Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Cost of a Stadium

How much does it cost to build a stadium?

Over the past one week a controversy has been raging over the cost of building a cricket stadium in New Delhi. The Chief Minister of Delhi claims that his office was raided by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) because his office had been investigating the shell companies behind a controversial "refurbishment" of the Feroz Shah Kotla stadium which cost about ₹ 142 Cr (USD 22 m). He also alleges that the money trail leads up to Arun Jaitley, India's Finance Minister.

Not the one to take things lying down, the country's Finance Minister has now filed a defamation case against the Chief Minister.

As allegations and counter-allegations fly to and fro, here are some figures that put things in perspective:

  • A brand new stadium was contructed at Dharamshala for ₹ 20 Crores (USD 3 million)
  • Prior to the Commonwealth Games 2010, the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium was refurbished at the cost of ₹ 600 Crores (USD 92 m)
  • The iconic "Birds Nest" stadium built for the Beijing Olympics cost USD 243 million (₹ 2,750 Cr).
  • In Japan, there was a huge controversy over the cost of a new stadium for the Tokyo Olympics 2020. A design created by Zaha Hadid costing USD 2.1 billion (₹ 13,650 Cr), It has now been replaced by a "cheaper" design that costs only USD 1.2 billion (₹ 7,800 Cr)

If we take the Dharamshala stadium as a realistic local reference point, the cost of JLN stadium and FZK stadum certainly seems over the top. But this should not come as a big surprise to any of us because we all know that in the absence of transparent funding to political parties, there is really no incentive towards having projects that have zero kickbacks.

Ultimately, as the old saying goes, "When elephants fight, it is the grass that gets trampled."


* BBC - http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-35158004
* Financial Times -- http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/b5db6708-a874-11e5-955c-1e1d6de94879.html#axzz3v4mJWh9V
* Zahid's Stadium design for Tokyo -- http://www.zaha-hadid.com/architecture/new-national-stadium/

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Latest Tango in Paris

"Would you be interested in a smoke-less choolha?
...And how about a lantern that takes energy from the sun to light up your home at night?"

If you are shooting these questions at a bleary eyed villager's wife in a remote village in South Asia,  bewildered disbelief is what you would get. Why would anybody come around asking such inane questions? Would such new fangled things fit into the rough and tumble of living on a farm? Who can afford such gadgets anyway?

And yet, this is exactly what is happening in hundreds of villages in Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh, India, and other parts of the world. Life is becoming a wee bit easier -- thanks to events that have been unfolding in far away places like Stockholm, Rio De Janerio, Cartagena, and now, Paris.

Thanks to increasingly unpredictable changes in weather patterns, Climate Change has gradually moved from the realm of eggheads to actions that have a real impact on the ground.

Back in October, 1991, a diverse group of 183 countries met at Rio de Janerio. This meeting led to Conference of Parties (CoP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Then a partnership with international institutions to deal with global environmental issues led to the formation of the Global Environment Facility (GEF). Since then this insitution has provided over $12.5 billion in grants and leveraging $58 billion in co-financing for over 3,690 projects in over 165 countries.

This is an endeavour of amazing complexity. As with other most multilateral funding projects, GEF too operates through a wide range f partners: UNDP, UNIDO, ADB, WB, and a host of bilateral agencies and national governments. Each of them has a different way of working - UNDP partners with local government bodies while ADB and WB seem to prefer a a more direct approach to disbursal of funds.

For the past two decades, a complex machinery has been slowly grinding its way through the buureaucracy, resulting in some of the most unexpected sights across the world: people lugging equipment across remote areas -  wind turbines, micro/mini hydel systems, solar panels -  trying to get self-contained communities to increase their dependence on strange, new equipment, all for the Greater Common Good.

What about the biggest guzzlers of fossil fuels, like factories, power plants and automobiles?  Until now big changes in the developing countries were conditional upon receiving finance and technology from developed countries, as entitlements, not as foreign assistance.

How does the Paris Agreement change this?



* UNFCC - Technology Transfer Framework -- http://unfccc.int/ttclear/templates/render_cms_page?TTF_home

* https://www.thegef.org/gef/gef_projects_funding

* (15 Dec 15 IE) - A long way from Rio -- http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/paris-climate-talks-a-long-way-from-rio/

Friday, December 11, 2015

Modi-Abe Camaradarie - Getting Down to Brasstacks

Prime Minister Abe in India now, and its time, once again, for the media to make hay while sun shines.

The Indian Express has come out with a special RED 'advertorial' initiative (pages 6-7) to mark the ocassion. It has the usual (unattributed) writeups on the history of investment, trade and social cooperation between Indian and Japan, as well as fillers to mark spaces where the expected advt revenue did not turn up. One of these is a "Fact File" box right below a message from the new ambassador designate, Mr. Kenji Hiramatsu, and the first point here states: "Japan is the world's largest consumer of Amazon rainfalls"!

Indian Express Fact File: Really?

What was that again?? Japan is the world's largest consumer of rainforest wood, but where on earth did the IE staffer get this absurd "fact"?

Not to be left behind, the HT Mint marketing media initiative carries a marketing initiative titled "India-Japan Deepens Ties". Here too the only advertisement is from Maruti Suzuki and the set pieces toss around numbers that make little sense. During Modi's visit last year, the title article claims, "Abe had set a target of 3.5 trillion yen $33.5 billion of public and private investment.." . There is no mention of how much of this has actually fructified over the past one year, since November 2014. The only data point at hand is a 2013 FDI figure of $1.7 billion!

Perhaps journalists working on advertorials can be excused for putting out shoddy data. However, the loss of credibility in the color-pages is not balanced out in the editorials or oped pages. In the opinons section there is one piece from Harsh V Pant who makes one pointed comment - "Thought there has been significant movement on these issues over the past year, these initiative still remain highly contested between the bureaucracies of the two nations."

Therein lies the rub. The Dedicated Freight Corridor project agreed a decade ago continues to be a snailpaced work-in-progress. And now we have the new promise of a $14.7 billion (₹ 98,000 Cr) bullet train project linking Mumbai and Ahmedabad.

While there has been a lot of hype around the Modi-Abe camradarie, substantial progress on India-Japan linkages is still bogged down in the red-tape, both in New Delhi and in Tokyo.

What exactly does it take to get the babu's cracking on both the sides?


* 11Dec15 - Reuters - Japan's bid for bullet train gets cabinet nod -- http://in.reuters.com/article/india-japan-train-idINKBN0TT0PI20151210
- Cabinet approval for $14.7 billion Japanese proposal...Mumbai-Ahmedabad - 503 km...Japan had offered to finance 80 percent of the cost ...at an interest rate of less than 1 percent.

* Pant, Harsh - 11Dec15 - The Abe-Modi Connect - http://www.livemint.com/Opinion/yoDbATculxoLxfwhlzSL8N/The-AbeModi-connect.html
- US-2 amphibious aircraft - submarines - nuclear plants
- Earlier this year Japan lost out to China is a bid for a high-speed railway in Indonesia

* Mint marketing media initiative
- 2014 Abe set a target of Yen 3.5 trillion $33.5 billion of public and private investment and financing from Japan including ODA to be made over a period of 5 years
- JETRO - number of Jap companies operating in India has grown from 267 in 2006, to over 1800 in 2013.

* 11Dec15 -- IE -- http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/japanese-pm-shinzo-abe-to-arrive-today-number-of-pacts-on-table/

Thursday, December 10, 2015

WiFi Spectrum Anayzers

WiFi - CR Park, Delhi

These days, there are few things as indispensible as WiFi networks.

No hotel or restaurant worth its salt will scrimp on bandwidth when it comes to offering WiFi as a free service to its customers. Forget the McDonald's even most ramshackle dhaba's along the national highways are offering it as a bait for those who are hungry for data.

In this scenario, it is interesting to scan WiFi networks while you are on the move. The above screenshot was taken at CR Park market in South Delhi. Well past 8:00 PM, the analyser showed up no less than 20 separate routers in a 20 sqft area.

It is one thing to see the colorful parabola's bobbing up and down the graph and another to actually understand what they actually mean.

Why, for instance, is the signal strength in dBm (decibels milliwatts)  going upwards from negative hundred (-100 dBm) towards zero?

