Sunday, March 25, 2007

Obtituaries of a Car and a Team

Death of Car

My car (an antiquated Eagle Talon) has passed away. This post is being written in its memory. There shall be no funeral and cremation. It will be unceremoniously trashed in some junkyard. You see, a couple of days prior to D( Death ) -Day, the car was doing fine, save a mildly disconcerting low frequency noise when the steering wheel was operated. So, the vehicle was driven to Houston and back at speeds around the speed limit. The car held up. In hindsight, that was a miracle.

And then next day, it's drizzling a bit : and we're at that benign parking lot at H-E-B where the car is moving. And all of a sudden, I realize that it is no longer on four wheels but is actually on three. Further investigations showed that one of the wheels, in a brazen display of gross insubordination to the engine of the vehicle, decided to go its on way - separating from the axle after breaking some critical components.

After a rather panicky call to the AAA guys, the car was towed to a Firestone (a grossly overpriced automotive repair chain in the U.S.) . The next morning, the price of the repair was quoted to be of the order of the price one would get on selling the god-forsaken vehicle (after repairs). Futile attempts to get the repair done were quashed by wiser counsels, who did not seem forgive the car for almost killing one and all.

The car, at this moment in time has been pulled from Firestone and is currently languishing in the parking lot of my apartment complex. Attempts to resurrect the same using other mechanics (for half the cost) have come under attack too - for the aforementioned wiser counsels contend that the resurrected vehicle might physically ascend to heaven (along with all passengers carried within) in around 40 days from the date of resurrection.

The death of the vehicle forced one to rent another to do some mandatory travel. We used a Jeep Liberty, as all the smaller vehicles were out of stock. This "other" vehicle, in my opinion, is one of the causes of all the problems in the world today. It is causing the Iraq war by demanding and guzzling oil. It is spitting out lethal amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere heating up the world. I am trying to make up for all the pollution caused by the vehicle by riding my cycle to work - even to Turbolab, which is 4 miles away.

Death of a Team

More startling than the perishment (sic.) of my car was the recent perishment (sick.) of the Indian team in the West Indies - first against Bangladesh and then against Sri Lanka. As a matter of fact, the two most populous cricketing nations, India and Pakistan crashed out of the world cup. This is, in my opinion, a farce of astronomical proportions perpetrated on the general populace of both the nations by monopolistic cricket boards. Because, if you choose the best from a billion people, then you ought to produce a better team than choosing from 20 million people (Australia).

Only an absolute idiot or an absolute optimist would ever want their children to play professional (first class) cricket in India, because of probability of success is almost zero. Being good at sport will not get you anywhere. Engineers and Doctors can be relied on to put food on the table, not first class cricketers.

A business model that respects the talented and pays then enough to take the game seriously is the most important need of the hour. And it's not as if this model is unheard of. Consider this. This is a shameful Statistic. Since we all agree that regional cricket matches in India are not really a crowd magnet,

Number of ODI tickets sold in India per year = 15 * 30,000 = 4.5 lakh
Number of "Football" tickets sold by Texas A&M Univiersity in College Station = 6 * 82,000 ~ 4.5 lakh again!

The number of ODI tickets sold by India (which by far exceed any other sport in India) ~ Number of Tickets sold by a large American University for its team for its most popular sports. And consider this. There's a lot of other universities in this country. There's a lot of other sports (basketball comes to Mind). And this is just "college athletics" There's also professional athletics, which is much more popular than college athletics in the US.

India is a MASSIVELY UNDERTAPPED MARKET when it comes to cricket - or sport in general. There's a lot of big bucks to be made if some entrepreneur comes up with a more effective business model - maybe of a more compact model of cricket (20-20, perhaps?). The BCCI monopoly should be challenged. And this should be done by revoking the BCCI's exclusive license to represent India.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Of Engineers and Math

Just like mechanics need to know how to use their wrenches and hammers, engineers need to know how to use their mathematics. Engineers need an intuitive (as opposed to abstract) understanding of mathematics - even more in this era of specialization. Almost all empirical work has been done preservers like Edison more than 100 years ago. Edison's mathematical illiteracy could not let him see the Benifits of Nicola Tesla and Alternating Current. His approach to solving problems was not good enough even during his own life!

Today, almost every simple economically viable thing has been invented. All further "empirical" work is best left to managers, not engineers. Engineers (the good ones at least) emphasize more on understanding and exploiting complex phenomena. And the understanding of complex phenomena often implies a comprehensive and intuitive understanding of Mathematics - as opposed to the abstract understanding (or lack thereof) that mathematicians restrict themselves to.

It is this sentiment that has suddenly dawned upon yours truly. I have realized that I have wasted a significant portion of my life developing only a cursory understanding - certainly not comprehensive and intuitive - of mathematics. Am I letting myself atrophy into one of those mediocre, uninspiring researchers whose papers I see so often in journals?

It is here that I can start to count my blessings. I am in one of the World's largest universities which offers a plethora of courses in every conceivable field. Mathematics. Physics. You name it. I am now going to build a plan for my doctorate. Because nothing inspires more than old fashioned classes.

I need to cover the following more topics in Physics, Math and Engineering Before I pack my bags from here.

1. Hydrodynamic Stability Theories; Transition to Turbulence
2. Multiphase Flow
3. Statistical Thermodynamics
4. Microfluidics
5. Radiative Heat Transfer in detail
6. Convective Heat Transfer in detail


1. Tensor Analysis (I've done enough to "develop a feel" for it in Turbulence and CFD).
2. Complex Analysis
3. Perturbation Methods
4. Dynamical Systems and Chaos

It might look a little ambitious - but that's just 10 more courses. With a more comprehensive understanding of math, I will no more bow my head in shame when someone talks of Banach Spaces, Cayley-Hamilton Theorems, Christoffel Symbols (which I have been seeing a lot of late in the CFD class).

To the engineer, a formula is of little use unless it comes with an intuitive meaning. Take the Fourier transforms, for instance. Or let's just stick to Fourier series. If you ask a mathematician what the integral over the period of the function actually means, he/she will wince uncomfortably. But a competent engineer will come up with his but of "intuitive" bit of understanding which could go something like:

Consider a periodic funtion with a zero mean value. The integral over the period of the periodic function with sin (or cos) tells you how "similar" the function is to the sine or the cosine. The largest possible absolute value is when the function is an amplitude-scaled replica of the sinusoidal function, the lowest when there is no similarity at all - zero. The integral actually gives you the "contribution" of the sine signal of that particular frequency to the total signal. This can be repeated for other frequencies. And a Fourier series can thus be constitutive. That these amplitudes are additive stems from the orthogonality of the sine functions at different frequencies.

It would be great if I could put meanings to equations more comfortably. And you know what that is called: PHYSICS. After all, an engineer is a physicist with a more comprehensive understanding of economics than math.