Thursday, August 25, 2005

Don't Panic

The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins is my current companion at breakfast/lunch/dinner {whenever I can help it}. But this ain't about the book. This is about an extract that I chanced upon [the relevant chapter is also available online here]

The important thing to remember about mathematics is not to be frightened. It isn't as difficult as the mathematical priesthood sometimes pretends. Whenever I feel intimidated, I always remember Silvanus Thompson's dictum in Calculus Made Easy: 'What one fool can do, another can'.

I have been always a little math-o-phobic. I have tried to analyse this many times, and it's come down to one of the two: conveniently blaming it on some of the tartars that taught the subject when I was in school, or to me having no natural ability in that area.

On reflection, it is the former. For on the two occasions that I had wonderful teachers, I did rather well. It is quite psychological, this aversion. It keeps coming back in waves. And it has been compounded by lack of good teachers during undergraduate studies. They totally squeezed it of all juice replacing it by a worthless and sodden pulp.

I have some friends who share this feeling, and funnily, we're engg. graduates - the kind who should be using maths as a friendly toolkit. I still have to learn how to do that.

[I would like here to go back to the subject of school maths teachers and recall one who was living proof that Aunt Agathas do exist in real life. I would not be surprised, much like Bertie, that the afore-mentioned lady "eats broken bottles and is strongly suspected of turning into a werewolf at the time of the full moon".]

So when I'm going to have my next chronic attack of "the numbers", I'm going to think of dear old Silvanus Thompson and to try not to be outdoors on full moon days.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Deferred Execution

They've gone and extended the deadline on this assignment by two days. So just when I was gearing up the ajits [ego note: see how clever I am with the puns] to put in the gargantuan effort I can just dream of on windy nights [due to other constraints, could only start it this morning] to try and finish in time for Monday early morning. Even the sleep cycles were coming around nicely.

And then they take the wind out of our sails. A perceptible anti-whoosh is heard swirling around. People stir and their minds awaken to the possibility. Going home (for locals), a celebratory dinner and movies clamour for top rankings.

The fall of the blade has been pushed only by a little, but like it happens in those innocent-to-be-hanged movies, we live for these moments. Short-term greedy approaches zindaabaad.

Little revolutions

They say that once you learnt to, you never forget to ride a bicyle ever again in your life.

Today was my turn to find out. Having sold off my bicycle (stupid decision) about 6 years ago (possibly anticipating the anti-cycle city that Pune was to turn into), I haven't bicycled ever since. So I was understandably a little worried as to how the legs would take this change in lifestyle.

It was pouring zoological specimens when I went to ("The Red and White Cycle") shop to buy one. I was therefore spared the humiliation of falling off the seat in front of the local Tour-de-France suppliers. Out of sight and the rain and in the cycle parking in the basement, I jumped on and promptly wobbled. Worst fears were taking tangible shapes.

The plan was chucked in favour of doing it on the road at a rain-less time. Which arrived and I was on it out for a spin, and voila! there we were pedalling.

Slightly liberating feeling. The legs have had it easy for a while. The time has come for them to turn into galley slaves.

Thursday, August 18, 2005


This was the first non-academic event [not counting the Communications Skills class I have to take mandatorily] I went for. Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia played as part of a SPIC MACAY "Lecture-demo". A short 1 hour programme with the maestro playing along with the excellent-as-usual tabalchi Vijay Ghate, another flautist whose name I forget, and on the tanpuraa, Puneet (whose name I don't forget because the announcer forgot to and Panditji quite indignantly pointed that out (and generally gave the organisers some tough moments) :-) )

A three piece act, opening with Bhiimpalaashri ("a late afternoon/evening" raaga) followed by one whose raaga I didn't know, but was the highlight of the day, especially with a friendly duel between the flute and the tabalaa and ending with a mellifluous version of "Om jai jagadiisha hare".

Now I'm quite musically illiterate so sometimes I can't quite appreciate the beauty/difficulty of certain sections - perhaps I would if I had a reference point or could compare it to lesser artistes and see what difference the master makes. But in many places, you can see the extraordinary skill in an absolute fashion - there were several such moments even in the vignettes presented today. I hadn't seen anyone play the flute one-handed and once only hovering over the lower holes before.

Q1: is he a left-handed player [he certainly held the flute with it pointing towards the left]
Q2: (slightly vague) the other flautist had a smoother sound while Pt. Chaurasia had a slightly woody, textured sound. Is that simply a property of the flute and by design or was it not the usual?

The only disappointing aspect was despite its billing as one, there was hardly any "lecturing". I was hoping to learn a bit more by way of explanations in some of the interesting/subtle points, but that didn't happen. So it remained more of a musical experience than a educative one.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Little Core dump - 1

* I like the LPG buses that ply in the campus here [as most know, any such cheap transport is invariably called a "Tam-Tam" or "Tuk-Tuk", here it's the former]. They are pretty quiet and don't seem to be polluting the hell out of our lungs. At 3 bucks from src to dest, good.

* We were treated to an impromptu singing performance by some random "aaji" in the bus today. It was her first time on such a bus and she broke into song about that and how the driver was going past hillocks and spiced with commentary on his speeds. From her words (marathi verse, so I could comprehend), it seemed spontaneous, so that was quite mini/major-spectacular.

* Academic office comps have Linux on them. So does the PC in the security office at KReSIT (on which he plays a variety of simple PC games). I hope they find the interfaces good. Not sure if they had operated Windows before and whether there was resistance to the move.

