Why I discontinued the edX course …

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A google search for study materials on fundamentals of mechanical vibrations a few months back led me to an exotic world of free online learning.

Yes, I am talking about edX [Let me warn you, it is highly addictive].

I became a regular visitor and tasted many of the archived courses.

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There were many subjects  I have been longing to learn for long.

Great teachers. With due respect to all those who taught me in schools; a class apart…

And great instructional technics…

And the freedom to take the courses at one’s own pace and convenience…

I soon found myself addicted to www.edx.org

One course that caught my attention recently was the Introduction to Marketing course, started in January 2016.

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Why Marketing!?

You may be wondering…

What is that interesting in marketing for an automobile engineer who is almost lost among machines?

It is something like…


What shall I compare it to!?

The little swallow of Happy Prince may understand it better!

Yes… the little swallow!

Anyone remember the little swallow in Oscar Wilde’s Happy Prince who courted the ‘most beautiful reed’ the whole summer?

“He was flying down the river after a big yellow moth, and had been attracted by her slender waist that he had stopped to talk to her”

Wasn’t it something similar?

I followed the course diligently the next couple of weeks…

It was contagious…

Soon the twelve year old left the online magic courses and joined me in edX with an archived course in Geometry.

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The improvement he made in Geometry in three weeks! You have to see it to believe it.

A CRDI engine with a strange complaint at a distant location and a level 3 course in NVH troubleshooting kept me away from edX for a few days.

By the fourth week of January when I sat with the twelve year old again he was completing a survey at the end of the geometry course.

“How do you compare this course with the courses of Khan Academy?” a seemingly innocuous question in the survey had an option “I don’t know about Khan Academy” as answer which was duly selected by the twelve year old.

We never heard of Khan Academy before. Neither son nor father.

The twelve year old did start another edX course in Algebra the same day. But the third day he dropped out of edX.

edX lost one of their customers to Khan Academy!

Segmentation, Targeting, Positioning, Branding… By this time I had started planting terms like these in casual conversations with unsuspecting colleagues.

“So he flew round and round her, touching the water with his wings, and making silver ripples”

And the twelve year old left edX for Khan Academy which was totally unknown to him till the survey at the end of the geometry course.

Someone comes to buy a car from you. A FXXX or a TXXXXX or a XYZ…

You take him around…you explain the features…you let him drive the demo car… and when he is about to leave, he has not made a decision yet, you ask him ‘How do you compare our XXXX with the SKYACTIV Mazdas?’

‘SKYACTIV? Mazda??’ it seems the customer is unaware,  one moment please… this is just an example… but I have seen recently a Nokia 3310 owner, an aged vegetable vendor in our village ridiculing his friend’s touchscreen mobile “12000 bananas! And not even a single button!”

So what do you think? Will the customer forget the ‘SKYACTIV’ and ‘Mazda’ on his way home and come back to take one of your cars?

I don’t expect that… he may come back… in his new SKYACTIV Mazda3 or CX-3, if he could pull his heart off the charms of the MX-5… to thank you!

That question of yours was a blunder my dear!

So was the survey question from edX. “How do you compare this course with the courses of Khan Academy?”

I am not here to compare Khan Academy with edX. I am leaving it to you.

I felt disillusioned with the edX course in marketing… How can I continue after I see them making such a blunder!

“You have been trifling with me”, the little swallow cried, “I am off to the Pyramids. Goodbye!” and he flew away.



Six steps…

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Lady luck is always with HXXX MXXXX.
Juicy, ripe, examples are just waiting everywhere for him to pluck.
Oh I forgot to tell, HXXX MXXXX is a trainer I adore, try to emulate, and sometimes envy.
Like all those who attend his classes I too eagerly wait for moments when he is stuck. But as I told you, luck is always with him.
We think he is stuck… soon he will say “I am sorry, I don’t no” or ” Let me check with MXXX”. [MXXX is his boss in Japan] or something similar… But… See what happened last week!
It was a level 3 session.
First day of the course Basics of Troubleshooting. A prerequisite for the advanced troubleshooting courses.
The participants!?
All skilled diagnostic technicians… hardcore professionals with years and years of experience in troubleshooting…
And HXXX MXXXX was teaching them basics of troubleshooting!

