dkspost parts 29-45

Comments by N Jayashankar, Industrialist and my classmate

“Well narrated. You have mentioned inventions need to be user based. But many inventions Including electricity was criticized when the invented. Is possible to identity the user base before going for research. As you mentioned in medicine it is mostly user based”

My response

“Inventions in science are basic. Similarly, there is basic research in engineering areas like fluid flows, heat flows, cavities, electrical fields, computational theory, automata, etc

A very large area of theoretical research exist. But inventions in engineering today need to think of use. Not so in science like nano, biotech, astronomy, etc.

Hope it is clear. Abstractions at UG level is rare but possible.

Even many engineering PhD look at applications. Pure theory is tough. so, many avoid it. It is important and we need to encourage it for research.


“Education is a vast ocean. Today’s education to start with teaches only the basics. It may be relevant or may be even outdated. Without basics one cannot develop himself further. Is it not necessary that relevant basics only are taught and depending on the student’s aptitude, he goes for specialization? A question arises. How he would select specialization if he had multi-attitude to acquire more than one specialization?”

My response

“Give choices enough to specialize in more than one area. He or she will start with two and drop one if he or she cant cope with it or interest is gone.”

Part 29

Prof Dinesh Prabhu, TEQIP coordinator and head of Automobiles has this question.

🙏 Sir, My question is

👉 Is the NEP oriented in this direction🤔

đź‘ŚYour narration for today’s true need of the Technical Education in a nut shell is just wonderful. 🙇🙏

My response

Yes. It talks about Choices – we don’t have real choices. very limited options only. You are stuck to you dept and it’s decisions

No way of doing courses in other depts leave alone doing in other institutions or even abroad.

We need to change our mindset, allow our students to do courses anywhere based on mentor’s advice. This will open up opportunities.

What about one’s pace of learning? Is it considered?

What about one’s capabilities? We put all students into one basket and push them through a regimented set of courses?

Is there a flexibility? Say some one wants to abstract theoretical research, someone wants to experiment, someone wants to design, someone wants to build, someone wants to study social, ecological and/ or  ethical impacts. Do we allow them to follow their aptitudes?

Interdisciplinary. This we have been talking about. It is not just courses in other engineering or science disciplines but in social sciences, literature or even music.

Curiosity and innovation

How will one inculcate this? Our education does not have a mechanism. It is highly structured, highly regulated and does not allow anyone to look outside the blinkers.

We need to pose a lot of questions to students, tell them to read books, blogs, papers, reports and write a short summary. We need to encourage questions by students and allow them to design and experiment.

4. Is lecturing in a class room the only approach to learn. N EP talks about discussions, group work, projects. We need to build them.

5. Assessments need a lot of change in mindset. Move away from single examination approach. I call it a capital punishment. In a few minutes you decide the fate of a student. Is it fair? We need to move towards innovative continuous assessments on a weekly basis. Are we ready and prepared?

There are more we will see them later.

So while NEP gives policies, we need to see how to implement them effectively. We provide clever showcase approaches without believing in the a change of mind and approach are needed.

Hope regulators also wake up, have trust in institutions, leave audit approaches and follow insightful advices and guidance. Move away from approvals. Be helpful. Institutions look at students as intelligent resources and use them.

A simple set of questions I ask : what has an institution given to its distinction students? How it has effectively used the capabilities of its distinction students? Does it allow students to study what they want and at their pace?

We need to also understand the capabilities of students. They are capable of handling about 20% extra learning as a minimum guess. How we optimize their learning. We need to think, discuss and move to NEP objectives from the present-day rigid, feudal and hierarchy oriented, highly regulated and rote learning education.

Hope the above answers questions and doubts. I am open for discussions about implementation.

This answers the comment by Mr Ajay Mishra ,GM ,PNB, retired on the difference between US and Indian education system.

Part 30

Before we look at the purpose of education and learning, I want to put some thoughts of eminent people before us. These are eminently followable but the machine and data driven Life has driven these out of our minds. Let us see what Einstein says

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” We quote more by Einstein – some profound statements.

“would teach peace rather than war. I would inculcate love rather than hate.”

“I believe in intuitions and inspirations. I sometimes feel that I am right. I do not know that I am.” Also, he says

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” These are important for learning.

Next is Leonardo Da Vinci a great designer of Renaissance period.

