Book – The Soul of a New Machine

13081926.jpg

The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder is one of the best books I have read in my life. The book is a chronicle of how project Eagle came into being at the company Data Central and its progress. The most important thing about the book is it doesn’t chronicle the technological milestones, rather the people and their (let me say) soul.

One thing that really struck me is how those engineers involved were portrayed as human beings who were vulnerable, who feared, who were unsure yet persisted and how it was not a super-human who carried it forward. Having born so late into this world when computers were already ubiquitous, and the people who were involved in their development had already become cult idols, it struck me very differently, giving a grasp into the reality.

Personally speaking– I, for one thing, clearly understood the meaning of “bigger than oneself”. The looked back 7-15 years in my life and understand why certain things happened that way.

Some of the things that I highlighted while reading is:

Most Engineers, I think, consider themselves to be professionals, like doctors or lawyers, and though some of it clearly serves only the interests of corporations, engineers do have a professional code. Among its tenets is the general idea that the engineer’s right environment is a highly structured one, in which only right and wrong answers exist. It’s a binary world; the computer might be its paradigm. And many engineers seem to aspire to be binary people within it. No wonder. The prospect is alluring. It doesn’t matter if you’re ugly or graceless or even half crazy, if you produce right results in this world, your colleagues must accept you…

West usually left to work for a little after seven in the morning and set out for home a little less than twelve hours later. The drive took only about twenty minutes, but the distance he traveled couldn’t be measured that way.

Engineers are supposed to stand among the privileged members of industrial enterprises, but …. are not content with their jobs. Among the terms used to describe their malaise are declining technical challenge, misutilization; limited freedom of action; tight control of working patterns. No one who made it through the Eagle project could in fairness have raised such objections.

I think, there are actually far more important lines to note and I haven’t done it because I was enjoying it so much I didn’t want to spoil it by stopping to read and do highlighting.

The Setup

Continuing from the previous post, let me write down everything that defined my work setup.

The Curriculum

This is where the fun starts. I worked with two different curriculum throughout the year. The school wanted me to teach the mandated Samacheer syllabus and the organisation that I work for wanted me to teach to the Common Core Standards. The Samacheer part contained the Social, Science and the “English as a subject” subjects to be taught, the organisation gave me Mathematics  and “English as a standard” subjects to teach. It is actually painful to be a teacher and teach language either as a subject or as a set of standards. More on that separately sometime later (which is almost never).

The Red Ink

There were 37 notebooks for each (3) Samacheer subject to be checked and corrected 3-5 times in every term. Each term itself is about 3 or 4 months. And there where 2 mid-term term tests and 1 end of term test for each term. For the organization’s part, we were supposed to conduct Unit Assessments, which is one in 6 weeks, Weekly assessments and if possible Daily Assessments. I just did the Unit Assessments. Tried Weekly assessments but dropped it after a couple of weeks, it was getting out of hands. English made up for it, by making me correct a set of at least 10 questions every alternate day. I remember sitting, standing, sleeping, walking and even jumping on/off trains with my bag on the shoulder, papers on the left hand and red pen on the right.

The Sessions

The organisation’s way of making sure we are fully equipped to handle everything in the classroom. It was usually planned in the evenings after school when we are in our lowest glucose levels and looking out for a corner to curl. The sessions did make a lot of sense to the people who were organizing them. They were usually about how to teach, how to handle kids, how to understand a particular area in order to deliver it the way it is supposed to be. But one thing no one seemed to care/understand/grasp was there was no single way to do stuff.

The Printer

Canon LBP2900. One trademark of being a TFI fellow is we print more paper for each kid than what government or the school would. Having a laser printer really does help. One can be free of the timing restrictions imposed by the Xerox shops and save a lot more money. I printed about 8000-9000 pages in the last 4 months alone. 1500 rupees for all that paper and 400 rupees for the toner and the immense flexibility of being able to print whatever and whenever.

The Travel

The travel was two/three legged. I usually started off with short bus ride 5E/23C/49 from Adyar depot to Madhya Kailash, took a train from Kasthuribai Nagar station to the Beach Station, and then finally took 44C from Beach Station to the Power House stop. Sometimes the 5E-Train combo was replaced by the 21H/PP19 from Adyar Depot to Parry’s Corner. Initially used 6D from the backside of Adyar Depot, but extra 300m walking and having no alternate buses made me switch to other options. One thing good about the train travel is I always found space to sit and even work on the laptop if required. Having a monthly season ticket for just 105 rupees was another boon. Never had to worry about tickets/queues and oversleeping during return journeys.

 

These define the physical boundaries of how I worked in the past one year. But how did I actually work? What was “The process”?

After 1 Year

Sitting on the rope cot in my grandparent’s home near Kodumudi, Erode, listening to Rainbow FM staring at the laptop screen is where I am, when I write this. Very far away from anything related to school, students and teaching – Physically. Teaching is a job that grows on you and you grow over until both becomes indistinguishable from one another. Looking back after one year of being the worst possible teacher in my own rating, I think I have also become the worst possible blog writer in many people’s rating.

The first blog post was written well before I became a teacher and it turns out it has been 364 days (so not 1 year really). I have written about 5 posts excluding “Hello”, of which only 3 during the Fellowship. This points to the very obvious fact about the Fellowship itself – it is hectic and mad at the same time. It also points to the fact that I never took time to unload myself as often as I should have done.

So, I am going to write down a summary of what all I can possibly remember in a subjective manner. This blog was not meant to be subjective in any way, it was supposed to be a place where things will be recorded as is without analysis or perspective. But with such a big backlog of about a year, I doubt I can write anything objective as-is here.

The Setup

School

ECI Matriculation Higher Secondary School, Tondiarpet – that is the name of the school where I was placed as a Teach For India Fellow to teach a set of 37 students in 4th grade. The school is run by a trust run the Evangelical Church of India, hence ECI Matric. It has about 900+ students studying from Pre-KG to 12th standard. There is a church in the middle, the Academic block is to its left, the Office and the hostel are to its right. The standard size of the classrooms is about 30×30 ft (guessed never measured), which is kind of crampped when you consider there are 77 students, desks, bags, cupboard, and a divider wall in the middle to distinguish Section A and Section B.

My Class

My class was made up of 38 poor souls who did not know what they were doing, which included 1 adult trying to make sense of whatever was going on. The class had about 19 boys and 18 students from middle class backgrounds, so wide and varied that I actually don’t exactly remember what middle-class is now.

Timings

The school opened at about 8.30AM and the staff are supposed to sign the attendance register before 8.55AM. There is a morning prayer meeting at 8.55 in the church for all the christian teachers and at least one staff member of each grade are to be present, if they are non-christians. So I experienced more religion in my one year of fellowship than what I have seen in my 25 years of existence. The School gets over by 3.30PM and the tuition(s) are over by 4.30PM. Generally I left the school by 3.30PM.

I lived about 90 minutes away from the school, so my day generally started by around 7.15AM when I got out of the house and ended by 5.30PM when I got back to the house.

………………….. to be continued .,

Pampering kids

There are two kids in my class who have better reading, writing comprehension skills that half the class, which should make them “above-average” in conventional sense. Both have a problem – attitude. Their parents tell me they were the toppers of the yesteryear. I had given C-D grades to them during the 1st term exam and the parents were very upset. I didn’t know the kids this well back then and thought them to be just normal kids. As the parents coming barging in with complaints and pointing fingers at me, I was taken aback thinking I was perhaps not seeing them as to what they are capable of doing. I was apprehensive of meeting their parents thinking that it was my fault. Perhaps I have made a bad evaluation of their papers. I was just three months into being a teacher.

Recently an incident put things in perspective. I have taken the kids to play in the ground, while I was keeping scores and overseeing stuff other kids were doing, these two have sneaked up to the first floor and have gone to the classroom. I was perplexed when I found this out at the end of the class. When I reached the classroom with the other kids, one of the two has hit the leg on the desk and has been crying.

The parent was furious – obviously. The parent went on to praise the child to be the one who always gets the first rank, scores well in everything, has got a shield for something and the other kid was the one who was always a competition to the first kid. These two were supposedly the toppers of the class. Now a days the kid is not willing/interested to come to school. Doesn’t seem to eat the lunch properly. Handwriting has deteriorated. Looks dull in the evening when the kids returns home. All symptoms of kid not enjoying the school and then the word came “teacher not taking good care of the child”. I was left wondering for a second what the parent actually meant. These kids are the ones who always create problems in the class. The kid in discussion has been said to be a great pain in their team and the kid barely pays attention in the class to what I am saying. Most of the time I get distracted trying to bring their attention. Slowly as the conversation progressed one thing became clear. These were kids who have been in the limelight most of the time in yesteryear(s) and here is a teacher who refuses to accept the fact and give the attention they think they deserve.

I am thinking about a number of other kids who are attention seeking as well and get themselves a place in the class. They get more warnings and consequences in the classroom than others. But there is one categorical difference with them and these kids. Their parents don’t praise them as simple as that. No pampering whatsoever. Their parents talk about what the kid should improve but not how great they have done. When these parents were told their kids have secured “A”s their reply was “OK”. Didn’t utter a “very good” or that “He/She reads well” kind of comment.

Such a difference in behavior.

Impact of Cinema

Impact of Cinema – One can write reams on it. I will stop with the incident in the classroom in which I teach.

The Incident

First to the as-is version of the happenings of the day, without any personal bias, adjectives, adverbs or any modifier that challenge reporting fact.

The occasion is Children’s day. The students are given a chance to dance and sing in the classroom. Initially, there is the chaos of 4th graders who are told to self organize themselves. After the initial phase of confusion clears and the performances start to flow. Boys sing songs which are aimed to tease girls. Songs like “இந்த பொண்ணுங்களே இப்படித்தான் தெரிஞ்சு போச்சுடா” “ஊதா கலரு ரிப்பன், யாரு உனக்கு அப்பன்?” flows from the boys and Church choir songs from the girls. One of the girls point out that songs by the boys are aimed at teasing girls. The guys decide to tease during one of the choir songs and start making dance movements which are done by actors drunk on the screen. The teacher has to intervene and warn them not to do it. The girls decide enough of Choir and sing a Cinema song. The song is “வேணா, மச்சா.. வேணா, இந்த பொண்ணுங்க காதலு.. அது மூடி தெரக்கும் போதே உன்ன கவுத்தும் கோட்டரு..”, for which the movements breakout in the boys ranks, for which they are warned by the teacher again. A girl reaches out to the teacher, to ask, why the boys are being shown a hard face on a good day. The teacher explains that the boys are teasing them and the girl retorts “So what?”.

My thoughts

I am not sure what to write here. Are they supposed to be the questions that I have now? The fears that sting me? The irritation that angers me? I really don’t know. I am suppressing my overflowing urge to deconstruct the happenings of the day and relate it to the effects cinema causes on little children aged 8-9 yrs and draw conclusions on gender bias, inequality and impact of culture. Because, I don’t want to draw any conclusions here, now, at this point.

The Two Men Inside a Man

இந்த கதை என்னுடைய கதை அல்ல, சிறுவயதில் “Solidaire” தொலைக்காட்சி பெட்டியில், “DD1” ஒளிபரப்பிய பொழுது பார்த்தது. யாரிடமாவது சொல்ல வேண்டும் போல இருந்தது. இந்த வலைதலம்தான் செவிசாய்த்தது.

ராமசாமி தன் ஆடு இரண்டையும் அரமனசா ஒட்டிகிட்டு வந்தார். இருக்குற ஆட்டையும் வித்துட்டு என்ன பண்றது? வைகாசி வந்திருச்சு. காட்டு வேலை இருக்கும், தெனமும் கூலிக்கு போன ஒரு மூனு மாசத்துல எப்படியும் ஒரு ரண்டு குட்டிக்கு காசு சேத்திரலாம். பேசாம இப்ப ஒன்ன மட்டும் வித்துருவோமா?…. இப்படி ஆயிரம் யோசன மனசுக்குள்ள ஓடிகிட்டு இருக்கும் போதே, “சீக்கிரம் வாப்பா, நாம போய் சேர்ரதுக்குள்ள சந்தையே முடிஞ்சுருமாட்ட இருக்குது”ன்னு பெரியசாமி கத்தரது கேட்டுது. தலையத்தூக்கி பெரியசாமி பக்கம் ஒரு ஆட்டு ஆட்டீடு, இழுத்து எட்டி வெச்சார்.