How does the address system in WiFi devices various devices link up to the the IP addresses? Why are these in six sets of alphanumeric characters separated by a colon, as opposed to numeric IP addresses that come in sets of four numbers each?

Why is the bandwidth restricted to 11 to 14 channels?

How do the WiFi transmitting devices manage to keep their frequencies in such a sharp range? Rather mindboggling when you learn that these signals are being sent out in Giga Hertz -- 1000,000,000 vibrations per second!


* dBm in Wiki -- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DBm

* how to fix your wifi network - http://www.pcworld.com/article/260524/how_to_fix_your_wi_fi_network_7_tips.html

Monday, December 07, 2015

Willful Blindness

You can take a horse to water but you can't make him drink.

What about the guy who is taking the horse to water? Does he and his community react in a rational way when faced with inconvenient facts?

Willful blindness seems to be a lot more common that we would care to believe. An excellent TED talk by Margaret Heffernan -

But then, as always, there are at least two ways of looking at anything. Heffernan refers to USA's actions in Iraq and the Middle East as an act of willful blindness, but Edward Luttwak, the "Machiavelli of Maryland" seems to consider it a brilliant strategic move that would keep the Shias and Sunni's fighting with each other for the next thousand years.

Blindness too may lie in the eye of the beholder.



* The Machiavelli of Maryland (9 Dec., 2015, The Guardian) -- http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/dec/09/edward-luttwak-machiavelli-of-maryland

Monday, November 30, 2015

Jaipur Metro

If ever you feel like having a better appreciation for what has been achieved by Delhi Metro, please take a ride - if possible during rush hours - on Jaipur Metro.

Built at at a cost of Rs. 2023 Crores in about four years, it touted as a futuristic project that was implemented in record time. Perhaps it is also the first metro project in India that has been implemented entirely using a state government's own resources. JMRC has much to be proud of.

How does this infra feel at the ground level?

I had a chance to to ride to ride the Jaipur metro a few days ago (Ramnagar to Sindhi Camp), and my first impression is that, as of now, it seems like a white elephant. A lonely white elephant with very long legs. 

Even six months after starting the services, the metro stations were practically empty during the rush hour. Since it was not considered worthwhile to waste energy on the escalators for so few people, passengers had to climb almost 150 steps to reach the platform level!

The platforms, however,  are better designed than the ones you see on Delh Metro. Guidelines marking the entry points are not painted on the platform floor as an afterthought but built into the stone tilework, so they are never going to get worn off. Unlike in Delhi where most elevated lines run at the rooftop level, the height of JMRC pillars ensure that you get a fantastic panoramic view of Jaipur city, with its old forts on the surounding hilltops.

There are a few puzzling features too. The overhead pantographs on the trains seem a lot thinner and less rugged than in Delhi. Does it make a difference to the travel experience? I doubt it. However, the steep gradient of descent from the elevated to underground lines ensures that the sound of brakes and grating metal stays with you long after you leave the train.

This is a work in progress. So one hopes that the JMRC will expand it network and persuade more and more people to use its services. Getting the escalators to work may be a good way to start.


* Official website of JMRC (very useful!) - https://www.jaipurmetrorail.in/

* (3Jun15 - IE) - All you wanted to know about Jaipur Metro in 18 points - http://www.financialexpress.com/article/economy/jaipur-metro-rail-all-you-wanted-to-know-in-18-points/79835/

* https://www.jaipurmetrorail.in/pdf/39Brief%20Note%20on%20the%20Project.pdf

Monday, November 23, 2015

In a Wynk

In our everyday lives, there are few things as magical as wireless networks.

Each time I swipe my credit card I find myself counting the seconds before the mobile phone in my pocket gives me a buzz. A few seconds for the transaction to go from the swiping device, over the city's telecom networks, across a satellite hovering 36,000 km away in the geostationary orbit, to check with a database sitting in a server on the other side of the world, before a digital confirmation finds its way back into my mobile phone -- all within about 10 seconds!

The magic works on much smaller scales as well. Bluetooth devices on speakers and earphones, IR remote controls for potato couches, and RFID tags for shoppers, workshops and marathon runners.

Last weekend I came across something new - Lenovo's app for high-speed, peer-to-peer sharing of files and folders: Shareit. I was walking out of the ADHM-2015 bib-distribution area when I saw a kiosk distributing free earphones. It was music company called Wynk and you had to download their app to get the earphones. The only hitch was that I had run out of my data quota for the month and I could not connect to the Google Playstore. "No problem", said the Wynk guy, "I can just share it from my mobile."

At first I thought this was another form of Bluetooth - near field communication and data transmission at 2.4 GHz. But no, this was not Bluetooth. Even with the WiFi and Bluetooth turned off, a file bigger than 15 MB jumped across thin air in less than three seconds! How did this happen?

Turns out that this 5 GHz band is not special to either Lenovo or Wynk. It is a part of the WiFi bandwidth that is less congested compared to the ones used by Bluetooth devices. So it is a lot faster but this transmission-frequency is efficient only at less than half the range of 2.4 GHz devices, which is less than 5 ft..


* List of 2.4 GHz Radio Use -- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_2.4_GHz_radio_use

* What is the difference between a 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz WiFi? -- http://www.howtogeek.com/222249/whats-the-difference-between-2.4-ghz-and-5-ghz-wi-fi-and-which-should-you-use/

* Lenovo Shareit FAQs - http://shareit.lenovo.com/faqs.html

Friday, November 13, 2015

#OccupyUGC - A Protest

Last week, while walking down the ITO crossing, I was dismayed to see a newly constructed Delhi Metro station defaced with spray paint.

Cryptic messages lined the freshly painted and polished walls - "Human Killing" said the first one with four bulls stencilled alongside. Further down the sidewalk things got worse - "Thrash Caste! Thrash Brahmanism!" and a slogan against WTO. Then came the first clue on what this outrage was all about - a twitter hashtag: #OccupyUGC .

I vaguely remembered reading something about students protesting against the withdrawal of a scholarship scheme. But why on earth did they have to deface a beautiful new station to vent their anger against the University Grants Commission?

Next to the station I noticed some mats spread on the road, a few police barricades and a bunch of students sitting on the footpath. "Did you guys really have to do this?", I asked them, "Will scrawling on public property restore your scholarships? Who will clean up this mess if your demands are met?"

They looked at each other and smirked. One of them said, "You find the graffiti ugly? We actually think they are beautiful!"

And so, a long discussion was set in motion. I told them that as a taxpayer who footed the bill for the scholarships as well as the railway infra, if this was the best way in which they -- "accomplished scholars" - could express themselves, it only convinced me that government money was being wasted on them.

ITO station, 13 Nov., 2015

The arguments went back on forth on how the students could make the public take notice of their greivances, their not being able to afford the cost of large hoardings, on the government "sell-out" to the WTO, and on how poor students would be deprived of higher education if they did not get the scholarships...

What were the numbers involved? I was told that about 35,000 students would be affected by this UGC decision. At ₹8000/month this comes to about ₹ 336 Crores (~ $ 500 million). Not really not a big amount when the union budget for education (2015) was about ₹ 69,000 Crores.

What had been achieved by the scholarships so far? Has there been any ground-breaking research that has transformed our thinking? Has it made life any easier for the millions who do not have access to a previleged education? The students murmured something about Gayatri Spivak and "Subaltern Studies". Their arguments seemed immature, disjointed and unconvincing.

Perhaps this protest is a reflection of the sad state of our primary and secondary education . If the protestors had been better grounded we may have seen more convincing forms of protest and argument in our public spaces. Instead, the juvenile defacement of a new metro station seems like a public acknowledgement that money was being wasted on these scholars.

Will the money saved on these UGC scholarships be diverted to primary and secondary education - especially teachers-training and incentives? I certainly hope so.


* Education as a commodity -- http://www.frontline.in/the-nation/education-as-commodity/article7866099.ece

* Kafila article -- http://kafila.org/2015/10/23/students-occupy-ugc-to-defend-the-right-to-research-in-universities-across-india-sucheta-de/

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Mitsubishi Zero's

"The WindMiyazaki Rises" (Kaze Tachinu) is perhaps the first Miyazaki movie I've seen which is actually based on real-life. It is a biopic - with lots of extra masala - on Jiro Horikoshi, the man behind the famous Mitsubishi Zero fighter planes.

