Friday, September 25, 2015

The Grapes Of Wrath

Title: The Grapes Of Wrath

Author: John Steinbeck

Main Characters: Ma, Pa, Rose Of Sharon, Tom Joad, Jim Casy, Al Joad, Uncle John, Connie, Noah Joad, Grandma, Grandpa

Set in the Dust Bowl of Oklahoma and the bright city of California, ‘The Grapes Of Wrath’ by John Steinbeck goes back to the dirty thirties period.

‘You’ll have to go.’
But it’s our land, the tenant men cried. We-
‘No. The bank, the monster owns it. You’ll have to go.’
We’ll get our guns. What then?
‘You’ll be stealing if you try to stay, you’ll be murderers if you kill to stay.’
But if we go, where’ll we go? How’ll we go? We got no money.
‘We’re sorry,’ the owner men said. ‘The bank, the fifty-thousand acre owner can’t be responsible. You are on land that isn’t yours. Maybe you can go on relief. Why don’t you go west to California? There’s work there, and it never gets cold. Why, you can reach out anywhere and pick an orange. Why, there’s always some kind of crop to work in. Why don’t you go there?’ And the owner men started their cars and rolled away.

The corns had wilted under the dust storms and had become unfit. The tenants, the farmers, were displaced, almost without any notice. They asked the owners, “Where can we go?”, but the reply came to them just as fast as their questions: “That isn’t our problem.” 

So, all the farmers of Dust Bowl Oklahoma clear their land and move away.

Tom Joad, comes back to Sallisaw, Oklahoma, after getting a parole from McAlester. He had been put in prison, and had served a sentence of four years, for killing a man. He comes back to his town, in the hope of reuniting with his family. On the way he meets the ex- town- preacher, Rev. Jim Casy. They walk together over to Sallisaw. To their shock, they find the place empty, all huts and houses broken or destroyed, cotton plants cultivated, and the town deserted. They come across their friend, who enlightens them on the bad situation of the people. He tells Tom and Casy about how the owners asked the tenants to clear the land and get lost. And how everybody was planning to leave for the west.

Tom immediately inquires about his family, and the friend tells him how his family was huddled up at Uncle John’s place. So, Tom and Casy hurry to Uncle John’s house. There, a sweet family reunion takes place. They discuss plans to get packing and go to the west. To California, the land where they can extend a hand a pick an orange. Pa gets a handbill stating that 800 men are needed for work to pick peaches in California. So, they all load their truck with all they need, and start off on their journey. They all go- Ma, Pa, Al, Tom, Ruthie, Winfield, Rose Of Sharon, Connie, Grandma and Grandpa- the whole Joad family, and the ex-preacher Jim Casy.

They encounter lots of troubles. There isn’t enough money. The truck has just too much load for it to take. They run out of gas. Grandpa dies. And, then Grandma dies. Many migrant families mix up. They all become one big family because of their common sufferings. The poorer they become, the more they help each other. Also, a new problem arose, on top of all this- Tom wasn’t supposed to cross states since he is on parole.

Finally they reach California, crossing all hurdles. There they get down beside a river to refresh themselves. Noah Joad runs away, from there. The family is reduced by three members from when they started. They cross the desert, and reach the beautiful town of California. Just as they had heard, the town was full of apples and peaches and oranges. But unlike what they had been falsely promised, they couldn’t extend their hand and pluck them. Anybody, calling himself the owner, could shoot them, fixing them as trespassers. The situation for migrants in California was pathetic!

The handbill that Pa recieved- five thousand other men had also received it. It was a trick for cost-cutting used by the owners. The owners whose fruits had to be plucked called two thousand men where the job was for eight hundred, so that the work would get done faster and the wages will be cheaper. Every minute, more and more migrants piled into California from all over the Dust Bowl affected areas- Kansas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New-Mexico and Nevada- and the wages of the workers went lower and lower.

