Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Zangger's Club

After securing the Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG) approval, India has signed civilian nuclear cooperation agreements with states as diverse as Britain, France, Russia, Kazakhstan, Namibia, Angola and most recently, Canada. Yet, if US and French civilian nuclear cooperation with India is to be realised an Indo-Japanese pact is essential simply because some the leaders in nuclear-power technology are Japanese joint-ventures like GE-Hitachi and Toshiba-Westinghouse.

So, what is it that links the Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG) and Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to issues related to civilian nuclear tech-cooperation? The answer - Zangger Committee.

The Zangger Committee, also known as the Nuclear Exporters Committee, sprang from Article III.2 of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) which entered into force on March 5, 1970. Under the terms of Article III.2 International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards must be applied to nuclear exports. It is basically an informal club maintains and updates a list of equipment that may only be exported if safeguards are applied to the recipient facility (called the "Trigger List" because such exports trigger the requirement for safeguards); and allows members to coordinate on nuclear export issues.

NSG members are also Zangger committee members - except for Brazil, New Zealand and Ukraine. I wonder why...

Other interesting questions:

What does the "trigger list" contain?

How have the the NSG members with nuclear weapon stockpiles (US, UK, Russia, China etc.,) managed to persuade the others to toe their line? What were the inducements, incentives or , to quote Don Corleone, "offers which they could not refuse"?


Beyond the Mushroom Cloud, Harsh V Pant, Indian Express 25 Aug 2010 -

Statement on Civilian Nuclear Cooperation with India -

Zangger Committee - Mission Statement -

FAS: Membership of ZanggerC and NSG -

IAEA - Treaty for Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (22 April 1970) -


Pakistan's Effect on Iran - Prakash Shah & Ramesh Thakur in Japan Times, 29 Aug., 2010 -

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Beautiful, Lovely Data

The amazing world of data-visualization created by David McCandless.

If you needed any reminding that absolute numbers need to be put in the right perspective with relative figures...this is it!
Information is Beautiful - Ideas, Issues, Knowledge Visualized! -

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Tezuka's Buddha

Anywhere else in the world, "comics" is what children read before they get to the 'real' stuff. Not so in Japan. Over here, flipping through illustrated books is not just for kids - its a serious adult obsession. Latest tomes of Manga are arguably the fastest moving items in any bookshop or kiosk, and they cover a wide, wide range of tastes.

At least one series that ought to be popular in India (but isn't) is the classic 8-part  "Buddha", created by none other than the 'Father of Manga', Osamu Tezuka. It is by far the most easily readable & comprehensive account of the life and times of Gautama Buddha, narrated with such zest and aplomb that its nearest competitor - the Amar Chitra Katha version - seems utterly shallow and superficial.

Since the series was originally meant for a Japanese audience, it does use a lot culture-specific similies & analogies that may be lost on foreigners ( juku cram-schools or hyoutan-tsugi comic relief's). Also at times the pace of story-telling does slack and slip into absurdities (eg. blood transfusion being improvised by B) but, on the whole, the series does convey, very effectively, a realistic, down-to-earth, human account of the trails & travails of the Sakya prince.

Worth reading.




The cast of characters in Osamu's Buddha (<*> indicates new characters created by the author):

CHAPRA* - slave adopted by Gen. BUDAI of Kosala kingdom
TATTA* - urchin
NARADATTA - Disciple of Sage ASITA, condemned for wasteful killing to a life of a wild savage

PAJAPATI - B's step-mom
BANDAKA - Acearcher, wounds Chapra in an unfair contest; briefly B's archery tutor.
ZIWAKA, Dr.* - Kapilavastu's royal phycisian
MIGAILA* - bandit woman saved by Tatta & Siddhartha's first crush

YASHODARA - Neice of the Koliya king and B's bride (other suitors - PUKSATEE from Chaiti, KACHANNA, BANDAKA fm Koliya, BERATTA fm Magadha)
RAHULA - B&Y's son; means "obstacle"

PRASANAJIT - Kosala king
VIDURAKA - Presanajit's son
DHEPA - son of Kosalan warrior, turned into a monk of the Samana sect
5 ascetics from the Forest of Trials in URUVELA - ONDANYA, BADDIYA, VAPPA, MAHANAMA, JANUSSONI
CHANNA - B's servant and KANTHAKA - B's horse, help him across ANOMA river at Kapilavastu's border, to a village named ANUPIYA

DEVADATTA - son of Bandaka
ANANDA- Devadatta's setp-brother; raised by wolves
GHAGRA - sheltered Devadatta; old hag