[BTW, if you don't know what a "core dump" is, read the Wikipedia entry. I don't use the term in the usual symptom-of-error/frustration sense. "core" essentially refers to when computer memory was essentially magnetic cores, so this is more of a "memory dump" to blogpage (sad funda alert flag goes up)]

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Lingua Split

[From a very unscientific, empirical set of observations made over the last few weeks at IIT-B]

The split of languages here that I've heard cumulatively in various places in IIT-B (leaving out Hindi and English) include Marathi, Bengali and Malayalam (especially among staffers). But the winning tongue is Telugu - I don't know how come there are so many Andhra guys in IIT-B. But I guess this is in keeping with the general trend in the top academic institutes in India. That community must be the most academic minded one in India.

There are few Tamilians, but not that many. Come to think of it, haven't heard a single phone of Gujarati yet.

[There are a couple of other "how come there are so many Andhraites in this place" observations I'm saving up for another blog :-)]

Heard my first Gujju words - loud and clear as usual :-)

Monday, August 08, 2005


[The title is nothing more than a seemingly ongoing exercise in homophones like the title on this blog, but don't read too much into it :-) ]

For those friends who're interested in the gruesome details of what courses I'm taking here, a small précis:

* Foundation Lab: Mandatory Lab work

* Foundations of IT-2: Mandatory course (mainly to do with Probability/Stats). This has been an area in which I have been particularly weak in the past, so I was hoping to catch up and take those giant steps, but the immediate forecast on that front doesn't immediately show "fair weather" for several reasons that I shall remain quiescent about at the moment and reveal all when the time is ripe for the picking :-)

And on to the Electives:
* Mobile Computing: Aim here is to learn a bit about this area that I had a brief peek into while at work in a Telecom project.

* Introduction to Data Mining: I seem to have got it into my head long back that I was interested in text & data mining - just one of those things. Here's my chance to find out.

* Object Oriented Techniques: I wasn't planning to go in for this, but decided to stay back after attending the first few "test" lectures, mainly because I liked how the prof. went about it and because I found myself responding to the content.

Now, those who know how things function here will notice that I have not taken any courses from the CSE Dept here, especially the Algorithms or Databases (by Sudarshan of the book fame) - these are the feted courses here. This decision was mainly because I'm not much of a theory guy and do want to sink my teeth into the areas I want to test the waters in. I was keen on taking Soumen Chakraborty's Statistical Foundations of Machine Learning, but I found the course contents and treatment quite formidable. Plus my prob/stats sucks right now.

Tejaswi (from the senior batch, whose advice I've been seeking on matters related, and who essentially has a great deal to say, in general :-) ) would be disappointed, for his theory holds that you take courses based on the profs. and experience the best of what IIT has to offer here, at the risk of bad grades. The "bad grades" sign is fine with me - it's just that I don't want to spend time in a class that I ultimately don't enjoy. That said, I find I'm slightly less adventurous than most :-) though I can quote a couple of small gutsy items on the CV, but perhaps they're not enough :-). My reluctance to go back to theory finds me settling for these courses ultimately. Perhaps I'll seek more foreign pastures next time. Right now, I'll take it as easy as I'm allowed to.

Time out

Probably the reason behind the undercurrents of unease at spending a higher proportion at time hunched over a machine (and keyboard still on lap, I might remind - waiting for newer quarters to be built) is that I have probably tasted the other goodies of life (note: "goodies" according to me, not some Hashshashin vision of material pleasures :-), more innocent pleasures like watching a lot of movies, British serials on DVD, books, sports-viewing, blogging, BCQC et al. Haven't been doing much of it in the last three weeks, and don't expect to do much of it in the future.

Which is a pity of course - I would have liked to summon all these influences together (perhaps it is still possible, just need to figure it out) here. Also was hoping to attend events by SPICMACAY and the lot. Yet to materialise still. Will find out soon enough, I guess.

A small resolution to blog a few lines every other day - let's see how that works out. Hard to push oneself even for 15 mins.

Extended silence spurts and a musical return

Didn't intend to stay away from the e-pages, but got my first taste of the half-marathon that seems to be the Foundation Lab assignments. Though, as I mentioned in that post, I appreciate the idea of the shell as a toolbox, but I somehow don't see why it has to be so intense [I spent almost all my spare time alst week on it], so I fear I'm in a "do-phase" rather than a "think-phase". I was hoping for more time to do the latter in this MTech programme, and have still to completely figure out how to do this. I'm not disillusioned (yet?) but slightly disappointed.

An analogy I have is: imagine a class of budding writers, different students having ambitions of being fiction writers, biographers, tech writers, essayists etc. They all have a basic level of writing ability. They want to explore various aspects of different writing styles and also want to learn the techniques of the craft. They also don't mind learning how to type, to do shorthand, to be calligraphists, to typeset, about fonts etc. But what if it totally overwhelms the learning/thinking aspect?

I rushed off home this weekend, so I spent a lot of time thinking about these things [no power at home for some local reasons of cable faults, so not much else to do while you're keeping anopheles carriers at bay]. I figured out that I was spending a disproportionately high amount of time on the lab, so I did a small timetable schedule exercise (the ones that look spectacular on paper but never seem to get implemented in real life). Let's see how well that goes.

Coming back to the title of this post, a small tidbit I learnt in my Mobile Computing class - that the mobile handset actually introduces a "comfort noise" when users are silent. This to reassure the listener at the other end that the line is alive. A good example of the small engineering details that add up to the success of many things around us.

And the musical return is because I finally have headphones and music/audio (imported from home) and hence can sink into it when the head heats up.