Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Sunday, January 22, 2012
I have no doubt in my mind that this is not the way it ought to have been. Let us assume the worst, for instance. Let us assume that Salman Rusdhie was trying to troll the adherents of the religion of his ancestors. (This article discusses Islam's beef with Mr. Rushdie -- I would be willing to call this creative license, and not intentional trolling --- but as I said, let us assume the worst).
Let us also consider the similar case of M.F. Hussain, held by many to be India's answer to Picasso. Hussain earned the hatred of India's insane conservative Hindu movement for these paintings (how dare some muslim draw our godesses in the nood?), among others. (I'm fairly sure that if India's far right read this blog, they would be after my head too -- but hey, I get about one view a day!). Again, for argument's sake, let us assume the worst. While I don't think these paintings are inherently more salacious than the average sculpture/painting of the same goddesses in question (that the Hindu worships without question), let us assume that these were made to troll the Hindu masses.
So, extrapolating from these two cases, let us consider two thought experiments. Author S who intentionally trolls religion I1 with incendiary writings; Painter H1 who trolls adherents religion H2 by depicting godesses in the nood. Ought a democratic third world nation, I2, comprised primarily of religions I1 and H2 ban the offending works of S and H1? Ought I1 and H2 be ostracized from I2 society?
The answer is a clear no. Ideas that challenge the status quo must not be shunned; they must be allowed to spread based on their merit in society. Take Darwin for instance; his theory of evolution pretty much invalidated the deeply held dogma of all organized religion out there -- and they did not like it. His theory is one of humanity's most significant philosophical achievements to date. Irreverence to holy texts should not be censored, at the very least.
Given the nature of the opposition to Mr. Hussain and Mr. Rushdie ("let us vandalize his house and destroy everything he loves" / "let's kill him"), we must understand that we're dealing with intellectual twelve year olds here.
Of course, a Hussain or a Rushdie could be deemed to be a polarizing figure. Someone who makes religious people uncomfortable. A model citizen, in my book, if offended by a Rushdie or a Hussain, would write about it in blogs and in facebook. A model citizen would conduct a peaceful protest march on the street.
Sadly we don't live in such a world. Provoked mobs are notorious in their tendency to lynch. Salman Rushdie will probably be killed if he is in Muslim country (like translators for the satanic verses have been killed elsewhere).
More than that, angry third world mobs tend to riot, hurt and kill themselves. A puristic interpretation of the freedom of speech would prioritize the freedom of expression of a smug troll over the life of a thin skinned human being who lives in the third world.
While I do believe the average third world ought to develop a thicker skin, I think he/she has better things to do --- like work for food. To this end, I do believe absolute freedom speech is a western luxury, and third world nations such as India and can be forgiven for banning books which have a high chance of creating communal tension. I'm upset that Rushdie cannot be allowed to come to India to address the meeting in Jaipur, because I believe the freedom of expression has suffered a blow. But I do understand that his visit would have brought about a potentially dangerous situation in Jaipur.
Following the thread of causality I just articulated, it means that I'm upset that India is a third world country with citizens who have very thin skins. Or that I'm upset India is a third world country. Which is the story of my life. I'm upset that my home country is a third would country with the largest number of poor people in the known universe.Which is a bigger problem than the freedom of expression of a troll.
Monday, December 19, 2011
An excellent article on denialism in general.
An article on how corruption is a part of human nature.
This gentleman is delighted that Kim Jong Il is no more.
And this tells you why the aforementioned man is delighted.
An interesting perspective on the Vedas.
Good to see eccentric inventors in India.
The tea party is popular no more. Looks like George Sr. will have to change to coffee with his dolls in the attic.
Wednesday, December 07, 2011
Data is nature's way of keeping your ego in check; data is nature's way of proving that your understanding of the universe (or that miniscule fraction of the universe that you are studying) is entirely incorrect (or at least, needs some level of tweaking).
Data is the world's best physics teacher. The curious engineer relishes fitting physical models to incomprehensible data patterns. The high of fitting a model and making measurable predictions is one of the great highs of life. It is often worth the corresponding low when one realizes that there's a caveat to the model that we just developed.
My attitude towards data has evolved since I joined Intel about a year ago. In graduate school my life was centered around data. The emphasis back then was to fit an intellectually elegant physical model to the data - so as to make the results general. I believe there is a physicist within every engineer. It is this inner physicist within every engineer that likes to fit a physical model to the data. A shot at redemption for engineer who is, at some level ashamed of becoming a sell-out.\
Having made the switch from academia to the dark side (the corporate world), I am guilty of selling out all the more. While my loyalties do still lie with data (and at Intel, data is the undisputed king), the way of looking at data is completely different.It is less passionate; it is more dreary and mundane. Heartless sounding statistical methods are applied to the data to cull out main effects and interactions.
Which is not to say that physics is entirely forgotten. Physics is more like a philosophy here; it is what informs one's intuition. All the model fitting that is done here is done in one's head.
