Monthly Archives: July 2010

paul lockhart: a mathematician’s lament

I would admit upfront my biases (or reflections on my personal experiences, if you will).

I am of the opinion that almost all Christian missionary schools (or for that matter, schools belonging to any other denomination or abomination that is centrally organized) are really a bad idea, at best. And, of course, I must have gotten ‘educated’ at a particularly bad missionary school – where, how actually Christ lived (by example and with compassion) was far removed from the context of the new testamentish conversion fervour with which the school was run. In fact, Jesus would have actually run away from such pretentious schools which seek to belittle other cultures, faiths and individuals. I also learned that, while these schools did all the damage they could with gay abandon, they were also getting considerable financial support /  aid  from the Government, to boot! This should have been in addition to the foreign funding that they routinely got to harvest more souls.

Till that time, I thought – only white Europeans were contemptuous of the black and brown natives & were endlessly condescending (‘The whiteman’s burden’). But it was with a sense of shock that I realized that a few of our own folks were belittling our own folks! It was a good 5 years later (after I finished my 10th std) that I got to know about the great TB Macaulay and allied colonial machinations. Anyway…

The mathematics that was ‘taught’ in my school was actually really silly – but then our textbooks were also silly so I cannot blame the teachers or the school. But I still recall with pleasure, the fact that a few of my classmates and I would huddle together in the back benches and feverishly solve the math text (of Tamilnadu and NCERT books) of the next few academic years and this was lovely. Of course whenever we were unfortunate enough to get caught in the act of not sticking to the 7th standard book by our math teacher (‘kanakku master’), our ears were boxed and our hides were tanned… But doing interesting math sums was an exhilarating idea, even though the canings were very painful. And ah, sometimes someone would bring Martin Gardnerish puzzles and solving them would be heavenly. Remembrance of things past and passé, what else…

Coming from this slightly shady background and having an endless angst about the way Science, Math, History etc etc are handled in most schools, I am convinced that the children have to get exposed to math (and of course every other ‘subject’) in the loveliest possible, fascinating and connection-rich way. I have faith in the children that they would instinctively gravitate towards the best things in life (given a set of meaningful choices) and may be at least some of the nammashaale erdkinder will continue to find math beautiful, well into their adulthoods… The hope!

And so, it was with pleasure that I got this document from Sunder & Sonati and read it again! I recall that this document was doing the rounds in 2003 or thereabouts on Internet math forums and I had chanced upon it earlier over IRC.  It was lovely. But I thought it was mainly a diatribe against US schooling system. And, now I reread it and it continues to be lovely and a very well formed document – and I think it is applicable to the most of the whole world, except perhaps the Russian schools…

Some extracts from the text:

“There is such breathtaking depth and heartbreaking beauty in this ancient art form. How ironic that people dismiss mathematics as the antithesis of creativity. They are missing out on an art form older than any book, more profound than any poem, and more abstract than any abstract.”

“TRIGONOMETRY. Two weeks of content are stretched to semester length by masturbatory definitional runarounds. Truly interesting and beautiful phenomena, such as the way the sides of a triangle depend on its angles, will be given the same emphasis as irrelevant abbreviations and obsolete notational conventions, in order to prevent students from forming any clear idea as to what the subject is about.”

chuckle, chuckle…

Please read the EXCELLENT document of Paul Lockhart:  ‘A Mathematician’s Lament’ off the Mathematical Association of America website:

Enjoy! It is well worth the investment…


prof ved prakash of UGC

It is not often times that one gets to listen to fantastic and committed people, individuals with a burning passion, who walk their talk.

Sometimes such people may not have the gift of communication skills – but still manage to have an impact.

Some other times, good scientists and academicians get more and more senior in their respective hierarchies –  go up the echelons of power  and in the process, lose out on the perspectives I would call ‘earthworm’s views.’ Their talks and views no more have passion in them!

But, in a few few cases, some illustrious & accomplished souls also have the power of communication at their disposal and make incredible impact on the minds of audience, if the latter are open, that is!

In my opinion, great communicators are those, who don’t require visual  cues and random mnemonics to help them out with their presentation. Ah, the powerpointlessness is actually close to  nirvana!

So, it was a great pleasure to listen to Prof Ved Prakash, who held forth for nearly 1.5 hours (without any props) at a meeting organized at HP Labs India, by Dr Ramani. The fact that this event happened on 2nd August, 2005 does not matter. It still is 100% relevant.

