Thursday, April 24, 2008

Assignments and deadlines

When was the last time that I uniformly distributed a lengthy assignment over the entire duration that was available before submission. Seems like an occasion so long ago that I am unable to recall it. Or more likely, the answer is a simple no, never. For every time I knew in advance that I had to turn in an homework or write up a summary of an article before a deadline, I have never worked on it at a uniform pace. In fact, I have never even come close. It would be more accurate to describe a typical scenario of this sort as work that begins with fits and starts, hardly makes any progress at the half-way point in time, drifts around without any definite direction or clarity for a while, then enters a phase where the magnitude of the task ahead looms large and some of the early parts to it (roughly 25% ) is done with some seriousness and a sense of purpose, then strangely enough slows down again after which, the the leftover fraction appears like a mammoth challenge of race against time. This final stage is the most frenzied period that is characterized by a desperate sense of urgency that leads to desperate means to achieve the goal. Sleepless nights (as if insomnia does not screw me over sufficiently), lots of caffeine (mostly a distraction and less of real benefit), rapidly flipping through notes and texts for hints, exchanging status-of-progress-information with others stuck with the same problems, handwriting getting more illegible with every word, lots of vague guesses thrown in, writing out solutions that are either incomplete or so strange that I have no clear idea of what it all means are some of the several complex responses that are generated by an infallible defence mechanism. Ultimately, I'd be barely satisfied with my effort and even on the best days I probably would have glossed over a dozen doubts that would be propped-up in my head while working it. I have to confess that this activity has more in common with last-dash to meet deadline in corporate world than in an academic setting where one professes seeking objective truth and knowledge. What a shame! Despite all promises to myself that the situation would be dramatically different every time, the events unfold in an eerily identical manner. It reinforces my belief certain aspects of life always remains the same. Always.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Problem with units

After spending nearly three-quarters of a year in US, I am still finding it difficult to place quantities expressed in pounds, inches, miles, ounces, pints, quarts, fahrenheit, etc. Every time I encounter them in a grocery store or a liquor shop, I have to do the arithmetic. It is simple but I hate the fact that I have to do the conversion to get a sense of the magnitude.
I have never quite understood the reluctance of the Anglo-Saxons to accept metric system. Especially so in the States, where there is a lot of emphasis given to practical convenience in everyday life. That being the case, it is quite strange that people prefer units are related by unwieldy constants as compared to the simple ratios in powers of 10, that characterizes the metric system. When you can revamp the language and make modifications to both the spelling and pronunciation of words on the grounds that it is more natural, why the hell would you not change this inconvenient and confusing units to something simple and direct? It is true that people have become used to it but should you not make the switch when it is a better option.
Most parts of the world have adopted the metric standard . And what's more, even in Britain, there is a law that requires all products to carry the metric units as well. Now, that makes the continued insistence on using "English Units" another example of American Exceptionalism.