Note #7 US Diaries 2017 

US Diaries 2017 

Note #7:
 28th and 29th June 2017 – Morning walks
The earlier day, Dr. Gandhi encouraged (rather pushed) us to explore the campus as we hadn’t done much except for the usual routes. So we thought of taking a walk in the campus in the morning. 
Unlike in India, we wake up automatically pretty early in the mornings here. Sundar wakes up around 3:30 in the morning, followed by me around 4, followed by others. We were ready by 5 for a walk. We set out all excited on the road to the Carnegie Rowing Club. It was a beautiful walk by the woods on the lonely roads where we had squirrels and birds as our companions. We walked for about 15 minutes and reached a bridge over a lake. It was a pretty sight to watch thick groove of trees on either side of the river and the sun rising in the background. There was a group of people who were getting into the rowing boats. We went inside the club to find nobody (staff) over there and there were lot of big rowing boats which would require about 8 people to lift each one of them. We figured out from one of the persons who were about to go rowing that all the details about the club and rowing was put up on their website. We checked out the place for a few minutes, took a couple of snaps with a Harley Davidson bike that was parked inside, and came out. Ojas observed that the door arch was of the shape of a paddle. How artistic! 
We walked back to our apartment after a nice walk of about 45 minutes in 14°C. What was interesting (for me) to see was that so many college students (needless to say, both boys and girls. More of girls in fact) were up for jogging. I loved how much they gave importance for fitness. 
On the next day we were a bit more late to leave for the morning walk. We decided to take a different route. Ojas suggested one down the Harrison Street and we followed the road. After a few meters, we saw a natural road leading into the woods. I knew that it would take us to some beautiful places. We took that and we were greeted by a flock of ducks who were trying to figure out where these people who were staring at them and speaking in strange accents, a danger to them or not. They were a bit shy, but didn’t run away while we walked past them. 
Soon we saw a small trail to our right written – ‘Nature Trail’. We took it and we found ourselves amidst thick trees that would prevent most of the sunlight hit the ground and river flowing from our right side. The trail went winding and got more interesting. There were some cobwebs that indicated that the trail was not frequented by people. People preferred another route to jog. And both these routes were meant for jogging. People used the other road for jogging as it was wider. In fact, our path had a river on one side and another stream passing through our left. So technically, we were walking in between two small water bodies. It was very cold in the morning but we hardly realized it as we got lost amidst the beauty of nature. We walked for about an hour and came back to our apartment.
The morning walks filled us up with a lot of energy, excitement and enthusiasm for the day ahead. 

Note #6 US Diaries 2017 

US Diaries 2017

Note #6: Meeting with a Nobel Prize contender 

It was a memorable day for all of us today for, we got a chance to spend one hour with a Nobel Prize Contender and Padmavibhushan (2016) over a cup of coffee. Prof. Avinash Dixit is a Prof of Economics and an expert in Game Theory. An author of various books and research articles, his CV runs into 24 pages. A very kind person at heart, he agreed to meet all of us and spent time answering all our questions. He is an Emiritus (retd Prof.) at Princeton. I came to know about him through Hariharan who suggested a couple of articles written by him on Game Theory which was very lucid even for a beginner. Thanks to Hariharan’s suggestion, he agreed to meet all of us. 
He genuinely asked what we all were doing and about the course that we are currently pursuing. Sitting with him for an hour opened up a lot of ideas to explore in teaching Economics and Math, not under different buckets, but under one single bucket. During the interactions, I asked him how he manages to write in such lucid language unlike other research articles which make us feel intimidated. He replied, “I have taken a lot of efforts to make it simple.” And truly he has. (Read ‘Restoring Fun to Game Theory’ by Prof. Avinash Dixit. Highly recommended for teachers in economics/math. Also recommended ‘A very short introduction of Micro Economics, Oxford University Press, by Prof. Dixit’). 
Because it was just four students and I for the meeting we could interact with him very closely. The doubts that students asked was answered elaborately by him. He said, ‘If I were in your place today and if I had to do something in applied Math, I would look for something in biology or data structures or something like that which is coming up today.’ Had it not been for my friend Hariharan Iyer, we would not have got this golden opportunity to meet such a knowledgeable person. 

Note #4 US Diaries 2017 

US Diaries
Note #4

Okay. So, after that earlier emotional outburst, let me share what happened in the class today. It was once again time to learn from one of the most fantastic teachers I have ever met – Dr. Rajiv Gandhi. At the outset, he reminded everyone of the ground rules of the course. He asked every student’s name and there was 78 students from various countries. At the end of the class, he could say the names of around 65 students correctly. There were students with almost every shade of skin colour and hair colour. All of them were passionate about Mathematics. We started with Boolean algebra and proofs today and there is no better way than how Dr. Gandhi teaches. He comes up with so many bogus proofs and makes the students feel that he is correct. After a lot of churning of the mind the students figure out the flaws. The advantage in this way of teaching is that the students remain alert always and also remain skeptic. 
Most students were from 8th to 12th grade but there were some who were doing their undergrad and there was, of course, me. Some students were shy and some were not. Lot of Chinese and Korean students seemed very bright and hardworking. But so did some American students and students of Indian origin. There was one guy whose hand was always up (for about 2.5 hours out of the first session of 3 hours) for doubts or comments. There could be seen Math geeks and some who found it difficult to express their thoughts well mainly because they were way too intelligent. There were some who were so wonderful in abstract thinking and there were some who were good with algebra. It was a perfect mix of all these wonder kids and I cannot even imagine what kind of an exposure each student is going to get in the coming 5 weeks.
We took a break for lunch. I had a very tasty salad during lunch with Dr. Gandhi while we discussed a few things. We moved back to the classroom after an hour. The post lunch session was on working on assignments for three hours. During this slot, all the senior batch students (18 of them which included the three students who came with me from India) came down. Each of them had a list of 3-5 students whom they would be mentoring during the course. The junior batch students (my batch) would submit their assignments to these mentors who in turn were supposed to clarify their doubts and grade them. The senior batch not only had to do this but also their own study and homework. 
The senior batch was mind-blowing. In my short interactions with some of them, I could get a sense of it. I also met two brothers (out of three) who had done this course PACT earlier. These brothers had a very good reputation in Princeton and were geniuses in Mathematics. I was wondering, we have to do a very big hunt to get genius students all over the country, and here we have three of them in just one family!
The assignment session concluded by 4:30 pm and we all left the building. It was a great day that I will remember and cherish mainly because, seldom in my life have recollected memories (in a few minutes) of all the people on whose shoulders I stand today. 
Looking forward to the coming days.



Note #3 US Diaries 2017 

US Diaries

Note #3 Going to school

With a lot of excitement and butterflies in my stomach, I left our apartment with the boys for the first day of the PACT course. As I was heading to the Computer Science department, lot of thoughts passed through my mind. I was reminded of my school days being an average student. I was also reminded of my college days (where my friends know what all things I did. Don’t want to make it public). I was reminded of my beloved teacher Raman Sir who instilled the love for Mathematics in me. I was reminded of my friends who encouraged to study more and supported me, especially Hariharan Iyer. I was reminded of my teachers who taught me, my family back home. I was reminded of so many things and most of all, how unlikely it was for a person like me (while I was a student) to get a chance to attend a course in Princeton. But I did get a chance and could make use of it. I went with all these things in my head and sat in the classroom of a strength of about 80 students. It was a great feeling to be there which I cannot express. So, I will not make an attempt to do so. However, I just thought that I will share this because I feel that when we yearn to learn, then opportunities come to us which would never otherwise have. 

Note #2 US Diaries 2017 

US Diaries 2017
Note #2: A walk in @Princeton University Campus, The Bent Spoon, What do we cook and how do we cook?
On 23rd June, Dr. Rajiv Gandhi (the director of PACT Program), took us out to show the Computer Science Dept in Princeton. On the way, he was talking about a few food joints that we should explore while we were here at Princeton. As we were conversing, this interesting point about Princeton University came up. The University campus doesn’t have any boundary or wall. So it is difficult to say where exactly the campus ends or begins. This was something very unusual for most of us as we never had seen any university that doesn’t have any boundary wall. Princeton campus and its facilities is thus accessible to everyone. For the same reason, we also see tourists while we walk in the campus. Just imagine…someone could just walk into the University, use the facilities like playing some games, using the public library, going anywhere in the campus and nobody stopping them! Yes, this is unimaginable for some of us who were not even allowed to enter our own college after we passed out just because we didn’t have an id card (Note: This has nothing to do with me).
The core place in the campus is where the main academic buildings come. And then there are apartments that are owned by Princeton leased out to the faculties and management of Princeton. Almost all the apartments look similar. It something like a beige coloured one or two storied cottages or apartments sometimes. These houses had a sit out, a lawn outside it and a garage next to it. If there were kids in the house, their cycles could be seen outside. In the lawns we could see playful squirrels (as I had mentioned in one of the earlier posts). It was fun watching them play. They were bigger in size as compared to the ones we normally seen in the India. The crows also looked a bit different and even sounded different. Even the crows have an accent it seems.
We reached the Computer Science dept all excited. As it was like a dream come true for most of us to be at the CS dept of an Ivy League college. Dr. Gandhi showed us the classrooms that we would be using. The boys got pretty excited when they saw the blackboards that could be rolled up and down. We were there in the building for a while as we were waiting for Dr. Gandhi to complete some work and then we came down with him. He then took us to one of the best ice-cream shops in the country – The Bent Spoon. He told us that The Bent Spoon was rated as one among the top 10 ice-cream shops in US last year. He also told us that he would show us the difference between Chocolate and Sugar. Seldom do most of us check the contents of something before we eat, but Dr. Gandhi was very particular about it. And that is why he took us to ‘the bent spoon’. 
At The Bent Spoon, there are lot of varieties of ice-creams and espresso. Ice-creams are either ice-creams (which will contain egg) or sorbet (which won’t contain egg). The best thing is that they allow you to taste as many flavours as you want before you would want to choose what you want to eat. So, there we were standing in a line and tasting flavours. I went ahead with Dark Chocolate Sorbet first. The second I put it to my mouth I knew that this was the one I want to have. It was like the ‘love at first sight’ feeling. So I told Dr. Gandhi that I will go for this one. He advised me to taste more flavours. Usually when I go to buy something, I settle for the first thing that I like and there are no second thoughts about it. This made me hesitant to go for another flavour and also the fact that there were people waiting in the line behind us which made me feel that we should give way for them. Dr. Gandhi smiled and said, “Vinay, this is US. Nobody would mind waiting. (No ‘jaldi karo kitna time laga rahe ho…humko bhi lena hai’)”. I tasted couple of more flavours in ice-cream which were equally good and it made me realise that love at first sight need not necessarily be the best one ;-). But I settled for two scoops of dark chocolate sorbet. The boys also tasted many other flavours and ordered what they liked. The best thing about The Bent Spoon is that, one scoop costs something like $4 dollars and a few cents. But four scoops will cost $6 and a few cents. The more the scoops that you take, the price increases at a diminishing rate. I wish I got get the data points from them and draw and graph. 
We bought the ice-creams and came outside to sit on some benches in the open. As I took the first bite of the ice-cream…Oh my God, how do I express that feeling … I was in seventh heaven. I have never enjoyed ice-creams so much. The taste of pure chocolate when you taste for the first time is something like attaining Nirvana perhaps. I was reminded of instances in Vedantic texts where seers talk about the joy in Self-Realisation and when Masters attain it how they might feel about the lower level happiness which they have reveled in earlier and what real bliss means. This was my condition with respect to sugar and chocolate. All this while I love ice-creams/chocolates not realising that I was enjoying the sugar but not ‘real chocolate’. I was a fool all this while! Ojas told me that we can sit on the next bench as there was a shade of trees above it. But I didn’t feel like moving from that place before finishing my ice-cream. I could see the boys getting a similar feeling. We relished the ice-cream and left the place.