By all accounts, the Zero was a formidable fighter plane in WW-2. It was one of the key elements of the Japanese military-industrial complex that the Allies struggled to control. The fact that the entire city of Nagoya - among other cities -  had to be burnt to cinders with incendiary bombs, indicates the level to which the allies went to destroy all the aircraft factories.

The movie portrays a mild-mannered kid dreaming about planes, his education at Tokyo University, of being sent to  Dessau and of the reluctance amongst the Germans to share technical knowhow with the Japanese. It shows the patriotic company-man toiling through repeated mistakes to create an aircraft that went on to become the A6M Zero - the best carrier-based fighter in the world.

A6M Zero (source - Wikipedia Commons)

The biopic also portrays a alternate view of the relationship between Japan and Germany -- partners who were taking on the established world order, and yet, competitors who were not willing to share technology on a platter. It also tries to show Horikoshi as an anti-war skeptic who played along knowing fully well that it would be disasterous for Japan.

Hindsight is always 20:20. No wonder this aircraft is the first showpiece that wlecomes visitors to the war-memorial museum attached to the Yasukuni Jinja shrine at Tokyo!


* Review in the Guardian (2014) -- http://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/may/11/the-wind-rises-breathtaking-japanese-love-war-story

* Jiro Horikoshi -- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jiro_Horikoshi

* Wiki - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mitsubishi_A6M_Zero

Monday, November 09, 2015

How Sweet?

There is a scale for measuring nearly anything in this world. For hardness in minearals, you have the Mohs scale, for the pungency of spicy foods you have the Scoville scale, but was is the scale for sweetness? Surprisingly, there is none.

All we have is a reference point of "1" for sucrose (table sugar). Everything else is relative to sucrose. Among carbohydrate molecules, the various combinations in which Carbon, Hydrogen and Oxygen arrange themselves gives a range of sweetness but there is a also wide range of non-carb molecules that can shock our tongues with their sweetness.

Perhaps the most common non-carb sugar is Aspartame. It is 200x sweeter than sucrose and it was originally synthsized by a scientist looking for a an anti-ulcer drug. Then there is Steviol Glycoside, a chemical extracted from a plant that was used by the Indians in Paraguay. It is 300x sweeter than sugar. At the far end of the scale there is Lugduname, a Guanidine compound extracted from guano, or bird-shit. It is 300,000+ times sweeter than table sugar!

Chemical wizardry can produce incredible levels of sweetness (at zero calories too!), but are these chemicals safe for consumption? Here again scientific opinion is non quite conclusive, so different countries have their own ways of handling sweetness.

Aspartame is widely marketed in USA under the brand-names Nutrasweet and Equal, and is being used in everything from chewing gum to cola's and puddings. On the other hand, Japan has actively discouraged artificial sweetners and promoted the use of naturally occuring compounds like Steviol. This Stevia-derived compound now accounts for more than 40 percent of sweetners consumed in Japan!

Japan's import of Stevia is so huge that last year it imported the entire lot harvested in Paraguay -- about 600 tonnes, worth about US$ 1.5 billion! Even then, the largest producer of Stevia is not Paraguay, but China, which produces more than 8o percent of global production of Stevia.

Recently, the Government of India has also tossed its hat into the ring by approving the use of Stevia in foods.

Will this result in a sharp increase in the cultivation, processing and use of Stevia as an alternative to cane sugar in India?


* Aspartame -- http://www.madehow.com/Volume-3/Aspartame.htmlhttp://www.fssai.gov.in/Portals/0/Pdf/Draft_Notification_Steviol.pdf

* Sweetness Scale -- http://foodconstrued.com/2012/03/sweetness-scale/Lu

* Wiki on Sweetness - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sweetness

* GoI Gazette notification on Stevia (May, 2015) -- * GoI Gazette (2015) - Approval of Stevia - "Madhu Tulsi" --

* * (2015) - Japan to buy all of Paraguay's Stevia -- http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Sweet-Deal-Japan-to-Buy-All-of-Paraguays-Stevia-20150203-0006.html
- 600-700 tons a year and a value of about US$1-1.5 billion  (= $ 2500/kg = ₹ 1,62,500)

* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lugduname

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Energy Poverty

According to the World Bank, 78.7 percent of the population in India has access to electricity. Another report states that by 2012, the national electricity grid has reached 92 percent of its population, i.e., 880 million people.

On the face of it this bit of data may sound impressive for a country with 1.2 billion people spread across 3.2 million square kilometers.

Now you look at the statements more carefully, your realize that it does not hold much meaning on the ground. When an electricity line is pulled into a village it does indeed get connected to the grid, enough for a village to be declared as "electrified", but it certainly does not mean that every household has access to power supply when they need it the most.

Neither does available data give an indication of the quality of power supplied to the village. For instance, a village in Westren Uttar Pradesh, not too far from the National Capital Region of Delhi, may have electricity poles running along one of its roads, but its of no use to the villagers if even the streetlights do not light up at night.

A major part of this problem is the way in which state-level electricity agencies are managed. Over the years, their level of reliability - and credibility- has dropped so low that people are just now willing to pay for poor service. With little money coming in from its customers, these agencies do not have the capacity to buy electricity from the power plants. So we now have this amazing situation where the country has an installed power generation capacity of 272,503MW, but out of this, only only around 145,000MW is operational -- just 53 percent! -- because the distributors do not have the money to buy what is readily available.

This brings us to the issue of cost of power generation, profit margins, and the tariff that the customers are ready to pay for reliable electricity supply.

Is there any data available to show the number of hours of "reliable electricity supply" in the rural and urban areas, across the country?


* WB (2011-15) - Access to Electricity - http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EG.ELC.ACCS.ZS

* WB (2015) - Power for All - India - http://www-wds.worldbank.org/external/default/WDSContentServer/WDSP/IB/2014/11/03/000333037_20141103235403/Rendered/PDF/922230PUB0978100Box385358B00PUBLIC0.pdf

* Andhra Pradesh - Power for All ( PFA 2015) -- http://powermin.nic.in/upload/pdf/joint_initiative_of_govt_of_india_and_andhrapradesh.pdf
- Energy and peak demand -  43,684 MU & 6,158 MW

* Bhaskar, Utpal (2015): India's per capita consumption of electricity reaches 1010 kWh -- http://www.livemint.com/Industry/jqvJpYRpSNyldcuUlZrqQM/Indias-per-capita-electricity-consumption-touches-1010-kWh.html
- India has an installed power generation capacity of 272,503MW, but out of this, only only around 145,000MW is operational -- just 53 percent!

* Bhaskar, Utpal (2014): India faces daily power outage of 30,000 MW -- http://www.livemint.com/Industry/tnV2NUSAK8PbFs7pSzoL0I/India-faces-daily-power-outage-of-30000-MW.html
- Even with one of the lowest per-capital electricity consumption in the world (India 940 kWh; Chine 4000 kWh), power plants in India run far below their capacities because it customers (state electricity agencies) just cannot afford to buy the quantum they need!

* Much of rural India still waits for electricity (2013) -- http://artsci.washington.edu/news/2013-10/much-rural-india-still-waits-electricity

* Chakravorty, Pelli and Marchand (2013) - Does the quality of electricity matter? Evidence from Rural India -- http://isites.harvard.edu/fs/docs/icb.topic1121559.files/April%2010%20-%20Ujjayant%20Chakravorty/CPUIndiaElectricityMarch13.pdf

More at:

* Misra, Udit (23Nov15, IE) - Surplus. shortages go together in Power paradox -- http://indianexpress.com/article/explained/simply-put-surplus-shortages-go-together-in-power-paradox/
. T&D losses account for almost 25% - double global average of 12%
. Remaining 75% is sold at prices that are much lower than the procurement cost of the discoms!

Friday, November 06, 2015

The Japan - South Korea Rivalry in India

It is interesting to see the various ways in which the Japan-Korea rivalry is being played out in India.

Prior to 2009, Japan used to have a strong presence across the country, both in terms of trace & commerce, as well as 'soft-power' projections.  This was quite apparant in the number of public hoardings advertising products from Suzuki, Sony and Toshiba, it was evident from the number of people who thronged to Siri Fort to see Japanese films and in results of market surveys which claimed that in the Indian market, Japan topped amongst all foreign investors in India.