So, the Joad family decides to pack and leave from California city, somewhere up north. Casy gets arrested when he kicks a cop for supporting the illegal contractors. At this juncture, Connie runs away from them. Now, the rest of family, continue on  their journey. The situation gets worse and worse. They struggle. Finally they go to a peach orchard and join as pickers. Here, Tom Joad finds that Casy has escaped and was leading a revolt. He gets excited to meet Casy again. But one of the cops kill Casy for revolting, and in a moment when anger grips him, Tom smashes the cop’s head and kills him. Now, he is deep trouble. So, he informs the family. They immediately hide him in the truck and they leave the place. They had to go away from one good work that they got.

They next go to a place to pick cotton. There, Tom goes into hiding away from the family, with the knowledge of the family members, so that he doesn’t bring them any trouble. But, Ruthie, his kid sister, in a fight with another kid, boasts that her brother would not spare anybody who hits her, and that he had already killed two people and was in hiding. Then, she realizes the mistake she had done. So, she admits it to Ma, who goes to Tom’s hideout with seven dollars, and asks him to run away with it. Tom is happy, and he says to his Ma, that he will always be there where there is revolt against the injustice. He goes off.

Now, the Joad family have only Pa, Ma, Ruthie, Winfield, Al, Uncle John and Rose Of Sharon. They continue picking cotton, and they earn a little. But the rains come down pouring, for many days together, and the crops are destroyed. Also, the place gets flooded. The men try to build a bank and keep off the water. They partially succeed. When the rain stops a little, the Joad family, except Al, go over to a dry barn that they see. There is no owner there. So, they decide to stay there. In the barn, they meet a young boy. The boy’s father is sick as he had given all his food to his boy, and had not eaten anything himself. The boy tells the Joads that his father needs milk. The family helps.

And the book ends there. The struggle continues.

It’s a very touching book. The character I liked best was Ma. She is such a  strong lady. She tries to hold the family together even when the situations are pathetic outside. She takes care of all the aspects of the family. She is bold and strong. She is very clever, and knows the practicalities. She is an amazing character- the best in the book. I also like Tom Joad and Jim Casy very much.  It was really nice. I liked it.

The Great Gatsby

Title: The Great Gatsby

Author: F Scott Fitzgerald

Main Characters: Nick Carraway, Jordan Baker, Jay Gatsby, Tom Buchanan, Daisy Buchanan, George Wilson, Myrtle Wilson

‘The Great Gatsby’ is about how the wealthy Jay Gatsby follows his old love Daisy Buchanan, married to Tom Buchanan.

The narration is by Nick Carraway, a Yale graduate come to stay next door to Jay Gatsby in New York. He tries his hand at selling bonds, and works as a salesman. He goes, one day for lunch, to the house of his second cousin, Daisy Buchanan, whom he hadn’t been in touch with for many years. There he meets a girl named Jordan Baker, who while talking with him, mentions that she often goes to Gatsby’s great parties. Nick also finds out that there is a party almost every night at his wealthy neighbour’s place. He starts wondering if he can go to one of the parties. Then, he gets an invitation from Jay Gatsby to be part of his next party.

Nick goes happily and meets Jordan there. In that party, both of them meet Jay Gatsby himself. When he comes to know that Jordan lives with Daisy and Nick is Daisy’s cousin, he makes a very strange request to Nick. He requests Nick to call Daisy Buchanan over to tea someday so that he can meet her. Nick does not understand at first. Then Jordan enlightens him on the backstory.

Jay Gatsby and Daisy had been in love before the war, and when the war started Jay Gatsby went away on service. During that long period, Daisy had married Tom Buchanan. When Jay Gatsby came back from war and searched for his love, he found her married to another man. He learnt that the reason for her marriage was that he had no money with him, and she had to wait just too long. With a new aim, he became a very wealthy man, and got a house in town from where he could see the house of Daisy Buchanan. He had been holding extravagant parties to impress Daisy, and in the hope that she will come to one of those parties someday.

Jay Gatsby meets Daisy, when she answers the invitation of her cousin Nick. They get all sentimental about each other. Daisy invites Jay and Nick to her house for lunch some days after. Gatsby and Nick go. Gatsby, Nick, Jordan and Tom go to New York city just for fun. There, Tom and Gatsby get into a fight as to whom Daisy really loves. They fight for a long time. Then, Tom asks Daisy and Gatsby to drive home in Gatsby’s car, while he, Jordan and Nick would follow. Gatsby and Daisy leave. While following, Tom, Jordan and Nick come across an accident, and they find the victim to be Myrtle Wilson. They discover that it was Gatsby’s car that ran over and killed her. They hurry back home. There Gatsby admits to Nick alone that it was Daisy who was on the steering wheel and not himself. But he insists on taking the blame himself to save his love.

George Wilson, the husband of Myrtle, traces the car that ran over his wife. He finds it to be Gatsby’s. So, he goes over to Gatsby’s place one day and shoots both Gatsby and himself.

The story ends by Nick trying to gather people for Gatsby’s funeral. Then, he gets tired of the west, and goes back to East, where he came from.

The book was okay. It is a great Gatsby book. But it didn’t have anything other than just how the Gatsby tries to follow his OLD love! It was so tragic! :"(

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Mathematical Modelling

A few days before, we had a test on mathematical modelling. Those interested could write it. It was announced that eight of us would be selected on the basis of the test to attend a workshop on mathematical modelling. I wrote the test, but did not get selected because I didn’t know many mathematical concepts. But then, they selected a few others, including me, whose approach to the problem in the test was logical. I got in through that, and I was part of the audience in the workshop.

Today, we had the awesome workshop on mathematical modelling in our school. The session was very interesting. We had experts in the field speaking to us, and explaining what it all really meant.

This post has everything that I learnt from the experts today. Let’s start!

What is mathematical modelling?

To answer this question, we need to know what a mathematical model is. A mathematical model is converting and understanding a physical, normal problem/situation using  mathematical concepts, and then projecting them mathematically to find a viable solution. The process of making a mathematical model is called as mathematical modelling.

Why is mathematical modelling important?

In the next 10 years, the biggest and the fanciest subject is going to be Big Data. And jobs such as a Data Scientist and a whole other new professions are going to come into existence. Big Data revolves chiefly around making mathematical models, analysing the models, projecting them in the right directions, and applying the models in the real-life situation. So, mathematical modelling becomes highly important.

Apart from the futuristic perspective, let us look at the concept of mathematical modelling logically. When we consider a problem involving huge numbers, like the population of a country or the world, and we are trying to solve a problem, it is impossible to use a system of trial-and-error. We will not be able to deal with all the elements individually. At the same time, we need to have a fairly accurate solution. Wrong solutions can be destructive, and can lead to a disaster! This is where mathematical modelling becomes useful.

For instance, Uber and Ola cabs have grown rapidly right now. The number of users of their different services have shot up phenomenally. They wouldn't be able to manage this boost successfully if not for mathematical modelling in their strategies, which can forewarn them about such boosts and also give viable solutions to tackle the situation in the best way.

Another example- the Duckworth-Lewis method. Most of us watch cricket. We all know that when it is bad weather and the match gets cancelled abruptly, Duckworth-Lewis method is adopted to finalise the winner. This method is purely a mathematical model. Without even the match happening, the result is determined by considering all aspects of the match before it got cancelled, and mathematically projecting the scores to see the winner.

So, such is the importance of mathematical models and their role in our day-to-day lives that it cannot be ignored.

Understanding a problem

A good understanding of the problem presented is necessary before approaching the problem. Many times, the problem may not be of a subject that we know about. So, the first step in understanding a problem is researching about it. Reading up a lot about the issue can give us a fair idea of what it is all about, and also how we can form a solution to the problem. The second step is defining variables. We need to have a complete understanding of all the factors, dependent or independent, affecting the problem that we have taken up. Otherwise, we will not be able to fully comprehend the situation and can make costly mistakes in our mathematical model. The third important thing is to make certain assumptions. We need to be aware of all the factors, but we also must be able to imagine an ideal situation and make some assumptions. We have all the right to make any logically correct assumptions that we want, but it is essential that we always remember that it was something that we assumed.

Approaching a problem and creating a mathematical model

A systematic approach is required to handle a problem and create a mathematical model of it, so as to reduce the errors and make it as accurate as possible.

Most of the time the problem has various other sub-problems combined. This makes it complex. Therefore, we have to decide on the problem that we are going to tackle, before starting with the model itself. So, the first thing to do when we have a problem is set a GOAL. This will keep us in the right track all through our model.

The process of making a mathematical model can be broadly divided into four steps:

  1. Building (collecting data, researching, listing out factors, reading up, pooling all ideas)
  2. Working (arranging the data collected in an organised manner, converting the data into graphs/equations/etc., studying how the factors affect the data, considering hidden factors, making a clear study of the problem and the solution proposed)
  3. Reviewing(analysing the solution, finding loopholes, relating the study to the actual problem)
  4. Reflecting(imagining and projecting the mathematical model in real-life and considering its viability)

In the third step, more often than not, we will have a confusion after we arrive at a solution. Are we doing the right model? Is this what we wanted? Is the model logical? Does the solution even make sense? There is no proper ‘question’ as such for us to go back and check. This is where setting a GOAL comes handy. At any point, when we have a doubt about the solution relating to the problem, we can go back to the GOAL that we have written clearly and check if the ideas match. If it does, then we are on the right track. If it doesn’t we just have to go back in our steps to find where we had deviated from the actual problem at hand.

Sticking to this broad outline methodology can help making a mathematical model easier.

Comparing our data with external evidences

It is important to check if the data we have collected is right by confirming with other external sources. For example, let us assume that we collect data on the number of people affected by influenza in a particular locality over a period of one month. We can, more or less, confirm if our data is right by approaching the hospitals in the locality and matching their data, of influenza affected patients, with ours. This is how we confirm our data before proceeding with the model.

Hidden factors

Most of the times, a problem is not presented as soon as it is recognised. So, there is a significant time period when the problem has been neglected. On top of this, the problem could have been there for a long time before it was even recognised! Now, the situation becomes more complex because the happenings during these times are not for sure. This is an example of a hidden factor affecting a problem. A problem can have more than one hidden factor. Right assumptions have to be made to bring out the best solution.

Improvising the model

The model is complete. But that is not enough. There would be a lot of improvisations to do. We will have to consider leftover factors, and try to reduce the assumptions that we have made. Also, it would be necessary for us to review our methods, and consider the limitations of the model. A mathematical model can never be totally right. So, as long as we have time, we should go back and check on our methods and assumptions, again and again and again.

Presenting the solution

Let us assume that we have made a successful mathematical model of a situation and have arrived at a brilliant solution for the problem. The actual success lies in how we present it. We may understand the mathematical equations that convey the solution. But the people for whom we are doing it need not be mathematicians, and need not understand our model equations. The whole purpose of the model will be defeated if we cannot make them understand. So, just like we translated the real-life problem to mathematics, we have to convert it back and project it in the real-life situation. We have to discuss the solution’s  implications in real-life. Technology can help in this. Videos and images aid this presentation. Therefore, mathematical modelling is not just about mathematics. It is an interdisciplinary topic, and has to be dealt in the same way. A mathematician alone cannot make a model. Professionals from various fields have to get together to create a successful one.

At the end of the presentation, we must be able to justify the existence of the model solution that we have created. We must be able to explain convincingly to others why our model is better than any other. And when people are convinced, and the model brings in a change for the better, the mathematical model’s role is fulfilled.

TIPS from the experts

  1. concentrate on modelling one solution rather than trying to compare many
  2. induce your own creativity
  3. make a simple model and then improvise
  4. you don’t have to use advanced and fancy mathematical concepts
  5. there are no completely right or wrong answers
  6. use technology to project
  7. use diagrams and pictures in your model solution

All these are the points that I learned in the workshop. It was very fascinating. We were also given a simple problem to try our hand at mathematical modelling.

After all, the best way to learn about something is by doing it yourself!

The workshop is not yet over. We have one more day of it. The solutions for the problem will be discussed then. I will share the problem along with interesting solutions in a separate post. Look out for it!