Monday, June 29, 2015

An Offer to Work in India

How difficult is it for science & technology to thrive in India?

Everytime I see a news article or TV reporter gushing about the achievements of a scientist or entrepreneur of Indian origin, I am reminded of Prof. Venkatraman Ramakrishnan. In 2009, soon after he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, Prof. Ramakrishnan declared, "Nobody has approached me about an offer to work in India. However, I can categorically state that if they did so, I would refuse immediately.”!

What explains this vehemance, this deep disenchantment?

Perhaps a part of the answer lies in the way we build and run our public-funded scientific institutions. Some of them are run like personal fiefdoms with no succession plan in sight ("after me the deluge!"), and in many others dedicated individuals find themselves embroiled in a constant battle with ted-tape.  

A couple of years ago, the official press release on the prestigious Marconi Prize  awarded to Prof. Paulraj, actually stated that he was driven out of India because "bureaucratic battles began to take their toll"... This was one scientist who returned to India, in 1986 from Stanford-U, and set up two institutions - CAIR and CDAC - before being hounded out. So he just went back to USA and went on to create the MIMO standard which is at the heart of 4G mobile technology we all use today.

Our short-sightedness was also highlighted recently in a widely circulated blogpost by Dheeraj Sanghi. Having been a member of numerous selection committee's, he describes how "Participating in...committee meetings can be very depressing as they expose this myth about India being the largest producer of scientific manpower."

Add to this the daily tussle we witness between the IITs/IIMs and the hon'ble Cabinet Minister for Human Resources Development, and the disheartening picture is all too complete.


* (12 May 2015) - Dheeraj Sanghi - The Quality of Faculty --

* (Firstpost, 2014): R. Jagannnathan -
- We need to ask ourselves: why does our system kill future heroes, while the US helps raise even ordinary Indians to iconic levels
- The short point: our system is designed to keep people out, not get them in. The true value of an IIT or IIM is not the intellectual capital they produce, but their filtering expertise

* (Hindu, 2009) - Nobel Laureate bemused by deluge of goodwill --

Sunday, May 31, 2015

2015 May - Interesting Articles & Links

* On GMOs -

* Intelligent jokes --

* On periods -

* Explained - Heat waves in India -

* Himalayas - a drone's view - Treton Sports -

* Ms. Abe in #India - the face of #Japan’s global engagement #DelhiMetro #TunnelEngineering -

* Five thins your Resume should convey --

* Technies in rural Japan -
- Kominka - ??? ?????? (n) old Japanese-style house

* TB: India study confirms Xpert diagnostic test's superiority --

* Weak Yen - good news & bad news --

* Indian Elite in USA --
- Remittances - $70 billion a year to their home country, more than any other group of expats. That adds up to 3.5% of India’s GDP, outstripping foreign direct investment.
- 91,000 Indian-born people with PhDs are now living in America

* Pritish Nandy - The Invisible Middle-class --

* Infrastructure: Asia's new battleground (Amitendu Palit, FE, 27May15) --
- China's overseas FDI is becoming larger than inbound FDI
- China's $40b Silk Road Fund -- AIIB $100b investment
- Japan's $110b for building infra in Asia

* Japan - Transfer Pricing Disputes -
- Royalty, tax dues, profitability of trading houses, and the commission paid

* J Robeiro in IE again - Strong and Small -

* Jumpa Lahiri on voluntary exile in Spain --

* Brilliant - Warplanes and counter-intuitive design --

* Risk-taking: Yes, you can. But should you?  --

* Why I dont want my child to be a doctor in India --

* Five Indian Journalists to follow --

* Masturbation - Health Benenits -

* Squatting is better -

* The limits of meritocracy --

* Malcom Gladwell on the surprising upside of being a loser --

* - calculate your dowry --

* Maggi - India's favorite comfort food -

* Daughter of the Meiji Samurai in USA -

* Labnol - best sites to learn coding -

* HowIndiaLives - data visualization -
- JohnRaja -

* Why the Rajputs failed miserably --

* Tips to get more for less from air travel (20May15, Hindu - Pradip Jayaram) -

* Follow-up on the "I am 20" documentary --

* Nepal quake - media was part of the problem -
* #NepalQuake - An unnatural disaster --
* Nepal before and after the quake --
* Nepal quake - helicopters rescuing only foreigners --

