In the recent couple of weeks, I had not found much time to check out blogs on a very regular basis. But today I did find some free time, and so I did do a routine round-up of the blogs. In the process, I came across a couple of interesting posts by Prof. Dheeraj Sanghi of IIIT Delhi. (Yes, it’s IIIT Delhi, not IIT Delhi.)

The latest post by Prof. Sanghi is about achieving excellence in Indian universities [^]. He offers valuable insights by taking a specific example, viz., that of the IIIT Delhi. I would like to leave this post for the attention of [who else] the education barons in Pune and the SPPU authorities. [Addendum: Also this post [^] by Prof. Pankaj Jalote, Director of IIIT Delhi.]

Prof. Sanghi’s second (i.e. earlier) post is about the current (dismal) state of the CS education in this country. [^].

As someone who has a direct work-experience in both the IT industry as well as in teaching in mechanical engineering departments in “private” engineering colleges in India, the general impression I seem to have developed seemed to be a bit at odds with what was being reported in this post by Prof. Sanghi (and by his readers, in its comments section). Of course, Prof. Sanghi was restricting himself only to the CS graduates, but still, the comments did hint at the overall trend, too.

So, I began writing a comment at Prof. Sanghi’s blog, but, as usual, my comment soon grew too big. It became big enough that I finally had to convert it into a separate post here. Let me share these thoughts of mine, below.

As compared to the CS graduates in India, and speaking in strictly relative terms, the mechanical engineering students seem to be doing better, much better, as far the actual learning being done over the 4 UG years is concerned. Not just the top 1–2%, but even the top 15–20% of the mechanical engineering students, perhaps even the top quarter, do seem to be doing fairly OK—even if it could be, perhaps, only at a minimally adequate level when compared to the international standards.

… No, even for the top quarter of the total student population (in mechanical engineering, in “private” colleges), their fundamental concepts aren’t always as clear as they need to be. More important, excepting the top (may be) 2–5%, others within the top quarter don’t seem to be learning the art of conceptual analysis of mathematics, as such. They probably would not always be able to figure out the meaning of even a simplest variation on an equation they have already studied.

For instance, even after completing a course (or one-half part of a semester-long course) on vibrations, if they are shown the following equation for the classical transverse waves on a string:

$\dfrac{\partial^2 \psi(x,t)}{\partial x^2} + U(x,t) = \dfrac{1}{c^2}\dfrac{\partial^2 \psi(x,t)}{\partial t^2}$,

most of them wouldn’t be able to tell the physical meaning of the second term on the left hand-side—not even if they are asked to work on it purely at their own convenience, at home, and not on-the-fly and under pressure, say during a job interview or a viva voce examination.

However, change the notation used for second term from $U(x,t)$ to $S(x,t)$ or $F(x,t)$, and then, suddenly, the bulb might flash on, but for only some of the top quarter—not all. … This would be the case, even if in their course on heat transfer, they have been taught the detailed derivation of a somewhat analogous equation: the equation of heat conduction with the most general case, including the possibly non-uniform and unsteady internal heat generation. … I am talking about the top 25% of the graduating mechanical engineers from private engineering colleges in SPPU and University of Mumbai. Which means, after leaving aside a lot of other top people who go to IITs and other reputed colleges like BITS Pilani, COEP, VJTI, etc.

IMO, their professors are more responsible for the lack of developing such skills than are the students themselves. (I was talking of the top quarter of the students.)

Yet, I also think that these students (the top quarter) are at least “passable” as engineers, in some sense of the term, if not better. I mean to say, looking at their seminars (i.e. the independent but guided special studies, mostly on the student-selected topics, for which they have to produce a small report and make a 10–15 minutes’ presentation) and also looking at how they work during their final year projects, sure, they do seem to have picked up some definite competencies in mechanical engineering proper. In their projects, most of the times, these students may only be reproducing some already reported results, or trying out minor variations on existing machine designs, which is what is expected at the UG level in our university system anyway. But still, my point is, they often are seen taking some good efforts in actually fabricating machines on their own, and sometimes they even come up with some good, creative, or cost-effective ideas in their design- or fabrication-activities.

Once again, let me remind you: I was talking about only the top quarter or so of the total students in private colleges (and from mechanical engineering).

The bottom half is overall quite discouraging. The bottom quarter of the degree holders are mostly not even worth giving a post X-standard, 3 year’s diploma certificate. They wouldn’t be able to write even a 5 page report on their own. They wouldn’t be able to even use the routine metrological instruments/gauges right. … Let’s leave them aside for now.

But the top quarter in the mechanical departments certainly seems to be doing relatively better, as compared to the those from the CS departments. … I mean to say: if these CS folks are unable to write on their own even just a linked-list program in C (using pointers and memory allocation on the heap), or if their final-year projects wouldn’t exceed (independently written) 100+ lines of code… Well, what then is left on this side for making comparisons anyway? … Contrast: At COEP, my 3rd year mechanical engineering students were asked to write a total of more than 100 lines of C code, as part of their routine course assignments, during a single semester-long course on FEM.

… Continuing with the mechanical engineering students, why, even in the decidedly average (or below average) colleges in Mumbai and Pune, some kids (admittedly, may be only about 10% or 15% of them) can be found taking some extra efforts to learn some extra skills from the outside of our pathetic university system. Learning CAD/CAM/CAE software by attending private training institutes, has become a pretty wide-spread practice by now.

No, with these courses, they aren’t expected to become FEM/CFD experts, and they don’t. But at least they do learn to push buttons and put mouse-clicks in, say, ProE/SolidWorks or Ansys. They do learn to deal with conversions between different file formats. They do learn that meshes generated even in the best commercial software could sometimes be not of sufficiently high quality, or that importing mesh data into a different analysis program may render the mesh inconsistent and crash the analysis. Sometimes, they even come to master setting the various boundary condition options right—even if only in that particular version of that particular software. However, they wouldn’t be able to use a research level software like OpenFOAM on their own—and, frankly, it is not expected of them, not at their level, anyway.

They sometimes are also seen taking efforts on their own, in finding sponsorships for their BE projects (small-scale or big ones), sometimes even in good research institutions (like BARC). In fact, as far as the top quarter of the BE student projects (in the mechanical departments, in private engineering colleges) go, I often do get the definite sense that any lacunae coming up in these projects are not attributable so much to the students themselves as to the professors who guide these projects. The stories of a professor shooting down a good project idea proposed by a student simply because the professor himself wouldn’t have any clue of what’s going on, are neither unheard of nor entirely without merit.

So, yes, the overall trend even in the mechanical engineering stream is certainly dipping downwards, that’s for sure. Yet, the actual fall—its level—does not seem to be as bad as what is being reported about CS.

My two cents.

Today is India’s National Science Day. Greetings!

Will stay busy in moving and getting settled in the new job. … Don’t look for another post for another couple of weeks. … Take care, and bye for now.

[Finished doing minor editing touches on 28 Feb. 2017, 17:15 hrs.]

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# Whassup? “Making room…”

Honestly, for the past quite a few days, I’ve been summarily in that (Marathi) “sun-saan” mood. … Yes, in that mood, and for quite a few days…. Continuously at a stretch, in fact.

Sometime during the initial phase of this mood, somewhere at just the sub-surface level, I did idly think of trying my hand at writing blog posts, just so as to come out of it. Then, exactly at that same sub-surface level, with exactly that same shade of that idle nothing-ness in which I was engulfed, I also saw these thoughts pass me by. …

… It never happens. … I mean, at least with me, it never so happens that I can bring myself to writing something, anything, even just a blog post, when I am trapped in that mood of not wanting to do anything in particular. … I actually end up doing nothing in such times.

No, you can’t call it the writer’s block; it would be too narrow a description. The point is, when it happens, it is “everyone’s and everything’s block.” I mean, at such times, I can’t do even just plain arm-chair thinking. …

Thinking is an active verb, not passive. And, the gloom-some passivity is such that I don’t find myself even thinking about the gloom-some things, even if these go on registering with me. You know, things like the HDD crash, the continuing jobless-ness, etc.

… But, no, nothing happens when I am in that mood. N o t h i n g.

[No, at such times, I am not day-dreaming, even. Not even just hibernating. And, I certainly am not even in that meditative frame either. [I know meditation. I have done it, too.]]

So, all in all, I am being extraordinarily accurate when I say: nothing happens.

This time round, the mood lasted for a few days. Until this morning.

No, no one else had any role to play in my coming out of it. None. None whosoever. I myself did. Rather, I just passively observed myself coming out of it, and then, actually having come out of it. Right this morning. Just a few hours ago.

Yes, before that, I did watch some TV these past few days. But, no, not even retards (or American psychologists) could possibly level the accusation that watching TV lets one “come out” of such moods. Certainly not, when it is me. TV is incapable of affecting me too much, one way or the other. I am being honest here. That’s actually how my bodily constitution is made up like. TV does not affect me too much, for the better or for the worse. It always remains just plain boring, in a mild sort of a way. That’s all.

Anyway, that’s about all I can write about the recent experience, by me, and of that mood.

Now, what is it that I did to come out of… Wrong! Invalid line of thought!!

So, what is it that I did after I came out of it?

I did some search on something and browsed a few URLs. What in particular? I will jot it down right in this post, but before that, allow me a moment to explain the title of this post.

Those among the English-speaking peoples who are fortunate enough to be playing cricket, there is a peculiar circumstance that used to happen in the one-day 50 overs cricket matches, about 20—30 years ago. The circumstance would occur once a match progressed to the late 30s in the overs.

… In terms of overs, the game from about the late teens to the late 30s could easily go replicating my mood above. But, somehow, either the bowlers or the batsmen or both would come out of it, sometimes even in a virtual snap of sorts, though it would happen mostly only gradually, once they arrived in the late 30s in the overs. May be, perhaps, as a result of the spin and the medium-pace bowlers being taken off and the fast bowlers being brought back in, for their second (and last) spell.

Then. Suddenly. Zzzoooooom. A good-length ball, left alone by the batsman (almost as a matter of habit); it safely lands in the gloves of the fumbling wicket-keeper, who should have been prepared but is still taken by a bit of a surprise. Zzzooooom. A second ball, now on the off-stump, swinging ever so slightly out the off-stump. Oh yes! There still is some swing left in this wicket! The batsman does something like waving his bat at it, fumbles, but is lucky enough to survive. Then, a very fast-paced short-length ball, in fact a bouncer! The batsman ducks. The wicket-keeper stretches all the way back, but manages to catch it. Finally, the batsman is found adjusting his gear, esp. his helmet. Yet another good-length delivery, somewhat slower in pace, slightly outside the off-stump, again with just so slight an outswing. Well-collected by the wicket-keeper. No changes in the fielding. And then, finally, comes The Ball. This time, it’s a furiously paced one, right on the leg—yorker! Within a split-second, stepping aside on the front-foot…

The cricket-knowing people [whether English-speaking or otherwise] could easily complete the last sentence above.

