The World of Automation

article published in the student edition of Deccan Herald on 13th December 2018

There was a time when kids like you were fascinated when they heard the story of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. The part where the hero goes to the cave door screened by the waterfall and mumbles “Open Sesame” was the favourite of most youngsters. Today children like you must have seen glass doors in hospitals, malls, high end showrooms and homes which sense that you want to enter and quietly open up without expecting you to say anything at all!

At present, there are several such instances of man’s fertile imagination that have been translated into reality through science. Movies, science fiction and detective novels have acquired a charm of their own, especially as they showcase a lot of plethora of gadgets that function at the push of a button or the mere waving of the hand.

We must thank science and technology for having helped man to realise his fantasies, for now, we have truly arrived because we live in an era of automation. Automation in homes is the latest fad in the world of gadgets. Why don’t you read the rest of the story and check out how many of the gadgets are you using , have seen or heard about?

Simply put, home automation is anything that gives you remote or automatic control of things in & around the home. The systems that you can control include: Lighting, Appliances, Heating and cooling, Security and monitoring systems, Entertainment (home audio and video), Communications (telephones and intercoms, internet), Lawn sprinklers, Curtain movements, Pool filter pump, Spa heater, Filtration unit, Gate/garage door motor, Shade motor control, Roof sprinklers, Electric strikes, Keyless entry etc.

The concept of home automation is to connect all of these systems and devices to a central controller so that they can be controlled from anywhere and react to one another. For example, as you arrive home, your home-automation system can automatically turn off the sprinklers, open the garage door, unlock the front door and disable the alarm, light the rooms as and when you enter, and turn on the TV. Or if you have a home theatre, it might automatically dim the lights, draw the shades, and direct all calls to voicemail so that you can watch your movie in peace.

This central controller can be accessed and controlled through interfaces like keypad, wired or wireless touch-screens (with/without video), universal remotes, mobile devices such as a cell phone or PDA, any PC, at home, in the office, or on the road.

The central controller has various peripheral devices connected to it so that it can receive and send signals to them for appropriate controls. These peripheral devices can be Lighting Controllers,  Switches, Lighting Dimmers, Wireless security transmitters, Door contactors, PIR sensors, Infrared key fobs, Fire/smoke detectors, Sprinklers, Sirens, audio controllers, speakers, temperature sensors, thermostats, cameras, televisions, CCTV, appliances etc.

In other words if any  premise is fitted and wired well with some or all of these devices they can be animated and programmed to be your slave at your will. And the best part is that technology has made all these magical possibilities come alive because some scientific minds have been working overtime on the subject. While it is all right for you to enjoy the fruits of the hard work of scientists, it will do you a world of good if you are able to add on the treasury of inventions and improvisations. Applying your minds and stretching your imagination will egg you on to experiment and explore further. Perhaps, at some later date you might actually end up enlarging the world of automation.


GRE -New And Improved?

How does the new GRE test format compare with its old counterpart? Radha Prathi explains the difference

The new Graduate Record Examination, aka GRE, has finally manifested itself in the much-awaited new avatar.

Though the Educational Testing Service, ETS, had clearly spelt out the norms and features of the new test, institutes and private tutors were apprehensive about the announcement of the “strange-looking questions” in the new format.

The gradation of the test on a scale of 130-170, requiring the student to answer approximately 20 questions in each section appeared to be a little baffling after grading students on a scale of 200-800 for the last decade or so.

Besides, the decision to slash test fees by 50 per cent for the students taking up the tests in the months of August and September 2011 led to high speculation over the standard and the validity of the test.

Thousands of students who recently breezed through the “ untrodden path” have found the experience to be easy and rewarding. Though teachers and seniors who have “been there and done that” claim that the test is nothing but old wine packaged in new bottles, there are certainly a few improved challenging features in the new format.

The new test is decidedly less taxing as there is no need to learn endless wordlists by heart. It is also not entirely about clicking on the right answers. One gets to zero in on more than one right answer and also key in specific answers, thereby eliminating the probability of arriving at the apt answer by sheer luck.

The new four-hour test with breaks will comprise:
*Essay writing — Analysis of an issue — 30 minutes
*Essay writing — Analysis of an argument — 30 minutes
*Two verbal reasoning sections — 30 minutes each
*Two quantitative reasoning sections — 35 minutes each
*One experimental section of either verbal or quantitative reasoning — 30/35 minutes .

It is only when a student finishes the fifth section that he/she will know which section was additional. Though only two sections of Verbal and Quantitative reasoning will be considered for the final score, the student will have no way of knowing which section will be discounted.

The earlier GRE test would escalate and plummet the level of difficulty on the basis of one’s performance in a given question; one could not skip or go back to questions when in doubt. The new GRE has done away with this and one can revisit questions any number of times when in doubt and change answers. While this aspect is very convenient, one has to be very careful as the new format is adaptive by section! This means that the difficulty of the next section depends on the performance of the previous section.

While the new test maintains the same format for essay writing, it has modified the Multiple Choice section to a large extent. The Verbal Reasoning section has done away with antonyms and analogies and has retained the Reading/ Comprehension, but with a difference. This section includes, selecting passage phrases or sentences to ensure better understanding of the given passage.

The sentence completion section has been modified into two sections — Text Completion and Sentence Equivalence. Text completion consists of short passages having one to three blanks that have to be filled after reading the given data from separate sets of choices.

The Sentence Equivalence section requires the candidate to arrive at two correct answers from a set of six choices. Hence, the candidate cannot overlook the wordlist because the Antonyms section has been turned into a Synonyms section.

The contents of Quantitative Reasoning remain almost the same, comprising Basic Math, Algebra, Geometry and Data Interpretation.  The change lies only in terms of marking the answer.

While the old pattern encouraged only quantitative comparison in the form of MCQs, the new test enables students to arrive at one single correct answer, two correct answers, enter numeric answers, besides having a couple of questions in the old pattern. This time around, the use of a calculator on the desktop will be permitted.

Some amount of meticulous preparation can make it easier for a student to score well as the new pattern launches itself from the ashes of the old. The ETS claims that the changes were made to, “increase the validity of the test, address security concerns, increase worldwide access to the test, (and) make better use of advances in technology and psychometric design.” If the new GRE serves the purpose, we can hope to see a qualitative difference in the world of higher education.

So are you preparing for the new GRE? Don’t worry, a thorough preparation can see you through this new test. The new format tests the candidate thoroughly over a period of four hours with little breaks in between, ensuring that the examinee really knows or does not know the answer!

Content & method of preparation
Private institutes, that tutor students for the purpose, and the internet are flooded with relevant material for the new GRE. If a hardworking student plods through even one tenth of all the material available, he/she can rest assured that it will be a cakewalk.

Essay writing
The essay writing section follows the previous format. Students will be given one topic in each section and will have to write a meaningful essay which will be evaluated in terms of presentation. The contents of the essay should not only be logical, but should also conform to the rules of spelling and grammar.  Though typos are largely forgiven, far-fetched spellings will not be.

It will help if the test taker spends a few minutes putting down relevant points before keying in the essay in order to facilitate the flow. One can opt for free style writing while analysing an issue and include pertinent examples to put across an idea.

Analysis of an argument should follow the pattern of a theorem. The argument should be stated first and then one should argue for and against the argument, deriving the same from the given data before coming to a conclusion. It is important for students to remember that there are no right and wrong answers as long as one is able to sustain his or her argument. The evaluator will mostly concentrate on the quality of language and the logic of the thought process, rather than judge the essay writer.

Writing out essays on a number of topics within a timeframe and getting them evaluated from a competent teacher will pave the way for sure success in this section.

Verbal reasoning  
Test takers can ensure  good results if they familiarise themselves with the words in a dictionary, as vocabulary is of great essence in clearing this section successfully.

A student’s comfort level with Standard English grammar can help him/her discern the right answers from an overwhelming number of choices. Use the scratch sheet wisely to make notes and do not hesitate to go back to a question if you are in doubt. Extensive reading of good literature, playing word games and solving crossword puzzles which test one’s word power can prove to be a relaxing way of learning words and their meanings.

Quantitative reasoning
If  a candidate works out Math problems in all the chapters of the eighth and ninth standard mathematics textbooks of the Central board syllabus, the chances of securing centum will be certain. The GRE does not insist on any specific methodology for arriving at the right answers. So feel free to use the method you are comfortable with.

Use the calculator carefully because if you enter a wrong number in a hurry,  your answer is likely to go wrong.  Avoid guessing answers — it is always safer to work out the problem on the given scratch sheet before clicking on the right answers.

