Sandeep's Blog

March 23, 2010

Daily motivation is the key

Filed under: Career plans — Sandeep Thilakan @ 7:10 pm

Its at least 10 days since I saw the movie; but the hangover is still on. The gorgeous Trisha and the romantic picturesque of Allepey; if still u didn’t get me then you simply got to watch it. Yes, I am talking about Vinnai Thandi Varuvaaya. I am sorry, I dont intend to review the movie.

It seemed like the ghosts of String theory and Langlands program which have been haunting my mind for the past several years were slowly making way for beautiful angels of love and romance. Days were moving on pretty fast dreaming about an as yet blurred face in exotic backdrops.

” So Sandeep, did u get any calls?” The voice sounded very familiar. Yes, it was the smartest and the most down to earth person I have ever met, standing beside me waiting for his coffee: it was one of my department faculty, Dr. V.T. Somasekhar. For a moment, I had to recall what he was actually referring to. I had taken recommendation letters from him while applying for summer projects in physics at a few institutes. I replied ” Sir, they have sent mails mentioning that its not possible to take passed out students for the program.” For brevity, I would refer to Dr. Somasekhar as VTS from here.

VTS: Thats the problem in India. Everything has to be right on paper.

Me: Yes sir. Recently, IIT Bombay has released an application for one year research fellowship program. I am thinking of applying for it and thats my only option. I did a mistake of not planning for my career well in advance. Otherwise I could have very well applied for PhD in physics this year itself.

VTS: I dont discourage you from venturing into a different domain. But Physics is one subject which interests every thoughtful person and its beautiful as long as it’s on the other side. So, where do you stand when compared with B.Sc students from good universities?

Me: I have studied a few courses on my own and as of now I am sure that I stand nowhere close to them. Thats why I require an year so that I can prepare and become competent to go for graduate studies in physics. As of now, I have a job in TCE in hand.

VTS: Hmm. As far as job opportunities are concerned, Electrical Engineering is always a better option especially with the amount of competition around. It’s a very sad story but I need to tell you that year after year, batch after batch, I see good students passing out without experiencing the ecstasies of Electrical engineering. You take power electronics, its a beautiful subject once you get into it. And its one branch that has a lot to contribute to the world. Students like you, I feel, can make a difference if you pursue it.

Me: I chose electrical because of its intrinsic beauty and I have taken some courses which supported my notion. But at the same time I have also had enough courses here which turned me down.

VTS: I know that. But, if you are really interested in going for the fellowship program at IITB, let me know. One thing is for sure. Life will be tough under Fernandes & Co. at IITB and I doubt if you can squeeze enough time for physics. And its hard to delve into a territory different from the one in which you have got formal training. Ofcourse, software is different; that any Tom, Dick and Harry can do. Anyway let me know about your plans soon.

Me: Sure sir. I will think about it seriously.

The conversation was not yet finished but I could feel an unusual sense of gratification in my heart. Yes, it was for the first time that a professor counted me among the ‘good students in Electrical engineering.’ Add to it the fact that it was from a person whom I admire a lot. A new wave of plans were coming in my mind: ” Why not go for a PhD in power electronics? You can maybe start a company later.” ” I should go back and get my electrical fundas right again which I had once.”

So then what has been finally decided and what am I thinking about now as I approach the completion of this post. No, its neither High energy physics nor power electronic drives. I stress again ” Daily motivation is the key.” So am looking forward to tomorrow’s dose of motivation as sweet thoughts of my charming beautiful lady are reappearing along the scenic backwaters of Kerala. May God send my motivator daily.

March 22, 2010

A reflection on my last post

Filed under: Uncategorized — Sandeep Thilakan @ 7:18 pm

After a little thought on my last post, I felt that I had gone way too far in time with my experiences. Infact, the very practice of learning a concept and sometimes even an entire subject without knowledge of its foundations has been living with us since childhood. Now, these examples would be the most natural justifications for my statements in the last post.

The following lines would be the storyline of each one of us from kindergarten to graduation unless you belong to the hierarchy of the great mathematician Gauss who happened to have discovered the formula for the sum of numbers in an arithmetic progression right when he was in first grade.

Primary School Arithmetic

1,2,3… are called numbers. 1+1=2, 2+1=3 and so on.” Hey this is natural and straight forward. Not even the slightest mention that this entire system of numbers and operations like addition and multiplication are built on a beautiful set of axioms by Peano. But even a hint about those axioms by the teacher at that time would have lead to chaos. Just think about the millions of mathematical operations you have done ever since without giving a thought about its foundations.