Let us look at his seven principles as given by Giorgio Vasari, a student of Michael Angelo, and taken from the book by Gelb,

The Seven Da Vincian Principles are:

Curiosità—An insatiably curious approach to life and an unrelenting quest for continuous learning.

Dimostrazione—A commitment to test knowledge through experience, persistence, and a willingness to learn from mistakes.

Sensazione—The continual refinement of the senses, especially sight, as the means to enliven experience.

Sfumato (literally “Going up in Smoke”)—A willingness to embrace ambiguity, paradox, and uncertainty.

Arte/Scienza—The development of the balance between science and art, logic and imagination. “Whole-brain” thinking.

Corporalità—The cultivation of grace, ambidexterity, fitness, and poise.

Connessione—A recognition of and appreciation for the interconnectedness of all things and phenomena. Systems thinking.

Remarkable right. Applies to us even today.

All these deserve our attention and are very relevant.

Part 31

Discussions on yesterday’s post.

Dr Sashank Garg, a serial and social entrepreneur who was one of the developers of Simputer says the following

“This one is a really good lesson. Einstein and Leonardo da Vinci are my all-time favorites!”

MGPL Narayana, a systems thinker and researcher says

“Thanks. That is an inspirational book, “how to think like Da Vinci” by Micheal Gelb, my favorite, often quoted during my talks on Systems Thinking.

In fact, by way of these 7 principles, a cultivation happens for Systems Thinking from childhood.”

Debashish, TCS innovation leader says this


As I note that this message platform is really adding value to us for our learning process and established education system. All along up to 30 episodes whether citing quotations or answering various questions around pedagogy, you maintained a harmony in addressing technique for qualitative improvement of our education system. I salute to my genuine teacher.

I have given these comments without my views.

We need to see how we can build the seven principles in our teaching and learning processes. These won’t fit into just a course like lateral thinking offered in some places. It should become an integral part of every subject taught at school and college levels. Forget Bloom. Look at multiple thinking activities. Students will come up with solutions. In addition to integrating these into subjects, we need to involve students in looking at problems faced by us every day in our life, social life, through these seven principles. There are more principles like design principles. The question is how do we motivate faculty to take this missing aspect in our education programs. Suggestions are welcome.

Part 32

I would like go further into the seven principles to tell us reality and help us to solve real life problems.

Reality means ambiguity, uncertainty and randomness and multiple options which may lead to contradictory possibilities. We may not have data fully available. This means formal solutions do not reveal the real-life pictures. True formal, mathematical and algorithmic approaches give a good solution, it might lead to lots of approximations and assumptions. We mostly assume all variables are deterministic and this is not true in real life. Most occurrences are random. When solutions involve people, we don’t consider their behaviors. You can’t design a cycle without knowing the capabilities of users. Same is true with many real-life products like blenders, Hoover vacuum machines, refrigerator, stove, etc. Similarly, we have other numerous constraints like ease of use, corrosion, erratic power supply, voltage fluctuations, continuous supply of water, pollution, maintenance, end of life of a product, trust, and cost. How do you model them? So look at all aspects, consider multiple possibilities, use experience of users possible side effects and maturity of technologies. So, in real life we don’t select a simple thing like a shirt by cost alone. This selection happens every day. You want to get an ERP software. How do you decide?

This was a problem I encountered in many organization’s and industries. While SAP is well known, operations had problems in a steel plant. So, I selected Oracle applications for a steel plant. Initially the Chair of the company was reluctant, but the final solution worked well. Similarly, I selected another ERP for a real estate company. So, it is due diligence, experience, getting into the product behavior that matters. If a single product has complex factors for selection, then consider a water supply and distribution system or a smart grid or an integrated transport system for a city. We did decide on many problems like location of schools, fair price shops and any facilities using GIS and heuristics.

So don’t believe algorithms solve real life problems. We need to look beyond algorithms in our education. Faith in mathematical models and solutions is good for some problems. It is only syntax. Look for semantics.

Let us see more examples. Appreciate your suggestions.

Given below are comments.

Part 33

Mr HS Nagaraja from Kirloskar electric, Bangalore University and sir MVIT agrees with yesterday’s post.

“Made a good reading in the morning. Pragmatic approach while solving a real-life problem seems to work well. Thanks sir, Greetings HSN”

Here is what N Ramanathan, CEO, shakti sugars and previously with TVS group says

“Economics theory is founded on the concept ‘cetiris paribus’ meaning other things held constant. That’s never the case in real life. hence the joke that if there are two economists, there are invariably three opinions. Management is all about conflict resolution in the decision-making process. Success is seeded in striking the right balance, whether in personal or professional life.”

