Showing posts from 2015

On planning physical infrastructure for a university

In recent years Government of India has been announcing setting up of new universities and institutes of higher learning in different parts of the country. More than a dozen universities (NITs, IITs, IIITs and CUs) have been announced in past one decade. Till date only one or two of them have become fully functional from their independent campuses. Reasons of the delay are varied, though one thing is common: lack of proper planning in those projects . Even though MHRD allows them to operate in a project mode for extended years, most administrators and planners do not seem to treat the mammoth task of creating a university as a project . Very few of these projects have employed the services of certified/experienced project managers. Most of the project managers in those projects are personnel who have just risen through the ranks over time without any formal project management training or certification. Nevertheless, my intent in this post is not to dissect reasons for project del

Cost of ownership for a car

When deciding about buying a car I was comparing cost of ownership for my options. I travel about 50km to and fro every day for work. Data marketed by car makers is designed to improve their sales only. For instance they often give fuel efficiency in km per litre as a major feature. Customers tend to get the impression that a car with higher fuel efficiency will save them money. However, this may or may not be the case. Instead, one should consider the cost per km of running the car. This means that you need to consider more factors than just the price of fuel and fuel efficiency of your car, in addition to the total distance that you would be running the car in a year (or every day). Typically, for an objective comparison you should consider following major components: Price of fuel per unit, F Fuel efficiency of car (distance run per unit of fuel), E Cost of maintenance (e.g. replacing tyres, and engine oil etc.), M Cost of insurance, I Yearly distance run by the car, D Tota

Creating or assembling

"Can one create or even imagine something which is not made from previously seen or known parts"  is a question which intrigues me. In other words, do we always assemble  things and thoughts from some previously seen/known elements or do we also create new? Especially for inanimate things do we really create  new or we just assemble  from existing. Even in dreams, is it possible to experience something which is not a composition from already familiar places and faces from our awakened state? Talking about matter, scientists believe that everything is made from some fundamental particle(s). Across the domains, examples of a whole that is made up from basic building blocks are many. If we are just  assembling  then can it be so that inventing new things in a domain would be just a matter of writing a program to try out all sensible combinations of the basic building blocks. In fact, a sizable population of scientists seem to be engaged just in such a hit and trial in

What if it takes an unexpected turn?

Effortful thinking is difficult, and most of us avoid imagining situations which force our mind to engage in a deeper analysis of difficult situations. Usually we are certain about the progression of our lives: that my health will ever remain perfect, I will continue to have the job that we have, our investments will remain safe and grow, our families and loved ones will be safe and healthy, no natural disaster will hit the area where I live ... and so on. This is a kind of optimism. It is believed that optimism is a good thing and optimists are more likely to be healthy and successful in their lives. However, blind optimism is bad. It is instructive to periodically take stock of one's life and preparedness for the unexpected. How often does our mind considers the possibilities of known or unknown factors disrupting the normal plan? Except when facing very critical situations, mind wouldn't engage in a deep enough what-if analysis about the possibilities beforehand. Lets

Security on Android

Android is a popular OS with rich variety of applications available from PlayStore. Android controls an app's access to various system services (e.g. WiFi, camera, telephony functions, contacts etc.) by requiring the user to grant requisite permissions at the time of installing apps. Once permissions are granted to an app for accessing certain services, they remain effective until app is uninstalled. When installing an app for certain use, most users search the PlayStore and often pick the top recommended or rated free or paid app that meets their requirement. Once an app has been selected most users install it without paying much attention to the permissions demanded by that app, much less the implications of granting those permissions. Even though Google has simplified the descriptions of various permissions, still a normal non-technical user often cannot assess the real implications of granting those permissions to an app. Given an app's functionality, what permissions

Issue of copying

As an instructor of a course at my university I often face the dilemma of passing/failing certain border line students. Like many other universities, at my place too instructors decide and declare the passing criteria for their courses at the start. In the very beginning of my career as an instructor I would give benefit of doubt to students who indulged in some wrong-doings and lapses. Very soon I painfully learnt the flaws in how I was handling such situations. Biggest issue was that indirectly a message was going across to students: that they could take things for granted. Top in the list of wrong-doings was copying. For take-home assignments, certain section of students give in to the temptation of copying material from others or the Internet. Following has saved me some headache: Reduced the weight of graded take-home assignments. Make the students solve problems during lab hours itself. Internet access is blocked during labs, unless needed for lab problems. Main trade-of

Skills vs. the stamp

Interacting with current students in the university where I teach I find that getting a decent employment offer is one of the chief concerns on students' minds. It is well known that in our country selection processes ( particularly for jobs ) are actually rejection processes -- emphasis is on "filtering-out" the candidates so as to bring the numbers to a reasonable size which can be further evaluated and interviewed. Recruiters start by using proxy parameters to judge the skills. Most favorite first filtering criteria is overall grade that a student/candidate has secured in academics. It is assumed that a higher grade means higher competency in skills. In practice I have seen that this is often not the case. I have met students who are not top graders, but have much better mastery of the subject and skills of a trade. Particularly for students, I think the rot starts right with this belief that grades matter more than the skills and learning. The environment, unfortuna

Building a new IIT: Some ground realities

Setting up a new IIT which can actually live up to the expectations from an IIT is a complex and challenging project.  Most new IITs still do not have a properly functioning campus of their own. Finding faculty fit to be at an IIT remains a tough task, and so is finding suitable administrative staff -- from the director to a clerk -- who understands and can live up to ethos of an IIT. The label of being an IIT helps but only so much -- the challenges faced by new IITs soon come out in the open. Not so long ago MHRD had denied second terms to the founding directors of three of the newly setup IITs whose incumbent directors were found to be unfit for the job or were embroiled in one or the other issues. I'm sure it is easy for anyone to guess the severity of those cases that lead to news headlines and discussions on social media. Seen from within, there are three major areas where most new IITs struggle: Campus infrastructure Faculty Administrative staff acquainted w

Some useful details about work space creation

Determining the right size and number of various work spaces such as lecture halls, faculty offices, labs etc. is a critical activity when planning for infrastructure creation of an institute. I had an opportunity to help in this activity at my university recently. When doing my homework on this task I found the following points to be useful which I'm noting here for other's reference: When determining the number of classrooms of different capacities, it will be useful if you have some data about class enrollments. That is, whether you are likely to have many classes with 30-40 students enrolled or you are likely to have most of the classes between 60-80 students enrolled for the course? For better utilization of space it is advisable to co-locate the same size rooms. You should plan for having movable furnishings (chairs etc.) in classrooms instead of fixed. This will allow you to "reconfigure" the room for different usage and capacity tuning. For example, F