Friday, January 22, 2010

First step towards Prof. Daniel

The other day I went to my first class as a Teaching Assistant. I didn't have to take the lecture but had to discuss any doubts the students had. I went and sat in the front of the class. The prof. introduced us first. I liked the way I had to wave out to the class when the prof. introduced me. I had wondered how I was supposed to acknowledge the intro. Should it be a brief nod and a slight wave? or should I wave like Sonia Gandhi during election rallies. Well, I can't remember what I did. But no one laughed. So it was fine I guess.

After the prof finished his brief material for the hour, the TAs and the prof were open for discussion. The other two TA and the prof were getting all the attention. Yeah I was NBD (No Bhav Dude) here also. Now why would they avoid me? Do I look dumb? Or did they think that they wouldn't understand me? Or did I have body odor? I should have used Axe. Then all the ladies would be swarming around me. I tried to look disinterested by flipping through the text book. Finally someone came up to because the others were occupied. I was nervous. I hope I could answer his doubt. Luckily his doubt was really dumb or as the protocol goes, the doubt was 'simple'. No question is deemed dumb here.

Then some guy asked me a doubt from the homework. Now the homework was given the previous day and I didn't expect anyone to start the homework right away. So I myself hadn't gone through it. And considering that I did the corresponding course 4 years back and I have the retention of a large sized sieve, I was in a spot of bother. I had no idea how to solve the problem he was stuck with. Hmm, what to do? Okay, lets do what most profs normally do when they don't know the answer. Act knowledgeable if the student is confused or act as if you can't follow the student's doubt if the student appears confident. My case was the former. So I said it was a easy problem and that any hints I give might give the answer away. In the mean time I was racking my brains for the solution. I said a few more things like 'it's there in the text book', 'the prof covered it in class', 'you will get it if you apply yourself a bit'. Finally I figured out the solution and told him that he had tried enough and I would tell him the answer. And with a flourish I started scribbling the steps of the problem. He was happy to have got the answer. And I was happy to have managed to wriggle myself out of the sticky situation.

The rest of the discussion hour went smoothly as most students left soon. Good for them and me. Finally the hour ended. I hurried out. I swore to myself to be better prepared next time and cursed the undergrad Daniel for not studying properly. I was also thankful to my profs, no not for teaching me well, but for teaching me how to handle sticky situations. One up Prof. Daniel!

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Living in a sports mad nation

I am a sports fan. How much of a fan? Well I was disappointed but didn't mourn when John Terry missed the penalty in the Champions league finals. I was happy when India won the cricket world cup. But I didn't go around distributing sweets. So I am somewhere in the middle. But I think I am a misfit in this nation obsessed with sports. Well I may have got such an impression because my friends are mainly guys in their twenties. But then how do you explain a prof discussing football before a lecture or old ladies in the stands for an ice hockey match? So you get an idea of how big sport is here. But this post is not about the fan fanaticism which I am sure all of us Indians know quite well. This post is about the unending list of new sports I have tried or come across in the US.

For the uninformed, this football is nothing like the football the world knows. In fact I don't know why it is called football in the first place. They hardly used their feet to kick that something they call 'ball'. How that weird shaped object is called ball is beyond me. This game is like a human bullfight. Shoving, pushing, running, bang! And he is flat on the floor. Then the referee makes some announcement. And the cycle continues. This goes on for 3 hours. I didn't like the sport one bit. Too much violence. And that dude who runs with the ball reminded me the autos in Bangalore weaving through the traffic hurling abuses at everyone.

Ice Hockey
More violence. The main aim of this sport seems to knock the opponents down and start bashing the opponents. Getting the puck in the goal is an unimportant part of the game. Players just zoom around on skates back and forth. And there is absolute chaos near the touchline as players keep going in and out. I don't think I will understand this game even if it is played at half speed. These Americans took a decent sport like field hockey and made it a bit violent to suit the violent tastes of the American public! But I must appreciate the amazing control they have over that tiny puck on a frictionless surface with those long sticks while zooming around on their skates.

Say hello to the right handed Nadal. That's me you skeptics. I watched tennis on TV since I was of your age [:)]. Finally I got a chance to play! I took a course and vowed to beat Nadal when we are both 50. I didn't have to start from from scratch. That's because I already have bulging biceps like Nadal! I like tennis because its a safe sport unlike the above two American sports which require you to write your will before you step on the the playing field. I like the fact that the opponent is on the other side of the net and cannot do anything to me besides yelling like Serena Williams. I can't hit those booming Nadal forehands yet, but maybe that's because I don't wear tight pants like him. Anyways looking forward to the match with Nadal in 2037.

Some more to come in the next post viz Basketball, canoeing, rock climbing, ultimate frisbee etc..

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Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Book review – (Super+1)*Freakonomics – Exploring the power of incentives.

