How time flies…

I plan to conduct a smallish FDP (Faculty Development Program), for junior faculty, covering the basics of CFD sometime soon (may be starting in the second-half of February or early March or so).

During my course, I plan to give out some simple, pedagogical code that even non-programmers could easily run, and hopefully find easy to comprehend.

Don’t raise difficult questions right away!

Don’t ask me why I am doing it at all—especially given the fact that I myself never learnt my CFD in a class-room/university course settings. And especially given the fact that excellent course materials and codes already exist on the ‘net (e.g. Prof. Lorena Barba’s course, Prof. Atul Sharma’s book and Web site, to pick up just two of the so many resources already available).

But, yes, come to think of it, your question, by itself, is quite valid. It’s just that I am not going to entertain it.

Instead, I am going to ask you to recall that I am both a programmer and a professor.

As a programmer, you write code. You want to write code, and you do it. Whether better code already exists or not is not a consideration. You just write code.

As a professor, you teach. You want to teach, and you just do it. Whether better teachers or course-ware already exist or not is not a consideration. You just teach.

Admittedly, however, teaching is more difficult than coding. The difference here is that coding requires only a computer (plus software-writing software, of course!). But teaching requires other people! People who are willing to seat in front of you, at least faking listening to you with a rapt sort of an attention.

But just the way as a programmer you don’t worry whether you know the algorithm or not when you fire your favorite IDE, similarly, as a professor you don’t worry whether you will get students or not.

And then, one big advantage of being a senior professor is that you can always “c” your more junior colleagues, where “c” stands for {convince, confuse, cajole, coax, compel, …} to attend. That’s why, I am not worried—not at least for the time being—about whether I will get students for my course or not. Students will come, if you just begin teaching. That’s my working mantra for now…

But of course, right now, we are busy with our accreditation-related work. However, by February/March, I will become free—or at least free enough—to be able to begin conducting this FDP.

As my material for the course progressively gets ready, I will post some parts of it here. Eventually, by the time the FDP gets over, I would have uploaded all the material together at some place or the other. (May be I will create another blog just for that course material.)

This blog post was meant to note something on the coding side. But then, as usual, I ended up having this huge preface at the beginning.

When I was doing my PhD in the mid-naughties, I wanted a good public domain (preferably open source) mesh generator. There were several of them, but mostly on the Unix/Linux platform.

I had nothing basically against Unix/Linux as such. My problem was that I found it tough to remember the line commands. My working memory is relatively poor, very poor. And that’s a fact; I don’t say it out of any (false or true) modesty. So, I found it difficult to remember all those shell and system commands and their options. Especially painful for me was to climb up and down a directory hierarchy, just to locate a damn file and open it already! Given my poor working memory, I had to have the entire structure laid out in front of me, instead of remembering commands or file names from memory. Only then could I work fast enough to be effective enough a programmer. And so, I found it difficult to use Unix/Linux. Ergo, it had to be Windows.

But, most of this Computational Science/Engineering code was not available (or even compilable) on Windows, back then. Often, they were buggy. In the end, I ended up using Bjorn Niceno’s code, simply because it was in C (which I converted into C++), and because it was compilable on Windows.

Then, a few years later, when I was doing my industrial job in an FEM-software company, once again there was this requirement of an integrable mesh generator. It had to be: on Windows; open source; small enough, with not too many external dependencies (such as the Boost library or others); compilable using “the not really real” C++ compiler (viz. VC++ 6); one that was not very buggy or still was under active maintenance; and one more important point: the choice had to be respectable enough to be acceptable to the team and the management. I ended up using Jonathan Schewchuk’s Triangle.

Of course, all this along, I already knew about Gmsh, CGAL, and others (purely through my ‘net searches; none told me about any of them). But for some or the other reason, they were not “usable” by me.

Then, during the mid-teens (2010s), I went into teaching, and software development naturally took a back-seat.

A lot of things changed in the meanwhile. We all moved to 64-bit. I moved to Ubuntu for several years, and as the Idea NetSetter stopped working on the latest Ubuntu, I had no choice but to migrate back to Windows.

I then found that a lot of platform wars had already disappeared. Windows (and Microsoft in general) had become not only better but also more accommodating of the open source movement; the Linux movement had become mature enough to not look down upon the GUI users as mere script-kiddies; etc. In general, inter-operability had improved by leaps and bounds. Open Source projects were being not only released but also now being developed on Windows, not just on Unix/Linux. One possible reason why both the camps suddenly might have begun showing so much love to each other perhaps was that the mobile platform had come to replace the PC platform as the avant garde choice of software development. I don’t know, because I was away from the s/w world, but I am simply guessing that that could also be an important reason. In any case, code could now easily flow back and forth both the platforms.

Another thing to happen during my absence was: the wonderful development of the Python eco-system. It was always available on Ubuntu, and had made my life easier over there. After all, Python had a less whimsical syntax than many other alternatives (esp. the shell scripts); it carried all the marks of a real language. There were areas of discomfort. The one thing about Python which I found whimsical (and still do) is the lack of the braces for defining scopes. But such areas were relatively easy to overlook.

At least in the area of Computational Science and Engineering, Python had made it enormously easier to write ambitious codes. Just check out a C++ code for MPI for cluster computing, vs. the same code, written in Python. Or, think of not having to write ridiculously fast vector classes (or having to compile disparate C++ libraries using their own make systems and compiler options, and then to make them all work together). Or, think of using libraries like LAPACK. No more clumsy wrappers and having to keep on repeating multiple number of scope-resolution operators and namespaces bundling in ridiculously complex template classes. Just import NumPy or SciPy, and proceed to your work.

So, yes, I had come to register in my mind the great success story being forged by Python, in the meanwhile. (BTW, in case you don’t know, the name of the language comes from a British comedy TV serial, not from the whole-animal swallowing creep.) But as I said, I was now into academia, into core engineering, and there simply wasn’t much occasion to use any language, C++, Python or any other.

One more hindrance went away when I “discovered” that the PyCharm IDE existed! It not only was free, but also had VC++ key-bindings already bundled in. W o n d e r f u l ! (I would have no working memory to relearn yet another set of key-bindings, you see!)

In the meanwhile, VC++ anyway had become very big, very slow and lethargic, taking forever for the intelli-sense ever to get to produce something, anything. The older, lightweight, lightening-fast, and overall so charming IDE i.e. the VC++ 6, had given way, because of the .NET platform, to this new IDE which behaved as if it was designed to kill the C++ language. My forays into using Eclipse CDT (with VC++ key-bindings) were only partially successful. Eclipse was no longer buggy; it had begun working really well. The major trouble here was: there was no integrated help at the press of the “F1” key. Remember my poor working memory? I had to have that F1 key opening up the .chm helpf file at just the right place. But that was not happening. And, debug-stepping through the code still was not as seamless as I had gotten used to, in the VC++ 6.

But with PyCharm + Visual Studio key bindings, most my concerns got evaporated. Being an interpreted language, Python always would have an advantage as far as debug-stepping through the code is concerned. That’s the straight-forward part. But the real game-changer for me was: the maturation of the entire Python eco-system.

Every library you could possibly wish for was there, already available, like Aladdin’s genie standing with folded hands.

OK. Let me give you an example. You think of doing some good visualization. You have MatPlotLib. And a very helpful help file, complete with neat examples. No, you want more impressive graphics, like, say, volume rendering (voxel visualization). You have the entire VTK wrappped in; what more could you possibly want? (Windows vs. Linux didn’t matter.) But you instead want to write some custom-code, say for animation? You have not just one, not just two, but literally tens of libraries covering everything: from OpenGL, to scene-graphs, to computational geometry, to physics engines, to animation, to games-writing, and what not. Windowing? You had the MFC-style WxWidgets, already put into a Python avatar as WxPython. (OK, OpenGL still gives trouble with WxPython for anything ambitious. But such things are rather isolated instances when it comes to the overall Python eco-system.)

And, closer to my immediate concerns, I was delighted to find that, by now, both OpenFOAM and Gmsh had become neatly available on Windows. That is, not just “available,” i.e., not just as sources that can be read, but also working as if the libraries were some shrink-wrapped software!

Availability on Windows was important to me, because, at least in India, it’s the only platform of familiarity (and hence of choice) for almost all of the faculty members from any of the e-school departments other than CS/IT.

Hints: For OpenFOAM, check out blueCFD instead of running it through Dockers. It’s clean, and indeed works as advertised. As to Gmsh, ditto. And, it also comes with Python wrappers.

While the availability of OpenFOAM on Windows was only too welcome, the fact is, its code is guaranteed to be completely inaccessible to a typical junior faculty member from, say, a mechanical or a civil or a chemical engineering department. First, OpenFOAM is written in real (“templated”) C++. Second, it is very bulky (millions of lines of code, may be?). Clearly beyond the comprehension of a guy who has never seen more than 50 lines of C code at a time in his life before. Third, it requires the GNU compiler, special make environment, and a host of dependencies. You simply cannot open OpenFOAM and show how those FVM algorithms from Patankar’s/Versteeg & Malasekara’s book do the work, under its hood. Neither can you ask your students to change a line here or there, may be add a line to produce an additional file output, just for bringing out the actual working of an FVM algorithm.

In short, OpenFOAM is out.

So, I have decided to use OpenFOAM only as a “backup.” My primary teaching material will only be Python snippets. The students will also get to learn how to install OpenFOAM and run the simplest tutorials. But the actual illustrations of the CFD ideas will be done using Python. I plan to cover only FVM and only simpler aspects of that. For instance, I plan to use only structured rectangular grids, not non-orthogonal ones.

I will write code that (i) generates mesh, (ii) reads mesh generated by the blockMesh of OpenFOAM, (iii) implements one or two simple BCs, (iv) implements the SIMPLE algorithm, and (v) uses MatPlotLib or ParaView to visualize the output (including any intermediate outputs of the algorithms).

I may then compare the outputs of these Python snippets with a similar output produced by OpenFOAM, for one or two simplest cases like a simple laminar flow over step. (I don’t think I will be covering VOF or any other multi-phase technique. My course is meant to be covering only the basics.)

But not having checked Gmsh recently, and thus still carrying my old impressions, I was almost sure I would have to write something quick in Python to convert BMP files (showing geometry) into mesh files (with each pixel turning into a finite volume cell). The trouble with this approach was, the ability to impose boundary conditions would be seriously limited. So, I was a bit worried about it.

But then, last week, I just happened to check Gmsh, just to be sure, you know! And, WOW! I now “discovered” that the Gmsh is already all Python-ed in. Great! I just tried it, and found that it works, as bundled. Even on Windows. (Yes, even on Win7 (64-bit), SP1).

I was delighted, excited, even thrilled.

And then, I began “reflecting.” (Remember I am a professor?)

I remembered the times when I used to sit in a cyber-cafe, painfully downloading source code libraries over a single 64 kbps connection which would shared in that cyber-cafe over 6–8 PCs, without any UPS or backups in case the power went out. I would download the sources that way at the cyber-cafe, take them home to a Pentium machine running Win2K, try to open and read the source only to find that I had forgot to do the CLRF conversion first! And then, the sources wouldn’t compile because the make environment wouldn’t be available on Windows. Or something or the other of that sort. But still, I fought on. I remember having downloaded not only the OpenFOAM sources (with the hope of finding some way to compile them on Windows), but also MPICH2, PetSc 2.x, CGAL (some early version), and what not. Ultimately, after my valiant tries at the machine for a week or two, “nothing is going to work here” I would eventually admit to myself.

And here is the contrast. I have a 4G connection so I can comfortably seat at home, and use the Python pip (or the PyCharm’s Project Interpreter) to download or automatically update all the required libraries, even the heavy-weights like what they bundle inside SciPy and NumPy, or the VTK. I no longer have to manually ensure version incompatibilities, platform incompatibilities. I know I could develop on Ubuntu if I want to, and the student would be able to run the same thing on Windows.

Gone are those days. And how swiftly, it seems now.

How time flies…

I will be able to come back only next month because our accreditation-related documentation work has now gone into its final, culminating phase, which occupies the rest of this month. So, excuse me until sometime in February, say until 11th or so. I will sure try to post a snippet or two on using Gmsh in the meanwhile, but it doesn’t really look at all feasible. So, there.

Bye for now, and take care…

A Song I Like:

[Tomorrow is (Sanskrit, Marathi) “Ganesh Jayanti,” the birth-day of Lord Ganesha, which also happens to be the auspicious (Sanskrit, Marathi) “tithee” (i.e. lunar day) on which my mother passed away, five years ago. In her fond remembrance, I here run one of those songs which both of us liked. … Music is strange. I mean, a song as mature as this one, but I remember, I still had come to like it even as a school-boy. May be it was her absent-minded humming of this song which had helped? … may be. … Anyway, here’s the song.]

(Hindi) “chhup gayaa koi re, door se pukaarake”
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
Music: Hemant Kumar
Lyrics: Rajinder Kishan



“Math rules”?

My work (and working) specialization today is computational science and engineering. I have taught FEM, and am currently teaching both FEM and CFD.

However, as it so happens, all my learning of FEM and CFD has been derived only through self-studies. I have never sat in a class-room and learnt these topics in the usual learning settings. Naturally, there were, and are, gaps in my knowledge.

The most efficient way of learning any subject matter is through traditional and formal learning—I mean to say, our usual university system. The reason is not just that a teacher is available to teach you the material; even books can do that (and often times, books are actually better than teachers). The real advantage of the usual university education is the existence of those class-mates of yours.

Your class-mates indirectly help you in many ways.

