Saturday, April 27, 2013

Big Data, Small World

When a magazine like Foreign Policy comes up with an article titled 'The Rise of Big Data' you know that something has tumbled out of geekdom to the world of ordinary mortals.

The article talks about 'incredible new uses (of data) with the assistance of inexpensive computer memory, powerful processors, smart algorithms, clever software, and math that borrows from basic statistics'.  Instead of trying to “teach” a computer how to do things, the new approach is to feed enough data into a computer so that it can infer the possible answers on its own. 

India's ambitious UID project does not find mention here - perhaps its not big enough - but it does describe some amazing new uses of data. One of these is Prof. Shigeomi Koshimizu's "bottom-up" approach to establishing unique identities.

Prof. Shigeomi's team at AIIT-Tokyo placed 360 pressure-sensors on car-seats and found that when a person is seated, the contours of the body, its posture, and its weight distribution can all be quantified and tabulated and converted to a digital code that is unique to each individual!

Perhaps the day is not far when Indian's lining up for their UID cards will be spared the trouble of scanning fingerprints and of staring into machines for iris patterns. They would just have to just sit on a chair while somebody verifies their application and simply walk out with a biometric-id card..  :-)



Cukier, Kenneth Neil  and Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger (2013): The Rise of Big Data - How It's Changing the Way We Think About the World, Foreign Policy, May/June 2013 -- url --

Japanese boffins crack arse-based ID recognizer -- url --

Friday, April 26, 2013

Boneless Wonder

"Where have I heard that before?"

This is the thought that crossed my mind when I read the following passage from a Private Member's Bill tabled in the Indian Parliament today:

(viii) Panchayati Raj continued on paper and Sarpanches got elected without any attendant charter of responsibilities and the financial powers that could have rendered their duties effective and meaningful;
(ix) despite the detailed enumeration of allocable functions to Panchayats in Eleventh Schedule (article 243 G) of the Constitution, the devolution of financial powers to make these enumerated functions meaningful and the non vacation of administrative space by concerned government departments, has resulted in rendering the Panchayati Raj a boneless wonder;

It turns out that the original expression comes from a circus advertisement that was used by Winston Churchill to flame Ramsey MacDonald in the 1930s. He is the original quote -

"I remember when I was a child, being taken to the celebrated Barnum's Circus, which contained an exhibition of freaks and monstrosities, but the exhibit on the program which I most desired to see was the one described as "The Boneless Wonder". My parents judged that the spectacle would be too demoralizing and revolting for my youthful eye and I have waited fifty years, to see The Boneless Wonder sitting on the Treasury Bench."
Winston Churchill On Ramsay MacDonald
It seems Ramsey M found himself quite often at the receiving end of Churchill's barbs. Here is another one -
"[Ramsey] MacDonald has the gift of compressing the largest amount of words into the smallest amount of thoughts."
For a wider sample of barbs & quotes, look here.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A Quake & Silence

At around 2:20 pm today, my chair trembled and moved on its own.

In the few seconds that followed, I closed my eyes and soaked in that familiar, dreadful silence.

Two years ago, on 7 March 2011, I was on my dining chair having a late lunch at Tsukuba-U when the 'biggest earthquake in recorded history' hit us in Japan. In the hours, days and weeks that followed, we moved from one evacuation center to another; struggled to access food and drinking water...and yet considered ourselves very, very fortunate to be a few dozen miles away from the tsunami that  devastated the Tohoku coastline left about 18,000 people dead or missing.

Today's tremors ended in a few seconds but the same old questions dangled in the silence: where was the epicenter? How many houses have come crashing down? How many lives have been lost?

The simple fact that the lights were still on and that the networks were still working told us that the tragedy had taken place somewhere far away. Still, nothing turned up on the internet until Reuters posted an twitter-update ten minutes later.

The complete story is now in -- that far-away-place is called Khash in South-East Iran. At 7.8 magnitude "more than 30 people are reported dead".

I set aside my nightmares, pull back my chair and get to work again...


Thursday, April 04, 2013

Bonds to the Rescue

H. Kuroda, the new governor of Bank of Japan made a dramatic announcement today. Instead of trying to keep the interest rates low, the bank would henceforth buy long-term bonds to force more money into circulation. This, hopefully, will encourage everybody to spend more and pull the Japanese economy out of its 20-year-long doldrums.

The point that caught my attention came in this para of an NYT report:
"the central bank said it would buy longer-term government bonds, lengthening the average maturity of its holdings to seven years from three years and expanding Japan’s monetary base to ¥270 trillion by March 2015. Under that plan, the bank will buy ¥7 trillion of bonds each month, equivalent to over 1 percent of its gross domestic product — almost twice the pace of the U.S. Federal Reserve."

Yen 270 trillion translates into Rs. 1.55 Crore Crores (155*10^12) and US$ 2.83 Trillion!
According to BoJ, Japan's current monetary base stands at Yen 146 trillion. So if all goes well the expansion is going to be about 50 percent in two years.

What is India's current monetary base?

