Where Ideas Meet

Thursday, February 18, 2010

E-Club meeting - 30-10-2009

The lousy weekdays of an IITian come to a halt with Friday evenings, the same time when E-Club organizes its weekly meetings. But the influence of these extremely boring/tiring hours of studies is there on everyone, which was reflected on the club’s meeting too. Alok Arunam of Narmada hostel came up with a presentation on the topic “Amazing changes taking place in education, learning and Social Entrepreneurship based ideas for them”. The theme was education, and being a buzzword for social entrepreneurship, more junta was expected to come. Likewise, around 40 people turned up, all ready for gaining some insights and the knowhow of current path breaking efforts taking place in the educational arena.

The presentation started with Alok giving some new but unheard and thought provoking definitions for education as a learning experience. Contrary to what we think as the activity to be just as an extension of the infamous ‘mugging’, he explained it as an exploration, extraction, enhancement and a journey to enlightenment. The whole issue of better educational facilities popped up in these two decades due to its inclusion in the HDI (Human Development Issue), where each country is ranked (by level of human development) based on various indexes on social and economical fronts, two among which are Combined Gross Enrollment Ratio (CGER) and Adult Literacy Rate. Over the years the literacy rates of UK and the USA have been stable along with the Income per person. But for India and China, the growth was spontaneous that sprang up mainly in the late decades of 20th century.

India stands at an abysmal position juxtaposing with these nations, demanding a paradigm shift in educational policy formulations, one among them that in teaching methodology which accelerates learning and increase the reach of educational facilities among rural children. Still not satisfied of emphasizing the importance of education (not really, but to unfurl the recent activities taking place in this field), Alok started off with some entrepreneurs/organizations that have branched out around the world and eventually into recognized and respectable enterprises. It included OLPC by Nicholas Negroponte, Dr. Sugata Mitra’s ‘Hole in Wall’ project, Dr. Mitchel Resnick’s MIT Media Lab, MAD, Jimmy Wales’ own Wikipedia and similar other projects. The latter part of the presentation was mainly focused on the models of learning, and how acquired knowledge is different form actuated knowledge. He further said learning has 3 components – behaviour, construction, and cognition. As the presentation proceeded with VAID (Visually Associative Information Design) and other traumatic words, the freshies (unfortunately) unable to imbibe the concepts were seen dozing off. After that the ppt, gave some interesting information about various techniques based on Information Visualisation, Tree Map, Ride the Byte, Docuburst etc. The various images as the part of the presentation were visually appealing, and were of immense power of comprehending knowledge, which if decoded (the exact word still eludes the reporter) would yield a deluge of information. The presentation concluded by Alok introducing the techniques of Mind Map, and Concept Map.

The next was discussions and questions. Junta were very keen (a slightly ‘over keen’ too…) in posing questions. The need for knowing and replicating innovative models, visualisation and information architecture were dealt in detail by Alok to the questions regarding the feasibility and the requirement of this project. The sample set (that encompassed some ideas laid out in the form of images and collages) can be divided into various sub-topics and can be used as teaching aids for children, continued Alok and went on to the next question. One curious attendee had to know the context, a few smiles appeared and vanished very soon, after seeing the wide range of knowledge that the ‘questioner’ possessed on these matters like ‘wonder wheel’ (a new concept devised by Google for effective search). A few others asked about the software that can be used to develop the charts and other teaching aids. Also the questions on target group intended, an example (similar to the software question) of the application were also pitched at the presenter. The questions were tackled effectively except for some regarding prevailing examples, and applications and demonstrations. Though, he said it’s easy to make a tool with the inputs given in the presentation and following the ‘order, pattern and rhythm’ chronology. The atmosphere altogether at the meeting was fine, except for a communication gap (partly attributed to the fans rotating at 5-speed) that evidently prevented some back-benchers from understanding the information delivered in the meeting. Some were dubious about the impact/outcome of the presentation on the audience, to which the answer is the mode in which Alok conducted the presentation.

From a seemingly abstract ppt (probably a ‘strategic’ plan to forestall information leakage), to speak for almost one and half hours is really incredible and it’s what exactly Alok did (Courtesy: Remarks of a senior). Besides this, there were much more impressed by the sole idea of developing an educational aid for the rural children around the world, particularly in India, let alone the infi amount of creativity involved in the project. The presentation ultimately ended with Alok clarifying the questions that were posed. And, after that, some fundaes about MIT G-Lab from a senior, office bearer of C-TIDES, (to put in black and white, I don’t know his name) as a small hostel work for the junta who turned up, in a gesture of sharing new info and inviting likely responses from them on the any relevant topic.

