Thursday, December 04, 2008

1500 years ago, an Indian was being funded for research by Indians

There is this Airtel advertisement that I keep seeing on television. It tells us that how Indians were inventing things and the world was following them. For e.g., it points to Aryabhatta who put forth the concept of zero. It also points to Sushrut, the first person to practice medical surgery and document it in detail. Towards the modern times, it shows about Vinod Dham, who led the team that invented the Pentium processor for Intel.

Now, what cannot be shown in this short advertisement is the tremendous amount of research efforts put in by all the three men. All of them did (probably) believe in themselves. Let's talk of Aryabhatta and Sushrut. They carried out a large number of studies and documented their successes for the future generations to taste their fruits. Aryabhatta is believed to have studied at Kusumpura, which is a name for Patliputra. The university at Patliputra was patronised by the king and wealthy of that era (equivalent to what is government and businessmen today). Aryabhatta wrote his famous "Aryabhatiya" while at the university in Patliputra. Sushrut, the legendary surgeon, lived in Kashi around the 6th century BCE. While I have no idea about his early education or his studies in the field of medicine, it was common in that age for the king or emperor to patronise education. The ruler would give a piece of land to the scholars interested in teaching or research and would fund them for their work. Many times, the wealthy too would patronise such institutes of studies or research. Thus, both Aryabhatta and Sushrut were products of patronised research. Both had an objective of serving the purposes of the society through their research.

What does this mean in today's context? If we are ready to believe in ourselves, as the Airtel ad wishes us to, there needs to be someone who can stand behind us solidly with resources to carry out research that can serve the purpose of the Indian society. Does Airtel want to do so? How many Indian corporates (not foreign multinationals) carry out research work to develop products suited for use in India? How much support does the government lend for the upkeep and expansion of research infrastructure? And till what time will we Indians rely on past glory to claim the superiority of our civilisation? We should believe in ourselves, back our researchers to the fullest possible extent and build an India based on our needs.
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Friday, November 21, 2008

Statistics: Thou art synonymous to illusion

In the period between April-August 2008, crude oil prices saw a huge surge, in their dollar value. At its peak, crude cost $ 147 per barrel. In India, the oil marketing companies were losing a hell lot of money as the government did not allow them to raise the prices of diesel, petrol, cooking gas and kerosene. Petrol and diesel prices were frozen at levels which would be profitable with crude costing around $60 per barrel. Whenever there was a discussion on raising the prices of fuel, every person in the political sphere raised his/her voice against it. They condemned the government as anti-people, pro-rich and asked for taxes to be reduced, etc. On the other hand, the prices of products for industrial use were adjusted to reflect the rise in crude prices. For example, ATF prices at their peak were around Rs 77000 per kilolitre.

Now, with the fortunes of oil turning down and the cost dropping to $50 per barrel, the opposition is again screaming at the government for not reducing the prices of petrol and diesel. The prices of products such as ATF and fuel oil have been revised based on the current price of crude. Now, ATF costs around Rs. 45000 per kilolitre. The government is actually correct, when it says that the oil companies should be given an opportunity to recover the money they lost when crude prices were high. I may sound a capitalist, but in this world, there is no free lunch!! We as citizens of this country expected largesse from the oil companies when the prices were high. Most oil companies are owned by the government. This means, they are built and operated out of the our own tax money!! So, when we invest in the company, shouldn't we be looking at keeping it in a healthy position? By not raising prices of fuel, we eroded the value of our investment. Now, it is a chance to return the favour. The oil companies should be allowed to recoup all their losses and allowed to build profits. We should see our investment flourishing, rather than diminishing. The government being the largest shareholder, receives crores of rupees as dividend (if the company makes profit). This dividend can then be ploughed back into the economy for some fruitful use.

Now, coming to the illusory nature of statistics. The BJP (especially Ram Naik) has been claiming that while petrol costs Rs. 57-62 per litre, ATF is Rs 45-47 per litre. He cries hoarse, stating that the government is pro-rich and has therefore reduced ATF prices but not reduced petrol prices. Let us look at the simple mechanism behind the sale of ATF and petrol. ATF is sold directly by the oil marketing companies. There is no local petrol pump owner involved while selling to the customer. So, there goes the commission of the local owner. Second, the fuel tank of one aircraft (say a Boeing 737) when fully loaded, contains around 70,000 kg of fuel. So, at a given instant, the aircraft is a bulk buyer of the ATF. On the other hand, petrol is sold at retail levels, most buyers buying between 3-5 litres for 2-wheelers and 10-25 litres for 4-wheelers. This is analogous to the super-stores format. The super-stores receive discounts on various products which they buy in bulk from the manufacturers directly. This benefit is then passed on to the consumers. The neighbourhood mom and pop shop owner buys relatively less quantity from the wholesaler and therefore misses out on the discounts. If we were to look only at the figures of prices of petrol and ATF, we would definitely feel short changed. But, looking at the broader horizon over the past 8 months, we realise that what goes around, comes around. We asked for discounts then, we have to live with high prices now.

Statistics: Thou art synonymous to illusionSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Change is happening

No, this isn't yet another blog post about Obama. It is about my very own country, India. Indeed, it is about Bangalore (I don't know if the city is officially called Bengaluru so I'll stick to Bangalore). I was in this city in 2005-2006. There was a lot of mess around the city. The flyover from Indiranagar to Domlur was in doldrums, there was another flyover near Jayadeva Hrudayalaya whose construction period was stretching for ever. On top of that, Devegowda had gained a lot of bargaining power in the political setup. He announced his hatred for the IT industry, thus drying up funds required to spruce up Bangalore. So many infrastructure initiatives taken up by the previous government were put on hold or funding reduced, virtually bringing such projects to a halt.

Back then, it used to take atleast half-an-hour to reach from Indiranagar to Domlur. There used to be a round about from the construction site through the narrow lanes to go to Domlur. Similarly, near Jayadeva Hrudayalaya there used to be a huge rubble across which the buses, cars and other vehicles used to crawl. Another notorious junction was the Silk Board junction. This junction too used to be crowded and packed because of lack of proper traffic management.