“I know it will be a little boring… But, you know, you have to complete this for Masters Certification… we are very rigid on the Masters curriculum… there are reasons… I know you all… what you are capable of… but we have to…”

Less than an hour into Six Steps of Troubleshooting and…

“Mr. HXXX, collecting information, analyzing symptoms, blah, blah, blah… we do this everyday… as troubleshooters this is what we all do every day… shall we skip this course?… shall we go directly to Advanced Body Electrical Troubleshooting?” They are ruthless even with revered trainers like HXXX MXXXX.

HXXX MXXXX stood silent for a moment. Then adjusted his tie… looked at his watch…  “All right gentlemen… we break for lunch… 45 minutes earlier… come back at two… sharp two”

And he went to the workshop while we headed towards the dining room.

Tricky situation. Trainees have lost interest in the topic. They question the relevance of the course. We were sure Mr. HXXX is at his Waterloo at last…

We had a quick lunch.

All of us were eager to be back in the training room.

“Let’s move to the workshop.” HXXX MXXXX was waiting for us near the elevator.

He took us straight to bay number 23.

Bays 23 to 25 belong to electricians. SXXX KXXXX, a very experienced electrician was at 23, beside a sports car…

“Why not Mr. HXXX?! I am happy to share all I know…I got her this morning. Haven’t touched her yet. Busy with a Radar Cruise Control System complaint. Accident repair at a local garage! They cooked up the wiring… this girl came three days back… not starting… cranking is fine…JXXX and KX SXXX tried… they tried for two days…today TXXX gave her to me… they think it is electrical… PCM may be…”

“Gentlemen… this is our baby… you have time till SXXX tames the Radar… let’s start.”

A short while later…

“PCM… can we have a PCM?” they were unanimous…

“PCM!… so quick! … PCM!! … why?… WHY?… gentlemen, why PCM?”

“We checked with JXXX and KX SXXX… everything else is fine… air fuel ratio at start is not correct… PCM is the only thing remaining.”

SXXX KXXXX stared at his trainees… the trademark twinkle in the eyes is back…

I saw a cloud of uneasiness descending on the trainees…

“Let’s have a word with JXXX and KX SXXX… guys, what was the customer complaint?”

“Engine not starting sir… cranking is fine sir”

“No sir… we didn’t see the customer… the recovery truck dropped it here sir…”

“No sir… he didn’t say anything…”

“CXXX AXXXX may be knowing it sir…”

“Good afternoon Mr. HXXX… no, I didn’t see the customer… she just gave me a call… we sent the recovery truck…”

“No Mr. HXXX… sorry I was too busy… I didn’t ask…”

After a moments silence…

“Gentlemen… now recollect what were discussing this morning… yes… six steps of troubleshooting… what’s the first step?”
“Collect the information! Correct!…but… did anyone do that?”

The trainees turned their faces towards JXXX and KX SXXX.

“No sir… we don’t talk to customers… service advisors do that sir…”

All faces now turned towards CXXX AXXXX, the service advisor who received the car.

“Did you ask me?… did you ask me anything?… they didn’t ask me a thing Mr. HXXX… now putting the blame on me…”

“It’s ok CXXX… You carry on… let’s move to training room… ”

“Gentlemen… let’s go back to the six steps. First step… yes… collect the information… can you tell me the sources of information?”

“Customer! Yes! The most important source of information. Let’s start with the customer. Who’s going to do the diagnostic interview? You have to concentrate on… yes… three Ws and one H! Can anyone tell me what do they stand for?… okokok…WhatWhenWhereandHowmuch… don’t forget them during the diagnostic interview. Plan the interview and call. Have a clear idea what to ask. Minimum questions. Easy to answer questions… Twenty minutes to plan”

“Things are clear now. It was a hot day. Customer was filling fuel from a fuel station in Al Ain road. Around 100 kilometers from start… yes yes the engine was running… then she heard a loud bang noise… like a firecracker… bang … from the engine compartment… then the engine stalled. A gas station attendant opened the bonnet and there was smoke… and the engine never started again… yes yes normal cranking”

“Gentlemen… what next?… information from manufacturer… exactly… service information from manufacturer… then, information from distributor… about similar incidents”

At this point one of the trainees interrupted. “We had a similar case Mr. HXXX, a couple of years ago. Engine stalled during refueling. It was…”

“Interesting… see gentlemen…. it is possible… let’s go to the car… As SXXX explained, it can be easily verified with a vacuum gauge.”

And… it turned out to be the same case.

