Monday, October 31, 2011

Steve and the Perfect Staircase

Steve Jobs is listed as an inventor in 317 US  patents.

Most of them are, quite predictably,  related to computers and peripheral devices, but there are notable exceptions - and one of them is a patent for the glass staircase that adorns Apple stores!


Ifo Apple Store - Glass Staircase -

Patent Document - PDF file -

Seven Iconic Patents that Define Steve Jobs (TechCrunch, 25 Aug 2011) -

Apple Patents show Steve Jobs's Attention to Design (NYT Aug., 2011)

Steve Job's Patents (NYT Interactive Feature, 5 Oct., 2011) -

A Sister’s Eulogy for Steve Jobs By MONA SIMPSON (October 30, 2011) --

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Formula-1 in the Fields of Dankaur

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The race is over. Vettel won.

Mayavati, representing the 'head of state', has handed over the gleaming trophies while the ministers of the central government have been acting like petulant children, claiming that they were not invited and threatening tax raids at the same time. Given their handling of the Commonwealth Games, its a small mercy that they were not directly involved!

The English newspapers and TV channels have been going on and on about the success of India' first Formula 1 Series. There are breathless descriptions of the assorted celebrities studding the stands; of the roar of engines and incredible speeds.

However, but I have been looking for the more mundane details :
  • First of all, who conceived the plan for transforming a sleepy Delhi suburb into a world-class F1 circuit facility?
  • Why is it that Mayavati's Uttar Pradesh succeeded while the big boys of Mumbai and Bangalore threw in the towel and fell by the wayside?
  • How did the Jaypee Group engage the best international expertise to design and implement a project of this scale?
Some information that has emerged -

Project cost: Jaypee spent $200m for the construction and paid another $200 as license fees to F1
Key Player: Vickey Chandok, President, Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India (FMSCI)
I am yet to come across a story that ties all these loose threads. The search continues...


Will F1 put economy on fast track? - V. SUMANTRAN (Business Line, 2 Nov., 2011)

Formula 1: India GP to 'Break-Even in Four Years (ET, 1 Nov., 2011) -

Wikimap of Dankaur, Noida

NCR Delhi: Pics & Unanswered Questions

Garbage Bins, Janpath: Right in the middle of the most touristy street market in Delhi, these two garbage-bins have been placed upside down for the past four years. Why? - because Delhi Police is afraid that some terrorist might place bombs in them. If so, what can be reason for not removing them permanently?

Open drain bordering Harola, Sector 5, Noida: The plastic bags are floating atop noxious drain-water, and yet, the entire stretch is a blind spot. Food-carts and restaurants continue to cook and sell their stuff nonchalantly, all along this stretch, amidst swarms of flies...and nobody seems to care. Why?

Un-Fare: Autos with UP number plates are harassed and bribed by policemen in Delhi and the compliment is returned by their counterparts in Uttar Pradesh. The drivers have the convenient choice of making monthly bribe payments (~ Rs. 1500), at any five designated point. Since they are not obliged to go by the meter in any case, the cost is passed on to the passengers. Nobody complains - why?

In Delhi Metro, why are many cars marked with the number "6"?
Also, why are two painted "bulls-eyes" kept dangling from the roof of Laxmi Nagar station?

Do eavesdropping tigers also get dunked in Yamuna after the puja-season? ;)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

'All Architecture is Political'

At a time when the rest of the English-language media is busy  flinging mud at Mayavati's "Dr. Ambedkar Memorial Park" in Noida, here is a refreshing, contrarian view from Jerry Rao:

Rao, Jerry (Indian Express, 2011): The Elites Don't Get it

Media pundits and self-appointed experts forget a central theme in human affairs: all architecture is political. Tirumala Nayak’s palace in Madurai, the Red Fort in Delhi, Herbert Baker’s Parliament in New Delhi are all political statements meant to overawe subjects or impress them in other ways. By the way, this is also true of Trajan’s Column in Rome, the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, the Washington Monument in DC and St Paul’s Cathedral in London. With the rise of nationalism and the excessive interest in “identity politics” that has characterised the last two centuries, architecture has been used consciously or otherwise, by elites, to create, enhance and sustain pride in group identities.
Somehow, you realize the magnitude of what she is trying to achieve only when you take a look at the bigger picture. A good way to get this is through Christophe Jaffrelot's book, Dr Ambedkar and Untouchability - Analysing and Fighting Caste.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

