Why I won’t be writing for a while…

Why I these days can’t find the time to write blog posts:

As you know, I have joined a private engineering college as a professor (though it’s a temporary appointment). I have a lot of work-load. While in the interview I had insisted on a work load of 8 hours + ME projects from the computational mechanics field, this is what I have been asked to carry out, after joining:

  1. A course on Thermodynamics (the first course on the subject) to SE (Mech.) students (4 hrs/week)
  2. An elective course on Operations Research to final year BE (Mech.) students (4 hrs/week)
  3. Guidance of three project groups (of 4 students each, i.e. 12 students in all) of final year BE (Mech.) program (technically, “only” 2 hours/group/week)
  4. A course on Advanced Thermodynamics and Combustion Technology to first year ME (Mech.) students (3 hrs/week)

Furthermore, for the first three items (and probably also for the fourth), I basically have been asked to fill in for an associate professor who quit the college (he said “for better prospects” during our brief interaction), mid-term.

Jumping in after someone has taught half-way through (more or less exactly half-way through) a course is always difficult, and it has especially been difficult for me, for two–three reasons: (i) The management and the students expect you to continue at the same pace even if you have had no time to mentally prepare for a course in advance. Even in the private engineering colleges, people typically do get to know what course they will be teaching the next semester some two-three weeks in advance, and that’s the minimum time period for the teacher to get into the right mental frame. But, in an on-going semester, three weeks means about 1/4th of the entire semester’s portion. (ii) Since a course usually builds on the material covered earlier, students expect you to know the answers, and, in the live class, while you do have a vague feel, since you haven’t had a chance to review the contextual material, you either make mistakes or at best end up only hand-waving. (iii) I haven’t taught thermodynamics before. In my last job, I had filled in someone else for this course during a re-org, but that my effort back then too was not fully satisfactory even to me, let alone to students. And, even back then, I hadn’t had a chance to review all the material well. The quick mental recall of formulae and all (so prized by students in any country, and also by professors when it comes to India) isn’t there. It takes time. Not years, not months, but at least a few weeks. Which you don’t get when you are asked to jump in. (Unless you have been one of those deadwood professors who have nothing in life except for “teaching” (i.e. not even innovative student projects let alone research, but just “teaching” by the heart, and only for learning by mugging up)—the category so highly prized by the Indian education system.)

From my last job, I know that if I am going to teach a course for the first time in my life, I need about 3 hours of preparation per hour of the actual lecture delivery. That is, about 4 hours in all. By that reckoning, I am already doing: (4 X 11) + (2 X3) = 52 hours per week.

Even if I cut down on preparation, it would still be about (3 X 11) + (2 X 3) = 39 hours.

And then, there are administrative things like meetings (3 hours at the college level which I must attend because I am a “senior” professor and a PhD holder), 1 hour at the departmental level, and 1–2 hours for my faculty groups (I am a mentor to 4 junior faculty)). And, I haven’t counted in the time spent on grading in-semester examination papers for the three courses.

On top of that, many topics of both Operations Research and the ME course on Thermodynamics are completely new to me. (About 60% part, and about 30–35% part, respectively.)

Clearly, I am putting in way beyond the norm of 40 hrs/week. In fact, about 58–45 hours, it is, at the minimum. The calculation is right. Mid last week, I had to take an extra half tablet for angina, because I was getting up at 4:00 AM for teaching two consecutive classes of two different courses both of which were new to me.

I therefore don’t have any time left for blogging.

The situation is going to continue for quite some time. Mid-October for UG and Mid-November for PG is the time to which the current semesters respectively run.

On the other hand, the ME course on CFD (though compulsory for the ME (Heat Power) program) has not been given to me. “Orders from the top” is the only reason I have been made aware of, in this connection.

The faculty member who left (and thus created a vacant slot leading to my hiring) was an Associate Professor (yes, he too had a PhD; he was about 35 years old). Here as an Associate Professor, he was making the same amount of money which I was making at my previous job in Mumbai as a Professor (at my 50+ age). However, now, for filling in his shoes in the middle of the term, they offered me 15% less salary. This offer they accommodated by not adopting the UGC scale in my case. (That was because, they bluntly asserted, I wouldn’t be approved for a Professor’s position at the Savitribai Phule University of Pune because I don’t have the required experience. It also is conceivable that they thought that the empty shoes left behind might be too big for me to fill in.)

I was given a choice: accepting the UGC scale as an Associate Professor, or choose the same Rupee payment as a gross/lump-sum salary but with a Professor’s title. I chose the latter. Reason? so that at the time of any future University approvals for a Professor’s position, I would not have to explain a discontinuity in the title of the full Professorship.

Why did I do that? Accept this offer?

Two reasons: (i) This way, I had hoped, I would get to teach CFD right in Pune. Teaching CFD would be in line with my research interests, and being in Pune would be convenient to both me and my father. (ii) I knew that professors of the Savitribai Phule University of Pune (and also their “management”s) are quite well organized a lot. With the “shikshaNa shulka samitee” i.e. the professional body deciding the fees for the private engineering colleges choosing be its members, almost each private engineering college knows everything that goes on in the other private engineering college. I therefore was sure that now that this offer was actually made by this college, not a single other college would ever make any better offer to me. As it turned out, no one made any other offer at all—better, or worse. (The Executive Director of the Trust of a better reputed college in Pune happens to be a past student of a friend of mine, and the former still respectfully returns every call the latter makes to him. I had approached the Director through this friend of mine. While my friend was honestly hopeful that I will get a good opportunity there, even though this friend is a man of the world, I still thought nothing of the kind is going to happen, once I received this offer. Turns out that I knew better. (Yes, sometimes it is a hassle in life to even know better!)

So, I accepted it. This offer.

(Dear CapMag.com and Objectivist sites, yes, the period spanning the last week of August and the first week of September is coming to an end; so kindly run a few articles highlighting the employer’s rights. You too, dear Hoover. Very, very capitalistic and/or Republicans, it would be. As to the Democrats: raise the questions as to why a woman candidate was not given a chance in my place.)

Anyway, while the payment issue can be kept as an aside (in private colleges, they do have the flexibility to offset such issues later on (I told you I know better)) what bothers me is this part: Going by the absence of any comments on the interviewers’ part during the interview, I assumed that they would give me only two courses. But they still passed on three courses to me.

Similarly, I also truly believed that I would get to teach CFD. (Unlike Mumbai university, in Pune, final year BE students don’t get to learn FEM.) But here they instead gave me Advanced Thermodynamics and Combustion Technology. The combustion technology is the latter is the part I’ve never studied, though I know its importance through my six months’ stint in Thermax (and which experience the UGC and the Savitribai Phule University of Pune anyway don’t formally count in, because I have lost the experience certificate for that job). The topic is simple, but remember the Indian requirement: being able to rattle off an answer on the fly and instantaneously—whether accompanied by understanding or not.

Similarly, I also truly believed that I would get ME students to guide. But I didn’t get any. On this count, their reasoning seems right: there are only 4–5 students in two ME programs put together.

I also truly believed that when a couple of distinction class final year undergraduate students came to me, and were enthusiastic about doing a CFD project under me, the required project group reshuffling would be possible. (Their entire group of four soon became eager to join me.) However, the students’ request was declined out of the apprehension that it would lead to “system collapse”: every one would want to work with someone else, it was feared.

BTW, this was the same idea which I have been having from 2010 or so. In 2013, I was going to use it for an ME level project at YTIET Karjat, and so had submitted the abstracts for two papers in an international conference in July 2013. Both abstracts were accepted and the full-length papers were in preparation. I had to soon later (in August 2013) withdraw the papers’ proposal because I had in the meanwhile lost that job. As to the current job: Despite two months, not a single student had yet submitted a single project proposal. So, it wouldn’t have been the case of my jumping in, in the middle of an on-going project. The project would have started from the scratch anyway. But then, the apprehension that the system would collapse could faithfully be applied in this case, but not in the case of asking me teach subjects that are new to me, in the middle of a semester, after half the portion had already been covered by someone else.

So, you can see that things don’t always go the way I truly believe they would. I, too, don’t always know better!

(Even though, almost predictably, students supposedly have already begun giving a good feed-back about my teaching, in comparative terms, that is. When a professor remarked this part in an informal chat, I actually was blank: emotionally, as well as cognitively. I was too worried about ending that chat in a polite way as soon as possible, so that I could continue taking out notes for my upcoming class.)

Anyway, that’s how I don’t have any time in hand for blogging.

Further, until III week of September, all our weekly offs have been suspended (compensatory offs will be given later) because of some definitely valid reason (accreditation-related documentation work). That’s yet another reason… (To my mind, the only valid reason by which an extra load can be justified. But then, as I said, it comes on the top of the above mentioned 58–45 hours/week, and so, I really can’t care for the justifiability of this further additional component.)


An idea for a brief paper:

The silver lining is this. I (after two weeks) have (barely) begun somewhat enjoying teaching Operations Research (OR). It’s not exactly my field, but at the BE level, the subject seems to be such that even as the models are somewhat simpler to deal with, they also have enough potency by way of supplying some food for thought. Possibly, also some new research paper ideas.

For instance, while commuting by bus (it’s a 25 kms one-way commute for me; 1 hour to, and 1.5 hour fro due to the heavy evening traffic) I stumbled on an idea related to the topic of Queuing Theory—an OR topic which I am currently teaching. I had never studied (or even run into) this topic before, and so, while it added to my harder work, I still have managed to find this topic to be a bit of a fun.

And, I could still stumble on an idea of building some toy computer models about it. … It’s just that I am weak in mathematics and so, I have to study harder. Which means, I have to work on this idea later, after this semester gets over. 

… In the meanwhile, if you can’t suppress your curiosity, here is the idea: Hopefully, you know that the normal distribution is a limiting case of the binomial distribution. Hopefully, you therefore know that Galton’s board can provide a neat toy model to introduce the normal distribution. Hopefully, you also know that the Poisson distribution is sort of derived from the binomial distribution.

The idea is to build a similar sort of a suitable toy model (either physical or, better still, in software) for the Poisson distribution. And, to prove the convergence from that toy model to the Poisson distribution.

So, in short, the idea we are looking for is this:

Galton’s Board : Normal distribution ::  ? : Poisson distribution.

And, to supply a neat (fairly rigorous) mathematical proof.

I tried to find such a model via 3–4 quick Google searches, but failed to find any. There are any number of texts and papers connecting networks and the Poisson distribution. But what they always discuss is the use of Poisson statistics in network models—but not a finite network/graph/similar model leading to the Poisson distribution (in appropriate limits). The “Galton board” is missing when it comes to the Poisson distribution, to speak loosely.

Spoiler Alert: Here’s a hint—a very loud hint IMO. So, skip the next line appearing in the very fine print if you want to work on it yourself. (Further, the topic also is out of the syllabus of the Savitribai Phule University of Pune, and of every university syllabus that I came across during my searches on this topic—that’s why I believe this can be a good topic for a brief research paper):

The detection times of photons, and the arrival times of taxi-cabs at an arbitrary square in a city.

No, the hint may not be sufficient to you. But then, I do intend to write a paper on this topic, or at least: search better, using Scopus and other indexing services, during my next visit to IIT Bombay, and then, if the suitable paper has not yet been written, to write it.


Am too busy to be in the right frame of the mind even to just listen to music, so let me skip the usual “A Song I Like” section….


 

The noise pollution and the government-running people’s explicit, loud and strong support thereof:

However, of course, with the upcoming “GaNapati” festival and all, you know that I will have to listen to at least 10 hours of very loud “music” every day, in blatant and rampant violation of my relevant rights as an Indian citizen.

What you might not know is that both the parties in the ruling coalition in Maharashtra, viz., the BJP (the state education minister Mr. Vinod Tawade) and Shiv Sena (the party chief Mr. Uddhav Thaakare) have openly and strongly declared that if festivals (“utsav” was the term they both used) cannot be celebrated by “getting on the road,” what’s the point?

Yes, that is the point they had, concerning this issue. These are the people who are running this government. (And, government, you know, associates to “gun.”)

Another point you would not know is that every year, about 2–3 police officers on the “bandobast” duty in Pune (alone), and also about 2–3 senior citizens in Pune (alone), die because of the noise pollution (alone). Yes, police constables and even officers have suffered cardiac arrest and collapsed on the spot, after 20 hours of continuous policing in front of the loud-speakers walls that are erected in violation of the Supreme Court of the land.