* The spectre of Anuna Shanbaug ---

* 7 Habits of Likable People --

* Tushaar Shah - Lessons from MP's bumper harvest -

* New GSK Shingles Vaccine may challenge Merck after strong test data (YahooNews 18Dec14) -

* Visvanathan, Shiv (18May15, Hindu) - The Commodification of Violence -

* Which is the most radioactive city? --

* Indian biotech firms turn the corner -
- A 'fail-fast' culture takes root in India -

* A handshake - coming to grips with it -

* The Sun though a NASA telescope -

* Nepal Quake - Wired article on the Yellow House hackers -

* MIT Tech Review - Innovators -

* Hyderabadi's don't give a damn about culture -

* Your DNA changes with the seasons --

* This should set alarm bells ringing for @makeinindia - #India #TechnicalEducation

* The perfect color combo app (Wired) --

* Knife-fish - wavy fins and the 20-to-1 ratio --
- NYT Science Videos -

* Bastar, Naxals and rich traditions -

* Online ad-injectors -

* Hersh, Seymyor (2015): The killing of Osama Bin Laden --

* #SalmanVerdict -- Story of a hit-and-run survivor --

* P Thakurta - on legal notice from the Ambani's on Gas Wars -
- In legal jargon, such notices are called SLAPP or strategic lawsuits against public participation – that is, litigation meant to harass, intimidate and silence critical writers who are expected to give in after they are faced with prospects of incurring high expenditure on legal defence.

* H1N1 Swine Flu - Extraordinary breakdown of public health --

* Fallout of Shourie's blast on Modi govt --

* Gawande - an avalanche of unecessary medicare -

* 11 habits to radically improve your life right now! ;) --

* Paronjoy Guha Thakurta on Prof. T.J Joseph - mutiliated by islamists in Kerala for a question-paper --

* How to draft your will --

* Bumblebees - India has 48 species! -

* Senegalese writer on immigrants --

* GMOs in the US --

* Nepal video --

* Dunning-Kruger Effect -
- a cognitive bias wherein unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability to be much higher than is accurate.

* Guha remembers an early birder - Zafar Futehally -
- environmental activists in India, I can confirm that they tend to be intensely self-regarding and extremely disputatious.
- he acted as a bridge between generations and between men with a larger sense of self-worth

* Darlymple - Lost Kingdoms - Indian influence in 700-1200AD -
- Met museum - Buddhism along the silk route -

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Drug Discovery in Noida

Recently, a small company I admire - Curadev Pharma PL - signed a $555 million deal with Roche, one of the oldest and largest bio-pharma companies in the world.

Amazingly, the news seems to have gone completely unnoticed by India's 'mainstream media'.

To be sure, there are a number of good reasons why this development was "newsworthy", especially when everybody seems to harping on the "Make in India" mantra:

Curadev is based out of Noida, a New Delhi suburb, miles away from the nearest biotechnology park or national lab. It has created and sustained world-class R&D facilities in a neighborhood prone to extended, unscheduled power outages;  It has built a team of dedicated professionals in an industry where loyalties are fickle at best and, now, it has entered into a partnership with a pharma major at a time when industry counterparts have settled themselves into making "copycat" drugs & formulations.

So what exactly has Curadev achieved?

An Investigational New Drug (IND) developed by Curadev holds the promise of medical treatment for a wide range of cancers. IND is an FDA technical term for a drug that is 'the subject of an approved marketing application' before it is transported or distributed. In this case the IND is for new drug molecule that could inhibit IDO1 (indoleamine-2, 3-dioxygenase-1) and TDO (tryptophan-2, 3-dioxygenase) -- two enzymes that mediate cancer-induced immune suppression.

Cancer cells grow and proliferate because they are able to fool our immune systems. Many different types of cancer cells produce enzymes like IDO1 and TDO which break down our neurotransmitters before they can alert our immune systems. The new molecule discovered by Curadev would inhibit IDO1 and TDO produced by cancerous cells, allowing our immune system to do its job of marking and destroying unwanted, dangerous cells.