Among the commonly available options, the one I like to imagine here is this: Dancing down the wicket, leaving all the stumps in the open, the batsman makes room for himself, and hits at the ball hard, with his full strength. The ball connects with the meat of the bat, and the next instant, it is seen racing past the extra-cover boundary. No, you have not been able to catch how or where the ball went, really speaking. All that your visual field has in the meanwhile registered is the whitish figure of that fielder in the covers first rising up in a contorted fashion in the air, with both his hands wildly outstretched out and up, and just when that slim figure of that talented fielder begins—almost as if unbelievably by now—to go down, you instinctively strive to look past beyond him. And then, you see it. The ball has taken the first harsh bounce past the fielder, not caring a whit for the grass, and it is now racing… no, in fact it already has gone past the boundary line, for a four… [To me, such a four is more appealing than an artful but wily hook off a leg-side delivery for a sixer. The latter somehow appears almost meekish, as compared to this brawnishly—even if not very artfully—executed cover drive. That is, when such a cover drive is an answer to a yorker. Even if the yield to the side is only 4, not 6.]

Well, I left watching cricket roughly in the mid-1990s. When someone says “cricket” or “cricketers,” about the only match that I somewhat remember (after a 5–10 second gap or more), or the “last” complete match I probably saw, was the one in which both Rahul Dravid and Sourabh Ganguly were either brand new, or at the most only 2–3 matches old. I haven’t watched much cricket after that. May be two or three matches (in full), and some more matches, some half-way through or so. None of these matches, I remember any more. And, I am completely certain that (except for some irritating times when I am only gone to a restaurant for a drink and some good food, and yet, cricket finds a way to pounce on me off a big glaring screen) I have not watched any cricket over the past 10+ years. Whether India was playing Pakistan or not. Whether Sachin Tendulkar was in form or not. … You get the idea.

But still, some visuals and phrases have remain etched in the memory. One of them is: “Making room for himself.”

If the going has not been so good, and yet, it has also not been very particularly bad either, if you have been in that greyish or slumberish sort of a mood of not wanting to do anything, or in an even worse mood: in that (Marathi) “sun-saan” mood, then: Once you find yourself having come out of it, the first thing you gotta do, IMO, is: Make room for yourself.

So, I did. Right this morning. (A few hours ago.)

I re-realized that one application of CFD is in the computer graphics and games programming field. (I had well-realized this point in the past, of course, but all the downloaded materials and sources had gone in that HDD crash.)

So, this morning, I spent some time browsing the ‘net for CFD simulations for computer graphics. … Interesting!

I need to add “Fluids simulation for computer graphics” as one of my active research interests, while updating my resume.

Should I conduct a course on Fluids Simulation for the CS folks, esp. for those working in the IT industry in Pune or Mumbai? Would someone be interested? Drop me a line. I am all ears. And, I am serious. (I will even simplify the maths while presenting the topics, and I will also supply some elementary codes. The students must, however, bring both their laptops and minds to the class.))

Let me know—before I possibly slip back once again into that yawnish/slumberish/worse—(Marathi) “sun-saan” (i.e. in English, roughly, tomb-silent) kind of a mood…

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

A Song I Like:

(Hindi) “jeenaa ye koi jeenaa to nahin”
Singer: Shailendra Singh
Music: Bappi Lahiri
Lyrics: Gulshan Bawra

[Yes, IMO, here, it’s Shailendra Singh’s version that easily outdoes Lata’s. [But then, honestly, isn’t the tune here better suited to a male voice?]… And, yes, IMO, here (as also on many other under-appreciated occasions), this “RD Clone” has managed to actually deliver on the goods! When I was in college, the intellectuals back then had this tendency to smirk at even just a passing mention of Bappi Lahiri’s name. But, even back then, I would think that he didn’t deserve it—even if he indeed was, for much part, an RD (and many others) Clone. Yes, I would also air this opinion of mine, back then. Anyway, this is certainly one of his best songs; see if you like it, too.

[An editing touch is sure due; may or may not get effected. Done. Expect more posts of a similarly long-winding and pointless nature, at least in the near future.]

[E&OE]

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# Translation seen as a probabilistic process

These days, I have been writing what effectively has turned out to be a series of posts on the different broad views of the world implicitly assumed by physicists, over the course of the development of the subject. … The last time I had ended up de facto having a series at this blog—without planning for one—was the one on the diffusion equation: the Brownian movement, Fourier’s theory, and all that; see here [^], [^], [^] and here [^].

That topic has become once more relevant, because of a certain peculiar nature of Fourier’s theory. In the present series, we have seen how the phenomenon of gravity throws a spanner in the neat scheme we might first think of, for the first world. … We had to split our first world (that corresponding to the Newtonian mechanics) into two, only because of this odd man out of gravity. Further, as already noted earlier in this series, Fourier’s theory, too, throws a proverbial spanner into the scheme of our first world, because unlike the rest of it, Fourier’s is a theory that necessarily involves a physical instantaneous action-at-a-distance.

