IIT Roorkee. What the heck are they up to over there?

Apparently, in what is IIT-Roorkee’s version of Saarang was an event where ‘boys holding lipsticks in their mouth applied them on girls’. Ravikanth brought this to my attention in the comments here. Predictably, the saffron monkeys of the ABVP and the Hindu Jagran Manch have started jumping up and down about this, burning the Dean (I assume the DoSA) of IIT-R in effigy, and threatening to close down IIT-R’s gates if there isn’t any action taken:

“We condemn this incident. We will lock the gates of IIT Roorkee if the management does not take any action in this regard,” AVBP secretary Raj Singh Pundir said.

Not so predictably, however, the state government has ordered an ‘inquiry’ into the matter:

“We will not tolerate any obscenity in our state. We have launched an inquiry in this regard,” Uttarakhand Education Minister Govind Singh Bisht said.

Really, now? I wonder what an ‘inquiry’ into an event at a college festival entails. If this festival is like Saarang, somebody proposes an event, the student heads approve it, the Dean approves it and the event is held. There. That’s an ‘inquiry’ into the matter. Why on Earth does this require orders from the education minister?

This ‘event’, to be sure, is about as tasteless as events at college cultural festivals can get. I should add, before I get thrown in the same bin as the thugs of the saffron brigade, that I have no problem with an event getting men and women, in any combination, to kiss on stage. What I do have a problem with is the intellectual cowardice of dressing it up as something else. Using lipstick for this is perhaps particularly stupid.

These attempts at chikanery – dithering at best, contemptible dishonesty at worst – are to me the reason the goons of the ABVP can get away with threatening to close down an institution set up by an act of parliament. Surely it’s time we learnt our lesson. The right wing is going to cry murder (of ‘Hindu culture’ – whatever that might be) in any case. The least we can do is to hold on to our intellectual honesty and have the courage of our convictions.



Hat Tip: Ravikanth

Of stereotypes and humour.

Oh, don’t cringe! This isn’t going to be a rant about somebody stereotyping a whole group of people based on, well, on nothing. On the other hand, if you aren’t a TBBT-nerd, you might think I’m being obtuse to the point of obsession.

I watched an ‘unaired pilot’ of ‘The Big Bang Theory’ recently. I’d put up links to where you can download this episode from, but that would be superfluous. Go Google. Or something. (Yes, I bootlegged the episode. As rationalisation for my behaviour, here’s Stephen Fry’s take on bootlegging. I’d add that Amazon.com doesn’t even sell mp3s in India; so they have no reason to complain about ‘loss of revenue’.)

What you notice about this unaired pilot is how much more lifelike the characters are – yes, Sheldon and Leonard are still nerds, still socially awkward, and still clueless about women, but they aren’t the caricatures that the series that eventually got made has. What I mean is this: yes, Leonard Hofstadter finds Penny (‘Katy’ in the unaired pilot) and tries to befriend her, but he only wants to help her, and isn’t thinking of ‘our kids will be beautiful and smart’ (who remembers that from the ‘aired’ pilot? Sheldon says in reply: ‘not to mention imaginary’.)

Sheldon, as in the TV series, is more sociophobic than Leonard, but goes to bars, drinks, dances, and has even slept with Gilda. He also finds women with large hindquarters attractive. The blonde stereotype is shunned as well, in the series that did not get made. Sure, Katy is no astrophysicist, but she isn’t as clueless as the Penny from the TV series.

For me, the unaired pilot was vastly more intelligent, and by inference enjoyable, than what’s on TV now. In fact, the network that airs the series may have decided that the unaired pilot was too intelligent for their audience and asked Chuck Lorre to change things. It is also possible that Chuck Lorre decided that it is easier to draw out of any number of stereotypes of socially awkward nerds and put them together than to create and maintain lifelike characters for any reasonable amount of time.

Correspondence with the Warden, Tapti Hostel.

I’ve been asked if I would put up the emails I exchanged with Prof. Nari, by Nari himself, and also by TFE, the campus magazine who want to write something about this but won’t really be allowed to say anything even mildly provocative.

I must say, before you go on and read the emails, that I had no idea who the warden of Tapti was when I first wrote to him (the text of which email is in the original post). I still don’t know Nari personally, although he seems like somebody I would want to know, if for nothing else than his willingness to allow people to ask questions of him.

All of which is to say that I could have had no possible fodder for ad hominem attacks when I wrote these emails. If, in spite of this, you find something you think is a personal attack, please point it out, and I will gladly take it back. Nari has shown commendable promptness in forwarding our correspondence to the people who are directly affected by this issue – the students of Tapti. This, for me, is reason to believe that his motives were entirely honourable.

Below are the emails – unedited except for formatting, and in chronological order although I’ve omitted the headers and so forth:

Continue reading “Correspondence with the Warden, Tapti Hostel.”

No sleeping at Tapti Hostel, IITM. A letter to the warden.

Please also read the comments. As always, what something  seems like at first glance may not be the whole story.