BIMBISARA aka SENIA- Ruler of Magadha and one of Buddha's earliest fans
SUJATA - village girl by Niranjanariver who offers milk to a famished B
NATTAPUTTA - ascetic
ALARA, UDDAKA - sages; the former from Vaishali

VIRUDHAKA - Son of Kosala king Prasenajit Sakya maidservant (who P though was a royal) aka "crystal Prince"
AJATASATTU - son of Bimbisara; destined to kill his father
SANJAYA-the-skeptic's followers - SARIPUTTA and MOGGALLANA (later B's disciples)



Friday, August 13, 2010

Shipping Crude Oil to Japan

When it comes to energy consumption, Japan is perhaps one of the most vulnerable among developed economies. It is only 16% self-sufficient in energy; 50% of its energy requirements is met by oil imports from the Middle East, and each day of the year it imports about 5 million barrels!

How does this oil reach Japan? How many tankers does it take to transport this huge volume of crude, over a distance of 8000+ km, though some of the diciest sea-lanes in the world?

There are approximately 3500 tankers available in the international oil transportation market. So far its unclear how many of these are directly owned by Japanese firms but perhaps one can assume that most of the oil is transported in lease-hired vessels, and that most of them would be the largest available, since they offer the best economies of scale.

This brings the tanker-count to 435 VLCCs (Very Large Crude Carriers) which account for one-third of all the oil carried. Each VLCC can carry about 300,000 deadweight tons of crude oil, which comes to about 2 million barrels.

So each day of the year, it takes just two or three VLCCs arriving at a Japanese port, to supply enough crude for the daily oil requirements of the country.

Not so bad as I imagined...

Note 1: Obviously the calculation is rather simplistic, and, well, crude. It does not account for refining, marketing or distribution. In January 2008, Japan had 4.7 million bbl/d of oil refining capacity at 31 facilities,  and this was the second-largest refining capacity in the Asia-Pacific region after China. The refining sector in Japan has been characterized by overcapacity in recent years, as domestic petroleum product consumption has stagnated.

Note 2: Japan maintains government controlled oil stocks to ensure against a supply interruption. Total strategic oil stocks in Japan were 328 million barrels at the end of April 2008, according to the EIA. Currently, private refiners in Japan are required to maintain petroleum product stocks worth 70 days of consumption, which imposes large additional costs to these companies.

Note 3: What can you get out of one barrel of crude oil? From a standard barrel of oil containing 44 US gallons of crude oil, it seems you can extract 44 gallons of petroleum products! (why? how?) Taking 1 US Gallon= 3.785 Liters, one barrel of 159 Liters can yield -
  • Motor gasoline: 19.65 gallons (~47%) = 74 L
  • Diesel / Distillate fuel: 10.03 gallons (~24%) = 38 L
  • Jet fuel: 4.07 (~10%) = 15 L
  • Residual oil: 1.72 gallons (~4%) = 6.5 L
  • Other bye-products (still gas, petroleum coke, liquified refinery gas, asphalt and various oils for lubricants, kerosine, waaxes, etc..: 6.53 gallons (~15%) = 24.7 L

Monday, August 09, 2010

Cicada Summer

Its another summer of Cicadas.

On almost each and every tree are hundreds of perfectly formed, golden, empty shells clinging on to the crevices on the bark. Each with a neat slit on its back. Is is surprising enough that any creature can discard an intricate body like this as if it were pair of socks...

But today I was astounded to know that each Cicada nymph, after it emerges from its egg, remains for about 17 years underground, before it emerges on a fine summer day. It then climbs a tree, moults, mates and dies in just two weeks!

Why 17 years? What could possibly be the evolutionary advantage?

So far, even the scientists have no idea...



Richard Attenborough's Life in the Undergrowth: Amazing Cicada Life Cycle - BBC Wildlife -  (Great Video!)


Some more summer pics -

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Rail Coach Exports

Between 1968 and 1980, India's Integral Coach Factory (ICF) at Perumbur,  exported railway coaches to a number of countries. According to a report on ICF's Golden Jubilee celebrations (2004), a total of 244 broad-gauge coaches had been exported to Taiwan alone.

When and why did these exports cease to South East Asian countries?

 Still trying to figure this out...

  • Integtral Coach Factory, Perambur- Official Website --
  • Official Brochure - Indian Railways (2007) -
  • Bloomberg BusinessWeek Snapshot of ICF -
  • MVRC Rake Fleet Details (Akshay Marathe) -
  • Indian Railways Fans Club (IRFC) -
  • IRFC Resources -
  • Planning Commission - 2nd Five Year Plan on Transport -
  • News - ICH Chugs into Golden Jubilee - The Hindu, Oct 2004 -
  • News - increase in capacity to 1093 coaches in 2005 -
  • Discussion - Indian Railways Thread on Bharat Rakshak -
  • Feature - ICF on a Roll - Frontline, April, 2003 -
  • ICF - Major Achievements -
  •  RailWorld by Prakash Tandulkar -
  • Basic, informal, info on Taiwan's Railways -

Wednesday, August 04, 2010


Seeing faces in strange places...