A Tablet Called "Aakash"

"This marks India's leap into the future of PC technology"
- Kapil Sibal, Minister of Science & Technology at the launch of Mobilis (priced at Rs.10,000, launched in May 2005)

"This is for all those who are disempowered. This is is for all those who have no access. This is for all those who are marginalized...The Akash is proudly made in India, and is destined to revolutionize computing and internet access for the world."
- Kapil Sibal, Minister for Human Resources Development at the launch of Akash, "world's cheapest tablet computer" (Rs.1,750; 5 Oct., 2011)

One is tempted to call this the "Hall of Damp-Squibs" sponsored by the Government of India. First it was the Simputer, then came Mobilis, and now we have Akash. The last two were launched by Kapil Sibal while he was heading two different ministries in a span of six years.

Unanswered questions:
  • How & where was the Akash field-tested in the hands any of the "dis-empowered or marginalized Indians", before it was launched?
  • Since the battery-life is only three hours, is there an option for solar-charging? If so, how much does this cost?

* DataWind homepage -

* Kurup, Saira  (2011): 'We want to target the billion Indians who are cut off',  Times of India, 9 Oct., 2011 url -

* Saxena, Shobhan (2011): Miracle Pill or Cheap Gimmick?, ToI, 9 Oct., 2011, url -

* Sunderarajan, P (2005): Here comes the no-frills, mobile computer system, The Hindu, 11 May 2005, url -

More links:

* Chopra, Ritika (8 Jan 2012): Aakash Proved to be a Dud
* Singh, Sanja (13 Jan 2012): Sibal's Aakash Tablet May be Shelved

Friday, October 07, 2011

Cultural Myopia

Why is it that most of the scholarly work in Indian Social Sciences arena, actually originates from outside the country? Is anything new and original coming out of our own universities?

Perhaps a more recent and popular example of this is William Darlymple's book, "The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty" - a research on the events leading up to the bloody conflicts of 1857. This piece of work is almost entirely based on documents that had been gathering dust in the National Archives of India for a few centuries - until Darlymple and his research team used it to demolish popular myths and re-write history.

Here is a collection of other acclaimed research, which I hope to read one by one:

Hardgrave, Robert L. (1970): The Nadars of Tamil Nadu (Amazon)

Jeffery, Robin (1994): The Decline of Nair Dominance: The Society and Politics of Travancore, 1847-1908, Manohar (at Google Books, and Amazon)

Ito, Shoji (1966): A Note on the Business Combine in India with Special Reference to the Nattukotal Chettiars, The Developing Economies, Vol IV, No.3, Sept., 1966, p.369 (Link to citation here)

Markovits, Claude (2004): The Global World of Indian Merchants, 1750-1947:  Traders of Sind from Bukhara to Panama (Google Books

Osella, Caroline and Osella, Filippo (2000): Social Mobility in Kerala : Modernity and Identity in Conflict (Book on the Ezhava Community in Kerala), Pluto (Amazon)

Stein, Burton (1989): 'Vijayanagara'. The New Cambridge History of India, Cambridge University Press (Amazon)


Thursday, October 06, 2011

Two Great Pieces

Steve Jobs passed away yesterday at 5:00AM. Amidst the cacophony of tributes that was let loose by the audio-visual media, the one I liked best was a short, crisp piece by K. Venugopal in the Business Line:

The second piece was a scathing critique of the Planning Commission by Bhanu Pratap Mehta in the Indian Express:

"...The Planning Commission has long been a victim of its own name. It has this illusion that it can neatly order India's economy. It does so, but often as a kind of conjuring trick, where real credible objectives disappear under a set of entrenched assumptions."

"...the  commission is still not reconciled the fact that that the very scale at which it plans militates against innovation. And by not giving ministries, state governments, local governments enough space or ownership, it dooms proposals to failure."

"The commission has taken in a dazzling array of talent and sucked them into this illusory world of its own making. Thought leaders who should have been at the cutting edge of thinking about growth, or a new welfare architecture, or new data, have now become the object of easy scorn."
More Articles by K. Venugopal:

ENERGY: Furnishing much less than what people need (The Hindu, 15 Aug., 2007)

Pro-farmer or pro-consumer: Govt would like to be both, but can it? (BL, 8 Jul., 2006)

Tributes to Steve Jobs:

Steve P Jobs: His Live, His Companies, His Products (NYT, 5 Oct 2011);

Tools of Trade

Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) buses have got swankier, the staff are now seen in uniforms and the conductor no longer trapezes all over the bus distributing the tickets. Despite all these changes there is still one thing that always makes me squirm: The sight of conductors struggling with both hands to pinch out numbers from the tiny paper-tickets!

