Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 - December: Interesting Articles & Links

* Hand Warmers: How do they work?  --

* China's appetite for pork -

* In defence of poetry --

* Cortez --

* On Evernote --

* Photos - NASA - best from Space 2014 -

* Anti-microbial resistance in India --

* Labnol - Blogging tips --

* Ordinary things under an electron microscope --

* New diagnostic platform - 600 diseases in 6 hrs --

- 2001 - Cipla started seelling AIDS drugs to Africa, undercutting MNCs - cost drops from $12,000/patient/yr to $800
- Today more than 8 million Africans are being treated with Cipla AIDS drugs
- Stomach cancer drug - MNCs sell it for $280,000 for 30 tabs -- Cipla sells the same for $6,500
- Yusuf Hamied argues that 70% of patented drugs sold worldwide  are not invented by the owning companies.
- MNCs kill competition with expensive litigation - Cipla paid $200,000/day for each case during court proceedings.
- When US was facing Anthrax and Bird-flu it was ready to break any was in national interest
- India is in perennial health crisis -- largest number of AIDS patients, diabetes, TB and malaria
- Patents for the TB drug is with an MNC
- Cipla earns 60% of its revenue from abroad -- new acquisitions - Medpro, South Africa ($512m), Yemeni co ($21m) and a drug distributor in Sri Lanka

* Sony's hackers -

* lifestyle Changing DNA - Methylation -

* Atul Gawande interview -

* How Japan gave away its solar industry --
- According to METI, developers installed nearly 10 gigawatts of renewable generating capacity through the end of April 2014, including 9.6 gigawatts of photovoltaics. (The nuclear reactors at Fukushima Daiichi had 4.7 gigawatts of capacity; overall, the country has around 290 gigawatts of installed electricity-generating capacity.)
- Between 1985 and 2007, Japanese researchers filed for more than twice as many patents in solar technologies as rival U.S. and European inventors combined. Companies like Sharp, Sanyo Electric, Panasonic, and Kyocera became the clear leaders in solar technology.
- Japan’s 10 utilities were (and remain) vertical monopolies. Each controls power generation, transmission, and distribution in its respective region, and its grids are designed to deliver electricity from centralized power plants—including large nuclear reactors.
- The interconnection problem is further compounded by an artifact: two AC frequencies that split the country’s electrical system in half. Eastern Japan operates at 50 hertz, while western Japan uses 60-hertz power—a barrier that proved crippling in 2011, in the immediate aftermath of the Fukushima disaster
- HIT - heterojunction with intrinsic thin layer, the hybrid technology has become a mainstay of the company’s solar strategy.
- The Koriyama R&D facility boasts state-of-the-art labs for crystallizing, slicing, and patterning silicon wafers, and its production line can churn out up to 360 wafers an hour. Outside, a variety of photovoltaics are being tested, along with a modest-sized wind turbine and a large grid-connected battery. Its most ambitious program is directed by Makoto Konagai, one of Japan’s most celebrated solar scientists, who has moved to Koriyama from the Tokyo Institute of Technology.

* MSF - Single dose vaccine against Kala Azhar -

BS - Basu, Debasis (15Dec14): Make in India - Beyond the Slogan --

* Anti-Microbial Resistance -
- We must encourage policymakers to support the development of the best diagnostics. Quicker, more accurate diagnoses will curb the current overreliance on antibiotics – a key requirement for combating resistance.

* 2000% return on Malaria investment --

* Enadu and Chairman Rao -

* WSJ - Photos of the Year -

* What is Fatigue? --

* Auletta, Ken (2014): BLOOD, SIMPLER, The New Yorker, 15Dec14,
- The plummeting costs of DNA-sequencing technology have made it possible for companies such as 23andme to provide individuals with their genetic information directly, rather than through doctors, empowering nerdy customers and self-motivated patients.
- Most other diagnostic labs, including Quest and Laboratory Corporation of America, perform blood tests on equipment that they buy from outside manufacturers, like Siemens and Roche Diagnostics. Before those devices can be sold, they must be approved by the F.D.A.

* Japan's ultra-nationalists 
- NYT ed -
- Rebuttal -

* What is the definition of a Good Life? --

* What you learn in your 40s --

* Gold in Diagnostics --!science-en
* Diagnostics --

* Buildings - Architecture --

* The geopolitical impact of cheap oil --

* Plants vs Solar PVs --

* Obituary - Justice Krishna Aiyer -,-conscience-keeper,-legend,-enigma,-seeker

* The cost of a new drug --

* Economist - The Spy who hacked me --

* Sony - Cybersecurity - Malware --
* SOny got hacked hard --

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Children of Gebelawi

It seems Egyptian author and Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz got stabbed in the neck for writing this book.

What was so offensive about "Children of Gebelawi"?

When I picked this book, I was hoping to come across the kind of stuff that riles up the zealots and fanatics. Instead of this, it seemed no more offensive than a stretched out narrative of a family patriarch who has a looming presence (just like the cover!) across five generations. It is about 'chiefs' who lord over their respective quarters, rebellious youngsters and murderous siblings.

It seems many folks in the Middle East were offended by the allegorical portrayal of God.

From what I could make out God and religion are not even marginal to the story-line.

So is it a case like "PK" in India where self-appointed guardians of religion went berserk, and seemed quite delighted to find an opportunity to get offended?


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Plants, Light & Excitons

Once in a while, the Economist publishes an article where the reader's comments turn out to be a lot more interesting than the original piece. Here is one  -


The main point of contention is this claim by the TE author -
"The very best photovoltaic cells, the kind seen on many roofs, convert sunlight to electrical energy with an efficiency of around 35%; for more affordable cells the figure is closer to 20%. Plants accomplish the same process with about 90% efficiency during the first stage of photosynthesis."

