On Life, The Universe, And Everything – Part II

13 05 2007

As promised, here’s the follow-up to my earlier post. Previously, I’d covered “death threats against Knut”, “condoms for data security”, “sanitizing orkut”, and the “media frenzy around the Bachchan-Rai hookup”.

Moving along, the BBC has a knack for choosing headlines that can really grab your attention. So when I saw this title, ‘Kryptonite’ discovered in mine, I just had to see what the heck was going on. Seems that they’ve found a new mineral in some mine in Serbia that has the same chemical formula as Kryptonite. Now, Kryptonite, as you all know is Superman’s Achilles Heel. The guy who can’t be destroyed by bullets, nuclear weapons, and can fly into the sun and live to talk about it. But put a tiny green lump of Kryptonite in front of him and the dude’s knees turn into jelly and the death knell begins for ol’ Soupy.

So the story goes that the a mining company was expanding a mine shaft in Serbia and came across a “strange new ore”, which when chemically analyzed was found to be a “sodium lithium boron silicate hydroxide”. Consequently, the chief researcher did what every other sensible scientist does before announcing “a great new find”. He got on the ‘Net and googled for “sodium lithium boron silicate hydroxide”. And guess what he found? Yup, this amazing “new” ore had already been revealed to the world in Superman II – Superman Returns. The exact same chemical formula, the only difference being the real ‘Kryptonite’ is white, and the movie version is green. Just goes to show that not everything you see in the movies is fake. Who knows? Maybe NASA really did land on the moon, instead of filming it in some movie studio in California. But thats another story.

Moving along to the next topic of interest was another BBC article entitled Mathematicians set Chinese test. The jist of the story was that the Royal Society of Chemistry, considered to be one of the world’s premier scientific organizations, had issued a challenge for people to solve a mathematics question, which incidentally was taken from a Chinese university entrance exam paper. The society’s intention was to highlight the growing gulf between the Chinese and British students in mathematics. Now I took a look at this and it was a pretty straightforward college-level trigonometry problem. But what really set me off was when I saw the sample question taken from a British university entrance exam. I did that level of problems in the 9th standard. Do this mean that I could have waltzed into a British university on what I learnt when I was 13? I wish I had known this 10 years back. I’d have taken things easier. On a lighter note, the person who solved the RSC’s poser was a 34-year old engineer.

In my opinion, this kind of degradation of standards is pretty much the normal scenario in the Western Hemisphere these days. When I was in college in the US doing my undergrad, I remember the university explicitly having something like 8-10 classes teaching high school mathematics to students in their 1st year. I even knew people who had FAILED these “remedial” classes more than once who were pursuing degrees like Chemistry, Finance, etc.

It’s a small wonder why companies are complaining about a lack of talent and outsourcing jobs to Asia. Why should you pay a person with the mathematical ability of a high school student an exorbitant salary when you can hire much more talented people at a fraction of the cost? Why should companies put up with mediocrity? If there was some semblance of equality in terms of ability between people in Asia and in the West, then maybe you could call it straightforward exploitation of lower costs of living in Asian countries. But when there is such a huge gap in educational standards and consequently technical knowledge, isn’t it stupid to expect companies to put up with less “able” people? Go on, think about it.

And while you’re at it, you might want to consider what the future holds for you folks in the west if the you let schools get away with the kind of nonsense covered in this article, Pupils ‘are urged to drop maths’. I think it’s criminal that schools are compromising the future careers of their students in order to boost their rankings. Why can’t they raise their teaching standards? Why should students compromise and avoid maths just to make the schools look good? It’s such a short-sighted, escapist attitude that I’m appalled that the government is letting schools get away with it? What’s the point in an education system, when the educators coerce students to avoid more difficult subjects to ensure that they look more productive quantitatively? Shouldn’t it be a qualitative evaluation???

I’ll make one observation about India in regards to this, which I’ve mentioned before several times. The lack of educational standards is a major issue here at the college level as universities are so KEEN to pump out engineers for the IT industry. They focus on ensuring that students can answer theoretical tests, but in no way prepare them for the real world. Today it’s the domain of the companies to train these students to the levels they need since the students are so inept practically. Consequently, the universities feel that they don’t need to bother with practical knowledge and continue churning out theoretical numbskulls who I can only define as a completely confused souls without ANY idea of what the software industry is really about. To them, its a cushy job in an A/C environment with plenty of cash, perks, etc. They don’t have a clue about the processes involved in the industry, the limitations of software and how to overcome them, how to approach problem solving, etc, etc, etc.

If you look at the IT faculty of most universities in India outside of the IITs and such, odds are that most of the lecturers are recent graduates who have failed to get a proper job and decide to earn some money by teaching until they get a big break in the “real world”. Does this strike anyone as even sane??? Isn’t it criminal to compromise on the quality of education imparted to young minds, WHO ARE PAYING TUITION to be taught about software and programming??? What the heck can a fresh graduate even teach about the software industry to other students who are maybe 2 years younger than him/her??? Its a mad, mad, mad, mad world, and it needs to change otherwise we’ll end up like the Brits and the Yanks and face a major deterioration in our technical standards. I’ve said enough about this before so I’ll stop here on this topic. For more, browse some of my older articles, or stayed tuned. I’m sure someone will piss me off very soon and it’ll end up being related to this.

I think I’ll save the last two topics on how to take down the Indian move industry and the stupidity of the $100 Laptop Program in another post. Stay tuned.

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