A Candle in the Dark

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Archive for the ‘personal’ Category

My experiment with GATE

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If you’re an undergraduate engineering/science student in India, and you plan to do your Master’s degree in some of India’s premier institutes of higher education (like the IITs or IISc), then you’ll have to write the Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE).

The test is similar to the subject GRE. It consists of 60 multiple choice questions over a duration of 3 hours. The first 20 questions are worth 1 point, while the last 40 are worth 2 points for a total of 100 points with negative marks for incorrect answers. The engineeering test contains two sections. There’s a general engineering mathematics section as well as the specialized engineering subject.

In the summer of 2008, I had a wonderful experience participating in an undergraduate research project at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore. As a result, while I had applied towards a number of graduate schools in the US, I was also looking at the possibility of doing a ME degree at IISc. This meant that I had to register for and write the GATE in 2009.

The “online” registration process is actually a bit of a misnomer. I had to download the documents from the webpage, and fill in the relevant details and submit the printed documents at the GATE office. For details of the admission procedure and the structure of the test, visit the GATE website.

A couple of months after I had registered for the test, but before the actual examination date, I received an offer of admission towards a PhD at a well-recognized graduate program in the US which I plan to accept. So, I decided to write the GATE anyway for fun without any preparation. After all, what better way to test the conceptual knowledge that one is expected to acquire in four years of undergraduate education?

On the morning of February 8th 2009, I was off to write the test at the Santhom Hr. Sec. School, comforted with the knowledge that it didn’t matter one bit even if I completely messed it up. The location was pretty decent, and there was drinking water available, although the desks had less legroom than a typical Indian Airlines flight.

The engineering mathematics part of the test was pretty straight forward. Many of the questions were on multi-variable calculus and complex numbers. Since I don’t remember signing a non-disclosure form, I’ll reproduce some of the questions below.

  • The direction of largest increase of the function xy^3-x^2 at the point (1,1) is ?
  • The value of the limit as {x \rightarrow \pi/2} of (\cos{x})/(x-\pi/2)^2
  • Using the residue theorem, the value of the integral \oint (8-7z)/(z-4) dz around a circle with center at z=0, and radius=8 is?
  • Use the Gauss divergence theorem to evaluate \int \int (2x \hat{i}-2y\hat{j}+5z\hat{k})\cdot \hat{n}dS over a sphere of radius=3 centered at the origin

I was confident that I’d got most, if not all, of the math questions right, and was pretty pleased with my progress. That is, until I hit the chemical engineering section.

  • How does the power number vary with the Reynolds Number in a mixing tank operating in the laminar regime?
  • The active component of catalysts used in the steam reforming of methane to produce synthesis gas?
  • What is the Thiele modulus?
  • How does the frictional pressure drop across a packed bed vary with the superficial velocity in fully turbulent conditions?
  • How does the mass transfer coefficient vary with the diffusion coefficient in the penetration theory of mass transfer?

Embarrassingly, I had also forgotten which way the Biot number was defined (ie, convective/conductive or the other way?). I guess that since most of my exams in undergrad were open notes/open book, there wasn’t a need to actually commit definitions and formulae to memory, and my lack of preparation was very evident in this section.

However, further into the test, there were numerous standard “homework” problems which you could immediately identify if you’d done the relevant courses on heat transfer, transport phenomena, reaction engineering and process control, such as calculating the outlet temperatures of streams in heat exchangers, number of stages in distillation columns, mean residence time calculations, stability of control systems, etc.

Overall, I though that the test was set pretty well.

However, I get the feeling that the GATE doesn’t test the innate analytical skills of the student, as much as it tests a particular method of undergraduate education (the problem solving/number crunching method, which many students may not be exposed to). In my highly subjective opinion, I don’t think that the GATE should be required for admission to a graduate program. If there is a need for a “leveler test” to attempt to compare applicants between the multitude of universities in India, I think a test which focuses on basic analytical and verbal skills (like the GRE) is preferable.

Written by parseval

March 16, 2009 at 4:51 am

Posted in education, engineering, personal

Tagged with ,

It is finished

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I am finally done with all my graduate school applications. Now comes the long wait.

One thing that’s very clear to me now, is that ETS is an evil organization which uses its monopoly to squeeze out as much money as it can from prospective graduate students.

Why is there a need to pay 20$ per university whenever I need to send my scores? It would be faster, and easier, if they simply have an electronic database with the scores, and allow the graduate admissions office access to the details of the scores through the internet. Also, 12$ dollars just to find out how I did in the test? That is ridiculous.

Anyway, to all my fellow undergrad students who’ve applied, best of luck!

Written by parseval

January 7, 2009 at 5:01 pm

Posted in personal, rant

Tagged with

Elements of satire – I

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satire1 (săt’īr’) –
1. A literary work in which human vice or folly is attacked through irony, derision, or wit.
2. Irony, sarcasm, or caustic wit used to attack or expose folly, vice, or stupidity.

Satire also happens to be my favorite form of humor. I mean, when you look at the crazy stuff which abundantly infests reality and realize that you can’t change the “system”, the one thing you can do is laugh at it, cause hey, at least you’re laughing.

Besides, I think it serves another practical purpose. If there’s any belief, faith or idea that you think is too “serious” to be the subject of satire and get outraged, then it’s time for you think deeply on why you believe what you believe.

Anyway, the purpose of this series of posts is to list some of my favorite works which contain some elements of satire that I’ve enjoyed. I’ll start with my all time favorite.

Yes Minister/Prime minister

Yes Minister is an absolutely brilliant British sitcom, originally aired on BBC. As far as satires go, this one is a gem. It’s merciless and very funny. For example, here’s a clip (on roof gardens!) that satirizes typical political stonewalling. In fact, since the clips are freely available on youtube, I’ll list a few of my favourite clips. If you don’t have anything else to do, I suggest watching these clips as an honorable way to waste time.


“satire.” The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. Answers.com 16 Jul. 2007. http://www.answers.com/topic/satire

[2] – or, (this one is for you N), a reshuffle on the cards?

Written by parseval

July 16, 2007 at 4:41 pm

Posted in fun, personal, politics, videos


with 5 comments

I had a really fun astronomy session yesterday, thanks to a monstorous 10 inch Newtonian reflector made by Celestron.

I had joined the assembly of curious astronomy enthusiasts sometime after sunset, when there was still some significant light pollution in the sky. Then, while trying to figure out the ecliptic by looking at Venus, Saturn and the Moon, I was able to see something unusual. It was a small, high speed light source which was visible as it passed the moon. After some initial confusion, we soon realised that it was an artifical communication satellite, and we had seen an Iridium flare.

Then, there was a lecture on the constellations, and some famous “landmarks” in the sky. Even now, I don’t understand how people claim Leo looks like a lion, by any strech of imagination. However much I try and imagine, it ends up looking suspiciously like a mouse. Anyway, after the lecturer pointed out some more constellations which I couldn’t visualize, it was finally time to play with the telescope.

The first object we looked at was Venus, which was in half phase. The planet was shimmering in greyish white and the surface was absolutely featureless, although I could make out the crescent shape. It was also scintilatting a lot, which must have been to the haze in the atmosphere.

After that, was the real treat of the night, when we pointed the telescope at Saturn. Wow! It was absolutely magnificent! It’s like a precious stone painted in a canvas of black. The rings are entirely visible and wonderful in color. You can even see the bands on the “surface” of the gas giant. And right next to Saturn is the dot that’s Cassini. Viewing Saturn through the telescope was the highlight of the night.

Next on the list was a very bright Jupiter. We had to wait a bit for the planet to rise from the horizon, but boy was it worth it! The view through the telescope was fantastic. Jupiter is visible as a giant squashed circular disc, and surrounding are 4 satellites (Io, Europa, Callisto, and Ganymede). Although the red spot was on the other side of the planet, the reddish cloud belts were clear to see.

Having completed this mini tour of the planets, we tried to see whatever deep sky objects that were visible over the city light. With the help of the more experienced enthusiasts in our group, we were able to focus on the M13 globular cluster. I found this a slight dissapointment, becuase I couldn’t make out much except an extremely fuzzy ball that was barely visible.

We also had a peek at the Beehive cluster (M44) and the optical binaries Mizar and Alcor in the Big Dipper (Ursa Major)

Finally, (on my insistence :p), we were able to point the telescope at the moon. I was dazzled by the brightness of the moon. We could see various craters near the terminator, and could even make out individual craters.

All in all, that was one of the most enjoyable evenings I’ve had.

Written by parseval

May 27, 2007 at 2:00 pm

Posted in astronomy, personal

My Vision

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I’m afflicted with a rare, progressive eye disease, called Keratoconus 1. While it doesn’t cause blindness, it finally results in very bad vision.

Whenever my eye condition comes up during conversation2, I have a hard time explaining exactly how my vision is affected. However, I recently came across a wonderful site3 which contains a compilation of images, some of which I’ve used here, designed to help communicate how and what individuals with Keratoconus see.

Currently, I’m experiencing the early stages of the disease only in the right eye, so my overall vision isn’t too bad. Although, one major problem is that images appear very blurred at night4. For example, this is how the moon looks through my right eye.

Driving at night is especially a problem, because of the glare and streaking of light from the oncoming traffic.

Also, distant objects are never clear or sharp. This results in me ending up with a big headache if I don’t wear my glasses or contacts for an extended period of time.


[1] – Believe me, you DO NOT want to wiki this.

[2] – ie, rarely. Usually, I have much more interesting things to talk about. And no, it’s not the weather either. Honest!

[4] – They appear slightly blurred during the day too, if you’re interested, which doubtless, you’re not.

Written by parseval

April 8, 2007 at 9:55 pm

Posted in personal