Slowly but steadily, most of these projects got completed with a huge time delay and cost overrun. But, the fruits of these are visible. Today, we can zip from Indiranagar to Domlur over the flyover. We can get on and off the Old-airport road without worrying about the traffic coming from either side. The Silk Board junction has be decongested to a large extent and Jayadeva Hrudayalaya junction has a good over bridge and underpass to allow traffice to pass through it. This has saved everybody a lot of time and energy. The economy is gaining due to improved productivity of the manpower. People are losing less fuel in traffic jams. This helps in saving a precious fuel source. But, the flip side is, seeing this infrastructure development, more people would be tempted to use individual vehicles rather than mass-transport. So, the government should now focus on developing the mass-transport system. The Namma Metro is on its way. The metro should be complemented by the BMTC, thus creating a smooth system of mass-transport.

Change is happening. It is happening slowly. That is the problem. But it is hapenning, it hasn't stopped completely.
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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Namma Bengaluru!!

I'm back in Bangalore, for a period of 3 months. As a part of my PhD, I am working on a project at Honeywell Technology Solutions Lab, Bangalore. This is a great opportunity to work with one of the leading companies in the field of process control. But, the call comes at a wrong time. While I was supposed to join sometime in September, the HR processes delayed my joining to mid-October. This is Diwali time and everybody longs to be at home. I couldn't do that. So, here I am, celebrating my Diwali in Bangalore.

The weather in Bangalore is very very pleasant. Quite a stark contrast from what it is in Mumbai. Imagine, no sweating through the day. The only soiling of clothes that occurs is due to the pollution and dust on the outside. The day temperatures are just warm enough, while the night is a bit chilly. Bangalore just received a lot of rainfall during the October season. That has added to the chill factor in the evenings. Today it is sunny and a bit of chill in the air. Perfect weather I would say.

With a short stay in Bangalore, I want to go around the city and explore it as much as possible. I couldn't do it last time, as I had no enthusiasm about doing it. Now, this time around, I do not want to go back without exploring the city. I am, therefore, planning to visit one or two places of interest in Bangalore every weekend. Let's see how things shape up.

About my work. Well, the atmosphere is as found in all MNCs. I'm enjoying the work more, as it forms a part of my PhD. And I hope to achieve a lot in these three months at Honeywell. With more friends in Bangalore this time around, I hope to enjoy it better than I did last time.
Namma Bengaluru!!SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Sunday, August 17, 2008


I was reading the newspaper today morning. It carried a two-page article on Shri Prakash and Sou. Meena Amte's work in Hemalkasa. It described in detail their work, the work of their two sons and daughter-in-law and the sea of change that they brought around in the tribal area. Inspite of all the odds they faced, they have given the tribals in the area a new sense of living. For the past 35 years, Shri Prakash and Sou. Manda Amte have been serving the tribals selfessly supported through donations and government support.

Naturally, I was drawn to their selflessness and to their desire to serve the tribals better. To see their serene and content faces, the happiness derived out of service without expecting returns. In my mind, the thinking cycle started. I wanted to enter social service, the way the Amtes are involved. I sincerely felt that there is no other happiness than the one that you get by serving people in need. Not only do you serve them, but identify their needs and then serve them.

For over the past two years, I have been thinking of moving into the teaching field. This is after I hear that many institutes (ranging from elementary education to higher educations) across the country are facing an acute shortage of quality teachers. I, therefore, wanted to be involved in nation building, in building the constituents of the society. If even one student of mine, every year would aspire to do something fruitful for the society, I was ready to consider it as a success. But then, what kind of teacher should I be? Do I go to the schools in the town/village, where there is a dire need of teachers? Or do I go to the colleges where my technical knowledge would be of some use.

No matter how much I disagree with Nehru, I do believe in one statement of his. That IITs are supposed to provide technological know-how for the development of this country. I would like to agree to this in a broader sense. The technological know-how is essential, but it is also essential to prepare quality man-power who can handle this technological know-how and probably improve upon it. I would like to be involved with such kind of work. But again, whom will I be training? Those who have the money to access such facilities, or those who truly deserve these? Or should I be training the downtrodden, who do not need any of the technical know, but the basic education to understand the way to a quality life? What should be the approach? Questions, questions and questions. No answers found till now!! Aspirations, till they are accompanied with a good plan can't be fulfilled. I pray to the Lord to help me clear my mind and pursue my aspirations.
AspirationsSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Cuil- New search engine on the block

Yesterday, I came across this news item that talked about a new threat to Google. It talked about the launch of Cuil (pronounced as "cool")-- a new search engine that has the power to challenge Google. The feature that struck me was that this search engine company was started up by former Google employees. At once, I decided to check it out.

When you get on to the website, what strikes you is the small text box where you are supposed to type your search. The text box should have been larger and more prominent. Cuil has the feature of searching while typing. That is, as you type, it starts suggesting the complete term that you might be looking for. The search results are shown in a table format, that carries a brief description of the matter on the website, along with its link below. A new feature is "Explore by category". This column appears on the right hand top corner and allows you to search as per the categories formed by Cuil. For e.g., typing "Lata Mangeshkar" results in categories like "Indian Film Singers", "Hindi Language Films", etc. These form a drop down list and you can select from them too.

While Google ranks Wikipedia pages at a high level, Cuil doesn't seem to do so. In many searches, the Wikipedia link appears at second row, first column position. While Cuil claims to be the world's biggest search engine, it is not able to dish out relevant results for simple searches. For e.g., my advisor has a webpage for more than five years. On Google, type his name and his website comes out first in the search results. However, Cuil fails to throw any results pertaining to my advisor's name. It throws only one result related to some patent he had filed three years ago. I have not tried any complex searches, but I doubt whether Cuil will be able to give relevant results. For this, their indexing has to improve tremendously.

