Sunday, December 11, 2016

An Era of Darkness

A book launch was held yesterday at the former residence of the Commander-in-Chief of British India, now called Teen Murti Bhavan. At an estate that placed symbolically behind the imposing Viceregal Lodge, two Indians sat on the stage to launch a book, and to demolish the notion that 200 years British rule was "good" for India.

The venue at Teen Murti Bhavan - NMML auditorium - was packed. Folks who lingered outside to tuck in a few more chai-pakora's had to stand by the doorway as the author, Shashi Tharoor and historian R. Mukherjee too the stage to discuss the book, "An Era of Darkness - The British Empire in India".

The discussion took on a predictable course with Tharoor outlining the reasons why he thought a such book was necessary; the realization that most of his countrymen were blissfully unaware of the methods used by the British to systematically reduce the country from an global economic heavyweight to a basket-case, and of contemporary notions of nationalism.

One point that stuck in my mind came up in the Q&A session. An elderly person sitting on the front row asked, "Throughout history, why is it that we were betrayed by our own people?"

Tharoor skirted this question, and restricted his answer to the usual suspects - the Mir Kasim's and Mir Jaffer's - of the British Era. In introduction to his book he tosses the ball back to the other court by saying, "...when a marauder destroys your home and takes away your cash and jewelry, his responsibility for his actions far exceeds that of the servant who opened the door for him, whether hout of fear, cupidity or because he simply didn't know any better".

It is difficult to imagine that the grand quislings in our history were acting out of fear, cupidity or ignorance. The Mir's of Bengal seemed to be driven primarily by ambition, greed and self-interest. Ditto for Jaichand, the king of Kannauj, who allied with Mohammad of Ghor, to settle a personal insult, or political score with the Chauhan ruler of Delhi.

Clearly, there is something more basic at work in our minds. In a country that has always been a slow-cooking melting pot of different races, languages and habits, almost every ruler would have sought out existing fissures, divisions and rivalries to consolidate their own power-base. It is a trend that continues to this day.

Greed and self-interest was also apparent in the manner in which the audience jostled around Tharoor, doggedly ignoring all pleas to come in an orderly line. A singular lack of concern for others that was also being played out at the traffic roundabout outside where vehicles refused to give way, and slowing themselves in the process; along the footpaths where bikes and scooters rushed into a space that belonged to pedestrians, and, finally in the metro trains where perfectly healthy men squatted on the train floor, while others struggled to find space to stand upright.

Clearly, the era of darkness is yet to disappear into our history books.


* BL review -

* IE review -

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Battery Blues

Our stairwell now has a functional solar light that gets triggered with an automatic twilight switch. Yet, the circuit is not really working as I had expected, and I wonder if the problem lies in the solar panel, the charger, or the battery.

Initially the panels had been rigged to a Sealed Maintenance Free (SMF) battery I got from a friend. It was an Exide 26Ah SMF - compact,and relatively lightweight at ~8 kg. The trouble was that even after getting charged by the 60Wa panel in over five hours of clear sunshine, it would not get the ~12W LED panel to run for more than a few hours.

Perhaps this was because the battery had got discharged after lying unused for more than a year. So, based on an online tutorial, I pried open the sealed valves and poured in a bit of distilled water in all its compartments. This did not seem to work either, with the LEDs going blank after about 3-4 hours every evening.

At this stage I purchased a dedicated solar battery from Okaya. This one was a 40Ah tubular battery, weighing more than 15kg. Big, heavy and designed for the outdoors.  In theory it was expected to hold about 480 Wh of juice (40Ah x 12V). It worked just fine the first night. The lights switched on automatically at dusk (5:30PM) and stayed on until daylight turned the twilight switch off (6:30AM). In effect, during this 13-hour duration it should have used up about 156Wh (12W x 13 hrs).

Again, in theory, there should have been about 324 Wh remaining in the battery (480 Wh - 156 Wh). Yet, within two days, the battery turned out to be completely discharged.

Okaya was a bit tardy when it came to servicing warranties but a service engineer turned up and checked the battery. It was showing an output of 12.31V on the multimeter, but after checking all the six compartmetns with a hydrometer, he declared that the  battery had indeed got discharged. Aparantly, the density (specific gravity) of the electrolyte had dropped way below 1.265 for a fully charged battery.

The next day, he came with a charger (16V), plugged the battery to the mains and said that it would get recharged in the nex 24 hours. All the caps were left oepend during charging because he expected it to bubble during the charging period.

Now the solar lighting system seems to be working perfectly fine, even though I continue to be nervous about the voltage drops. A dusk-to-dawn operations brings down the battery voltage to 11.86V, and it looks like the 60Wa panel is not really doing its job of topping up the battery even when there is bright sunshine for ~5 hours every day.

So, finally, the key questions that need answers are -
  • How does one measure the juice remaining in a battery? 
  • If the 60Wa panel is not doing its job, should I get an additional panel?
  • Is the LED panel consuming more than the 12W, as claimed by the vendor?


8 Dec,, 2016 - Update:

So far, my understanding of solar systems has been guided by the WWW, shopkeepers and technicians who had many years of installing systems. Yesterday, I finally met somebody who was not only a hands-on expert but also one of the pioneers in the solar ecosystem in India -- Yeshwant Thakur, ED of Surya Kiran Technologies Inc.

One look at a pic of my hastily assembled unit and he pronounced that I had been wasting my time and money. The "Tata BP" solar panels were cheap imitations that could never deliver 60Wa; the charge controller was a rip-off, and, I did not have to buy a separate twilight switch in the first place!

A dusk-to-dawn sensor, built into the CC was all that was needed. It would simply sense the incoming current from the panels to decide that the ambient light was not enough, and to turn on the light circuit.

Also, if the battery needed 10 "chappatis" of sunlight, it the panels had not been giving it even the bare minimum of two (6Amps), even while the LED lights were making it work overtime. So, in the absence of sufficient current coming in from the sunlight, the battery had gone back into deep-discharge mode. The only solution was to get the battery charged on the mains, once gain, and to get a new panel that feeds in at least 100Wa (6A) to the battery.

Wish I had met YT before seeking advise from the quacks at Bhagirath Palace!

23 Feb., 2017 - Update:

By stumbling, I am learning to walk.

For the third time in two months my Okaya battery got discharged for mysterious reasons. Earlier, it was the amperage of the solar panels that was causing the discharge. The vendor had sold me a 20Wa panel claiming that it was an "original" 60Wa panel from TataBP. I had got this one replaced with a 100Wa panel from a Noida-based company.

Since I had been travelling during Dec-Jan., I was able to fix the new panel about a month after I had got the battery charged on the mains. When the battery went kaput after three days, I had to get it charged on the mains again. During the charging process (20+ hours) the acid levels had dipped to half, so I had topped it up with distilled water after charging before fitting it back to the solar unit. So now I had a 100Wa panel, a 40Ah battery, a solar charge controller (Phocos) and a twilight switch (Electrocine).

Now I thought I could forget about the lighting system for the next one year, at least. Yet, the charge lasted for less than a week. What had gone wrong? Winter was over, so there had been sharp sunshine for more than 6 hours every day (100Wa * 6A = 600Wh), the battery was getting charged on a 6A current, so it should have had about 500Wh of juice to spare (40Ah*12V = 480Wh), an the load was less than 150Wh/night (10W * 12hrs = 120Wh). So there was no reason for the system to fail.

The Okaya engineer - Ranjit -  visited today to do some serious trouble shooting. He loaded the battery to the home inverter and added load (5 lights, 2 fans) until the voltage dipped to less than 10.5V. Then he tested each compartment and found that all 6 were working just fine. The only possibilites were -  the solar panel was not able to charge the battery, or the SCC was cutting-off the charging process. Neither seemed logical.

Ranjit then had a brainwave. The mistake had been to top-up the battery water after it had been charged on the mains for two days. This had brought down the specific gravity, and, in turn rendered the whole exercise useless.

Lessons learnt:

  • Never all top-up the battery water levels after it has been charged on the mains
  • Lead Acid batteries self-discharge fast. So avoid leaving them idle for more than a week.


* All about lead acid batteries -
* Lead acid battery charging basics -
* DV Voltage Drop Calculator -

* Video - Using a hydrometer to test batteries -
- A lead acid battery cell is fully charged with a specific gravity of 1.265 at 80° F.

* Specific Gravity of LA Battery acid -

* Maintaining SMF batteries -

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Bridge That Went Too Far

A debate is raging over one of India's first "successful" Public Private Partnership (PPP) projects.

The Delhi-Noida-Direct (DND), an arterial, privately-built road connecting NOIDA to Delhi has been declared toll-free by the courts, and the company in question, ILFS-NTBCL, is trying it best to return to status quo.

By all accounts, the status quo seems like a perfect sweetheart deal where the private company keeps on making handsome returns in perpetuity, at the cost of the public.

The DND story begins in the early 1990s when the country had just initiated major economic reforms and its public infrastructure was in a woeful state. A company formed by retired government bureaucrats, IL&FS, won a contract for building the road-bridge in 1997. The construction was completed ahead of schedule, and the bridge was opened in 2001. Under the contract, the company was to get an assured return of 20% return on investment, over a 30 year period.

What exactly was the investment involved? Now this is where things start getting murky. IL&FS reported that engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) cost was Rs 193 crore. The cost for acquiring the land, facilitated by the Noida administration, was just Rs 11 crore. On to this amount, the company added an a huge  "management fee" of about Rs 200 crores, bringing the total cost to Rs 378 crores.

As if this was not enough, the Total Project Cost (TPC) was calculated ex-post and remained open-ended to include just about anything (with zero-risk to IL&FS). This ensured that the TPC and the toll-rates could be revised upwards with each passing year. It also ensured that the "20% assured return" would always remain unmet, and the total cost spiraled to Rs.5,000 crore in 15 years!

In 2001, the government was wet behind the ears about PPPs. Soon after the DND project was completed it realized that the private developers were leading it by the nose, and came up with a series of measures to ensure fair-play and public accountability in PPP contracts. By 2005, Model Concession Agreement (MCA) were ready for PPP projects, along with samples of other documents like Request for Qualification (RfQ) and Request for Proposal (RfP).

So what happens to the contract that was signed between IL&FS and the government (UP & Delhi)? The company, quite naturally, continues to claim that it has the legal right to do as it pleases.

Fortunately this issue has come to a head with the filing of a Public Interest Litigation (PIL). The Allahabad High Court noted that NTBCL had “recovered all reasonable returns” on its investment, and was no longer entitled to collect toll. The company filed an appeal to the Supreme Court which tossed it aside with a note of sarcasm - "You have only ten kms of highway", the bench said, "and you claim that you have made a road to the moon"!

A follow-up study is now analyzing the company records for the profits it has made so far. It would be interesting to know exactly how the ex-bureaucrats went laughing all the way to the bank.

* Puri, Pradeep (2016) Article by the ex-IAS officer who joined IL&FS -
"Making the DND Flyway Toll Free can Ring Death Knell for Private Investment in India"

* Rejoinder - Mohanty, Nalini (23Nov16) - "Why the DND is a Virtual Sellout at Public Expense" -

* Mint (2Nov2016) -

* DNA (28Oct2016) -
* Indian Express (28Oct2016) -

* Singh, Abhinav Prakash (10Apr2013) -- Delhi-Noida Toll Bridge- Loot in the name of Public-Private Partnerships (An excellent primer!) --

* Chandran, Rahul (2007, Mint) -

* Qunit (16Oct16) --
- the court noted that “the Concessionaire, according to their own financial statements, has recovered Rs 810.18 crore (approx) from toll income from the date of commencement of the project till 31.03.2014 and after deduction of operation and maintenance expenses and corporate income tax, the surplus was Rs 578.80 crore.”

Monday, November 14, 2016

LED Brightness

What makes some LEDs brighter - and more durable - than the others?

The Maglite Solitaire has a tiny LED that uses a 1.5V AAA cell to produce 47 lumens. On the other hand, the standard bulb distributed by electric utility companies like UPs PVVNL uses 7W from the grid to produce 700 lumens of light.

In terms of lumens per watt (lm/W), the stardard measure of lighting efficiency, the Maglite stands at 33.5 lm/W and the UP bulb at 100 lm/W. Both are small change compared to recent innovations from companies like Philips which have produced lighting units that can produce more than 200 lm/W!

However, as anybody who has used a Chinese LED bulb/panel would attest, it takes a lot more than just lighting efficiency to measure durability and useful life of an LED bulb.

Considering the fact that the super efficient LEDs from companies like Nichia-Japan and Philips are beyond the reach of regular users, is there any global standard that sets the benchmark for LEDs that strike the best balance between lighting efficacy and affordability?


- Top 10 LED manufacturers -
- Maglite -
- Philips - now more than 200 lm/w -
- Super high luminous efficacy -
- Energy storage in batteries -

De-monetization in India

At 8 PM on 8th November 2016, Prime Minister Modi made a surprise announcement: Currency notes for INR 500 and INR 1000 were being declared invalid with almost immediate effect. 

The stated objective was to put an end to black money, terror funding and rampant forgery.

Six days later, I continue to be impressed with the secrecy and swiftness with which this decision was implemented. At the same time, it is clear that was not thought through. For one, it is astounding that the RBI would design and print currency notes that does not fit into standard ATM machines. 

The shock and awe tactics does seem to be having some effect on people who had got accustomed to hoarding cash. Consider these examples - 

- Big Bazaar Noida has been selling grocery cash-cards like never before. From 8 Nov., they have been open till midnight, selling cards to ladies lining up with wads of 500/1000 notes. They bought up whatever is available and walk away saying, "Keep the change!"

- At Sector-18 market, on 8 Nov., jewelry shops were open till midnight and the sales personnel hit their six-month target in just four hours!

- The sweepers and cleaners at Tower-3, Unitech South City, Gurgaon, discovered that some resident(s) had dumped poly-bags full of currency notes down the garbage-chute. All the notes had been carefully snipped with scissors so they were of no use to anybody.

- Just about all ATMs in the NCR Delhi region have  serpentine queus of people waiting to use the ATMs. Most of them are young, unemployed boys working on a commission basis - for every INR 4000 withdrawn, they pocket INR 400.


Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Gilded Cocoons

Cocoons are usually drab and unremarkable. It is the multi-colored caterpillars and butterflies that get all the attention.

As if to disprove a point, something unusual was seen today on a milkweed tree (Calotropis procera) in our neighborhood. Tucked away under a calotropis leaf, I came across one of the most beautiful cocoons I have seen so far.

It is designed as though a jeweler was creating a line of cocoons under the category 'Understated Elegance'. At first sight it looks only neat and compact, like a shapely fruit dangling on the leaf. And then you notice something glinting in the winter morning sunlight - a neat line of golden dots that mark a ridge, and then, a few more of these gilded dots scattered as a parting flourish, on the lower side.

A few days down the line, an Oriental Plain Tiger butterfly will emerge from a tiny hole, just above those golden dots, wait for its crumpled wings to dry and unfurl, and then fly away.

The question that dangles in the air is - why would the butterfly want to advertise its presence, at the most vulnerable stage of its life-cycle, by having such an eye-catching design on its cocoon? What could possibly be the evolutionary advantage of having that gilded design on your sleeping bag?


* Butterflies of India - Oriental Plain Tiger -
* Calotropis procera --

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Solar Lighting a Dark Stairwell

How much does it take to set up a solar-powered system?

I've been mulling over the installation of a solar-based back-up for a while now. For starters, I wanted to install a self-contained system that automatically lights up our building stairwell. 

The problem is quite straightforward: We stay in an apartment complex that has about 30 towers (4x4 houses each), without a central power back-up. Each apartment has a stairwell that is vulnerable to power outages. At night - especially in winters - it becomes particularly difficult for the children and the elderly to use the staircases.

From whatever little I have gathered so far from the net, a solar-panel based lighting system would require: solar panels, a charge Controller, a deep discharge battery, wiring (4mm), a light-activated switch, and a panel of LED lights.

What I do not know for sure - and this is an ongoing challenge -  are questions for which I am yet to find dependable advise:

  • How do I align the panels on the terrace so that they can be installed - and maintained -  easily?
  • The most appropriate configuration of panel + controller + battery + LED panels?
  • Which is a reliable place from where I can buy the components?
At least in NCR Delhi, it is difficult to find somebody who can guide you. The shopkeepers and aggregators always want to sell you the biggest system possible, whether you need it or not. They are all chasing contracts from big-ticket clients - the railways, public-sector companies, large housing complexes to keep the assembly lines running. Companies like Simpa Networks are building models that resemble telecom service providers. Not for them the one-time pocket-change from individual residences.

Reliability is also an issue. Almost none of the components comes with a performance guarantee. The usual refrain is "electronic cheez hai, kuch bhi ho sakta hai..." (its electronic stuff - anything can go wrong!). Not an encouraging start for people who see this as a long-term investment in clean energy.

Amongst all the people I have met, the most sensible advise came from a marketing executive at Maharshi Vedic Construction. His point was simple - longevity of any equipment depends on how you go about maintaining it. He gave the example of an inverter he has installed at home 17 years ago. According to him, regular vacuum cleaning and greasing is all it takes to make electrical equipment last longer. Clearly he had a point.

Yet, even as a manufacturer of solar panels and controllers, he could not offer a formal performance guarantee for the stuff he was selling. His panels cost INR40/Wa, so a 60Wa panel cost INR2400. The controllers were available only for 10A and 20A with a starting price of INR1100 (note: the 10A model came with a useful USB charging port).

Ultimately, I ended up buying the following stuff from the electonics wholesale market at Bhagirathi Palace, Old Delhi:

- Solar Panel Tata BP - 60Wa (INR 1200)
- Charge Controller - (INR 250)
- LED lights set - 12W (INR 150)

- Twilight Switch - 12V, 6A (INR 368) - from Electrocine Corp, 1801/5-6, Bhagirath Palace
- Copper wire (INR 160 for 10m - Kalinga Gold 4mm copper wire) 
- Battery - 26Ah, 12V

I was about to purchase a new 28Ah battery when a friend offered to pass on an old battery he was going to dump anyway. It has been purchased a year ago but seemed to have got completely discharged due to non-use. It took three about three days for the voltage to climb over 12V.

Apart from the battery glitch, the system seems to be working beautifully. 

Now, only a few questions remain: The battery runs out of juice in just four the LED panel drawing out more power than 12W? Or is it just an old, deep-discharged SMF battery acting up? How does one measure the W/h remaining in a battery unit?

Vendor's Contacts:

* DC Twilight Switch - Electrocine Sales Corp, 1801/5-6 Electrical Market, Bhagirati Palace - 




* Bijli Bachao - solar panels in India -

* Understanding Solar Power - an excellent resource that brings "Solar Power to Ordinary People"--  

* Instructables - Solar charges with day-night switch -
- 2N3904 NPN Transistor, linked to photo transistor and then using a 100k pot to regulate the sensitivity level.
- Day-night switch -
- INR 292 on EBay

- Solar charge controllers -

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Steel Production in Perspective

Staying up-to-date is a quite a challenge these days. There is so much information floating around in the print media, and in cyberspace that its a constant struggle to separate the wheat from the chaff; the signals from the noise.

Take for instance the recent headlines in the Financial Express on global steel production. According to the news report, India has "registered a 6% growth in steel output in Jan-Sept... India remained the only bright spot among major steel-producing nations in the world."

Quite impressive to be the 'only bright spot' -- until you notice a graphic tucked away. Now this tells you that a growth of nearly 6% actually translates in an increase in production from 67 million tonnes to 71 mT. The exalted position of the "third largest producer of steel in the world" looks quite pathetic when you realize that the guy in the fist position has produced 604 mT of steel -- nearly 10x times the Indian production during the same period!

An increase of 4mT gives India an "impressive" 6% growth while just about the same increase (3mT) gives China a growth of "only" 0.4%.

Is there a better case of comparing watermelons and lemons?


- Financial Express (22Oct16) - India registers 6% growth in steel output in Jan-Sept.
- World Steel Association -
- Top Steel Producers (2015) -

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

A Churning of Conventional Wisdom

I like books that yank me out of my comfort zones. The one I am reading right now - Sanjeev Sanyal's "Ocean of Churn" clearly falls into this category.

 Using the latest research evidence available - DNA profiles, population genetics and climate change data -  it punctures many 'historical facts' that have long been accepted as the gospel truth.

While one can find faults with the writing style, with Sanyal's lame attempts at being humorous, the book is certainly worth the hype on social media.

It collates and presents some startling new findings:

* Iron tools were being used in central India 3800 ago, in 1800 BCE  when the Egyptians and Mesopotamians were still in the Bronze Age (2500 - 800 BCE)

* Emperor Ashoka the poster boy for Ahimsa (non-violence) was anything but that. The great Kalinga War (262 BCE) was hardly an inflection point - he had already converted to Buddhism a few years earlier!
Also, the decisive battle may not even have taken place on the banks of the river Daya at Dhauli, but at Yuddha Meruda (Jajpur Distt) and the Kalingan capital city of Tosali (Dharmasala)

* The Sri Lankan Sinhala's have much stronger linkages to ancient Odisha than was known earlier

* In Peninsular India there have been instances of royalty being brought in from South East was a two-way traffic of goods, people and ideas.


* Tiwari, Rakesh () - The origins of iron-working in India: new evidence from the Central Ganga Plain and the Eastern Vindhyas --

* Das, Prafulla (2005): Exploring an Ancient Kingdom -

* Book Review - Mint -

* Book Review - Manu Pillai (Open) - Rim of Life -

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Don on Blockchain

Digital currency, Blockchain, Bitcoin...for quite some time now, these terms have been floating around in my mind like dragonflies on a sunny afternoon. I've always wanted to learn more about them but have never got hold of anything that I could relate to - until today.

This TED video by Don Tapscot has finally presented the topic in a way I could finally understand,at least to some extent. One example that struck me in particular was that of Analie Domingo, a Filipino housekeeper living in Toronto. It seems she is now able to send money to her ageing mother in Manila, on a Blockchain app called "Abra". It costs her a  fraction of time and money she used to spend on Western Union money transfers.

I did not know that the biggest flow of funds from the developed world to the developing world is remittances. At USD 600 billion per year, it is a far greater flow of funds than corporate investment or foreign aid. According to Don, it is also the biggest global rip-off by companies like Western Union.

If Blockchain is the wonder technology that can make international money transfers more efficient, if it can help artists earn a fair price for their creations and help maintain digital privacy of netizens, the next obvious question is - How can we change from byestanders to participants in this perfect storm coming our way?


* Transcript -

* ABRA - transfering money freely and securely! -

* Imogen Heap - the first (?) Grammy awarded artist to sell her songs on Blockchain

* Vitalik Buterin - the founder of Etherium Bitcoin for Digital Contracts -

* Bitcoin Magazine -

Sunday, September 11, 2016

ShinMaywa US2 Seaplanes for India

This has been a long standing mystery: What is holding back the first major India-Japan defence hardware transaction - the sale of ShinMaywa US2 Maritime reconnaissance aircraft?

The US-2i is quite a unique aircraft, capable of short take-offs from land as well as water with a range of over 4,500 km. Powered by four big turbo-props, it can land even on rough seas amid three-metre high waves.

Perhaps this is just the sort of recce-aircraft that we needed while searching for the AN-32 that disappeared while flying from Chennai to Car Nicobar. The $1.65 billion defence deal was slated to be signed in the first quarter of 2016 with the first two aircraft delivered off-the-shelf and the remaining ten built under license in India.

The deal has been "under discussion" since 2012. Over the past four years there have been numerous speculative reports as to why an ostensible commitment at the highest levels of government, is yet to translate into action.

Today's Times of India states that Japanese defence ministry is trying to reduce the price-tag of the USD 1.6 billion for 12 aircraft in a bid to revive the deal. This is a new one. Until now none of the reports had claimed that the price was a sticking point.

Recently, India purchased six C-130J Super Hercules military transport aircraft for an estimated price of USD 1.2 billion. Even at the risk of comparing chalk and cheese, the price-tag for a a sophisticated amphibious aircraft does seem to be quite reasonable.

In fact the reasons for the delay stated so far have been:

Policy related -
  • Japanese side has been waiting for the amended Defence Procurement Policy-2016, which is yet to be available for the companies wanting to do defence business in India
  • Department of industrial policy and promotion is awaiting for Acceptance of Necessity (AON) from the Indian Navy
  • While Japan had been pitching for the sale of these aircraft as a special case, for the moment it did not figure on India’s list of priorities
Bureaucratic / Red Tape:
  • Deal delayed further as the next Defence Acquisition Council cannot take place, since there is no Chief of Integrated Staff (CISC) in place in the ministry of defence.
  • The major hurdle remains successfully navigating through the myriad of layers of bureaucratic red tape, something that Japanese defence contractors, given Japan’s self-imposed ban on exporting military hardware, have very little experience in doing.
The last reason sounds more plausible. Getting the bureaucracies in India and Japan to talk to each other must count among the most formidable challenges of today. Surely this is not merely a question of an inflated price-tag!



- (8 Nov., 2016) - Japan, India likely to ink pivotal US-2 aircraft deal -
- “The sticking point then was India’s insistence that Japan relocate production to the ‘enth’ degree”

- ( 25 Oct., 2015) - INDIA, JAPAN RESOLVE PRICE ISSUE - Price concession of more than 10% brings down the cost of the US-2 planes from USD 133m to USD 113m per piece -


* (11Sep16) -

* (18May16)

* (5May16) -

* (28Feb16) -

* (12Dec15) - India-Japan Joints Statement 2025 -

* (6Jan14) -

Japan and India have been discussing the sale of the amphibian since 2012. 
US-2's manufacter ShinMaywa traces its history back to one of the founders of Japanese aviation, Seibe Kawanishi. This Kobe-based industrialist made his fortune selling woolen blankets to the military during Japan's turn-of-the-century wars against Russia and China.
After the war, Nakajima's company became Fuji Heavy Industries — the parent company of Subaru, the automobile-maker.
 Kawanishi churned out 2,800 civilian and military aircraft between 1928 and 1945 — an average of 165 planes a year.
Building under license has always been Japan's favorite way to gain and maintain cutting-edge skills and technologies.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

That Thingy On Your Wrist

I used to always wonder: Why would anybody want to keep a tab on the number of steps they take each day?

Perhaps this was a notion conditioned during the formative years. I had an grand-uncle who had a disdain for things that were superfluous. Having spent his best years in the Royal Indian Air Force, serving forward bases that were battling the Japanese in Burma during WW2, he always felt that giving precedence to form over function was just "bloody bullshit!". Once while were deep into a conversation, my watch gave off its little hourly beep. He stopped mid sentence, took a closer look at all digital numbers on the wristwatch and asked, "Does the damn thing also tell you the time?"

Soon after this, my Timex died on me and I got a Swatch Chronograph - a chunky metal time piece with dials within dials. I never really understood how to use them all but a chunky watched seemed cool anyway.

Then came the Casio G-Shock. It was certainly not be the most elegant or comfortable thing to wear but it is certainly tough. It can see you through through random rainstorms; the Delhi summer means nothing to its straps; it can be a handy alarm to remind you that your lunch is on the stove; you don't have to set it aside while travelling across time-zones or while diving into a swimming pool.

A slight change of heart came after I watched a TED video recently. An elderly speaker observed that these days, watches are things that are worn by an older, less tech-savvy generation. He gave the example of his daughter who found them distinctly uncool because, "For God's sake, Dad, who wants to wear single function devices?!?"

Now that was a valid point. Surely a piece of equipment you carried on your wrist all day ought to do more than just tell you the time and date? While I was still debating the pros and cons of investing in a health-band it appeared at the door wrapped in a courier from Amazon - a thoughtful Rakhi gift.

I have been using the GQii for two weeks now and I like it. For one thing it is nice and lightweight, then it tells you the time only when you want to know, and despite the fact that its inaccurate, once you start wearing the band it does prod you to pay more attention to physical activity, sleep-timings and calorie-burning.

So now I have revised my notions of an ideal watch. It ought to combine the lightness and multi-functionality of a health-band, and yet be tough enough to be worn just about anywhere. Will there be an affordable product that can, one day, combines the ruggedness of a G-Shock to the multi-functionality of a GQii?


- GOQii leads Wearables Mkt in India -

Friday, September 02, 2016

A Pain in the Neck

Pain is an excellent guide. It tells you how to sit, walk, sleep or run; it takes your body through the paths of least resistance until time, medicines, or both, manage to heal you.

These days I am discovering the uses one particular set of muscles on my right neck - the Splenius Capitis. It is a broad band that stretches from the mid-shoulder to base of your cervical vertebrae, behind the ears.

I have now become aware of how exactly this strip of muscle helps in tilting and turning my head; of how it stretches out stretches out when I am lying on my side, without a pillow, and the amazing way in which a simple sneeze sends a stab of pain somewhere deep inside my shoulders.

I am not quite sure how I managed to hurt it - was it an unintended turn of the head while performing the Shirshasana? or did it get damaged when my son pounced on my shoulder while I was bending down to pick something on the floor?

Whatever its origins, I now feel like 3-CPO of Star Wars - that dazed, surprised look of having to turn my whole body to see what is happening behind. I now find lying down distinctly uncomfortable. Even while sitting or standing, raising my right arm eases the pain.

The strangest thing about the guiding pain is that requires me to sit, stand or walk to follow the path of least resistance. Lying down is distinctly uncomfortable, and each morning, I have been waking up with my head tilted to the right. Trying to set it straight is like holding a barbed wire fence marked "No Trespassing!"

It seems Mr. Splenius Capitis is just one of the 70,000 muscles in the human body. While its great to know he is well connected, I am not looking forward to meeting his friends any time soon!



* Inner Body - Splenius Capitis Muscle -
* Pain Mgmt -

Thursday, August 25, 2016

PHP for Server Emails

Last week I launched my first "Mobile First" website using Bootstrap3 at <>. And today I found myself diving deeper into the alphabet soup.

After I launched the website, I realised that there was one functionality that was beyond the magical powers of Bootstrap3: Email Forms that actually sent out emails.

Inside the Bootstrap3 framework, the responsive "containers" could help you create an entire website that would work across mobiles, smartphones, tabs and PCs, but to make them send emails you needed something more: PHP.

PHP is supposed to be the acronym for Hypertext Preprocessor (how is that?). It is apparently a super-popular script executed on the servers which lies at the heart of blogging sites like WorldPress, It is also used extensively by the social media behemoth with more than 1.5 billion users - FaceBook.

So how do you write a PHP script that enables forms on your website to send emails to your Yahoo or Gmail accounts?

As in the case of Bootstrap3, its best to start with a YouTube video tutorial. This is the one that worked for me:

TeachMeComputer: PHP for Beginners -

Once you get a hang of the basics, its best to dive right in with the code for a basic email form, as described in this video by MushroomHeadBangers -

 Then, to install a web server on your PC, you need XAMPP. This tool comes as a package with Apache, MySQL and PHP. Once you have all these things in place, you are ready to go.

One thing none of these video's tell you (perhaps its common knowledge?), is that your web-host needs to have a PHP enabled portal. It is also not clear from the videos how we can go about with the trouble shooting.

My site takes in the feedback form, returns the "Click Here to Go Back" page, and I do get an email in my Yahoo account. However, for some reason, the mails land up in the Spam-box even if they are marked safe. Also, the message is coming in blank with the just the sender's email id.

Some progress...but I guess there is still a long way to go!

LINKS - Responsive Forms

  • PHP Download -
  • W3School Tutorial -
  • XAMPP - PHP development environment -

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Ivory Throne

I was not too keen on picking another 500 page tome. Having just finished "The Gene", I was looking for something lighter, something which did not have its notes and index running into a hundred pages.

I had almost set the book aside when I decided to flip through the book one last time. I saw a map of South India in the 1920s and an old sepia print titled "The Matriarchs of Mavelikkara", and got hooked.

"The Ivory Throne" by Manu Pillai is more than just the "Chronicles of the House of Travancore". It is a refreshing new way of looking at the history of a kingdom that has, so far,  seen only the fawning eulogies of erstwhile aristocrats, or the dismissive narratives of Marxist historians.

Pillai's attention is focused on the life and times of Sethu Lakshmi Bayi. While this is, no doubt, quite interesting, I find myself drawn back to an earlier phase when Kerala saw, within the span of one century (1400-1500), the influence of foreign ships coming from two different directions.

From the East came came Admiral Zheng who sailed from China to Calicut no less than seven times to during the period 1405 to 1430. His fleets had as many as 250 ships manned by 28,000 soldiers. Even after the Ming emperors decided to isolate themselves, there remained in Kerala a fairly large community of Chinese-Malayali's called Chinna Kribala, with one of its stat sailors a pirate named Chinali!

A few decades later, in July 1497, King Manuel of Portugal sent Vasco da Gama to find the fabled spice gardens of India, with a "distinctly expendable crew of convicts and criminals". Ten months later, he was trying to peddle baubles and trinkets at the court of the Zamorin, Manavikrama. Unable to break the Arab monopoly over the spice trade in the first instance, King Manuel sent an armada led by Pedro Alvarez Cabral in 1500.

The Zamorins of Calicut were obviously nor prepared for Cabral's persuasive methods. Stymied by the Arab traders, he decided to let his guns do the talking. A single day of bombardment from the sea, killed nearly 600 people, and then he went about playing one kingdom in Kerala against another.

Once the dust settled, the natives had their fill of internecine wars of attrition ("Kudipaka") while the Europeans had ended up with a trade monopoly, and then some more. It was not until Marthanda Varma took charge of Travancore in 1729 that things started to look up in this part of India.

"The Ivory Throne" leaves me wondering - when will we have more historians piece together this real history of Kerala? What are the secrets that continues to be locked in genetic markers and mitochondrial DNA of the Mallus who come in all colors, shapes and sizes?


* Interview - The Hindu -

* Book - The Ivory Throne -

Friday, August 19, 2016

In Praise of Bootstrap3

In the world of web-design I am a bit like Rip van Winkle - a solitary rustic who once dabbled in ancient HTML; the oldie who goes off to sleep for 15 years and then wakes up to discover a digital world that has been completely transformed.

Nothing remained of the familiar landscape. Old HTML had become too primitive, too cumbersome and simply incapable of showing up on anything other than a clunky old PC. As webpage designing had moved from one version of HTML to another, the newer versions had teamed up with CSS and outsourced all the layout grunt work, Java and JScript had come in to add heft and magic to the amazing things that could be accomplished using smartphones, tablets, and laptops. A bewildering new world that would not reveal itself in "view page source".

It is while wandering through this maze that I stumbled upon the answer to all my problems - Bootstrap3. It was built on whatever little I knew of HTML and CSS, and then, with a few online stylesheets helped me create websites that worked beautifully across platforms and devices. Magic!

Here are links to the sites that were a big help:

* GetBootstrap (Currently at v.3.3.7) - Home -
Repository of all the latest download files, Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) and sample pages

* YouTube - Lalit Bassi's Bootstrap3 Tutorial (1:40 hrs) -
Even after downloading Bootstrap, I was quite lost until I stumbled upon this much-viewed tutorial. Starting with a simple HTML layout, this video takes you through a wide range of functionalities that can help you launch a fully functional website is a few hours. It also introduced me to the joys of using SublimeText - an editor infinitely better than MS-Text!
Caveat: The Dilliwala Yankee accent can be tough...but remember: no pain, no gain! ;)

* YouTube - Bucky Robert's TheNewsBoston (14 short clips)-
Unlike Bassi's package this one tells you about various different tools in short, easy-to-understand videos.

* YouTube - Bootstrap tutorial by Derek Banas (1:04 hrs) -
More like a catalogue presentation of the various things you can do with Bootstrap3. Derek keeps adding and deleting code so you might be disappointed to find many components missing in his final "cheat-sheet".


* Bootstrap -
* Tutorial Sites
  • W3Schools -

* DevelopMentor YouTube - Easygoing pace but the guy seems unsure of many functionalities -

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Our Genes

In the Mahabharata epic, there is a poignant exchange that takes place after the Great War, between the eldest of the Pandava princes, Yudhistira, and a forest spirit. A quiz in metaphysics is the price demanded by the Spirit for reviving Yudhistira's siblings who have died of thirst and poisoning.

One of the questions is: 'What is the greatest wonder in the world?'
And Yudhistira's reply is : "People die everyday and those who are alive go on as though they will live for ever!"

Siddhartha Mukherjee's books seems to capture this profound irony in his first book, "Emperor of All Maladies" and then again, in his latest book, "The Gene". A 'normal' healthy body and mind is something most of us take for granted - even as an entitlement - until something happens to us, or to our own close friends or relatives that brings us face to face with the fragility of life itself.

The great advances in science & technology lull us into a false sense of security - until raconteurs like Mukherjee tell us about the heroic efforts, pain and serendipity that underpin each and every invention that mark our progress, as well as the huge lacunae in our own understanding of the world around us, and within us.

Here are a couple of shockers that hit me while reading "The Gene"

There are more than 2500 different genetic defects that have been recorded to date. Most of them are like simple spelling mistakes that end up destroying lives, across generations.

Take the case of Sickle Cell Anemia. It is the result of a single change in one triplet in our DNA. The sequence GAG gets changed to GTG. This results in the substitution of one amino acid for another: glutamate gets switched to valine, thus altering the folding of the hemoglobin protein chain. As a result protein debris gets accumulated in string like clumps in our red cells; they are unable to glide smoothly through our blood capillaries, and get jammed into microscopic clots throughout the body, interrupting the flow of blood, and resulting in excruciating pain, like corkscrews being drilled into our bones.

Then there is Huntington's Chorea. It is the "opposite of a dance, a joyless pathological caricature, the ominous manifestation of dysregulated brain function".

In 1992 researchers tracked the disease down to one gene called “interesting transcript 15” (IT15). This gene was found to encode an enormous protein - a biochemical behemoth containing 3,144 amino acids, larger than any protein in the human body (insulin has a mere 51 amino acids). And yet, beyond the fact that this protein is found is our neurons and testicular tissue, we know nothing about its actual role in our bodies, let alone why it causes a debilitating disease...

The Gene puts the Spirit's question and Yudhistira's answer into completely new perspectives.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Nikon's Sticky Monarch

What has gone wrong with my Monarch? It has gone sweaty, sticky and seems to just crumble away! :(

Its nearly six years since I purchased my first pair of 'serious' binoculars - a Nikon Monarch from Yodobashi Camera, Akihabara, Japan. It was a handy companion while ascending Mt. Fuji, and subsequently brought me within 'touching distance' of numerous birds across India.

Then, one day, I took it out of its packaging to find its rubber grip covered with a kind of fine, white fungus. Wiping with a dry cloth made it appear clean but the rubber continued to be sticky and crumbly. The Nikon Service Centre at Noida took a look at the device and simply said that they could do nothing. The rubber components could neither be repaired nor replaced.

I tried looking for a solution at the online forums where it is called the "sticky armor problem". One user was able to partially solve this be rubbing the armor with isopropanol.

Still, what irks me is Nikon's care-a-damn approach to this problem. For a company that has build it reputation on sturdy outdoor optical equipment, surely this is not a one-off problem of mouldy rubber jackets!


Postscript (20 Aug 2016): One thing that does seem to work in the hot, humid Indian climate is Neem (Azadirachta indica) powder. A well known natural germicide in India, Neem extracts are now available as prickly heat powder. I used a product from Hesh Pharma and it seems to work perfectly fine on the sticky Nikon binoculars!



* Bird Forum -

* Rubber coating breakdown -

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Textiles and Terror

Last month a terror strike at the Holey Artisan Cafe in Dhaka, Bangladesh, left 21 people dead, along with two police officers and four terrorists. Among them were nine Italians, seven Japanese, one Indian, three Bangladeshi's and one US citizen.

More than half the number of victims were closely linked to an industry that is critical to the country's economy: Textiles.

What has been the impact of this terror attack on Bangladesh's textile sector?

The textile sector constitutes around 80% of Bangladesh’s total exports providing direct employment to 4 million people. This $19 billion-a-year, export-oriented ready-made garment (RMG) industry accounted for 45% of all industrial employment in the country, and yet, only contributed 5% of the Bangladesh's total national income.

Over the past few years, Bangladesh had surpassed India in the export of RMGs - thanks to cheaper labour, better support from the government and a favourable global trade-quota system. In India around 12 percent of exports are from the textile sector and it employs more than 38 million people. Since there are nearly 10x more people in India dependant on the textile sector any change in trends was bound to have a cross-border impact.

This point hit home when I ran into a neighbour who works with an RMG export firm. He was unusually upbeat. "Things are now looking up", he said, grinning happily, "Our industry is not getting the attention it deserves!" INR 6,000 had been allocated in the latest Budget for financial incentives, along with a move towards flexible labour laws. "Now, with the Europeans and Americans getting wary about Bangladesh, we sure to bounce back!"

It seems the global textile-RMG market is not very different from the local subzi-mandi's (vegetable markets). Frequent meetings and the perception of safety, and the assurance of having a glass of chai in peace and quiet, are all confidence builders for both buyers and sellers...


- Dhaka - The Attack Victims (CNN - 6 July 2016) -

- ET, 23 Jun., 2016) -

- (IBT 23 June 2016) -

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Let There Be Light

Are high pressure sodium vapour lamps more efficient than LEDs?

The key to answering this question is "Luminous Efficacy", a measure of how well a light source a Watt of electricity into Lumens, a measure of light intensity visible to the human eye.

Today, while clearing some litter at a nearby park, I came across this box -

It was lying on the grass, right below a high-mast lamp. Even though I knew that these sodium vapor lamps consumed a lot of electricity, what struck me was the quantum of light produced by these bulbs. A 400W bulb produces more than 44,000 lumens!

If this makes little sense, just compare it to the standard LED lamps being distributed by the government, in its efforts to being down household electricity  consumption -

In terms of luminous efficacy, one would have thought that the LED lamps are a lot more efficient that any incandescent, power-guzzling bulb. However, in terms of light output (lumens), the sodium vapour lamp produces 110 lumens/W while the LED lights prouduce 114 lumens/W, which is hardly any difference.

If there is not much difference in the efficiency of LED bulbs and sodium-vapour lamps, is there a big difference in cost? The sodium-vapour lamp costs INR 675 per unit while an (unsubsidized) LED lamp costs anywhere between INR 150 and 250. This means that the cost of luminous efficacy is INR 0.16 lm/W/INR for the sodium-vapour lamp and 0.57 lm/W/INR for LEDs.  

This simply means that you are getting 3.5 times more bang for your buck with LEDs, compared to sodium-vapour lamps. So it does make sense to switch to LEDs.

Now, what is the difference is cost between LEDs meantand SVs for high-mast lamps? That would berhaps perhaps be a better comparison of oranges with oranges!


* Energy efficiency of LEDs -


* 2009 - Toshiba releases 93 lm/W bulbs -

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Disruptive Designs

Another fascinating are some nuggets:

* Ying Zheng (300 BC) - The first military leader who insisted that all bows and arrows be designed identically.  Having interchangable daggers, axes, spears, shields and every other form of weaponry, made fighting much more

* Edward Teach aka Blackbeard designed the jolly-roger design used by sea pirates

* Hungarian artist László Moholy-Nagy was among the first to study the impact of technology on daily life

* Arthur Zang. He's a young, Cameroonian design engineer who has a adapted a tablet computer into the Cardiopad, a mobile heart-monitoring device


Rolex Awardee -

Chasing out Yoursites123

I am constantly at odds with a virus that hijacks my browsers. It goes by the name "Yoursites123".

A few months back I had cleaned it out of Chrome and it worked just fine - until last week. Now the browser keeps hanging, forcing me to re-boot and employ that peculiar Chrome-special shortcut to get back all my tabs.

For a change, I switched back to Explorer and found that the earlier clean-up exercise had no impact on browsers other than Chrome. So when I got down, once again, to the step-by-step process for removing Yoursites123, a bigger problem surfaced - there were other bugs lurking in the dark corners.

Like the soot-balls in a Miyazaki movie, these turned up when I cast the following spell on the command-line:

The appearance of strange IP addresses below "localhost" is supposed to indicate that my PC has been hacked. And these three three fellows certainly look strange and suspicious.

What are these bugs doings in my machine? How do I get rid of them?

So far, all the online help available points you to some fancy sofware, which may again contain other new viruses. How do I figure the difference between online frauds and the do-gooders?


* Command Line reference -
* Removing Sougou -
* Removing --