Most Indian companies that reach the IND stage do not have the financial stamina to run the drug discovery marathon. They usually end up selling their discoveries to Big Pharma. Curadev has bucked this trend and entered into a strategic partnership for the next stage.

Lets hope this will lead Curadev to a real blockbuster that is 'Made in India'!


Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Emergency Evacs

In the aftermath of a natural disaster, is it fair to permit emergency evacuations based on nationality?

Five year's ago we faced a similar set of questions in Japan. One of the biggest quakes of the century (9.0) had just struck Japan while we were at the University of Tsukuba. The city was about 300km away from the epicentre we had just seen a high-tech, wealthy prefecture reduced to a helpless, confused silence.

At the evacuation centre, students from various countries seemed to naturally gravitate towards their own compatriots. The Bangladeshi's quickly organised themselves into a self-help group, all the Africans huddled together in one hall, the EU folks in another corner, and everybody else tried to figure out places from where they could get food, drinking water, or even a bath.

Then came the news that the Australian government was sending a bus to ferry all the Australians from Tsukuba to Narita airport. At the time we greeted the news with a mix of envy and relief. Envy for those who found an easy way out, and relief that there would be so much less strain on limited supplies.

The recent earthquake in Nepal brought back these memories, and raised them to an altogether different level.

A friend in Kathmandu operates a travel company that promotes social tourism. Since many of his clients had got stranded in remote rural areas, he spent considerable money and time in hiring helicopters to get them out. When the locals realised that the rescuers had come in to pick up only foreigners, and that they did not have space to accommodate even the seriously wounded villagers, they had started pelting stones at the choppers. Luckily, in this case, an air crash did not add to the body count.

Then came this news about Langtang village in northern Nepal. The entire village was flattened, burying about 100 foreign trekkers and 150 Nepali's. Here is a excerpt from the report -

On the third day after the quake a helicopter landed, but hopes of rescue were dashed when the pilots said they were only there to evacuate Japanese nationals.
A few hours later two more choppers came, this time with an order to evacuate only Israelis -- although they did agree to take the two wounded Nepalis after the hikers protested.
After another 36 hours had passed with no sign of helicopters the mood in the village grew increasingly sombre, until (somebody) finally spotted a US chopper, which made multiple trips and flew them (foreigners) all to safety.
I keep wondering how the tourists felt about their cut-and-run response...

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Slippery as an Eel

Japanese Eel (Image source:Wikipedia)

One of the prominent landmarks in Tsukuba Science City is an "Unagi" restaurant on Gakuen-Higashi Odori. The "U" in  うなぎ is displayed in a trailing calligraphic brush-stroke to resemble a long, slippery eel that happens to be the speciality of this restaurant.

I had forgotten all about this eatery and its long wood-smoke chimney's until I came across this wonderful article in the New Yorker: The Poetic Life of the Lowly Eel  (23 April 2015).

What amazed me the most was that until a few years ago, nobody really knew that the common "fresh water eel" began its life thousands of miles away in the great oceans. Every American and European eel is born in the same place in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, where, at the end of their lives, they return to reproduce and die: the Sargasso Sea. It took a Danish biologist Johannes Schmidt 20 years of research to discover this by searching for for tinier and tinier eel larvae!

Similarly, the spawning grounds of the Japanese eel were found in 1991, near the Mariana Trench, after six decades of searching. Those for the New Zealand longfin eel have yet to be discovered.

Even today we have no idea why eels travels so far out in the open oceans to lay their eggs, or on the impulse that leads millions of tiny larvae to swim back the entire distance, passing through various stages of life in sea as eggs, leptocephali ("slim head") and glass eels, before heading towards freshwater habitats.

This is the sort of thing that makes us wonder at our own mind-boggling ignorance about life on earth!