Cuil has not as yet been fully launched. To submit a website for indexing, the webmaster needs to send an e-mail to Cuil. This feature may get automated in the future. It also lacks various specialised features that Google currently provides (Google Scholar, Books, Groups, etc.). The positive feature is that Cuil doesn't collect any data a-la Google to "enhance" user experience. So, privacy of users is protected.

By and large, Cuil appears to be a good player, and would be promising enough if it improves in the near future. But today, it is nowhere near to Google in terms of the relevance of search results. If it grows well, it might get swallowed up by Mircosoft or Yahoo to fend off competition. Or vice-versa. You never know!!
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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The age is adding up

It was a wonderful late-evening. The signs of an impending rain were visible. The wind had come to a standstill. The drop in temperature was being felt by the body,which, sitting on a cycle, was riding back towards the hostel. Not because of the hunch of rain, but because some books were left back in the room and also hunger was not allowing any concentration.

While gliding my way back, down the slop after main-building (the boys call it the H-11 slope), I saw a couple of UG-freshies enjoying their first few days of IITB. A rough calculation told me that they were born anywhere between 1989 and 1991. They were younger than me by almost a decade!! This translates to almost two generations below me. I remember, in the 1990s (when I was entering my teens), my generation used to be called Generation-X (Gen-X). Some cycle company had come out with a cycle named "Generation-X". This means that the Gen-Z has entered IIT, while Gen-X seems to be still loitering around, sticking to the student tag. I try most of the times to avail the "student discount", when many of my peers have become parents.

Coming back to my cycle ride, I started thinking of what have I achieved in all the years that I have existed on the planet. It happens to me a lot of times, especially when I see kids come off their age. They are eager to don the mantle that I have been used to for such a long time. What have I done to move on to the next mantle? Look back in time, my mind says. Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj had already won a few battles by the time he was 26. He had a kingdom and commanded the respect of various local "vatandars". He was a thorn in the eye of Bijapur, by that time, and killed Afzal Khan at Pratapgad when he was around 28 years old. I try and think of my acts of bravery. None emerge!! Sad to say that, but it is a fact. The only killing that I have ever done is mosquitoes!

In the meanwhile, my ride nears its end, as I reach the hostel. I dismount the cycle and walk back to my room, still thinking. Thinking that only a year and half ago, I was amongst the crowd that was targeted by marketers to sell their product. Now, I am slowly drifting into the crowd which is not on the centre of the marketing radar, because this crowd has the money, but doesn't splurge. But, did I enjoy being under 25? No, because I was a student most of the time, and hence no money to splurge. Do I enjoy being on the plus side? Not much, because I am still a student, so no money accumulated. The pitfalls of doing a Ph.D., my mind says. I accept. If I intended to earn money and splurge it, I wouldn't have joined a Ph.D. I wanted to earn enough knowledge and splurge it. I would never be the target of any marketing company. I spend only if it is possible and essential for me to do it.

Suddenly, my eyes veer towards the calender. Annual Progress Seminar to be held in the 2nd week of August. Less than 20 days left!! All thoughts go off the mind abruptly. And I chalk out my tasks for the next day. Have to get some results to show the progress. Otherwise, the "student" tag may stretch for a bit more longer time.
The age is adding upSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Students' protests at IIT

Last week, on Saturday, the students of IIT Bombay carried out a peaceful candle-light protest against the introduction of reservations in faculty positions at IIT Bombay. The students are absolutely right when they say that this is a wrong move on part of the government. IIT Bombay is an institute, where very few candidates manage to succeed in getting a faculty position. In the past one year, my own department has seen more than three open category students (the surnames made it obvious that they were from the general category) being rejected because the interviewing team did not find them good enough. These were candidates with a Ph.D. from prestigious universties and had work experience as Post-docs with reputed advisors. Some of them held a B.Tech. degree from one of the IITs itself.

Such has been the selection procedure at IIT, that despite a shortage in the number of faculty, they are not hiring any Tom, Dick or Harry. Now, when candidates are hired just because they have a caste certificate, and not enough credentials to match the rigour of work at IIT, it will naturally lead to a drop in teaching standards. A student who enters IIT may inflict harm on just himself/herself, if he /she doesn't manage to cope up with the curriculum. However, if a teacher who doesn't meet the IIT mark, comes in to teach, he/she causes harm to entire generations of students. And if IIT is not in a position to terminate the services of the teacher, then around 35 batches of students are likely to suffer. While it is acceptable for a trainee to be of standards that may be a tad below par, you cannot accept at trainer whose skills are below par.

The Minister of Human Resource Development should understand that not everybody is cut out for every possible task. Allow the under-privileged to find their core competence based on opportunities provided to them during their training. Please do not let them occupy positions just because they have a caste certificate. No person with below-par skills should be allowed to be at a position from where he/she has a potential of damaging various careers.
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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Some commonly heared conversations

As I was waiting for the tum-tum near my hostel, I overheard conversation between two parents who had come with their children for the IIT-JEE counseling. The conversation took place in Hindi, but for my benefit I'll present a translation.

Parent 1: Where are you from?

Parent 2: Kota.

Parent 1: Who has got selected to IIT?

Parent 2: My son.

Parent 1: What is his rank?

Parent 2: 540. What is your son's rank?

Parent 1: Some response that I cannot hear.

The conversation then moves on to what branch is to be selected, which IIT to go to, jobs etc. This has become a common feature, where relations are based on the foundation of something prestigious. The two parents who began to discuss stuff, came together only because their sons had a JEE rank to brag about.

Many times, discussion between two PhD scholars is also along similar lines. After the initial hi-hellos, come the patent questions- "How many publications do you have?" Followed by- "How many journal ones?", "What is the impact factor rating of the journal?" After these questions, each of them decide in their minds, what kind of relation should be maintained with the other. So, the quality of a PhD scholar is benchmarked by the number of publications he manages, rather than the quality of his work. What also happens is that this then leads to marking of the sincerity of the particular scholar.