Are plants really so efficient?

A reader contests this claim by quoting three articles:

  • Scientific American (2011):
  • ScienceMag -
  • Current Opinion in Biotech (2008):

He then reiterates the original question - where did TE source the '90% efficiency' figure?

No answers yet from the Economist.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Treating Nephrotic Syndrome in India

Last week we learnt the difference between a Syndrome and a Disease.

Our hyperactive, skinny four-year-old son, Aki,  had just recovered from a cough & cold, when he suddenly started looking a lot healthier. His cheeks filled out and his clothes started getting tighter. We were rather pleased at first -- until we realized that he had been putting on about 300g everyday without any significant change in his diet.

Our pediatrician recommended three tests (blood, urine and chest x-ray), and told us  to immediately cut down on Aki's salt and fat consumption while increasing his intake of proteins  - especially egg whites. The tests soon confirmed what he suspected:  loss of protein in urine (proteinuria), retention of water within the body (edema), high cholesterol and creatine levels -- a classic case of Nephrotic Syndrome (NS).

A syndrome is a set of symptoms or conditions that suggest the presence of a disease. In the case of Nephrotic Syndrome, all the symptoms do not even point to a disease but merely signal the onset of  a sudden change in the functioning of one set of cells within our kidneys, the nephrons.

The nephrons contain two parts - a wool-ball shaped Glomerulus, and a long, coiled Tubule. Blood is filtered by the glomerulus and the filterate goes down the tubule which  takes back useful stuff and excretes the harmful ones as urine. Under NS, the glomeruli - quite inexplicably - start removing protein molecules from the blood. This is unusual, not only because proteins are usually large, heavy molecules, but due to the fact that proteins are rarely wasted; the body needs them build and repair tissues.

Aki's body had swelled up from 14kg to 18.5kg in less than ten days. So the doctor prescribed diuretics to reduce accumulated body fluid, and, rather disconcertingly, an extended three-month dosage of steroids. Sensing our alarm, the doctor said that we had two options: Prednisolone, a corticosteroid that had been tried & tested for the past 35 years. Possible side-effects included stomach pain, high BP, change in body appearance, increased hair and retardation of growth. The alternative was to go for a more recently developed drug with possibly milder side-effects.

So the Rx was:

  • Deflazacort - Defcort 18mg (twice a day * 7 days) - Glucocorticoid
  • Lasix 20mg (once a day * 2 days) - Diuretic
  • Multivitamins, calcium supplements, antacids

Two days later, when the swelling refused to subside, we went for a second-opinion to a specialist Pediatric Nephrologist at Apollo Hospital. The elderly doctor felt that the diagnosis was spot-on but the prescription had to be changed. He handed us a useful booklet titled "Nephrotic Syndrome in Children", and reverted to the tried-and-tested protocol:

  • Prednisolone (Omnacortil / Wysolone - 20mg morning; 15mg evening) - Glucocorticoid
  • Zylynix one 2.5mg  dose followed by Lasix 40mg (once day * 3 days)
  • Continuation of the multivitamins (Zincovit), calcium (Ostocalcium) and antacid (Digene)

The effects were immediate. Almost overnight, Aki's body-weight came down from 18.5kg to 16kg. The side effects too were just as we were warned, especially the stomach aches, the tendency to be "excessively happy, quiet or abnormally active".

We are now one week down with the drugs, with five more to go...

Unanswered Qs:

- How was NS treated before the discovery of steroids?
- Why are cortocosteroid tablets so cheap? (not that I'm complaining!) - The new corticosteroid, Defcort-18mg cost Rs.19/tab while the older formulation costs just few paise!
- How do the steroids plug the sieves in the Glomeruli? What else does it do within the body to other organs?
- What makes the tablets so bitter?


* Srivastava, RN (1975): Nephrotic Syndrome in Indian Children, Archives of Disease in Childhood, 1975 - url -
* Comparing Glucocorticoids: Prednisolone vs. Deflazacort -

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

The Beetles

Can't wait to get my hands on this -

Review: Wired - 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Fifth Dimension?

The movie has got rave reviews but I've just not been able to figure it out.

A farmer-cum-test-pilot leaves his dusty home, gets launched into outer space,  travels into a 'worm-hole' sitting next to Saturn, into another galaxy...only to turn up behind a bookshelf in his own house!


Wiki -

2014 November - Interesting Articles & Links

* On Credit: Lecture by Raghuram Rajan @IRMA -

* A runner with Multiple Sclerosis --

* My fight to save my daughter's skin --

* WWI Christmas Advt --

* Japan - Kanto vs. Kansai --

* JICA President interview --

* W3 - The Group that Rules the Web -

* Pesek,W: Japan should be more German --

* Shiv Vishwanathan on Nehru --

* NYT on the Gita --

* Mangos to Japan --

* Japan architecture award winners -

* Bangladesh - Blood Water (Salil Tripathi) --

* Landmark infra projects --

* How to use a Consultant --

* Pakistan - Informants behind the drone strikes --

* Steve Jobs, Kids and iPads --

Architect Sou Fujimoto's Futuristic Spaces --

* The Pierre Omidiar Insurgency --

* 36 People Who Run Wikipedia --

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Is There a Way Around Roundup?

Rapeseed / Canola (pic-Wiki)

Earlier this year, India's edible oil imports hit a record high. It has cost us over Rs. 60,000 Crores to import over 11.8 million tonnes of cooking oil. For the past few years domestic production has remained stagnant at around 7 mT.