Aparna Murthy says

“Do agree on this. Algorithms have a limited application. Real life situations do not need any great mathematical solutions. We need to be practical and take action as the situation warrants”

Mr Sanjay Gupta, CEO, PNB housing finance (retired) agrees with the views.

“Absolutely correct Sir, algorithms and mathematical assumptions are an outcome of human observations and are not insulated from biases.

To select a suitable ERP is to first determine what is the work flow and then look for a best suited system solution and not visa versa.”

MGPL Narayana, TCS research, leader in systems thinking, has sent a long mail on using various techniques like P/O model. He says

“I could not agree more on what you explained. There is a famous saying, “Children enter school as question marks and leave as periods”. We are born with curiosity and develop our world (understanding) as we are quest for knowledge is responded. The surroundings play very important role in shaping to an extent to know what we are.”

Prof Ashok Kumar, TCE says

Dear sir,

“Exposed to new dimension in understanding real world problems by today’s discussion.”

Part 34

I made an error in my last part. Mr Ramanathan is MD of Ponni sugars and not as stated before.

I said in part 32 that we will see more examples. In our life, we have a lot of choices. We choose what we wear or eat to what we study, where we study, to -where we get jobs? – to how to find a place to live? How to buy a house? Whom to marry? etc. We need to make a lot of decisions- some trivial and some having far reaching implications. There are a lot of choices available to choose from. The choices are more in a job or profession.

Consider for example a manufacturing unit like producing sugar, paper, fertilizers, auto parts, etc. We have a plethora of activities like purchase, stores, production, automation, power and water supply, operations, maintenance, testing, planning, dispatch, sales, accounting and finance, audit, IT, etc. Each activity has multiple sub activities. For example, production means setting targets, scheduling jobs and people and machines, review of production etc. Each activity has many choices –

What are the types of products that can be manufactured and which yields more profits?

What is the estimated demand of my product? Where do I get raw materials? Who are my suppliers and what are their costs, reliability, response and reputation? Will there be assured supply? What should be the level of redundancy in supplies? How do test materials for quality? What can be outsourced and what can be done in house? How do I control the quality and output of outsourced activity? Who are my customers? How do we get new customers? What does my customer want? How do I reduce costs? How do I improve productivity?  These should form the basis for engineering education, not just theory. First this means that there are a large number of problems and second most problems have multiple choices and solutions. Third that the selection depends upon various factors like costs, durability, desirability, dependability, availability, demand, growth etc. So how do we match the problem requirements with constraints so that the solution is satisfactory, best in many respects, dependable and realizable and meets constraints on costs, quality, environmental standards, reliability etc. So, you see it is a complex problem. We cannot get a stochastic multi objective optimation model with many qualitative variables. Definitely mathematics and statistics are useful. But there is a lot more than that.

Also, lots of behavioral and people factors exist and many societal aspects also get in.

Some principles of education get in here.

So, we need a balance between arts and sciences

Solutions are people centric.

We need a holistic picture and a systems approach to simplify and get realistic solutions.

The problem can be looked at with a top down approach.

The problem is viewed from an application and innovation perspective. So easy to plug into our education process.

Curiosity and discovery play important parts in solving these routine problems.

Part 35

We saw one stage of problems which can be posed and discussed with students. There are several stages.

Well one can say OR that is operations research, solved many problems. True OR provided quantitative basis for some problems but not all. Similarly, ERP software provided solutions for some but not all. Both OR and ERP became inward looking and forgot other problems and ERP created its own problems. Experiential knowledge was not considered by both.

Comment from Nagaraja, Kirloskar electric company

“Analysis of the gamut of activities & associated problems are vivid. Can we afford to forget that every solution creates a new problem? Can we say that problems & solutions are cyclic in nature? Greetings HSN”

My response is

We get a lot of problems. Nothing is static. Changes are rapid.

Let us look at the situation that technology selection was obsolete or not suitable for us.

