Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Imaging Research Unveiled

I have started writing a new blog on imaging research which can be accessed at this web address. Please have a look at my first blog there. I will keep writing on general things in this blog as usual.

Monday, March 23, 2009

One Night in the Panther Cage - IV

Chiru thought for a while and started revealing his rules. Chiru told, "I do not want you to drag me into controversial argument while we talk. I can tolerate only 3 such instances which I will be counting. Once you repeat the mistake for the fourth time, I will make you my breakfast for the day." Shvaana asked, "What do you mean by controversial?" Chiru replied, "I already told you that I will be counting from 1 to 3. If you wish, you can very well stop the conversation after I count 3. You will be safe then."

Shvaana after some thought agreed to the rules so that he can talk with Chiru soon. Shvaana told, "I think you are quite smart in the way you speak. I did not expect this from a panther." Chiru laughed and told, "Thanks for your praise. I also did not know till now that research scholars in IIT are so immature. From what I observed, I think you are very short tempered and keep pestering others for your motives. It is a wrong thing to do as far as I am concerned." Shvaana acted as if he was surprised by the comments, "Is it so? I did not know these things about me till now."

Chiru resumed, "We. panthers, always do our own work and do not persuade our opinion on others. It helps us live happily. Not like you people who always pester others." Shvaana wanted to change the course of discussion. He asked, "Why don't you go back to the park where you can be free of danger?" Chiru replied, "There are problems everywhere. The key talent is that how you tackle those problems. I feel I have that talent to survive anywhere. Those who try to escape from such problems confine themselves to a single place and try to tackle the same problems again and again. It is very boring after a point, you know."

Shvaana sensed some deep meaning in Chiru's talk. Chiru asked, "What do you guys do in IIT? I mean, what are your primary duties?" Shvaana replied, "We are supposed to do research here. We work very hard to invent or discover new ideas which can change the world. We have an advisor who monitors and guides us on our path. We also have an annual review to assess our progress. It is very tiresome you know, unless one enjoys the problem in hand." Chiru thought for a while and then commented, "This is quite interesting. I did not know that these things happen at IIT. I thought that the people here are some privileged class enjoying their past deeds. Please continue. Tell me about your other activities."

Shvaana felt very happy that Chiru was quite interested in his activities. In fact, who in this world does not want to boast about his adventures, however ridiculous it may be. Shvaana with enthusiasm continued, "We work in a lab where we perform our experiments. We generate new results, publish papers, and go to conferences around the world to present our work. That is what expected from us. We are also supposed to complete the work in 4 years to obtain our doctorate degrees. Our work will then set the trend for many successors and change the way our country and even the world functions. We derive pleasure in seeing such things around us."

Chiru smiled and exclaimed, " Dr. Shvaana! Sounds really great!" Chiru giggled for a few seconds and then said, "I believe you mean to say that through your research you guys change the world. I am quite ignorant. I can not understand how some stuff you do in your lab will change the world." Shvaana's ego got over him this time and he replied, "Ha Ha Ha! How does a panther which roams in national park without any objective understand the research which we are doing at IIT. I think we have hardly 100 minutes left. I do not think this period is enough to teach you these complex things."

Chiru did not like the way Shvaana reacted to his queries. He was silent for a while and just said, "One!" Shvaana was puzzled at first and it took some seconds before he could realize that he had committed the first offense. Shvaana told, "I accept that what I told was unacceptable. I sincerely apologise to you." Chiru was quiet with his eyes closed. Shvaana was surprised at this act of Chiru. He could not crack the mystery behind Chiru's silence. The silence however did not prevail more than a couple of minutes.

(To be continued...)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Appropriate Technology

Today, I attended a talk on Appropriate Technology by Prof Anil W Date of Mechanical Engineering, IIT Bombay. He is also the head of Centre for Technology Alternatives for Rural Areas (CTARA) at IIT Bombay. This talk was a part of the lecture series associated with the annual Mechanical Engineering symposium called Radiance. I was introduced to the new area of technology research by Prof Date in this talk. The talk was simply amazing with lot of illustrations and case studies. Here I present some of the ideas I understood from his talk.

Prof Date gave a lot of definitions for appropriate technology. What I could understand was that appropriate technology is the development of techniques which suit a particular locality for solving some key problems there. In other words, the technology developed in India must solve problems in India first rather than addressing problems in US or any other country for that matter. People can be classified into producers (Prof Date might have used a different term for this), distributers, and consumers. Producers are the ones who suffer a lot in rural areas though they are the ones who directly deal with nature and deliver goods. Appropriate technology primarily addresses problems faced by these people so that the economy is nurtured well.

To illustrate, Prof Date discussed two case studies which has carried out some years back. One is a specially designed dryer aimed at drying Paddy grains. The dryer built was an innovation and it was fully automatic and capable of drying 85Kg of grains at a given time. The way he narrated how he got the idea for designing this dryer is truly the way one should aim to solve any real world problem. The other case study is a bullock cart made of steel to account for the lesser availability of wood to build such carts. This also help one to ride the steel bullock cart with minimal noise and maximal comfort. Both the technology innovations solved the problems faced by lakhs of people in rural India.

There is also a new inter-disciplinary MTech program majoring Technology and Development at IIT Bombay from 2007. This program involves 10 weeks study at a village to understand their technological needs. This program seems to be a great initiative to give exposure on appropriate technology to many students irrespective of their bachelors' discipline. I would recommend this MTech program as a very good career option for anyone after their bachelors' degree. I plan to do some courses offered by this program next semester.

On the whole, the talk was a very thought provoking one. There are lot of problems to be tackled in India itself and one needs to be in connection with rural India to get to know of these problems. The primary goal of any technology should be to understand the primary needs of people in the locality. The technology which is suitable in US/Europe will not be suitable here. I have always felt that people in US/Europe create unnecessary problems and spend more time to solve them later. Prof Date asked whether IIT stood for Indian Institue of Technology or Institute of Indian Technology. I feel that latter seems more appropriate and would certainly inspire many students at IIT to solve a lot of problems relevant to India especially rural India. It is always fun to solve problems of our society through the technology knowledge acquired in IIT.

Finally, Prof Date recommended to read a book called Small is Beautiful: Economics as if people mattered by E F Schumacher. I plan to get a copy of this book and read it soon. I will post a more elaborate blog once I get more insight into appropriate technology.