Come the week of those in-semester unit tests, at least in the hostels of Indian engineering schools, every one suddenly goes in the studies mode. In the hostel hallways, you casually pass someone by, and he puts a simple question to you. It is, perhaps, his genuine difficulty. You try to explain it to him, find that there are some gaps in your own knowledge too. After a bit of a discussion, some one else joins the discussion, and then you all have to sheepishly go back to the notes or books, or solve a problem together. It helps all of you.

Sometimes, the friend could be even just showing off to you—he wouldn’t ask you a question if he knew you could answer it. You begin answering in your usual magnificently nonchalant manner, and soon reach the end of your wits. (A XI standard example: If the gravitational potential inside the earth is constant, how come a ball dropped in a well falls down? [That is your friend’s question, just to tempt you in the wrong direction all the way through.]… And what would happen if there is a bore all through the earth’s volume, assuming that the earth’s core is solid all the way through?) His showing off helps you.

No, not every one works in this friendly a mode. But enough of them do that one gets used to this way of studying/learning—a bit too much, perhaps.

And, it is this way of studying which is absent not only in the learning by pure self-studies alone, but also in those online/MOOC courses. That is the reason why NPTEL videos, even if downloaded and available on the local college LAN, never get referred to by individual students working in complete isolation. Students more or less always browse them in groups even if sitting on different terminals (and they watch those videos only during the examination weeks!)

Personally, I had got [perhaps excessively] used to this mode of learning. [Since my Objectivist learning has begun interfering here, let me spell the matter out completely: It’s a mix of two modes: your own studies done in isolation, and also, as an essential second ingredient, your interaction with your class-mates (which, once again, does require the exercise of your individual mind, sure, but the point is: there are others, and the interaction is exposing the holes in your individual understanding).]

It is to this mix that I have got too used to. That’s why, I have acutely felt the absence of the second ingredient, during my studies of FEM and CFD. Of course, blogging fora like iMechanica did help me a lot when it came to FEM, but for CFD, I was more or less purely on my own.

That’s the reason why, even if I am a professor today and even if I am teaching CFD not just to UG but also to PG students, I still don’t expect my knowledge to be as seamlessly integrated as for the other things that I know.

In particular, one such a gap got to the light recently, and I am going to share my fall—and rise—with you. In all its gloriously stupid details. (Feel absolutely free to leave reading this post—and indeed this blog—any time.)

In CFD, the way I happened to learn it, I first went through the initial parts (the derivations part) in John Anderson, Jr.’s text. Then, skipping the application of FDM in Anderson’s text more or less in its entirety, I went straight to Versteeg and Malasekara. Also Jayathi Murthy’s notes at Purdue. As is my habit, I was also flipping through Ferziger+Peric, and also some other books in the process, but it was to a minor extent. The reason for skipping the rest of the portion in Anderson was, I had gathered that FVM is the in-thing these days. OpenFOAM was already available, and its literature was all couched in terms of FVM, and so it was important to know FVM. Further, I could also see the limitations of FDM (like requirement of a structured Cartesian mesh, or special mesh mappings, etc.)

Overall, then, I had never read through the FDM modeling of Navier-Stokes until very recent times. The Pune University syllabus still requires you to do FDM, and I thus began reading through the FDM parts of Anderson’s text only a couple of months ago.

It is when I ran into having to run the FDM Python code for the convection-diffusion equation that a certain lacuna in my understanding became clear to me.

Consider the convection-diffusion equation, as given in Prof. Lorena Barba’s Step No.8, here [^]:

\dfrac{\partial u}{\partial t} + u \dfrac{\partial u}{\partial x} + v \dfrac{\partial u}{\partial y} = \nu \; \left(\dfrac{\partial ^2 u}{\partial x^2} + \dfrac{\partial ^2 u}{\partial y^2}\right)  \\  \dfrac{\partial v}{\partial t} + u \dfrac{\partial v}{\partial x} + v \dfrac{\partial v}{\partial y} = \nu \; \left(\dfrac{\partial ^2 v}{\partial x^2} + \dfrac{\partial ^2 v}{\partial y^2}\right)

I had never before actually gone through these equations until last week. Really.

That’s because I had always approached the convection-diffusion system via FVM, where the equation would be put using the Eulerian frame, and it therefore would read something like the following (using the compact vector/tensor notation):

\dfrac{\partial}{\partial t}(\rho \phi) +  \nabla \cdot (\rho \vec{u} \phi)  = \nabla \cdot (\Gamma \nabla \phi) + S
for the generic quantity \phi.

For the momentum equations, we substitute \vec{u} in place of \phi, \mu in place of \Gamma, and S_u - \nabla P in place of S, and the equation begins to read:
\dfrac{\partial}{\partial t}(\rho \vec{u}) +  \nabla \cdot (\rho \vec{u} \otimes \vec{u})  = \nabla \cdot (\mu \nabla \vec{u}) - \nabla P + S_u

For an incompressible flow of a Newtonian fluid, the equation reduces to:

\dfrac{\partial}{\partial t}(\vec{u}) +  \nabla \cdot (\vec{u} \otimes \vec{u})  = \nu \nabla^2 \vec{u} - \dfrac{1}{\rho} \nabla P + \dfrac{1}{\rho} S_u

This was the framework—the Eulerian framework—which I had worked with.

Whenever I went through the literature mentioning FDM for NS equations (e.g. the computer graphics papers on fluids), I more or less used to skip looking at the maths sections, simply because there is such a variety of reporting the NS equations, and those initial sections of the papers all go over the same background material. The meat of the paper comes only later. (Ferziger and Peric, I recall off-hand, mention that there are some 72 different ways of writing down the NS equations.)

The trouble occurred when, last week, I began really reading through (as in contrast to rapidly glancing over) Barba’s Step No. 8 as mentioned above. Let me copy-paste the convection-diffusion equations once again here, for ease of reference.

\dfrac{\partial u}{\partial t} + u \dfrac{\partial u}{\partial x} + v \dfrac{\partial u}{\partial y} = \nu \; \left(\dfrac{\partial ^2 u}{\partial x^2} + \dfrac{\partial ^2 u}{\partial y^2}\right)  \\  \dfrac{\partial v}{\partial t} + u \dfrac{\partial v}{\partial x} + v \dfrac{\partial v}{\partial y} = \nu \; \left(\dfrac{\partial ^2 v}{\partial x^2} + \dfrac{\partial ^2 v}{\partial y^2}\right)

Look at the left hand-side (LHS for short). What do you see?

What I saw was an application of the following operator—an operator that appears only in the Lagrangian framework:

\dfrac{\partial}{\partial t} + (\vec{u} \cdot \nabla)

Clearly, according to what I saw, the left hand-side of the convection-diffusion equation, as written above, is nothing but this operator, as applied to \vec{u}.

And with that “vision,” began my fall.

“How can she use the Lagrangian expression if she is going to use a fixed Cartesian—i.e. Eulerian—grid? After all, she is doing FDM here, isn’t she?” I wondered.

If it were to be a computer graphics paper using FDM, I would have skipped over it, presuming that they would sure transform this equation to the Eulerian form some time later on. But, here, I was dealing with a resource for the core engineering branches (like mech/aero/met./chem./etc.), and I also had a lab right this week to cover this topic. I couldn’t skip over it; I had to read it in detail. I knew that Prof. Barba couldn’t possibly make a mistake like that. But, in this lesson, even right up to the Python code (which I read for the first time only last week), there wasn’t even a hint of a transformation to the Eulerian frame. (Initially, I even did a search on the string: “Euler” on that page; no beans.)

There must be some reason to it, I thought. Still stuck with reading a Lagrangian frame for the equation, I then tried to imagine a reasonable interpretation:

Suppose there is one material particle at each of the FDM grid nodes? What would happen with time? Simplify the problem all the way down. Suppose the velocity field is already specified at each node as the initial condition, and we are concerned only with its time-evolution. What would happen with time? The particles would leave their initial nodal positions, and get advected or diffused away. In a single time-step, they would reach their new spatial positions. If the problem data are arbitrary, their positions at the end of the first time-step wouldn’t necessarily coincide with grid points. If so, how can she begin her next time iteration starting from the same grid points?

I had got stuck.

I thought through it twice, but with the same result. I searched through her other steps. (Idly browsing, I even looked up her CV: PhD from CalTech. “No, she couldn’t possibly be skipping over the transformation,” I distinctly remember telling myself for the nth time.)

Faced with a seemingly unyielding obstacle, I had to fall back on to my default mode of learning—viz., the “mix.” In other words, I had to talk about it with someone—any one—any one, who would have enough context. But no one was available. The past couple of days being holidays at our college, I was at home, and thus couldn’t even catch hold of my poor UG students either.

But talking, I had to do. Finally, I decided to ask someone about it by email, and so, looked up the email ID of a CFD expert, and asked him if he could help me with something that is [and I quote] “seemingly very, very simple (conceptual) matter” which “stumps me. It is concerned with the application of Lagrangian vs. Eulerian frameworks. It seems that the answer must be very simple, but somehow the issue is not clicking-in together or falling together in place in the right way, for me.” That was yesterday morning.

It being a week-end, his reply came fairly rapidly, by yesterday afternoon (I re-checked emails at around 1:30 PM); he had graciously agreed to help me. And so, I rapidly wrote up a LaTeX document (for equations) and sent it to him as soon as I could. That was yesterday, around 3:00 PM. Satisfied that finally I am talking to someone, I had a late lunch, and then crashed for a nice ciesta. … Holidays are niiiiiiiceeeee….

Waking up at around 5:00 PM, the first thing I did, while sipping a cup of tea, was to check up on the emails: no reply from him. Not expected this soon anyway.

Still lingering in the daze of that late lunch and the ciesta, idly, I had a second look at the document which I had sent. In that problem-document, I had tried to make the comparison as easy to see as possible, and so, I had taken care to write down the particular form of the equation that I was looking for:

\dfrac{\partial u}{\partial t} + \dfrac{\partial u^2}{\partial x} + \dfrac{\partial uv}{\partial y} = \nu \; \left(\dfrac{\partial ^2 u}{\partial x^2} + \dfrac{\partial ^2 u}{\partial y^2}\right)  \\  \dfrac{\partial v}{\partial t} + \dfrac{\partial uv}{\partial x} + \dfrac{\partial v^2}{\partial y} = \nu \; \left(\dfrac{\partial ^2 v}{\partial x^2} + \dfrac{\partial ^2 v}{\partial y^2}\right)

“Uh… But why would I keep the product terms like u^2 inside the finite difference operator?” I now asked myself, still in the lingering haze of the ciesta. “Wouldn’t it complicate, say, specifying boundary conditions and all?” I was trying to pick up my thinking speed. Still yawning, I idly took a piece of paper, and began jotting down the equations.

And suddenly, before even completing writing down the very brief working-out by hand, the issue had already become clear to me.

Immediately, I made me another cup of tea, and while still sipping it, launched TexMaker, wrote another document explaining the nature of my mistake, and attached it to a new email to the expert. “I got it” was the subject line of this new email I wrote. Hitting the “Send” button, I noticed what time it was: around 7 PM.

Here is the “development” I had noted in that document:

Start with the equation for momentum along the x-axis, expressed in the Eulerian (conservation) form:

\dfrac{\partial u}{\partial t} + \dfrac{\partial u^2}{\partial x} + \dfrac{\partial uv}{\partial y} = \nu \; \left(\dfrac{\partial ^2 u}{\partial x^2} + \dfrac{\partial ^2 u}{\partial y^2}\right)

Consider only the left hand-side (LHS for short). Instead of treating the product terms u^2 and uv as final variables to be discretized immediately, use the product rule of calculus in the same Eulerian frame, rearrange, and apply the zero-divergence property for the incompressible flow:

\text{LHS} = \dfrac{\partial u}{\partial t} + \dfrac{\partial u^2}{\partial x} + \dfrac{\partial uv}{\partial y}  \\  = \dfrac{\partial u}{\partial t} + u \dfrac{\partial u}{\partial x} + u\dfrac{\partial u}{\partial x} + u \dfrac{\partial v}{\partial y} + v \dfrac{\partial u}{\partial y}  \\  = \dfrac{\partial u}{\partial t} + u \dfrac{\partial u}{\partial x} + u \left[\dfrac{\partial u}{\partial x} + \dfrac{\partial v}{\partial y} \right] + v \dfrac{\partial u}{\partial y}  \\  = \dfrac{\partial u}{\partial t} + u \dfrac{\partial u}{\partial x} + u \left[ 0 \right] + v \dfrac{\partial u}{\partial y}; \qquad\qquad \because \nabla \cdot \vec{u} = 0 \text{~if~} \rho = \text{~constant}  \\  = \dfrac{\partial u}{\partial t} + u \dfrac{\partial u}{\partial x} + v \dfrac{\partial u}{\partial y}

We have remained in the Eulerian frame throughout these steps, but the final equation which we got in the end, happens to be identical as that for the Lagrangian frame! Magic!!

The “magic” occurs only because the flow is incompressible. For a compressible flow, the equations should continue looking different, because \rho would be a variable, and so it would have to be accounted for with a further application of the product rule while evaluating \frac{\partial}{\partial t}(\rho u), \frac{\partial}{\partial x}(\rho u^2) and \frac{\partial}{\partial x}(\rho uv) etc.

But as it so happens, for the current case, even if the final equations look exactly the same, we should not supply the same physical imagination.

We don’t imagine the Lagrangian particles at nodes. Our imagination continues remaining Eulerian throughout the development, with our focus not on the advected particles’ positions but on the flow variables u and v at the definite (fixed) points in space.

Sometimes, just expressing your problem to someone else itself pulls you out of your previous mental frame, and that by itself makes the problem disappear—in other words, the problem gets solved without your “solving” it. But to do that, you need someone else to talk to!

But how could I make such stupid and simple a mistake, you ask? This is something even a UG student at an IIT would be expected to know! [Whether they always do, or not, is a separate issue.]

Two reasons:

First: As I said, there are gaps in my knowledge of computational mechanics. More gaps than you would otherwise expect, simply because I had never had class-mates with whom to discuss my learning of computational  mechanics, esp., CFD.

Second: I was getting deeper into the SPH in the recent weeks, and thus was biased to read only the Lagrangian framework if I saw that expression.

And a third, more minor reason: One tends to be casual with the online resources. “Hey it is available online already. I could reuse it in a jiffy, if I want.” Saying that every time you visit the resource, but indefinitely postponing actually reading through it. That’s the third reason.

And if I could make so stupid a mistake, and hold it for such a long time (a day or so), then how could I then see through it, even if only eventually?

One reason: Crucial to that development is the observation that the divergence of velocity is zero for an incompressible flow. My mind was trained to look for it.

Even if the Pune University syllabus explicitly states that derivations will not be asked on the examinations, just for the sake of solidity in students’ understanding, I had worked through all the details of all the derivations in my class. During those routine derivations, you do use this crucial property in simplifying the NS equations, but on the right hand-side, i.e., for the surface forces term (while simplifying for the Newtonian fluid). Anderson does not work it out fully [see his p. 66] nor do Versteeg and Malasekara. But I anyway had worked it out fully, in my class… So, my mind was already trained and primed for this observation.

So, it was easy enough to spot the same pattern—even before jotting it down on paper—once it began appearing on the left hand-side of the same equation.

Hard-work pays off—if not today, tomorrow.

CFD books always emphasize the idea that the 4 combinations produced by (i) differential-vs-integral forms and (ii) Lagrangian-vs-Eulerian forms all look different, and yet, they still are the same. Books like Anderson’s take special pains to emphasize this point.

Yes, in a way, all equations are the same: all the four mathematical forms express the same physical principle.

However, when seen from another perspective, what we saw above was an example of two equations which look exactly the same in every respect, but in fact are not to be viewed as such.

One way of reading this equation is to imagine inter-connected material particles getting advected according to that equation in their local framework. Another way of reading exactly the same equation is to imagine a fluid flowing past those fixed FDM nodes, with only the nodal flow properties changing according to that equation.

Exactly the same maths (i.e. the same equation), and of course, also the same physical principle, but a different physical imagination.

And you want to tell me “math [sic] rules?”

I Song I Like:

(Hindi) “jaag dil-e-deewaanaa, rut jaagee…”
Singer: Mohamad Rafi
Music: Chitragupt
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri

[As usual, may be another editing pass…]


“They don’t even touch a good text-book!”

“They don’t even touch a good text-book!”

This line is a very common refrain that one often hears in faculty rooms or professors’ cabins, in engineering colleges in India.

Speaking in factual terms, there is a lot of truth to it. The assertion itself is overwhelmingly true. The fact that the student has never looked into a good (or “reference” or “foreign authors'”) text is immediately plain and clear to anyone who has ever graded their examination papers, or worked as an examiner on the oral/viva voce examinations.

The undergraduate Indian students these days, esp. those in Pune and Mumbai, and esp. those in the private engineering colleges, always refer to only a locally published text for all their studies.

These texts are published by a few local publishers well known to the students (and their professors). I wouldn’t mind dropping a few names: Nirali, Pragati, TechMax, etc. The books are published at almost throw-away prices (e.g. Rs. 200–300). (There also exists a highly organized market for the second-hand books. No name written, no pencil marks? Some 75% of the cost returned. Etc. There is a bold print, too—provided, the syllabus hasn’t changed in the meanwhile. In that case, there is no resale value whatsoever!)

The authors of these texts themselves are professors in these same private engineering colleges. They know the system in and out. No, I am not even hinting at any deliberate fraud or malpractice here. Quite on the contrary.

The professors who write these local text-books often are enthusiastic teachers themselves. You would have to be very enthusiastic, because the royalties they “command” could be as low as a one-time payment of Rs. 50,000/- or so. The payment is always only a one-time payment (meaning, there are no recurring royalties even if a text book becomes a “hit”), and it never exceeds Rs. 1.5 lakhs lump-sum or so. (My figures are about 5 year old.) Even if each line is copied verbatim from other books, the sheer act of having to write down (and then proof-read) some 200 to 350 pages requires for the author to invest, I have been told, between 2 to 4 months, working overtime, neglecting family and all. The monthly salary of these professors these days can easily approach or exceed Rs. 1 lakh. So, clearly, money is not the prime motivation here. It has to be something else: Enthusiasm, love of teaching, or even just the respect or reputation that an author hopes to derive in the sub-community of these local engineering colleges!

These professors—the authors—also often are well experienced (15–40 years of teaching experience is common), and they know enough to know what kind of examination questions are likely to come up on the university examinations. (They themselves have gone through the same universities.) They write these books targeting only task: writing the marks-scoring answers on those university examinations. Thus, these “text” books are more or less nothing but a student aid (or what earlier used to be called the “guide” books).

It in fact has evolved into a separate genre by itself. Contrary to an impression wide-spread among professors of private engineering colleges in India, there in fact are somewhat similar books also used heavily by the students in the USA. Thus, these local Indian books are nothing but an improvised version of the Schaums’ series in science and engineering (or the Sparks Notes in the humanities, in the US schools).

But there is a further feature here. There is a total customization thrown in here. These local books are now-a-days written (or at least adapted) to exactly match the detailed syllabus of each university separately. So, there are different books, by the same author and for the same subject, but one for Mumbai University, and the other for Pune University, etc. Students never mix up the universities.

The syllabus for each university is followed literally, down to dividing the text into chapters as per the headings of the modules mentioned in the syllabus (usually six per course), and dividing each chapter into sections, with the headings and order of these sections strictly following the order and the letter of the syllabus. The text in each section is followed by a compilation of the past university examination questions (of that same university) pertaining to that particular section alone. Most of these past examination questions are solved in the text—that’s the bulk of the book. When the opening page of a chapter lists the sections in it, the list also carries, in the parentheses, whether this section is “theory” or “numericals”.

Overall, the idea is, even just looking at the “text” book, a student can easily anticipate whether a question is likely to be asked on a given section or not, and if yes, of what kind. The students also work out many logics: “Every semester, they have asked a question on this section. So we have to mug it up well.” Or, playing the “contra”: “Last three semesters, not a single question here? It’s going to come this time round.” Etc. (Yes, I followed this practice in my lectures, too—I did want my students to score well on the final university examinations, after all!)

The customization, for each revision of the syllabus of each university, is done down to that level of detail. So, for the first year course on electrical engineering, you have one text-book of title, say, Electrical Engg. (FE), Pune University, 2012 course, and another text book, now of the title, say, Basic Electrical Technology (FE), Mumbai University, 2011 course. Etc.

That’s what I mean, when I use the phrase the “local” text-books.

I certainly don’t mean the SI Units editions of American texts, or the Indian Standards-adapted editions of reputed texts (such as, say, Shigley’s on design or Thomson and Dahleh’s on vibrations). I don’t mean the inexpensive Indian editions of foreign texts (such as those by Pearson, Wiley, ELBS, etc.) I also don’t mean the text-books written by the well-known Indian authors working right in India (such as those by IIT professors, and published by, say, Universities Press, Narosa, or PHI). I don’t even mean the more general text-books written for Indian universities and/or the AMIE examinations (such as those by S. Chand, Khanna, CBS, etc.). When I say “local” text-books, I specifically mean the books of the kind mentioned above.

Undergraduate students in Pune and Mumbai these days refer only to these local books.

They (really) don’t even bother to touch a good reference text, even if it’s available on the college library shelf.

In contrast, in our times, the problem was, we simply didn’t have the “foreign authors'” texts available to us—not always even in the COEP library. In those days, sometimes, such books happened to be too expensive, even for COEP’s library. And, even back then, Shahani’s text-books anyway were available. But at least, they didn’t cater to only the Pune university (they would list problems from universities as far flung as Madras, Gorakhpur, Agra, Allahabad, etc.) And, in fact, these books were generally looked down upon. Even by the students themselves.

The contrast to today’s situation is too glaring. Naturally, professors sometimes do end up saying the title line with a tone of exasperation.

Yes, I used to sometimes say that line myself, of course with sarcasm, when I taught in the late ’80s in the Pune of those days. (The situation back then was not so acute.) Almost as if by habit, I also repeated the line when I more recently taught a course at COEP (2009, FEM). However, observing students, somehow, my line had somehow begun to lose that cutting edge it once had. First, at COEP, I had the freedom to design this course (on FEM), and they did buy at least Logan and/or Cook. (Even if I was distributing my PDF notes.) And, there was something else to it, too. I somehow got a vague feel that it somehow wouldn’t be fully right to blame students (I mean COEP students in general). However, my COEP stint was only for one semester, only for one course, and only as a visiting faculty. So, the vague feel simply remained what it was—just a vague feel.

Then, recently in 2014, when I began teaching at a private engineering college in Mumbai, I once again heard this line from the other professors. And, I used it myself too. With the usual sarcasm. I did that perhaps for the most part of my first semester there.

However, some way down the line, I once again got that vague feel that, may be, something was “wrong” somewhere, even here, in Mumbai: these kids really were trying to be sincere, and yet, for some reason unknown to me, they still wouldn’t at all refer to good texts.

This is an aside, but I can tell you that it’s very easy to read the faces of the insincere people, esp. when they are young. There are some insincere students too. But, at least going by my own experience, they are in a minority. (It is a headache-some minority. Yet, by numerical magnitude alone, it certainly is in a small minority.) I am not saying this to be politically correct, or to win points from students. What I said is the factual case. In fact, my experience is that when it comes to in-sincerity, parents easily outperform their children. May be because, the specific parents that we mostly end up seeing in college are those whose kids have some problem—low attendance, fee payments, other issues, etc. The parents with whom we get to interact really well, thus, happens to be a self-selected sub-group. They aren’t necessarily representative of all parents… Yet, I am also sure that that’s not the real reason why I think parents can easily be more insincere. I think the real reason is that, at their age, the kids are actually unable to fake too much. It’s far easier for them to be sincere than to be a fake and still get away with it. They just can’t manage it, regardless of their desire. And, looking at it in a better light, I here remember what Ayn Rand had once said in a somewhat similar context, “one doesn’t start out in life by spitting on one’s own face—it’s not in the essential nature of life” or something like that. (Off-hand, I think, it was in the preface to the 25th anniversity edition of The Fountainhead.) So, the kids, by and large, are sincere. … By the time they themselves become parents—well, let’s leave that story right here. (We need them to make all those fee payments, anyway…)

So, coming back to the main thread, I would anyway generally chat with the students, and so, I started asking, esp. some of the more talkative students, the reason why they might not be referring to good texts. After all, in my lectures, I would try to provide very specific references: specific section numbers or even page numbers, in a specific edition of a specific reference text. (And these texts were available in the college library.) Why, I once had even distributed an original research paper. (It was Griffth’s seminal 1920 paper starting the field of fracture mechanics. Griffith’s argument here is rather conceptual, and the paper has surprisingly very little maths. Whatever the maths there is, it is very easily accessible to the SE students, too.)

The result of my initial attempts to understand the reason (why students don’t read good texts) was not so encouraging. The talkative students began dropping by my cabin once in a while, asking which section to use while answering a certain assignment question or so. However, they still only rarely used those better texts, when it came to actually completing their assignments. And, in the unit tests (and in the final end-sem examination), they invariably ended up quoting only the local text books (whether verbatim or not).

The exercise was, thus, futile. And yet, the students’ sincerity—at least the sincerity of their desire, as in contrast to their actions—could not be put in doubt.

So, I took it as a challenge. I set this as a problem for myself: To discover the main reason(s) why my students don’t refer to good text-books. The real underlying reason(s), regardless of whatever they otherwise did to impress me.

It took a while for me to crack the problem. I would anyway generally chat with them, enquiring where they lived, what their parents did, about their friends and brothers and sisters, etc. In addition, I would also observe, now with this new challenge somewhere at the back of my mind, how they behaved (or rushed around) in college: in hallways, labs, canteen, college ground, even at the bus-stop just outside the college, etc.

…Finally, I got it! At least one reason, a main reason, a systemic reason that applied even to those who otherwise were good, talented, curious, or just plain sincere.

As soon as I discovered the reason, I shared it with every one. In fact, I first shared it with my students, before I did with my colleagues or superiors. The answer lies in an Excel spreadsheet, here [^]. (It actually was created in OpenOffice Calc, on Windows 7.)  Go ahead, download it, and play with it a bit. The embedded formulae should be self-explanatory.

The numbers used in the spreadsheet may differ. The specific numbers I have used in the spreadsheet refer to my estimates while working at a college in Mumbai, in particular, in Navi Mumbai. In Mumbai, the time lost commuting is really an issue. If a student lives in Thane or Andheri and attends a college in Navi Mumbai, he easily spends about 3–4 hours in the daily commute (home->bus->railway station/second bus/metro–>another bus or six-seater, all of it taking about 1.5 hours one way, or more). In Pune, the situation is much more heterogeneous. One student could be spending 3 hours commuting both ways (think: from Nigdi to VIT) whereas some other student could be just happily walking to the college campus (think: Paud Phata residents, and MIT). It all depends. In Pune, many students would be using two-wheelers. In any case, for a professor, the only practical guideline for the entire class that he can at all use, would have to be statistical in nature. So, it’s the class average for the daily commute time that matters. For Mumbai in general, it could be 2–3 hours, for Pune students, it could be, say, between 1 to 2 hours (both ways put together).