Ravikanth told me about this new ‘rule’ that had appeared in a note on the Tapti hostel notice board. Seemingly issued by the warden of Tapti hostel, NS Narayanaswamy* from the Computer Science department at IITM, this piece of wardenial fiat (erm, wardenical?) has to be seen to be believed. So, courtesy a student of Tapti hostel, here’s a photograph of the notice:


If the rest of the ‘Attention:- Residents of Tapti Hostel’ notice is silly enough, the one that takes the cake reads:

f) Between 9 am and 4 pm, with the exception of lunch hour 12-1pm, if you are found in your room sleeping in a healthy condition, you will be reported to your Faculty Adviser/ Guide/ HoD/ Dean. Your parents will be informed and your presence in the hostel during the daytime [sic] will invite scrutiny.

I also have a picture of page-2, containing the signature of the warden, of this piece of paper that belongs at the bottom of a heap of vomit induced by all the booze, tobacco and drugs the warden is so intent on eradicating. If you are from IITM, and want to verify that this is indeed from the warden of Tapti, you could walk to Tapti and look at the notice yourself.

I am willing to presume that this is merely a misguided attempt at helping students. The combination, however, of self-righteousness, megalomania, hypocrisy and sheer stupidity that has to have gone into this notice is staggering. What is the warden going to do? Walk around the hostel collecting soiled underwear? If he is, could he please deposit the lot in the washing machine at the end of the corridor? They need a wash.

I’d also like to hear how the warden thinks that the conversation with the FA/Guide/HoD/Dean might go.

‘Mr. Dean Academic Courses, I found this student sleeping in his room at 10 am. I want the strictest action initiated against him.’

Here’s a list of possible responses:

1) ‘How could he? Did god give him two hands and two legs to work or to sleep?’

2) ‘Absolutely. Throw him out of the hostel, out of the institute… Oh, wait. Did you say ‘sleeping’ or ‘murdering’?’

3) ‘Don’t you have that class to teach?’

4) ‘Seriously, dude? Get a life.’



* I have written about this to the warden of Tapti hostel. Here’s the text of the email:

Dear Professor Narayanaswamy,

I am an alumnus of IIT Madras from the Aerospace Engg batch of 2010. Hello. I wish to address this to the warden of Tapti hostel. The webpage for Tapti hostel lists you as warden and says you started your term in July 2010. I hope I have not mistaken you for somebody else.

A notice that was issued by your office and put up on the Tapti Hostel notice board was brought to my attention. I hope, perhaps unreasonably, that it was drawn up by one of your subordinates and that you signed it without really reading it.

I say that because the alternative is saddening. One hears stories about college administrators going overboard with their enforcement of ‘discipline’ in colleges in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. I have always trusted that IITM will not descend into the kind of moral policing that is characteristic of being hit on the head one too many time. Perhaps I shouldn’t.

I see from your webpage that you’ve been a student yourself less than a decade ago. I fail to understand how one can go from that to issuing diktats requiring students to not be asleep, under threat of disciplinary action, past a certain hour.

I write a (somewhat popular) weblog. I’ve written about this notice and what I think about it on the blog. Because it is a blog, the language is perhaps more strident than what I’ve used in this missive. If you do read what I’ve written, I ask that you ignore the language for the message; and that you kindly take this preposterous notice issued by your office down.

Ravichandran S.

Results from the test for a visual effect

I created this test to see if what I thought I saw was an actual visual effect. I created a poll where you could ‘vote’ your answers, and I’d tally the answers and put up the results. I think there have been as many votes as there are ever going to be.

I went off to meet people at The Mothership™, which is why the blog hasn’t seen anything new written on it over the weekend. Apologies. I had a nice trip. I am now back at work.

I created this test to see if what I thought I saw was an actual visual effect. I created a poll where you could ‘vote’ your answers, and I’d tally the answers and put up the results. I think there have been as many votes as there are ever going to be: 28 people have taken the poll.

First, the answer: The correct choices for the poll are that A and B are wrong, while C is right; all three figures are exactly the same, and both bars are exactly the same height. The effect I saw is that in a histogram, the bar on the right appears to be taller than a bar on the left, even if it actually isn’t. The results from the poll are these.


The poll had numbers suggesting values of height for every figure. Because suggestion is known to be quite powerful, I had to have three figures to correct for any influence of suggestion. On the whole, people seem to have guessed the right answers.

The point is that people seem to think Figure B is ‘wronger’ than Figure A is wrong or Figure C is right. Which was the effect I wanted to see. (That A and C have the exact same number of votes is an accident, if a nice thing.) On the other hand, there have only been 28 votes. Not nearly enough for any great certainty about the results.

In any case, here’s how one would do the analyse the results. As I said, Figure C is only in the test to account for the overarching power of suggestion. But because A and C have the exact same number of votes, the number that matters is how many people think B is worse than A – i.e. the difference between A and B – which here is 4 votes out of 28.