Cut to 2015 and it seems quite clear that whatever the Japanese can do, the Koreans can do it better. The mobile phone market has exploded and it is now dominated by Samsung, the number of non-Japanese cars on Indian roads has risen sharply and in any mall, the number manufactured household goods -- refrigerators, flat-screen TVs, laptops, etc., -- from Samsung and LG far outnumber those from Hitachi, Sony or Toshiba, by a wide margin. Now the Koreans seem to have stolen the Japanese thunder for quality and reliability.

On the PR front, Japan seems out of touch with the times. If proof were needed, all you had to do is to walk down from the Moolchand Metro Station to the national cultural centres run by both the countries.

Long before the Koreans got into the game, in 2006, the Japanese had got themselves a buuilding in pole position for the Japan Foundation, right next to the metro line (also funded by Japan). By the time the line became operational, the Koreans created a much more impressive centre, less than 300m from  Japan Foundation.

The Korean Centre is located in a beautiful, spacious building on the Ring Road. Careful thought has gone into its design and layout which includes a big reception area (with a grumpy receptionist, unfortunately); it has dedicated floors for Taekwondo training, exhibitions, a lovely library, office spaces and a 'secret garden' for friends who want to have chat on the terrace, under the a Silk Cotton tree. The building has plenty of natural lighting and lots of artwork on the walls, including a huge technicolor panel commemorating K-pop.

In sharp contrast, Japan Foundation look cramped, colorless and drab. A building specially designed to turn off visitors. Its tiny, unfriendly spaces it seems to attract only a small cross-section of language students cramming for their exams. While the Korean Centre library has the most essential thing in a library - silence - at  Japan Foundation, you are constantly disturbed by the desk-staff chatting amongst themselves. Where  Japan Foundation directs visitors to other venues for its cultural outreach (book releases at Oxford, CP, films somewhere else), the K-centre draws in visitors with a wider range of interests. The only thing  Japan Foundation has in common with the Korean Centre is the grumpy receptionist. Maybe they are all hired from the same place...

Another proof of the sharp contrast between Japan and South Korea is evident in their approach to the digital media. In an era of smart-phones and slick websites, the Korean KCCI website wins hands down over the created by Japan Foundation, New Delhi.

My Japanese friends often complain about Koreans being mere copycats. "Why can't they do something original?", they ask, "We started an industrial township at Neemrana, and they too started one right next to it...We started a cultural centre in South Delhi, and they build theirs in the same neighborhood..".

For those who have seen both sides of the story, it seems clear that while the Japanese start early, think carefully, they end up doing things in a stingy, half-hearted way. The Koreans merely outdo them by implementing things on a scale, style and self-confidence level that eludes the Japanese in India.



* Korean Cultural Centre, New Delhi -- http://india.korean-culture.org/welcome.do
* Japan Foundation - http://www.jfindia.org.in/

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Whataboutery and Me Ne Frego!

"I don't give a damn!"

Mussoluni's famous Blackshirts charged into Indian living-rooms this week. Images of the Italian facists, led by Il Duce with the motto, "Me ne frego!", has now been used to describe the attitude of the BJP government led by Narendra Modi.

The man who brought in the blackshirts to Indian living-rooms is not one of those discredited, fork-tongued politicians from the opposition parties but one of the most credible public intellectuals in India - Arun Shourie. He was using them to describe the audacity with which BJP leaders, including MPs and Cabinet Ministers, are vitiating an atmosphere that is already charged with communal tensions.

Until now, most of the arguments had gone down the whataboutery way:
Q. Why have more than 400 national artists returned their awards following the Dadri killings?
A. What about the anti-Sikh riots of 1984? Why were awards not returned after 2002?... such hypocricy, such double-standards! 
Q. Why is beef banned in so many Indian states?
A. What about the Congress party? - they are the ones who brought the legislations in the first place...the executive is merely implementing the existing law.

Now Shourie has raised the bar. He has brought the focus back on the here-and-now. Modi, he says, is not a helpless 'Under Secretary at the Homeopathy Department'.

By comparing the conduct of Modi to Mussolini, he has brought back public attention to the tacit encouragement being provided to the zealots and bhakts, by accusing the PM of fiddling with inane tweets while burning moral issues are at hand.

Where will all this end? Will this madness end after the Bihar elections? I don't know.

But I do hope they will continue to serve beef-curry at Kerala House.

* Full text of TV Interview - http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/arun-shourie-narendra-modi-bjp-nda-government/1/433289.html

* http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/over-the-barrel-the-dilution-of-brand-india/

* Kerala and its meat -- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X6eTduMJl1k

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Cuscuta in Noida

A mop of blond hair looks ugly on evergreen trees.

Parasitic infestations by the Cuscuta species, that seems to have started as an nuisance for garden hedges, seems to have grown in to full blown epidemic in various parts of NCR Delhi.

In Noida, there is an entire avenue that has been colonised by Cuscuta species..

Is there a way to rid the magnificent pilkhan trees of this infestation? So far all available information on WWW seems to suggest that the scientists have only figured a way to deal with this infestation in cash-crop plantations.

If you have an alfa-alfa farm, a solution - albeit expensive - may be at hand. But isn't there a biocontrol agent that could deal with the cuscuta problem? -- a parasite that kills another parasite perhaps?


* e-Flora of India - https://sites.google.com/site/efloraofindia/species/a---l/cl/convolvulaceae/cuscuta/cuscuta-species-1/delhi
- https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/indiantreepix/u1eHxg-Gldk

* Biology and Control of parasitic weeds -- http://www.authorstream.com/Presentation/boggulareddy-1406855-biology-and-control-of-parasitic-weeds/

Saturday, October 10, 2015

A City of Transformations

In Miyazaki's movie, "Howls Moving Castle", there is a little colored dial above the door. The world you want to see on the other side of the door, depends on the color you choose on this dial. Just a flick of this dial and your door could be opening either into a barren wasteland or into a neat city street.

Delhi feels a bit like Howl's Castle sometimes, without the doors and colored dials. It is quite amazing the way the city transforms from one district to another.

One of my favourite transformations is on the metro yellow-line, from Central Seretariat to Chawri Bazaar. You step down from the rolling green lawns of the central vista in the Lutyens Bungalow Zone (LBZ), and emerge few minutes later from the deepest underground station in Delhi, right in the middle of one the busiest market in Old Delhi.

This is where chaos hits you like a ton of bricks. The noise of a thousand blaring horns, diesel fumes mixed with the smell of sweat, urine and cooking oil, the rush of crowds heading in all directions, and narrow alleys littered with assorted garbage. And all this packed in an area smaller than some roundabouts of central Delhi.

On a different scale such transformations can be seen within districts as well. In South Delhi, the roads that take you from Greater Kailash, to Kalkaji, and then to Govindpuri would make you feel like an explorer stepping into the urban jungles of our time. From the 'Bania-Gothic' style of architecture to entire neighborhoods created out of a seemingly haphazard of collection of bricks, mortar and garish paint.

My latest addition to this list is the Ramakrishna Mission near Paharganj. It is another of those dramatic transformation of spaces within city districts. There are two ways of getting there - a metro ride down the Blue Line, or a cycle rickshaw from New Delhi railway station. The latter is better for those who are seeking a bit of drama, shock and awe. You step out of the sprawling New Delhi Railway Station and head down Pahargunj Main Market street. This crowded throughfare not very different from the roads of Govindpuri or Chawri Bazaar but almost completely oriented towards hippies and backpackers.

You make your way down this road, past the travel-agents, money-changers, garment shops selling baggy trousers and pleated cotton skirts, past signages in Hebrew, Russian and English, kiosks selling "Smoking Accessories" with suggestive cannabis leaf imprinted outside. A slight turn to the left at the far end of this road brings you the the Ramakrishna Mission.

The first thing that strikes you here is a sense of order and purpose, centered around the domed RKM shrine. Neat pathways lined with evergreen shrubs, lead you to the other buildings in the complex - a 'show room', an office complex, a large library and two auditoriums. Every little vacant space in between the buildings is lined with  flowerbeds and rows of fuits and vegetables.

RKM seems like the antithesis of everything that exists beyond its neat whitewashed walls. On one side there is pushing and shoving, abusing and haggling, and on the other, you have the 'order of monks', silence, polite conversations and sonorous prayer songs.

It is quite amazing to see how people flit between the different worlds that exist on either side of the walls. The lady who had just been haggling at the gates with a cycle-rickshawallah over a fiver will, fall at the feet of a swami in ochre robes and drop a few ₹500 notes into the donation box, to 'serve the needy'.

The ways in which buildings and spaces transform people, is quite astounding.


* LBZ to be reduced by 5.1 sqkm, -- http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=126433

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Roaring and Bleating

Bharat Karnad launched his new book today: "Why India is not a Great Power (yet)".

I had been looking forward to this event ever since the CPR invitation hit my inbox. I had expected thisto be another of those dour events where folks landed up late, where a flunky praised the author and his book to the skies, the author read some excerpts, everbody clapped, chatted over some coffee and dispersed.

As expected, the event started 30 mts late, but everything else was refreshingly different. The author made some opening remarks, positioning himself as a military "hawk" and then went on to paint a dismal picture of India as a world-power-wannabe. An aspirant unable to muster the will, either to have a global vision, or to implement it. A lion in that bleeted like sheep, and acted like one.

Karnad's views on the subject are well known. Interestingly, while all the panelists agreed that it was a great piece of work, not one of the agreed with his conclusions. And the best part of it was that Karad had personally invited experts who had a diametrically  opposite world view.

Jairam Ramesh, a Congress-man and former minister in the UPA government, felt that Karnad had erred in equating military might with being a global power; Shiv Shankar Menon presented elegant and coherent agruments on why all the policy recommendations of the book were signs of a declining power, not a rising one; Adm. Raja Menon read out a note from which it was difficult to separate exerpts from his own views, and Maj.Gen Narasimhan thought that Karnad's conclusions were flawed because they were based on a limited interaction with those who knew better.

All through the wit, sarcasm and sage advise, the experts agreed on one point: There is not much  internal coherence within Government of India - each ministry and department has its own ideas on what constitutes "national interest", with many of them working at cross-purposes.

Like the 'Blind Men of Hindoostan', they all hold on to their own views and miss the elephant in the room.

Some interesting takeaways:
  • Nehru, despite all proclamations on non-alignment gave the first go-ahead for the nuclear weapons program. This was part of a vision which withered away after 1964
  • 23% of Indan Army budget goes towards maintaining armoured corpes. Two mountain divisions can be maintained for the cost of one armoured division;
  • Despite all its war-games, the IAF was completely unprepared for Kargil. It had never envisaged a was on the Himalayan frontier. Even today, the focus remains on 'short, decisive' wars along the Western border, despite rising alarms about the Tibet border.
  • Our military brass seeks approval from a Western audience, not its domestic stakeholders. It took an MIT case-study and GE's initiatives, for to realize the value of "frugal innovation";
  • Everybody realises the need for a strong private sector reducing our dependence on imports but there is not sufficient motivation (read "trust"), to see this through.

- OUP Book - http://www.oup.co.in/product/academic-general/politics/international-relations/207/why-india-is-not-great-power-yet/9780199459223

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

On Batteries

How do batteries work?

Until today my understanding had been confined to high-school lessons in physics: lead anodes, cathodes, and of charged electrons swimming through sulphuric acid.

Now an enquiry from a friend in Japan is beginning to improve my understanding of an essential device that has become so common place that we not only take it for granted but also miss out on the wide range of batteries in the market now.

Here is an interesting video produced by EngineerGuy - Bill Hammack, University of Illinois:

If you decide to move on from lead acid batteries, the videos take you tthrough other interesting stuff like - the various uses of copper, Qweerty vs. Drovak keyboard layouts, magnetrons in microwaves and the connection between nutmeg and tantalum (!).

Coming back to batteries, they now come in serveral types -  AGM or dry, deep cycle or solar batteries. Unlike automotive batteries which are designed to give out a big burst of energy to start the engine, the AGM/Deep Cycle/Solar batteries are designed to discharge over a long period of time.

This is quite useful when you want to have, say, a streetlight running on solar panels. The panels absorb energy during the day, and keep the roads lit up all night on a single charge.

What if the such energy could be stored to run power-hungry equipment like freezers, microwaves and flatscreens? How would that work?


- AGM (Absorbed Glass Mat) battery technology - http://www.solar-electric.com/agm-battery-technology.html/
- Running a microwave on a 12V battery - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WeY4qE2afvU
- Winiversal Inverter - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ZhrqvYBqCE

* Power Inverter FAQ - https://www.donrowe.com/power-inverter-faq-a/258.htm
- AMPS X 120 (AC voltage) = WATTS -- This formula yields a close approximation of the continuous load of the appliance
- WATTS X 2 = Starting Load
- Induction motors such as air conditioners, refrigerators, freezers and pumps may have a start up surge of 3 to 7 times the continuous rating.
- The auxiliary battery should be connected to the alternator through an isolator module to prevent the inverter from discharging the engine start battery when the engine is off.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Murthy Vs. Rao

Is there one invention from India that has become a household name in the globe? 
Is there one technology that has transformed the productivity of global corporations? 
Is there one idea that has led to an earth-shaking invention to delight global citizens?

These were some of the questions posed by Narayana Murthy at an IISc convocation ceremony in July 2015. As expected, it provoked loud yelps of protest from India's scientific community, including the big daddy of them all, Prof. CNR Rao, who countered it by just tossing the question back to Murthy - What has the industry contributed to S&T in India?

CNRR's rhetorical response does not, of course, answer any of the questions posed by Murthy. So a one can come to the concusion that the short answer to NM's questions is "Sorry, none at all."

Perhaps a part of the answer to Murthy's questions lies in the way scientists like CNRR are reacting to his convocation speech. A touchiness that comes from being insecure, a misplaced sense of self-importance, and an attitude that would do the proverbial ostritch very proud indeed!

Oddly enough, less than a week after Murthy's speech at IISc, CNRR stated (20 July) almost the same thing in different words. “The IISc. is characterised by very mediocre research", he said,  "mainly because they have a lot of facilities.” I guess the man who had a traffic circle outside IISc named after himself decided to change tack because he thought the institution was being criticised by an outsider who was a capitalist, and a bourgeois to boot.

Fortunately NM has refused to be drawn into a debate with CNRR. His simple response was, "He is a great scientist...So when he says something, all of us should listen to him with respect”.

Anybody who has read the full text of NMs speech would realize that his target audience was a whole generation of young scientists who who were going to seek greener pastures in the West. Even if  a few of them return home with one technology, one invention or one idea, it would still be a great outcome for India.



* Copy of the speech delivered by NM - http://scroll.in/article/741723/full-text-narayana-murthy-questions-the-contribution-of-iits-and-iisc-in-the-last-60-years
* CNR Rao's response - http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/industry-contribution-to-science-pathetic-professor-c-n-r-rao/
* CNRR on IISc - http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/iits-iisc-are-not-the-best-in-the-world-says-cnr-rao/article2066308.ece

Monday, September 07, 2015

On 3G, 4G and LTE

Airtel has become the first telecom service provider to launch 4G-LTE services in India.

As expected of any 'early bird', the company has been aggresively promoting this with a tagline - "If your network is faster, we will pay your mobile bills for life.". This, coupled with a free offer to switch to a 4G SIM and avail higher network speeds at 3G rates, has been attracting customers in droves.

The process is quite simple for mobile phones. You just slip in a new SIM, send a text message to designated number and you are hooked to the 4G networks, wherever available. For devices that cannot sent text messages to Airtel (eg. iPads), the activation process takes a couple of hours.

I liked the simplicity of the process. On top of this, the new SIM cards do not have to be clipped to fit into a smartphone or tab. It now comes pre-punched in three sizes - normal, mini and micro. All you need to do is to push out the size that fits your device -- no more of those crude clipping and crimping tools.

Physical processes apart, the Airtel 4G campaign has one glaring omission -- none of the adverts put a number to their claims. Instead of clearly stating that connection speeds are above a certain threshold, they just rely on the general sloth in internet speeds that we have now come to take for granted in India.

So what exactly is '4G speed' supposed to be?

