Monday, June 22, 2009

Stuff I couldn't find in Google

To setup an experiment we have to import either instruments or components from abroad, very often from the US. The Indian distributors will not stock these items because they will have to pay a 35% excise duty, whereas if we import, being Governmental organizations, we pay 9.36%; the price of buying something from the distributor's stock is typically three times that of importing directly. However, when we import, FedEx and UPS carries the packages over international borders and then we have freight forwarders moving packages between factories and ports both internationally and within India. In my last three experiences, twice with FedEx and once with UPS, the packages sat at the port of entry for a month and then another month in Kolkata, after which we actually paid several thousands of rupees for the space and time where they were hatching eggs in the custody of these extremely efficient courier services and snatched the boxes off their hands, literally. It will actually feel like you are being blackmailed with something that you payed to buy. I tried arguing with them that they were thus interfering with my research plans and in another occasion that they should waive their shipping fees; the folks can't comprehend these concerns; while responding they just overlook these statements.

I have found out that this is generic in India. Private organizations it seems do not face this problem. They have absolutely no problem importing stuff, like in the order of containers, not these meager cardboard boxes. The reason, everyone seems to know but will never officially acknowledge, is that they have an advanced, human lubrication mechanism in place. As intriguing as this topic is, I wish to rather highlight how this delay that I described earlier would interfere with experimental research. btw, before shipping, there's an ordering process which involves obtaining hard copy quotations with accurate terms and conditions and then there's a sending payment process.

Also, in India it seems like people are hired first, then they are provided the money that they will spend, at the end of the purchasing process described above, boxes and for some lucky folks huge crates will get manually downloaded from trucks on the passageways ( I haven't seen any fork lifts yet, except in the shipyard) and then rooms will be constructed to accommodate these boxes. Thus a laboratory is democratically formed.

India has a large population of highly educated eligible folks and therefore all selection procedures are very formal and detailed. For example, the requirement for an Assistant Prof. position in my insti is PhD plus four years of postdoc. Its not like one random person came up with this rule for a specific post. It is actually decided by a group of India's most eminent and successful scientists. PhD plus 4 years of PostDoc! I knew a guy, who got his PhD in Chemistry from India, went to the US for postdoc-ing, did eight years of it; not because he wanted to , but because he couldn't get a job and then finally did a one year CS course and got a job in a software company. Obviously a very modern and ambitious character who didn't settle down for any arbit ill-paid job. The point being, no one does four years of post doc anymore. We, in our generation, somehow value time. We will continue postdoc-ing only when we do not find a suitable position. In very rare cases, folks will settle for two terms (2+2) but in different areas so that one actually develops some new capabilities (these are the dorks btw); but even then the second term position reflects the added experience from the first term. Its not like postdoc-ing in India has any competitive advantage.

Typically, a postdoc's life in a foreign country is not exactly tourism. A scientific, creative and innovative mind or what's left of it thus gets fatigued. As if, the 10th grade, the 12 th grade, BSc, MSc and then the national competitive exams were not enough; survive through a 5-7 year PhD program and then perform in a 4 yr foreign postdoc appointment; you are now eligible to become an Asst prof in India. This screening process I would think has to be counter productive for a Nation's work force building. But once again, this could be the topic of another nightout. Right now, what I tried to emphasize was that, anyone who survives this excruciating torture is Exceptional. What does India do with these exceptional human beings then? Remember that human beings develop survival skills and one of the first things, I think someone who tries to perform outside India learns, is to value time. Thus every experimental problem that such an exceptional scientist likes, has a shelf life, precisely because many around the world care about it. Science is the most interesting game in the world because you play it against the most intelligent crowd on this planet (with the right attitude, its not as cocky as it sounds).

Now go back to the beginning of this narration...

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Machines-the urge to control time

From the standpoint of a person who is paying out to receive a service [INR 4718 million was paid out as bribes by rural households in 12 states, in one year] its almost always to make something happen quicker. So, things happen slower than is convenient (the provider) and services are required to be quicker (the consumer). These can sometimes be related. But to simplify things lets consider the situation at a very early stage of development of this problem, when the interdependence was rare. So, the first person who wanted to get a service out of turn and when the service provider was still not accustomed to the idea that the consumer would payup. Why did the person want the service out of turn?

This time factor, attempting or desiring to get things done or even requiring to get things done quicker than it normally would take is inherent in what we term growth in the artificial world. In the natural living world, growth is a function of time; but the function is programmed in the DNA, so that we can't quite change it within our lifetimes. However, in the world we perform in, to demonstrate growth we have two avenues. One, achieve/create more than we start with without tampering with the natural timescale of events. The term achieve is relative. If someone has already done what I want to do, I achieve nothing that is socially perceptible. Therefore, the second route is to tamper with the timescale and achieve something that has already been done, but quicker, hence implying the possibility of being able to achieve a net more within our equivalent lifetimes.