Freakonomics and its sequel Superfreakonomics are the products of some out of the box thinking by a 'rogue' economist about seemingly mundane everyday life matters. It is about economics at work in everyday life. Its about economics stripped down of its complex theories, formulas and obscure language. Its about 'exploring the hidden side of everything', how every action has a hidden motive or incentive that drives it, how statistics can be use to quantify anything and everything. Its about stripping down a layer or two from the surface of modern life and seeing what is happening underneath.

One of the most intriguing idea discussed is about how legalization of abortion may have cause crime to drop in recent years. The author provides various statistics to disregard other possible causes like gun control, strong economy, better laws, etc. He feels that the potential criminals are knocked out before they are born as most unwanted babies are potential criminals. If true, its a perfect example of the law of unintended consequences. Its like the proverbial butterfly that flaps its wings on one continent and eventually cause a hurricane on another. I am firmly against abortion and feel that it must not be legalized even for a noble cause like crime reduction. Abortion is murder. Full stop.

Some interesting stuff for men and women looking for soul mates is discussed on pages 80-85. Supposedly men want to look taller and earn more while women wanna weigh less, look good and be blond. At least those are the conclusions drawn after analyzing profiles on dating websites. What men should do to get a date? Say they are looking for a long term relationship, earn a lot, be tall, and have a lot of hair on the head. Women can read the book to see what men want.

He also discusses the power of information, how the Ku Klux Klan was countered just by leaking their secrets, why schoolteachers may and do cheat, whether homes with guns or swimming pools are more dangerous for kids to play, does your name matter for your future, etc.

Superfreakonomics has some equally fascinating analysis of mundane matters. The book begins with some analysis about how the television supposedly changed the thinking of rural India. He also mentions some things about Indian men which might, let me say, make them feel inferior. And then he rants on with a lot of stuff about prostitutes which I think is included just as a marketing gimmick. Those who are not very comfortable with the topic can skip ahead to the next chapter as all the chapters are unrelated to each other. There are a few interesting things discussed like whether your birthday matters if you wanna become a sports star, why do less people die when doctors are on strike, how to live longer. He also discusses why terrorism is over hyped, like I had discussed in The bigger killers

I don't like the fact that he thinks man is basically selfish and works solely for his own benefit. But sadly his analysis of hard numbers corroborate his belief. The author also makes some weird arguments against global warming but he has clarified some of the finer points in his blog. But he mentions that meat based diets are the biggest contributors of green house gases. You can read my post SAY NO TO NON VEG FOODS

Some good quotes in the books
-Economics is about how people get what they want.
-Morality represents the way people would like the world to work, economic represents how it actually does work.
-Emotion is the enemy of rational argument.

On the whole the books are a good read. The books are fast and jump from one topic to another. The author has a good sense of humor which spices up tons of statistics he uses to illustrate or back his claims. Go explore the hidden side of everything and get freaked out.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Modern Art – Crap is the name of the game.

Everyone talks about the modern world going to the dogs. Our culture, lifestyle, moral values, etc. but i didn't know that even our art was going to the dogs too. Sorry my canine friends, I am sure your art would be better than the human modern art.

I visited the Weisman Art Museum on the UMN-Twin Cities campus to check out some modern 'art'. I thought that I would come across as cultured and intellectual by visiting art museums. But I wasn't prepared for the rubbish that was in store for me. Utter crap is called art. The more vague and hideous a painting or sculpture is, the more it is revered. Anything simple is considered unintelligent. I felt the world has lost its aesthetic sense. Things that you might not even spare a passing glance at a garage sale is kept at the museum. Some paintings were so hideous that I may get nightmares tonight. On the other end of the scale, things might go into the thrash bin are hung as paintings. There is a 'dirty paper' which is hung up as a piece of art. Read the description in the adjoining picture. Then there was plain colored paper. And some pieces of paper which looked like scribbles of an elementary school kid. And some more paper with water color splashes on it which looked very similar to my rough paintings when I first used watercolors. Oh and for the piece de resistance, there was an exhibit that consisted of a plane steel rod keep diagonal to the corner of the room. In the description it said, the steel rod enhanced the feeling of space. There was so much stuff which really taxed your imagination. You had to think hard to find something worthwhile about the painting.

And the best part was the talk between the guide and other visitors. How such nonsense could conjure such ideas and interpretations is beyond me. These rich people have no other work but a ponder over useless stuff like what the artist was trying to portray, or what led him to paint that particular piece of crap. I bet the artist is laughing his ass off at such in depth analysis of something that was meant to be nonsense! Here are some of the phrases and sentences used by people to describe the paintings; “minimalist and conceptual”,”rejected convention and tradition”,”Individualism, uniqueness, and personal expression were prized.”,”Artists labored to bare their inner souls, and each necessarily forged a new and different visual vocabulary.”,”look closely for a deeper perspective of the openness of the era”,”broke free from the bonds of yore” I could stop myself from laughing. I unwittingly attended the best stand up comedy show.

There were some positives from the visit. It inspired this post. It made me treasure my $1 painting even more. It helped me pass a lazy winter afternoon for free. It gave me a back up profession. Yes an artist. A crap expert like me can definitely put crap on paper.

Oh Leonardo, O Michelangelo, where art thou?

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