The benchmarks set by UN-ITU clearly states that 4G should have speeds ranging from 100 Mbps to 1Gbps. Actual speeds are anything but dazzling. In the Airtel showroom, the maximum speed I could get was 11 Mbps. Back home, the maxmum speeds dropped to 5Mbps. Then again the 4G connections were tenuous at best. The signals received by the mobiles seemed to keep changing, making the devices switch frequently between 3G and 4G

No wonder the wireless pipedream is also called Long Term Evolution (LTE). We still have a long-long way to go!

Speeds across the Gs (Source - https://sudhakarreddymr.files.wordpress.com) 


* Airtel 4G - http://www.airtel.in/4g/index
* 4G-LTE Status in India - https://www.thehdtimes.com/4g-lte-status-in-india/
* ITU paves way for 4G technologies - http://www.itu.int/net/pressoffice/press_releases/2010/40.aspx#.Ve3OBhGqqko
* TechAdvisor - difference between 4G and LTE - http://www.pcadvisor.co.uk/feature/mobile-phone/whats-difference-between-4g-lte-3605656/

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Extreme Fasting

In ancient Indian history, one of topics that fascinates me is the reign of Emperor Chandragupta Maurya (340-298 BCE), and the manner in which it ended.

Chandragupta, the first ruler to unify most of Greater India into one state, decides one day to renouce his throne. He then dons the garments of a Jain monk, steps out of his former capital city Magadha and walks 2184 km to a hill near Sravanabelagola, and slowly, deliberately starves himself to death.

I always thought this was a one-off event. Perhaps the last display of a man's iron will, to prove to himself that just as he could kill and conquer a sub-continent, he could just as methodically conquer his own desire to eat, drink and, to stay alive.

Imagine my surprise when I came across a report in the papers that an elderly doctor in Rajasthan was locking horns with the Indian judiciary because he wanted to follow his father's example by doing exactly the same thing!

It is a living tradition that goes back 2500 years. The Swetambara's call it Santhara while the Digambara sect calls it Sallekhana. Both refer the act of self-purification when an individual decides that all the purposes of life have been served, or when they figure that their body is unable to serve any purpose in life.

On 10 August 2015, the Rajasthan High Court ruled that this Jain practice was illegal because it amounted to 'abetment of suicide' punishable under sections 306 and 309 of the Indian Penal Code. Last week, on 31 Aug., 2015, this decision was stayed by the Supreme Court which noted that the RHC decision lacked a basic understanding of the tenets of Jainism.

In a country where religious practices are often reduced to gaudy publicity stunts, it is good to know that there are traditions at the other end of the spectum as well!


* Sallekhana - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sallekhana#In_Practice
* I too want a beautifu death - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chandragiri_Hill
* Chandragiri Hill - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chandragiri_Hill

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Oliver Sacks, Polymath

I am a sucker for obituaries.

Whenever I access magazines like the Economist or the New Yorker, this is one column I rarely miss. But last week I came across one in the Indian Express (originally, an NYT piece), and since then, I have been devouring just about everything I can find - opeds, features, and, of course, more obituraries. I found myself going all over the internet reading as many obituaries and articles I could find on one man: Oliver Sacks.

Oliver Sacks passed away a few days ago. During his 82-year life-span, he was described as a world-renowned neurologist, a world-champion weightlifter, a best-selling author, a naturalist, and a lifelong enthusiast of physical chemistry.

How many talents can the Gods bestow on one man?!?

NYT describes him as a person who - "...leapfrogged among disciplines, shedding light on the strange and wonderful interconnectedness of life — the connections between science and art, physiology and psychology, the beauty and economy of the natural world and the magic of the human imagination."

Now I find that Sacks was an old friend to another science writer I admire - Vilayanur.S. Ramachandran, author of Phantom in the Brain. In a conversation between these two profs, other famous authors are mentioned - George Gamow, Stephen Jay Gould, Lewis Thomas and Peter Medawar -- all of whom, I am ashamed to admit, I had never heard before!

This must be the first time an obituary is leaving me with such long list of authors and books to read!


* Website - http://www.oliversacks.com/
* Oliver Sachs - Obituary - http://time.com/4016214/oliver-sacks-82/?xid=newsletter-brief
* http://www.brainpickings.org/2015/05/18/oliver-sacks-on-the-move/
* NYT Obit - http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/31/arts/oliver-sacks-wrote-awakenings-and-cast-light-on-the-interconnectedness-of-life.html?_r=0
* Raghavan, RK (The Hindu) - http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/neurologist-writer-healer/article7629878.ece
* The Wire - http://thewire.in/2015/09/10/the-community-the-clinic-and-the-road-not-taken-10400/


- 1967 - On Migraine
- 1973 - Awakenings - on patients who suffered from a condition known as Encephalitis lethargica
- 1985 - The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat
- 2007 book, “Musicophilia,” looked at the relationship between music and the brain
- 2001 memoir
 “Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood”
- “The Island of the Colorblind” (1997) about a society where congenital colorblindness was common, “Seeing Voices” (1989) about the world of deaf culture, and “Hallucinations” (2012), in which Sacks discussed his own hallucinations as well as those of some patients.
- gave us case studies of patients whose stories were so odd, so anomalous, so resonant that they read like tales by Borges or Calvino.
-  illnesses and disorders “can play a paradoxical role in bringing out latent powers, developments, evolutions, forms of life that might never be seen or even be imaginable in their absence.” A young woman with a low I.Q. learns to sing arias in more than 30 languages, and a Canadian physician with Tourette’s syndrome learns to perform long, complicated surgical procedures without a single tic or twitch.

Monday, August 31, 2015

August 2015 - Interesting Links

* A bank thanks its customers - http://www.surveee.org/tdatm.html

* Aurangazeb Road - name change - http://m.firstpost.com/living/why-i-danced-when-i-found-out-delhis-aurangzeb-road-was-being-renamed-after-dr-apj-abdul-kalam-2414280.html
- Another view - http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Aurangzeb-to-Kalam-A-road-to-history-revisited/articleshow/48735388.cms
* Changing of road-names - Aurangazeb > Abdul Kalam - http://www.dailyo.in/politics/aurangzeb-road-apj-abdul-kalam-road-hindutva-rss-delhi-government/story/1/5949.html

* Oliver Sachs - Obituary - http://time.com/4016214/oliver-sacks-82/?xid=newsletter-brief

*The Bank of Japan is China's biggest cheerleader --  http://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2015/08/30/commentary/japan-commentary/bank-japan-chinas-biggest-cheerleader/

* A false alarm on the crisis in China - http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/26/opinion/false-alarm-on-a-crisis-in-china.html?_r=0

* Aakar Patel - on Shashi Tharoor's speech - http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/aakarvani/dear-shashi-tharoor-the-fault-was-not-in-the-raj-but-in-ourselves/

* Power of the Pause - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WkS67oiei78&feature=youtu.be

* Comparing mobiles - Lenovo K3, Yu Yureka Plus, etc - http://www.91mobiles.com/compare/Motorola/Moto+G2.html
- http://www.gsmarena.com/yu_yureka_plus-7436.php

* How to get feedback when you are the boss - https://hbr.org/2012/05/how-to-get-feedback-when-youre

* WW1 and the beginning of modern psychiatry - http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/World-War-I-and-beginning-of-modern-psychiatry-in-India/articleshow/43101847.cms?from=mdr

* War Embers continue to simmer - http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/srinath-raghavan-writes-war-embers-that-continue-to-simmer/article7547037.ece

* Best public libraries of India - http://www.polkacafe.com/best-libraries-in-india-812.html

* Beautiful stitches - http://craft.easyfreshideas.com/beautiful-stitch/

* Capella - Hotel California - http://www.wtvideo.com/video/5100/when-they-start-singing-hotel-california-it-s-hard-to-believe-that-no-one-has-instruments-

* Japan's soft power - https://www.academia.edu/14801214/Japans_Soft_Power_in_the_21st_Century_Between_Economic_Success_and_Political_Failure?auto=download&campaign=upload_email

* Chinese Tremors - http://www.business-standard.com/article/opinion/subir-gokarn-chinese-tremors-115082300754_1.html

* The Indian economy has much to crow about - http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/toi-edit-page/wallowing-in-irrational-despair-negative-sentiment-on-indian-economy-is-the-flip-side-of-irrational-exuberance/

* Corn Wars - http://www.newrepublic.com/article/122441/corn-wars
- Chinese company officials caught stealing corn seeds from USA - Beijing Kings Nower Seed Science & Technology, a large Chinese agricultural company that develops corn, rice, cotton, and canola seeds
- GM seeds' genetic sequencing was matched to seeds under development by Monsanto, DuPont Pioneer, and LG Seeds, which, including LG’s parent company, Groupe Limagrain, comprise three of the four largest seed companies in the world.
- China simply can’t grow enough food to feed itself, particularly now that the country’s burgeoning middle class has acquired an appetite for meat.
- Chinese govt buys between two and five million metric tons of American corn annually, approximately 94 percent of all corn imported into China each year.
- Monsanto and DuPont Pioneer, the two American seed giants, have produced so many successful hybrids that they now control 45 percent of all the seed sold in the world.
- Charges approved by a federal judge under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA)
- FISA investigations into Dongfan Chung, a former Boeing engineer who stole trade secrets related to the Delta IV rocket and the Air Force’s C-17 aircraft, or Qing Li, who conspired to procure 30 military accelerometers, which, according to the government, “have applications in smart bombs, missiles, and calibrating g-forces of nuclear explosions.”
- Multinational food conglomerates like DuPont Pioneer and Monsanto have sizable security forces and highly efficient investigatory networks.
- In 1970, in an effort to come up with an even stronger plant killer (than Agent Orange), Monsanto chemist John E. Franz hit upon an herbicide called glyphosate, which was marketed under the trade name Roundup and had seen unmatched growth in broadleaf weed control in the agricultural industry.
- in the wastewater-treatment plant of one of their own glyphosate production plants in Louisiana, where workers had noticed a range of bacteria thriving despite exposure to Roundup—and one, under lab testing, displayed total immunity to glyphosate pesticides.
- Since the 1960s, endotoxins produced by Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a common bacteria found in the soil, had been sold as a commercial microbial insecticide to kill moth larvae.

* The Next GMO Debate -  http://www.technologyreview.com/featuredstory/540136/the-next-great-gmo-debate/

* Hiroshima - http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1946/08/31/hiroshima?mbid=nl_Sunday%20Longreads%20(5)&CNDID=31782417&mbid=nl_Sunday%20Longreads%20(5)&CNDID=31782417&spMailingID=8007814&spUserID=ODI0NzIwMDA0MDUS1&spJobID=742733854&spReportId=NzQyNzMzODU0S0

Happiness - http://www.upworthy.com/brilliant-harvard-psychologist-explains-how-to-achieve-long-term-happiness-in-this-popular-ted-talk?c=ufb3

A tale of two speeches - http://www.businessworld.in/opinion-columns/tale-two-speeches#sthash.p18hB8bK.UO0jvIRL.dpbs

Affordable children's books - Pratham - http://www.prathambooks.org/

WW2 - Why Indians fought for a Britain they abhorred -- http://www.npr.org/2015/08/22/433515258/in-wwii-millions-of-indians-fought-for-a-britain-they-abhored

Every business needs an enemy - http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/248310

Wendy Doniger on Kamasutra - http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/books/liberty-lost

How symmetry shapes nature's laws -- https://www.quantamagazine.org/20150813-how-does-symmetry-shape-natures-laws/

The unholy end of empoire http://www.economist.com/node/9507188?fsrc=scn%2Ftw%2Fte%2Fpe%2Fed%2FTheunrulyend

Sun shines on India's solar ambitions - http://www.business-standard.com/article/current-affairs/sun-shines-on-india-s-solar-ambitions-as-prices-nosedive-115082100010_1.html

Darlymple - How I write - http://mumbaiboss.com/2014/07/14/how-i-write-william-dalrymple/

Modern Kamasutra - http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2012/09/24/married-kama-sutra

Four ingredients of influence - https://hbr.org/2015/05/understand-the-4-components-of-influence

Career switch - law to photography - http://legalreporter.in/nlsiu-grad-quits-law-firm-to-pursue-a-career-in-photography-says-running-own-photography-venture-is-more-fulfilling/

About doing only the things you are curious about -- http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2015/aug/19/new-attitude-to-travel-skip-the-iconic

Chinese hackers may have turned their sights on India -- https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/chinese-hackers-may-have-turned-sights-on-india-says-new-report/2015/08/20/cae2b400-4747-11e5-9f53-d1e3ddfd0cda_story.html
- The cyber group sent targeted spear-phishing e-mails to its intended victims with Microsoft Word attachments containing information on regional diplomatic issues,
The attachments contained a script called WATERMAIN that, if opened, could infect the user’s computer, creating a “backdoor” that would allow the attacker access.

Statins -- http://thewire.in/2015/08/20/big-pharma-is-subtly-but-surely-spinning-statins-out-of-control-8850/

Bhuira Jams, Himachal Pradesh - http://www.natgeotraveller.in/web-exclusive/web-exclusive-month/travelling-with-kids-making-jam-in-himachal-pradesh/

Sitting on a Marine Superhighway - http://www.tvmrising.in/2015/08/sitting-on-marine-superhighwaywhy.html

Movies to watch -- http://www.buzzfeed.com/alisonwillmore/movies-to-watch-during-the-august-doldrums


Corporates - Communication - under-rated - http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/how-ceos-can-adopt-a-21st-century-approach-to-organizational-communication/

The truth about OROP -- http://hillpost.in/2015/08/the-bitter-truth-about-orop/104013/

Indian pharma firms in the big league - http://www.businesstoday.in/magazine/sectors/pharma/indian-drug-companies-have-joined-global-hunt-to-discover-new-antibiotics/story/222544.html

Grit - Five Characteristics - http://www.forbes.com/sites/margaretperlis/2013/10/29/5-characteristics-of-grit-what-it-is-why-you-need-it-and-do-you-have-it/

How to say no to you boss - http://worklifeasia.roberthalf.com/career/how-to-say-no-to-your-boss/

How do the Germans work efficiently? - http://www.huffingtonpost.com/amol-sarva/why-germans-work-fewer-ho_b_6172262.html

Maggi's mistakes - https://www.microsoft.com/en-in/software-download/windows10

NYT - Inside Amazon - http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/16/technology/inside-amazon-wrestling-big-ideas-in-a-bruising-workplace.html?smid=tw-nytimes&smtyp=cur&_r=1
Amazon as an employer - http://www.theguardian.com/technology/commentisfree/2015/aug/17/why-i-am-finally-going-to-boycott-amazon

What makes #Indian bureaucrats at the top 'less competent and more insecure' to lateral entries today? -- http://indianexpress.com/article/explained/outside-talent-in-the-making-of-indias-economic-policy-successes/ #IAS

Shaji Vikraman - http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/secrets-and-spies/

Personal money manager - MoneyView - http://yourstory.com/2015/08/money-view/

India's forgotten soldiers - http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/15/opinion/indias-forgotten-soldiers.html?_r=2
Mapping the way India has been viewed over the ages - http://thewire.in/2015/08/11/mapping-the-way-india-has-been-viewed-through-the-ages-8220/

Song - phenomenal woman - https://www.google.co.in/search?q=phenomenal+woman+song&oq=phenomenal+woman+song&aqs=chrome..69i57.5088j0j7&sourceid=chrome&es_sm=122&ie=UTF-8

How engineers think - http://swarajyamag.com/culture/down-to-the-nuts-and-bolts/

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Corporate Tax Refunds

Renault-Nissan India is reported to have put on hold its plans to invest up to ₹ 5000 Cr on hold, subject to "expeditious payment of outstanding incentives".

What are the outstanding incentives?

In India states often compete with each other to attract investment, especially FDI. Tamil Nadu, along with Maharashtra, Gujarat and Haryana figure amongst the top states offering special sops to companies looking for a base in India.

As a part of its "Investment Promotion Subsidy (IPS)" package, TN had promised to provide a refund of gross Value Added Tax (VAT) and Central Sales Tax (CST) paid by companies investing in the state. In 2005, Renault-Nissan entered India and set up its manufacturng plant in Chennai after investing over ₹ 6,100 Crores. uilding a plant that can roll out 400,000 vehicles a year.

Renault-Nissan claims that it yet to receive a refund of ₹1,901 Cr and ₹ 822 Cr for IPS and input VAT respectively.

An absence of clarity on taxation is often cited as one of the key reasons why investors shy away from India. For those who have already taken a plunge into the Indian market, a commitent provided by a state governent acts as a buffer against abiguous central taxations rules. And when state government are perceived to dishonor their commitments, national credibility takes a beating.

Are things really as simple as they are reported in the papers? On the face of it it does seem rather improbable that TN would kill the proverbial goose that lays golden eggs of employent and tax revenue. So what is the other side of the coin?

A few relevant points:

  • Under TNs Ultra Mega Integrated Automobiles Projects Policy (UMIAPP-2007), an investment of at least ₹ 4,000 crore is required within seven years from the date of signing an agreement with the government or any other specified date. 
  • Apart fro Renault-Nissan, other auto majors have also invested in TN, including Hyundai Motor India Ltd (cap-ex to 600,000 cars), JV - Nissan and Ashok Leyland Ltd ( 300,000 commercial vehicles) and Ford India Pvt. Ltd.
Now the question to ask is:Did Renault-Nissan honor its side of the bargain? and does any other auto company have the same set of complaints against the TN government?



* Renault Nissan puts on hold ₹5k india plan - http://www.hindustantimes.com/business-news/renault-nissan-puts-on-hold-rs-5-000-cr-india-plan/article1-1385302.aspx

* Wiki - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renault_Nissan_Automotive_India_Private_Limited

* (2009) - http://www.livemint.com/Companies/vKc5vvbok5WnSYvyhAo8WK/Renault-Nissan-to-make-good-shortfall-for-Chennai-facility.html

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Giga Hertz

1,000,000,000 vibrations per second. This is one Giga Hertz (GHz).

GHz is just a tiny sliver of the electromagnetic spectrum (EM) that surrounds us. Yet, it has become so indispensible in our lives that most of us barely give it a second thought.

Just consider this:

* Bluetooth Devices used in personal area networks (wireless earphones, speakers, etc.,) use the frequency range 2.4 to 2.4835 GHz. The protocol divides the band into 79 channels (each 1 MHz wide) and changes channels up to 1600 times per second!

* Micowave Ovens cooks your food and heats your coffee using high power magnetrons to transmit EM radiation in the 2.4 GHz band.

* Telecom Towers - Use the range 1 GHz to 300 GHz. Interfering with the high power transmission of these towers can be fatal, as proven by this case of Darwin Awards, titled "Christmans Roast".

I am yet to figure out how we managed to get such precise control over anything that transmits signals at amazingly high frequencies...


* Connectivity failure while using Bluetooth and USB-3 devices simultaneously - http://www.bluetoothandusb3.com/

* EM interference at 2.4 GHz - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electromagnetic_interference_at_2.4_GHz

* Instructables - http://www.instructables.com/id/Car-motorcycle-or-bicycle-wifi-alarm-rang-500m-10-/

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Coercive Instrumentalities of the State

I heard about "monopoly on violence", for the first time at a lecture hall in Tsukuba-U. It as one of those eye-opening sessions that brought out the inextricable linkages between academic theories and the practice of statecraft.

Prof. H. Klienschmidt was at the podium, talking about Max Weber's theory. According to this theory, one of the pre-conditions for the existence of a successful state is its capacity to to uphold a claim on the 'monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force' (German: das Monopol legitimen physischen Zwanges) in the enforcement of its order.

It is from this theory that modern nation states enforce strict control on its citizens over the pocession and use of firearms and weapons. But the theory starts wobbling when the state is forced to cope with acts of terror.

Recently in India, we had a terror convict who was hanged after a trial that lasted 20 years. The execution was widely perceived as a decision that lacked balance. Here is an interesting talk by Ajit Doval, NSA that addresses some of these concerns:

"How does the values of the state manifest themselves? They are exercised by a few individuals...in dictatorships and monarchies by one or two. In large democracies there may be a coupel of hundred people...leave aside the theoritical model, a recent survey concludes that the USA is controlled by 173 individuals...the real power is exercised by them. And actually, the substantial strategic power is exercised by a much smaller group...what matters is that they are all human beings. And they carry with them... their own prejudices, their own values, their own likes, dislikes, and also their self interests. And therefore the dilemma arises because of that."



- Lalit Doshi Memorial Lecture (4 August 2015) - http://www.thehoot.org/free-speech/media-freedom/national-interest-trumps-media-freedom-8862

- Michael Bakunin 's Immorality of the State - http://dwardmac.pitzer.edu/Anarchist_Archives/bakunin/bakuninimmorality.html

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

HP 'Stream 13' Laptop - "Something Happened"

If you are thinking of buying the HP Stream ultraportable notebook with Microsoft Windows 10, please reconsider. And if you have already purchased one, please accept my heartfelt sympathies.

I suffer, therefore I empathise.

The HP Stream's biggest strength (price, portability) comes with a a major liability - a 32 GB SSD. It is, no doubt, quite fast but the limited space ensures that you will soon suffer death by a thousand MS updates.

You cannot really afford to block the updates because it could be a security risk, and if you do enable them, the space available is so little that the machine just gives up. Over the past few days I have been struggling to install the free Windows 10 updates, in vain.

Today, I called the helpline (18001021100) and they suggested that I download the "ISO files" (3.11GB) from here. So I first downloaded a "Media Creation Toolx64" (19MB). Then, after burning a couple of hours and 4GB worth of data, all I got was a cryptic messge - "Something Happened - 0x80070070 - 0xC19001DF". 

Something happened?? WTF?? I had followed all the instructions given to me and downloaded the ISO files on to an external HDD which had more than 450 GB of free space. Now, after 'something happened' there is nothing to show on the HDD that anything was ever downloaded. 4GB worth of files has just disappeared into thin air - for the third time!!

So there you are: HP sells you a machine that has a C-Drive with 32 GB of space, of which Win-8.1 takes about 25 GB. Microsoft and HP have a deal for free upgrade of Win-8.1 to Win-10, but they never tell you while buying the machine that Win-10 requires at least 20GB of additional free-space for installation, which the HP machine is just not capable of handling. What a great way to fool customers!

If you are in the same boat, here are some links you might find useful -

UPDATE - 8 Dec., 2016 .............................................

Purchasing an HP laptop ("Stream 13"s.no.-5CD5120TJ3) will now go down as one of my worst gadget decisions so far.

Almost exactly a year after my purchase, in Aug., 2016, my HP Stream 13 laptop refused to boot-up.  The nearest service center listed on HP website - "Progressive Infotech PL" refused to handle the servicing saying that they no longer partner with HP. Why, then, is this company listed on the HP website?? No answer.

The next option was carry my laptop to JABIL at Sector-18 Noida. I handed over my laptop on 3 Aug., 2016, showed them the original invoice and warranty papers, and was assured of a response 'within three days'. After five days, when I called back for a status update, it was clear that no action had been taken. Instead, I was asked the same questions I answered earlier.

JABIL got back to me two weeks later and told me the mother-board would have to be replaced. A few days - and reminders - later, I finally got back my HP Stream-1 laptop with a new mother-board. I re-loaded all my applications and got back to work.

A couple of months later, in Oct., 2016, HP laptop started acting up again. It show "601 battery error" and work only when plugged in to the mains. Oddly, this error occurred only intermittently. One day it would show "601 error" and, on the next, the laptop would working perfectly fine with 100% battery, and 4-5 hours of back-up.

I took it back to HP's JABIL service centre and this time I was told with a smug smile that the warranty does not cover battery performance. When I told them the battery seemed perfectly fine on alternate weeks, and insisted on an expert opinion, the laptop was taken in.

The service centre had promised to give me a feedback before 12:00 the next day. Nobody called; neither did I receive any email updates as in the previous case. So I drove across, once again, to JABIL. I was told a "UEFI Test" had been done, and that it had confirmed that the battery circuits were faulty. Since it was an integrated battery not covered under warranty, a replacement would cost me about INR 10,000.

The laptop cost me INR 22,000, and I was being told to buy battery that cost me almost half that amount!

Will I buy anything from HP again?




Revew in PC Mag - http://in.pcmag.com/hp-stream-13-13-c020nr/46801/review/hp-stream-13-13-c020nr

Wiki on Windows - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Microsoft_Windows