So, during installation of technologies there will be many teething problems which have to be resolved. Similarly, we have problems during operations. So, we go through fire-fighting most of the times. Similarly, wrong selection of suppliers may bring in problems. Well at least you can change suppliers. But it is not easy to change machines. In the olden days, machines had a long-life time of working. To day you are at the mercy of manufacturers who want to maintain, which means no in-house maintenance and they also declare end of service and end of life for products. So constant upgrade leads to a lot of problems. When a bank upgraded to a new version of core banking software, erroneous functioning resulted in monetary losses and service interruptions. So, upgrades are not easy. You need to plan carefully. You need to upgrade or change so many items like ups batteries, pc, most software, data base systems, servers, switches, routers, application software etc. It is a running activity. Next is technology disruptions. When and how do you move to New technologies.  Here the major problem is awareness of emerging technologies and estimations. You have to time it correctly – too early means immature technology too late means you lost the game. So, estimations and judgements are needed. We moved from vacuum tubes to transistors to ICs to VLSI and we moved from programming language to language. All these are painful.

Let us look at utilities like water and power next where human involvement is more.

Part 36

Prof Basavaraj, retired Director of Technical Education comments:

“After a long gap, it is really interesting for me to listen from experts like you, the innovative approaches that can be adopted in syllabus framing and guiding the students in some autonomous institutions. Greetings Sir. Basavaraju”

My response

Thanks. I feel it can reach all institutions. University affiliated colleges can include the concepts in electives, additional learning, activities, lab work and project work. Most students can do 20% extra learning. Hope your points are noted by faculty.

Mr K V Ramaprasad from HAL has a very important critique:

“The discussion started with AI and further oriented towards other parameters whereas as Indians what we are going to do with the rural population where the computer usage is 4.4% only.

Is all the advancement only for urban population?”

My response

We need to clarify a few points

1.the main purpose of my posts is to improve engineering education with focus on interdisciplinary approach, choices, systems thinking, holistic approach to integration with social and behavioral sciences, and others to be introduced into curriculum and learning. It is a limited objective. One of my friends told me to take up school education. Lots of reforms are happening there and we have no stakeholders. Major reforms are needed in government schools in rural areas. We are not looking into it as we have no way of implementing suggestions. I think the comments by prof Basavaraj are appropriate here. reference to AI and digital are to show the rapid explosions taking place in technology space with job losses as well as potential for applications and new jobs. It also showed future was again in the context of reforms in education.

3. Recent online learning has shown that more than 50%of students have access to internet. Online learning is picking up with smart phones. Past census shows urban population is high. It is 30% in Karnataka and increasing. So, I am not sure about the 4.4 % quoted in the comment.

4. Most states have ICT education in all schools at high school level.

5.when we started mahithi sindhu program of computerization of 1000 high schools about 15 years ago, we got a lot of objections from teachers and experts. When there are no blackboards why do we need computers. Fortunately this was disproved with improved enrollment, hundred percent attendance and increased pass percentages in SSLC examination. So as the saying goes “better should not stand in the way of good.”

Equality and inclusion are important for government policies and implementations and for a just society. Definitely 5G will take connectivity everywhere.

Primary education needs great and urgent attention, no dispute, no second opinion on that. We need to ponder how. Many private schools have done well. Most government schools need motivation and infrastructure. Your ideas are welcome for discussions.

Hope I have explained our focus. We think and try to implement what we can do.

Part 37

Mr Ramaprasad from HAL has clarified the context of 4.4 %

and it is given below.

“4.4% figure is from NDTV debate yesterday quoted by CEO of Kalam Institute. And the debate was on online education’s effect during this pandemic.”

Thanks Ramaprasad for providing source and context.

I do not want to look at the authenticity of 4.4% but look at approaches to solve this problem. Some engineering colleges did a complete survey and found more than 50% are able to participate in the program.

Unfortunately, we always look at binary solutions -for example online teaching or class room for all. Can we start at KG and use online? I think we need to look for alternatives which may differ from group to group. KG cannot be first given lectures for a long time. We saw a child sleeping during lectures. So they need activities and games as well as a lot of interactions – every minute preferably- and lots of visualizations, definitely not lectures. Can we apply same rules and techniques we apply to a college student to a primary school student? The answer is no.

First there are several solutions possible. For example, students can go to a nearby centers with computers and network to download lectures and talk to faculty

 We have a financial inclusion leading to a large number of business correspondents in many parts of the country with digital facilities. Can we use them for facilitating rural students? This is only for senior students and mostly college students. We create Google groups for interactions. We can create student coordinators for each class to facilitate small group and peer learning. We set up student teachers from a senior class who guide students on difficult topics. This was tried at SIT Tumkur with great success in passes. Integra micro systems which is a leader in financial inclusion is thinking of establishing facilitation centers and also lending of tablets.

