A lot of words have been exchanged in the media recently regarding the quality of the students passing out of IITs which are deemed to be the premier engineering institutions in our country. At least 5 lakh engineers graduate every year in India and the number contributed by IITs to that is negligible. What makes it even more irrelevant is the fact that a lot of IITians go abroad for further education and career prospects. The problem is representative of the absurd education culture that has gained a strong hold in India.

Teachers do not always need to teach, evaluate or discipline their students. Most of the times, just providing the inspiration and nudging them in the right direction will do. If we try to find out why our teachers are unable to do that, it does reveal a lot of interesting things.

Engineering and Medicine are head and shoulders above the rest of educational streams in terms of capturing the imagination of the students and their parents. Every Tom, Dick and Harry wants his child to become an Engineer or a doctor. The fact that most IT companies hire engineers and pay them obscene amounts of money to do the quantity of work that would pay much less in other fields, has fueled this imbalance. As a result, most of the brilliant young minds are lost to the engineering stream and disproportionately lot of them become the clichéd ‘Indian Software Engineer’. In most of the developed countries, only such brilliant young minds pursue higher studies and research and enter the teaching field. But in India, few of the people who missed the engineering and medicine bus pursue the teaching profession for their livelihood. Is it fair to expect such people to be experts in their subject and at the same time have the skills needed to impart the knowledge and inspire the students? This starts an endless chain of mediocrity feeding on mediocrity that only a few students who are gifted or passionate enough to work hard and break-free of the limitations of the system, stand out and succeed.

Students are taught and encouraged to reproduce the text on the books, even though most books condemn verbatim unauthorized reproduction of the text with criminal implications. 😉 We should encourage people to learn and apply whatever they have learnt. Why should there be a system to rate and grade students if every student is good at different things? To change this anomaly, the thinking of people should change. Someone has to break the vicious cycle. Any stream of education and employment is as good as any other. The monetary benefits may be disparate, but so are the domains. Once the general opinion changes, there will be changes in the salaries too.

As too much undue importance is placed on engineering and medicine, IITs, NITs and IIMs, too many people want to get in and as a result some sort of mechanism is needed to pick the bright minds to get in. The industry of coaching centers has been built on this. The competition becomes even more cut-throat with reservation creeping in. My belief on reservation is that if there are downtrodden people, measures must be taken to uplift them by providing excellent education that will enable children from such families to reach high ambitions. Instead, politicians are hell-bent on providing reservation to such people to gain political mileage. In reality, reservation is enjoyed by the wrong people and the downtrodden do not get any benefit out of it and remain downtrodden for further political exploitation.

Once the measures to uplift the downtrodden at the grass-root level of education is in place, we should do away with reservation elsewhere and let merit prevail. As more people get good education, the undue craze on particular streams will vanish and there will definitely be a sense of equality. I have seen students panic when questions in the exam paper are of the same format of those in the books but with the variable names changed. Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of education?

Computer Science is essentially a mathematical science, but how many computer science students are well-versed with the mathematical background that is required? A lot of such students become lecturers who in turn teach the students whatever is present in the prescribed books without ever touching upon the required background knowledge. As a result most of the modern-day engineering students hardly know mathematics that computer science is built upon. Whatever they have learned solely for the purpose getting a job starts and ends with the periphery of the subject. Worsening things is the fact that the students choose to skip a lot of the subject as the exam system allows them to do so. They don’t realize that skipping things doesn’t help learning at all. If we learn things, however small and trivial, properly and fully, the benefits of that will automatically follow. But most students are either not interested in putting the required effort to learn or too lazy and are solely focused on the benefits. This is how we have easily arrived at such a pathetic state. I am not carrying a holier than thou attitude here as even I am a product of the very same flawed system that I want to be overhauled. The fact that a lot of students survive the system and still make it big in their lives shouldn’t be an excuse to persist with the same system. Already there is very little research and innovation happening in India and we are so happy and content to ape and idolize whatever happens in the developed countries and stay unmoved. If this continues, we may lose forever a lot of great young minds who could make a huge difference to our country and humanity.