Ready For The Real World

DESIGN FOR CHANGE VTU’s Vision 2020 emphasises university-industry interface through tech internships, in the hope that young engineering graduates will learn the skills required in a demanding and dynamic job market, says Radha Prathi

“Recall the face of the poorest and weakest man and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him.” It appears that these words of Mahatma Gandhi are being taken seriously by engineering colleges across the country. They have been re-thinking the format of the education they are imparting to their students.

A recent survey conducted by engineering colleges indicated that the number of young engineers who pursue the field in which they are trained is dwindling. An alarming number of these technical graduates do not have the requisite skills desired by the job market. Those who do make it to the industry train anywhere between six to fourteen months to arrive at desired results. This phenomenon is proving to be a dampener on the spirit of the students and a financial strain on the industries that absorb them.

What is Vision 2020?
Visvesvaraya Technological University has launched Vision 2020 and directed the engineering colleges affiliated to it to lay emphasis on university-industry interface to bring about a social change in rural areas through technological intervention.
As a result, VTU hopes that the project work undertaken by students in their finishing year will not only highlight their knowledge of the subject and talent, but also prepare them to work towards specific goals within the given deadline.

Tech for common good
Sudhin and Umanath Kamath, students who’ve just passed out of MSRIT, have invented a device which can be used in an independent navigation system for the visually impaired.
The device, when strapped on to the body, will vibrate when it detects obstacles besides offering details on topography, position, size and even the weight of the object in front of the person. The success of the device is in the fact that it is light weight, user-friendly and does not require literacy as it operates on the basis of vibrations.
SS Narendra and Sandesh, who recently graduated from MSRIT (ECE department), worked on a project at BEL, where they improvised on very high frequency military radio by interfacing the 2X5 keypad and a set of two binary code Digit switches.
They believe the experience not only offered them first-hand experience in practical work, but also introduced them to a professional and demanding work atmosphere.

Confidence building
Ramya Krishna M, a seventh semester student of Rajiv Gandhi Memorial College of Engineering & Technology, Nandyal (Andhra Pradesh), who is availing of the value-added course provided by her college, said: “It’s a great opportunity to understand industry requirements.”

Grounded Dreams

Foreign dreams Not many students are willing to brave the storm of recession and study abroad,

says Radha Prathi

The dearest dream of a good student of engineering who completed his undergraduate studies in the last four decades was to top his degree with a masters from abroad. The favoured choices were USA, UK and Australia, in that order.

This happened to be the unwritten law, though there were students who pursued other streams of education.

Even as the students were in the sixth semester of their studies they would gear up to make their passports, prepare for their GRE, GMAT and TOEFL, arrange for recommendation letters, and involve themselves in a hundred little details that would help them fly towards their destinations.

Every student who pursued his “foreign dream” worked hard for his coveted seat abroad. Many planned to settling down in the alien soil or at least procure a greencard.
The phenomena of hundreds and thousands of students proceeding westward continued from the days of snail mail to current e-mail age with almost clockwork precision. Several related agencies, tutorials and institutes cropped up. They took charge of academic requirements, admissions procedure, travel plans and bank loans among other things.

Everything has changed

Universities abroad have seen generations of Indians studying there and proceeding to work or conduct research in their soil.

This became the accepted norm in the lives of the students, parents and teachers until recession set in.

Now everyone is thinking twice. They are wondering about the monetary feasibility of taking a course abroad. Jayalakshmi, a working parent from the middle class bracket said that she is willing to avail loans and send her son abroad provided somebody assures her that he will be able to earn the money back.

Umanath, a diligent engineering student who has completed the preliminary requisitions, is toying with the idea of taking research at IISc instead of flying abroad. Arpitha, another engineer, is seeking internships in high profile firms and is even considering marriage as an alternative option to continue her studies abroad, despite having scored well in her GRE.

Institutions like Kaplan, Princeton, Times and Visu are finding that their workload has been considerably lightened as a direct impact of the contemporary economic trend.
Colleges, which used to keep their office staff on their toes, help potential candidates to procure their certificates, mark sheets and recommendation letters, are finding the going easier. Suddenly there has been a noticeable drop in the number of visa applications despite procuring the coveted I- 20.

There is a noticeable drop in the numbers and the regular pattern but this is only one side of the story. Araddhana, the director of Princeton review feels that students with the zeal and the ambition of going abroad are still pursuing their dreams without any dip in their enthusiasm. She maintains that when quality is maintained the rest will follow.
Three major locations covering India as a study abroad destination are Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad. A close observation reveals that the trends in south India are mainly for students opting for higher graduate studies with a stronger inclination towards MS and PhD degrees. They are doing as well as ever.

Also, as a natural next step, several IT employees with engineering background are opting for further studies given the recession not offering good job prospects at this point in time.

Earlier mostly meritorious students made their way to various universities abroad. Students with mediocre academic records barely stood a chance because merit mattered. Of late many students with average calibre are finding foreign doors opening to them. They find the recession to be a boon in disguise.

Average performers

Savitha, a good student, who lost her mother two years, was able to score only an aggregate of 67% in her BE. Nevertheless she decided to pursue her studies abroad and gained admission into a fairly good university recently. Prabhakar who has worked with an IT company for four years has decided to do his MBA from abroad and is busy getting ready to translate his academic dream into reality.

There are yet another genre of students with a sharp mind and a wealthy background, who may have not fared well academically. Recession is proving to be favourable to them for it bestows upon them another chance repair their educational profile.
As they say, one man’s food is another man’s poison.

That Strange Foreign Feeling

Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.

Miriam Beard

Travelling afar to gain knowledge is not really a recent phenomenon. Records of foreign students studying in Nalanda university, young scholars swarming around Confucius, and diehard followers of Sophocles are but examples of how students travelled to ‘foreign lands’ to gain insight into subjects that swayed over their very being.

In an increasingly modern world, education abroad has become a very orderly, organised trend. Students who wish to pursue their studies go through certain academic, legal and economic procedures before taking up a course of study. This system facilitates students of all age groups to study anywhere in the world.

The constant traveller

Though both parents and teachers feel that the purpose of education is best served when a student puts in several years in the same institution, it has also been noticed that students who have studied in various schools and colleges are more open-minded, adjustable and also have developed lateral thinking effortlessly. Such being the case, international exposure in a student’s life can work wonders, if they are led through the appropriate paths.

Students can be exposed to a foreign culture at any age. Indian parents working abroad often educate the children in the place of their  domicile and the kids soak in the “foreign culture and system”. In fact, when they come back to study in India, they do not feel at home for a long time to come. Sheeja who taught at an American school in Florida, says she found it comparatively easier to vibe with the Indian students out there.

Her sister Pooja who teaches at a Kendriya Vidyalaya in Bangalore says that she finds that the students who have spent a number of years abroad find it very difficult to cope with the workload, the heavy syllabus and the large numbers of classmates in India. Nevertheless the teachers consulted on the subject could not discount the transfer of intercultural knowledge that take place in face to face interactions among students and between students and teachers.

For instance, the young students who have lived abroad are very conscientious about using the dustbin appropriately is shaken when they see people flouting rules on the roads. They are amazed at the way their Indian counterparts are ready to devour the series of tests and tonnes of home work that come their way without batting an eyelid. On the other hand, they are thrilled at the idea of getting so many public holidays and having so many friends who speak their tongue.

When the scene is reversed and young students from India go to study abroad they are struck by the practical value of education, fall in love with the ‘no-uniform’ norm, but dearly miss the testing and ranking system that helped them to rate themselves.

Perception of foreigners

Initially, students look at foreign students as aliens because of their accented speech and curious little ways, but they  soon forget the differences once they bond. Over a period of time the differences boil down to zero and the class merges and emerge as one unit.

“The real effect of a foreign education becomes obvious only when the students are at a discerning age because they are able to appreciate the plus points and differences,” says Raghunathan, professor of physics who has seen at least twenty five batches of post graduate students who have gone abroad to pursue further studies and has seen as many batches coming down to India to work on projects at the IISc and other science centres.

The older students automatically have the advantage of living independently and understanding the nuances of an alien culture and way of life. They are in a better position to compare notes and evaluate the outcome of their education.

In the words of professor Vince Mitchell, Head of Marketing at Cass Business School, London, “True education results when students are stimulated to educate themselves. Lecturers only open knowledge doors; it’s up to the students how far they walk through them. International exposure is one of the most powerful stimuli in an increasingly global world.