Interestingly a significant portion of the imported oil comes from Genetically Modified (GM) crops. Soyabean oil imported from South America is GM, and so is the Canola oil imported from Canada and Australia. Recently the import of Canola has stalled, not because of GM/Healthcare issues, but because the Indian regulatory agency (FSSAI) wants it to be re-labeled as "imported rapeseed low erucic-acid oil".

Technically, this is exactly what Canola is - modified Rapeseed. It was Canadian scientists who managed to reduce the acid content in rapeseed through classical breeding, and then Monsanto went on to make it tolerant to certain herbicides ("Roundup Ready") through genetic interventions. They then went on to become the largest producers of oil, and gave it a name that sounds a lot more palatable than "Rapeseed".

In 2012, Canada exported 16,000 tonnes of canola. More than 80% of this oil crop grown in Canada is the herbicide resistant GM variety. Paradoxically much of this goes to countries that have officially banned GM crops for human consumption.

If we can import and consume GM edible oil, why are we so muddled about conducting field trials that can enable our own farmers earn more, while at the same time, cutting down our import bills?

Perhaps much of the suspicion and angst comes from the fact that most genetically modified crops (including Roundup Ready) are developed to be pesticide and herbicide resistant, rather than directly increase the yield of a given crop.

So the question is -- how do we selectively promote public funded, non-MNC-inspired GM crops that focus on increasing yield and drought resistance - things that really matter to local farmers?


* Edible Oil Imports 2014 --



- India has been importing canola oil since 2007
It is one of the largest selling oils in several countries, including US, Canada, Mexico, Australia, Japan, China and Pakistan
- FSSAI wants Canola oil labelled "imported rapeseed-low erucic acid oil"


Canada, the largest exporter of canola oil exported about 16,000 tonnes in 2012 from about 400 tonnes in 2011.
In India, canola oil is sold under brands such as Hudson, Jivo and Sattvic and the price ranges from Rs.170 to Rs. 395 a litre. 


In the late 1960s, plant scientists used traditional plant breeding methods to get rid of rapeseed's undesirable qualities - erucic acid and glucosinolates - to create Canola
about 80% of the canola grown in Canada has now been modified using biotechnology to make it tolerant to some herbicides.
When rapeseed oil is fully hydrogenated, its erucic acid becomes behenic acid - a natural saturated fatty acid found in peanuts and peanut butter. 

* Erucic Acid -

* MIT - Roundup Ready Crops --

Monday, November 24, 2014

A Half Marathon to Remember

 (ADHM 2014 - pic - BS)

"Chin-up!! Just 300 meters to go!" 

Music to my ears.

This was one of the best things I heard during during Sunday's Airtel Delhi Half Marathon (ADHM). The fact that it came from a co-runner speeding past us made it so much more... credible. Thanks to him, and to numerous other unknown runners who helped me keep pace, ADHM-2014 turned out to be my best race yet.

I finished the 21.095 km in 1 hour 55 minutes.

ADHM this year was memorable in other ways too. It was a lot better organised than the Mawana Half Marathon I ran last year.

Yesterday, at 5:30AM in the morning, the organizers had set in place adequate volunteers and security guards to facilitate a smooth flow of vehicles and participants into their respective enclosures. Plenty of portable toilets and water stations had been set in place. As more and more runners crowded into their designated enclosures, keeping themselves busy jogging, stretching and warming up, a knot of youngsters stood around an elderly gentleman, seated on a low platform, wearing a yellow t-shirt captioned "Born 1932". This was the well-known veteran marathoner, Wg Cdr. Dr. Ashis Roy.

At 83 years, Dr. Roy is one of the oldest runners in India. He had started running marathons after crossing 50, and had competed more than a hundred full-marathons. He joked about ADHM's pathetic obsession with "Elite Runners" when globally the sport was celebrated precisely because it was egalitarian. "Anybody, anywhere can do it! You don't even need shoes to run!... It is like a festival -- you can make so many friends - just like today!".

When somebody joked that the 21 km would be a breeze, he pointed out that age had been catching up with him. A recent spine injury had earned him four screws that held his vertebrae together. And thanks to arthritis, he now needed help "to warm-up till the start-line". So when the gates opened, we held hands and jogged till the start-line with its huge time banner flashing "07:11 AM", into a sea of swinging elbows.

Out of the stadium, on to the open roads, it was frustrating to be dodging and weaving through crowds. Many 'runners' had started walking even before the 2 km mark! The crowds gradually dwindled only after India Gate, and by this time the "Elite Runners" - mostly lithe African runners in graceful, long strides - were already touching the finish line.

The trick for inexperienced runners like me was to find the right group of 'pace-setters'. It was helpful to see runners with timing flags. I had passed the "2:15 Bus" flag around Purana Qila and kept close to the "2:00 Bus" until Parliament Street. From here on, sensing that my body could maintain a certain pace, I had selected two faster runners to track - one in a yellow-T sporting "Delhi Runner - Rahul" and a Japanese runner sporting a blue outfit. This worked quite nicely -- right until the finish line.

Across the finish line it suddenly hits you -- that heady, giddy feeling, just like when you're drunk. Your legs hurt and wobble but they keep going, taking you past other exhausted runners, sitting on the steps or sprawled in the Recovery Zone. They take you to the refreshments zone, and to the finishers medal around your neck.

For the next couple of days the legs hurt like crazy and you swear never to run like this again. Then, a few days later, it all seems like a forgotten dream and you are searching for your running shoes, once again.


* Ashis Roy - Marathon Man -

* Airtel Delhi Half Marathon --
* Timings - Bib no. 31605 --
* Results Link -
* Certificate -
* Pics -

* ADHM-2014 Winner - Guye Adola (Ethiopia) -

In a different context, the graphic from the Economist nicely illustrated the problems during the first 5km of the half-marathon:

Friday, November 07, 2014

Going Bananas

A recent article in the EPW, titled "GM Crops and Global Trade" points out that - "one company controls two-thirds of banana germ plasm of the world, four companies have 30% global market of seeds, and just six multinationals account for 77% of the pesticide market."