I do not claim that my thoughts and ideas are foolproof and will withstand the test of time, but I rest my case that the current education system is flawed and it requires a big overhaul along with the general thought pattern of people.

Human mind is an amazing blend of myriad patterns of thoughts, memories and knowledge made possible by the intricate circuitry of neurons and synapses (Too many adjectives? Can’t help it 🙂 ). It is a photographic film that captures everything it is exposed to and never forgets a single thing. People call it the sub-conscious mind and it is infinitely capable.

Human mind

 

Right from my young age, I have been very good at grasping new things swiftly and learning from them. The role of the sub-conscious mind in that is immense. It automatically connects the dots and relates to the things that I already know. The kind of results that it can produce can be awesome. I was a consistent topper at school but beyond academics there was very little that I was good at. Some how by the twist of fate, I got into quizzing and boy didn’t I love it! What aided me was my ability to  observe and recollect a lot of things in minute detail impulsively.

Quiz

 

In a quiz contest that I participated with Shankar Ganesh, there was a question which probed for the name of the renowned musician Pandit Ravi Shankar’s daughter who was also a musician. My mind suddenly popped a name ‘Anoushka’ out of nowhere with a huge surge of confidence. I was totally startled because I felt that there was absolutely no way mind could have even guessed an answer for that question. I had read and heard about Pandit Ravi Shankar but had no idea about his family or his children. What made it scarier was that it turned out to be the correct answer. I guess my mind should have picked it up from somewhere without me being aware of it.

I have been blessed to have many such eureka moments throughout my life which have helped me immensely. I have learnt from experience that our mind, conscious and sub-conscious, has most of the knowledge and wisdom that we would need in our life. A lot of times, all we need to do is to look inside and egg our mind to find answers. The time it might take to accomplish it might vary drastically from an instant to a very long time, but the success rate is very high.

Wouldn’t it be smart to condition our mind to focus a bit more on important things in our life? It could help reduce the non-useful things getting into our mind’s chronicles, which is capable of capturing even our negative emotions, experiences and thoughts as much as the positive ones. This would inevitably condition our mind to a lot of avoidable stereotypes and patterns. Whenever we have to respond to a situation, our mind compares it to a previous experience which will most likely influence our response. Instead of responding to a situation on its merit (à la the inimitable Ravi Shastri 🙂 ), we end up reinforcing the conditioning our mind has gone through umpteen times. We need to find ways to stop being a Pavlov’s dog. Letting go of negative emotions and hurt we might have clung to for a long time will definitely help. (Despite all this gyan, how much ever I try, I end up responding the same pathetic way whenever my girl friend talks about most other guys. 😉 😛 (evil grin) )

While this might not be a panacea for all problems, let alone mine, understanding our mind better and being aware of its potential will help us a long way in living a life that we dream of living. Now is the time to stop dreaming and start living! Cheers!

Update: My friend Srikrishnan pointed me to excellent literature on this subject – http://www.eagleman.com/incognito and some excerpts from the book “Incognito – The secret lives of the brain” written by David Eagleman, a renowned neuro-scientist, at http://amiquote.tumblr.com/post/4686955288/david-eagleman-on-the-conscious-mind-what-freud . Warning – mind-blowing insights in store 🙂

My HP Pavilion dv9704tx laptop’s hinge snapped recently and hence the lid couldn’t be closed without the back-cover and the bezel ripping themselves out from the broken hinge mechanism. Given my emotional attachment to my laptop, I was totally scared and panic-stricken. My previous experience with laptop repair still haunted me. My initial response to such situations would always make me look for instant solutions and since it was a Sunday, I had to wait at least a day to even take it to a HP service center.

HP Pavilion dv9704tx

The next day I bunked my office in the morning to take my laptop to a HP-authorized service center. I was expecting that the service engineer there would unscrew the hinge mechanism to check the broken part and show me the same. Reality isn’t that sweet, is it? The service engineer looked at my laptop like a curious child would look at a new object given to it, lifting it up and down, bending to look at it from different angles and declared that the panel, hinge and bezel need to be replaced. Since I was still not out of my panic, I didn’t dare question him or even ask him to open up my laptop and show me the broken part. Then he took my laptop inside to some room to confirm the parts are to be replaced. I was feeling more nervous every second and I feared that they might steal parts from my laptop and replace them with old or faulty ones (When the mind is panic-stricken, there is no limit to the pessimism it can indulge in 🙂 ). After a few minutes, the service engineer returned with my laptop and told me that I would be emailed the quotation for the replacement parts and that once the parts were ordered and delivered, the laptop could be fixed in a few hours. With some solution visible, I returned home with my laptop.