This model may not apply to primary schools. We need another model of blended learning which is a mixed mode. Lot of resources and content are available in the web. We need to localize them and take them to students. There is a lot of opportunities for startups here.

Universal uniformity of education will be unacceptable and may not be effective. We need local solutions. We need importantly flexibility and lots of choices so students can select what they want and interested and concentrate on them.

So we need multiple, multidimensional, localized, flexible approaches to solve online teaching problems.

Hardware is a solvable problem. But how do you ensure regularity, regular listening, and peer learning. We need different, new mechanisms for this. Get from students a one-page write-up of what they learner each day in each course. Change evaluation from one exam to continuous mode with assignments, problem sheets, student talks, quizzes, designs, projects etc. Move away from one examination, which I call as capital punishment. A teacher decides the fate of a student as a failure based on 15 minutes of assessment. This is not fair or justice.

Part 38

We have started discussion on online learning. It is a diversion. Let us complete it. Online learning is a transformation not just talk on a platform.

We need to check:

  • There is no break or distortion in audio and video receptions
  • Students are attending and getting inputs
  • Students can access information from web and get lectures whenever they want.
  • Students have devices and internet
  • Both faculty and students are digital savvy.
  • There is enough infrastructure at the institution.
  • There is an effective management of digital infrastructure.
  • There is a help desk. This will be a new culture to serve the students not to rule them.
  • There is a good support structure for peer learning
  • Teachers should know the absorption levels of students on a daily basis.
  • A good feedback system is essential.

Assessment should be done every day. Several ways are possible. Not just an exam at semester end. This means a big mindset change. Most faculties strongly believe in examination system. So they need to accept the change. Mr Srinivasan, retired GM from PNB has also expressed his views on changes needed in the assessment system.

Prof Ashok Kumar also feels the need for changes to move forward.

Create a Google group for each course.

Set up student coordinators

Monitor activities. Take action on feedbacks.

We need to take care of the above. will our institutions do these?

That is big question. I am not seeing it happening easily unless government compels them. Is it typical Indian-ness to act only when forced by regulation? We don’t act even then. We need changes. But it is necessary and a survival kit. We may not move to 100%online but definitely move to a blended and group learning approach. I gave webinars on this topic. I can send my PPT to those interested. Please send a request in WhatsApp. I will send it.

Let us move back to our discussion on problem generation instead of problem solving as a major focus for education.

We saw we have a lot of choices in personal life and jobs in industries. We also saw that most decision-making deals with uncertainties and partial availability of data and may not be solvable mathematically. Many decisions depend on experience.

Let us continue further and look at utilities next.

Part 39

We have several public utilities like water, power, telephone, transportation, etc. These are characterized by

A good network of connections, reaching people and satisfying their requirements as well as handling growth seamlessly. They get their supply from sources, may have storage units ,pumping or transformer or cell or bus stations and reach all customers. The utility system is complicated.

User demands vary with time, days and seasons, growth varies from area to area, supply also varies and users want reliability, that is, undisturbed supply.

There are a lot of problems like

Where do you locate the water or power distribution stations, or bus stations?

What should be the storage capacity, pumping capacity, pressure of a water grid?

What should be the voltages, substation capacity, power factor of an electrical grid?

What should be the capacity of connecting network- pipe sizes, conductor sizes, etc?

How do you route the network with differing local conditions?

What are sources of water supply or Electrical generation and how do you bring it to the city?

When do you replace pumps, pipes, transformers, conductors etc.

So there are many more problems faced daily by the utilities.

Then we have questions like when do you change components? when do you change technology?

How does one ensure regularity of supply and reliability?

I have not considered their financial and management problems. Then how does one solve these problems? We need to consider operational problems also. Some models exist but many times solutions are adhoc. Today since instrumentation is not expensive, digital instrumentation is done. Operations are automated. Digital twins work with the systems. So complexities have increased and the number of problems encountered also. So, we need to look and categorize problems first. That is problem generation activity. It is more dominant now and education should change to focus on problem generation. Then we can look at solutions. All these are not part of our curriculum. We need to build them. Any suggestions?

Part 40

Let us look at comments:

Prof C Nanjundaswamy, principal, Dr A I T has ideas about problem generation:

“Sir, I fully agree with your thought on the problem generation first and then look at solutions. The biggest issue among the faculty is the exposure to regional problems and interaction with the general public. There can be an immersed annual faculty internship to identify regional/local engineering problems and find solutions through students’ projects.