People are making judgments on insufficient statistics. The basis of the relation is something which makes you feel either superior or inferior to that person. So, if you are superior, then you try to become the boss. If you are inferior you try to play second fiddle in the relation.
Some commonly heared conversationsSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Laptop blues

Finally, the verdict is out! My laptop has been reduced to a piece of junk, as the circuit on the motherboard that handles the power supply has blown off. Unless, I invest around 16k to get a new motherboard and get the laptop running. The person who repaired my computer suggested me otherwise. He says, instead of investing in a new motherboard, dispose this laptop off, and buy a new one.

What he doesn't understand, or probably the entire supply chain doesn't understand, is that I would need to invest more than Rs. 30k to get a laptop with performance specs that I already have. So, this means, I have to invest around double the motherboard cost to get a new laptop. And what will he pay me to dispose the old laptop? Only Rs 4k. It is simple economics. If you keep aside the uncertainty of the motherboard failing again, then investing Rs. 16k for the motherboard, is a much sensible investment compared to buying a new laptop. People do say that now the latest ones have come, they are at much cheaper price, etc. But then, the laptop was never bought with an intention to make money when I sell it. It was bought to augment my research and entertainment tool set.

Also, what sense does it make in buying a new laptop? What is this about the latest features? Over my existing laptop (configuration: 1 GB RAM, 1.6GHz AMD Turion X2 processor, 100 GB HDD, dual layer DVD drive) what is the value addition that the latest model would provide? A year's warranty instead of the 3 months that the motherboard replacement would give. What is it about the higher HDD capcity and say the latest processor? For the kind of work I do, I think this configuration would be way over the top.

After a lot of deliberations, I decided to repair my motherboard. But I am unhappy over one aspect of the design. The design of the motherboard is so integrated, that I have to replace the entire board, just because the power supply blew off. Why can't the design be modular. It would have been much easier for me to replace the burnt out part at a far lesser cost. But, companies have almost stopped thinking about the repair aspects of the product. For them, it is more profitable if someone junks away the old piece and buys a new one. Now-a-days, for all such companies, profit is first, shareholders are second and the customer is last. Integrated design may help in achieving material and cost savings, but why do they never factor in the possibility of failure? Engineers are taught this very aspect so that they can include safety features to avoid failure and easy replacement procedure after a failure has taken place. Engineers are now probably more driven by the principles of management and economic objectives rather than the principles of engineering.
Laptop bluesSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Thursday, June 12, 2008

So much to write and so less written

With my laptop down for the past few days (rather considerable number of days), all activities requiring a computer have come to a halt. I come back to my room in the evening, take some rest, have dinner and then wonder, what to do now? I almost forgot what all can be done when you do not have a functioning PC. I could have taken to reading books, but I have read all the books that I have with me. With the hostel library opening only once a week, it was almost impossible to get books to read. Being a Ph.D. student, many may expect me to do technical reading. But, every person worth his degree, knows that technical reading can put you to sleep instantaneously.

So, what all is happening while my computer remains in coma? Amitabh Bachchan completed 50 days of blogging. He has been writing something for every single day! If he doesn't have the time to write or any matter to write, he just mentions that, but has not missed a single day of blogging. That is the difference between the life of a super-star and a grad student. He has something or the other happening in his life daily. If I were to blog daily, what would I say? Most of the writing would be-- went to the lab, read a few papers, did a derivation, came for lunch, slept, went back to the lab, surfed the net, had tea, came back in the evening, had dinner and then blogged. Once in around 6 months, I would write-- sir told me to write a paper, so now I am preparing for that. Probably I could write some nostalgic stuff or fiction, but then I am not too good at writing them.

Mumbai again went down the drains with the first spell of monsoons. And as it happens every year, citizens blamed the civic body, the civic body blamed the ferocious nature of the rains and the cycle continues. While the BMC, railways, MMRDA, MSRDC, etc. have done a shoddy job, it is a great effort by them that atleast most of the systems are functioning. Look at the citizens themselves. They do not bat an eye-lid before they throw trash on the streets or into the storm water drains. So, inspite of desilting, these drains remain clogged and hence cannot carry water at their rated capacity. Not all those who complained might have littered the street. It is a case where the majority has to suffer because of the foolish acts of a few. The BMC also said that it is ready to handle upto 50 mm per hour of rains, but above that there will be trouble solely because of the topography of Mumbai. The city received around 10% of its annual rains in 2 days. What can any civic body do in such a situation? To add to the fears of Mumbaikars, Sahara Samay, a useless news channel which has a sub-channel catering specifically to the city of Mumbai, call an astrologer who predicted that there would be three days (he actually gave the three dates too, though I don't remember them) in this season when Mumbai will see a 26 July 2005 like situation. Probably in its usual style, the channel must have sensationalised the event. The government of Maharashtra has sensibly decided to prosecute the channel under the Disaster Management Act.

The tri-series in Bangladesh is underway, but not many seem interested as the IPL has sucked out a lot of enthusiasm. People want to get back to life after IPL. But India did thrash Pakistan. It appeared as though the Indian batting line-up had not yet come out of the T20 mode. It was a run-fest by the Indian batsmen. The bowlers then did a fantastic job of shunting out the Pak batsmen for around 190 runs. Let's see what is in store during the further matches.

In the items under miscellaneous, my life is going on. Had a reunion of our undergrad batch. Around 10 of us got together for the reunion. Of these, one was married, another two were scheduled to get married. All of them are now working men. Of the entire group, I was the only student. It led me to some introspection. I should now be focussed on my PhD and get over with it as quickly as possible. But, it doesn't seem so right now. We are meeting again, at a friend's engagement, in the last week of June.
So much to write and so less writtenSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Cruel Joke

Today, the Indian government announced a hike of Rs. 5/- in the prices of petrol. This is actually inadequate to compensate the oil marketing companies, but still needed to save them from bankruptcy. Reacting to this, the share market also tanked. I subscribe to the moneycontrol website's newsletter to track the share market and my dad's portfolio of investments. Dad being too reluctant to do some analysis, I atleast read through the day's happenings.