P.S. Former head of the C-TIDES, consti, spoke to the current C-TIDES team asking to wield a firm friendship between the members and urged to develop a feeling of family (oneness) among the team members. Left for you to introspect….

Secondly, the first meeting to show some videos from TED. Also see more about TED India as TED, a platform for sharing ideas, came to India as well.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

E-Cub Inaugural Meeting - 25/08/2009

The First meeting of the Entrepreneurship Club, IIT-Madras was conducted at DoMS 253 at 8 p.m. on this day. The meet brought together the entrepreneur aspirants of the campus. A brief presentation on the objectives of the E-Club was laid out to the audience. In this foundation meet Shivraj and Rashid, the coords for E-Club, expatiated on the activities of the club. Excerpts from their presentation: E-Club is a discussion forum for presenting innovative ideas that can make an impact socially and can be converted into a money grossing business. Ideas, questions, and concepts generate entrepreneurial interests. And there is nothing like a bad idea, whatever one feels to be shared with the people, E-Club offers a platform for those.

The foundation meeting was not devoid of any presentation. Shampoo (V. Manoj Kumar, Meta, I year) from Jamuna hostel presented an alternative for artificial shampoos known for a lot of health problems apart from the generic use these have. The herbal shampoos,preparation of which Shampoo elaborated on, detergents and other herbal products don't have any side-effects and can be lucrative once it's manufactured on a large scale and marketed properly. Shampoo won laurels for presenting this idea in the 14th National Children Science Conference in 2006. The making of the shampoo involves neem, shikakai, soapnut, brahmi, buttermilk, amla, and certain other ingredients (11 in numbers) all collected from nature.

The artificial shampoos that come in the markets spoil hair and are basic in nature..... This is obviously an end to the serious part. Now to an informal one... Though shampoo's lecture/presentation lacked an experience of a professional presenter or the charisma of an expert in these matters (I myself am doubtful of these ‘wonderfully’ constructed adjectives, and have no idea what it means:-D), it was not at all a 'cupper'; rather a good one. The idea was worth discussing, and once the presentation entered that level, it was a feast for the crib - junta. Questions were raised from every nook and corner, ferocious and violent questioners put across their views convincingly to all the viewers. To which Shampoo had no answer other than mmmm...., okay..., if it's so and so... stuff. Unfortunately to add to the din, his ppt stopped working in between and had to withdraw before the presentation came to its formal ending.

Next it was the turn of the SOE team for Shaastra, comprising of Avanish T., Chinmay Shukla, Mahak Singhal (all from E.D). They presented before the full packed room, the brand new idea of Algiesel (One among the few highly tipped fuel for sustaining the development, to put it in different words). Algiesel, as the name indicates is the bio diesel extracted from algae. Algae are one of the fastest growing organisms which synthesize food by the process of photosynthesis. In this process of manufacturing algiesel, the lipid content of algae is availed to a greater extent. The emphasis given to algae even when successful extraction of biodiesel from jatropha is possible, is due to 'Food vs Fuel' dispute. While jatropha is a weed that eats up a lot of farming land as is been in the US these days, algae require water that has minimal value for humans, even that which is unusable to man. For these reasons ethanol from corn is less preferred (at least in research circles) than ethanol from algae.

Further the presentation went on to give microscopic details about conducting the project, general overview of the design, trans-estrification, flocculator and all those incomprehensible words that left most of the audience bemused. Unfortunate to say this part of the presentation was dry, and completely lacked any interest. And later the same effect was generated when to the wonderstruck audience, the team spoke about the high impact that this technique can make in the future. But to reveal everything about this would-be start up (hopefully, again!), the cost of production was stated to be Rs. 15,000 per litre. With the scale-up issue, from 2L to 200L, the data available from the present day lab work on lipid contents and cell counts of different algal strains can be useful albeit requires more laborious research from the modern day scientists to effectively extract 'maximum from minimum' algae.

The current status of one of the feasible solutions for the ‘fuel-cut’ revolves around the following question: What are conditions for identifying the correct algae? – The specifications like pH, temperature, salinity etc. The prospects of this project is highlighted by the amount of major players invested heavily in this sector like NIOT (National Institute for Ocean Technology), and Royal Dutch Shell. Later the discussion was focused on the questions like the working of the pertinent system juxtaposing to solar power, green development issue, and entrepreneurial input in this project (i.e. the novelty of this project as seen from entrepreneurial point of view).

The whole meet came to an end after this well-nigh perfect professionalism and composure exhibited by the SOE team, attracting high praise.