The discussions went off track, for a while, before HXXX MXXXX could resume with Basics of Troubleshooting.

Basics of Troubleshooting course continued, as planned, for three days.

And it turned out to be one of the most useful training sessions we ever had.

Noise, Vibration, and Harshness

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It was on our thirteenth descent that I brought psychoacoustics into our conversation.
A little after 3 pm when I got a call from the service reception I had no idea what was in store.
“Arnold sir has some noise issue… Jerry couldn’t find anything… could you please…Arnold sir is …”
Jerry is our road tester.
I did not wait for the service advisor to complete.I was in the middle of a training session.
Soon I was on the road with a well dressed gentleman in his early fifties.
It was a strange complaint.
An abnormal whistling sound for a brief period from the front right side when the vehicle completes the steep descent from Qantab and enters the highway, after a tight 270 degree turn to the right.
The vehicle has to descend at 30 km per hour, the brake has to be applied and released once nearly 100 meters before the tight right turn, and, there it is, exactly when the vehicle enters the highway.
He did the descent four times, but could not duplicate. Then he asked me to try…
“Oh no… the speed was a little high… it is very sensitive to speed…”
We enter the highway again, take the exit after 3 km, come back to palace roundabout 7 km away, take 11 km up the winding road and prepare ourselves for another descent.
His wife had noticed it the first time the previous Thursday evening when they were returning after a party at the hill resort.
“no no no… you should not apply brake this hard… it has to be light… very sensitive to braking force also…”
Again the exit after 3 km…
“I tried many times… it does not come when my children are there at the back… there should be only two persons in the front… very sensitive to load on the front seat also…”
“no no no… you should not turn the steering this hard… it has to be smooth… otherwise it will not come…”
By the eighth descent I could gather enough information about the history of the vehicle.
Some noise complaints are difficult to verify… we know such noises will in no way affect the performance of the vehicle or jeopardize the safety of the passengers…
Moving vehicles make a lot of noises however smooth the road may be.The noise of engine and drive line will be masking these noises in most of the vehicles and customers will not be feeling them. When they change to vehicles with extremely silent engine, transmission and steering systems, they will start noticing noises which they never heard in their old vehicles…
And then there are customers like the one I was having… a user of Mazda6 for years. “It used to be like in a glider before…”
I too loved that trip down the mountains in a Mazda6. As the customer said “like in a glider…” and the 270 degree turn! The weightlessness you feel and the cool sensation you have in your brain and body when you end the descent and join smoothly the highway… it is pure ecstasy…beyond comparison… just the blink of the dynamic stability control indicators that reminds you that you are with a machine… how nasty a whistling noise can be then!
But where is the noise!?
He got the car back after an accident repair the previous Wednesday. The next day the noise!
The situation was not something new to me…customers being skeptical about accident repairs… customers developing an aversion towards the vehicle after accident repairs… a noise there… pulling to right (sometimes!)… hard to steer (sometimes!)…poor brakes (sometimes!)… all psychological… and most of them end up disposing their cars within a week or two…giving a dog a bad name and…
A little psychological approach was all that needed. Counseling? Sometimes there are no other choices.
“I could not find anything abnormal”
“No no no Mr….uh… Mr.Suju, my wife heard this first… I too heard it thrice… now it is not there!… I am sure there is something wrong!”
“I can’t find any abnormal noise… it may be just a feeling… ”
I started with a mild dose of psychoacoustics lessons, followed by more psychological treatment, taking utmost care that he does not feel it…
I let him have my headphones of the wireless chassis ear and play with the channels while I drove…again psychology… bringing him to my seat…
“So you say it is an auditory illusion!” he told in a tired voice and fell into a deep silence.
Three kilometers later when I put the indicator to right again, “no no no… I have an appointment at seven… already late…”
I left him at the reception and straight went to my trainees.
Later that evening…
“Sir,what you did with Dr. Arnold? He seemed a little upset after the road test.”
“Yeah… professor and head of the department of psychiatry at SMU”
“You could have told me that!”
“Told what!?”
I never told him what happened.
Dr. Arnold still uses that car. He never complained about the noise after that day. He recently took a CX5 for his wife.

In a friction circle

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“Aha… you are here!”

I was meeting Hassan after a long time.

I remember very clearly, it was the day before the National day, six years ago, we met the last time.

We had parted not on very friendly terms that afternoon.

I did not know that he came in after a near fist fight with the body shop manager over a body repair in one of his sports cars that day.

Hassan, when I first met him, was, a flourishing hotelier, crazy about cars, and a die-hard fan of Mitsubishi Evo.

He reminded me of the illustrations of Emperors in school history text books.

“Yes boss” he was beaming with pride… “if you climb that ladder like DNA of mine, you can reach those great warriors you see in history text books…”

“I didn’t know that you were here!”

“Come with me…my car… ohohoh… you still remembering that!… that was just a joke man!… I couldn’t say sorry … the next day I left for Malaysia… almost one month… they said you left… how many years now dear!?”

He gave me a scare of a lifetime that day.

He took me in his Evo and straight went to the royal automotive club race track…

He wanted to show me some noise at high speeds…

I like speed… But 200 plus!

On the third lap I told something which offended him…

“I have a doubt engineer… lucky you are here… to be honest I never found someone as helpful as you are… come on… I want to show you something”

“When did you join Mazda?”

“I divorced my Evo…Miata is my queen now… I don’t like to call her MX5… Miata…  I don’t like the Xs… Miata my sweetie!”

“My son is crazy… cars! cars! and only cars!… yeah… you are right… like father like son…”

“He is pestering me with this…”

A quick juggling with the throttle, steering and hand brake… and the vehicle slid ninety degree into the parking lot of the fish market…

“What exactly happens now… that’s his doubt… I know you can help me… do tell me engineer… you studied automobile engineering…didn’t you?”

It was not the first time… Hassan derives some secret pleasure in cornering people like this…

“Hassan…it is Physics…may be a little difficult to understand…I can explain… but…”

“There is something which you don’t know dear… I was at Melbourne when I had to pack my bags to Swiss Alps… I was studying Physics there… One more year was all that I needed when the old man decided to put all these hotels on my shoulder… Rashid said no… so he is teaching architecture at YXXX… a happy man… I was afraid to say no… old man was very dangerous… I can understand a little Physics…”

“Let me try Hassan… the last time I explained this to undergraduates was fifteen years ago…”                                                                 Friction Circle rev.

He stared at the friction circle for a few seconds, then at me.

“Hassan, let us start like this…you are going straight towards art gallery…you are near pepsi now… you want to go to the fishing harbor… what you do now?… forget the hand brake!… you turn the steering a little to right… isn’t it?…the front wheels are at an angle now…not straight…they roll at an angle…the vehicle follows the direction in which the front wheels are rolling… right? … the vehicle follows the tire… right?”

“Engineer, what is so special in this? You want to take a turn… you turn steering wheel… it is natural… you turn the steering wheel, the front wheel makes an angle, and the vehicle follows the tire…“

“Hassan, one moment… a little imagination, the tarmac has turned into ice…I am sure you had been on ice… will it be the same?”

“You are putting me on ice!…thin ice?…just kidding bro…ice!… ice at pepsi round about! I will soon be picking shells along with my queen …”

“Why?!… friction, man!…friction!… between tire and road… there is no friction on ice…”

“You are right…frictional force between road and the tire in lateral direction during cornering… there are other forces also, acting on the tire road interface…during acceleration and braking… the vehicle has inertia…it will try to move straight… but you steer…the tire is at an angle …vehicle will follow the tires if this force of friction between road and tire balances the force of inertia of the vehicle”

“Otherwise skidding…I remember engineer… yawing…rolling…pitching…I remember everything! The maximum friction force that the tire can withstand at any point is the red circle, limit of tire grip…isn’t it?”


“So when I turned the steering a little, the vehicle started to move in a circle… the frictional forces on the tires were keeping the vehicle on course…and when I applied the hand brake, the braking force on the rear wheel increased…so the lateral forces that could be sustained by the tire came down… clockwise yaw!…the same will happen if I suddenly accelerate during cornering… but the yaw will be… will it be the same? … it depends… front wheel drive or rear wheel drive…isn’t it? now I remember everything! I forgot his name… he once said physics does not need an automobile mechanic and an automobile mechanic does not need physics, but a race driver needs both… I forgot his name”

“Hassan… physics and automobile mechanic?!… I think it was science and philosophy… I too don’t remember the guy who told that”

“Engineer, it is science and mysticism… that was in Tao of Physics… Fritjof Capra… I was just testing your general knowledge… read some good books… there is a world outside these automobiles…  I will get you some books of Omar Khayyam… science does not need mysticism and mysticism does not need science, but man needs both… Tao of Physics… some say it is all nonsense… but I enjoyed it when I was young… by the way, that teacher wife of yours… is she still with you?”

I do not believe, oh no, I did not believe, in ghosts!

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The desert road from the small border town IXXX to the capital bifurcates after ninety five kilometers. Need to be very careful along this road… a single carriageway, a short cut to the free port at the neighboring country… no speed radars and a lot of tractor trailers flying either way…

The branches merge later at NXXX, the town famous for the remains of an ancient fort.

The one to the right joins the new express highway in two kilometers and it is the same story of black tea and shawarma at NXXX, petrol and cold coffee at SXXX, and finally, four hours later, home.

And the one to the left!

Gorgeous mountains… picturesque valleys…

But I avoid this road…

Wild goats that cross the road like bullets taking away your headlamp lens…

Camels that decide to crash in through the windscreen…

And… and… I did not believe any of them… the numerous stories of supernatural encounters at and near BXXX…

BXXX is an ancient city that witnessed major battles centuries ago… It is an archaeological site now…

The sand there is reddish black… some say it is blood…

I had been with a client in a crusher site near IXXX. Twenty kilometers of off-road driving and a non starting truck engine upset my journey plan. It was almost nine in the evening when I started from IXXX.

I was riding a Spanish beauty that day… one of the best cars I ever drove… I was ALONE…

I was a little tired… sleepy… and took the wrong branch at the bifurcation… when I realized it, I was almost twenty kilometers into it… at the heart of BXXX…

I thought of going back… before I could apply brakes the engine malfunction indication lamp flashed, the engine coughed and struggled for a while, like in an asthma attack, and stalled. I cranked the engine many times… no signs of firing…

At the wrong place… at the wrong time…

In cars like this there is nothing much you can do…

You can open the bonnet and stare if you want…

You can shake the harnesses in the engine compartment, pull out fuses or relays and fix them back, and hope for a miracle…

I informed IXXX workshop, our nearest branch. They promised me that a technician will be reaching me in one hour.

But I knew it was not going to happen.

The technician who attends breakdowns at IXXX is a local. For all the petrol of this country he will not come to BXXX at this time.

I pushed the car to the wayside.

Sleeping in a car on the wayside is not new to me.

It was not clear how long I slept… a knock on the window brought me back.

“Anything wrong brother!?”

A six foot tall man in traditional Omani dress was beside my window and  a Willys CJ… yes Willys CJ…1940?… in front.

It looked like CJ-2A from the side.

I was surprised to see a Willys.

“CJ-2A!?” I could not hide my surprise.

“Very close… It is MB… no wonder you took it for CJ-2A… it is modified… what is this S? Not the S of Suzuki!” He was referring to the emblem on my front grill.

“SEAT!?… poor me… never heard of… but she is gorgeous… I saw you taking the S at lower MXXX at 140… it is dangerous… only the German cars can do that safely… may be a Mazda among the Japanese… ”

Another surprise lay at the back of the MB… a Winchester Model 1912!

I felt something seriously wrong…

He sensed it…

“Oh that gun! … my grand father’s… still going great… lot of wild goats here… ”

“You seem to be new here… usually none takes this road in the night, let alone stop…”

“I see… please open the bonnet… ”

He just glanced at the engine compartment.

“She looks fine… try to start now”

And it started…

“Two kilometers up there is an Z. 140 will be too much even for the Spanish lady… she will be in Times of Oman tomorrow… bye the way, two hundred feet from the Z you will find a white man in fighter pilot gear waving at you… don’t stop… it is Johnty the Menace… RAF guy… shot down there” he pointed towards the mountains…

“Ghost!…naughty guy! ” he whispered and continued with a chuckle “… luckily he doesn’t have the power to jam the engine control system of a car… just don’t stop”

My wife was horrified when I narrated the incident to her…

I thought she too believed it was a ghost… but it was not…her post graduate degree in Chemistry has severely restricted her field of vision… she can’t go above carbon, hydrogen, and the like…

Three days later a cousin of her who came back from home brought a packet. It contained a few bottles of traditional medicinal oil generally used in treating mild insanity…

Car of the year Japan 2012-2013

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untitled.bmp“Why there were no ads in the newspapers!?” A surprised owner of CX5. “My friends had to tell me that I drive a car that is the  Car of the Year in Japan!”