The dreaded email came the next noon. It had a quotation for replacing the complete LCD panel, rounded off to 19 grand inclusive of all service charges and taxes! I was totally shocked to see such a huge figure with which I could almost buy a cheap, new laptop or netbook. I decided to dig in and try finding some details about the spare parts for my laptop from the HP PartSurfer website. I found out the details of the correct replacement parts, noted them down and called the service center to ask about their quotation for replacing the whole LCD display kit just to fix the broken hinge. When I confronted them with hard facts, they were unsettled and kept giving ambiguous and contradicting answers. So I gave them the part details and asked them to give me a quotation for only those parts. They asked for a day’s time to do that.

The promised response never came and I kept calling the service center again and again. The answers got more ambiguous and non-committal with every call. After calling repeatedly for 2 days, I was told that the details for one of the parts was unavailable and hence I would have to replace the whole display kit. The murky thing there was that the part that they were asking me to buy was just the LCD display and my laptop’s LCD display was working absolutely fine. I tried to reason out with them in vain explaining that my laptop had just a broken mechanical part and that they were trying to order a replacement for some other electronic part which was working fine. The more I talked the more senseless their replies became. So I just ended the conversation abruptly out of frustration.

A friend at office had suggested taking my laptop to a non-authorized center and getting it repaired. The long-winded, futile arguments with the HP service center prompted me to see the problem from a different perspective. My laptop was more than 3 years old and out of warranty. I had spent more than 70K on my laptop already including the cost price and the previous repair. I didn’t want to spend more and more on an old laptop and make it even more indispensable.

The same friend recommended a laptop service center near my home and I decided to give it a try. A few days later, I took my laptop there with my fingers crossed. As soon as I explained the problem to the service engineer there, he immediately unscrewed the laptop hinge and display and showed me exactly what was broken. It was the left side of the hinge and he told me that it he would get it replaced and repaired in a couple of days’ time. The confident “I know what I am doing” attitude of the service engineer drastically calmed my nerves and I left my laptop with him for the repair. Two days later I got my laptop back and it cost me just 2.3 grand! Compare it with the 19 grand it would have cost me if I had got my laptop repaired at the authorized service center! Even that may not have been enough because I was asked to buy the wrong replacement part.

This incident made me think about the money lost by a lot of ignorant, unsuspecting people in getting their laptops repaired. It assumes even greater propositions considering how often laptops encounter hardware problems these days. I am tempted to believe that all this is an organized racket with the so-called authorized service centers and the authorizing manufacturers being partners-in-crime. What makes it even more atrocious is the fact that not all the service engineers in such “authorized service centers” are technically equipped.

The lessons I learnt from this experience that I would like to share with everyone:
1. When buying a new laptop, it is better to pay a bit more to get extended warranty due to the tendency of laptops to run into hardware problems just after the expiration of the regular warranty period.
2. Always check and verify the cost and the details of the repair before committing to it. The manufacturer’s website and Google could give you detailed information.
3. When the laptop is in warranty, take it to a service center where you could get it repaired for free on most occasions. If it threatens to burn a hole into your purse, just pause for a moment, analyze the alternatives before making any decision.
3. Once the laptop is out of warranty, it makes no sense to spend a lot on it. So do not hesitate to get it repaired at unauthorized service centers using parts not from the laptop’s manufacturer. It is better take it to a service center which some acquaintance recommended. It will save you a lot of money and will most likely not impact the laptop’s lifetime.

On July 13, 2011, I completed my first year as a professional in the software industry. Whoa! the time is running very fast. It still feels like I joined my job straight out of college very recently, lo and behold, a year has passed. It has been a journey to savour. Learning new stuff, fixing bugs, writing code, doing analysis and design, attending meetings, sending reports, doing smoke tests, managing the hardware inventory, interacting with a lot of people – it has been an exciting and enjoyable challenge. I have been given immense freedom at office and I am really happy and grateful for that. :-). Looking ahead for many more wonderful years at work.