This got me curious.

How is it possible for one company to control two-thirds of banana germplasm? Does this mean that it has a hold over the myriad banana varieties dangling at a fruit-vendor's stall in Kerala?

If something seems out of place, it probably is.

According to the International Musa Germplasm Transit Center (ITC-Belgium), the center is "home to the world’s largest collection of banana (Musa) germplasm". ITC has over 1400 sample of edible and wild species of banana, cryo-preserved at -196C. Most importantly, it is not owned by any company and is therefore "freely available for international distribution upon request".

Perhaps the EPW article meant to convey that two-thirds of banana trade is controlled by one company. But even this is contrary to a recent FAO report which states -

FAO's review of the three largest banana traders (Chiquita, Dole and Del Monte), shows that the combined market share of the top three companies was at its highest the 1980's, when they controlled almost two-thirds (65.3 percent) of global banana exports, while in 2013, their market share was slightly over one-third (36.6 percent).

The global banana market is worth US$ 7 billion. Amazingly, nearly all the trading happens in only one variety of banana: Yellow-skin Cavendish.

Contrast this with the amazing variety of bananas available in South India. Even the humblest fruit-seller would have on display, at least five different types of the fruit on any given day. India's National Horticulture Board lists more than 11 varieties of banana including - Robusta, Rasthali, Poovan, Nendran, Red-Banana (Kappa Pazham), Virupakshi, Panchanadan, Monthan and Karpuravalli!

So, far from controlling two-thirds of banana germplasm, the MNCs have only focused one single variety. It is as though all the florists in the world were stocking only roses or as though all the eateries were serving just burgers.

This also one reason why the supermarkets will never overrun the local  kirana shops and chaya-kada's -- they just cannot offer ten different types of bananas!



* Singh, Sukhpal (2014): GM CROPS AND GLOBAL TRADE, EPW, 18 October 2014 --

* ITC Belgium -

* (Reuters, 27 OCt 2914) --

* FAO - The Changing Face of Global Banana Trade -

- FAO Full Report (2014) -


* National Horticulture Board (NH‌B), India - Banana Varieties -

Wiki -
- Enset - -- 'False Banana' grown in Ethiopia for its edible roots!

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

BHEL, Maruti-Suzuki and SAIL

For once, I was glad to read a bureaucrat's memoir. All the more so because I had seen the man in action between 2005-2008, and never knew that he had so much to write about!

V. Krishnamurthy was the Chairman of the National Manufacturing Competitiveness Council (NMCC) while CII were trying to get IITs and IIMs interested in Prof. Shoji Shiba's attempts to replicate the Visionary Leaders for Manufacturing (VLFM) program in India. I was with JICA, the Japanese funding agency that initially funded this program.

All I knew about VK, the towering, portly gentleman with a heavy voice, was that he was the driving force behind a JV that launched the automobile sector in India: Maruti-Suzuki.

Thanks to the memoir, now I know that there was a lot more to VK than the 'common-man's car'. He started his career at the Planning Commission, opted to get his hands dirty at BHEL-Tiruchirapalli and then - thanks to the patronage of the Gandhi family - went on to head the group, and make a mark for himself as the man who turns around Public Sector companies.

Indira Gandhi selected VK to turn her son's dream project into reality, and then Rajiv Gandhi got him to straighten out SAIL.

This is the sort of book that makes you wonder -- How many brilliant managers has India lost for the want of political patronage?



* Krishnamurthy V (2014): AT THE HELM, Harper Collins India, 2014

* Review - Business Line (25 May 14) - Krishnamurthy V (2014):

Friday, October 31, 2014

2014 October - Interesting Articles & Links

* Questions to ask about Art -

* 100 Books --

* Iran Hanging --

* Multitasking Marathoner --

* Fruit flies -- all one species --

* Ebola - Z-Mapp vaccine from tobacco leaves --

* Shirking at Work - Skiving -

* Mukul Kesavan on the Trilokpuri Riots --

* Insights on becoming a writer -

* Google hires --

* A Soldier on Haider -

* Linguistic family tree --

* Ebola --

* Personal Essay's - Conquering Journalism --

* Labnol - 10 Google links you should know --

* Leonard Susskind - The man who proved Stephen Hawking wrong --

* Satyarthi wins Nobel - #DontLookAway --

* India's Mars Mission - EPW -

* Crusader against India's obsolete laws -- A crusader against obsolete laws in #India -- #MiltonFriedman #AynRand

* A virus called Huang Long Bing --

* Mangalyaan --

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Poster - Modern Times

Every time you see the Modern Times, you notice something new.

Who, for instance, designed this neat poster for the "funniest movie of them all"?

Friday, October 24, 2014

The New Banks

This Friday will see the emergence of a new bank backed by China - the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). The Americans are not exactly pleased.

Since the end of the second World War, global finance has been dominated by the Bretton Woods institutions - World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Both were created in 1944-45. Two decades later, in 1966, the Japanese economic miracle triggered the emergence of the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

The emergence of China as an economic powerhouse, and the reluctance of the WW2 champs to accommodate it, has resulted in the creation of two new banks this year - the BRICS Bank (now the New Development Bank), and now, AIIB.

The story so far can be summarized as follows:

State-owned development arms of the Chinese government are already dwarfing USA's presence. Earlier this week, the chairman of the US government’s Export-Import Bank said Chinese institutions had doled out an estimated $670bn in just two years, compared with ExIm’s outlay of $590bn in loans, guarantees and insurance over eight decades.

