Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A piracy free semster of studies in TIFR

Proud to make this short announcement that I have finally managed to complete a semeter of studies in TIFR without using a single pirated book or watching even a single pirated movie.

This semester I also created this webpage on free knowledge ideas. With the help of other ex-CMI-ites Shreevatsa (currently in Operations Research department of MIT) and Vipul (currently in the Mathematics department of UChicago) I wrote this article on open-access movement.

Obviously the article in a more finished state than the webpage.

Such a piracy free educaion system should have been trivial to achieve in normal circumstances but in India where Physics courses mostly run in absolute hapazard way and where one has to fight corruption on a daily basis the use of pirated and downloaded books from Gigapedia becomes almost inevitable.

I especially had a tough time trying to get through my astrophysics course where most books in the library are lost or stolen or there is only one copy which has been issued out! And astrophysics books are priced astronomically high compared to other subjects and I can't afford to buy them.

So the Astrophysics course was a real challenge in terms of avoiding pirated means when every other person in the class seemed to have downloaded pirated copies of the book by Dina Prialnik. I had to fight out alternative means. Thankfully the prof. was great (Prof.Alak Ray) and he has himself written a few large extensive review papers on the topics he was covering in the class. I substituted the books by his excellent review papers. Towards the end of the course I borrowed some of his personal books from him. He was anyway a great teacher and probably Prof.Alak Ray is one of the microscopic few inspirational Physics techers I have seen in India. (mostly in TIFR!)

Actually many many courses in Physics in TIFR as I see it and in CMI as I had seen it would not even run without pirated books. Its a serious problem that the education system has to compromise so much on the moral front and adopt illegal methods to keep the institutes running. This is a grave problem that the administration is yet to wake up to. As a principle courses should not be organized unless there are enough number of relevant and affordable books for the course available either in the library or in the markets.  I am not sure that Physics is so very important to do even at the cost of adopting illegal means. 

The problem was also acutely felt in the courses in Particle Physics and Nuclear Physics where too none of the required books were availble either in the library or the market. I was fortunate to know some very helpful seniors who kindly lent me their books and I sailed through smoothly. But for the rest of the batch they were all depending on pirated books. The situation was stinking of corruption, somewhat forced and somewhat out of limited imagination.  And to add to the already abysmal state of ethics the instructors decided to freely distribute pirated books! I protested in writing against such malpractices.

I think such courses should not be organized when the basic minimum resources for studying the subject are simply not available. Anyway it remains debatable to me as to whether it is at all important to teach such sophisticatred subjects to any and every person in the street in developing countries. In developing countries like India where 250 million people go hungry I see no reason why teaching obscure things like Particle Physics or Nuclear Physics should be anyone's priority! Probably it is more important to teach people on means of organic farming and how to synergetically couple it to genetic engineering and to teach people economics. Arrangements should be made to the extent of teaching such sophisticated physics only to them who are interested and not made a part of compulsory courses.  {It is a separate question that I am interested in learning Particle and Nuclear physics}

In developing countries like India where the reach of education is negligible it is actually of greater importance to enhance Free Knowledge Movement as explained in the article above.

Access to pirated books leads to further cascading problems. Like one can download all sorts of solution books to questions and obscure books of solved problems from which the students can copy the answers to the assignments. Thus adding to one of the many ways in which the whole concept of assignments in TIFR (and also in CMI as I saw it) has been reduced to a complete farce. 

Somehow people seem to have limited their imagination about alternative sources of learning and the first reflex seems to be to download the pirated books from the internet and feed the corruption network. For once I wanted to prove that there are alternative ways in life and hope to continue with it.

And more interestingly people seem to use the euphemism of  "e-books" for pirated books!
What is intriguing is that even when students are given 15000Rs per year just to buy books people might avoid buying them but would prefer to download from Gigapedia. This situation is again somewhat due to circumstances like procrurement delays and somewhat due to lethargy of thinking out of the box.

I invested about 8000Rs from my scholarship and 2000Rs from my stipend to buy books in the last 6 months. I also spent about 2000Rs on buying movie DVDs to watch since as a part of my movement I have also stopped watching pirated movies.

This adoption of no-piracy rule for books and movies led me explore resources like Google Videos and You Tube for occasional entertainment more than ever and this led me to discover breath-stopping beautiful newer kinds of music than I had ever heard before. These new exciting finds of mine are songs like "Aicha" by Cheb Khaled from Algeria and "Is it true" by Yohana from Iceland and "In love with a fairy tale" by someguy from Norway and many others. Especially I would recommned people to listen to the Eurovision 2009 version of the song by Yohana. She is awesome!

Had I not adopted the no-piracy principle there was little chance I would have come across these beautiful musical creations across the world.

There are many more challenges to be solved in this process,

1. I still have the problem of eliminating pirated music from my life. Wonder how I am going to find my way around it. It doesn't seem prudent to delete all the collection I have though I haven't added to it in the last 6 months.

2. I still have the problem of some very rare and specialized books in Physics and Mathematics whose photocopies I have with me. I think it would be stupid to now burn them. These books are either out of print or are just prohibitingly expensive to buy and all of them even if in print are beyond the reach of the Indian market. Some of these rare books whose photocpoies I have are the book on "Spinors in Space-Time" by Penrose and Rindler and the book on curvature and betti numbers by Borcherds and a book on Yang-Mill equations on Riemann Surfaces by Atiyah and a book on magnetic monopoles by Atiyah and Hitchin. There is little hope that I am ever going to find these books for sale!

Hopefully with gradual progress of the Free Knowledge Movement we shall steadily be able to solve these problems.


Vipul Naik said...

Your link to "this article" does not work. It points to the blogger main page.

Anirbit said...


Thanks for pointing out the problem. I have rectified the link now.

I have also made many many grammatical edits in the document.

Kaushik said...

YouTube has lots and lots of pirated content. Are you sure these songs you heard are legal ?

Anirbit said...

@Kaushik YouTube is a complicated domain. I still haven't been able to figure out a way of finding out whether or not a video is pirated before I watch it. In some cases legality is obvious if it is uploaded from some well known company's channel. Also I don't understand what is the law's stand about TV grabs.

Hope to learn more about this in future.