I have been a diabetic close to 6 years now and life with diabetes has always been an attempt to choose between sweet taste and sweet life. Reining in the unbridled freedom and choice in food habits will always be a big challenge. Being in a white-collar job always encourages the cozy and comfortable sedentary lifestyle but it is harmful for diabetics. So there is a lot of emphasis on physical activities to spend calories. Surprisingly, injecting insulin(s) twice a day didn’t feel very bad or awkward to me as it would for most, as it was comparable to taking vitamin tablets for vitamin deficiencies.

Keeping the blood glucose level (I will use ‘sugar level’ to refer to the same) under control is somewhat like treading a thin line between two extremes. When we try to pull it down, it doesn’t respond/over-responds and vice-versa. ( ‘Hypoglycemia’/’low sugar level’ and ‘Hyperglycemia’/’high sugar level’ are the dangerous extremes that diabetics should guard against. ) I have always been unable to resist the temptation to eat sweet food and on the pretext of eating such stuff “occasionally” I ate them too often to harm my health a lot. Diabetes, often dubbed as “mother of all diseases”, causes a lot of health complications to vital body organs and functions when left uncontrolled. Sadly I have kept blood glucose level uncontrolled most of my diabetic life till now.

I often think about the health hazards that I am opening myself to and try some form of control, but not once I’ve been able to practice more than a few days. Recently I made up my mind not to eat anything sweet so that I can aim for better control. Initially it felt like a ‘mission impossible’ considering my previous futile attempts, but the maturity that I have attained with my health condition made me last long enough to find out that such abstinence wasn’t so difficult after all. This has given me immense confidence in handling my health condition. I feel more responsible for my health which in turn has made me take full control. I have bought myself good shoes and started working out at my office gym. Even though I am just 2 days into it, I am confident of turning it into a valuable habit that is going to help my health a lot.

Diabetes healthcare in India is still mostly non-existent in countries like India when compared to the developed nations like the US, UK where the diabetics get excellent healthcare, medical insurance to cover the huge expenses incurred in buying insulin, glucose meters/monitors, test strips and etc. It will take a long time to have comparable healthcare in India but from my experience with Diabetes, I confidently say that we can still lead a safe, healthy and long life with diabetes with some conscious, regular effort. As with any step we take forward, there will always be obstacles, but with confidence and focus we can always overcome them. In fact, my diabetologist often says that “Diabetics can live a longer and healthier life than the non-diabetics if they live a disciplined life which gives them the longevity”. So I am extremely happy to have a chance to live a sweet life. I hope that my words can motivate diabetics to live a sweet life and non-diabetics to switch to an active, healthier lifestyle to keep diabetes away.

Keirthana wrote a nice hypothetical conversation between two unlikely characters, go ahead read it 🙂

“Hi IS,

How are you? I know you will not be feeling too good after what happened. I am writing this letter because I want you to get to your senses and also get over what happened. After having been friends-for-life type of a friend with me, what made you get so mad at me that you hit me so hard and crippled me? Did I do anything to hurt you? I do not remember doing any such thing.Even if I had unknowingly erred, you could have come and talked to me to have sorted it out as we usually do with our daily problems.

I suspect that you did not attack me acting on your hatred for me, but due to the provocation by someone new to our circle, X, because I know I did not give you any reason to hate me. What confuses me is, how could you have been so tricked by someone new to our place into attacking me, your friend. I know very well that you are the best defender against cunning people as X. It was you who taught us that we meet both friends and foes in our daily life and not to trust outsiders so easily without making sure that they are indeed friends. After all that you taught us, how could this happen? How did you fail to notice that all she did was to create a rift between us? How did you lose your senses and attack me blindly? See what we have come to. It is me who is crippled physically for life and you who is crippled emotionally because of the guilt of attacking your friend.