How long will it take for NDB and AIIB to upset the Bretton Woods apple-cart?


* (11 Nov'14) - Economist -

* (22Oct14) - NYT -

* (24Oct14): Reuters - ADB chief doesn't welcome Chinese-backed Chinese rival -

*  (2Sep14) - Straits Times- Asian investment bank: Realigning the status quo -
- According to ADB, countries in Asia need US$8 trillion (S$10 trillion) to cover their national infrastructure needs for the period 2010 to 2020. This works out to an average of US$800 billion a year. Currently, ADB lends only about 1.5 per cent of this amount annually.

* World Bank - FAQs --,,contentMDK:20147466~menuPK:344189~pagePK:98400~piPK:98424~theSitePK:95474,00.html
* NDB / BRICS Bank -

Monday, October 13, 2014

A Nobel for Triole's Economics

An excellent article explaining the work of this year's Nobel Prize winner in Economics - Jean Triole.

Cassidy, John (2014): WHY JEAN TRIOLE WON THE ECONOMICS NOBEL, The New Yorker, 13 October, 2014, URL -

After seeing the profs at Tsukuba-U in action, I loved this opening jab on the subject:

"....setting aside the merits or demerits of individual awards, the very existence of the prize has contributed to the pretense that economics can, with the application of enough mathematics, be converted from a messy social science into a hard science along the lines of physics and chemistry."



Business Standard Editorial (14 Oct'14) --
"PPP contracts [between a bureaucrat and a company] need to be carefully reviewed by independent authorities that can expose hidden rent backloading... PPPs can be expected to entail higher transaction costs." It is worth noting that this paper has been available since June 2007. This insight is something that Indian policymakers are only now accepting after considerable pain - though a clear independent authority is still not even on the anvil.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Kashmir before Haider

Yesterday, I saw the movie "Haider". I liked it.

For the first time Bollywood seems to have made an attempt to present a balanced picture of the endless cycle of violence in Kashmir. It is the story of a doctor who cares more about saving lives than about political affiliations; an army officer who reckons its better to blow up a home to kill a militant than to lose his men to sniper fire; an aspiring politician who snitches on his own brother so that he can marry his sister-in-law, and a son who goes through all this in a daze...

Yet, the image that is etched in my mind is that of a temple in ruins. It lends a dramatic backdrop to a mediocre song-and-dance sequence but as the cameras pan in and out of the broken stonework, questions come pouring out: Who built this massive shrine? When? Who brought it down? Why? What did the original structure look like?...

The Martanda Sun Temple stands on the Anantnag plateau, overlooking the Kashmir valley. The original temple is said to have come up around 370AD. A few centuries later, it was expanded by a king named Lalitaditya Muktapida (725-756AD). It stood for a thousand years before it was destroyed by Sikander But-shikan (idol-breaker).

During his reign (1389-1413AD)  -
"Hindu temples were felled to the ground and for one year a large establishment was maintained for the demolition of the grand Martand temple. But when the massive masonry resisted all efforts, fire was applied and the noble buildings cruelly defaced." 
Who would have thought that the same site would be used to portray yet another round of vicious violence...



* Review - First Post -

* Review - Mint -

* Lalitaditya on --

* The Connecting Link: Hamlet, Aligarh Muslim University and Wittenberg Univrsity --

Delhi Metro Kickbacks - Whudunit?

Another corruption scandal has come to light. Once again it is a foreign court that informs us that bribes were paid to Indian officials for a project in India.

This time, unfortunately, it is Delhi Metro that stands on the dock. According to UK's Serious Frauds Office, Alstom-France paid Rs 52 crore over six years to win transport contracts in India, Poland and Tunisia. Between the period 2001-2006, Alstom had won  a Rs 255-crore signalling contract for the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC).

Details of this scam have been trickling down slowly over the past couple of months. Yesterday, we finally got a  rebuttal from DMRC. The venerable Dr. Sreedharan stated unequivocally that the "Bribery story hold no water". His point was that in his time, DMRC had sufficient checks and balances in place. "If at all bribe has been paid" Dr. Sreedharan pointed out, "It must have been to individuals outside DMRC with a view to siphon back the amount to individuals of Alstom Network, UK".

So who got the moolah?

Outside DMRC, there were two other key players involved - a consulting firm called Pacific Consultants International (PCI) and JBIC (now JICA). It is interesting to note that around the same period (200-2006), PCI has been indulging in activities that did little to enhance company credibility.

Consider the following -

* Viet Nam, 2003: In 2008, Huynh Ngoc Si, former deputy director of the Ho Chi Minh City’s transport department and head of a major Japanese ODA-backed highway project, was convicted of taking bribes in 2003 by receiving $262,000 from executives of Pacific Consultants International, which was hired as the project consultant.
* India, 2004: PCI lost a case to the Joint Commisioner of Income Tax who held it liable deduct tax to the tune of Rs. 3,26,99,128 for various financial years involved. PCI had been claiming tax-exemption for its expat employees in India without any legal basis.
* Japan, 2008: PCI was fined JPY 70 million (approximately USD 680,000) by the Tokyo District Court, and three former PCI executives were given suspended sentences of imprisonment for 18 months, 20 months, and 2 years, respectively, for paying bribes to Vietnamese government officials in order to obtain consulting contracts for a highway project also funded by ODA and distributed by JICA.

India is now sending its officials to SFO-UK to collect details on the kickbacks.

For the sake of Delhi Metro, let us hope that DMRC officials come out squeaky clean!


* (ToI, ) -- Bribery Story Hold No Water --


* Soni, Anusha (BS-11Sep) - Bribe charges link Alstom to firms from Singapore, Hong Kong --
- Indo European Ventures Pte Ltd, Singapore and  Global King Technology Ltd, Hong Kong


Saturday, October 04, 2014

Cold Gradations of Decay

An interesting article on ageing: "Why I hope to Die at 75".


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

2014 September - Interesting Articles & Links

A Drug & a Hairy Woman --

Medical Devices - Duties -

Things Little Girls Need from their Fathers --

Drones record protests in HK --

Modi at Madison Square  (S. Vishwanathan, AsianAge) --
Modi is like Amar-Akbar-Antony --

Gene Revolution - The Antecedants --
- Junk Science vs. Pseudo Science

- Ali Baba - Jack Ma - Still poor at 35? --

Don't Go Scotland! --

* The Economist and Slavery -- Rebuttal --

* TRAVELLER IN A MARINE WORLD -- Mahima Jaini, Marine Scientist --

* Indian scholar wins Marconi Society's Young Scholar Award --
- Earlier, India-born Stanford University Professor A J Paulraj had won the 2014 Marconi Prize, for his pioneering contributions to developing the theory and applications of MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) antennas.
- Both, Prof, Paulraj and Asnani would receive the awards in Washington D.C. on October 2, 2014.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

From Orwell to Al Qaida

George Orwell's "Homage to Catalonia" (1938) is an interesting read. For a book written before WW-2, it has a very contemporary feel, especially at a time when the Western press is full of indignant outrage about the wholehearted participation of their own citizens in Al Qaida and ISIS.

A few days ago ISIS brutally beheaded the second US journalist it had captured in Iraq / Syria. The executioner had given his two bits about Jihad in British accented English with a dagger flashing in one hand.

Osama bin Laden and his deputies may have lived in caves, dodged smart-bombs and married local women in Afghanistan. Orwell, on the other hand, went to fight his Jihad against fascist dictators in a more relaxed manner. He sailed across the Straits of Gibraltar with his wife to the Catalan coast, lodged her comfortably at the Continental Hotel in Barcelona, and then got himself enrolled in a local militia called the POUM.

After ten months in the trenches, he came away with a nasty wound. A sniper had shot him clean through the neck, damaging his vocal chords and missing his jugular by a millimeter. So he returns to Barcelona, recuperates, does a bit of street-fighting, picks his wife from the hotel, drives across the border to France, and to safety.

What was Mrs. Orwell doing for 10 months in the Barcelona while her husband was away on the front? Who paid the bills? The book is less than eloquent about all this and more.

If some the 'foreign fighters' in Al Qaida or ISIS got around to writing their own stories, I guess it would not be very different from 'Homage to Catalonia'.


* Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) 
* Book -- PrintAsia 
* Wiki --
* Fighting a war in the neighborhood - Turks in ISIS / Syria -- 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Bionic Limbs

The 'Jaipur Foot' looks so far away...
An amazing video on the latest bionic limbs -

Insect Season

It has been an unusual combination of summer and monsoon this year. The dry heat lasted for a lot longer in May-June, and then, after a few showers, most of the rainfall happened in August-September.

Last year, at the Sector-105 park in Noida,  all the Arjuna trees were loaded with plump, green, Tussar Silkworms. This year there were none. Instead, we had some other unusual guests.

(All ids by Shaku @ Florida-U)

Parthenium beetle, Zygogramma bicolorata, Family Chrysomelidae.

Common Silverline, Cigaritis (Spindasis) vulcanus, Family Lycaenidae
Note the "false head" at the back of the wings - excellent defense mechanism..

Common Silverline (top view)

Flower beetle, Mylabris pustulata .  Family Meloidae (blister beetles or oil beetles, because they secrete a pungent, oily substance when attacked, that might cause blisters in predators body; feed on flowers, so also called flower beetles ).

Most likely, Small Cabbage White, Pieris rapae, definitely Family Pieridae. These are really delicate, and lose their, already pale, wing coloration very fast, its usually difficult to find a fresh and intact specimen.
Treehopper, (possibly, Centrotus sp.), Family Membracidae.  Fascinating little insects, also called cow bugs (horns, obviously), or thorn bugs. 
Indian or Asian Honey bee, Apis cerana indica
Common emigrant, Catopsilila pomona (Family Pieridae) 

Lemon or Lime swallowtail, Papilio demoleus
This one seems to have lost part of its wings to a predator!  The bottom part of the wings have red or orange, eye-shaped spots that often serve as a defense mechanism, to fool predators.  So the predator attacks from the tail end of the butterfly, and gets only the wings, while the butterfly can escape!  This is one of the papiolionid butterflies that does not have a tail-like extension to its wings (that give the family its name - swallowtails).

Friday, September 12, 2014

Remembering Borlaugh

Last year, India set a new record in wheat production -- 95.85 million tonnes. This took the total food-grain production in the country to 264.38 million tonnes - another record in itself. To put the figures in perspective, consider a simple fact: At the time of independence we produced just 6 million tonnes of wheat.

All this we can trace back to the vision of one man - Norman Borlaugh.

As a young American plant pathologist he went to Mexico in 1944 to help fight hunger. Fifteen years of research in classical, selective breeding led him a dwarf variety of wheat which not only resisted rust, but also had a new plant gene that made them shorter with sturdier stalks which were able to withstand the weight of more abundantly grained wheat ears. His efforts resulted in a six-fold increase in Mexican wheat production.

The Indian government invited Borlaugh in 1966, at a time when the country had been reduced to a basket-case by successive droughts. He came in with a sackful of Mexican  wheat seeds. The rest, as they say, is history -- and the Green Revolution.