So Pune is a bit easier on students. In contrast, for many of my Mumbai students, the situation was bad (or even very bad), and they were trying hard (or very hard) to make the best of it. It must have been at least a bit frustrating to them when professors like me, on the top of everything, were demanding making references to good foreign texts, and openly using a sarcastic tone—even if generously laced with humor—if they didn’t. It must have been frustrating to at least 40–60% of them. (The number is my estimate of those who were genuinely interested in referring to good books, even if only for the better-drawn and colorful diagrams, photographs, and also mathematical proofs that came without errors or without arbitrary replacement of \partial by d.)

And why do I say that it must have been frustrating? Why didn’t I say it might have been frustrating?

Because, I cannot ever forget that look of that incredibly honest appreciation which slowly appeared on all their faces (including the faces of the “back-benchers”), as I shared my discovery in detail with them.

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

How about your college? Your case?

Do you have the time to read good, lengthy, or conceptually clarifying “reference” texts? Say, Timoshenko (app. mech. and strength of materials); Shames, or Popov (strength of materials); White, or Fox & McDonald, or Som & Biswas (Fluid Mech.); Holman, or Nag, or Sukhatme (Heat Transfer)?

And, if you do, do you spend time reading these texts? If yes, did you complete them (I mean only the portion relevant to the syllabus) in the same semester that you were learning or teaching the subject for the first time? Could you have?

And yes, in my last sentence, I have included “teaching” too. My questions are directed to the professors too. In fact, my questions are directed, first and foremost, only at them.

After all, it is the professors—or at least some of us—who are in the driver’s seat here; the students never are. It is the professors who (i) design the syllabii as well as the examination schemes (including the number of tests to have and their nature), (ii) decide on the number of assignments (and leave no opportunity to level criticism in our capacity as External Examiners, if the length or difficulty of an assignment falls short), (iii) decide on the course text-books (and take due care to list more than 5 prescribed text-books, and more than 10 reference books per course) (iv) decide on the student attendance criteria in detail, up to the individual course level, and report on the defaulting students (and follow through with the meetings with their parents) every two weeks or at least once a month, (v) set the examination papers according to the established pattern—after all, it’s only us who is going to check the papers!, (vi) sometimes, write those local text-books!, and (vii) also keep the expectation that students should somehow show in their final university examination answer books, some evidence of having gone through some good, thick, reference texts, too. Whether we ourselves had managed to do that during our own UG years or not!

And, yes, I also want the IIX professors to ponder over these matters. All their students enjoy a fully residential program; these kids from these private engineering colleges mostly don’t. They at IIXs always get to design all their course syllabii and decide on the examination patterns, and they even get to enjoy the sole responsibility to grade their students. The possibility of adopting a marks normalization scheme, after the examination, always lies at hand, with them, just in case a topic took too long with a certain class or so… Are they then being reasonable in their request demand that the students of these “other” engineering colleges in India be well-read enough, at least by the time the students join them at IIXs for ME/MTech studies?

As to me, no, as I indicated in my earlier posts, while being a professor, I could not always find the time to do that—referring to good text-books. I tried, but basically my situation wasn’t much different from that of my students—we both were short on the available time. So, I didn’t always succeed.

[As to my own UG years, it was mixed: I did hunt for months, and got my hands on, the books like Reed-Hill, White, Holman, etc. However, I would be dishonest if I claimed that it was right during my UG years that I had got whatever I did, from books like these. In my case, the learning continued for years. Yes, I even bought and religiously studied once again even Thomas & Finney’s calculus, when I was in my PhD program at UAB. Despite my attempts during the UG years, I really cannot ascribe a large part, or even a significant part of my current understanding to my UG years. Your case may be different; I was just narrating my own experience.]

… And, as far making references to good books goes, now that I do have time at my hand these days, there is another problem: I don’t know what course in particular I will be teaching the next semester, and where—or for that matter, whether some college will even hire me in the first place, or not.

So, I end up “wasting” my time writing blog posts like this one. Thus, I, too, end up not touching a good reference text!

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

A Song I Like:

(Hindi) “aane waalaa pal, jaane waalaa hai…”
Lyrics: Gulzaar
Singer: Kishor Kumar
Music: R. D. Burman

[I will go over this post once again, editing it, and may be adding a bit here and there. Done. This post is already too long. So, I will write another post—a brief one—to jot down some tips to make the best possible use of the student’s time—including my suggestions to the engineering colleges as to what they can do to help the students. Also, my take on whether the system as noted above has diluted the quality of education or not—esp. as in contrast to what we had as UG students at COEP more than three decades ago.]



University Courses in Mechanical Engineering that I Could Teach

0. Hey fellowbloggers (or at least my blogreaders),

These are the times of recruitment for faculty positions in India. As you know, I, too, am trying (once again!).

In academia, my main interest is neither administration nor for that matter even teaching in the sense the word is often understood in India, but, mainly research, and also, course development (as is possible at autonomous institutes  (but Somaiya, headed by Prof. Shubha Pandit, who as a student was senior to me at COEP by just one year, didn’t even call me for an interview, or bother to reply my query emails.)).

1. A List of the Mechanical Engineering Courses that I Could Teach:

Here is a list of courses in Mechanical Engineering that I am confident I could teach, despite having had my bachelor’s and master’s degrees only in Metallurgy. The list is indicative, and not complete. I have tried to order the list in the decreasing order of my preference. Thus, the courses appearing near the top is what I am currently most interested in teaching, esp. at the master’s level. The level at which these courses get offered is also indicated in parentheses. The courses in italics are the courses I taught most recently.

  1. Computational Fluid Dynamics (BE/ME)
  2. Finite Element Method (TE/BE/ME)
  3. Fluid Mechanics (SE/TE)
  4. Heat Transfer (TE)
  5. Mechanical Vibrations (TE)
  6. Advanced Stress Analysis/Elasticity (ME)
  7. Fracture Mechanics (ME)
  8. Strength of Materials (SE)
  9. Thermodynamics (SE)

As you can see, they span over two sub-divisions currently routine in Indian universities: thermal, and design. But more troublesome to the Indian academia is the fact that I jumped from Metallurgy to Mechanical, and therefore, they insist, I must teach Materials Technology.

2. A Special Note on Why I Should Not Teach Materials Technology:

Despite my academic degrees, I am not at all interested in teaching Materials Science/Engineering/Technology at any level. There are a few reasons for that.

(i) My Own Personal Reason:

Teaching a course does build a sort of vortex of ideas or an “ideas-sink” in which your mind gets drawn, at least for the duration of one entire semester. But, at my age of 52 (soon 53), I don’t have enough time at hand in my life to still be led away from my core research interests: computational mechanics/engineering.

(ii) Empirically, and statistically, it’s also not very good for all the students :

I also honestly think that the existing professors/others do a better job teaching it, at least at the SE level. This, in fact has actually been the case.

When I taught Materials Technology last (to SE students), the “top” 10% of the class was happy to very happy, with some students on their own coming in and gushing an almost embarassing kind of praise on me. [Drop a line to me and I will give you some quotes, though for reasons of breach of trust and confidentiality, I will not divulge the names of the students themselves]. (The “top” students need not have been class toppers, but they did tend to cluster somewhere towards the top; certainly they were above class average.)

But the in the final University examination, more students failed my course than what has been the historical average at the college where I taught. Reason?

I tend to explain well (even “average” students have told me that, not just the “top”), but in a “theoretical” subject like Materials Technology, what the below-average (and even average) students need is a sequence of those point-by-point model answers, whether explanation accompanies it or not. I try, but tend not to actually deliver very well, on that count.

Further, the average or below-average students also need a lot of “drilling in,” and I am not as good at it as other professors are, because as I focus mainly on supplying explanations: on fundamentals and how they connect together, and how they lead to something of importance in practice. In the process, I either tend to forget the drilling-in part, or the lecture-time simply gets over. All the three parts of (a) finishing the syllabus and, (b) also supplying explanations, and (c) also drilling in for the below-average students, is practically impossible for me. I can do (a) and (b) but not (c). Other professors probably do (a) and (c) and tend to ignore (b). But they are more successful as far as University exam results are concerned.

So, it’s an empirically established fact that I actually do poorly (or at least not as well) on the Materials Technology course at the SE level.

As to the student praise, they have also rushed in and gushed an almost embarassing sort of praise, also for the other courses I taught. But in spite of praising me, their performance on the final University exams was not affected much adversely. In fact, in all these other courses, they performed either slightly better or even noticeably better, than what had been the past historical average at the college. Why? Here is my reasoning.

The University examinations for these courses involve “sums” i.e. quantitative problems. If I still focus more on fundamentals and conceptual explanations in the class, and discuss only an outline of the problem attack strategy (and the reasons why) in the class, and then assign the full solution for home-work, the students do “get it.” They somehow go home, try some “sums,” and thereby manage to get both: a better conceptual knowledge, as well as the development of the examination-taking skills. At least, statistically speaking. And, at least as per my actual, empirical, observation.

In constrast, when it comes to Materials Technology, home-work assignments doesn’t work, because students simply copy from each other, or write some shortened versions of paragraphs from a locally published book, without ever pausing to think what they were writing. They, in essence, they take down a dictation from the local book. (Some had even had their brothers and sisters take down the dictation from the book, complete with a noticeably different hand-writing.) So, when it comes MT, my teaching + home-work is not an effective strategy. (Copying goes on also in other courses, but the fact that the problem on examination would be an unknown “sum” (at least one with different numerical values!) induces them to at least work through some of the assignment problems.)

But for Materials Technology, since the University examination emphasizes descriptions and not quantitative problems, or not even some “theoretical” but objective questions really probing deeper aspects, it requires a different kind of a drilling-in technique on the professor’s part. I am, as I said, not good on that count—and in fact, never was, ever in my life, even when I was a student myself. My lack of the “skill” shows in the results of my students.

This is an indication of the kind of reasons why I should make for a better professor for the listed courses rather than for the one course that seems to be a favorite one for the interview-committees: Materials Technology.

The interview committee members, if they read this blog, would now know how dumb a question it is to ask me why I don’t want to teach MT, and how much even dumber it would be for them to do resource planning or time-table scheduling assuming that I would handle MT. The empirical facts concerning the University examination indicate otherwise, despite my sincere and honest try at it (even if the matter was against my explicitly stated preference). And, if you now doubt my sincerity (as Indians are likely to do), go ask my students of MT—including those who failed in the final University examinations (or on my class tests). They themselves will tell you the real story. Then, if you wish, come back and share it with me. I remain open to that possibility—if you take some effort over and above that requiring to be a Doubting Tom.

3. Guiding Student Projects:

Apart from these, feel free to peruse some 7–8 ideas for student projects at the ME (Mech.) level that I have indicated in this blog recently. … Some of these (and other) ideas, suitably expanded, are good enough to guide at least one or two PhDs in Mechanical Engineering.

I also have quite a few other ideas that I have not even mentioned. For instance, I once wrote extended abstracts for a couple of papers, anticipating that an ME student would join me to work on these, and both these extended abstracts were accepted at a high quality international conference. The papers were based on an idea for an ME project that I haven’t mentioned on this blog. I had to withdraw the papers after acceptance, because I didn’t have an ME student to work with me. (You see, the papers were about CFD, and my friends in Mechanical engineering were busy avoiding polluting their branch with Metallurgy graduates, throwing as many obstacles in my path as humanly possible to them.)

Apart from it all, I could easily co-guide a few projects from the CS and Civil fields.

4. Co-Curricular Development of the Post-graduate Students and Junior Faculty Members:

I could also conduct special short-term courses for final year BE/ME students and/or junior faculty in random areas such as:

  • LaTeX and Beamer (including scalable graphics for manuscript submissions)
  • Python and Its Ecosystem
  • Open Source Packages in CAE
  • CFD with FVM. (No commercial packages, even if  available at the college, but with some custom-written simple programs written in Python, or using FiPy (but not OpenFOAM))
  • FEM. (No commercial packages, even if  available at the college, but with some custom-written simple programs written in Python, or SfePy, etc.)
  • OpenFOAM. (Only introductory, but certainly going a bit beyond the tutorials included in the official documentation, or IIT Bombay’s Spoken Tutorials.)
  • GIS using QGIS (Mostly based on Ujaval Gandhi’s tutorials, going just a bit here and there beyond it.)

5. Never Lose the Focus:

But just in case we lose the focus: Please go through the list of the routine courses in Mechanical Engineering proper that I can teach, as mentioned at the beginning of the post. That’s what really counts for the interview process.

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

A Song I Like:

Not to be noted for this post [unless I change my mind later]

(Western Classical)
Composer: Franz Liszt
Work: Liebestraum No. 3

[I could not find on the ‘net the rendering that I first heard and still like the most (and as usual, have lost the cassette for it by now). It was quite modern-sounding (it even had drums!), but without ever getting loud, gaudy, or ever overshadowing the original subtlety. Sorry, but I didn’t as much appreciate most of the renderings now thrown up on priority in a Google search on Liszt. (The rendering I heard must have been from ’70s or ’80s, because I had bought the cassette in India, in the late ’80s.)

… The post is technically over, complete with this section on the songs I like too, but I still can’t resist the temptation to share this bit. It’s a quote concerning Liszt which I found being quoted as a part of a doctoral study in music at the Indian University [^]:

“…When Liszt was teaching his famous master classes in Weimar at the end of his life, one day a student brought to him his famous Liebestraüm No. 3. After he played, Liszt was very mad because while performing the cadenza written in small notes (found on the second last page of the piece), the student had played exactly what was written on the printed page. `But you are a pianist now, you have to make your own cadenzas!,’ Liszt spontaneously exclaimed after he played.”


[Minor editing after publication, as usual, is still possible.]




MWR for the first- and third-order differential equations

I am teaching an introductory course on FEA this semester. Teaching always involves learning—at least on the teacher’s side.