இன்னும் கொஞ்சம் சாவகாசமா வந்திருந்தா, பெரியசாமி சொன்ன மாதிரி சந்தை முடிஞ்சுதான் போயிருக்கும் போல. இப்பவே ஆளாலுக்கு வாங்குனத இழுத்துகிட்டு போய்க்கிட்டு இருந்தாங்க.

“என்னபா, சந்தைக்கு வங்கவா வாரோம்? பொருளக் கொண்டாறோம் சீக்கிரம் வந்திருக்கனும், பாரு எல்லாம் இப்பவே நடையக்கட்ட ஆரம்பிச்சுட்டாங்க”, பெரியசாமி நொந்துகொண்டு திரும்பி பாத்தார். ராமசாமியின் கவனம் முழுக்க ஆட்டின் மேலேயெ இருந்தது.

“இந்தாப்பா ராமசாமி, தேவைன்னா வித்துதாம்பா ஆவனும். ஆடுதான? நாலு மாசம் போவட்டும் இதே சந்தைல வங்கிக்கலாம். ஆட்டப் பாத்துகிட்டு இங்கையே நில்லு, நா போயி ஆள் யாராவது சிக்குனா கூட்டியாறேன்.” சொல்லீட்டு பொரியசாமி நவுந்தார். ராமசாமி மனசுல இப்ப ரண்டாயிரம் யோசன.

பெரியசாமி ஆளோட திரும்பி வந்தப்ப, ராமசாமி ஒரு ஆட்டோட தலைப்புடிச்சு, கண்ணப்பாத்துகிட்டு இருந்தார்.”ராமசாமி, இவுரு ஆடு புடிக்கத்தான் வந்திருகாறாம், ரெண்டு பெரும் பேசி முடிவு பண்ணுங்க”. “நாம்பேசர மாதிரி இருந்தா உங்கள ஏங்க இழுத்துகிட்டு வர்றேன்? நீங்களே பேசுங்க.” வாங்க வந்தவர் ஆட்ட புடிச்சு பல்ல பாத்தார், கால மடக்கிப் பாத்தார், அப்புறம் எந்திருச்சு “சரிங்க பேசலாம்ன்னார்”

வாங்க வந்தவரும், பெரியசாமியும் கொஞ்சம் தள்ளி போயி துண்டுக்கு அடீல கையவிட்டு, பேரம் பேசுனாங்க. ஒரு கட்டத்துல, வாங்க வந்தவர், “ஐயா பொண்டட்டி தாலிய வெச்சு காசு கொண்டாந்திருக்கேன், இதுக்கு மேல முடியாதுங்கா” அப்பிடின்னது கேட்டுது. பெரியசாமி திரும்பி வந்து, “ராமசாமி, இவ்வளவுதான் இருக்காம் என்னப்பா உனக்கு சரியா? குடுத்துரலாமா?” “அண்ணே, ஒரு சின்ன சிக்கல். ஆடு வர்ற வழில வெசச்செடிய மேஞ்சிருச்சு. ராத்திரி அசப்போட்டுதுன்னா செத்தாலும் செத்துரும். அதான் … விக்க வேண்டாம்னு …”ன்னு இழுத்தார். பெரியசாமி அதுக்கு மேல அங்க நிக்குல. ஆட்ட, வாங்க வந்தவன்கிட்ட ஓட்டி உட்டுட்டு, காச வாங்கி ராமசாமி சுருக்குப்பைல துணுச்சுட்டு, ராமசாமிய தள்ளாத கொறயா கூட்டிகிட்டு ஊட்டப்பாக்க நடைக்கட்டீட்டார்.

இந்த ஒளி(லி)நாடா முடிந்ததும் திரையில் பெரிதாய் ஒரு பத்தி எழுதி slide போட்டிருந்தார்கள் – அதில் எனக்கு நியாபகம் இருப்பது.

ஒவ்வொரு மனிதனுக்குள்ளும் ஒரு ராமசாமியும், ஒரு பெரியசாமியும் இருக்கிறார்கள்.

Freelance Python Programmer