So, as a part of the newsletter deal, Moneycontrol also sends some promo offers. These offers, like most others, are worth neglecting as they are not meant for me and my dad would not even glance through them. On this very day, when the government announced a hike in fuel prices, Moneycontrol sends me a promo offer of the Honda Accord, which gives an opportunity to sign up for a test drive. The day when everybody is discussing fuel-efficient cars, I, PhD student (read below-poverty-line citizen) get an offer to ride a car considered to be amongst the luxuriant variants in the country.

Many may say that the newsletter is a mass-mail, so goes to everybody. But I had mentioned my occupation in the form which I filled when I signed up. So, shouldn't there be any intelligent system that directs specific promos to me? And on top of that, sending an offer that can lead somebody to buy a luxury car on the day of announcement of hike in petrol prices is even more laughable. Off-course, people who can afford the Honda Accord will not worry too much about such minuscule increase in fuel prices.
Cruel JokeSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Sunday, May 11, 2008

America's Weapons of Mass Distortion

The United States of America probably has the largest collection of nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, missiles and other such weapons, using which it can devastate any area in a short time. It however, possesses another set of weapons, which over a longer period of time destroy the independent opinion that a society might have about any particular subject. These are the Hollywood studios that regularly dish out various movies, documentaries, serials.

Take an example of the Soviet bloc and communism. In any documentary, movie or series, the Soviets are depicted as tyrant and as autocrats who care nothing about the common man. In contrast, the American ruling class and decision making is shown as if they always had the common man's interests in mind before taking any decision. We agree to the fact that dissent was never permitted in any Communist countries. But it is too far fetching to imagine that everyone at the top would have been ruthless and heartless. I was watching a NatGeo documentary titled "Space Race". The documentary traces the development of rockets for military purposes and the race between the USSR and USA to dominate the space. The documentary is presented in a dramatised version. It starts from the fag-end of World War 2 (WW-2) and ends with the Apollo-11 mission.

Towards the end of WW-2, the Americans are the first to discover the presence of V-2 missiles which were based on the principles of a rocket. They try to dismantle a plant that manufactures the V-2 missiles (which falls in Soviet territory after Germany was divided at the end of the war) and take it to the US occupied area of Germany so the their scientists can reverse engineer the missile. Around the same time, the Soviets discover a V-2 missile in Poland. At this point, an argument between the Polish army and Red Army officers breaks out over who will take custody of the missile. Here, the Soviet Army man shoots his Polish counterpart at point-blank range. While we don't know how Americans handled WW-2 prisoners, I doubt they would have been humanitarian enough.

The first phase of the space race was a result of independent contributions two scientists- Sergey Korolyov in USSR and Wernher von Braun in the USA. Of these, von Braun was an ex-Nazi officer who was the brain behind the V-2. He surrendered to the US in hope that they might help him pursue his space dreams. So, the US authorities take him and his team to USA, where he is supposed to lead the nation's military missile programmes. On the other hand, the Soviets bring in Korolyov and "order" him to reverse engineer the missiles, failing which he is indirectly threatened with dire consequences. While the US is pretty casual about von Braun, the Soviets are shown applying pressure on Korolyov, demanding that he build missile-rockets of ranges that were unheard of in those days. Infact, in one scene, Korolyov is indirectly threatened with death. The Soviet officers are shown to be pretty impatient with failures and do not mind shooting off the person who was incharge of the part that failed.

Everybody is aware that there have been catastrophic failures in space programmes of every country. The documentary does focus on such failures in the Space Race. But, the Soviet failures are shown in great detail with excellent dramatics and a voice over which constantly emphasises that Soviets kept the failure secret for more than 20 years. The American failures (such as the US Navy's failed launch, Apollo-1 burning) have been brushed apart with very few details. While the Americans are shown to investigate their failures scientifically and seriously, the Soviet analysis is not at all mentioned. The Apollo-11 mission, which was America's greatest success finds a detailed mention in the documentary. USSR's efforts have not been detailed exhaustively. Only their efforts in building the rockets and the capsule have been mentioned.

Thus, through the entire documentary, USSR's space programme is made to look a bit ad-hoc and completed through trial and error rather than solid scientific foundation. The US space programme is made to look as if they wanted to be scientifically pretty sound about every small thing, before any rocket was launched. For e.g. von Braun is shown testing the heat shield that would go onto the capsule, but Korolyov is not shown doing any such thing.

Such depiction of Soviets has been common. Hollywood movies are known to show tyrant Soviets and compassionate Americans. The entire Rambo series (barring the latest) is one such example. In Vietnam, the US's excesses are glossed over. The US fighting the Soviets through jihadis in Afghanistan is glossed over. In Rocky-4, Rocky is shown beating a much stronger and better boxer. The movie shows Rocky being given shabby treatment facilities in USSR, while the Soviet boxer is given proper training facilities, when he had previously come to the US. There are many more examples, where Hollywood has put various communities in bad light. Most of these communities were or are involved in some kind of tussle with the US. The US has used its propaganda machinery in an admirable manner. These Weapons of Mass Distortion can twist the thinking of entire communities in the way the US government wants them to be seen.
America's Weapons of Mass DistortionSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Friday, April 25, 2008

When Nature helps

Ever wondered, why do the trees seem so barren in the winter? Or why do some trees litter the ground with flowers during summer? It so happens that some trees cannot withstand the winter winds, so they try to stay as barren as possible. This reduces the torque exerted by the wind force on the trunk of the tree, thus saving it from being possibly uprooted. The season of winter also brings in a lot of dryness in the weather with it. This causes the soil to lose its moisture content. The soil which was held together with the moisture, now becomes loose and has a chance of being eroded away with the winds. How does nature prevent the erosion of the fertile top layer of the soil?

Remember the fall season? In the fall season, many trees begin to shed their leaves slowly and become bare by the beginning of winter. Once the winter winds start blowing, these fallen leaves, that have covered the earth, prevent the loose top soil from being eroded, thus protecting its fertility. The soil, which benefits the tree by providing various nutrients, water, etc. is benefited by the act of trees in the winter.