In this talk, he touched upon various topics that concern education in India, such as the literacy levels, state of higher education & research, broadbasing education, the impact of books and libraries etc etc…  His passion and commitment shone through as also his impassioned plea to the researchers to do what is right, whatever one can, to help spread the idea of education around and empower others…

Frankly, I don’ t know whether it had  any impact at all (in most of the audience there in the room, at least!) as I knew even then that many of the minds there not really prepared to handle the information. I am of the opinion that, any (self) perceived  avant garde research lab, by and large indulges in hifalutin’ stuff, with little relevance to the problems at hand – and many of the researchers that populate the lab, have this incredible meta-cognitive state of suffering from the Dunning-Kruger effect. This malady is much more, if the labs happens to be an arm of some biggie big MNC.

May be this is a big & heartless waste of scarce resources, but I would say that all these ‘investments’ increase the GNP. They are useful, after all. Anyway…

Thanks to my ex-colleague Rama Vennelakanti, I had a copy of the recording of Prof Ved Prakash’s speech which I have now uploaded to rapidshare.

Please download all the four parts (split archives) and unrar then using the winrar utility. They contain a mp3 file:  ‘Dr Ved Prakash – HPLabsIndiaTalk – 02082005.mp3’

Do listen to it, and if possible, reflect on it. It is worth the effort.

3 x 19 MB + 18.5 MB =  75.5 MB (MD5: 0843B25BC2B58BE3014D066FE66501B8) (MD5: EF537B170938E77CBF2E821A762078C7) (MD5: 9E7A0BF5957369CC41083C0E607F4DAE) (MD5: 17F93020A2C438101F430EE5B8377FC3)

(This audio file is being shared with permission from Dr Ramani. Thanks sire!)

— END —

legend of matajuro: redux

Loooong back, in 2006 (actually ’tis not that long ago), I typed in the very fascinating & incredible story about Matajuro; it is here: The legend of Matajuro; please read it first to make sense of this post. If you already have done that, that’s great!

In my opinion, it is a very fine & an absorbing piece on what constitutes education and awareness. Enjoy.

So, this year, the new erdkinder on the new block also did this ritual of reading and savouring it. But Rama, unlike me, has brought in a good structured interpretation of the story so that one can contemplate on it.

Rama’s questionnaire has got three parts: factual, interpretive and evaluative so that the erdkinder have some tool to dice and splice the story with. Apparently, the children also had a seminar and some fascinating discussions centering around the legend, which I missed.

I reproduce the questionnaire hereunder in toto for your edification.

Seminar – The legend of Matajuro

Factual questions –

    1. The name of the story?
    2. From which book has this excerpt taken? Who was its author? –
    3. What was the Yagyu family into which Matajuro was born reputed for?
    4. To which province did Matajuro’s travels take him?
    5. At the foot of which falls was the Kumano Nachi shrine?
    6. What was the name of the teacher he found?
    7. What is a hakama?
    8. What was Matajuro cooking when Banzo last struck him?
    9. What vegetable was Matajuro peeling?
    10. What was the highest peak of the bugei
    11. For how long did matajuro stay with Banzo? For how many years did Banzo attack him?
    12. With what did Banzo reward Matajuro?

Interpretive questions –

  1. Why did Matajuro’s father banish him from the dojo? Was his action effective?
  2. How old or young do you think Matajuro was?
  3. How was Banzo regarded by the people?
  4. “That’s too long, long” said Matajuro.  What does this say about him?
  5. What were his duties in the hut?
  6. Matajuro did plan to leave even before Banzo struck him with the bamboo.  Then why did decide to stay?
  7. How can you describe Matajuro?
  8. What qualities did Matajuro learn that made earn his certificate?
  9. Do you think Banzo was a good teacher?  Why?

Evaluative questions –

  1. What was the message of this Zen story?
  2. Is there a difference between Matajuro’s parents and yours?  How?
  3. How is the story reflective of the tradition of Zen and Japan?

— END —

independence day of USA

Oh, I almost forgot! Sorry.

This news is especially published  for  the edification of RNIs, NRIs, ex-pats, cowpats, US citizens living in India, Indian citizens dying in US,  Dual Citizenship holders, Persons of Indeterminate Origin (PIOs), Green card holders, Red Card Droppers, Frequent Flier Mile collectors et al, et al…

The agenda: To wine (anything non Indian) and to whine (about everything Indian).

Examples of the former category: Malbec, Burgundy, Bordeax et al

Examples for the latter category: Traffic, education system, political system, non cleanliness,  oh-how-we-miss-our-CostCos, corruption etc etc.

This is a real news insertion from ‘The Hindu’ of  4th July, 2010 for one such celebration in Bangalore, India.

American Independence Day Celebrations at Mynt, Taj West End on July, 4; for reservations call:6660 5660


(Earlier, we used to celebrate our dependence day from USSR on 15th August every year; but we now have moved over to celebrate the August dependence day from USA.  Soon, I suppose, we will all move over to that of China. Amen. I love our internationalism & the sense of global brotherhood)