A citizen, who is against paying up for services is also, I feel, against recognizing the value of time in the sense I just described. For example, the answer to the question, what is the difference between the life of a eighteen year and a thirty eight year old in the Indian society, is not time! But when we try to control time do we destroy our social structure? Obviously not always, but perhaps when you try to accommodate 16% of the world population in 2.4% of the world's land area? Curiously, breeding was once upon a time the manifestation of prosperity. Now, very often human beings are born, here, to keep the family unit intact.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The PTTI issue in West Bengal

I had trouble disseminating the PTTI issue based on current media reports. So here's what I found so far on the web. Everything I'm quoting from the mentioned sources are in italics.

The Background. The National Council for Teacher Education was appointed in 1995 with responsibilities which are pretty intuitive and jurisdiction on all states except J&K.
The West Bengal Education Act of 1973, however vests responsibilities that overlap with those of NCTE, on the West Bengal Board of Primary Education.[Source] I also find reference to a Bengal(Rural) Primary Education Act of 1930 here. I think the reference to the eligibility of students as being higher secondary qualified versus secondary qualified as the source of the conflict is someone's analysis and synthesis of these State and Central legislatures and the exclusivity of power issue.

The Conflict. (In his letter Bhattacharjee pointed out that) the training of primary teachers were conducted under Primary Education Act and Rules. While the NCTE Act was promulgated in 1995, the training institutes of the state ran as usual.[Source]

The Fallout. Stating that the high court order had put the future of 75,000 trained candidates in jeopardy, it said nearly 40,000 of them were already engaged as primary teachers with 20,000 waiting for their selection as primary teachers and 15,000 yet to receive their certificates even after completing the course.

The state government had also requested HRD minister Arjun Singh to bring an appropriate legislation in validating the course upto 2005-06, the letter (CM's) said.
Arjun Singh was the HRD minister from June 1991 to Dec 1994. The NCTE Act was formulated in 1993 and enacted in 1995.

The Trigger. The Calcutta High Court on Wednesday (October 1, 2008) declared 122 Primary Teachers’ Training Institutes (PTTIs) in the state (out of 138) illegal since these were not recognised by the National Council for Teachers Education (NCTE).
A Division Bench of Chief Justice S S Nijjar and Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose said these institutes should have sought recognition from the NCTE in accordance with the law.
The Bench also directed the institutes to return the money taken from the applicants for admission to the 2005-06 session. The NCTE had issued a circular in 2006 terming the institutes invalid, as they had not sought recognition from it. Subsequently, a Division Bench of the High Court passed an order restraining the admissions and the PTTIs could not admit students after 2006.
The Wednesday’s ruling came during the hearing of a PIL filed in 2007 by Tulshi Bakshi, a resident of Kolkata. [Source]
The Bottomline. Here's a detailed account of a Kolkata High Court proceeding, which, if I understand correctly, states that the Tulshi Bakshi PIL precedes this one. There's a pretty detailed discussion on the significance of use of commas, semicolones and full stops in this document! The pertinent information here is that the NCTE overrides State legislature. About 15000 colleges are facing the same fate Nationally. The litigations have occured throughout India and the judgment is all pretty consistent.

So what the heck happened between 1995-2005?

At the end of it all, ofcourse I do not understand why teachers need to be trained or rather, how people can just be trained into becoming teachers and why someone who is deciding to give up academics/education/learning after the twelfth grade should be selected to train/teach humans at an age when we learn the fastest. Infact why is anyone being allowed to give up education after the twelfh grade? Why would the government promote it? Why isn't part of my responsibility/job description to go and explain to fifth graders what I do in the lab?

Monday, June 8, 2009

The sickness of not knowing, part 3

Looks like, the stress due to un-processed information has been treated so far as a subset of stress due to processed information.

Came across a review of Alex Wright's book Glut in Nature while checking some cross-references (technical), which mentioned that a google search for information overload comes up with millions of results; so had to go and try it; I got about 49000hits in 0.2 sec; anyways, the interesting finding is that Reuters conducted a survey in 1996 and the report is called Dying for Information?

So basically, the relation between information and stress is for real. I need to deal with trying to define un-processed information. The terms un-organized, un-structured and even un-categorized information would probably qualify as un-processed to varying degrees. At least this seems to be what information overload is concerned with; particularly when you are surveying people. I feel, the origin has to be much more subtle. When we leave something un-categorized, there's an absence of a very specific piece of information that we did not seek and this, I feel is the stressor. Anyways, hopefully the thoughts will evolve and become clearer; will try to get hold of a copy of Glut meanwhile. Whats known about the biochemical cycle seems to be much more elusive though. The role of language in processing information also becomes relevant. A large part in the difference between processed and unprocessed info can be estimated by the words that would be used to describe a visual signal for example. So, the conversion of a visual signal into words maybe an interesting biochemical cycle to explore.