No, there was no typo in there. I did mean what I just said. It’s based on my own personal observation. Teaching actually involves (real) learning on the part of the teacher—and hopefully, if he is effective enough in his teaching (and if the student, too, is attentive and hard-working enough), then, also on the part of the student.

When you teach a course, in thinking about how to simplify the ideas involved, how to present them better, you have to mentally go over the topics again and again; you have to think and re-think about the material; you have to see if rearranging the ideas and the concepts involved or seeing them in a different light might make it any easier to “get” it or even just to retain it, and so on. … The end result is that you often actually end up deriving at least new mnemonics if not establishing new connections about the topics. In any case, you derive better conceptual integrations or strengthen them better. You end up mastering the material better than at the beginning of the course. … Or at least that’s what happens to me. I always end up learning at least a bit more about what I am teaching.

And, sometimes, the teacher even ends up deriving completely new ideas this way. At least, it seems, I just did—about the nature of FEA and computational mechanics in general. The idea is new, at least to me. But anyway, talking about this new idea is for some other day. … I have to first rigorously think about it. The idea, as of today, is just at that nascent phase (it struck me right this evening). I plan to put it to the paper soon, work out its details, refine the idea, and put it in a more rigorous form, etc. That will take time. And then, second, I have to also check whether someone has already published something of that kind or not. … As someone—was it Mark Twain?—said, the best of my ideas were stolen by the ancients… So, that part—checking the literature—too, will take quite some time. My own anticipation is that someone must have written something about it. In any case, it’s not all that big an idea. Just a simple something.

But, anyway, in the meanwhile, for this blog post, let me note down something different. An item, not of my knowledge, and not one of even potentially new knowledge, but of my ignorance, which got highlighted recently, during my lecture preparations.

I realized that if one of my students poses a question about it, I don’t know the reason why MWR (the method of weighted residuals) isn’t effective, or at least isn’t often used, and may be even cannot be relied on, for the first- and the third-order differential equations.  (See, see, see, I don’t even know whether it’s a “cannot” or an “isn’t”!) I don’t know the answer to that question.

Of course, as it so happens, most differential equations of engineering importance are only of the second and the fourth order. Whether linear or non-linear, they simply aren’t of the third-order. I haven’t myself seen a single third-order differential equation in any of the course-work I have ever done so far. Sure, I have seen such equations, but only in a mathematical handbook on the differential equations—never in a text-book or a monograph on engineering sciences as such. And, even if of the first-order, in physics and engineering, they often come as coupled equations, and thus, (almost nonchalantly, right in front of your eyes) jump into the usual class of the second-order differential equations—e.g. the partial differential wave equation.

Anyway, coming back to this MWR-related issue, I checked up the text-books by Reddy and Finlayson, but didn’t find the reason mentioned. I hope that someone knows the answer—someone would. So, I am going to raise this issue at iMechanica, right today.

That’s about all for this blog post, folks. Once I post my question at iMechanica, may be I will come back and add a link to it from here, but that’s about it. More, some other time.

[And, yes, I promise to blog about the new idea once I am done working it out and checking about it a bit. It just struck me just today, and it still is purely in the conceptual terms. The idea itself is such that it can (very) easily be translated into proper mathematical terms, but the point is: that’s something I haven’t done yet. Let me do that over, say the next few weeks/months, and then, sure, I will come back and blog about it a bit. I mean, I will sure blog about it way, way before sending any paper to any journal or so. That’s a promise. So, bye for now…]

* * * * *  * * * * *  * * * * *
I Song I Like:
(Marathi) “yaa bakuLichyaa zaaDaakhaali…”
Singer: Sushma Shreshtha
Lyrics: Vasant Bapat
Music: Bhanukant Luktuke



My comments at other blogs—part 2: Chalk-Work vs. [?] Slide-Shows

Prof. Richard Lipton (of GeorgiaTech) recently mused aloud on his blog about the (over)use of slides in talks these days. I left a comment on his blog yesterday, and then realized that my reply could make for a separate post all by itself. So, let me note here what I wrote.

Prof. Lipton’s posts, it seems, typically end with a section of the title: “Open Problems.” These are not some open technical problems of research, but just some questions of general interest that he raises for discussions. My reply was in reference to such a question:

“Do you like PowerPoint type talks or chalk talks?”

In the next section I give my (slightly edited) reply.

* * * * *  * * * * *  * * * * *

[Reply begins]

Both. (I am talking about the Open Problem.) Simultaneously. And, actually, something more.

On the rare occasions that Indians have allowed me to teach (I mean in the recent past of the last decade or so), I have found that the best strategy is:

(i) to use slides on a side-screen (and, actually, the plain wall besides the white-/black-board works great!)

(ii) and to keep the white-/black-board at the center, and extensively use it to explain the points as they systematically appear on the slides.

It’s the same old bones-and-flesh story, really speaking. Both are necessary.

Even if you don’t use the slides for a lecture, preparing them is still advisable, because a lot of forethought thereby has to go into structuring your presentation, including some thought about the amount of time to be allocated to each sub-unit of a lecture. Why, if you prepare the slides, even if you don’t use them, you would find that your management of the black-board space also has improved a great deal!

I know quite a few professors who seem to take the ability to deliver a lecture without referring to any notes or slides, as the standard by which to judge the lecturer’s own mastery of the subject matter. Quite fallacious, but somehow, at least in India—where there always is a great emphasis on memorization rather than on understanding—this opinion persists widely. … And, that way, the lecturer’s own mastery, even if necessary, is not at all sufficient to generate a great lecture, anyway. Newton in Cambridge would teach mostly to empty benches.

The flow of a spontaneously delivered lecture is fine, as far as it goes. But far too many professors have this tendency to take things—students, actually!—for granted. If you don’t prepare slides, it’s easy—far too easy, in fact—to do that.

I have known the “free-flowing” type of professors who would habitually dwell on the initial and actually simpler part of a lecture for far too long (e.g., spend time in drawing the reference diagrams (think FBD of mechanics) or in discussing the various simple parts of a simple definition, etc.), and then realizing that “portion is to be finished,” hurriedly wind up the really important points in the last five minutes or so. For example, I have seen some idiots spend up to 45 minutes explaining the simplest points such as, say, the household plumbing as an analogy for the electric circuits, or the movement of a worm as an analogy for the edge-dislocation motion, and then wind up in the remaining 15 minutes the really important topics like the Thevenin/Norton network theorem (EE) or mechanisms of dislocation growth (materials science).

Maths types are the worst as far as the so highly prized “flow”—and showing one’s genius by solving problems on the fly on the black-board without ever referring to notes—goes. Well, if you are going to prize your own genius in that manner, some other things are going to get sacrificed. And, indeed, they do! Ask yourself if your UG ODE/PDE teacher had appropriately emphasized the practically important points such as the well posed-ness of the DEs, or, for that matter, even the order of a DE and the number of auxiliary (boundary and/or initial) conditions that must be specified, and how—whether you can have both the flux and the field conditions specified at the same point or not, and why. I have known people who got these points only while taking post-graduate engineering courses like CFD or FEM, but not from the UG mathematics professors proper. The latter were busy being geniuses—i.e. calculating, without referring to notes or slides.

All such folks must face the arrogance of their idiocy if (to them) the highly constraining rule that slides must be prepared in advance for every lecture, is made compulsory. It should be!

You can never make anything fool-proof, of course. For every “free-flowing” guy of the above kind, there always is that despicable “nerdy” type… You know, one who meekly slides into his class with his slides/notes, hangs in nervously there for the duration of the lecture, puts up the slides and reads them aloud (if you are lucky, that is—I have suffered through some specimens who would merely mumble while vaguely looking somewhere in the direction of the slides), “solves” the problems already solved in the prescribed text-book, and then after a while, leaves the class with somewhat less meekness: carrying on his face some apparent sense of some satisfaction—of what kind, he alone knows. These types could certainly do well with the advise to do some chalk-work.

With slides, diagrams can be far more neat; students can copy definitions/points at their own convenience during the lecture, and you don’t have to wait for every one in the class to finish taking down the material before proceeding further because they know that hand-outs would be available anyway (because these are very easy to generate); and the best part: you don’t have to worry too much about your hand-writing.

In between PowerPoint and LaTeX, I personally like Beamer because: (i) its template makes me feel guilty any time I exceed three main points for an hour-long lecture (though I often do!), and (ii) I always have the assurance that the fonts won’t accidentally change, or that the diagrams wouldn’t begin floating with those dashed rectangles right in the middle of a lecture. And, it is free. To a mostly jobless guy like me, that helps.

Finally, one word about “more.” Apart from chalkwork and slideshows, there are many other modalities. Even simplest physical experimentation is often very useful (e.g., tearing a paper in a class on fracture mechanics, or explaining graph algorithms using knotted strings, say as hung down from this knot vs that knot, etc). Physical experimentation also kills the monotony and the boredom.

In my class, I also try to use simulations as much as possible. By simulation/animation, I do not mean the irritating things like those alphabets coming dancing down on a PowerPoint slide as if some reverse kind of a virus had hit the computer. I mean real simulations. For instance, in teaching solid mechanics, FEM simulation of stress fields is greatly useful. I gained some of the most valuable insights into classical EM only by watching animations, e.g., noticing how changing an electric current changes the magnetic field everywhere “simultaneously” (i.e. at each time step, even if the propagation of the disturbance is limited by ‘c’). In CS, you can spend one whole hour throwing slides on the screen, or doing chalk-work, or even stepping through code to explain how, e.g., the quicksort differs from the bubble sort, but a simple graphical visualization/animation showing the sorting process in action, delievers a certain key point within 5 minutes flat; it also concretizes the understanding in a way that would be imposible to achieve using any other means.

My two/three cents.

[Reply over]

* * * * *  * * * * *  * * * * *

See Prof. Lipton’s post and the other replies he got, here [^]; my original reply is here [^]. BTW, as an aside, when I wrote in my reply at his blog, the two replies immediately above mine (i.e., those by “CrackPot” and Prof. M. Vidyasagar) had not yet appeared, and so, there is no implied reference to them, or, for that matter, to any replies earlier either—-I just wrote whatever I did, in reference to the main post and the “Open Problems” question.

* * * * *  * * * * *  * * * * *

A Song I Like:

The “chalk-work” version:
(French) “L’amour est bleu”
Music: Andre Popp
Singer: Vicky Leandros
Lyrics: Pierre Cour

The “slide-show” version:
(Western instrumental): “Love is blue”
Orchestrator and Conductor: Paul Mauriat

[Asides: I had first heard Mauriat’s version on a cassette that I had generally bought sometime in the late 1980s, and till date was not at all aware that there also was an actual song with actual lyrics, here. I always thought that it was some instrumental composition by someone, all by itself. I saw the video of Vicky Leondros’ version only today, after an Internet search. And, the browsing (mostly Wiki!) also reveals that the singer’s real name was Vassiliki Papathanassiou, not Vicky Leandros. Though in the video recording she sometimes looks Asian, she actually was a Greek singer who sang in French while representing Luxemborg in the 1967 Eurovision Song competition, where she was placed 4th. And, Mauriat’s version, per Wiki, “became the only number-one hit by a French artist to top [sic] the “Billboard Hot 100” in America.Tch… Are they sure about this last bit? I mean, it serves to give just too much credit to the Americans, don’t you think?]


Part-time Teaching, Again…

Recently, I have accepted the position of a Visiting Professor at the Symbiosis Institute of Technology, Lavale, Pune, and have just begun teaching an introductory course on Finite Element Analysis to the students of MTech (Mechanical — CAD/CAM/CAE specialization) there, on a part-time basis.

The classes are held in the CAD/CAM/CAE lab., wherein they have everything one would have liked to see: an audio projector hooked to a PC + a networked PC for every student right in the class-room + no acoustic reverbaration problem in the class-room at all + timings convenient to me (OK to conduct classes on weekends and all). It’s a small class (< 20 students), and though it might be too early to form a judgment, the students do seem to be mature and responsive. (A couple of them have even worked in industry for a year or two.) I think I am going to enjoy teaching this course, even though my interest in FEM has been rapidly sliding down in the recent past—I am getting into the CFD field now.

FEM would, of course, continue to remain a matter of interest. Yet, the primary interest for the rest of my career, I have now firmed up my mind, now on is going to be: CFD. CFD using FVM and FDM and FEM, sure,  but what I especially have in mind are some of the more recent particles-based approaches like LBM (the lattice-Boltzmann method) and SPH (the smoothed particle hydrodynamics). Especially, LBM.

Both LBM and SPH are the particles-based approaches that are essentially (i) local, (ii) transient, and (iii) spatially cascading and temporally propagating in nature—so close to the very core of how, I realized only recently, I have always had approached understanding nature.  So much so that I have this “it’s me—it’s my way of doing things” feeling about it.

Indeed, my first memories of wanting a transient, local and propagating description goes as far back as at least the X/XI standard, right at the time when I was being taught Newton’s laws and calculus for the first time, and, unlike many other smart guys, had found the theoretical apparatus wanting when it came to exactly and directly capturing the physical reality the way I wished to. I didn’t have the words back then, though I would describe my differences animatedly. Now, I know the words, too. Things like: micro-dynamics, local, transient, cascading, propagating, feedbacks, emergent, etc. Back then, I didn’t have the words but still found the existing formalism wanting when it came to applying it to even simplest cases like the carrom-striker’s rebound, or the hitting of a ball by a bat. More on this all, again, later! (Do remind me!!)

Enough to say here, and for the time being, that the approach I developed during my PhD—an approach that is local and transient and propagating in nature—was a development that was very, very natural to me—my way of thinking. That way, I have always had fascination for fluids. Yet, comparatively, that’s secondary. The primary thing is the nature of this local and transient approach itself—something that can only become feasible when you are doing computational modeling, not otherwise.

And, so, it simply is marvelous for me to now find that there are these methods that are not only fairly well developed, but also capable of addressing questions of practically important engineering situations. Here, do realize that MSC Software has just last year entered into a partnership/marketing arrangement for the Next Limit’s LBM-based product: XFlow. A fortuitous circumstance, all in all. And, not only that, but also something more, further: given my approach to understanding physical reality in general, and my novel approach in QM in particular, LBM should also allow me to more easily span my interests from engineering to QM (or vice versa). That is a major attraction for me.

Anyway, that’s rather for the long-term future. Coming back to this course on FEM I am right now teaching.

I think I am going to make a departure from using C++. Instead, I am going to try using SciLab right from the beginning of this course. Since the course is the very first one on FEA for most students, I have little choice when it comes to the contents. For the most part, it’s going to be the usual linear and static FEA with simple isoparametric elements. However, I might try to introduce an exposure to diverse topics via assignment of student-delivered seminars. Such topics might include (all at a simple level): nonlinear FEA (as in fluids), plate and shell elements, FEA for fracture mechanics, FEA for simple coupled problems, etc. … It might also be a good idea to introduce a free (free of cost) FE software in this course. Though I have not yet finalized my mind, I am thinking of choosing Elmer.

Also, when it comes to evaluation, I might try out different approaches like open-book examinations, etc.  Otherwise, for a topic like FEM, it can be excruciatingly boring to do all those calculations by hand. Not only that, the traditional examination format restricts you to only very simple, almost artificial sort of problems. People’s grades get determined to 50% extent or more by their skills in doing only simple truss and frame analysis using FEM, simply because no better questions can at all be posed. That, in turn, is because any better question would require more than 3 hours of examination to solve by hand. If you are going to conduct examination in 3 hours, then, probing for the things that really matter, goes out the window, and it becomes a testing for learning by the rote. Instead, I would like to see if I can allow them to use SciLab and refer to openly accessible codes, right during their formal written examinations. If things turn out OK, I might even consider assigning them more ambitious projects via open-book examination mode, for the final examination. Let’s see how things progress. … After all, it’s not just the teacher but also the students—they, too, have to grow comfortable with such ideas, including the idea that their grades may get determined, at least in part, via some approach with which they have had no prior experience… And, the university administration and management also has to be satisfied that sufficient quality was maintained during the evaluation procedures, too. That’s why, I will have to see how things progress…

And, yes, I am still very much on the look out for my primary job. Don’t forget that part.



A Rapid Update and (Equally Rapid) Comments…

There has been a flurry of activities… I barely find the time to list them here…

1. I have conducted a 7-day course on FEM for a group of about 20-25 working engineers. The trainees were a mix of both highly experienced engineers (with 2 to 3 decades of work experience) and 4–5 IIT trained MTechs. All of them came from a couple of government organizations active in civil engineering design and research.  The course, though nominally meant for 7 days, actually ran into almost 10 calender days. It was a big success. … In conducting this course, a very senior faculty-member from IIT Bombay had also very graciously joined me for a couple of days. (I esp. appreciated it because, these days, normally speaking, I find IIT Bombay hateworthy—for a very good set of reasons.) The course happened in end-May—early June. More on it all, later…

Both these organizations were government organizations. I am still looking to receive my paycheck. However, being government organizations, it is guaranteed, in a way, that the check will certainly arrive some day… (How I wish the organizations were not being run by the government!)

2. About my earlier undergraduate course on FEM at COEP. I finished teaching it. And, also grading the students for their performance… There are times when one wishes god existed so that he could be on one’s side in performing tasks like these—I mean, grading… In the end, one makes as best choices as possible, though!

This course, too, was a wonderful experience for me, and, if informal student reactions is anything to go by, it too was a great success.

The students themselves took a lot of interest… There was a query, rather, a couple of them, right at the beginning of the course, which had caught me not just “unprepared” but actually “ignorant.” … Somehow, I had always associated the word “ignorance” with the word “disease” (not to mention “darkness” etc.)… Little did I know that the same word could be associated, in a way, with “joy,” too!

Anyway, despite such brilliant querries, I had enough of a “teacher” in me to sail smoothly through the course… More on those queries and all, later. (I will surely share them, but later on… You know, this is supposed to be a real *rapid* update.)

3.  More serious. All concerning Congress (I) and Times of India… (If you know me, you expect this off me.)

Kapil Sibbal, my favorite debater on TV (and if I let my emotions interfere, more favorite than his enemy Arun Jaitley), has recently become HRD Cabinet minister. Our PM ManMohan Singh, the Cambridge graduate, has a way of learning, albeit late—he should have removed Arjun Singh long time back.

Immediately after assuming his charge, Kapil has done something about 10th standard examinations. … Now, I do have a lot to say against exams and ranks; e.g., see my informal writing on my Web site (and also the earlier entries on this blogs)… Yet, this decision left me, say, wondering.

BTW, why don’t I see a single article from Ramchandra Guha (of Bangalore) or Prof. Dipankar Gupta (of JNU) on this topic—whether the 10th board examinations are to be outright canclled or not? Or, from Gurcharan Das (yet another Harvard fellow to Kapil, apart from PC). Or, others…

My thoughts, once these two (or others) share theirs…

4. I have joined, part-time, with a Pune-based firm, a software producer in the Civil Engg. Design field, as a Consultant in software development. The domain is CAE. … Ashutosh Parasnis of PTC, Most all at Geometric Software (and sister companies like 3D PLM), MSC Sofy, and all others like them ought to find this particular development offensive. (Or, very offensive.)

I am happy about it. … And, about my work. (It does take a lot of my energy though…)

The time of transition is a time of feeling whether one is missing something… Others (many of them actually idiots) may call it a time of opportunity, a time of excitement, a time to be prudish, and so on… But if you are like me, you not only get excited and try to make best of your opportunities but you also tend to grow apprehensive—about the direction in which all the development goes… With my first corporate training program in the CAE field already delivered, and now with this opportunity, these sure are times of transition for me… I have waited long for things like these to materialize.

These opportunities have come after going without a job for 6–7 years, after running my own Web site for 3-4 years, and after running my blog at the Harvard-based for roughly two years. Clearly, lack of information (including that found on the Internet) couldn’t have been the cause why I didn’t get such opportunities before… Clearly, the reasons had to do with politics—including international politics.

And that’s why I am worried as to what game of international politics I am being subjected to… Why should I get encouraged, by the world (the bold-letters is not an accident), to do in-depth research in Civil, but not in Mechanical…

Hey, Ashutosh (Parasnis, of PTC, working under a lot of BA types in USA), do you have answers? I want to ask the same question to yet another Harvard graduate running Geometric Software–do you have any idea why I was going without job for all these years even when you kept paying Brahmins and Reserved Category alike for all these years? Was the word “competence” ever a part of your processes?

5. That brings me to one more item of news that I consider as nothing but positive and encouraging for me… Mr. Narendra Jadhav has finally given up the much coveted position of being the V/C of University of Pune. Yes, he is gone! Finally!! But not before awarding himself (if the printed rumour is evidence to go by), 10/10 points for his grandiosly poor performance on this particular job.


(Sometimes, Naryaa, one doesn’t even have the energy left to LOL! But one wishes to!! Honestly!!!)

Let me get back to the business of living my (difficult to live (on several counts)) life though!

Pandit (i.e. Mr. Pandit Vidyasagar), since you were mentioned this morning in ToI, for selection in some committee etc., let me make this public. (And I have already let you know of my feelings—no matter what consequences.)

I think you will make for a very poor V/C. Of, University of Pune—as poor as Mr. Narendra Jadhav was. (One has read about how the Mahamahopadhyay ran the University…)  (Cost? I could give up my PhD degree, though, I already know, this isn’t going to be the case even if I do oppose incompetent Pandit’s nomination/application.) He may add “feathers” to his (possibly existing) cap by being committee member here and there… But he should not be made the V/C… As a student (still) of University of Pune, this is what I wanted to say—and let the (rest of) the world take notice.

6. I also attended a funny interview on being a teacher of Mechanical Engineering in University of Pune… The interviewers did not bother introducing them (I was the first person to be interviewed), and when I enquired about them, they over-emphasized the title “Dr.” in front of their names… I mean, “Dr.” Jain of Padmashree DY Patil College of Engineering in Pune, and also, one “Dr.” Ghanegaokar… That particular stress on having got a PhD was the funniest thing in that interview… If the title was supposed to generate respect in me, exactly the opposite happened.. LOL! (Mr. Jain, Mr. Ghanegaokar, I do hope that you do read this.) … As happens in such interviews, neither of them never ever came to considering (or questioning)  my ability to teach technical mechanical engineering subjects. Yet, they both were insistent on mentioning that there were some “technical” difficulties in hiring me as a teacher of Mechanical Engineering in University of Pune.

Mr. Jain, and Mr. Ghanegaokar, I pity your interviewing skills. And, in response to your emphasizing your doctorate degrees, I must say, I also pity your creativity in the engineering field…  Here, I am not exceeding my limits… I am willing to exchange our respective PhD theses, just for personal reading. I am sure you, too, will come to form the same judgment, no matter in how implicit and unacknowledged terms. And, even without inviting comparisons of that sort, one could always raise the point: Why be so bureaucratic in education, Mr. Jain? Mr. Ghanegaokar? Don’t you think you pull the standards of education down when you engage in that kind of a mindless conformance to the mindless bureaucracy which informs today’s University of Pune? You evidently conform to its mindless norms—with more than a shade of authoritativeness coming forth off you. That is, even while interviewing someone like me. Isn’t it hight time someone pulled you up for that? And nothing in this is personal… The same applies to anyone else like you—anyone else who serves only to extend the mindlessness of the University of Pune.

The fact of the matter is, there are intellectual pygmies staffing the various private engineering colleges (not to mention also the government colleges, but to a somewhat lesser extent), and they all form a closed system, and feel threatened by open talent and merit. That’s what has become of today’s engineering education under University of Pune.

Yeah! Go ahead!! Delay my PhD even further you [expletives not written not even the very first version so that the issue of their deletion does not arise, but a note must be made that they would apply most fittingly here].

7. With that said, if I still get a teacher’s (i.e. an engineering professor’s) post this season, consider it an “Allah Ki Marzi,” “Will of God,” “Devaachi Ichhaa” etc. Wouldn’t that be right, Barak—the first one?

And, why, come to think of it, since it’s July the 4th today, … why is it that Americans don’t call Barak Obama by his first name, or affectionately call him, say, BHO (like “JFK” or “Abbey” or whatever) but instead prefer to mention him by his last name: “Obama”? What gives?

Anyway, I was not thrilled when he was running for Presidency, and I don’t find him very interesting today either. It’s between him and Americans—what to call him. … One just wonders the moral distance between the American presidents of the late-20th/early 21st centuries and the Founding Fathers, that’s all…

8. All this flurry of activity of mine is OK—it gets me money, in the field I have fought years to get in—namely, CAE… But, for the time being the researcher within me is yearning to get out and get going… I don’t find any time at all for my FAQ-related research… There are so many ideas I have in there…

Oh, well… Some other time.

– – – – –

PS: I have already replaced my initial “brain-storm” version for this post with a better written one, and may be I will streamline this present version too, once again in a couple of days’ time… Also, I need to upload some thoughts that I had written each time I finished teaching FEM—both at COEP and as a corporate trainer…. More on this all, later. Hopefully, soon enough…

Something on Betterment of Syllabii at COEP + My Joblessness

The FEM course that I am teaching at COEP is now drawing to a close. The time is, therefore, conducive to take a review; a time to reflect upon what went wrong, how things could have been done better, etc. Naturally, this thinking mode also spills over into other things, and that is what I am going to note down here today.

I believe that COEP should take a major initiative into multidisciplinary areas of computational physics, computational mechanics, computational and engineering. In short, computational science and engineering (CSE).

I mean it in a much deeper sense than just saying that COEP should hire me with all due respect to my background and work, and allow me to pursue my research in CSE without any hassles. The issue is not about my career, primarily (though this aspect, too, is relevant). In fact, the issue is not even about introducing researches in the multidisciplinary area of CSE at the PG level…

What I am actually advocating here is a fairly major revamp in COEP syllabi, and that too, right at the UG level—a basic change right at the very course-structure level. Let me indicate in brief what I mean by that.

Every academic institution (of some note) has a certain unique set of historical, cultural, intellectual, environmental (including geographical) factors which together decide what course of action would be best for it to pursue. Here, given certain special factors specific to Pune in the recent times, I believe that COEP is extremely well-positioned to take a quantum leap into computational science and engineering. Consider some of these factors.

In the recent two to three decades, Pune has seen major developments occur in the field of computer science and software engineering. Two decades ago, Pune had become home to C-DAC, the designers and builders of India’s first parallel supercomputer. Today, Pune remains home to a top-10 supercomputer in the world (Tata Sons’ Eka).

Pune has had one of the two foremost laboratories of CSIR, namely, the National Chemical Laboratory. (The other lab comparable to NCL being the National Physical Laboratory at Ahmedabad.) Today, Pune has compounded the presence of NCL with the IISER—the institutes which are designed to go at par with IITs but with an emphasis on basic sciences. Pune also is home to some other finer talent in the field of physical sciences and engineering: IUCAA, NCRA, DoD labs, etc.

Finally, Pune also is home to many educational institutions. (I do have a great deal of reservations about their quality—but they do keep education going in some sense).

Speaking in overall terms, in India, Pune is exceptionally strong on the two components that CSE requires and depends on, namely: science (including engineering), and computation. For example, Pune has the greatest penetration of PCs for the past decade or so (which means, on a per-capita basis, Pune buys more PCs than any other city in India, large or small, including Bangalore, Bombay, and Hyderabad, and Mysore, Indore or Nasik.) Another point: MCCIA has identified Pune as the next major hub for animation and gaming industry. In any case, if I remember it right, Pune has already overtaken Bangalore in terms of software exports in USD terms. (If not, Pune would be second only to Bangalore, and a very close second at that… Pune does have companies like PTC and Geometric Software who don’t give me any jobs.)

What does it all translate into, for a UG/PG student, you ask? Let me give you a simple example.

Step inside some of the bookstores in Pune (most notably, the Technical Book Services), and you will always find a lot of movement in there—a movement of books, rather than of customers. … You see, what happens is all these labs, universities, institutes, and software companies together order a lot of books and journals. Many of these orders are handled by these small bookshops. Anytime one steps in a bookshop like TBS, you will always get a sense of how ideas possibly are moving in the city.

For example, I have seen the very latest American conference proceedings touching on topics like, say, simulation of fracture in random nanocomposites, or the use of the LB method in modeling fluid dynamical problems from tribology… Titles like these appear in these small shops literally within a few weeks or months of actual holding of these conferences in the USA… (And, I was naming just two topics among an array of them)… Now I am not sure if all these volumes actually get bought by the potential customers who order them for a review or not. But the shop owners do oblige their regular customers and get these proceedings and all from those bigger shops/agents from Mumbai and Delhi, for a quick review by the customer on a returnable basis, no questions asked and no strings attached. … Precisely one of the reasons why I hang around these bookshops a lot. (Some, like the TBS and I have grown older together—15 years is a long time in the human life-span!)

OK, so, people here in Pune are aware about the technological developments… My only concern is that it doesn’t translate into anything tangible for the UG student at COEP.

That, plus the fact that I have always had a lot to say about the way they teach mathematics and other related topics at COEP… I also used to have a lot to say about the stupid if not vengeful way in which they used to examine the hapless UG engineering student in earlier times—some three decades ago. A lot of that has now changed for the better. But still, the teaching of mathematics, even the syllabus, haven’t changed… Also, the UG program composition as such…

Now, whenever someone mention such things, people give some very typical reactions. Some of these reactions are listed below, in no particular order:
(i) Yes, I agree that we should introduce some more career-oriented courses at COEP… We should make the syllabus more practically relevant
(ii) We should cover the very latest instruction sets of the latest chips
(iii) We should introduce biotechnology
(iv) Etc.

Let me tell you my take on these:

(i) “We should change our coursework at COEP to make it more career-oriented.”

An outright stupid idea.

Yes, you read it right. An outright stupid idea.

Engineering education is meant to be theoretical. If, as a student, you cannot digest it, give it up and join a road-side garage to turn yourself into an auto mechanic.

If, as a potential employer you happen to carry the same ideas, then check out what I have to say about the sort of employer you are, below…

Indeed, here, Rahul Bajaj himself (the father of Rajiv and Sanjiv Bajaj) or, if not himself, at least responsible people (managers and all) from his company (and also managers from Bajaj Tempo/Force Motors, and TELCO/Tata Motors) used to say, when I was an undergraduate student at COEP, that they wanted to see engineering disciplines like, say, “Maintenance Engineering” at the UG level … Yes, this is serious—not a joke. Grown up and highly paid managers used to say such things to us at COEP in those times. Indeed, it should not be any surprise; Bania companies actually are known to say things like that…

I mean to say, disciplines like Mechanical / Electrical were not enough, they wanted the Sandwich training program. Then, it was not enough, they wanted super-specialization like Production Engg, right at the undergraduate degree level. Then, it, too, was not enough and so they began wanting to have Maintenance Engineering too, to be made into an engineering discipline… The only way to counter such suggestions was to ask: How’s the idea of introducing a BE in “Boiler Design for Thermax,” and another BE in “CNC Machining with Fanuc” for the smaller components-suppliers to TELCO, and yet another BE in “Maintenance in Plant No. 6 of Bajaj Auto Factory at Waluj…”? All these degrees, of course, to be awarded by the University of Pune?… (BTW, my use of the term “Bania” is more generic than being just carrying a caste-ist kind of interpretation. I don’t care for castes. All that I want to counter is some false tears being shed in certain quarters such as those by Swami in a recent ToI column. So, Bania is to be taken in a generic sense, in exactly the same way that Brahmin/Pandit is.)

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that the practical businessmen and engineers running those automobile or engineering or components-manufacturing industries don’t face some really acute problems when it comes to staffing engineers or making use of whatever engineers they do find… The employers do have a lot of problems in finding good engineers. But what I want to point out is that all these problems, essentially, are of their own making.

These Bania idiots have no idea (not even a vague sense of an idea) as to how to employ a talented engineer with them, or how to make his theoretical skills productive in the environment that they themselves have created within the factories/offices which they own. Why, they have no idea that such a thing is even practically possible. (Despite their Harvard MBAs, and regardless of whether they are Parsis or Hindu Marwaris by Religion or caste, they all remain Indian Bania idiots at heart. The inability to perform integration is the chief attribute of whatever substitute they use for a working epistemology.)

The fact is, if you are going to make herd management the primary duty of a well-educated BE engineer, making it appear as if you are doing favor (Hindi: “Upkaar”) to him by giving him a job, it’s very obvious that he is soon enough going to cram English words for a few months so as to get a good GRE score, and then leave you as soon as he gets the I-20 form in hand. If not, similarly try to beat the system by joining a coaching class for the CAT examination… What you are going to be left with, then, are going to be mostly second-rate folks. The engineers themselves might be great personally, at least in the initial years. But the interface that you impose on them permits only so much of their productivity to come out. Over a period of time, they then loose that too, and become thoroughly second-rate themselves… By and large…. In such an environment, both the employer/manager and the employee come to develop a faulty working epistemology for approaching anything in life—their professional work included. Understanding how theory is, or can be, integrated with practice, is a theme that would be far too much for such a mentality to even think of handling. But since you have none better to employ anyway, you continue employing them, the height of creativity in cost-cutting being, what else, to employ a thinner sheet metal for automobiles… (LOL!). As a decade or so elapses, you then make that guy your Manager. Once this idiot (he has become one by now) gets the management power, the only folks he is going to feel comfortable managing are obviously going to be only the second-rate sort of folks… The thing continues. Then, something happens… Our man—the employed “engineer”—crosses three decades of his working in the same company. He has been sent on short trips abroad, has acquired public-speaking skills (including the skill to tie a tie and perhaps a tie with the organization too), and on strength of these “qualities,” he gets invited to share his “thoughts” on how to shape engineering education in the next century (the first decade of which, BTW, has already passed by.) Now, problems—real problems—do not disappear simply because someone unworthy of managing them has been promoted in his job. Naturally, our guy does carry a vague sense or an awareness that something needs to be done w.r.t. engineering education… This, he thinks, is because the syllabus is bad—it is not practical enough. And so, he advises, in a sufficiently grave and sufficiently civic tones: “Make education practically relevant…” Et cetera… (I am sure you have heard out these idiots often enough, though I am not sure you had the clarity of thought to judge them as idiots—or the inclination to judge anything any time in life at all.)

(ii) As to the next two suggestions (“engineering education is absolutely bogus and worthless if the very latest instruction sets of Intel (or AMD or RISC) processors are not included right in the next semester” or “we should include biotechnology”), you can see that these represent nothing but somewhat more informed kind of mistakes using the same, faulty, working epistemology. (As to the biotechnology-related suggestion, it often results not only from a faulty working epistemology, but also an outright lack of understanding of either biology or technology. It just happens that the speaker has heard that biotech is now in vogue in the USA (after computer science the metaphorical bus for which he missed), and so he wants to talk something about it here, that’s all… What is displayed in such cases, oftentimes, is nothing more than the favorite working mode of Indian Pundits; I call it the Parrot Epistemology. (It’s very favorite with Indians—all it involves is memorization of sounds and their hi-fidelity reproduction, emotional undertones faithfully included.)

May be I will write about them some other time… For the time being, I have to finish this post…

So, coming back to the main theme, what I want to emphasize is that for higher-quality education, we actually need not more of but less of an emphasis on practicality—especially at COEP.

In other words, I am arguing for making the COEP UG education more theoretical—but also more interesting and more solidly grounded in reality…

One way to do this is by including an emphasis on computational physics in the engineering curricula.

I will expand upon this theme (and certain other related matters) some time later on, but for the time being, let me note a few things about them quickly. (I am sure many in the USA and in India will be quick to both understand what I am saying and following it up, but without giving me any due credit—e.g. linking to my blog or dropping an email to me explicitly.)

(1) Concerning Mathematics

What I say is: Thrash away all those “Engineering Mathematics” courses. Yes. Throw them away. Completely. Two reasons:

Firstly, the contents of these courses haven’t changed in any essential way from the times three decades ago when Wartikar brothers’ very poorly written text used to be the gold standard in Pune. (And, nowhere else!) That book is indeed fairly good, but only on that count for which an author can hardly take any credit—namely, the set of (unsolved) problems contained in it. But the main text itself is pathetic or worse on all the other important counts: (a) explanations providing appropriate context and highlighting conceptual understanding, (b) maintaining a good hierarchy in the ordering of topics, (c) the tie to physics and engineering, and (d) the production values of a book. It’s a real pity that this third-class book continues to inform the design of the syllabus in mathematics courses at University of Pune and at COEP.

Secondly, calling them “Mathematics” courses itself gives very wrong ideas to professors in this country—a country which is already so heavy on mysticism, paternalistic attitudes, deductions, etc. The effect of intrinsicism and mysticism could be easily found in any subject, but they leave an especially inescapable imprint on the teaching of mathematics. The reason is, mathematics by its nature is so abstract and “mental.” (The referents of mathematical concepts themselves reside only in the mind—not in the physical reality. When two mangoes exist in the world, what actually exists in the concrete reality is only those separate mangoes. The concept of “two” itself doesn’t exist in reality independent of the consciousness of man who has reached that stage of learning/thinking.) Since mathematics is so mental, it is so easy for the teacher to get carried away into deductive complexity upon complexity without caring anything for either the subject, or its physical correspondents, or its application, or the student learning it all. And that tendency only grows in a mystic country like India. A mathematics professor most directly insulting a student’s mind would be easy to find anywhere in the world; but they are a regular feature in India. (“What, you can’t even derive this? It’s so simple! Start with nonlinear equation and go down to linearity. Yeah, right. Start with NS and derive the Euler equation—not in a revision, but the very first time you run into it! You should be able to do it if you are smart!! Look at Narlikar. He is so smart… He became a Wrangler at Cambridge! And now, look at you… You don’t only study hard enough…” Etc. Etc. Etc. … See, how easy it is for people to get wrong ideas as soon as you mention they are going to teach “mathematics”!)

It is for this reason that I advocate that those Engineering Mathematics courses should be completely abolished. In their place, what I suggest, is to (a) begin calling them mathematical physics (which would work as a temporary band-aid) (b) completely alter the order and sequences of all the topics, (c) reduce the complexity of examination question but go ahead and introduce some more advanced topics, esp. their conceptual treatment, (d) extend the lengths of all these “mathematics” courses.

Don’t get shocked at the last suggestion! Don’t say that we have no place left for an additional course or two in maths. There is. Because, I am also advocating to also do away with all the numerical analysis courses. And also, many others (e.g. the “Applied Science” courses that do no good to anyone.)

Instead, we need to have a sequence of four to five courses on “Mathematical and Computational Physics,” all to be completed by all engineers (including the IT and CS engineers) within the first two years.

Today, at University of Pune and COEP, the situation is so bad that the IT and CS majors have absolutely no idea about, say, 3D boundary value problems, what the term stress means, what Fourier’s law of heat conduction is, and why, even about EM fields, really speaking. (They cannot even properly do visualization of a 3D wave-field… all that they can sketch is a static wave in 1D. And, theywill invariably fail to tell in which direction it would move—to the left or to the right.)

It’s for this reason that all engineers, regardless of their branch, must be taught a common curriculum which is strong on physics and basic engineering sciences, in the first two years.

These courses should emphasize the teaching of mathematics from a conceptual and physics-based viewpoint; they should keep the engineering or technological applications in sight but only as distant ends; and they should make use of computational physics as an indispensably important tool for both pedagogy as well as professional preparation.

For example, currently, COEP has no separate course on differential equations (DEs). Instead, some of the topics on DEs are distributed piecemeal, and are covered without depth. (For instance, COEP/UoP students are not taught the diffusion equation in 3D, only in 1D; most of them cannot tell when they will use Fourier’s method vs. Laplace’s even though thousands of them could easily solve the examination type of questions on either method.) Instead, there should be one complete dedicated course on ODEs and another on PDEs (possibly with vector Analysis), and more: both these courses should have not mathematics as their central focus but mathematical physics. Further, these courses should integrate the computational physics part within them. For instance, not only should the UG student be taught about the well- and ill-posed problems, but he should also be shown, with the help of some simple C++ code snippets based on the simple finite difference method, what kind of unphysicality creeps in if an ODE/PDE problem is made ill-posed. The students should be made to appreciate that they need to learn differential equations to be able to tackle the IV-BV class of problems—not in order to deductively manipulate Euler’s identity so as to satisfy an orthodox MSc in pure mathematics who would smirk disdainfully at the student’s lack of technical proficiency in rapidly performing meaningless manipulations involving it.

Needless to add, the situation at IITs is not very different. However, they are slightly better in that they do refer to Kreyszig or other books while designing their syllabii—not Wartikar—and so, the syllabus at least tends to be somewhat better—even if the students themselves or the professors themselves are not very different anyway. (Indeed, at IITs, the tendency to be rationalistic is even more pronounced.)

(2) Concerning Physics

Contrary to what the Indian Bania industrialists (or the small-scale “industrialists”) come and tell you, reduce the share of technology-specific courses, and instead, increase the share of physics (or basic engineering scienes-related) education in engineering and technology UG curricula.

A room for greater physics can be made by downsizing (or altogether dropping) technological courses. After all, going by my own practical experience (and that of hundreds if not thousands of working engineers), picking up technology is so damn easy if you are sound on fundamentals (and impossible if you are not). And, further, one way or the other, you are going to take some time to pick up technology anyway because you would be working one or two decades later… How is it possible for an e-School to prepare you for the next generation technology when none has any idea about it? So, much time is, really speaking, only wasted in “teaching” technology at e-Schools. Instead, such topics could easily be relegated for self-reading plus technical reports or seminar (say for 1 credit hour).

Let me give you one specific example in reference to the mechanical engineering curriculum even though the same essential argument can be easily extended to any other branch of engineering as well.

There is no need to have three separate courses, one on Fluid Mechanics, another on Fluid Machinery, and one more on Energy Conversion, and one more on Power Plant Engineering, all with partial overlap of contents on each. (And, we are leaving aside Thermodynamics and Heat Transfer etc. courses too.)

Instead, make it just a two-course sequence. This will become possible if students are already familiar with concepts like differential nonlinearity and differential coupling, via their earlier courses in computational and mathematical physics. (That is, the revised maths course and sequence I spelt out above.) Today, the situation is: mention these two terms and the students would look at you blankly. (They continue to do so until after their BE/BTech graduation.) Forget nonlinearity, they don’t even know that beautiful theorem by Helmholtz which says that you can always split up any arbitrary vector field into a sum of one irrotational field and another one, a solenoidal field. Now, if you go and ask any engineering mathematics professor, he will laugh and say, “no, that topic is far too advanced for an undergraduate; it requires far too much advanced mathematics.” He would say so, in the process completely ignoring (or even evading) the fact that Helmholtz himself was trained only as a medical doctor (i.e. not even as an engineer let alone as a mathematical physicist or a mathematician proper). Now, I fail to understand why is it that a 19th century medical doctor can, with self study, originally invent that theorem, but a 21st century graduate engineer cannot handle it in his curriculum? Why does this impression persist—namely, that Helmholtz’ theorem is too advanced to be presented to UG in engineering at UoP/COEP/many IITs?

The impression persists not because the topic itself is advanced, but because the teacher himself sees nothing but a further bout of meaningless symbolic manipulation which must precede before the theorem can be taught. He foresees that bout of deductive complexity whenever he happens to think of that topic. The teacher himself doesn’t consider the inductive reasoning behind Helmholtz’ theorem, he doesn’t bother visualizing fields or tracing the geometrical and physical lines of thinking about it, he doesn’t consider the simplicity of the essential argument behind that theorem. All that he foresees are those threateningly complex mathematics, because that is what his teachers had made out of that topic by overemphasizing deduction, by indulging in a dance of ideas progressing from one idea to the next each of which was necessarily kept divorced from reality. Naturally, being a well-meaning teacher, he cannot imagine unleashing that kind of atrocity upon his students while they are still in their UG years. (They need to mature, become thick enough, and then, the atrocity could certainly be unleashed against them. That’s what he means. … Everyone likes them young!)

Anyway, to return to this sub-point concerning reduction in the time spent on fluid mechanics, if basic physics (like conservation of angular momentum) and basic engineering sciences (like kinematics of deformation, including a discussion of vorticity right while introducing or discussing strains) has been taught well, then, the subsequent “mathematics” courses can also be sufficiently physical as to include a discussion of the differential nonlinearities. In which case, the strain involved in the teaching of fluid mechanics would get reduced, and so, only a two-course sequence would be enough to cover the overlapping topics from turbomachinery, hydromachinery and whatnot. Further, FM itself could also be made more interesting using CFD software for visualization (i.e. even if the students don’t take a separate course on CFD proper), and by making use of some small, simple codes illustrating and highlighting various features/aspects of nonlinearity.

So, you can see the deeper sense in which I mean to say that computers and computational physics should be made use of, in engineering education…


It’s high time that COEP took advantage of the resonating kind of institutions nearby, and certainly, the availability of well-trained people in the field of computational sciences (or at least the ready availability of such people who could, with some extra effort, be turned into well-trained people spanning computer science to science to engineering) and use both these to enhance the quality of its engineering programs.

Throwing money on buying computers accomplishes nothing. Not if things of the above kind aren’t taken up for implementation.

And, introducing biology courses in engineering programs can be, if you ask me, a very poor idea, indeed. I mean, it’s OK as an elective. But not at the FE level. And not as a means for enhancing the core engineering program itself, in general. (Think: What good would it do to introduce a course on the kinematics of machinery in a dentist’s undergraduate program, simply because he happens to use a rather complicated contraption for a drill? Or, what good would it do to introduce the mechanics of materials in an undergraduate surgeon’s program—on the grounds that he is going to cut tissues and so must know the mechanics involved in the cutting action? Doesn’t it look like an outright laughable idea right on the face of it? If yes, why does the reverse feel so appealing? Are our engineering students so dumb that they can’t look up a bones model and figure out the precise way in which the hip joint does or doesn’t develop contact? Is that the case? Or is it the case that our educators carry a remnant or a vestige of a sense of intellectual inferiority which a lot of Indian engineers feel whenever they run into doctors? (You see, in India, medical admissions would be a shade more competitive in the statistical sense—there would be fewer seats. But if you ask me, the medical admissions would also be a shade less competitive because cracking biology would of course involve more of parrot-like cramming than the sort of on-the-fly application of a few fundamental principles which physics and mathematics involves. So, doctors could be expected, by and large, to be dumber but harder-crammers…. But then, again, people (engineers) aren’t always so sure about even valid observations so long as they aren’t widely accepted in society… It’s no accident that with the IT industry and American money, engineers started earning more, and so, (dumb and beautiful) girls’ parents started running after engineers more than the doctors, and so, engineers started having confidence. But that’s a recent story, and applicable only to IT and CS folks—the same ones who can’t tell the units of stress or one honest application of the concept of gradient.)

If your objective is to enhance the engineering education, you have to increase the emphasis on basic physics, basic engineering sciences, and computational science and engineering—not on biology…

Do the first, and you will see the efforts bearing world-class fruits in a matter of time as short as a decade or less…

(Actually, there are many reasons why I don’t give a damn to the adjective “world-class.” A sidey incremental development translating into nothing of major or lasting value (or of any practical use) can also be world-class… After all, world-class is necessarily a comparative description, not absolute: it tells you about the relation of one man against others—not of the relation of a man with reality. That’s the difference.)

More on all these topics, I mean, expanding on use of computational physics in engineering, the third paradigm and its relevance, and all later on…

For the time being, I guess I have already used this keyboard a lot in one go… Time to take a break (for a few days or so)…


I also consider it my moral obligation to keep reminding you that I am currently jobless, and that all my posts and former emails (and job applications) in this context are relevant…

…Do consider it a shamelessness on the part of all the powers that be (here and in the USA) that I am jobless when many relatively worthless folks (including those graduating BTechs from Kanwal Rekhi and Vinod Khosla and Suhas Patil’s IITs, and the BCS or BE in ITs) have been rich or super-rich.

A dean like Anand Bhalerao also is one of them. (For those who don’t know: He was willing to offer me a job as a full professor of mechanical engineering, but only on the condition that I would not talk about my (what he felt and said were “superior”) achievements to my students or my younger colleagues from the faculty so as not to disturb the “atmosphere” that he had painstakingly set up at his university… I refused, saying that I could not hang my achievements at the gates of his university so as to be able to enter as a suitably meek man once inside that campus. Achievements—real achievements—aren’t hats, I had pointed out.) A Vishwajit Kadam interviewing me and welcoming me in his institution verbally but not actually issuing the appointment letter (so that the issue of paying me salary simply does not arise later on) also falls in exactly the same category… And so do my friends who asked me to get meek at least once because I anyway had no other job in hand—-this, at a time that Anand Bhalerao himself had not noticed this weakness of my situation… With friends like these, who needs enemies? (And, in case you read this, Vishwajit: In retrospect, it is me who is sorry. I am indeed sorry that I could as low as saying, just for getting a job for myself, that I was looking forward to “encouragement” of my work from you… For that one moment, I had lost my bearing only because I wanted to conform as well as I could—I was asked, by my “friends,” to behave as “neatly” as possible. I couldn’t have managed it, and so, I ended up saying what I did—that I appreciated that “encouragement” from you, an encouragement worth 40,000 Rs per month… Sorry, indeed, I am. I should have kept my (actually) better sense compared to my “friends” (as well as my pride) and should have told you on the face that you were doing a good thing in hiring me.)

Anyway, to return to the theme of this point, this neat-looking young nothing called Vishwajit Kadam also is one of them (the aforementioned BTech IITians through to Sakal editors) if he can promise me a job but not release the appointment letter.

And, while on this line, let me also note that it was repugnant to read, just two weeks later, that some Pune educationist’s son had been caught throwing lakhs of rupees in cash at a dance-bar girl near Mumbai over the course of a single night. (I also want to note here that I doubt that it could have been Vishwajit in that dance bar there… I mean, there are many big educationists in Pune, and they have sons whose ideas of life aren’t exactly in line with education in any sense of that word… But then, how do you know that it just couldn’t have been this guy or that guy if you also know that you had been promised an appointment letter but it never landed in your hands? How do you know that such characters can be worthy of your trust?)

Anyway, far more important than the issue of dance bars, here, are the issues of education and of my unemployment… After all, anyone could easily vouch for the fact that Ms. Vidya Yerwadekar simply won’t ever go out to New Mumbai and throw lakhs of her own money on those dance-bar girls, over the course of a single night. Anybody could vouch that Vidya herself, certainly, won’t do that. Yet, how does knowing this fact about Vidya help one if the application one made to her institution, namely, Symbiosis (which spends crores in advertising itself—often also buying editorial influence in ToI), cannot bother to even acknowledge by email the job application?

And, I want to go further: Why can’t Vidya invite me for an interview for her new engineering college, I ask pointedly… After all, I also blog at Harvard-based iMechanica; have a master’s from an IIT (and at 40+ age after competitive examinations, was offered admissions to both IIT and IISc); I do research at COEP; and, Vidya herself is not all that distant in space or age to me—she probably was just a batch or two junior to me but in BJ when I was an undergrad in COEP…

I could go on, but anyway, Swami (of Swaminomics of ToI fame), it is to you that I want to remind: Hindi: “hamaam me sab nange”—whether they are (dear to your heart) Bania “businessmen”, or those “professional” “educationists” from Pune, or those Delhi bureaucrats taking pleasure in running educational institutions, or those educationists vying to become bureaucrats, or, of course, the Americans. “hamaam me sab hai nange.”


An aside: The last few columns in Sunday ToI by M.J.Akbar have been excellent. Better than Swami’s or anyone else’s (in that newspaper)… I don’t know if Akbar has actually fallen out with the Gandhi-Nehru parivar or what… (I don’t follow up too closely on journos but vaguely remember having read in my younger days in 1980s—say in magazines like Outlook, Frontline, India Today or the like—that charges were being leveled against Akbar in those times that he would defend Rajiv Gandhi regardless of season or reason… (I guess the journo in question was Akbar only, but I am not certain.) Has there been a real change in Akbar or what? … I think that even if he has remained as acute as before, packing as many dramatic punches and twists in his writing as before, still, today, I have this vague sense that Akbar might actually have mellowed a little bit now… I mean, his writing has acquired a bit of gravitas of a certain kind that is not very easy for a journo to pick up once he has begun writing… A welcome change it is… All in all, these days, it is his columns which make for the best read (I mean within ToI)… (I can only hope that the quantum measurement effect doesn’t affect his writing style in the immediate future. (Incidentally, it is this fact which heightens my irritation at my being jobless—obviously, the powers that be do read me, take notice of what I write, and yet, continue to make sure that I go jobless. BXXXXXXs…))

[Updated and expanded on 6th and 7th April, 2009. Yes, I have expanded my entry and added even more asides in it… Do you have any problem with that, journos? IB folks? Americans? Others?]

[BTW, WordPress’ AutoSave is a great feature… In Pune the electricity goes off without warning and some 1000+ of my words were accessible thanks only to this AutoSave feature!]

[Correction on April 10, 2009: The dean’s name is Anand Bhalerao, not Rajesh Bhalerao as posted earlier]

Making money, the COEP way!

I have already begun teaching a course on FEM to the third year undergraduate students of mechanical engineering at COEP.

I had applied for a regular faculty post, but was declined one. Reasons are not known officially; whatever information that I do have is being withheld on request.

However, they did allow me to become a Visiting Faculty at COEP.

The course has already commenced. … Already in the second week, with five lectures already delivered, the arrangement doesn’t seem to be getting cut short!

Plus, I am making a sum of Rs. 200/- per lecture. This translates into a princely compensation of US $ 80  (in words: eighty only) max  (not average) per month, or US $  1 K per annum, though the year is not a good time-frame to consider because the money stops flowing in as soon as the course delivery stops around April-end.

That is, today, in the year 2009, in this Shining India, Feel Good India, the India with a 7 to 10 % National growth rate!!

Anyway, the course material can be downloaded, as of today for free, from here. Feel free to drop a line if you spot a mistake or two, or if you have any thoughtful suggestions.

BTW, also see if you want to try a really small quiz problem on basic mechanics (actually, more like college level physics) that I have only today posted at iMechanica here.