I wanted to write on that topic, i.e., on the nature of the Fourier theory and whether or how it necessitates further splitting up of our neat first world. In fact, I also have a few other posts coming up very soon on the related topics. At least one, or perhaps two, will be on the nature of space, the physical universe, and the relation between the two. For instance, issues like: what is the meaning of the concept of space, the question of whether the space is infinite or not, whether the [physical] universe is infinite or not, etc.

However, certain comments, once again, interfered.

I received a few comments written in some seemingly hieroglyphic-kind of a language. For instance, this passage (given below). Since I could not make the head or the tail of it, what I did was to open up the Google Translate page, copy-paste the comment material, and try to make a sense of the comment. Here are the passages:

An excerpt from the original (which is, according to the Google Translate, in Japanese):

“Pythonの冬の数ヶ月の葉で作られたとみなされているレザーベースのトリム識別名ブランドやエンブレム次の裏地を持っている。嵐もうすぐキャンプrrnsideできるだけあなたの特別なバッグ “ウエット”パックでは、家に帰ってくるとすぐに溶液を除去し、空気乾燥しているのに役立ちます。ワイプは、それを維持する前に、すべての残骸を立ち上げました。それは屋外ながら、毎日この問題の世話をする場合に最適であることを起こる。そこにいくつかの犬の所有者があり、すべての立ち上げ、犬の糞袋を分解することができる使用して確立された場合、それらはすべての貢献との違いを作成しません。彼らは写真の犬を散歩されるべき電話番号犬は実際に、それはすべての所有者は、子犬うんち袋を使用されるかどうか、特に、地球に影響を与えることができます。”

The translation provided by the Google Translate:

“You have the lining of the emblem and trim next distinguished name brand of leather -based that is considered to be made ​​of leaves of the winter months of Python. In a special bag ” wet ” your pack as much as possible camping rrnside, helps to remove the solution immediately , to specify that air dry and come home soon storm . Before you can keep it , wipe , launched debris all . It happens to be while outdoors , it is best if you want to take care of this problem every day . If it is established using may have the owner of some dogs there, up to all , to decompose the droppings dog bag , they do not create a difference between all contributions . Phone number dog should be walking the dog in the picture actually , the owner of all , whether you are using the bag poo puppy , in particular , will be able to affect the earth it is they .”

Thank you, Google! … What you did for me was not just to provide a translation but also the impetus for me to pursue some ideas of my own… Your offering has inspired me to pursue a few things I wouldn’t have normally thought of trying, for a blog post. …

… Here, I immediately remembered a certain blog-discussion which I had some time ago at the “Applying philosophy…” blog. That discussion was about, among other things, the philosophic issue of the mind-body dichotomy. … In particular, I remembered that I had supplied a translation of a wonderful piece of poetry by Gulzar. (Since it actually is a song from a Hindi film, technically, it should be called a piece of lyrics. Technically.) The song in question is: “ham ne dekhi hai un aakhon se…”

Here are the lyrics of the song, copy-pasted from the “HindiLyricsPratik” blog, here [^]. Those who know Hindi would know why I call it a poem:

“हमने देखी है उन आँखों की महकती ख़ुशबू
हाथ से छू के इसे रिश्तों का इल्ज़ाम न दो
सिर्फ़ एहसास है ये रूह से महसूस करो
प्यार को प्यार ही रहने दो कोई नाम न दो

प्यार कोई बोल नहीं, प्यार आवाज़ नहीं
एक ख़ामोशी है, सुनती है, कहा करती है
न ये बुझती है, न रुकती है, न ठहरी है कहीं
नूर की बूँद है सदियों से बहा करती है
सिर्फ एहसास…

मुस्कुराहट सी खिली रहती है आँखों में कहीं
और पलकों पे उजाले से झुके रहते हैं
होंठ कुछ कहते नहीं, काँपते होंठों पे मगर
कितने ख़ामोश से अफ़साने रुके रहते हैं
सिर्फ़ एहसास…”

Here is the translation that I had offered during that blog-discussion of ours. In my translation, I had tried, as usual, to be as close to the original Hindi as possible. Here it is. [However, please note, I now have modified my original translation quite a bit further here—I got access to a better transliteration of the lyrics of songs, and also thought of somewhat better words with which to translate them.]

[For those who don’t know Hindi, realize that the speaker here is a lady—the heroine of the film—talking through this song to the hero]:

“I have seen that fragrance emanating from those eyes [of yours],
[And now] with this touch of a hand, don’t lay upon this all the accusation of a relationship,
This is [meant to be] just an awareness, experience it with the soul,
Let love remain love, don’t give it any name.

Love is not some talk, love is not sound [or something said aloud],
It is a silence which listens, and [also] is in the habit of saying [something],
It does not extinguish, nor does it stop, nor has it stayed put in some [one] place,
It’s a drop of light, it has been flowing since ages.
This is [meant to be] just an awareness….

Something like a laughter keeps blossoming somewhere in eyes,
And, at the eyelids, some kind of effulgences stay [back as if] bowed down,
The lips don’t say anything, but still, on those quivering lips,
How many silent stories are kept holding back.
This is [meant to be] just an awareness….”

BTW, if you are interested in another take at translation, see R. S. Khanna’s blog here [^]. In this revision of my translation, I found both Khanna’s transliteration and translation quite helpful (e.g., “quivering” now replaces my original “shivering,” etc.) [My original attempt can still be found intact at the above-mentioned link to the “Applying philosophy…” blog.]