It is possible that somebody who has actually done these tests rigorously will be tearing their hair out at the silliness of trying to infer a visual effect from a 14% positive response over 28 votes. I’m not sure myself that there have been enough votes to be sure that the 14% is statistically significant. Perhaps I should be thinking about the null hypothesis: neither suggestion nor the visual effect I am looking for make any difference to what people think. This would certainly make sense from the results as they are.

Rest assured, I am on the job of learning the maths required to make this judgement. A biologist I know tells me there’s going to be a class on the maths of hypothesis testing sometime this week, at JNC. Maybe I’ll post an update here.

Bangalore to Chennai and Oh, what a bother!

I’m going to leave for Madras* later this evening. The onward journey is going to be by train, thanks to Thatha who booked our tickets fairly in advance. The reason I mention that is this:

The Chennai-Bangalore train route is impossibly busy, and trains are invariably overbooked. One has to, then, resort to some bus or the other. KSRTC runs a million buses on this route, thankfully, and they have a website that lets one book tickets, just like the IRCTC website for the railways.

All that is to say this: if you want to use the KSRTC website to book tickets#, please, oh please, do it with IE and not with Firefox. (And especially not the Beta version of Firefox.) I’ve been trying to get tickets to get back to Bangalore since 10 in the morning, and made so many attempts that I know every number  associated with all my credit cards and bank accounts, before I thought realised that the KSRTC people might a bit slow on the uptake.

Damn them all to hell, and damn them some more!


(*) ‘Madras’ is IIT Madras. ‘Chennai’ is the rest of the capital of Tamil Nadu.

(#) If you want to check for availability, of course, it doesn’t matter. There’s a curiously silly thing that happens when you try to pay for your tickets. The bank’s website never gets the message from the merchant website.


The test I created is still open. I want enough votes for a statistically significant result. Do take the test!

[End? This is only the beginning!]

Aravind Adiga, please sit down.

The rest of the page-long essay from Sunday’s Times of India is a mess from an Orwellian nightmare where words have no meanings; or if they do, they mean different things to different people.

Aravind Adiga expresses shock about what has been happening of late in Karnataka’s state assembly. Which is  understandable – the government is being run by proxy, votes in the assembly are openly sold (45 crore rupees is the going rate for a vote, one hears), and behaviour that would shame chimpanzees is on display in the state’s legislature.

The rest of the page-long essay from Sunday’s Times of India is a mess from an Orwellian nightmare where words have no meanings; or if they do, they mean different things to different people. The essay says for instance:

“Your Delhiwallah might associate virtues like modesty, thrift, and hard work with the Madrasi, but in the south we have always thought of Karnataka as the ultimate locus of these values.”

Delhiwallah’? ‘Madrasi’? Do these words mean people from Delhi and Madras? Or do they mean people from North and South India? And Karnataka, which is apparently not indicated when a North-Indian says ‘Madrasi‘, has also always been considered the locus of something or the other. I’m sorry, I must have missed that memo.

Here’s another gem: “Bangalore did not become India’s information technology centre by accident. Companies like Infosys could only have been founded in a place like Karnataka, where culture and education are valued so highly.

‘Information, Culture, Education’… This juxtaposition of words seems to me to be either unwitting or disingenuous. Yes, Kannada has a distinguished history of scholarship, and is considered one of India’s ‘classic’ languages. What, however, that has to do with Infosys – where the average employee is a glorified typist – the author neglects to mention. I’ve heard that among the questions people are asked in campus-interviews where Infosys and TCS hire by the truckload are whether they can sing or dance. Maybe that is what Adiga means.

Here’s one last string of words that at first glance seems to mean something: “Culture, in the south of India, has always been a bulwark against money.” Compare that to ‘Infosys – the corporation that sells software products – could only have been founded in Karnataka’, and you’ll see what I mean when I say the entire essay is dubious.

Having decoupled words from meaning, Adiga proposes a solution to Karnataka’s woes of corruption in politics: Insist as a matter of principle, on talking in Kannada to people who talk to you in Hindi. And pontificate about this in your article for an English newspaper.

But there’s more.

You see, Tamilians and Malayalis, because their loyalties are divided, care about Tamil Nadu and Kerala , and therefore Kannadigas must become more active by joining NGOs – of which there are many and one suitable to you can be found at the click of a button. Oh, and North Indians who migrate to Karnataka should teach their children ‘Kannada culture’, and develop some sense of ‘ownership and belonging’ in Karnataka (I assume owning property doesn’t count). By exclusion, Tamilians and Malayalis don’t have to do this, I guess.

And if ‘Kannadigas’ don’t do all this (once somebody figures out what the heck any of it means), Karnataka will turn into Bihar – where, incidentally, people talk in their language and no other. Not surprisingly, this solution is as devoid of meaning as the rest of the essay.

Aravind Adiga, the Booker prize-winning author, closes by professing to being a Kannadiga. I’m not sure even he knows what on Earth that means.



The test I created is still open. I want enough votes for a statistically significant result. Do take the test!

[End. Fini. Kaputski. Adiga]