Tuesday, May 31, 2005

It's unsustainable to be a liberal in the US

As far as my political inclinations are concerned, I always thought that I belonged on the liberal end of the political spectrum. I identify with several of the key liberal viewpoints on the environment, working conditions, tax policy, employee benefits/treatment and community based economics.

However, I believe that its unsustainable to be a liberal in the US. Let me explain ...

1. Pollution

Liberals hate SUV's for being gas guzzling monsters. And so they buy small cars, fuel efficient cars, like a Beetle. Which is great because it consumes about 1/3rd the gas that an SUV does. But the problem is the number of miles driven ! If you really want to save the world from global warming, you have to reduce the total number of gallons of gas consumed.

For example, the average American car was driven 12,100 miles. In France, it was 7,200 miles. So, even the US Beetle driver used 68% more gas than the average French driver. And the US SUV driver - 366% !!

The way things are structured in the US - Huge highways, suburbia, lack of public transportation make it impossible for an American to drive less than they do currently.

2. Public Transportation

There is immense clamour among Liberals for enhanced public transportation and that does seem to make sense given the gas problems that the country faces ...

I live in Raleigh, North Carolina and we do have a public bus system with about 24 routes. I used this system quite a bit when I didnt have a car, but I always found it amazing that we never had more than 3-4 people on the bus - Which makes it worse than a car !

Of course there are cities with great public transportation - NYC, Chicago (to an extent), SFO, Seattle ... But for a large majority of smaller cities, public transportation is going to be a tough sell.

3. Respect for other nations

And if you are of the belief that war is something that should be a last resort, if you think that you should have the utmost respect for other nations in the world, being in the US definitely makes it difficult for you to reconcile the country's actions with your beliefs

4. Sweatshops

As a liberal, you dont want to purchase stuff thats made in third world sweatshops ... However, theres hardly anything that you can purchase in the US that doesnt come from a sweatshop ...

5. Employee benefits

If you believe that companies should respect their employees, especially those that have stuck around for a long time, you were probably shocked by the recent declaration by United Airlines that they are not going to be able to meet their pension obligations ....

Liberals in the US practice "liberalism" in many ways - Buying organic food, buying goods with "no child labor" component, driving smaller cars. These are all good things, but in the overall scheme of their life, this is irrelevant and serves more to make them feel better. There are probably more, I'll write them in as I think of them.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Social Service as a career option

India isn't one country.

Its actually two seperate countries within one. One of these, has as its citizens, the poor people, the illiterate, the people who survive on less than a dollar a day. The other country has people who are richer and a whole lot more educated. The citizens of these two countries though living in close proximity have extremely disparate lifestyles.

The former's thoughts are entirely oriented around survival, the latter think more about self-actualization. The former's universe is a small village, the latter's is the whole globe and beyond. The former has probably made less than five phone calls in his/her entire life, the latter designs the latest communications chips. We will have a man on the moon soon, but a large majority of our population havent travelled more than 50 miles from their place of birth.

We have the best doctors in the world and the worst medical facilities. The best programmers and horrible IT infrastructure.

There is a big gulf.

There are many theories on how this gulf should be bridged. There are proponents of the trickle-down approach which seeks to primarily help the latter country succeed in the hope that their wealth will trickle down.

And then there are the socialists who think a bottom-up approach would work better. They believe that development at the grass roots is more important, and should be carried out even at the cost of modernizing the latter country.

Both of these are good theories, but thats all they are, theories.

What we need in India is to make social service/development a viable career option. Consider the situation as is. In order to become a social worker, you have to make huge sacrifices in comfort/security. There is no clear guidance on how to get involved. There is no coordination. There is no training to be a good social worker.

Social service currently is highly romanticized/emotional in India, with movies like Swades perpetuating that image. In order for social service to stop being a cottage industry dependent on the sacrifices of a few and the guilt-driven contributions of a few more, we need to take a practical stand.

Currently, you have well meaning people with the best intentions and absolutely superb hearts running social service projects - But some of them have no clue how to market, colect funds, manage funds, organize things etc .... And thats a problem.

Social service should be treated just like any other industry. NGOs should go to college campuses and recruit bright, capable students, pay them well and make them run NGOs like a well managed organization. There should be a clear career path for young people who want to get into social service - Maybe even something like the Short Service Commission in the Army where you can serve for five years and then move on to other things, if you like.

People should'nt have to make a choice between comfort and social service. These two can co-exist.

Of course, the IIT engineer who chooses to join an NGO as Operations Manager won't get paid as much as if he/she worked at Morgan Stanley, but they arent being asked to live in a hut and eat gruel either.

We need this to happen. And quickly.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Country vs. Country

There has been an abundance in the publication of statistics comparing the various countries in the world.

For example, lets take GDP/Capita. The country with the highest GDP/Capita in the world is Luxembourg with $48,309. The US was second with $35,990. India on the other hand has a GDP/Capita of $2,537 and is ranked 152nd in the world ...

However, lets not just compare countries on GDP ... Lets look at some out-of-the-box statistics ...

Nobel Prizes

In terms of absolute number of Nobel Prize winners, the US wins hands down with 270 winners. However, when you think about it, to really compare countries fairly, you have to include GDP and population in the picture. The US has a huge economy/GDP and a big population - Hence, its quite easy to believe they would also have the largest number of novel prizes.

Lets consider the number of Nobel prizes/Million people. The winner in this category is Iceland with 3.56 winners per million people, followed by Sweden and Switzerland. The US is at No. 10 with 0.92 winners per million people.

And then the number of Nobel Prizes/$Billion GDP. The winner is Sweden with 0.13 winners/$ Billion GDP, followed by Iceland and Switzerland. The US was 14th with 0.02 winners/$ Billion GDP. India is at a miserable 0.002

Economic Aid

Which country gives the most economic aid to other countries ? The US you think ? Actually, its Japan at $9.1 billion (1999). The US was second at $6.9 billion (1999).

A poll in 2000 and similar polls in earlier years found that most Americans vastly overestimate their country’s foreign aid spending. The median estimate of the percentage of the federal budget that goes to foreign aid was 20 percent, while the average estimate was 24 percent. The actual figure is a little less than 1 percent.