Come spring-time, the trees blossom and bear new leaves and attractive flowers. During the summer, these leaves protect the earth below from getting overheated and provide passers-by a relief from the oppressive heat. By maintaining the shade, the leaves slow-down further loss of moisture. Some trees shed their flowers onto the soil below, thus protecting it from any further erosion. Thus, during summer time too, the soil is protected by the trees in return for the help provided by the soil.

What do we have to learn from this? Is there a lesson in there? Yes, I believe, there is an important lesson to be learnt. Even as the tree fights for its survival (as in the winter), it does so without harming the soil. Instead, it helps the soil survive by shedding leaves. If the top soil is lost, the fertile nutrients are lost. Also, dust flying around causes various health problems to other living species. The trees, therefore not only ensures their survival (by shedding leaves and by protecting the top layer of the soil) but also help the other species by not allowing the top soil to fly around. In their happier times too, (spring and summer) the trees maintain their helping hand. They provide shade, protect the earth from overheating and provide a visual treat in the form of blossoming flowers. Isn't this the very basic form of inclusive growth, where every stakeholder benefits from the other and every stake holder tries to protect the other by helping in every possible form?

When Nature helpsSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Unfair competition

With the government being lawmaker, it can decide the rules of the game and make the others play according to those rules. Many times, these rules are in favour of the minority stake holders of the government. For e.g. government employees form a minuscule percentage of the entire workforce. But most of the employment and labour rules are in favour of these minuscule minorities, thus stifling many business plans.

Off-late, the government wants greater participation of private industries in the non-core areas of the government operated institutes, businesses, etc. But, here too, it is not ready to give the private sector a fair chance for competition. One glaring example is the case of fuel retailing. While the government has offered oil bonds to state-run oil industries in order to offset their losses, it has not provided any help to Reliance and Essar, who have to dig in their own pockets to absorb the loss due to under pricing of petrol and diesel. As a result, Reliance announced the closure of several of its petrol pumps, resulting in job loss to all those directly and indirectly employed in those pumps.

In IIT Bombay, which is a government run institute, the government slowly wants to pull out of non-core areas and instead deploy private companies to take care of those works. The institute's house keeping staff is being replaced with people from private professional house-keeping companies. The messes in new hostels are being operated by private caterers instead of government employees. But, here comes the hypocrisy in the government's intentions of privatisation. While the institute authorities have permission from the Petroleum Ministry to use domestic gas cylinders (cost = approx. Rs. 320) in the government operated messes, the private messes are asked to operate on commercial gas cylinders (cost = approx. Rs 1000). The messes require around 10 cylinders everyday (for inmate strength of around 400). In spite of this, the private mess operators are able to provide food to the hostel residents at cost that is lower than government operated messes, with better service, of course. But the private messes have to operate with a lot of constraints. For e.g., while in government operated messes, sweet, in dinner, is served with no restriction on the amount, in the private mess there is a strict restriction. The caterers running these messes themselves acknowledge that if permitted to use domestic cylinders for cooking, they could further reduce the costs. This move is beneficial to the students as it reduces the expenses on food by some extent. It also provides a fair platform for comparison of the government run messes and privatised messes. But the institute authorities have done nothing to take up this case with the Petroleum Ministry authorities. As a result, one of the most important inputs in cooking is available to the private caterer at thrice the price at which it is available to the government run messes. This is nothing but bullying by the government authorities. So, while the institute-run messes get a lot of subsidy (approx. 600*20 = Rs. 12000 per day for every mess), the privately run messes have to live with the ever fluctuating (read increasing for the past 1 year) prices of commercial cylinder. This is unfair, both, on the caterer as well as the students who are members of these messes. The students have to pay more because of the use of commercial cylinders and the caterer loses his margin because he can't go beyond a particular price he charges for the food.
Unfair competitionSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Economist Manmohan to politician Manmohan

The Finance Minister, Mr. P. Chidambaram, has, in consultation with the Agricultural Minister (plus cricket mal-administrator) Mr. Sharad Pawar, decided to waive of Rs. 60,000 crore of bad farm loans. This is applicable for those who have borrowed from government banking institutions. This move is absolutely acceptable considering the amount of distress farmers are facing. Some of this distress is because of the government's own policies. Changes in such policies are time-to-time scuttled by powerful lobbies, thus depriving the farmer of any reform. For e.g. the Agricultural Market Produce Committee (APMC) act says that the farmers can sell their produce only through the APMC of the city. This virtually creates a monopoly and hence denies farmers a fair price that gets decided by open competition.

Coming back to the loan waiver. Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh said that the loan waiver was necessitated by the distress created due to the previous government's anti-farmer policies. Did the government notice the effect of the anti-farmer policies in the last year of its term? If yes, it is guilty of sleeping over such an important issue and should be promptly punished for doing so. If no, then the farm-loan waiver is nothing short of a political gimmick. But then why did Dr. Manmohan Singh have to say this? Most of the country (and this includes those who are anti-Congress and the mass voters) respects him because of his honesty. Why did he have to stoop to such low-level accusations? Even the farmers who are really going to benefit from the loan waiver are intelligent enough to realise that Dr. Singh's statement is nothing but pure politics. The question that should be asked to the UPA government is why did they take around four years to announce the waiver of farmers' loans, if they feel that this was necessitated because of the flawed policies of the previous regime. The UPA government did know the NDA government's policies, so there arises no question of ignorance. For the sake of a few votes, a person of the PM's stature should not make statements which can be doubted by even an 18-year old person.

Dr. Singh, India would be more happy if you can achieve more inclusive growth without getting involved in any kind of mud slinging. Also, please do something for those farmers who were honest enough to repay their loans in time. Please do not falsify the adage- "Honesty is the best policy".
Economist Manmohan to politician ManmohanSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Lucknow Chikan: truly "Gramudyog"

The "chikan" work based apparels are a speciality of Lucknow city. I was in the city last week with my mother. Since we had travelled all the way to Lucknow, and there would be no one travelling in the near future, everybody whom we knew asked us to buy chikan wear for them. Since the "orders" were large in number, we went to the wholesale market of chikan wear to purchase the stuff. Since most of the stuff to be bought was ladies' wear, I was trying to kill time in the city of Nawabs. So, I struck a conversation with the shopkeeper and tried to extract some history about the chikan work. This is an account of what he told me.
The art of chikan work was born out of the Nawabs' and their kins' desire to wear clothes that had exquisite designs in the form of embroidery. The First war of Independence in 1857 saw the end of the Nawabs of Lucknow. But the legacy of chikan embroidery left behind by them still lives on and is strongly thriving. And this is perhaps one of those industries which truly works on the idea of "gramudyog" or employment at village level. All the embroidery is done by hand and there is no automation involved. Automated equipment is probably not possible for such intricate designs.