New Yorker (23 April 2015): The Poetic Life of the Lowly Eel --

Thursday, April 30, 2015

2015 April - Interesting Articles & Links

* Ram Charan again --

* On the Nepal Quake
- MJ Akbar in Kathmandu -
- Silence after the Quake -
- India's apathy -
- Quake Duty -
- Quakes and Avalanches - video AFP -
- The log scale -
- Calculator -

* Wired - Female orgasm explained by science -

* Women's safety in India -- gender is more complex than we think --

* A village stands up for a teacher --

* Dad's reply to school's leave of absence --

* Inequality is different in Japan --

* All you wanted to know about Biosimilars --

* Ajai Shukla - quota's damage the Indian army --

* Chakka (Jackfruit) is the answer -

* German nursery rhymes -

* Atul Gawade on an an anaesthsiologist in rural Maharashtra -

* Devdatt Pattanaik - The ascetic and the nymph --
Power in Corporate Mythology --

* The Poetic Life of the Lowly Eel --
- Eels are, in fact, fish, and the freshwater species fall under the genus Anguilla, which evolved fifty million years ago. There are more than a dozen freshwater species, but the varieties that have been most widely fished and eaten are American (A. rostrata), European (A. anguilla), and Japanese (A. japonica).
- Both are catadromous, meaning that they spawn in the sea but spend their juvenile and adult lives in freshwater.
- Their blood is toxic to humans—research using the toxin derived from it led to the Nobel Prize-winning discovery of anaphylaxis—which is why they’re always served cooked.
- Most curious of all, every American and European eel is born in the same place in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, where, at the end of their lives, they return to reproduce and die: the Sargasso Sea.
- The Sargasso was pinpointed as the breeding ground only a century ago, by the Danish biologist Johannes Schmidt, who spent twenty years searching for tinier and tinier eel larvae in the Atlantic Ocean.
- The spawning grounds of the Japanese eel were found in 1991, after six decades of searching, and those of the New Zealand longfin eel have yet to be discovered.
- The leptocephalus (meaning “slim head”)—a long, flat, transparent sea creature—was long thought to be a distinct species, until one was kept in captivity long enough to metamorphose into an eel; it was merely a larva.
- As they enter freshwater streams and begin eating insects and worms, they gain pigment and become elvers

* Pics - 25 years of Hubble Telescope --

* Gene therapy in China --

* Net-Neutrality --

* Sweet potato is a natural GMO! --

* India's underground oil reserves --

* Nath cult and its philosophy --

* Are you serious? (BS edit on Rahul Gandhi's suited-booted comment) --

* Furusato Nozei - tax breaks for nostalgia -

* The Fall of Saigon (Guardian, 21Apr15) --
- A general's obituary -

* A Leafhopper that pretends to be an ant! --

* Homeopathic Delusions --

* The complex design of a Ziploc bag --
- Börge Madsen invented the resealable bag in 1950

* Biofuels -
- Only two such advanced fuels... are capable of large-scale production. One is turning waste cooking oil and other fats into diesel—a process for which Europe already has 2 billion litres of capacity. The other involves making ethanol from cellulose by enzymatic hydrolysis.
- Sunlight is a great source of energy. Biology may not be the best way of storing it.

* Grapes - debt to ancient viruses --

* Twitter in Japan --

* Solving the mystery of dog domestication --

* The Nanda Devi Mystery --

* Brohi, Nazish (Dawn, 20Apr15) - MIRROR, MIRROR -- An analysis of Pakistani symbolism -

* The most diverse microbiome in humans -

* 57 Interesting maps -

* On subsidising public hospitals instead of private healthcare --

* Japan's Maglev hits 590kmph! --
- Shanghai Maglev Train (SMT) goes at 421kmph -- 19km in 7mts!

* Tycoon - Rahul Bhatia - the Indigo story --

* Pakistan miffs old friends --
- Pakistan’s foreign policy might boil it down to four principles: provoke India, but not too much; say what America wants to hear; do what China wants done; and provide what rich Arab donors in the Gulf think they have bought.

* Coffee in Iceland (Adam Gopink) - -
* Also by Gopink - On Hippo's and Kings --

* Stiglitz on USA's opposition to China's AIIB --

* Kazuo Ishiguro on Leonard Cohen --

* Largest Harappan Site - Haryana's Rakhigarhi -

* Net Neutrality India Campaign for internet access --
* Mahesh Murthy replies to Airtel CEO --

* The key is technology, not money -- (Hindu, 15Apr15, D. Raghunandan) --
. Delhi Science Forum
. All India People's Science Network

* Rushdie on Gunter Grass -

* Nine things successful people do --

* Singapore shows the way on water (FE, Isher Judge Ahluwalia, 14Apr15) -
- 2000- Bedok water reclamation project -  capacity 2.2 m gallons/day - US membrane technology - cost declined 50% in 25 yrs -- NEWater now meets 30% of demand
- Water demand - grows from 77 mg/d (1960) to 400 mg/d (2014)
- Water conservation tax (WCT) - cash transfer

* Why Tipu Sultan is a false hero --

* Culture cannot be a punishment posting --

* Op Red Falcon --

* Patchwork Person - Multi-ethnic, multi-expat --

* ISIS - destruction of Nimrud, Syria :(  --

* GMOs - RoundUp and Risk Assessment -- NY --

* Should you trust big pharma with your DNA? --

* GMOs - - 'Decision makers need not balance science versus nonsense on GM crops'  - Ulhas Karnth -
- Prior to the introduction of Bt cotton in 2002, the only GM crop India allowed for cultivation, the country used 9,400 tonnes of insecticides for bollworm pest control a year. In 2011, only 222 tonnes was used, says K.R. Kranthi, Director of the Central Institute of Cotton Research. Sucking pests however have thrived. But the 42-time reduction in use of use of pesticides against bollworms has to be weighed against the 2.5-fold increase in toxins to kill sucking pests.

* Essential Medicines - price hike approved by NPCO -

* Photography - Bokeh in pictures -
- A technical view of Bokeh -
- Nikkor 35mm 1.8G -

* How to build innovations in organisations --

* Spending money on new Experiences --

* A Gorkha and 30 Bandits --

* Pakistan's Yemen Dilemma -- Khurram Hussain --

* Anti-cancer agents found in #fungus infesting coconut pest - #Cordyceps #Biocontrol #RCC #Kerala -

* Google Drawings -

* Economist - Japan's poverty worsens --
- Shelters at Kotobuki, Yokohama

* Science behind the breast cancer gene --

* Using Wikipedia --

* Prashant's letter to Arvind-AAP-'Goodbye-and-good-luck':-full-text-of-open-letter-to-Arvind-Kejriwal-from-Prashant-Bhushan

* The future of architecture -

* NihonGo - On "O" and "Go" usage -

* On why we must have net neutrality --

* Patent Law - the need to protect Section 3d --
- Novartis argued that the â-crystalline form of the salt of imatinib, imanitib mesylate (gleevec) had better flow properties, was less hygroscopic, thermodynamically more stable.
- Novartis also argued that gleevec was 30% more bioavailable which implied significantly enhanced efficacy. The court held that by itself bioavailability cannot imply higher therapeutic efficacy, which has to be shown by separate experiments.

* Stanford-U on biological warfare --

* First impressions on Africa -
* Karuturi - the Rose King in Africa -
- The one-acre farmer turns Rose King -
- Doubts on viability --
- 2008 - An Indian farmer's African Safari --
. Gambela and other states have since leased out land to others, including India's Shapoorji Pallonji & Co. (50,000 ha) to grow biofuel, and Spentex Industries (25,000 ha) to grow cotton.
. Kenya is inviting foreigners for large-scale corporate farming. Land will be free of lease for 25 years.

* Japan - better explained through a religious lens --

* Vishvanathan, Shiv (6Apr'15): A new public policy for a new India --

* Why the flu vaccine barely worked this year --

* Is flu in your genes? --
- critical - a gene encoding a protein called Interferon Regulatory Factor 7

* Spy camera king from Patel Nagar --

* Cost of Drugs --
- the price of Gleevec tripled from $28,000 a year in 2001 to $92,000 a year in 2012
- THe science behind it -

* One-dose cure for Malaria - including MDR versions -

* A mallu protests the beef ban --

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

On Hexagons

If you wanted to cover a large flat space with with equal pieces, without leaving any gaps, which shape would you choose?

In 300 CE, Pappus of Alexandria said that it was best to use Hexagons, just like bees do.  Pappu's idea remained a conjecture for 1700 years when in 1999, Thomas Hales proved that proved the Alexandian right through the honeycomb theorem.

I heard this for the first time in this TED video by Eduardo Sáenz de Cabezón:

But how did bees determine that this was the best shape? And how do they pass this knowledge across generations?


* Why do honeybees love hexagons?