Thursday, July 26, 2012

How to feel very poor - not planning for legal expenses

The news of B. R. Raju's (Satyam fame)  legal bills made me feel really very very poor. That was an expense I had never even considered :( Neither had the idea of an insurance cover had never even occurred to me. This really affected my yard stick of the money one should have and my personal worth:
Tata AIG ... is footing his legal bill of Rs 60 crore so far, and will continue to do so till the court gives its verdict.
The following really rubbed it in :( the insider trading case of Rajat Gupta in the US, Goldman Sachs paid almost $ 30 million (around Rs 150 crore) for Gupta’s legal defence...

But in a world where we have "Betting on Death: Creepy or Not?", what else can be expected?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Is quality to be measured by how few get first class?

Our "modernisation" of examination system is clearly an example of 'a camel is a horse designed by a committee'. It upsets me to read such news because there is an implicit bias against internal examinations. Some extracts:
  • a professor who did not wish to be named even alleged that marks were being sold in some colleges
  • there is a 99 per cent chance of manipulation in evaluation of internals
  • many teachers hate the new system as it involves considerable extra work such as preparing question papers for internal tests, assignments, projects and the like. Many of them claim that such elaborate work leaves them with little time to conduct classes.

    (Emphasis mine - I find it hard to believe that anyone who has taught for even short period can believe that classroom teaching is an effective tool for learning by students. An example of what we could be doing: Eric Mazur's view on how to make students learn.)
At issue is not the internal evaluation. However, you cannot have part central and part local with no regard for any normalisation. It is cleaner to let the exam be entirely internal and each degree should specify the college from which a student graduated and his/her percentile rank within the college.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Misery of Aging and Education

I used to tell my wife that I am happiest when I had something to be miserable about. She never did appreciate this concept.

Recently, a couple of reasons have given me cause for misery but they have not made me happy :( So, I suppose I need to be miserable about only some type of things.

I have been trying to get some output from a person and it makes me wonder. Is it possible for the education system to have damaged a person to such an extent that he can no longer think? I have lost my patience which makes me literally miserable.

The other factor is that home visit by a doctor seems unthinkable. Getting a nurse for home care is equally difficult.

But we do not necessarily need or want a doctor but a health care worker. It amazes me that there is no effort to train people who will provide home care services. The person does not need to be able to prescribe medicines but needs to be able to adjust dosage based on observations. It is not hard. I think that we have learnt a fair amount about some medicines using internet, some advice by the doctor and based on observing the patient.

What makes me miserable is that we can see some type of jobs are bound to disappear - like truck and taxi drivers. But the society is unprepared for the new jobs which will require skills and training and the need for some of them is blatantly obvious.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Varied student intake - Introduce reservations for the Elite?

It seems that the high cutoff of Delhi university is creating an exodus of students studying abroad.

I remember a joke from my childhood -
If you want your son to be a communist, send him to study in the US. If you want him to be a capitalist, send him to the USSR instead.

Warts are not visible from afar.

Today, the Soviet Union option has disappeared and if I ever believed that the world provided an equal opportunity to all, it was cured by a great short novel - Nathanial West's A Cool Million.

However, I now feel that it is better to accept reality rather than create policies on wishful thinking. For example, in education, there is one advantage of the elite universities which online education may never be able to match - face to face networking.

A very successful university would offer the possibility of smart people networking with the children of the power elite.  Let's accept it. The likelihood of the children of the elite becoming the elites of the next generation is very-very high. The scenario is likely to be much worse for India compared to the US and Europe.

So, it seems desirable to introduce reservations for a group that is not bothered about competitive exams as this group has the option of Harvard, Stanford, etc. Interacting with them is likely to increase the chances of upward mobility for the rest of us.

Likely Best Universities

Since that is not likely to happen, I expect that the great universities in India will be private. Government will have to give flexibility to private institutions for admissions and fees as that may be the only option for increasing capacity.

The smarter among them will be elite, with high fees and endowments. They  will also be the ones with generous scholarships for the exceptional students.

If you were a smart student bursting with ideas, wouldn't you prefer to rub shoulders with the progeny of ....?

Update:  Interesting news!

Oxford University announced Wednesday a £75 million donation from Michael Moritz, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, and his wife, Harriet Heyman.
The gift, worth about $115 million, will provide financial assistance to undergraduates from low-income backgrounds. The donation, the biggest grant for student support in the university’s modern history...

Friday, July 6, 2012

Safer roads by people who just want them to be safe

There were two news items recently which triggered some thoughts - nothing unusual in the news items.

  1. The drive to issue traffic violation challans was effective and police collected x amount of money in traffic fines.
  2. The second item was that there was a shortage of policemen to monitor traffic.
Until the internet made it easy to share software, we were at the mercy of the intermediaries. In fact, it took quite some time for many of us to accept that the intermediaries were not needed, at least as far as distribution of software was concerned.

Many people are probably still not convinced. "You get what you pay for" is an ideology marketed in our brain and it is hard to unlearn it or even question it.

If the speed limits are reasonable, most of the people do not want to speed or violate traffic rules. Can we create an infrastructure which makes it possible for us to volunteer to improve traffic flow? One long term solution is self driven cars, the likelihood of it making an impact in India is minimal in the next few decades.

My observation is that if the traffic is moving at a steady pace, the need for overtaking reduces. So, what if every minute, a car was moving at the speed limit? Would we be tempted to overtake the car or would we get used to the idea of driving within speed limit.

The intention has to be to change the mindset of people - not fine them and hope that they learn. (I have come across people who bragged about bribing and getting away with traffic violations but rarely anyone who acknowledged being caught and paid a fine.)

So as a start, on dangerous highways, police could encourage a car every minute to carry a gps device which will monitor his/her speed and encourage them to stay within speed limits. If an incentive seems to be needed, it could be reduced toll on a toll road. The fact that these cars are being monitored would, over time, ensure that the drivers behind them are less likely to get impatient. And if we are lucky, that becomes their default behavior.

I wish I could try it out as a NetLogo model :)