I am not saying all this to make you relive all of that and experience agony, over and over again. I am just saying this so that none of us make the same mistake again at any point of our life.Yes, I am not mad at you, for you are and will always be my friend. None of our other friends are mad at you. For, we all know, deep down in your heart, you never meant to attack me. Yes, we know it was not your fault. So cheer up my friend. All we need now is proper cooperation between us and unconditional support from our other friends to recover. Together, let us show the world that we can do much better.

Yours,
P

This is a letter written by the pancreas to the immune system of a person having Type 1 diabetes. Juvenile diabetes aka Type 1 diabetes is caused due to the inability of the body to produce insulin.The exact cause is unknown, but most likely there is a viral or environmental trigger in genetically susceptible people that causes an immune reaction. The body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells, thus destroying them.”

This was inspired by my being a Type 1 diabetic and am glad that me and my diabetes are the inspirations for such wonderful creativity. 🙂 The original post is here.

Microblogging has become a rage with the advent and success of Twitter which had a tagline – “What are you doing?”. Gradually it has become a platform for information sharing and communication. People have started sharing interesting and relevant links that they come across on the web which get shared again and again multiple times, disseminating information unimaginably fast to a large target audience. Microblogging imposes a limit on the number of characters in a message and hence the traditional URLs on the internet are very long and unsuitable for sharing over microblogging. So in came a series of URL shortening services that accepted a long, microblogging unfriendly URLs and gave out a URL much shorter in size which could be used on microblogging platforms and are print-friendly. What actually happens in the background is that, these URL shortening services create a short URL and map it to the long URL and whenever the short URL is referenced, the URL shortening services do a 301 redirect to the actual URL so that it opens.

There are a lot of aspects to this URL shortening services that most of the users don’t realize/are unaware of. One of the very important issues is that these shortened URLs are capable of breaking the internet. A shortened URL in a tweet for instance, may be a dangling link to nowhere if the corresponding URL shortening service purges its database or stops providing the service. A lot of popular URL shortening services are closing either because they can’t handle spammers’ abuse or they couldn’t make enough money out of the service to keep it running. Read about Link rot to get more details. This might also result in us losing the link that we wanted to share. The URL shortening services also provide client APIs to use their services which makes them more vulnerable to abuse and spamming.

Also shortened URLs hide the target link that we are trying to open, which could be a malicious one, which in its normal form most of us wouldn’t open. Nowadays the URL shortening services provide an option to preview the links before opening them, but there is a big question mark over how many users actually use that feature. Another significant issue is that the URL shortening services add an additional layer of indirection, an unreliable middleman, which adds to more DNS lookups and server hits and hence more traffic on the internet.

One of the possible ways to mitigate the evils of URL shortening is that every website could provide shortened URLs for its own content so that there is no need for a separate URL shortening service standing in the middle. This could reduce dangling links created due to issues with the third-party URL shortening service. For instance, every post on this blog has its own long URL and a corresponding short URL under the same domain. This makes sure that as long as the domain of this website is up, the shortened URLs too will be pointing to valid pages and hence lesser chances of link rot happening.

I got to know all these stuff while I was creating a URL shortening client application that uses the APIs of popular URL shortening services to create shortened URLs. I have decided to use URL shortening services very sparingly, only for ephemeral stuff or when there is a need to shorten a URL to meet the character limits of microblogging services. Hope this post will make the readers aware of the various aspects of URL shortening services so that they will use it very sparingly.

I’m at Bangalore now and in a couple of days’ time, will be joining my job here. For now I’m staying at a relative’s place, but soon will move to a place near to my office with my friends and face life on my own. My employer has been kind enough to provide guest house accommodation for a week’s time within which i’ll find a place to stay. I’m slightly unprepared for the life ahead, but still with a bit of focus, should do good. There are going to be a lot of new things that’re going to enter my life in place of loved, familiar ones and I’ll need some time for my mental conditioning. Otherwise I’m all excited about the job and the challenges it holds for me. I’m going to be in full control of my life from now and I realize that it is indeed a great responsibility. Kannada being my mother tongue will make me feel slightly better and help me acclimatize easily. I’m so grateful to those who have made my life wonderful so far and with all prayers and good hope, i think i’ll make even better from now on.:-)