* Tribute -
*Gene Revolution - the Antecedents -

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Death, Sorrow & Self-Pity

In one of my favorite passages in the Mahabharata, the great sage Brihadaswa stops by to visit the hermitage of the Pandavas, within a few months of their being cheated of their kingdom and exiled to the forests. The Pandava princes are full of self-pity and they keep brooding about their lost riches.

Sage Brihadaswa's response is rather interesting. He says, "You say that there is no one in the world who is as unfortunate as you. Now that is not true, though everyone, tried by adversity is inclined to claim pre-eminence in sorrow, because things directly experienced are more than things heard or seen..."

Later, in the Aaranyakanda chapter , a forest spirit demands from Yudhistira, answers to a few questions as the price for reviving his siblings who have died of thirst and poisoning. One of them is:

'What is the greatest wonder in the world?'

Asareearvanini - asked Yudhishtira what is the strangest thing in life. His reply - "People die everyday and those who are alive go on as though they will live for ever!"


Kanda, Mohan (2012): A VOICE OF WISDOM LOST - Obituary to S.K. Rau, Indian Express, 28 Nov 2012

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


Drugs based on antibodies have been in use for a long time now. So far, almost all these antibody-based drugs have been derived from animal sources -- usually mammalian cells from hamsters -- and then grown in large stainless steel vats. US-FDA has approved around 30 such drugs, including blockbuster cancer therapies such as Avastin and Rituxan (Roche).

The ongoing Ebola epidemic has brought into focus antibodies derived from plants (aka Plantibodies!). In the absence of any credible therapies, Mapp Pharmaceuticals (San Diego, USA) has been permitted to produce experimental 'Plantibodies' to treat two infected medical workers. Despite lower costs of plant-based production (~1/10th!) not many companies are into this area. The only such FDA approved drug is Elelyso, an enzyme produced from genetically engineered carrots, manufactured by Israel's Protalix Biotherapies, and marketed by Pfizer.

Which are the ~30 animal-derived drugs currently in the market? Why is it that major pharma companies are shying away from plant-based production lines that is supposed to be cheaper?


* Plantibodies (Reuters, 18Aug14) --

* Ebola puts focus on drugs made in Tobacco plants --

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Say Cheese!

This is one of the best selfie's I've come across. Last week a random simian in Indonesia triggered a huge debate on copyright and IPRs.

I am so glad to know that the monkey won! :)

Say Cheeese!

New Yorker (8 Aug): Wikipedia Defends the Monkey Selfie

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Extra Special Economic Zones

When it comes to productivity and export-competitiveness of Special Economic Zones (SEZs), clearly some states in India fare a lot better than the others.

How much better? If today's official press release (PIB) is to believed, more than 10 times!

18 SEZs in Gujarat exported, on an average, Rs. 12,500 Crores (US$ 2 billion) worth of goods & services. Its employees were by far much more productive too, with each employee sending out stuff worth nearly Rs. 3 Crores.

There are states with more than twice the number of export-zones with a fraction of Gujarat's productivity. Andhra Pradesh (pre-division) has 42; Tamil Nadu has 34 SEZs while Maharashtra and Karnataka have 25 each. Yet, for the latter three states average exports-per-SEZ hovers in the range of just Rs. 2000 crores.

What accounts for this huge difference? Is it that industries like diamond-polishing have export margins much more than any other goods or services?


* "Functioning of SEZs" (6 Aug 2014) - PIB Press Release from Ministry of Commerce & Industry - Response to Rajya Sabha unstarred question No. 2919 - URL -

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Cost of a Fruit Fly

This fruit-fly (Bacterocera dorsalis) has cost Indian farmers and horticulturists Rs. 50 Crores in export earnings this year.

Quarantine officials in the European Union detected traces of fruit-fly larvae in a consignment of mangoes and promptly placed a ban on imports. They want to avoid, as far as possible, the chances of their own fruit & vegetable patches getting infested with this particular insect.

Is the fear unfounded? Can this tropical insect survive the European winters? If 400 hundred years of trade did not transmit it, it is rational to believe that by just closing the dock gates to this fruit-fly will be of any help?


* Verma, Varuna (2014): PEST CONTROL, The Telegraph, 4Jun14 --

* Note on Non-Tarrif-Barriers imposed by other countries -

* The EU Combined Nomenclature (CN) --

* International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) --

* Compliance standards of USDA-APHIS (Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service) -

Hello Finland!

How did Finland become home to Nokia?

On the face of it seems like an unlikely picture - a frigid, Nordic country as large as Thailand or Rajasthan state, with a population less than a third of Delhi's, it has managed to build an amazing manufacturing industry, centered on sophisticated equipment.

In a recent article, Ricardo Hausman, points out that the Finns started out quite logically by building on their biggest strength - its forests. So it was hardly surprising that a country with the highest forest-cover (75%) in Europe, would have a stong lumbering industry.

Yet, it went much, much beyond timber-based industries. It take good tools to bring down the huge trees, so they make excellent cutting machines; It is easier to transport paper than wood, so they have an advanced paper manufacturing industry.

A snowbound country with a population density of just 16/sqkm can be tough, so they built a good transportation, and a wireless communication industry.

How many other countries have transformed their weaknesses into strengths?


* Ricardo Hausmann -

* Trade in Finland - Imports & Exports -

* Examining Benefication -

* Forest Cover in Finland - the highest in Europe --

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Two Books on Africa

It is a coincidence that two of the books I have 'read' over the past weeks have both been on Africa.

The first was Chinua Achebe's 1958 classic, "Things Fall Apart", and the second one, Dorris Lessing's part fiction, part memoir, "Alfred and Emily". Both the books were connected in strange ways.