High school Geometry

Lines, angles, triangles, circles, congruence, and what not. I always admired these ojects and enjoyed manipulating with them. But the realisation that the system in which I am manipulating is one form of Geometry called Euclidean Geometry and that it can be developed from a set of five seemingly trivial axioms occured quite recently. And further, there are something called non Euclidean geometries where all our high school theorems break down, and that the world we live in is in fact also one among them. Just imagine your high school teacher introducing geometry with Euclid’s axioms and further generalizing geometry to higher dimensions and saying that its dynamic i.e your geometry may be different from my geometry! I am sure these concepts would simply fly past innocent high schoolers.

Electricity and Magnetism

Ya, this is exactly how it is taught in secondary school. Even I had a course in my sophomore year titled Electric and Magnetic fields. We read Coulumb’s law for electrostatics, Biot-Savart’s law for magnetism, Faraday’s law for electromagnetic induction, and so on . Again in this case, we have a deeper unity between the two phenomena and its just the reference frame of the observer that decides whether the observed force feels like electric or magnetic. Here in fact, we later come across, in my view, the most elegant unification in physics: the Maxwell’s equations.

I have no intentions of challenging the curriculum designers for hiding the most interesting and deep results from us in school. Somehow I too feel that our brains accept the current plan quite well. And being an engineer, I can always argue that in the real world, even Peano would never think about his axioms when asked ” How much is 1+1?”

February 16, 2010

Longing for Perfection… A losing strategy??

Filed under: General thoughts — Sandeep Thilakan @ 9:01 pm
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               No I am not referring to the perfectionists or the near perfectionists in the real world. They do almost everytime end up on the winning side. The best examples that spring up are Roger Federer and Sachin Tendulkar who seem to be defying all human records. Rather it’s the thought that  invaded me when I went for my daily evening tea at the staff canteen. So, after 21 years and 48 hours, I am into blogging!!!

                Then what to publish?? Let me start off with the real motivation behind I starting to blog. One person who really made a mark in my mind in this regard is Prof. Terence Tao. If you have not heard enough of him, then its better to wiki him as this space is too small to describe him. The best  thing one feels about him is “More than a person, Terry is a phenomenon.” These were Prof. Gowers’ words about him at the ICM 2006 where he was awarded the Fields medal. Prof. Tao is an active blogger and exposes his brilliant results and courses through them. Another person who influenced me is Vipul Naik, a graduate student in the Math department of University of Chicago. His blog is a blend of technical, expository and popular articles.

         So much about others, let me tell something about myself. The first para must have given you a good indication that I talk a lot of math. But the sad part is that I do it very less. I will start off with some experiences from my life which I feel have hurt me and would help atleast some of you while making certain decisions.

        Now I am no way close to being a perfectionist in any field. But I have always tried to be one in almost everything that I have tried. I know my Professors and classmates may not agree with me, but it’s true. The story goes on like this..

       I was in class X and was considered to be among the smartest kids in school and had quite a few credentials in my kit. Then one fine day, I get to know that I have secured 11th rank in Karnataka Regional Math olympiad and was invited to IISc for a week long training program. There was just one more guy from class X in the selected lot of 30 and so the selection became all the more prestigious. But, I had a torrid time at IISc, bewildered by the proofs of problems taking scores of blackboards to explain and the lightning speed of answering by the future JEE toppers sitting beside me ( One guy Ajit Kumar Nema from that camp went on to secure AIR 10 in JEE that year). What followed were days of self realisation when I decided that I will try to be Mr. Perfect in whichever subjects I study. Now it seems to be a great decision, and truly speaking it is. But the fault is in postponing things till perfection is met and thats exactly what I have been doing ever since.

         Class XI and XII, when most if not all Indian students would be preoccupied with Entrance coaching classes or correspondence material for JEE,AIEEE etc I was busy trying to understand the first page of a book on real analysis. No, I had not mastered calculus and taken up analysis. It was just that I could not live with the concept of a limit and hence pondered over to real analysis in hope of finding a better justification. The result: All calculus problems in JEE 2006 seemed to be from Mars. Ya maybe I was just searching for perfection in the depth of a subject and adding breadth to it would have been a winning strategy. But the essence that I learnt from it was: “Never postpone trying to learn a subject or an idea with an excuse that you dont know its very foundations.” Infact, lot of work in physics and maths have progressed without having a rigorous foundation for those concepts.

        So much for a first post. Share your thoughts  regarding  this topic.

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