Saturday, November 26, 2005

Let's all go to IIT

I came across an interesting post today...
...Here I Am: IIT Bombay v/s IIT Delhi

The blog compares IIT Delhi to IIT Bombay. Go ahead, read it. I'll wait.


First I must come clean: I studied Applied Statistics at the Math Department at IIT Bombay. I've never been to any other IIT.

The IITs are a real scam. There is a tough test to get in: the Joint Entrance Exam (JEE) and students spend roughly two years studying to get in. So far, so good. The test is actually quite nice: it requires a good sense of Math, Physics and Chem to get in.

The problem starts after you get in. The professors are lousy. Save one or two gems, the Math Department is staffed by some very strange people. One professor was so particular about layout versus content that he gave me a -1 in a homework where the answers were correct but not "cleanly written". Thereafter I didn't submit any homework, saving time, and getting higher marks in the process. Professors have massive egos, and every professor made it a point to remind us of how substandard we were (compared to them, naturally). A few professors were good, no doubt, and made class fascinating. But the mean quality of teaching was far lower than that at St. Xaviers, where I studied for my BSc. Prof Almeida, Gokhale, and Gurjar were lovely.

The second problem is facilities. IIT doesn't have any. In my hostel, it was not unusual for two students to share a 10 foot x 8 foot room. Usually the shared rooms had no space for a table, and one tiny window. The toilets were atrocious, the bathrooms were horrible, and many people did laundry manually. (I did mine by hand for a year, with breaks when the hostel washing machine was working: one month out of twelve.) There was a person who could do laundry for a charge, but he was notorious for losing or damaging clothes, and he was the monopoly provider. The Math Department had good computers, luckily. The IIT library, well, is a story for another day. The library is reasonably stocked with journals, but has nothing on general reading.

IIT takes polished diamonds and turns out polished diamonds (after losing a few to high pressure combustion). What is so great about that? I'm lucky that I only had to spend two years there. Any more and I'd have quit. The place is not conducive to learning or exploring. If you are a parent: don't get seduced by the IIT myth. Get your child to explore and learn instead of getting through the grinder.

Why must we be so inward looking? Why are we comparing IIT Bombay to other places in India. Put IIT to the test and compare it to the International institutions. Does MIT have cows grazing at the entrance to the Math Department? Is there cowdung in Princeton walkways? How much original work was done at IIT Bombay last year? How many successful companies did IIT students drop out to start? Give me an open courseware at IIT Bombay and let's see how good the lectures are compared to the ones on MIT's site. I want to see what makes the IITs a premier institution, because after two years there, I'm still searching.

Update 9 October, 2011: The IITs rank poorly on a global study of universities.

Good text books

Text books are the ideal public good. Some people get paid to make the book, and after creation, it should be placed in the hands of anyone who can benefit from it. I remember seeing Maharashtra board textbooks for Physics and weeping from how shoddy their quality was. A lot of them were filled with errors and the diagrams were totally misleading. What was worse: I bet the teachers were unaware of Feynman's lecture series or other alternatives.

In the US, textbooks suffer from the opposite problem. The quality of production is spectacular, and that makes the cost of production high. In addition to that, publishers print new volumes often, jiggling chapters around, so that a student with an older version would be lost. New chapters also change problem numbering and other trivial issues to force the user to upgrade. Hey, that sounds a lot like a convicted monopoly I know! This forces a very high price of books on students.

If a pdf copy of a book is available online, the marginal cost of producing another copy is zero. And all of us benefit when every kid has access to correct, royalty-free textbooks. Most children might not have access to a computer, but keeping the content free for publishing would ensure that different publishers can compete to publish the book at competitive prices. Old books are valuable again, and children can just download the changed pages instead of the entire book again. Almost like patch files that reflect the changes in the kernel of a lovely OS I know.

Inexpensive, accurate textbooks would reduce the cost of education, and would help to standardize the curricula of science. Newton's laws apply equally to both Israelis and Palestinians anyway.

Here is a great physics text available online. How I wish I had access to such a lovely book in my school-days:

Leave a comment if you know of such books for: Chemistry, Math, Statistics, and other Sciences. I do know of the wikibooks project and have great hopes from them.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Lack of options

Surprising how few options exist for investing in the stock market for Indians. There are companies which do this: ICICI, Geojit, and others but the standards of service is miserable. Not bad, not shoddy, but downright abysmal.

My girlfriend and I tried to jump through the hundreds of hoops for getting an Internet trading account, but we're still nowhere close to being able to login online. Their support staff is seriously ignorant, and all emails to them end up being a huge waste of braincells. I was hoping that with an internet trading account we wouldn't have to deal with the droids, but the droids are keeping us from using the online account. We're dealing with the Hiranandani branch at Powai by the way: a bunch of inefficient jerks.

I came across a similar post about ICICI at another blog and I was wondering how this state of affairs came to be. What does it cost to get good Share trading service? Incidentally, I have a bank account with ICICI (as does my dad) and we're sick of how terrible they are too.

I think the model for Geojit and others is to make accounts for people; provide them with investment advice and thus profit. It is in their interest to not allow you to trade independently.

Sad, really, how the Indian stock markets are doing so well, and there isn't a single humane company that gets to see my money invested in it.

First Post!


This is a new blog and going by the profusion of blogs, I must list what I am going to cover here:
  • India, and what my perception of it is
  • Life as a student in America
  • Life from the perspective of a 26 year old
Stay tuned. Feel free to add me to your bloglines. See you guys shortly.