The Achebe's book is set in the pre-colonial Nigeria of 1890's. It is about a warrior named Okonkwo whose life and social standing is altered by the arrival of the White Man. The first one who turns up an amiable, gentle priest who wants to introduce Christianity to the remote villages of the Niger delta. He is something of a curiosity, worthy of being engaged and disdained at the same time. By the time it dawns on Okonkwo's community that this is just a soft, probing tentacle of a formidable British colonial administration, it is too late. Guns and machete's have been drawn, blood is spilt, tribes have been set against each other....and Things Fall Apart.

In Lessing's narrative, the view is from the other side of the fence, a few decades later. Countries like Kenya and Rhodesia have emerged out of the the same process that transformed West Africa. An apartheid system is well entrenched. The white farmer now lords over large tracts of land and employs locals as farm laborers, cooks, servants and menials. Tribal hierarchies have been decimated and the most coveted position a local can aspire to is that of the "Boss-Boy", an overseer to other laborers.

For the European settlers, this is a heaven they wouldn't trade for anything that Europe has to offer. Yet, once again, change is just around the corner. African freedom movements sweep aside the white settlers and the rich farmlands return to the bush. Things fall apart once again but for the ordinary Africans who want to pick up the pieces and start over again, there are no social structures to fall back on.

These two books tell stories that have perhaps been repeated a thousand times over in Asia, the Americas and Australia...

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Patagonian Worms

There has just been a shoot-out in the FIFA World Cup. Brazil has squeaked past Chile in a tournament that is now almost completely dominated by the South Americans.

Over the past few days, my mind too has been dominated by a book on the same region -- Bruce Chatwin's classic 1977 travelogue: In Patagonia.

It is the sort of book that makes you want to take the first available ship across the oceans to the "New World". The book begins with one man's quest for fossils and prehistoric civilizations but soon
swerves into the  age in which migrants, pirates, gold-hunters and farmers - most of them fleeing Europe - dislodged and decimated the Indians to make themselves home in a cold, hostile region.

The story of John Davis, in particular, caught my attention. He was the captain of a bunch of mutineers, abroad a ship called the "Desire". Off the coast of Patagonia (now S. Argentina and S. Chile), he came came across an island full of Jackass Penguins. The crewimmediately set about clubbing more than 20,000 of these penguins to death.

Davis and his comrades then stuffed as many of these carcases as possible into into their ship's hold and set sail again. As they approached the warm tropics, certain worms appeared from the decaying penguin flesh.

"There was nothing they did not devour," wrote Davis. "They destroyed shoes, clothing and then they began to eat the ship's timbers, threatening to gnaw through the sides. The more we laboured to kill them, the more they increased. At last we could not sleep for them; they would eat our flesh and bite like mosquitoes."

Out of a crew of 75 men, just 16 managed to reach Ireland.

What were these maggots or worms? has anybody studied them?


Miller, Mara (): DRESSED TO KILL

Wiki --

Life of John Davis --

Patagonia - A Cultural History -- English Mariners: Cavendish, Davis and Byron -- Google Books

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Up & Away: Para-gliding in Himachal Pradesh

"It is quite easy....just lean, put your weight forward and run."

In any other place this seemed like an easy instruction to follow, but I was standing on a cliff 2500m high in the Himalayan foothills, preparing for tandem para-gliding jump, with an instructor standing behind me.

A few minutes earlier, we had driven up from a Tibetan settlement called Bir, near Palampur, Himachal Pradesh. A friend had called up a people she knew and were now waiting for our turn to jump. On the barren hilltop called Billing, a young woman was screaming that she did not want to jump while her boyfriend giggled nervously, putting on a brave face.

While the couple sorted out their nerves, our instructors quickly laid out parachutes on the hilltop, strapped us to the bucket-like suits, and before we knew it, our family of three had 'leaned forward' and found our feet feet suddenly dangling limp as the parachute soared into the skies.

It was an amazing experience. Each of us swirled over the hilltops in gentle circles and slowly glided over thick forests, monasteries, villages and wheat-fields before touching down at Bir.

As soon as we landed, the pilots gathered up the billowing parachutes, folded them back into their bags and guided us back to our starting point.

We had a  hearty lunch, picked up a few bottles of fruit wine and drove back to Palampur, stopping for a few minutes at the picturesque Binsar temple.

A few days after got back home we got a bit of news that rattled us. Our friend in Palampur had jumped off the same cliff and his parachute had developed a snag. Both the instructor and the student had plunged into the forest below and had been lucky to get their parachute tangled on an oak tree. It took more than two hours for them to disentangle themselves and clamber down the 60ft tree.

Considering  the fact there there were plenty of bald, deforested hills in the Bir-Billing area, this had been a close shave indeed!

Now, looking back, we realized that there had been absolutely no paperwork involved in our little adventure. We had not registered ourselves with any adventure company, we did not know if our instructors and pilots were adequately qualified for tandem flying and we had not received any receipts for the Rs.1500 each of us paid for the jump.

Was there any accountability in this line of adventure tourism?

As always, there are two sides to the story. The entrepreneurs who organize these adventure camps are quite wary of government oversight. The tourism-department 'inspectors' have neither the stomach nor the aptitude to handle the outdoors. Most of them would just be interested in squeezing the entrepreneurs for handing out permits and clearance certificates.

So, as of now, it appears that the para-gliding entrepreneurs just "insure" themselves offering free para-gliding trips to friends and families of the local decision-makers.  If you want a free-ride, all you have to do is turn up at Bir and flaunt your 'connections'.

In the long run, we all lose. Fewer people will try out this amazing sport. The total absence of paperwork or any form of oversight also guarantees we will not learn the right lessons when para-gliders suddenly drop off the skies.