This is how the making of a chikan apparel works. The cloth for the apparel comes into Lucknow from various cloth mills across India. The wholesaler who purchases the cloth is the one who sells the end product. A design of the embroidery is etched upon the cloth according to its end use (say ladies' wear or gents' wear). The pieces of cloth are then distributed, by an agent, to women in various villages in a radius of 100 km from Lucknow. All these women who do the embroidery, work from their homes. Each woman is given a fixed number of pieces of cloth for embroidering. The work of embroidery goes on for around four months. All this embroidery is carried out by the women in the premises of their homes, using their hands to sew the intricate patterns. After the embroidery is over, the agent comes and collects the clothes from the women. The agent has a fixed frequency of touring the villages to collect all the clothes. The wages depend on the amount of embroidery work that goes onto the cloth. The more the embroidery, the more is the wage paid to the woman doing it. These wages are paid when the clothes are collected by the agent. The agent then brings back all the clothes to the wholesaler, who then gets them washed by washermen before putting them out for sale. In the entire process, only manufacturing of the cloth is mechanised. In the remaining process it is the humans who rule the roost.
Lucknow Chikan: truly "Gramudyog"SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Monday, February 04, 2008

Shameless Symonds

So, Mr. Andrew Symonds is "shattered" after Judge Hansen delivered his verdict in the "monkey" incident. He says that his "blood boils" if anyone questions his integrity!! These are the words coming from the batsman who stood his ground despite nicking an edge to the 'keeper in Sydney. In the post-match interview, he said that he is out only if the umpire says so. And, in the next match at WACA, he showed his bat to the umpire, indicating that he had nicked the ball and hence, not LBW.

So, what integrity is Symonds talking about? His integrity stands shattered by these two incidents. In the Sydney test, he says that the umpire should judge whether he is out or not, and in the Perth test, once the umpire decided he is out, he questions the decision by showing his bat to the umpire. Here is a man who is not ready to stand by his own statement. And he is talking about integrity.

Let's go through the incidents of Sydney. Harbhajan pats Bret Lee on his bottom and acknowledges the delivery bowled. Symonds, who had no business for what transpired between Harbhajan and Lee, walks in and says something to Harbhajan. Harbhajan, being irritated by Symonds comments responds in a manner, which the Aussies treat as their fiefdom. Symonds misinterprets the response (well, it just goes to justify that he has a brain, no larger than a monkey's) and then suddenly Hayden and Ponting have heard everything that transpired between the two. But in their testimony before Hansen, neither can recall the exact words used!! So much so for the integrity of the Aussie cricketers.

admitted during the testimony that he went to Harbhajan and said something first. So, Harbhajan rightly retorted back to the Aussie, which Symonds didn't expect at all. Therefore, judge Hansen was right in saying that Symonds started the entire incident. Now, where is the issue of "questioning" Symonds integrity(?) when he himself has admitted to being the initiator of the conversation.

The Aussies used the legal process laid down by the ICC to have Harbhajan punished. But, couldn't come up with the evidence to nail Harbhajan. So, the legal process which the Aussies took shelter under, itself dumped their claims. Then, why is Symonds sulking? And in this entire incident, has Bret Lee got to say anything on whether he felt it appropriate for being acknowledged by the opposition on the field? If he was okay with that, then Symonds had no business at all to say anything to Harbhajan. And if he said that, then he should be ready to face the consequences.

P.S. Symonds should not be too worried about the words "teri maa ki c*****". The Aussies themselves say that the word "bastard" is a term of endearment for them. The term sticks to a person only after some incidents that occur in that part of the body!!
Shameless SymondsSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Sunday, January 20, 2008

First Frontier conquered

I ran the half-marathon at Mumbai. Yes, I ran it. Most of it. Walked at some part, especially along the torturous climb at Peddar Road. And at Girgaum Chowpatty. But, I completed it in 2 hr 43 min. Two minutes less than what I had aimed for!! I was insincere in my practice and hence the result. Had I been more sincere and systematic, I think 2 hr 30 min is achievable. But, I have conquered the first frontier. I have completed the half marathon. Something which seemed impossible for me a few months ago. Something which some felt is impossible for me, considering my bulky physique. But, I proved myself wrong!! Now, I want to improve on the timing. It is going to be more training for the next marathon. More systematic than it has been. I intend to complete the next edition in 2 hr 30 min. That's the equivalent of Ratan Tata's "Nano" for me!!

Lest, I forget, I must thank all those unknown people who were there to cheer me and lift my spirits till the end. Thanks to those two little kids on Peddar road who gave me Glucose biscuits, which were a boost of energy for me. God bless them all. Finally, a very big and personal thanks to the Mumbai Police, for staying on vigil and keeping the track clear for all runners.
First Frontier conqueredSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Senseless FM

What do FM channels use to play songs throughout the night, when there is no RJ? I guess they have something like Winamp with a play list of over thousand songs, with the "shuffle" toggled. That's because, this automated song player springs up songs which are completely out of sync with the time at which they are played.

Today morning at 5:45 AM, I tuned into Red FM, a popular FM channel in Mumbai. It was the automated song player that was in charge, as no jockey was heard blabbering for the next 15 mins. And at exactly 6:00 AM, the automated song player started playing- "Dekho, d, yeh shaam badi diwani", from the movie Om Shanti Om. Come on, the first song of a morning show, shouldn't be from an opposite end of the day. As it is, in the morning, people would prefer light music as they are just readying up for the day or just setting out for the day's chores. And here, the station plays a disco-like song that too describing the atmosphere in a party at evening. God bless the radio channel's wisdom.