C. Nanjundaswamy.”

My response is:

The critical understanding is that we need to integrate problem generation as a main focus in many courses and definitely not a peripheral one with one or two credits as we are doing now with thinking . Problems occur everywhere. Only approximated and structured ones were modelled and analysed.many machines are not fully modelled. We solved detailed ones using algorithms. But there are many which need experiential answers.

We need to address them and as you suggested create a data base of problems. A good engineering exploration course with projects and a second one on social engineering and technology impacts and a third one with holistic design are minimum needs.

Mr Ramaprasad talks about complexities.

“Every utility has to be planned for installation, maintenance and sustenance. It looks simple for a common man while he uses the utility like water, electricity or any other infrastructure since he is not thinking of the input gone into these facilities for an uninterrupted continuous usage.

I remember how POSOCO had to plan and manage when PM declared 9 minutes power switch off on April 05 during lockdown to express solidarity.

It was a question of sudden reduction of demand of power to an extend of 15GW for a limited period of 9 minutes. This type of unforeseen reduction of power due to the then prevailing condition and decision would not have gone through the planning of the managing of the grid stability by POSOCO when the infrastructure was initially installed. In spite of this POSOCO could manage the situation probably because of the initial robust design and systematic management of the situation of sudden load reduction and increase for that 9 minutes period.

The question is while we can stimulate some problems during the development and installation of utilities, how these utilities would sustain in an unforeseen incident. Probably the modern technology could answer this question.”

My response is:

 There are contingency models and techniques available for a long time. Power is the first utility treated as a system. From around 1930 onwards power systems were

modelled and analyzed for various conditions and for planning and operations. As many are aware the first Electrical specialization in India started in 1909. Similarly, in 1950 we started a power engineering department integrating hydro, thermal, electrical and high voltage departments. We ran the first PG program in power systems by mid-fifties. We had a systemic look at that time itself. The countries power networks were designed at IISc using AC network analyzer. This program generated many courses and taken up as a model by many institutions. Most problems that arise are not only operational but also design and planning ones. I will elaborate it further tomorrow.

Purpose of education is poignantly illustrated in the forwarded message by Mr. Srinivasan ex PNB, and is given next.

Part 41

Mr Jayashankar with a lot of exposure to industries has this comment to offer on problem generation.

“Problem generation is the first step to make solutions.

Japanese used to say whenever you want to resolve a problem, first accept there is a problem. One Japanese expert came to our factory, when I worked as a

Dy GM TQM in S& S peer switch gear. When he had chat with some managers they told ‘ n problem’. He said when you say no problem the there is definitely problems.

 I used yo advice my staff not to hide problems

I used to think why people hide problems. Because they are afraid of admonishing.

Sometimes the problems occur due to people not following systems. Then we should think of a method how to make it fool proof. I used to conduct meeting once a month for the problems occurring resulting in non-conforming products or services. In old methodology, if a problem occurs, immediate thinking of higher ups are to impose punishment to the doer. In my experience when problem occurs and if a ‘why “why’ analysis is done, it boils down to management inaction.

The first step for problem generation is to encourage people to come forward with the problems they are facing without fear.

Then next step is to generate system to prevent problem. We call it as Poka yoke in Japanese system.

My response:

It is clear that academics concentrated on solving problems but industries have problems occurring regularly in their planning, design and operations. So, we need to understand this gap and address it. If we want to go for innovation, we need to move from problem solving to generation. Since it is a new concept, let us look at in more details. Problem solving is important but we have got maturity there. We are still in primitive stage here. We need a lot of imagination here.

Part 42

Let us continue with problems faced by us. We saw industries and utilities. It was felt most problems described by were only operational. We saw there are many problems in design and operations. Let us see one design problem as an example.

The power distribution in Delhi was not in good shape in seventeen. Supply was good but distribution had interruptions. So, I was asked to design the system to improve the reliability and take care of growth. I asked the following questions

Is 11kv enough or we need another voltage. If so what voltage 33kv or 66kv.

How do I partition the city into homogenous units?

What should be the load growth in different areas?

What should be optimal locations for substations?

What should be the optimal capacity of substations?

How do we route the network?

What should be conductor size?

What should be an optimal power-factor?

How do you plan the transition? etc.

Well, some have mathematical models?

Some need heuristics?

These questions generate problems which need to be solved and pre fixed solutions do not exist.

It was an exercise for two years.