However, to really see who is generous, lets look at foreign aid as a function of GDP.

The most generous country is Denmark which contributes $1.04 in aid for every $100 earned as GDP. The next two are Norway & the Netherlands. The US is 22nd on this metric with 4 cents contributed for every $100 earned.

Europe rocks, I'll take quality over quantity anytime.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

C'Mon America !

Quran flushed down the toilet or mutilated in other ways
Abu Ghraib
Prisoner abuse in Afghanistan
Guantanomo Bay abuse
Pork airdropped into Afghanistan as "food aid"

And now this .....



What is happening to the secular America ? My fear is that some small minded insignificant religious freaks are seeking to single handedly fight the modern crusades against Islam ... Without understanding the damage they are doing to the US and the world.

Religious freaks, I will never understand them ... And there are countless of them in every religion.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Auto, brether ?

Before reading this post, do read this article that sparked this idea ... And don't forget to come back here ...

You auto be careful, brether ! - This has to be one of the funniest posts I have ever read !

The author appears to be a student in Chennai, India. In this article he describes his adventures on an autorickshaw on the way to a movie theatre. For the uninitiated, this is an autorickshaw ...




Its absolutely the coolest form of transportation in India, barring the elephant of course.

When I read this article, I started wondering why the author wasnt driving to the theatre ... Did he not have a car or a bike maybe ? However, as I thought about it, it made sense to take an auto ... With Chennai bursting at its seams, driving around has become torture and the parking problem is starting to rival Boston's.

An auto makes sense, no parking problems and it can navigate the narrowest of spaces on the road. Soon, I think theres going to be no alternative but to take some form of public transport, as all current parking spaces will be used as office space ... What we need is a "luxury auto" -Maybe it could be air conditioned or something.

And the next step would be "auto limos" - Just imagine going to a party in an auto stretch limo - That would be one hell of an entrance !

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Great performances by children ...

Some of my favorite performance by children ....

Whale Rider
Children of Heaven - Ali, Zahra
To kill a Mocking Bird - Scout
Anjali
Kannathil Muthamittal

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Real Time Information - What will you do with it ?

Recently, I spoke at a BioPharma Forum at NC State University. I had fun ! I was honored to be on the same panel as a person I admire immensely - Paul Clayton, VP, Supply Logistics, Glaxo SmithKline.

I first met Paul in London. Our team had organized a supply chain game, illustrating some of GSK's supply chain initiatives. Paul was one of the participants.

At the end of the game, which went really well, I remember hanging around at the bar late at night. Paul came up and congragulated me and bought me a drink. That was one of the high points of 2003 !

Back to the topic - I spoke on "Latest Trends in Transportation". One of the themes I touched on was RFID. I talked about the ability of RFID to revolutionize the world. I then asked the audience what they believed was the biggest benefit of RFID. A gentleman responded that it was the ability of RFID to give a huge amount of real-time information.

I then asked the audience to imagine a scenario ...

Each of them are top executives at major Pharma companies. A genie comes to them and promises to give them 100% real-time information, completely accurate, well organized and relevant. I asked the audience if that would really make a difference ?

Of course it would make some difference ... Some things would be done better. But its really doubtful whether all of this information could generate a quantum leap for the organization .. Because most companies do not have the right processes in place to capitalize on all of this information.

So, my concluding remarks were "RFID is only a means, not an end". RFID is not going to solve all business problems. Fundamental process changes are required before information from RFID can truly be used to improve efficiency within the organization ....

Monday, May 23, 2005

RFID Concerns

However, there are some concerns around RFID. Here are some of them:

Privacy

RFID is a truly pervasive technology and it does collect a whole bunch of information. For example, through the use of RFID, supermarkets will have a whole bunch of information about your buying patterns. That is intrusive, but remember, most supermarket customer loyalty cards are equally bad.

There are concerns that when you have RFID tags on all products, strangers will be able to pry on you - For example, I heard this woman on radio worrying that a stranger might be able to determine the color of her underwear through the use of RFID ! This concern is unfounded because readers only have a ten feet range and I simply cant see people lugging around readers with them on the street.

However, in order to allay people's fears, supermarkets should give everyone an option to have tags removed at the point of purchase.

Emissions

There are concerns about the effect of the ubiquitous RFID waves floating all around ... And in fact, although the FDA has recommended the use of RFID for pharmaceutical products, they have restricted the use of RFID tags on vaccines and other biological products.

Industry experts have assured me that most products get hit with pretty heavy doses of RF waves at warehouses and they dont seem to be affected adversely.

Loss of jobs

In spite of all the great things that RFID can do, its fundamental financial benefit is created through workforce reduction. Initial estimates say that upto 50% of warehouse employees will lose their jobs. In addition, with automated checkout, most check out clerks will lose their jobs ...

I wonder if Wal*Mart is shooting itself in the foot through the implementation of RFID .. After all, some of their most regular customers are probably the warehouse employees and check out clerks - And starving graduate students as well :-) . If the warehouse employees and clerks lose their jobs, Wal*Mart loses their business.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

RFID Utopia

So, how is RFID going to change the world ? And will it make the world a better place ?

I am not going to talk about the mundane benefits of RFID such as better inventory visibility and tracking ... Only the cool things that it could bring about ..

Automated Checkout

Imagine this .. You walk into a supermarket, choose everything you need and just walk out without paying. How convenient would that be ! No standing in line while the shop clerk scans each item one by one, no credit card swiping, no receipt signing ...

RFID could make this happen ... Assume that every product in the store has an RFID tag on it. You also have a credit card with a smart RFID chip on it. As you walk out of the store, a reader at the exit scans all the items you are taking out, determines what they cost and automatically charges your credit card !

Shirt & Washing Machine

This one's quite bizarre ... Lets assume you have an RFID-enabled washing machine which has a reader built in. Each of the shirts you own would have an RFID tag attached. As soon as you put the shirt in the washing machine, they would communicate with each other and the current ash cycle/temperature would be chosen !

Automatic Refrigerator

An RFID enabled fridge would be able to create shopping lists automatically for you ! For example, lets assume that you program into the fridge that you always want to have atleast 12 cans of diet coke. The fridge will constantly monitor the number of cans in the fridge and when this goes below 12, diet coke would be added onto the shopping list !

It could track expiry dates of all the product in the fridge and inform you what needs to be thrown out ...

Smart Store

All of us have seen advertisements on different discounts/sales at various stores. These promotions are usually effective in boosting sales. However, oftentimes it is difficult to focus these promotions on the right people. Imagine if you could create a promotion customized to each one of your customers ! That is possible with RFID.

In the futuristic smart store, the floor is replaced with a special material which is semi-transparent. There are a bunch of projectors under the floor that can project messages onto the floor.

So as you walk down the aisle in the supermarket, the store knows who you are (remember, you have the RFID enabled credit card). It knows what you buy, how much you spend, when you spend and taking all of these variables, creates a custom promotion for you.

If might say, "Vel, Lindt chocolate on sale" (knowing I love their truffles !) - "If you are interested, follow the arrow ------->". Imagine that, you look at the floor and there's a customized message with an arrow pointing you in the right direction.

That just blows my mind !

Saturday, May 21, 2005

RFID Intro

RFID (Radio Frequency IDentification) is one of the coolest technologies in the horizon. RFID tags are tiny microchip and antenna units that store and transmit information. The concept is really quite simple.
  • You put an RFID tag on an object
  • When this object passes by an RFID reader, the waves from the reader activate the tag.
  • The activated tag sends the reader a message saying - "This is who I am and this is where I am"

This enables unique identification of the tagged entity throughout the supply chain.



The tag is tiny !

There is often talk that RFID tags will replace bar codes. But that isnt completely accurate as the two are fundamentally different.

  • With bar codes, you have to orient the bar code reader to the actual bar code to ensure that it is read. With RFID, orientation of the object does not matter.
  • With bar codes, each product class gets one code. For example, each can of diet coke would have the same code. On the other hand, with RFID technology, each can of diet coke would have an unique code.

RFID is not a recent innovation. It has been around since the 1940's. However, it is only recently that RFID tags have become cheap enough for mass use.

Some of the past/current applications of RFID are:

  • First used by Great Britain during World War II to identify friendly aircraft.
  • Compaq was the first to use RFID in a non-military setting.
  • Mobil Speed Pass
  • Smart Bank Cards
  • Ohio Department of Corrections: Prisoner tracking
  • Animal Identification / Pet tracking
  • Airlines: Baggage tracking

The Wal*Mart Effect

In 2003, Wal*Mart announced that each of their top 100 suppliers would have to RFID-tag each of the cases and pallets dispatched to Wal*Mart. This created a frenzy of action in the RFID arena. Nobody really understood the technology and it was unclear whether there was financial benefit in RFID. However, what Wal*Mart asks for, Wal*Mart usually gets ! And so in January 2005, 130 suppliers started shipping RFID-tagged product to Wal*Mart distribution centers in Texas.

Target, Albertsons, the US Department of Defence, Tesco (UK) and Metro (Germany) followed suit, and demanded that their suppliers start providing them with RFID-tagged product.

So we are going to have billions of RFID enabled product moving around the world at the same time.

This can have a profound impact on the way we lead our lives ... I'll explain tomorrow.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Flight Vs. Invisibility

This post is almost completely lifted from an NPR broadcast of "This American Life".

This particular broadcast had a narration by author John Hodgeman. He says that he has been fascinated by the question "Flight vs. Invisibility" and has been going around asking people which of these superpowers they would choose, if they had the choice. Whichever they chose, they would be the only one to have that power on Earth.

The author says that he was struck by the speed with which people usually made the decision - Almost as if they had been thinking about this for some time ...

In addition, none of the people seemed to want to use their superpowers to help the world - Instead, their plans bordered on the mundane; People who chose flight would stop taking the bus and those that chose invisibility would get into movies for free.

Although this question seems trivial, it really is a tool to probe into your inner consciousness and understand yourself.

The five stages in decision-making that the author observed were as follows:
  • Gut Reaction - Everyone instantly chose a power of the top of their head without much thought. In most cases, the super-power chosen was invisibility
  • Practical Consideration - They would then try to justify the choice that they made, talking about the things they would do - Free movies, watching women taking showers, getting on planes without paying ...
  • Philosophical Reconsideration - They would then start having doubts about their choice and start thinking about the bad things associated with their choice
  • Self Recrimination - They would express concern that invisibility would lead them down a dark path of perversion
  • Acceptance - "I would definitely have to choose flight !"

Various interpretations ....

  • Flight is the hero, invisibility is the villain
  • People who choose flight have nothing to hide, others want to hide themselves
  • People with guile choose invisibility, those without choose flight - And the reason for our internal conflict is that people do have guile, but want to appear guileless

One lady on the show went so far as to say that every person in their heart of hearts would choose invisibility, but would often say that they chose flight as that is the more socially acceptable choice and because they want to sound mythic and heroic ....

The author then sums up by saying "At the heart of the decision lies the question I really don't want to consider - Who do you want to be - The person you hope to be or the person you fear you really are ? Don't rush into it, think it over ...."

Thursday, May 19, 2005

The Divine Computer

If there is a supreme being, and lets assume that every action of a human being is controlled by Him. If He runs the whole of earth with his computer, what kind of computer would it be ? What kind of processor speed would it have ?

Lets drill down to the lowest level of a human being - The cell. There are 50 trillion cells in the average human body (Source: Yahoo).

What are the fundamental states of a cell ?
  • At Rest
  • Moving - (4 Directions - Left, Right, Up, Down, 6 Modes - simple diffusion, osmosis, filtration, active transport, endocytosis, and exocytosis)
  • Reproduce - Mitosis, Meiosis
  • Energy Production
  • Transport of molecules
  • Waste disposal
  • Store genetic material
  • Fight
Thats a total of 32 states, at every instant ...

Processing Speed

So at any instant, you have to be able to control determine the state (out of 32 options) for 50 trillion cells * 6.5 billion people.

Thats 50 trillion * 6.5 billion calculations = 325 billion teraflops

The fastest supercomputer right now is IBM's BlueGene (70.72 teraflops).

So, God would need 5 Billion of these super-computers !!

Memory

Lets assume the you store 3 seconds worth of cell states in ROM and 1 second worth in RAM ...
Each cell needs 6 bits to store its state, as the binary equivalent of 32 = 100000

This means that God would need 50 trillion * 6.5 billion * 6 * 3 bits of ROM, which is equal to 700 Million Million Gigabytes of ROM, which is about 10 Trillion times the hard disk space on your PC.

And God would need 240 Million Million Gigagytes of RAM

And this is just for us human beings. Imagine how much more computing power is needed for the rest of the natural world ...

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Big Brother Returns

The internet has really brought down barriers to information all around the world. Almost every kind of information is available online and every point of view is covered, from the most liberal to the most conservative one and all the ones in between.

Blogs are a great tool as well, especially in the expression of alternate view points that arent given their due by large media channels.

So many of us are developing opinions about the rest of the world based on information from the internet. The internet has given everybody the ability to have an informed opionion, free from the influence of special interest dominated mainstream media.

However, governments in countries like Iran, China & North Korea restrict access to websites whose content they deem unsuitable for their citizens. These websites range from pornographic websites to politically inclined ones. This is an attempt by these governments to influence their citizen's opinions about a variety of issues, including their attitude towards the West.

Could this kind of censorship ever hit the rest of the world ?

Before you shrug away the possibility of that happening, think of this: While researching an issue, most of us almost unconsciously go to a search engine such as google or yahoo. In fact, google and yahoo together processed 67% of all web searches in 2004.

Couldnt these search engines potentially become a newer version of Big Brother ? By directing us to a certain subset of sites and keeping another subset hidden from our view, couldnt they start subtly influencing what we read and thereby what we learn/think ? For example, if the powers that be at yahoo decided that they hated Algeria, whenever anybody searched for information on Algeria, they might be directed solely to sites that focus on the negative aspects of Algeria with the positive aspects of Algeria hidden from the public eye ...

Monopolies are never good, and its in our interest to have several search engines in good financial health. We dont want to find ourselves in a situation 10 years down the line, where google and yahoo have started to resemble CNN and Fox !

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

India's Aircraft Carriers

April 11th was a proud day for India. Construction began on the first indigeneously built aircraft carrier at the Cochin shipyard. Only three other countries have the ability to build aircraft carriers of this magnitude and no other developing country.

Aircraft carriers in the United States have been named after people: thus USS Eisenhower, Kennedy while the United Kingdom opts for human strengths, thus, HMS Invincible, Triumph, Victorious, Indefatigable, Implacable.

India on the other hand has chosen more abstract names for its aircraft carriers and in fact, the names were chosen through a lively discussion between the Prime Minister's Office and the Defence Ministry.

Before INS Vikrant (our first aircraft carrier) got its name, the following were discussed and rejected - (Source: bharat-rakshak.com)

Sumeru (being the name of an un-locatable mountain); Himalaya (was unthinkable having been a Pakistani frigate's name); Kailash and Vindhya (not inspiring enough)

Further names considered but rejected were: Everest (not in India); Nanga Parbat and Amarnath (not favoured by the then Defence Minister Krishna Menon who opined that naming aircraft carriers after mountain peaks was inconsistent with a ship known for her mobility as opposed to the immobility of a mountain).

And even more interesting are the mottos of the aircraft carriers ...

Vikrant - Jayema Sum Yudhisprudhah (We will defeat those who dare to fight)

Viraat - Jalameva Yasya Balmeva Tasya (only the strong will lord over the sea)

INS Viraat

The carrier that we just bought from Russia to replace INS Vikrant has been christened INS Vikramaditya (See below)



I wonder what the aircraft carrier under construction in Cochin will be called. What about INS Swadesi, considering its indigeneous nature ?

Monday, May 16, 2005

Rwanda

800,000 people killed in 100 days.

The entire world stands by and watches ...
What a tragedy ...

This is the story of the world's most shameful 100 days.

Rwanda was ruled by the Belgians for a long time. They split the native Rwandan population into two parts - Tutsi and Hutu. The Tutsis were taller and had narrower noses. The Belgians used the Tutsis to rule the country. When the Belgians left the country however, they handed over power to the Hutus, who took the opportunity to take revenge on the Tutsis.

In 1994, the Rwandan President Habyarimana (a Hutu) was about to sign a peace accord with the Tutsi rebel forces when his plane was shot down by his fellow Hutus ...

This was on April 6th, 1994
The Hutus pinned the blame for the assasination on the Tutsis and they proceeded to massacre the Tutsis ...

And what did the UN do ? And the West ? And the East for that matter ?

Heres the story of a 100 days (Source: PBS)

April 7
The Rwandan army and the Hutu militia kill thousands of Tutsis. The UNAMIR--United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda stand by while the slaughter goes on. They are forbidden to intervene, as this would breach their "monitoring" mandate.

April 9-10
France, Belgium and the US airlift their citizens out of Rwanda. Not one Rwandan citizen is helped in the process. Despite extensive media coverage of the atrocities, nobody cares about the Rwandans - The Belgian chief of the UN forces in Rwanda interprets this - "Nobody cares about the Rwandans, because you are Africans, not even niggers". The chief however does care deeply about the Rwandans and helps them hugely

April 11
2000 civilians are being sheltered at a school by the UN forces. Then, the UN forces are ordered to withdraw and almost instantly, the 2000 are slaughtered

April 21
The Red Cross estimates that upto 100,000 people have been killed. The UN reduces its force from 2,500 to 270

April 30
The UN Security Council passes a resolution condemning the killing but omits the word "genocide" - If the term had been used, the UN would have been legally bound to act to punish the perpetrators.

May 3
Clinton signs Presidential Decision Directive 25 which aims to limit US involvement in international peacekeeping efforts.

May 5
Anthony Lake, National Security Advisor:

"I want to work to save every child out there. And I know the president does, and I know the American people do. But neither we nor the international community have the resources nor the mandate to do so. So we have to make distinctions. We have to ask the hard questions about where and when we can intervene. And the reality is that we cannot often solve other people's problems; we can never build their nations for them ..."

May 11
At a State Department briefing, Mike McCurry is asked, "Has this government been able to determine whether any of the acts committed in Rwanda since April 6 constitute genocide?" He answers, "I don't know that they've made any legal determination on that."

May 13
The U.N. Security Council prepares to vote on restoring UNAMIR's strength in Rwanda. However, Madeline Albright delays the vote for four days.

May 17
The UN finally decides to send 5,500 soldiers back into Rwanda.

These troops were from India, Ghana, Ethiopia and Senegal. India sent a battalion (1/3 Gorkha Rifles) and some engineers & signallers totaling 925 all ranks which included 20 military observers and nine staff officers.

The 1/3 Gorkha Rifles assisted in the move of over 70,000 internally displaced persons as also the movement of about 7000 prisoners to other areas, it looked after eight orphanages, several schools and gave much needed medical assistance to the locals. Both the signal and engineer companies earned high praise for their devoted service.

I love India.

The US response
The actions authorized last night will help. They may save lives. But ultimately, the future of Rwanda is in Rwandan hands."

May 19
The UN requests the US to provide them with 50 Humvees. This doesnt come through because the US and UN can't agree on who will pay for them

June 22
France decides to deploy its forces to create a safe area - However, Tutsis continue to be killed in the safe area.

July
The Tutsi rebels capture Kigali and set up a government of national unity. The genocide is over. 800,000 Rwandans have been killed.

Rwanda has no resources, no gold, it doesnt produce anything .. It just survives on coffee and tea. Its the orphan that was left out in the cold ...

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Cool Surveys

Recently, I had a bunch of free time on my hands ... And I found this cool website, http://www.blogthings.com - It has a bunch of surveys ...

I did some of them, and I found the following ...


Your Japanese Name Is...


Shouta Shimizu





American Cities That Best Fit You:


75% Honolulu

70% San Diego

65% San Francisco

60% Los Angeles

55% Atlanta

You Are 21 Years Old
Under 12: You are a kid at heart. You still have an optimistic life view - and you look at the world with awe.
13-19: You are a teenager at heart. You question authority and are still trying to find your place in this world.

20-29: You are a twentysomething at heart. You feel excited about what's to come... love, work, and new experiences.

30-39: You are a thirtysomething at heart. You've had a taste of success and true love, but you want more!

40+: You are a mature adult. You've been through most of the ups and downs of life already. Now you get to sit back and relax.


I am actually 24 ...

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Be Fat, Live Longer ....

I am sure all of you saw the results of a recent study that determined that "Overweight people live longer" ....

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/index.cfm?c_id=204&ObjectID=10121660

The study showed that those who are overweight live longer than those of normal weight. In addition, the study reinforces the earlier theory that obese people live shorter lives. However, a surprise result was that people with below-normal weight also had shorter lives ...

I have always had my reservations about studies of this nature .. Because you are never really making an apples-to-apples comparison. And of course there's the saying - "There are lies, damned lies and statistics !"

However, I continued reading the article and saw this ....

"The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, is claimed to be the most rigorous yet with the figures corrected for age, sex, race, smoking and drinking"

Hence, the study did adjust the data for most of the key factors.

However, they did not adjust the data for what is in my opinion, the most important of them all - Income and access to healthcare !

If you look at successful people in the US, they are usually slightly overweight, not obese, not normal weight and definitely not slender (except Bill Gates !) - And of course, this is the group of people with the best access to healthcare and drugs that extend their life.

So, a better test would be compare the quality of life and lack of diseases for each of these weight groups ....

But until this follow up study comes by to burst my bubble, I am, happily slightly overweight :-)

Friday, May 13, 2005

A Photographic Memory for Directions



Seattle is one of the favorite places I have visited so far in the US - Its a great combination of US convenience, French style and Swiss beauty ...

So, me and my friends were sitting at our hotel room in Seattle and we decided to go eat lunch. We then got directions to the closest indian restaurant there and one of my friends started writing them down ...

Then it struck me ... Why not stuck photograph the computer screen using a digital camera - Then you have the directions without the hassle of writing them all down !

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Wow, Bow Wow !


Washington Times cartoon ... Was removed about 3 hours after it was published on their website ...

IAS Topper !

I actually know the IAS topper from this year. For the non-Indians, IAS stands for Indian Administrative Service - It has got the most amazingly difficult entrance exams !

He was one year ahead of me at BITS, Pilani ... He is definitely one of the most brilliant guys I ever met. I remember how he taught me Advanced Calculus one night ... He could actually visualize everything in 3D !

He really deserves this.

Excerpt from the Hindu (http://www.hindu.com/2005/05/12/stories/2005051212651300.htm)

Railway traffic service official Srinivasan Nagarajan has bagged the top spot in the Union Public Service Commission Civil Services (Main) Examination. The results were announced here on Wednesday.

It may have been his fourth and last attempt but for Tirunelveli-based Mr. Nagarajan, it could not have ended on a better note. A B.Tech from BITS Pilani, he had sociology and geography as options.

Congrats Bheem Boy !
We look forward to seeing you as Cabinet Secretary

Some further information ....

When Bheem first heard the news, he called his mother. His first words were a famous couplet from the great Tamil work Thirukural. Translated to English it says "A mother is happy when she delivers a son, she is happier when he becomes a Scholar".

Moving Roads



Guys, its time to go back to the original theme of this blog - Crazy ideas !

There's congestion on every major highway in the world and I dont think its getting any better. In fact, there is another version of the picture above where the caption reads "Next 20 Years" instead of "Next 2 Miles".

Now, there are more cars in the US than human beings and even high oil prices don't seem to be dampening vehicle sales.

And traffic congestion is costly - 3.7 billion hours of travel delay and 2.3 billion gallons of wasted fuel in 2003. The average person had 47 hours of traffic delays, with the average Los Angeles inhabitant spending 93 hours stuck in traffic in 2003.

There are several reasons for the grid lock. One reason is the sheer volume of traffic. However, another big reason is poor driving - This leads to accidents that can jam up long sections of highways (with a 2 car accident during rush hour slowing down traffic for upwards of an hour). In addition, there are several people who just can't drive and slow down traffic through their incompetent driving.

Stuck in snail paced traffic one day on I-95 in Northern Virginia (in a stick shift :-(), I wondered whether there was a better alternative to continual highway broadening which is costly and causes further congestion in the process. One is to reduce the number of cars, but thats not going to happen in the US ...

I thought of another alternative - What if roads could be replaced with huge conveyor belts ? Cars would have to enter the belts at highway on-ramps and then they could shut off their engines. The conveyor belts would run constantly and move the cars along.

This would only be used in the busiest of highways. There would be no accidents and traffic flow could be coordinated using a speed/route algorithm. I would think that the resulting smooth flow of traffic would reduce congestion by a good deal.

There would be a toll to run these conveyor belts equivalent to the cost of gas that would have been consumed. Each lane would have its own belt, with different pre-set speeds - Normal, Express, Super Fast with different prices for each ...

I have no clue whether this is feasible to execute, both from engineering & financial points of view. Thoughts, anyone ?

Response from a Civil Engineering professor at Georgia Tech:

If you run the energy calculations (and maintenance estimations) on your idea, I think that you’ll discover the major issues that you’d face. You have technical issues to face in moving vehicles into and out of the system. There are some related ideas on providing external power that are probably more promising… run a web search on Tube Freight.

The other constraints are capital costs, and operations and maintenance. Also Don’t forget the liability issues as well when something with the system goes wrong and 200 vehicles crash at once.

Hmm, this is one idea whose time has'nt come ! However, I think you could move vehicles in and out of the system using accelerating and decelerating conveyors ..

Umstead State Park ....


I whipped out my camera recently and started photographs again ... I am going to start putting some of them online. This is from Umstead State Park in Raleigh, NC

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

An Open Letter to Reddy K

This post is really in response to some of the comments made by “Reddy K” to some of my previous posts ….

Sir/Madam, I appreciate the thought that went into each of your comments, but I must disagree with almost everything you say. I believe that there is a fundamental difference in the way we approach things – You seem to look at the status quo and identify reasons for why things should remain the same, while I look at how much room for improvement there is on Earth. Maybe my younger age makes me less cynical about things – But I believe that there is an opportunity to change, if only we can take it.

I have a very comfortable life and I assume that you do as well – However, while you use your comfortable life as a reason for the perpetuation of the current system at the cost of others, I believe that my being blessed with comforts gives me an obligation to improve the lot of others who have not been similarly blessed.

Here are my responses to some of your comments ...

Let me put the way a poster said: Every country has an Army, Your's or someone else's.

What is your point ?

Why do you lock your house, your car and have a passport ?

How is this connected to anything at all ?

As world looks like it is to get a best deal - for YOU, your family, your friends, your country, your humankind etc.. would you give up your life style for someone else ? would you ?

I guess you don't need to answer that. I will just quote what my son said when he was 4 years: if I give all my money to the poor then I'd be poor!

Of course everyone wants to do well for themselves and their family. And I am definitely not a communist/socialist. I do not believe that there is any need at all for equal sharing of resources across every person, for then, as your son points out, we will all be equally poor. However, your lifestyle should not be maintained at the expense of another’s, and even if you do, you shouldn’t try to justify it, and if you feel the need to justify it, atleast you shouldn’t be proud of it. Once we decouple personal satisfaction/happiness from money, then the need to blindly accumulate more wealth disappears and automatically the need for exploitation in the world decreases.

So beat the romantic stuff which is for books and naive people and may be women. It just won't make us go further. It just relives us from unanswerable questions or fears that answers are not what we expect.

The above just doesn’t make any sense. In fact, I would recommend that we leave all administration in the world to women – They would do a damn fine job.
Look at the Poles in 80s. As long as they were hungry and fight for daily food, democracy was far away. Once their bellies got enough they wanted their freedom. It is survival after all that goes first.

Again, what’s your point here ?

But what US does has a bearing on the world. One can say whatever they want but Bush administration did what is morally right and so did Clinton in Bosnia & Kosovo. India did not. And UN is an impeccably corrupt organisation which India allies with. Kofi Annan is pointed out to be responsible for not stopping Rwanda Tutsi genocide. So he really has nothing to say about Iraq. Probably he would rather have his son getting paid by Saddam still. As long as US World Police is democratic ... it is more preferred than UN. Ask those guys in Srebrenica.

Please define “morally right” ?

Very few humans are philanthropic. If they are then there is some thing wrong with them too.

You must be joking ! Please tell me what’s wrong with Mother Teresa, Gandhiji, Bill Gates, James Michener, Baba Amte and countless others …. (To me philanthropy isnt just about money)

The world goes on a simple principle: you scratch my back and I will scratch yours. It goes from the family to country. It is not always win-win situation. It may be WIN-win or Win-wIn or whatever.

Status-quo again


I would sacrifce someone else's daughter - I have no problem with that ;-).

That doesn’t really merit a response

A war is sometimes necessary just like a police force in a country.

I don’t see the connection

People who don't believe that are nothing but easy-chair romatics (of peace)..

Well, its better to be an easy-chair romantic than an easy-chair soldier !

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

One life = ?

I am an incurable romantic - I actually believe that its possible to have world peace and I believe the whole world can get together to improve the overall quality of life for mankind. Would'nt that be beautiful - The whole world in harmony and peace ! I don't believe that the primary goal of the each country should be to improve the economic welfare of just their country and I believe that decisions should be made with a human face and not just based on dollars and cents.

Some of the comments to my earlier posts said that:
  • Economic advancement is enough of a moral excuse for war
  • War is good for the US economy
  • War is the smart way of gaining wealth
  • A mighty (& smart) army is always good for wealth as long as it is democratic

Is human kind really so jaded ? Have we lost all appreciation for the beautiful world we have been given ? In our feverish drive for economic advancement, we seem to have lost our focus !

However, for one moment, lets assume that I set aside all of my romanticism and approach this issue scientifically ....

Lets assume we run the world purely on economic considerations - Pursuit of wealth is the only consideration ... A balance sheet would be drawn up for every war with the cost on one side and the benefits on the other. If there was a positive balance, that would be the only justification required.

Then, there would be no need to justify war with cock-and-bull stories of WMD ... There would be no need to give war a shroud of decency - "Bringing the heathens to light", "Controlling communism" etc ...

However, there is one stumbling block ... How do you quantify the value of a life ? Is it just the amount of money he/she would have earned in his/her lifetime ? Whats the value of relationships, friendships, love .... ? And of course an American life is more valuable !

That will be they day - When Bush stands in front of Congress and says - "We are going to attack Iran. We will get 250 billion dollars of reconstruction contracts - The cost of running the war will be 100 billion, we will lose 1000 American soldiers (@10 Million each) = 10 Billion and a million Iranian lives (@50,000$ each) = 50 Billion ..."

So overall, cost = 160 Billion, gain = 250 Billion,

Lets go for it !!

Monday, May 09, 2005

Displays on cars ...

Driving on US highways in pretty cool - In fact, there is even a sign language that exists between the drivers - When you want to change lanes and another driver lets you do that, you wave your hand in thanks, if your brake lights are'nt working, someone will point that out to you .. And theres an entire community of CB Radio users who tell each other about traffic cops they spotted on each highway ...

I thought that it would be cool if we could take it a step further and have a LED display board on the back of every car, where they could flash messages to other motorists. There could be about 20 pre-configured messages that could be shown on the board.

You could thank people, you could just say hi - All with this display ... And when you spot a hot girl, you could say "You're hot !" and then slow down and allow her to pass you and hopefully she will have the message - "So are you" and not "Beat it, jerk" !

A whole community of drivers communiating with each other ...

I know there might be questions raised on whether this would pose a serious distraction to drivers - I wouldnt think this was any more of a distraction than any of the following:
  • Bumper stickers
  • DVD screens in other people's cars
  • Your GPS system

Would any of buy this ?

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Masai Tribesmen

This isnt really an idea or a theory ... Its something I learnt recently and found quite incredible.

Africa has always been the continent with the most allure to me. Maybe its because my mother told me as a child that the sky was bluest in Africa. Its always been my dream to go on a safari and lie on the back of a jeep at night and watch the night sky in all its glory, unaffected by all of the artificial light we use ...

Anyway, I was watching the movie - "Out of Africa" starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep. Redford plays the role of an American hunter in the movie - He has an assistant who also happens to be a Masai tribesman. The Masai are some of the fiercest warriors in Africa. In fact, Masai men were allowed to marry only if they could prove that they had killed a lion (This practice has been stopped due to the dwindling lion population).

In one particular scene in the movie, Redford tells Meryl Streep about the Masai ... And he says that when a masai tribesman is put in an enclosed jail cell, he dies almost immediately.

This is because they have no concept of "future" - They live absolutely in the present. They see themselves locked up with no freedom to move and their life is no longer worth living.

It doesnt help even if they are told that they will be released in a week - Because for them the present is all that counts and the fact that the future could be different from the present is too abstract of an concept for them.

When they are hungry, they hunt. They dont think of the next day's meal ...

How blissful such an existence would be. Especially for me, with my MS Excel plan for the next forty years !

Saturday, May 07, 2005

I wish some aliens would invade Earth ...

All of us seem to have lost sight of one of the most basic facts of life ... We don't seem to remember that beyond our superficial differences (national origin, skin colour, race, religion, sex, language and so on), we are ALL human beings !

Despite the fact that we are all members of the same species, put together on this small planet for a short period of time, we fight endlessly, there are countless wars, there is anger, hatred, plots, treachery, back stabbing ...

Most animals live in relative harmony on Earth ... Of course, there are some battles to establish territorial boundaries and also to win a mate, but largely, they co-exist peacefully ...

So why are human beings different ? Is it because we have a sixth sense ? Have we evolved too far ?

Personally, I dont think so .... I think that the problem is that man has no natural predator left and hence there is no incentive for human beings to cooperate with each other across country/race/religion lines .... This absence of a natural predator has forced us, in order to satisfy our inner urge for war/conflict, to create artifical, imaginary "predators" in the form of the people of "enemy" countries ...

What we need is a good solid alien attack that will require the resources of the entire world to repel ... That should bring us all together and make us forget our petty differences ....

Friday, May 06, 2005

Would you sacrifice your daughter ?

Have things changed for the better in Iraq since the beginning of the war ?Yes, of course .... Iraq no longer has a cruel dictator with maniacal sons running the country. There is a semblance of democracy now with elections having been held. There have definitely been improvements, but there are several major challenges ahead and it remains to be seen whether democracy will ever work in Iraq.

On the other hand, since March 2003, 109,600 Iraqis have been confirmed dead. Half of them were innocent women and children. President Bush and his cabinet have made statements to the effect that although this is tragic, these are the expected consequences of war. They also point at the improvements in Iraq and the fact that there is a functioning democracy in that country now. They seem to think its a simple trade-off.

I have never understood the need for war and I dont think I ever will. These are people we are talking about here .. 109,600 people who walked about the streets of Iraq, smiled, laughed, cried, sang, danced and now they dont anymore. Mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, grandads, friends, mentors, teachers, lovers, husbands, wives ... This war has snuffed out the lights in the lives of countless people.

Is this a price that anybody would be willing to pay for freedom ? Were the Iraqi people asked whether they wanted freedom at such a price ?

Imagine, the situation was reversed ... America is under a cruel and sadistic dictator (lets call him Chutney). Imagine, they were forced to live in a country that persecuted all citizens that were not christians, where Chutney built incredible palaces at the expense of the health and education of citizens ...

We all know how much Americans love their freedom ...

Assume you are an American ... With a beautiful three year old daughter. If it was known to you that you could get freedom for your entire country and you could do that by sacrificing your daughter, would you do it ?

One life in exchange for the freedom of 290 Million ....

Would you do it ?

Then, why were 109,600 Iraqis asked to do it ?

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Happy News

Everyday, its get worse ...

Spies in the Pentagon
Polio outbreak in Indonesia
1 Million predicted deaths in Africa due to Malaria this year
60 killed in suicide attack in Iraq
IBM to cut 13,000 jobs

and then,

North Korean missile tests
Child abuse
Gory accidents
Financial scandals ..

Do we have to read about all of this, everyday ? Do people really want to read this kind of news ? Imagine if an alien read just the NY Times or the Indian Express - They are going to think that the Earth is a third world planet, where nothing but bad things happen and people are extremely unhappy and perverted. They would just keep flying straight past ...

I think we should have "Happy News Daily" where the positive things that are happening in life are'nt buried in Page 72 - They are the headlines. There are so many beautiful things that happen everyday ...

India space program gets closer to the moon !
Laxman’s ‘Common Man’ is Air Deccan’s ‘Maharaja’
Boy risks life to save seven

and so on ....

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Cutting corners to become fatter

"The US isnt a great country, but can become one" - Arundhati Roy.

When I read this quote in her book "An Ordinary Person's Guide to Empire", I thought that was quite an audacious comment to make. After all, the US is considered the "Land of the Free", it's the only remaining superpower, the place where its possible for penniless immigrants to become millionaires, the country where everything is bigger and better, it's the melting pot and the country where everybody is treated fairly ...

One might actually imagine that this country has streets that are paved in gold ... (Source: Maria Full of Grace)

A great deal of prosperity has been built up in this country - Through honest hard work, a sense of adventure, great natural resources, a bit of exploitation and some luck.

America in the past stood for all the right things, and the average American would always do the right thing even at the cost of personal discomfort. Even prisoners of war were happy to surrender to American forces during the World Wars, because they knew that they would be treated well.

Traditionally, this is a country that has been associated with a passionate pursuit of truth and freedom - Even at the cost of material gain. However, is this true of the USA of today ? Given a choice between losing the current level of prosperity/material comfort and sticking up for human rights, what would the average American choose ?

I believe that the slide has already begun ... The US is cutting corners in several ways - And whenever confronted with a difficult choice, they have chosen the easier option.

Look at what Americans have accepted in the past few months/years ....

  • Losing a good amount of free speech rights (Patriot Act)
  • Prisoner Abuse (Abu Ghraib)
  • Two futile wars (Where's the WMD ?)
  • Foreign sweatshops
  • Chinese goods vs. Chinese human rights violations
  • Misuse of the UN/IMF (Read "Confessions of an Economic Hitman")
  • Economic sanctions against third world countries
  • Forming alliances with crazy dictators (Including Saddam, Osama, Pinochet etc ...)
  • Creating puppet governments around the world by indebting them using IMF money
  • Alaskan drilling
  • Reduction in science research funding
  • NASA budget cuts
  • and the list goes on ...

When Japanese cars came into the US, they were cheaper and of better quality - However, Americans resisted them for as long as they could. Today, there is no such resistance against Chinese goods, even though the products are made in a regime that has made a name for itself in cruel human rights violations, where people are only allowed to view government approved websites and where pro-democracy supporters "disappear" mysteriously.

The only way to sustain the "American Way of Life" (3 cars, 4 TVs etc..) is by making some sacrifices in other domains. Given the choice between a 29.99$ Chinese DVD player and supporting human rights by buying a $129.99 US-made DVD player, where would the American go ?

The current level of prosperity that has been achieved in the US, cannot, in my opinion, be sustained with the same level of respect for human rights, the environment and human dignity that the US has shown in the past.

The question now is, how many corners will be cut, before there is a stirring of the national consciousness ? Or, has the American been mesmerized into a state where Monday Night Football and Friday Night Beer are all that matters ?

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

On the bus ...

I am sure that anybody thats been on an Indian bus must have experienced this - A cyclist swerves into the path of a bus, bus-driver slams on the brakes, bus comes screeching to a halt and all the passengers are flung forward with some measure of violence ...

I was traveling on the Washington DC Metro Trains today when I got this idea ... Why dont we just arrange the passenger seats such that they face the back of the bus ? Then, when the driver hits the brakes, you are pushed towards the front of the bus, but you have the seat to hold you in place ...

I believe this is what they do on the Rajdhani Express trains ... Why not on buses as well ?

Monday, May 02, 2005

Global Prediction Model

I have a Masters degree in Operations Research .. OR is a subject thats fascinated me since my undergraduate days at BITS, Pilani. I have always loved the simplicity and elegance of its solutions ..

When I decided that I wanted to do my Masters in OR, I applied to several schools including the London School of Economics (LSE). There are a few scholarships offered in India to students who want to study at the LSE. One of them is the Inlaks scholarship.

I was shortlisted for the final round of interviews for which I went to Delhi. One of the questions that was asked was, what I would do with my Masters degree especially if I got it from the LSE.

I then told them about the Global Prediction Model.

I agree with Einstein when he said that he didnt believe that God played dice with the universe. I believe that there is a deep rooted underlying logic to the happenings in the world. And hence, I believed that there could be a model thats built that could predict events in the world.

Lets take war/civil unrest for example. There have been countless wars in the past 100 years. If we could prepare a list of each of these wars and then identify the values of some of the underlying statistics - GDP growth, unemployment, religious ratio, temperature, food shortage, rain, agricultural failures, epidemics, political change etc ...

The next step would be to identify the relationship between war and these variables.

The relationship would be something like this:

War occurs
if
{GDP Growth < 0.2% AND Political System = Dictatorship AND Rain < 50% of Normal}
OR
{Epidemic = "Severe"}

Of course the above example is an oversimplification, but I hope you guys get the idea ...

Using this model, we could then predict where the next war will be by monitoring the values of all of these variables.

This could be information that could be sold to multinational corporations - Knowledge of upcoming wars would be critical for them so that they would know where to expand and where to reduce investments ....

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Age Restrictions

There are age restrictions everywhere you look ... You have to be 18 to drive a car in India, you have to be 21 to drink in the US and so on ... What is the logic behind these restrictions ? I guess the assumption is that the older the person, the more mature they are likely to be ...

And extending that, the next assumption is that people who are more than 21 are mature enough to handle alcohol and not drive drunk ... But is that wholly true ? I know of 16 year olds who are far more mature and responsible than some of the 30 year olds that I know ..

So is it right to use age as the only criterion, or should we have a ground-up testing process that would give mature and responsible 14 year olds the opportunity to drive legally on Indian roads and preventing crazy 30 year olds from being able to binge drink and then drive on US roads.

Age restrictions in my opinion are just an easy way out for authorities ....