This is where I prefer Akashvani (All India Radio). They are in-sync with the time of the day. Their first programme is generally devotional songs, before they switch on to old melodious songs and then move on to the contemporary songs, which have a lot of beats. I do not know, if private radio channels take feedback and act upon them, but if they do, they will find a fairly large audience that would like this kind of start for the day. Even contemporary songs with slow music and low beats would be preferred over disco as the first song of the day. Till then, enjoy evening disco at morning 6:00 AM !!
Senseless FMSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Monday, January 14, 2008

Ratan "Nano" Tata leaves US critics gasping for arguments

After launch of the Nano, most of the US print media (and other media) spared nothing to criticize the car. From calling it all sorts of names, such as "a crossover between a jelly bean and golf cart", or a car "made of plastic and glue instead of welded steel" to calling it an environmental disaster, all attempts are being made to tell the people in US, that this Made-in-India car is nothing but only a cheap car. The problem with US and the scribes there is that for them, there is no concept such as "world" outside the USA. For them, people just do not exist in other continents and in environments that are not like the one in US. For them, what is made by the Big-Three and the Japanese is the best. No matter whether it costs a fortune. It doesn't matter to them if the gas guzzling SUV is three time bigger than the need of the family. But, it is a "technological revolution" for the Yanks.

Wake up Yankees!!! Remember, there is a world outside your own land, which has very different needs than you have. The needs are different, the solutions have to be different. Have you ever seen the way a family of four would travel on a two wheeler? Have you ever driven through the streets of India? The answer to both your questions is NO. So, sitting in your air conditioned homes and offices, you cannot judge the requirement of an ordinary Indian who cannot afford a car priced at Rs. 2 lakh. This family of four, will mostly use its vehicle to travel in a radius of 10km from its home. Most of its drive will be for utilitarian reasons, such as grocery shopping, visiting people/relatives in the nearby areas (socialising, which you Yanks desist a lot) and probably once in three months a Sunday picnic. For this kind of utility, Nano fits the bill. So, why are you cribbing? Is it just because it wasn't invented by your guys? Or is it because the Big-Three feel threatened by the fact that there would exist a market in Yankee-land which would be ready to purchase a car priced at around $3000?

The Nano is built not only around technological innovations, but also around supply chain innovations. Not many of the technology changes were earth-shattering. Simple, but previously not thought changes have helped Tata come out with Nano. Changes were pretty simple- use of aluminium engine instead of cast iron, fitting the engine in the rear, a single wiper instead of two, single tail lamp, slight change in the outer body design and many such small things that added up to big savings. Innovations in the supply chain has been the back bone of your Wal-Mart. Tata Motors has just picked up these things from you guys.

My advice to you guys is, stop cribbing. Just think of the reasons for which this car was developed. It is not for people who want to experience the pleasure of driving. It is for those people who want a comfortable ride while doing their routine tasks, but could not afford a car previously. So, keeping that in mind, Nano is a pretty good invention. If you are true gentlemen (on gentle-ladies), you would join me in applauding the Tatas for manufacturing the Nano.

Ratan "Nano" Tata leaves US critics gasping for argumentsSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Impossible is nothing!!

Adidas should rope in Ratan Tata as its brand ambassador. With the launch of Nano, Mr. Tata has achieved what the world's automakers said was impossible. Suzuki motors ridiculed Tata's attempts to build such a car. It was called all sorts of names, like it would be an enhanced rickshaw, will not have that much power, no safety features, etc. The features that the boys from Suzuki wanted are all present. I call them boys, because the men are in Tata Motors. The 600cc engine develops 20bhp. Enough for a family of four that used to ride a two-wheeler which is not more than 8 bhp.

Scooter-king Rahul Bajaj and motor-cycle prince Rajiv Bajaj are a classic example of "the grapes are sour" adage. Bajaj first scoffed at the fact the two-wheeler ride is unsafe. Well, Mr. Bajaj, two-wheeler ride is unsafe and actually not meant for a family of four. So, Tata was targeting a market where the family has not enough means to buy a Maruti 800, but wants to travel comfortably. What's wrong, when Mr. Tata says that four people, with luggage on a two-wheeler is dangerous riding? And if he wanted to make the journey safer for them, why should Mr. Bajaj be so worried? And Rajiv Bajaj, the less said, the better. After unveiling the concept car Bajaj 'Lite', Rajiv Bajaj was constantly trying to undermine the Nano. Talking about the feasibility of a low-cost car, he even mentioned that it is impossible to make a car at Rs. 1 lakh. And after the fully functional car was unvieled, Rajiv Bajaj changed tracks and started talking about how the pricing makes the car unprofitable. If the car wasn't profitable, no business would have launched it. So, it goes to say that the car is indeed profitable. The margin will be definitely less and Tata Motors will have to rely on volumes for generating revenue. But, Mr. Bajaj, apart from profits, there is also an underlying social cause. The Tatas are known for this. And Bajaj is not as big as Tata on the social service front. So, stop your cribbing and accept with grace that the Nano has beaten all skepticism and is a fully functional car in its category.

Let's talk of the man who started this all. Ratan Tata, despite facing so much criticism, gracefully said that Nano won't be able to fulfill the needs of every person who needs this car. So, there have to be other players like Bajaj and Maruti who can build such a car. I think the other industrialists should acquire this trait of humility in success from Ratan Tata.

Thank you, Mr. Ratan Tata. You have proved the well-known saying "Where there is a will, there is a way". For once, everything else had taken a back seat and the entire world was talking about nothing else but the Nano. It has become more popular than cricket. Airtime dedicated on channels as well as radio networks and print space in newspapers indicates the popularity of the car. For once, the front page and editorials had something other than cricket. People forgot Harbhajan and Symonds and were discussing about the Nano. On behalf of Tata Motors, Mr. Ratan Tata, please take a bow!!
Impossible is nothing!!SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend