Monday, August 31, 2015

August 2015 - Interesting Links

* A bank thanks its customers -

* Aurangazeb Road - name change -
- Another view -
* Changing of road-names - Aurangazeb > Abdul Kalam -

* Oliver Sachs - Obituary -

*The Bank of Japan is China's biggest cheerleader --

* A false alarm on the crisis in China -

* Aakar Patel - on Shashi Tharoor's speech -

* Power of the Pause -

* Comparing mobiles - Lenovo K3, Yu Yureka Plus, etc -

* How to get feedback when you are the boss -

* WW1 and the beginning of modern psychiatry -

* War Embers continue to simmer -

* Best public libraries of India -

* Beautiful stitches -

* Capella - Hotel California -

* Japan's soft power -

* Chinese Tremors -

* The Indian economy has much to crow about -

* 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 -

* Hiroshima -

Happiness -

A tale of two speeches -

Affordable children's books - Pratham -

WW2 - Why Indians fought for a Britain they abhorred --

Every business needs an enemy -

Wendy Doniger on Kamasutra -

How symmetry shapes nature's laws --

The unholy end of empoire

Sun shines on India's solar ambitions -

Darlymple - How I write -

Modern Kamasutra -

Four ingredients of influence -

Career switch - law to photography -

About doing only the things you are curious about --

Chinese hackers may have turned their sights on India --
- 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 --

Bhuira Jams, Himachal Pradesh -

Sitting on a Marine Superhighway -

Movies to watch --

Corporates - Communication - under-rated -

The truth about OROP --

Indian pharma firms in the big league -

Grit - Five Characteristics -

How to say no to you boss -

How do the Germans work efficiently? -

Maggi's mistakes -

NYT - Inside Amazon -
Amazon as an employer -

What makes #Indian bureaucrats at the top 'less competent and more insecure' to lateral entries today? -- #IAS

Shaji Vikraman -

Personal money manager - MoneyView -

India's forgotten soldiers -
Mapping the way India has been viewed over the ages -

Song - phenomenal woman -

How engineers think -

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 -

* Wiki -

* (2009) -

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 -

* EM interference at 2.4 GHz -

* Instructables -

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 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) -

- Michael Bakunin 's Immorality of the State -

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" 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 -

Wiki on Windows -

Friday, August 14, 2015

Connections to the Green Revolution

Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, the Indian "Father of the Green Revolution" turned 90 last week.

In a tribute published in the Indian Express, it was interesting to note the cross-border connections and linkages that led up to the revolution in Indian agriculture, which turned the country from a basket case to a net exporter of foodgrains.

I had always thought that it was Norman Borlaugh who was at the drivers seat. Now it turns out that it was MSS who set the bus-routes in the fist place!

Consider the sequence of events:
  • In 1950, Japan, a nation obsessed with rice production, comes up with a hybrid variety of wheat - Norin-10 - a semi-dwarf with large grain bearing panicles or earheads.
  • Samples of Norin-10 collected by Samuel Cecil Salmon, an agronomist under American occupation, and taken to USA
  • At Washington State University, Samuel Vogel uses Norin-10 to breed a winter wheat, Gaines containing Norin-10 dwarfing genes and giving very high yeilds
  • MSS requests Vogel for Gaines seeds. He gets them with a suggestion to contact Norman Borlaugh who was working on spring-wheat (more suitable to India) using the same genes in Mexico
  • In 1963 Boulaugh brings his best Mexican dwarfs - Sonora-64 and Lerma Rojo 64 - to India, helps breed blockbuster wheat varieties that launched the Green Revolution - Kalyan Sona, Sonalika, Arjun, Janak, HD-2285 and HD-2239. Ditto for rice - Jaya, Padma, IR-8
So, essentially, India owes its Green Revolution to MSS and his connections to the open networks created by the higher education system in USA. It is worth noting that it was not a Japanese wheat scientist who noticed that his innovation could have applications in India, nor was it an American conducting field trails in Mexico. It had to be an Indian tuned to the outside world, seeking solutions to local problems.

Do we have a new generation of people like MSS who are tuned in to the networks and linkages that would help India solve its most critical problems?


* Damodaran, Harish (2015): A Living Legend: Swaminathan@90 --

* Origin, History and Uses of Norin-10 Wheat -

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall..

Gems from a great interview with Salim Ismael, Founder, Singularity University:

> M-Pesa is now 50% of Kenyan GDP!

> A drones company, Matternet, that delivers packages by air. They can’t operate in the US, so they went to Ghana and did a lot of their product testing there, and in April they signed a deal with the Swiss postal service to deliver mail in Switzerland.

> Electric car company, Tesla, added a new "crawl forward" functionality by just tweaking the software overnight!

> Big companies have an awfully difficult time doing disruptive innovation. Mostly they are acquiring new startups that are being innovative, then absorbing them and selling them on.

> Solar energy today is doubling in its price/performance every 22 to 30 months... this has huge implications for poor countries in the tropics..

> If you’re the legacy business, how do you compete with startups entering your space that have no marginal cost of supply? Uber, Airbnb, Waze, have figured out how to drop the cost of supply exponentially.

> In the future we think being a small, adaptive country will be much more beneficial. Every big country today is in crisis, whereas being a small, nimble, practical country is a huge benefit



Salim Ismael interview -- 


This is perhaps the most evocative film I have seen in a long, long time:

Killa, is a Marathi film directed by Avinash Arun. It is the story of a child uprooted from the city of Pune into a sleepy little village on the Konkan coastline. It is about friendships, betrayals, loneliness and of the frustrations of coming to terms with life.

Which is the fort (Killa) that forms the centre-piece of this movie? Where exactly is it located?


- Wiki -
- Review - 

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Science, Technology and Society

Last week there were two interesting events in New Delhi that gave us interesting perspectives on how Science and Technology is viewed in different societies, and across cultures.

The first was the screening of a documentary at IIC on G.N Ramachandran (aka GNR) the Indian scientist who discovered the triple-helix structure of Collagen, and the second, a talk at CPR by Prof. Sheila Jasanhoff from the Havard Kennedy School titled, "US-EU GM Crops Controversy: A Case for Epistemic Subsidiarity?".

The first one was fairly straightforward. The 30-minute documentary was on GNR, a scientist in newly independent India who sets up a frugal lab at Madras University, and using relatively basic equipment cracks a scientific problem that had eluded the likes of Linus Pauling and Francis Crick (of the DNA fame): the structure of Collagen, the most abundant protein in mammals.

The documentary desribes GNRs struggles to get adequate credit and recognition for this discovery, the attempts by British scientists to delay the publication of his findings in Nature, and of the fact that India had failed to recognise GNR adequately.

Prof. Jasanhoff's talk was on an altogether different plane. A scientist of Indian origin, she described her decision to focus on USA and EU as a "tactical decision" to avoid being straightjacketed as an India Scholar, and of her amazement at the way in which scientific data is interpreted in distinctly different ways across regulatory boundaries. The fact that there is a lack of consensus on this even amongst developed countries is described as the 'Paradox of Risk Governance'.

And what is Epistemic Subsidiarity? Perhaps one way of describing it is that knowledge and undestanding (epistemology) is best handled by devolving decisions on it to the lowest practical level (subsidiarity).

This framework is used to explain the big differences in the way USA and EU countries view Genetically Modified Organisms, leading up to the Asilomar Conference (1975) which drew up, for the first time, guidelines to ensure the safety of Recombinant DNA technology.

My biggest takeaway from both the events was the striking divergence in outlook of Indian scientists and of PIO/NRI scientists. The former has tied itself down in knots by basking in past glories, and creating an incentive system that stifles innovative thinking, while the latter has its sights focused on the future.


Point Counterpoint

This may be dated but I just wanted to put in one place, a few recent public discussions and debates that have caught my attention.


Shashi Tharoor at Oxford Union (July 2015):

and an outline in The Independent


  • The first salvo in this debate - AFAIK - was fired by Ashok Malik, in an article in February 2015,  titled, "Nalanda's cosy Club".
  • In July 2015, Pratap Bhanu Mehta of CPR wrote an oped in the Indian Express titled "Nalanda is a Sundrome", highlighting the rot in India's higher education system. 
  • This was followed by Tavleen Singh's column titled, "Questions for a Nobel Laureate", aimed specifically at Amartya Sen and his role at Nalanda University.
  • In less than a week, Amarya Sen himself came up with a rebuttal, titled "Conversations with Tavleen Singh and Pratap Mehta", using his usual engaging, lucid and conversational writing style to clear the air about his role at Nalanda.
  • Tavleen Singh then quickly responded to Sen's arguments in a follow-up piece, "Another Argument".


Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Raw Intelligence

I cannot remember the last time I was shocked by book picked up from a public library.

"India's External Intelligence - Secrets of RAW" by Maj.Gen V.K. Singh, is perhaps the most forthright, lucid, well-written book I have come across from an army officer. Shorn of all possible bombast and hyperbole I had come to expect from a retired fauji reminsing his glory days, the book offers a rare glimpse into the working of an agency that is, by its very nature, not meant to be seen or heard by the general public.

Anybody who has read news reports about the Kargil debacle knows that it was a case of too many spooks spoil the broth. With so many different agencies engaged in collecting intelligence and with each of them working in silos, we seem to have little time to make sense of all the data that is pouring in.

If that was not bad enough, Singh outlines that amazing flaws that have been built-in to our sarkari system when it comes to procurement of critical telecom equipment, of officers who have no qualms about spending public money on overpriced imported stuff, of eminent scientists delivering sub-standard products with an eye on the Padma awards rather than the concerns of the end-users, and of institutions that is compromised by officers who seek nothing more than a better education for their children in foreign universities.

The book potrays the human face of an agency that is controlled solely by the PMO. And the picture is quite disconcerting...


* Manas Publications -

* IntelliBriefs Blog -

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Odd Tomato

Here is something that landed in my grocery bag last week - a tomato with a beak!

What is it that makes a fruit take up unusual forms?