Similarly, if you want a realistic and simple IT solution for a bank, hotel, office, institutions, hospitals etc. we need to generate sub problems and solve them.

There will be a huge list of functions, several ways of realizing them and a design of infrastructure and user interfaces so that we meet usability, correctness, agility, growth and reliability criteria. More complex are urban garbage and drainage problems crying for attention.

Part 43

Let us now look at the core of problem generation that is design.


Let us look at the nucleus of generation of technologies – that is design. It is a brain and thinking activity, not a physical and production activity.  Design also needs imagination and visualization skills. Design provides a good illustration of problem generation. Designs do not have a solution available. One needs to search for solutions. Even alternate possibilities need to be searched for. Our starting landscape many times is an Arabian desert with thousands of ways of making a civilization there. Most designs involve out of the box thinking. Design is not inward looking.

One of the great designs in India is the idly flour grinder. The western grinders don’t work for long. But this totally new product changed the situation. It used traditional stone grinders instead of blades, and used conventional motors, so it can work for long time uninterrupted, without heating up.

P. Sabapathy developed the wet grinder in Coimbatore in 1955. In 1975, R. Doraiswamy invented the tilting wet grinders L. G. Varadaraj introduced the table top wet grinders which replaced grinders which had to be placed on the ground. This dramatically changed the wet grinding activities. Now almost every middle-class house in South India has one. Its utility is proven and established.

Part 44

Discussions on design

Prof K M Babu Vice chancellor, Reva University and previous Principal of BMS college of engineering has commented on thinking:

“Good morning sir. Critical and creative thinking are the two most important skills need to be imbibed in the young minds.”

 It is definitely important to inculcate thinking in students

 Some institutions have a course on thinking. It won’t work. Thinking is a constant activity stimulating our brain. What is required is to define a number of activities to be done by students. Let me list some.

Simplest is to make as a part of curriculum with credits for students to read a book every semester and write a critique as well as give a seminar on it. This can be followed by a good literature critique on some latest topic. This sharpens the mind. It is not literature survey.

Second is to have a good design project, not a small one but a big one. Institutions can list a large number of areas and topics for guiding students. Students can choose their topics.  It is necessary to come up with a detailed write-up on the project. It should request students to submit a detailed problem definition first followed by a methodology later, say after a few months, followed by crowd sourcing, and followed by a preliminary design report with feasibility / technologies to be selected/outcomes and uses etc. The final design output can come out at the end of the year. It is preferable to look at social problems and government plans like smart City etc.

Third is give more time say a year for project work. Students come with good ideas. They need time to think, conceptualize , design , implement, experiment and conduct tests. The projects need at least a year.

Fourth is group discussions a good stimulant for thinking and group work and learning.

Fifth is follow Gurukula system of questions and answers mode of teaching not just lecturing. Explain where needed.

Sixth is setting up startups. Most IITs have a startup culture. This also helps in thinking.

Mr Sanjay Gupta Ex MD of PNBHFL has this comment.

“Widely accepted designs are those which are practical and elegant- timeless!

Like a brand they do not have a lifecycle.

And the architect behind such beauties should be experienced and childlike innocent to accept different perspectives and not be self-obsessed.”

Part 45

Thank friends for discussions.

Let us go back to the design of idly flour grinder. There is a query on the source / cause for the design from Bala Ajjampur, an ex TCS er and a passionate educationist. His comments are

“Which one prompted the design? Is it that heat produced by blade grinding altered the taste and texture forcing designers to look at copying its mechanics of grinding OR is it that someone wanted to simulate the hand grinding process to a machine process to achieve the exact texture?”

It is important to know what prompted a design. The primary cause is people’s needs. They saw the need. People who went abroad found grinding with the blenders a tough job. The speed is high. It heats up fast. So continuous operation for ten minutes is not possible. Secondly the dosa made after the struggle of grinding by switching on and off several times, is not good. The table top tilting grinder can be carried in a suit case. So the people accepted it.

Regarding our discussion yesterday on activities for improving thinking, I got two responses. One wants faculty to buy it and make changes. Another wants students to change their mind set. I strongly believe students will accept this.  Once you have a formal recognition for reading a book, for doing a design or giving a seminar or germinating a startup idea, students will be excited. There will be a few who will be unwilling in the beginning. But majority will join and then it becomes routine and others will follow. It is a good habit to encourage thinking. Faculty need to change their mind set. I think younger faculty will accept this easily.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *