a half hours is 8 times of that! We hardly manage to pull through our 50-minute classes, how are we expected to sit through for over two hours and not loathe the speaker(s). [Resume tip to self: Keep the resume short and sweet. If you don't have anything to say, then don't.]
On a somewhat unconnected note, it reminds me of a quote by the marketing guru, Seth Godin "You can't fool all the people, not even most of the time. And people, once unfooled, talk about the experience".

Monday, September 28

The 9th Sem and the protests

It's been quite a while since the last update. It is possibly because of the "9th semester syndrome."

Perhaps, it is that time of life when you reimburse your time and energy spent in the IIT system. Those who think IIT is a "necessarily evil between JEE and GRE" have started being nice to their profs to ensure a couple more adjectives in their reco letters. While the ones who use their IIT-degree as an envelope to mail their cover letter in to a company have started reading The Economist and the Economic Times. Then there is the parallel race for the IIT-IIM tag which involves sitting in a classroom and learning basics of grammar. There is also the segment which values the IIT degree at 15 crore during dowry negotiations who are beaming with a million-dollar-smile. Three million, to be precise. True or not - it makes for good blog content!

Lately, we have been in the news for reasons not particularly pleasant. Why'd you want to get up in the morning to the news of your teachers fasting in protest? On the other hand, it is pleasurable to wake up to news of mass-casual-leave protests. It is not often that your professor mails you saying "tomorrow's class stands cancelled" and wears a black band as a mark of protest. As a sidenote, the day the 9-to-9 fasting was held, the running joke in the insti was: "Aaj main apne do profs se milne gaya, dono ne bola ki lunch ke liye jaa rahe hain, baad mein aao.. ha ha".

The protesters argue that without quality pay, it is difficult to attract quality talent that is crucial for the IITs to sustain their edge. I find it a rather hollow argument because academia will never be able to match the salaries of the corporate world. Clearly, non-monetary incentives are what are needed.

A start would be to attract quality masters and doctorate students. It doesn't give me much hope when I see a PhD student googling for "how to find centre of mass of a thin plate" or when a faculty member tells me, what translates to: "In India, if you have a masters and you can write well, you are God". So, Mr. Sibal and the faculty association might want to try and address more fundamental issues than pay-hike. The faculty is also involved a plethora of consultancy projects, which from whatever little I know about consultancy, should be paying them in multiples of their salary.

Somehow, the administration (be it at the national level or the institute level) always tries to get rid of the syptoms than the disease itself. Why? Because it is far more easier: It is easier for the institute to kick people out of hostels for "ragging" than make a conscious effort to talk to the senior students, year after year. Because it is easier for the institute to increase minimum attendance requirement to 85% (which I must tell you is ridiculous and almost statistically impossible to adhere to - definitely not in the final year) than make the whole teaching experience in class better by investing in faculty training. Because it is easier to blame the poor communication skills of students than introducing compulsory "pesonality development" courses in the curriculum. Because, the administration has no freaking clue of what to do when the water reaches their nose.

What we really is need is a bunch of dedicated staff who can disentangle the threads and repair the system, which reminds me of the McKinsey partner who (in the pre-placement talk) said that they are working with IITB to improve the management of the institution. THAT is a good start. Late, yet, good.

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