Why on earth do the conductors make a habit of doing something so utterly inefficient? 

In Mumbai, the BEST bus-conductors solved this problem decades ago by handing out simple paper-punches to all their conductors. Apart from making a distinct clicking sound which tells you where to find the tickets in a crowded bus, the punches leave a neat, star-shaped mark on the paper.

In Kerala, the KSRTC city buses have already abandoned manual ticketing. All the conductors carry around a compact electronic - and very obviously sturdy - machines, and hand out tickets printed on thermal paper.

Today, for the first time, I saw a Delhi conductor who preferred to use a paper-punch. DTC, he said, does not issue this simple contraption, so he purchased one on his own because "It makes my job a lot easier - I can punch out multiple tickets a lot faster!"

It would be interesting to know why DTC, which spends millions on AC buses, salaries and uniforms, chooses not to issue simple paper-punches to its bus conductors...

 Rajeev Kumar, DTC Conductor: Bringing his own tools to work

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Picking the Brickbats

This post is an attempt to collect & respond to feedback received on my OpEd article (Business Line 30 Sep., 2011), titled - "Where Delhi Metro Went Off-Track".

First of all, the caveats:
  1. I am just a curious fellow and not the 'ultimate authority on urban rail transport technology'.
  2. I am from IRMA and my main area of interest is Development - especially the use of technology for, and by the 'bottom billion';
  3. The article is an extract from my Master's thesis at University of Tsukuba, Japan (2009-2011), titled, "International Technology Transfers and the Role of Governments: A Study on Japanese Official Development Assistance for the Railway Sector in India". This document and can be accessed at the university library, and perhaps at the World Bank Library (the sabbatical was on a WB-GSP scholarship).
Now, to the brickbats:

"The article is an indirect criticism of Dr. Elattuvalapil Sreedharan and his work"

Nothing could be further from the truth. Dr. Sreedharan is one of the few people I admire in Indian public life, for what he has accomplished despite being swamped in a sea of mediocrity and cynicism. He is the unassuming nature-lover I often ran into at the Jahanpanah City Forest in Delhi, and a man, who, in Kipling's words, truly 'walks with kings without losing the common touch'.

In the comparison between the Delhi Metro and the Bullet-Train (Shinkansen) project, I had described the stellar role of Shinji Sogo, the president of JNR. Sogo's right-hand man was Hideo Shima, a brilliant Chief Engineer and Manager who was actually responsible for implementing the project. Dr. Sreedharan's role can be compared to that of Shima. What he lacked in the Indian context was the backing of an experienced statesman like Sogo, who looked beyond project deadlines, with a clear vision of long-term National Interest.

"Indigenous manufacturing of such complex infrastructure needs for railways, airlines etc is still at least 20 - 25 years away in India"
"The simple fact is Indian engineering is just not ready to offer world class products without significant external help."-- Venkat

Maybe it is 20-25 years away--  if we make a start now. The point I am trying to make is that unless we encourage the domestic manufacturing industry, we will get stuck with expensive imports. Have you noticed how, after buying a nifty printer at a bargain price, you are forced to pay through your nose for the cartridge refills? A metro may be no different.

"For DMRC the target was not the promotion of indigenous technology but providing masses friendly mass transit system....Sheer number of engineers and their talent does not deliver on R&D...R&D may be or should be the next level of evolution for DMRC once phase III is functional." - Diwaker Srivastava

I agree with the first two points but not the last one. R&D cannot start as an afterthought - it has to be based on a continuous learning strategy, right from the very beginning. I am not sure if RDSO or DMRC has such an institutional mechanism in place.

"The amount of Rs.1016 crore is a minuscule amount if you see the operational efficiencies and quality of coaches being used in DMRCL" - Vijay Nair

The current operating profit of DMRC is less than Rs. 350 Cr. Would you still say that the forex expenditure on contracts & consultancy fees (Rs. 1,1316 Cr. 2009-10), is a "minuscule amount"?

Also please see: