Wednesday, August 23, 2006


...Intelligent, Simple and Intuitive.

One of the biggest problems with the generation today is that it considers classroom and the real world as two distinct places, that have no correlation with each other. Specifically, the people today don't think about applying what we learn in classrooms to the situations we find in real life. It can be argued that student life doesn't provide us with opportunites to unleash our creative self. But when it does, aren't the students expected to use the knowledge. One such oppotunity to explore how much theory people put into practice came during a class of "Symbolic Logic".

The evidence I have is quite unrelated to what we were taught, lest incriminating as the lead makes it sound. The beauty of the incident is that it captured failure to use logic in a non-academic problem during the lecture class of Symbolic Logic held on 22 August, 2006. To give a background, the course concerned is conducted as an HSS Elective, with students from virtually all departments, in different years of study taking part. The course is conducted by a faculty by the name of Chhanda Chakraborti, who has very recently written a book titled "Logic: Informal, Symbolic and Inductive". She strongly recommends (buying and) using the book for the course. On the first lecture class of the subject, when a student asked her the author of the book she is prescribing, she politely replied: "...certain C. Chakraborti".

Fast-forwarding to the lecture class held last Tuesday, I was sitting on the first bench with my brother Ankur, sharing the book with him. The row behind us had two girls, both without a book. Since the class strength for the course is about 140, Prof. Chakraborti prefers to circulate the attendance sheet, rather than taking a roll call. On the D-Day however, she had more issues to tackle. The lecture being a double-lecture (with two back to back lectures separated by a short break), the problem of students signing for both the lectures and heading back home during the break was not a possibility she had discounted. So while handing over the attendance sheet to the class, she made it a point to mention that students were to sign only for the first lecture class, and wait for the next lecture where the process will be repeated for the second signature. However, the students had become seasoned TM enough to ignore such advices, and most of them ended up signing for both the classes. Since the attendance sheet was passed on from the other side of the class, the attendance sheet reached me by the end of the lecture. Just before it reached me, it logically went to the row behind me. A girl named Lalita, who took the sheet, was aghast to see signatures on both the columns. She told (to us neighbours), that madame had specifically asked to sign on only column. Based on my past experience and reasoning that if all students signed on both columns, she wouldn't have any option but to accept the page; I noted that she shouldn't care about that warning and for the greater good of humanity (that included her), and sign on both the columns. She, being a very idealist girl, refused to partner us in the crime. Needless to say, almost all except her had signed twice. The sheet was returned to the professor and a good number of students left during the break.

When the next lecture began, and the professor lifted the sheet from the table, she noticed the trick that the students played. In an instant, her jaw dropped and she moved her lips in futility, unable to speak anything. Then, composing herself, she gave a beaming smile to the class, and lifting the mike to her mouth, spoke: "When I gave you this sheet, I asked to sign only once. Now, I am re-circulating the sheet again, and all of you should sign in the second column again. To see if things go differently, I am passing the sheet from other side of the class", giving the sheet to Ankur. Here, Lalita raised her voice and informed the professor that she hadn't done it, donning a proud look (quite unsurprising act to me, and easily foreseen). She couldn't get any appreciation out of the professor, though it was certain that everything said was clearly heard. Anyway, Ankur signed the sheet again, and I followed suit, finally giving the sheet to her. She had signed the sheet only once till now and so, this time she signed on the empty column. She was about to pass the sheet to her neighbour, when I intervened. I asked her to sign thrice as everyone is now supposed to do. She told that she did the right thing the first time, and now again she is doing what was expected of her. Then, I told her to contemplate what she is doing, and specifically think how would the professor distinguish her from those who signed twice in the first lecture and have now left. They would be having two signatures, and so would she; earning her an absent in the second lecture class. She tried to reason, but understood the chain of thought, and (hopefully, I feel) thanking me for saving her from a cardinal sin of not attending a lecture.

And yes, before I forget, the professor became the first instructor to teach me who had the guts of admitting that she "wasn't paying attention in class", asking me to repeat a question I asked in the second lecture that she missed hearing.

End-note: The story goes like this. During the previous double lecture, when she tried passing attendance sheets for the first time, my friend Suman was the first person to sign it (only once). He passed it onto me, and I signed twice. Seeing me take the short-cut, he signed the sheet again, and passed on to the next person. The herd mentality of the class snowballed into everyone signed the sheet twice, and when it reached the professor in the end, she was speechless. Probably she thought it was her fault that she didn't clearly specify to sign only once, and would do it from the next class onwards. Who knew what future holds for us.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Mission Hyderabad

I never thought I would be doing this so early. Even before passing out of IIT Kharagpur, I am already half way through an industrial consultancy project. This was something I have been trying to blog about for quite some time, though couldn't do for various reasons.

The story began when a friend of mine (Vivek) returned from his summer internship. He brought a very interesting proposal. Through another friend, he was contacted by a certain entrepreneur who wanted to redesign the machines of his plant. Vivek toured the plant and was positive about our ability to handle the project. So here was Vivek telling us about the plan. The idea was to conduct this event under the aegis of Mekanika, the Mechanical Engineering Department's Society. I was chosen to lead the team of juniors to complete the project. We thought it would be quite easy to do as it will be universally regarded as a positive step. We got our first jolt when a professor we told this to informed us that it is not as easy as it sounds. He told us that since it requires monetary exchange, doing it through the department's society would require taking permission from SRIC. This would involve a lot of paperwork, bureaucratic hurdles, and most importantly, time. This was something we didn't had. The owner of the company told us to visit the plant as soon as possible so that he is ready when the demand surges. After a lot of thoughtful discussion, it was decided that we have to do it personally. This meant both risk (as we won't have any official support), as well as gains (we get to keep all the money with ourselves as the SRIC won't be taking away the monster's chunk (30% of all remunerations).

So we decided to set sail alone. I made a team of five people, (of course including myself), and chose three from them (Noopi, Rudra and Kothari) to go with me to the plant for a detailed visit. We decided to go on weekend, though there were still problems as it took a whole day to reach Hyderabad. Naturally we chose the fastest of all trains on the route (Falaknuma Superfast Express) for our journey. As we couldn't get reservation in AC 3-Tier, we had to do with Sleeper Class travel. It rained almost throughout the journey and hence the weather was exceedingly pleasant. During the journey, Noopi gave sermons on purity of life and soul, while Kothari and Rudra tried to debunk his philosophy and prove him fraud (of course jokingly). It got cold during the night, but I had no problems as I brought along my bed-sheets. But situation was quite different for the others. In addition to myself, only one other had brought bed-sheets to use during the chilling night-time. The other two were quite clueless how to spend the night. One of them had a towel, and he decided to use it to protect himself. With this backdrop, I went to sleep. I had a lazy break from sleep around 7 am. When I turned, I saw something that made me forget the sleep. I saw the guy who hadn't brought any bedsheet lying over the guy who did, with the bedsheet over them. Apparently during the late hours at night, the poor chap realized that he cannot sleep in this state and asked for help from his friend. His friend accomodated him with pleasure (I am not telling their names for privacy issues). When I saw this, I couldn't help but capture the shot in my mobile phone. Fortunately, I now find that the picture came out pretty bad and incomprehensible (!) so that I am able to post them online without getting into privacy related issues. Here' the pic:

When everybody woke up, we spent quite some time joking on their public display of homosexual behaviour. The journey ended without any other significant event.

The train arrived full two hours late in the Secundrabad Station. A person was waiting for us at the railway station. He took us to a nearby hotel for lodging. We had lunch together, after which we were joined by the owner of the company. He took us to the plant where we were to study the machines and suggest improvements. The plant was smaller with respect to the number of machines I had expected, and larger in terms of the area. He first gave us a tour of the whole plant, with detailed working of every machine. Some of the machines he had were very crude and self-made, but were in working condition. As expected, he was having troubles with the low output and frequent failure. He also showed us a newly bought machine that was working fine. This made our work easy as we could lift design details from the new machine and customize it for the old one. It would still require some engineering calculation, but not much. He also asked us for complete know-how on how to make replicas of the new machine. He even wanted us complete Engineering Drawings, with bill of materials as well as the supplier details. The last part, we promptly refused to take up because of lacking experience and other obvious reasons. For dinner, he took us to club-like place. On entering the place, he started filling a guest book. I was surprised to see that, and thought that he was probably booking us a room or a suite to relax and eat. I was more surprised when we proceeded to the dinner tables, to join one of his friends. On reaching there, we took our seats in cozy sofas, when menu came. The menu surprised me most. The menu card was hand-written, and there wasn't any price listed for the items. I later learned that this was only the snack lounge and the place to dine was separate. But there again, there was no custom of paying the bills. During the dinner, he asked us in detail about our future plans, and specifically if we were interested in joining him. He gave very attractive offers, but we avoided answering the question directly.

The next day, we were to go to the plant again for taking measurements. Although it looks quite simple, it was a herculean task. We could only complete taking the critical dimensions in the time we had before lunch. We were hurried to a Chinese Restaurant, where we again joined the owner and another of his friends. When the orders came, I promptly asked for Chop-sticks; something I have been practicing eating with for quite some time at home (for Maggi Noodles). As expected, the noodles were easy to eat, but rice gave good resistance to my eating. Eventually I won, and finished with a clean plate (bones remaining). Then, the owner asked us about our expenses. I told him that our expenses were Rs. 4,900. He gave us Rs. 5,000 without even asking for bills. I was expecting this, but only half-heartedly. Our return trip was quite uneventful.

Since then, we decided to confirm taking this consultancy project, and started working on it. The need for another trip was felt, and as I write, two of us are packing for Hyderabad. I hope that we are able to complete this successfully, which would be a dream-come-true for me, as well as an experience to cherish thoughout my life. One hurdle remains....We have no clue how to ask for money, or for that matter, how much to ask.

Note: I have taken care to exclude details of the work in hand due to possible contractual issues.