"Wait! Don't shoot!", screamed Mr.Draincover..

 Beer-can Devil

Mr. Nosey Loo
Hungry Pillar

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Anatomy of a Tokyo Commute

These days, I find myself amidst the largest commuting population in the world...

Greater Tokyo covers an area of 16,400 and is populated by over 42 million people.  Within this National Capital Region of Japan, runs what is often called the `most extensive, complex and efficient` mass-rapid transport system anywhere. 282 stations servicing 14 different railway lines handle about 8 million passengers on an average working day!

In comparison, Mumbai suburban rail carries about 7 million passengers everyday, using a fleet of overland trains (EMUs).  The entire network of Indian Railways, with 108805 kms of tracks and 16,021 train runs daily, carries only 14.84 million passengers every day (2007). Now that should help us put the Tokyo suburban rail network in perspective!

As one among the eight-million, my itinerary is relatively straightforward. Compared to a lot of people who multiple lines to reach their destination, I just use two: one of the newest - the Tsukuba-Akihabara Express (TX) Line and the oldest - Ginza Line, a part of which happens to be the `first subway line in the Orient` (Estd. 1927).

Every morning, I set off from my home in Tsukuba Science City and after traveling by bus, two trains, and a couple of stretches of brisk walks, I reach my workplace at Kasumigaseki in central Tokyo. A distance of about 70 km (one way), covered in about two hours` time, spending a total of Yen 2500 (~Rs. 1200).

A break-up of the daily itinerary:
  • 07:14 AM - Bus No. C10 from Ichinoya Shukusha (Dormitories) to Tsukuba Centre [Yen 260 - subsidized by a student pass]
  • 07:32 AM - Tsukuba Centre; Walk down to the adjacent TX station 
  • 07:40 AM - TX Semi-Rapid to Asakusa [Yen 1100]
  • 08:40 AM - Come out of Asakusa TX Station (187 steps up to street-level; option to use escalators/lifts). 15 min. walk to the Ginza Line (2 crossings) Tawaramachi Station (41 steps below street level; no escalators/lifts)
  • 08:55 AM - Ginza Line subway train to Toranomon (~ 8km), [Yen 190]; 
  • 09:15 AM - Toranomon Station; 10 min to walk to the 8th floor office of ADBI at the 33-floor Kasumigaseki Building
In the evening (usually after 7:20PM), I take the same lines but with a slight change in the Ginza Line stations. I get off a little earlier, at Suehirocho Station, to walk to Akihabara TX station - just to try and get a seat on the TX leaving for Tsukuba.

At the end of the day, the very thought of dangling or standing for more than an hour in a crowded train, is just too daunting!

TX ticketing machine (also recharges smartcards)

TX train entrance to platform: almost seamless

Monday, August 02, 2010

Satellite Navigation & QZS "Michibiki"

Japan is set to launch a new navigation satellite called "Michibiki". Its also called a Quasi Zenith Satellite (QZS) system because, unlike the usual Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites, this one is to have an orbit similar to the geo-stationary satellites, which stay about 36,000kms away but appear to be stationary with reference to a point on the earth surface.

The question is - how is the QZS Michibiki different from other satellite navigation systems which are set to break the US dominance over the GPS market?

Russia is coming up with GLONASS; European Union's  Galileo system is be operational by 2014; China's Beidou system is expected to be usable by 2020, and India is expected to launch its IRNS system, starting 2011.

At present the Global Satellite Navigation Systems is dominated by NAVSTAR of the United States. Such systems use a constellation of 20-30 satellites to provide global coverage in such a way that, in theory, it would be possible to know your exact bearings using a hand-held Gobal Positioning System (GPS) device that picks signals from satellites located in the Middle Earth Orbit (MEO: 10-15,000km). GPS devices detect pulses from at least three of these GSNS satellites to triangulate any given location.

The problem with the American system is that access is not guaranteed in hostile situations. Also it seems to be less effective in mountainous terrain or inside "urban canyons", where it may be difficult to get direct signals from at least three satellites. So the advantage of having a NavSat permanently overhead in the geostationary orbit makes a lot of sense.

But one QZS-Michibiki by itself seems to be of limited use. Perhaps that is the reason why it is being promoted as something that can "enhance" existing NAVSTAR-GPS services available in Japan..

JAXA's Michibiki Page -

QZ Vision -  (countdown ongoing)