There is no Kasab involved here, and I am certain that the honorable politicians must be looking at some … greater… social cultural… good, …. what do you say?

The solution usually discussed is, what else, “yoga.” (Which word is pronounced (by the proposers) as “yogaa”).) “Yoga” classes for the police, to combat their job-related stress. And also for the rest of us.

The Times of India, the Indian Express, the Marathi-language newspapers, and the TV media in general, have not isolated this above-mentioned bit. They do report such news, but only in a piecemeal manner, i.e. as the death events separately occur over some 12.75 day festival—i.e. the 11 days from the Chaturthee to Chaturdashi, both inclusive, and an additional day or two days for the final day “festivities” that, because it’s “utsav,” must run into the “pitru pandharwaDaa”—after it involves sending off the “baapaa” doesn’t it?.

Thus the media people tend to report the “incidents” as un-correlated occurrences.

(Marathi) “gaalboT” is the most they (and the politicians) are ever willing to ascribe to such incidents—incidents in which people die out of noise pollution. [“gaalboT” is the black mark mothers apply on the cheek of their infants. The idea is that the presence of a black mark distorts the beauty of the infant, and thus, by pre-satisfying an evil onlooker’s desire to destroy the beauty, it preempts the evil’s power, and so, the child remains safe. Yes, the “susanskruit” puNeri applies the term to incidents of deaths by noise pollution—after all, it’s a Hindu festival and not a Quranic prayer coming on a loudspeaker from a mosque, right? So, it has to be just a “gaalboT.”

As to me, loudspeakers should be banned for not only “gaNapati” “music,” but also the mosque prayers, the “jai bhim”/“aNNasaaheb saaThe” “festivities”, the loud crackers cracked in the middle of the night for a random marwaari/Punjabi marriage, and every other “religiosity” or “festivity” of every kind. Men may observe their religious rituals or practices, but only without affecting others’ objective rights. Sound is not a laser light; it travels also to unintended locations, and with these loud speaker walls, it travels well over half a kilometer radius to acutely disturbing levels.

But coming back to the “puNeri” culture in particular, none has bothered to study or even think of the loss of time and the non-fatal health injuries, so such things don’t at all get reported.

However, to be fair, the media have, at times, shown the due sensitivity to run news articles about the ill-effects that the loud crackers have on pets such as dogs. Such articles usually make it to the print at the time of “Diwaali,” near the end of that season: both the “Ganapati” and “Navaratri” festivals are, by then, fully over, of course. Also the “laxmi pujan.” (Each festival has, by then, been covered highlighting the due presence of foreigners, especially the white-skinned ones. Apparently, these white people come to India at the time of the Pandharpur “waari” and then they stay put until “Diwaali”. And then, almost as if on a cue, these visiting whites suddenly disappear as the Christmas approaches. At Christmas proper, only the white people working in the Pune IT industry (“expats”) get coverage, apart from the Indian-born native Christians. But not those aforementioned visiting white. At least not in Pune. … I suspect that it’s then time to shift the focus towards the Goa beaches…. But I digress…

And, I also write too long posts…

OK, some time later (after a month or so).

[If I at all find time, I may streamline a few places in this post, but I can tell you that it won’t be more than a 10 minutes’ editing. So, this post isn’t going to change a lot from its present shape. Take it or leave it. But no, I really won’t be able to come back to write blog posts on the topics such as what I mentioned the last time or so. So, bye for now, and for quite a few weeks.]

[E&OE]

 

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One thought on “Why I won’t be writing for a while…

  1. Hahaaa…, it sounds funny the way you put it. I had a colleague quit a job only after three days of work. [Though the job is not a teaching, rather a sales job] He quit because on the interview, signing contract, and the starting day they told him to work from 08:30 to 17:30. But, come second day, he was told to work from 12:00-21:00. For him this was a no go area. Because, he had to take care of his kid at around 18:00. So, he did the next thing possible, just told the company owner that he is quitting, and that is it. I admired the guy for his courage though, he stood up for his duties to his kid, and no job can interfere that.

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