According to a Reserve Bank of India (RBI) press release dated 22 March, 2013, India's latest recorded money supply (M3) stands at Rs. 73 Lakh Crores (73.5*10^12).

So the difference in money cirulating now in India, to what Japan expects to have in 2015 is the difference more than double our current levels -- Rs. 82 Lakh Crores (82*10^12)!

Note: All figures in US$ Trillion; India's monetary expansion is assumed to be 16%


Japan - Monetary Base 2013 -

RBI - Growth Rates for M3 --

Tabuchi, Hiroko (2013): JAPAN INITIATES BOLD BID TO END FALLING PRICES, NYT, 4 April, 2013 --- url ---
- The central bank said it would aggressively buy longer-term bonds and double its holdings of government bonds in two years, doubling the amount of money in circulation in the process. The bank will aim for a robust 2 percent rate of inflation “at the earliest possible time,”
- The policies are part of a new asset purchase framework that focuses on the monetary base instead of the overnight interest rate, which has remained close to zero for years doing little to increase prices or otherwise help the real economy.

* RBI Press Release on Money Supply --

* George Soros's view -

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Maria's Insects & Flowers

Thanks to today's unusual doodle, here is the remarkable story of a Dutch lady who loved to draw insects and flowers:


Monday, April 01, 2013

The Limits of Delimitation

1952, 1962, 1973, 2002, 2026...

Is there anything odd about this sequence?

For India, the mismatch in the last two years point to a fundamental problem -- an issue that has been postponed until another generation picks up the courage to resolve it.

The problem we examine here is that of "proportional representation" - the very basis of electoral politics in India.

The lower house of our parliament, the Lok Sabha is composed of representatives of the people chosen by direct election on the basis of the adult suffrage. The maximum strength of the House envisaged by the Constitution is 552, which is made up by election of up to 530 members to represent the States, up to 20 members to represent the Union Territories. The total elective membership is distributed among the States in such a way that the ratio between the number of seats allotted to each State and the population of the State is, so far as practicable, the same for all States.

Over the years, we have come far from the 'as far as practicable' scenario. Many states which have taken the trouble to improve healthcare and to control their population growth, are finding that they have been robbed of the power of numbers.

Under Article 82 of constitution, Parliament is required to enact a Delimitation Commission after every Census. The motive behind this act was to ensure that there is not much disparity in the population of different constituencies whether in Lok Sabha or in the state assemblies. Delimitation Commissions were set up in 1952, 1962 and 1973. During Emergency in 1976, the constitution was amended to not have delimitation till after 2001 census. The idea was to prevent disincentives for states which have managed to have some degree of population control.

However, the Constitution of India was specifically amended in 2002 not to have delimitation of constituencies till the first census after 2026. Thus, the present Constituencies carved out on the basis of 2001 census shall continue to be in operation till the first census after 2026.

Until then, should we keep our fingers crossed, and hope that the BIMARU states which are now in the midst of an economic resurgence will, somehow or the other, also manage to bring down their population?


* What is Delimitation? (part-1-3) -

* Press Note (17 Aug., 2007) -
. the Commission has already issued final notifications in respect of 25 States.
. The work in three States, namely, Assam, Arunchal Pradesh and Nagaland has been stayed by the Guwahati High Court in Writ Petitions pending before the High Court. The appeal of the Union of India in respect of Manipur State is pending in the Supreme Court. In all these court cases the legality of the 2001 census has been challenged.
. The net result is that except the four above-mentioned, North-Eastern States, the delimitation process has been completed in all respects for 3726 Assembly Constituencies and 513 Lok Sabha Constituencies in rest of the country.
. Articles 82 and 170 (3) of the Constitution of India stipulate that the readjustment of Constituencies shall take effect from such date as the President, may by order, specify.

* Delimitation Commission of India - FAQs -



Three Divers Make India Crawl

Three Egyptian divers damaged three undersea cables near Alexandia Port, and India's internet speeds have come down to a crawl.

What happened? Are our internet lifelines so vulnerable?

According to newspaper reports --
 "The current outages that affect three of the eight communications cables that connect India to the rest of the world — SMW-4, IMEWE and EIG — are likely to impact services provided by Bharti Airtel, Tata Telecommunications, Reliance Communications and public sector service providers BSNL/MTNL."

Which are these eight cables? What do these acronyms stand for?

  • SMW-4 (South-East Asia-Middle East-Western Europe-4): One of the eight cables carrying traffic between Egypt and Europe. SMW-4 also carries voice and data communications between 15 countries, including Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Algeria and France.
  • IMEWE (India-Middle East-Western Europe): is a 13,000 km cable system between India and France. It has cable landing stations at Mumbai, Karachi, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Lebanon, Italy and France.
  • EIG (Europe India Gateway): Connects India with 11 European, African and West Asian nations.

What about the other five cables?



Kurup, Deepa (2013): DUDE, WHAT'S WRONG WITH MY INTERNET SPEED?, The Hindu, 31Apr2013 ---url---

Economic Times:

Ghosh, Sauvik (2013):