I have a PhD in Mechanical Engineering, and also, a Diploma in Advanced Computing, apart from quite a bit of experience (some 10+ years) in software engineering. But, anyway, I am jumping ahead of myself here. First things, first. So, here is the Google translation of the original Hindi:

“We have seen those eyes sweet scented fragrance
Let ‘s not blame it touches the hand of relationships
Only to realize Feel the spirit
Give a name to love Let there be love

No Love Lyrics , Love Bleep
A silence , listens , said that
This is not quenched , neither stops nor is staying somewhere
The blob is poured over the centuries Noor
Just realized …

Nowhere is blossoming like a smile in the eyes
Light on the tip of the eyelids
Lips do not say anything , but on the lips quavering
How many stayed silent and live Afsane
Just realized …”

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

But what was that bit about my educational qualifications and experience that appeared seemingly out of nowhere right in the middle, you ask? … Good question. And, I also have yet to come to the “probabilistic” part of the title.

…Well, the thing is, I do understand something about the probabilistic but mechanical way in which the Google Translate (GT) works. Its mechanism. It is not via the usual route of a semantics-based translation, e.g. some NLP (natural language processing) algorithms or so! Instead, what it does is the following. … Suppose you want to translate a passage from Hindi to English. All that GT does is to first…. Oh well! Wait!! … Geoffrey Pullum does a far better job of explaining it than I could ever hope to do, and so, let me direct you to him right away [^] (HT to Abi [^]).

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

But this post is not over… Not yet…

Here is a piece of Hindi poetry that has recently appeared on the “Applying philosophy” blog, here [^]:

“न थी इजाज़त, जो देखने की,
कुछ ऐसे सपने सजाये मैंने,
जो चाहता हूँ, भुला दूं उनको,
बिना इजाज़त सता रहे हैं

न थी इजाज़त, जो बोलने की,
वह बात दिल में बसाई मैंने,
जो चाहता हूँ, निकालूँ उस्को,
बिना इजाज़त बसी हुई है

न थी इजाज़त, जो चाहने की,
वह चाह दिल में जगाई मैंने,
जो चाहता हूँ, न चाहूं उस्को,
बिना इजाज़त जला रही है”

Great poetry, though I haven’t [yet] tried translating it into English. But that’s besides the point. Update: Here is my translation:

“Permission:

there was no permission, to see [some] such [things],
some such dreams I embellished,
what I [now] wish, [is that] I should forget them,
without permission they are annoying [me].

there was no permission, to speak of [some] such [a thing],
[it is] that thing [which] I [let be] inhabited in [my] heart,
what I [now] wish, [is that] I should remove it,
without permission, [it has] stayed on.

there was no permission, to desire [some] such [a thing],
[it is] such a desire [which] I awakened in my heart,
what I [now] wish, [is that] I should not seek it,
without permission, [it] is burning [me].”

But the real point, here, of course, is: the Google translation:

“Did not permit the viewing,
You want me to forget them,
Leave without picking

Was not allowed, speaking of which,
I have settled in the heart of the matter,
Who want to remove Usco,
Without permission is inhabited

Was not allowed, which is wanting;
I want to wake in the heart,
Who want Usco not want,
Without permission is lighting”

…Oh, lines… Oh, that line at the end of the first stanza! … And, oh, that “Usco”!! … And, oh, I almost forgot this: Hey, thanks, really, Google!

And, BTW, that comment in Japanese—the one which provided the spark to write this post in the first place—has now been taken off the spam filter, and been approved already… Thank you, Internet! Thank you, Al Gore!! And, thank you, you all!!!

* * * * *  * * * * *   * * * * *

A Song I Like:

(Hindi) “hum ne dekhi hai…” [And what else did you think it would be?]
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
Lyrics: Gulzaar
Music: Hemant Kumar

[E&OE]

# An idea for the final year student projects in CS departments

In this post, let me jot down an idea that is suitable for a final year project by the CS/IT undergraduates (or, in a suitably expanded form, also by the CS/IT post-graduates) in engineering schools. Or, students from other similar courses like the MCA, MSc (CS) etc. The idea is (to me) neat and useful, and not at all difficult to implement. Do consider it in place of those usual topics like railway reservation/airline booking system, payroll system, etc.

The idea is to create an online searchable database of the history of science topics, that gives out customized timelines as query outputs or reports over the ‘net.

The idea occurred to me while doing literature search for my book. (BTW, idiots in those humanities departments degrade the word “research,” by using it for such things as plain literature search. The management and marketing folks do worse: they call activities like the Gallup polls, “research.”)

So long as a time-line involves only tens of items, it is easy to manage its contents manually. As an example of a small time-line, see my previous blog post. (In fact, I got the items in that time-line in an almost fully ready-made form from Manjit Kumar’s book: “Quantum.”)

However, while preparing for the pre-requisites part of my planned QM book, I found that no suitable time-line existed in a ready-made form for those classical physics topics.

One reason is that the pre-requisites of QM are so very many and so very diverse. For a neat visualization of physics as it existed some 70 years ago, see the “1939 map of physics”[^].

Another reason is that the sources of the detailed historical accounts are, again, so very numerous, and not all of them are equally accurate, authentic, or detailed.

While accuracy and authenticity are important, as far as the design work for this particular project goes, I think that the issue of the non-uniformity of the available details is of much greater importance.  The original sources of information themselves are not equally detailed.  For instance, see the Wiki timeline on the luminiferous aether [^], and ask yourself: would any one of the Encyclopedia Britannica’s timelines concerning the aether ever be as detailed as this one?

Of course, the administrators of the database may not rely only on the existing timelines. They may consult books to feed the data to create more detailed timelines. Once again, issues like the unevenness of details and the matter of ascribing proper dates at a detailed level, come up.

For instance, consider the Fourier analysis. Most books mention 1822 as the date of its beginning. It’s wrong.

We don’t have any specific record to answer the question of the precise time when Fourier first thought of this idea of spectral decomposition. However, we do have some evidence which indicates that he began working on the problem of heat propagation in solid bodies as early as 1804, and that he had presented a paper on this topic to the Paris Institute as early as on 21st December 1807. Though Fourier wanted to publish the paper in print, he didn’t (or perhaps couldn’t) do so, because it ran into some criticism. (Off hand, I would suppose, from Poisson.) Fourier had only the sines, not also the cosines, in that first 1807 paper of his. Though important, relatively speaking, it’s a minor omission. What is more important is the fact that he had already had the big idea right, viz. that any arbitrary function could be expanded as (possibly an infinite) series. Now the funny thing is this. While Fourier didn’t know the necessity to include the cosines, neither did his critics. They were rather against the completeness aspect of his idea, viz., that any arbitrary function could be expanded in this way, even the discontinuous functions. On that count, he was on the right track. However, it was hard to convince the established critics. One way or the other, the paper didn’t get published that same year. He sent a revised draft to a competition of the French Academy in 1811, and won it.  The critics, however, still were not satisfied. Fourier ultimately wrote and published the further revised account some 15 years later, in 1822.

Most books will tell you that the Fourier analysis began in 1822. However, unless you take into account the 1804–1807 genesis of this branch of analysis, the overall historical progression does not appear as smooth as it should be.

The question then becomes, in a time line, what date would you include for reporting? 1804? 1807? 1811? 1822? All the four?

Some cases are even more intriguing, and possibly of more than trivial interest to a researcher. For instance, consider Schrodinger’s formulation of quntum mechanics. His very first paper (written in January 1926) is concerned about the famous non-relativistic wave equation, now bearing his name. Yet, even before that very first paper was written, in fact barely just a month before, in December 1925, Schrodinger had initially worked on a relativistic wave equation. It doesn’t work fully satisfactorily, and so Schrodinger worked out the non-relativistic version before sending it out for publication. But wouldn’t the fact that Schrodinger had those relativistic ideas right in the last month of 1925, be important while tracing the development of the relativistic QM? After all, physicists in that era were unusually open in their communications and collaborations. For example, Pauli had begun working on his paper merely on the basis of a draft of Heisenberg’s paper. (I mean the manual draft as well as detailed physics notes Heisenberg exchanged with him—not even the printer’s proofs let alone what today we would call the preprint.) Similarly, Pauli’s (1924?) idea regarding a two-valued quantum number was known to Goudsmit and Uhlenbeck when they proposed the electronic spin (October, 1925).

Should such details be entered into the database? Should there be an attribute specifying the granularity of information that is being carried by a database entry? Should the queries allow various levels of granularities to be included in the search results?

And, going back to Fourier’s case, suppose that your database initially includes an entry for only one of the three dates (1804—1807, 1811 and 1822). Someone points out the other dates to you (i.e. to the system administrators populating the database) only later on. How would you allow for the conciliations of data items like these, in a mechanical sort of a way? What software mechanism would you provide?

Would you handle it via some attributes of the individual entries  in the database? Would these attributes be finalized beforehand, say a pre-determined set like: “Initial Idea/Presentation/Publication/Revision” etc? Or would it be possible and desirable to keep the set of such attributes extensible—say, on lines similar to how you apply attributes or tags to your blog posts, complete with an intellisense feature that shows the already applied attributes? Can the overall structure thus be kept a bit fluid? Is a relational database the optimal data structure, given such objectives? How about the queries on it? Should they be sensitive only to the attributes, or to the “full text”?

I think these are just some of the questions that the students will themselves have to handle. Here, all that I am now going to do is to give some idea of how the usage scenarios would look like. In my description here, I will use the terms like database etc., but only in a broad sense—it doesn’t necessarily mean a traditional data structure like the relational database.

First, there will be a set of users who will populate the database using appropriate sources. They will have the authority to edit the database, and may be called system administrators. The database may sit on a remote secure Web server. The sys admins should be able to use, say, secure http-based (i.e. https-based) forms to edit the database, i.e. to add/modify/delete the entries.

Then there will be the end-users. The end-users should be able to access the database using plain http. Typically, they will use a user-friendly form to send their queries to the server over plain http, and get answers as reports consisting of Web pages. [More on this, in my next post.]

The database will, at the minimum, have information on the following attributes. (If this were an RDBMS, it will have the following as fields or columns): date, scientist, work, remarks, source reference (for the database entry—not the citation record itself), subject areas to which the entry belongs. Many of these attributes are tricky.

There are multiple meanings of “date” in a context like this. Some historical sources give dates only in years, others also in months, still other right up to the day and the time. For some advances, the dates are known only vaguely. For example: “He began working on it during the late 1820s, and continued up to 1826-end” or “fl. 1810s”, or “circa 3rd quarter of 1925”. The calender systems may have changed. Then, there are those BC dates. (Not all database software handle all the dates very smoothly anyway.) Sometimes, the date a scientist sent his manuscript may be more important than when it was published, but not always. Sometimes, the published accounts may be somewhat misleading: Newton did get the basic ideas of calculus right during that plague-related vacation, around 1666. Yet, it also is a fact that he still was working on many of the important calculus ideas in the few years before the publication in 1687 of the Principia. Newton didn’t have everything ready right in 1666, contrary to many stories you might have heard. (There has been a tendency to ascribe too much of a genius to the years of the early youth; wit a dim-wit like Hammings—dim-wit, when it comes to the age at which scientists created their best original ideas.)

The database must store the precise way the date was stated in the original sources. Yet, when a user sends in a query, regardless of the specific original recording, it should still be possible to sort out all the entries, with a certain smartness built into the system. The student will have to resolve the issue of how to put all the entries in (some sort of an) order—vague entries like “in the decade prior to the I WW” together with the more precise entries like “in the afternoon, after lunch, on October 7, 1900.” (Anyone knows what’s special with that time? I would be delighted to know from you!)

As far as this problem of sorting of entries of varying degrees of precision of time-specification is concerned, I do have an idea how it could be done. However, I would rather let the students try to work on it. [OK, I promise to give some hint in my next post on the topic.]

The “scientist” field may undergo changes. A plain guy like Thomson is the same as (the first Baron/Lord) Kelvin (after whom the temperature scale is named). “Snellius” is the same guy as Snell (of the laws of optics). A real gauntlet to us in the 21st century was thrown by a single Swiss family: There is a Daniel who, being one of a family, carries the same last name as Jacob, who is the same as Jakob is the same as Jacques is the same as James.  It doesn’t end there. Johann, is the same as John is the same as Jean, but different from James. And then, there are Johann-II and also Johann-III. Worse: Sometimes they had a feud in the open. The famous brachistochrone problem was posed because one brother tried to show the other brother down. (The other brother succeeded, together with Lebniz and his credits-wise adversary, the “lion’s paws”-bearing Newton.) There has been a son in that family who thought his father had taken credit really due to him. The point? Your user should not get confused, and should be given all the relevant information as to which Bernoulli it was.

Some users may be interested in getting a time-line of all the works of just “Newton.” Others may wish to access a similar information for “Isaac Newton, Jr.” … Yes, the falling apple guy was named after his father, though few people know it, and even fewer (if ever) add the “Jr.” suffix to his name. A more likely search string, especially if originating from a tiny island lying above France and to the west of, say, Finland, might be: “Sir Isaac Newton.”

The “work” field needs to have both succinct information (so that the idea of a time-line or an Excel spreadsheet like report makes sense), but also a place for additional informative details. For instance, less known or less advertised factoids like the fact that Leibniz didn’t originate the idea of the “vis viva,” but was inspired by its descriptions in Huygens’ writings. The additional details should perhaps be supplied only in a more verbose report, but the point is that the database itself should be well-designed that there is a systematic and unambiguous way to tell such things if the need be.

The subjects attributes is important. It identifies all the subject areas in which a given advance of science falls. It will enable the end-user to run subject-specific queries. For example, a query like: “Give me a time-line of the kinetic theory,” which is slightly different from “Give me a time-line of the statistical mechancis,” which is slightly different from “Give me a time-line of the thermodynamics.” Contrary to the current pedagogy followed in the engineering schools, development in statistical mechanics was almost concurrent to thermodynamics. … Incidentally, thermodynamics didn’t exactly begin with Joule. It had sprung into action right after Watt’s engine, with Lazare Carnot, the father of Sadi Carnot, having a lot of thoughts related to the energetics program in physics. In case you have ever wondered how come the Second Law of Thermo came on the scene before the First one did, such a bit might be of interest to you.

Thus, the subject attributes may be both coarse-grained or fine-grained, and they may have multiple abstract hierarchies among them. The system administrators may invite subject experts (e.g. professors) to apply these attributes. This task, though complex and time-consuming, should not too difficult in a way: the attributes to use may come from certain standardized classification schemes such as the PACS classification [^], the AMS classifications [^], etc. What is more important for this project on the CS side is this requirement: the application mechanisms of subject attributes should be sufficiently neat that the application people—the subject experts—should find it very easy to find all the relevant attributes suggested to them in a handy way, when they apply these attributes to the individual entries.

As indicated above, one real tricky point is this: Some discoveries/inventions span across fine-grained descriptions. Another tricky point is the following: Some discoveries span across many fine-grained description only in the context of a later discovery—not otherwise. Therefore, they should not get applied for reports-generation unless the later discovery also is included in the search results. For instance, consider the topic of Fermat’s principle. This is a from classical, geometric, optics. It would not have been a potentially very important candidate for inclusion in mechanics-related searches until Schrodinger made it impossible to avoid it. … Actually, the idea of looking at Fermat’s principle as a mechanical principle goes centuries back; off-hand, I suppose it was Huygens (again), right in the 17th century, who first linked the mechanics of transfer of momentum (he would call it “the motion”) and Fermat’s principle. Then, in the 19th century, there was Hamilton who got inspired by the same conceptual link. But the point here is, before Schrodinger, not identifying the topic as a mechanical one, could, perhaps, have been an excusable omission. After Schrodinger, it is entirely inexcusable.

Each entry should clearly and explicitly identify the source(s) of the information on which it is based. For instance, McTutor’s, Encl. Brit., a certain book, a certain paper, etc. There could be multiple original sources objectively required for the same entry. For instance, when a subject expert rightly ascribes to Euler the impetus provided for development of the calculus of variation (CoV), he would need to take it away from Maupertuis, and for the same reason, he would need original sources authored by both.

BTW, this entry (on the impetus to CoV) would be different from another entry that is concerned with the first correct formalization of the CoV, which would involve a 19-year old Lagrange. And, both these entries would be different form the first-ever problem of CoV correctly posed and applied with correct a correct solution approach, which would be a credit due in (off-hand speaking, a 50+ year-old) Newton’s account (more than a century before Lagrange’s work).

Thus, the individual database entries should carry links to other, related, entries. Such things may come in the Remarks section, or there could be a special “See Also” section.

On the second thoughts, there could an extra attribute (to be carried by a database entry) for specifying the set of pre-requisite entries for it.

Further on the second thoughts, there could also be another, separate attribute that specifies a linkage to the other entries immediately preceding it and constituting the “prior development” for a given entry. (The prior development is not necessarily the same as a pre-requisite. For instance, the caloric fluid theory of heat is a prior development to the kinetic theory, but it’s not a pre-requisite.)

All the report fields may carry hyperlinks to the resources on the ‘net.

It might be desirable to include other information like the biographical details for scientists: dates (!) of birth and death, places thereof, nationalities (e.g. Prussia, West Germany, United Germany, etc!), educational institutions attended and degrees, if any, received, the career-wise affiliating institutes for each database entry.  (Consider: would the work as a patent clerk qualify as an affiliating institute for a discovery in physics?) Details like these are not so important, and may be taken up during the version 2.0 of the project.

Finally, I would like to jot down a couple of resources. Informations from multiple sources like these needs to come together in a single, easily accessible database:

The McTutor Chronology [^]
The Wiki List of Timelines [^] (We need only the S&T related timelines. For version 1.0, focus only on physics and mathematics. For version 2.0, add: inventions/patents, engineering and technology. For version 3.0, add: biological sciences. For history of the humanities kind—who killed who to grab which power when and had how many wives—my advice to you would be: don’t bother.)

Now, a few things of business, if you are interested in picking this up as a project.

Don’t get in touch with me simply to ask if you can use this idea. Of course you can, so long as you acknowledge the intellectual credit due to me, and so long as you don’t release this idea into the Open Source/CopyLeft sort of a domain, and so long as you are not going to make any money out of it—I reserve all the rights to this idea in the first place.

However, do drop me a line before you begin any work on this idea. To repeat, I do reserve all the rights to this idea in the first place.

Also, if you are a student, don’t get in touch with me to ask if I could be become a guide to you. I won’t. What I have done here is to give you the basic idea in general (but in enough details). The particular fleshing out and the particular implementation is basically between you and your official college guide. This much should have been obvious, but the politics junkies and/or IB and/or CIA etc. have used a trick in the past, simply to harass me. For instance, when I was applying for a job as a professor to a college in Pune, someone from Gadchiroli or Ichalkaranji, claiming to be an undergraduate student, would call me, ask me if I can go to their place to be a guide—but could not name the name of his college principal.

However, once your official guide himself approaches me—which he must, if you are going to work on this project idea (see the above point again)—at that point, if he himself requests me to be an official co-guide, I wouldn’t necessarily mind—I will think about it, and let him know regarding my decision in this respect.

Finally, if you are a student, don’t get in touch with me to ask me if I could implement this project for some money from you. I won’t. It is true that as of today I am jobless, and that, even otherwise, I am always looking for ways to make money. But, I have not, don’t, would not ever sell finished (or even “half”-finished) projects to students for a charge.

I would rather write blogs and go further and harass the Maharashtra CM (any one occupying that post), possibly to (his or her) death, (correctly) blaming him (or her or they) for my joblessness, than start selling student projects for a charge. The first should come easier to me. That’s why.

Now, see if you wish to pick it up as a project. It will be useful. To a great degree. (And, perhaps, for this same reason, it won’t be suitable as a JPBTI project. Though, I couldn’t care less if IIT students pick it up as their project topic.)

As I said, there are a few more things about this project that I could say. I will write another blog post about it.

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

No “A Song I Like” section, once again. I still go jobless. Keep that in mind—if your mind is not so small as not to have the capacity to carry this factoid.

Prithviraj (the BITS Pilani- and Berkeley-trained CM)? Jairam (the IIT Bombay- and MIT-trained JPBTI)? Others like you? Ashamed of the fact that I still don’t have a job? Or not so? Or, perhaps, not at all so? What say? Not even on a Gandhi Jayanti day? Have borrowed that convenient “maun vrat” from a certain someone from Ralegan Siddhi? Really?

[This is revision 1, published on October 2, 2012, 12:35 PM IST. Initial draft posted on October 1, 2012, 4:10 PM, IST. I think I am done with the additions/clarifications for this post, and probably won’t come back to further update this post (unless a grammatical error is too glaring). The promised related post should appear in a few days’ time.]
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