Thursday, August 19, 2010

Sum up your life

The International Congress of Mathematicians is being held in Hyderabad. I wonder about the delegates. A hall full of brains. Would they all be nerds? The serious, bespectacled types? Or would they have a sense of humour? Just a thought. I have always regarded anyone good at the subject with awe and have the greatest respect for them. It is just that we never had fun loving math teachers at school.

Few have nice memories of their mathematics classes at school. Everyone complains about those who taught them the subject. The teachers are in general short on patience and subsequently rude and short-tempered. Always commenting on how useless the student is, and that there was no hope for them. No extra effort would be made by the teacher to explain the sum to the student. Maths teachers were also rather pompous. They took on the role of the unofficial principal. They would send for the parents at the slightest provocation. Give them a lecture about how useless their ward was and suggest that the parent send their child out for extra tuition classes. To make their job easier.

And I guess parents have a problem too. It did not matter if we ( read me) were never good at the subject, but we always secretly hope our child could score 100% in mathematics. My daughter ( the younger one), I thought was brilliant at the subject. At least till the 8th class. As long as the lazy teacher set the test paper with sums from the text book, she had no problem. This was lost on me initially. I had great hopes of sending her to IIT. Being endowed with a good memory, she knew the answers to each sum in the text book and would work toward getting that answer. But all that changed when the papers were set with sums that did not figure in the book. She heaved a sigh of relief when she did not have to deal with the subject anymore . The elder one after a lot of coaxing, did continue to take the subject well into her graduation. From where she made the switch to statistics.

Of late, I find many send their children to abacus classes. They say it helps. I remember in childhood, all of us at some time or the other had an elementary abacus at home. I think we all learnt basics of addition and subtraction from the equipment. The ones that the children use at the abacus classes now seem more complicated, with more rows of beads.

We still do a lot of mathematics in our head. All the multiplications, divisions, additions of the amount that needs to be given to the vegetable vendor, the dhobi, the maid. Mental mathematics is not given as much importance now as it used to be earlier. Thanks to our dependence on calculators. I remember the time, my father had gone to a store in the US. He bought a couple of items and went to the billing counter and handed the money to the lady at the counter,and told her how much she had to return. This was way before the more sophisticated billing machines appeared at the supermarkets. The lady took out her calculator, punched in the prices, and subtracted it from the money she had received . She saw the same amount that my father had told her. She looked up from the calculator and asked him – ‘You, mathematician?’ It amused him no end.

I wish we had better teachers. We have the best mathematical brains in our country. If we could make teaching positions more attractive in our own schools and universities and have teachers who could explain the subject with a little more patience in a logical sequence, we could have some Nobel Prize winners as well as some happy children and parents. It is also a pity, that those who teach the subject are not in touch with the industry. Most have no clue about the applied aspects of the subject.

I came across a series of articles that appeared in the NYT written by Steven Strogatz a professor of applied mathematics at Cornell Universitya. Like I said, I am not particularly good at the subject , but I read them for the sheer manner of presentation. He has such a lovely style of writing. And introduces humour in a subject that I thought was drab. The articles held my interest even though the mathematical portions were still were beyond me.If you have the time, go through them here.

While it is true that those who are duds at mathematics do well in life in other fields. It is also true that mathematics does teach you to think logically, whether you end up being a mathematician or not.  So how does one sum up?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Pains of Parenthood

It is difficult when kids leave home.
When they are living far away. And when they are unwell, it is even worse. It could even be a slight cold. Or a touch of fever.

The elder one told me the other day that she was feeling slightly under the weather. Its crazy , but I immediately had ‘sympathetic pains’( I know it sounds silly, but it's true!). And told her so.

Her reaction –‘Are you sure they are sympathetic pains?’ 'Nothing serious?'

‘Do you need to go to the doctor?’

A week later scene shifts to the younger one. I am worried sick. At least the elder one is married. She has someone to take care of her.  But this one, poor thing is on her own.  With another roommate as young as her.  Again the sympathetic pains. I know I should not tell her, but I do.

‘I have these sympathetic pains’.

‘Don’t be silly’. ‘You are only trying to get some attention away from me!!’

For a moment, she does not sound weak and ill.
Am I offended? No, not one bit. I am reassured.

All Izz Well...

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Under the Scanner

You can get under the scanner for simply the right reasons.  Which is very wrong!

Have you paid your taxes.  Are you paying more than you did previously? They you may be under the IT scanner too. For all the wrong reasons. You need a refund? You won't get it easy. Until some 'formalities' are completed. The IT department is sitting on  1000 crores of unpaid refunds. Read it here. No wonder people look for ways to evade tax.

Most harassment comes from the Government departments.  And the private ones are at times as bad.

There are millions who use unlicenced software.  They have no reason to worry. In fact, they are probably happy.  They have saved a lot of money.  But the minute you buy licensed software, your details are immediately noted.  Microsoft, Corel, Adobe... atleast those are the ones we use at work.

It is interesting that calls, mails, visits are made to only those who have bought software.  MS for instance makes innumerable calls.   And besides they are not polite either.  Bill Gates would not sound as pompous.

You tell them you have no IT Manager.
How is it possible? We need a software audit.
Call later, we are busy. 
No it is urgent. 

The calls increase.  The mails increase.  Until we tell them, they are free to come down and check.

We cannot. 
We are in Delhi. 
Then please do not harass. 

There are so many who have no legal software.  Yet you harass those who buy, just because you have our name and contact numbers????

While we continue to do what we feel right, it does not feel 'right' anymore.  But we cannot do anything else.  Any solutions?

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