Thursday, December 01, 2011
Let's think of something more apt. Manned flight? Meh. An undergrad who's been paying attention in fluid mechanics class can draw a couple of control volumes and prove the Kutta-Jukowski theorem. If an undergrad can explain something, I refuse to use that to signify a complicated situation.
Before I learnt how microprocessors worked, it was all greek to me. But now, I see how circuits of transistors trading in 0s and 1s essentially run the internet. While all this is remarkably complicated, it is not a philosophically closed book. I can wrap my head around it. But this is significantly more complex than rocket science.
I've a;ways found understanding avian flight to be a much more difficult prospect. It's considerably more complex than how an airplane generates thrust and lift -- but it's not impossible to explain. As a matter of fact, this site does a good job of it. If you say "It's not bird flight", you will earn a little more of my respect than you would have, had you gone with "It's not rocket science".
But one thing that does scream complexity to me is theoretical physics. I've sort of sold-out by getting a PhD in engineering ('cause that's where the monies are), so there's almost no chance that I can make head or tail of how a neutrino traveling faster than light can allow for time travel. My understanding of the world starts and stops with classical mechanics (like most engineers). What would intimidate me is the math and physics of string theory. Hell, even quantum theory.
Long story short -- if you say "It's not rocket science", I will either lose all respect for your intellectual faculties, or interpret it as "it's not as simple as rocket science". For a particular task to gain my respect you probably will have to claim that it's not bird-flight --- or, what the hell, the theory of faster-than light neutrinos.
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Sunday, November 27, 2011
Sunday, August 28, 2011
Some important features of the proposed bill are:
- To establish a central government anti-corruption institution called Lokpal, supported by Lokayukta at the state level. [No issues with this]
- As in the case of the Supreme Court and Cabinet Secretariat, the Lokpal will be supervised by the Cabinet Secretary and the Election Commission. As a result, it will be completely independent of the government and free from ministerial influence in its investigations. [Basically a supercop which is not under the government's control - none of the people who appoint the Lokpal are elected representatives. This means that it will be impossible for the people to vote out an unpopular Lokpal -- this is a massive, existential flaw with the law.]
- Members will be appointed by judges, Indian Administrative Service officers with a clean record, private citizens and constitutional authorities through a transparent and participatory process. [ (1) Clean record requirement opens a can of worms, as now there appears and incentive to get people framed (2) Who selects the private citizens who select these Lokpals / Lokayuktas? (3) This whole thing is beginning to look like a scenario from Yes Prime Minister -- like the conversations between Sir Arnold and Sir Appleby and the chairmanship of the commission for the freedom of information]
- A selection committee will invite short-listed candidates for interviews, videorecordings of which will thereafter be made public. [I like the videorecordings bit -- but how will it be guaranteed that the the transparency is real and not selective?]
- Every month on its website, the Lokayukta will publish a list of cases dealt with, brief details of each, their outcome and any action taken or proposed. It will also publish lists of all cases received by the Lokayukta during the previous month, cases dealt with and those which are pending. [Again, how do we make sure that the facts are not selective? You can frame anyone by doctoring facts. The appearance of transparency is dangerous -- how do you guarantee that the transparency is genuine?]
- Investigations of each case must be completed in one year. Any resulting trials should be concluded in the following year, giving a total maximum process time of two years. [Yes. And the moon is made of green cheese. How is this rule going to be implemented in a nation where cases drag on for centuries in the courts?]
- Losses caused to the government by a corrupt individual will be recovered at the time of conviction.
- Government officework required by a citizen that is not completed within a prescribed time period will result in Lokpal imposing financial penalties on those responsible, which will then be given as compensation to the complainant.
- Complaints against any officer of Lokpal will be investigated and completed within a month and, if found to be substantive, will result in the officer being dismissed within two months. [See comment 6]
- The existing anti-corruption agencies (CVC, departmental vigilance and the anti-corruption branch of the CBI) will be merged into Lokpal which will have complete power and authority to independently investigate and prosecute any officer, judge or politician. [Don't care about this.]
- Whistleblowers who alert the agency to potential corruption cases will also be provided with protection by it.
Futhermore, there is no fool-proof mechanism to keep this person honest (though it is quite clear that the drafters of the Jan-Lokpal bill did try to account for this issue --- but I don't think it is anywhere near foolproof as they would like).
Monday, April 25, 2011
This is a sensitive topic, lots of people I know have a lot of respect for this gentleman.
However, I would like to link to his wikipedia article here.
And I would like to point out certain aspects within the article.
This particular section has him resembling Peter Parker.
On 8 March 1940, while living with his elder brother Seshama Raju in Uravakonda, Sathya was apparently stung by a scorpion. He lost consciousness for several hours. Within the next few days there was a noticeable change in Sathya's behavior. There were "symptoms of laughing and weeping, eloquence and silence." "He began to sing Sanskrit verses, a language of which he had no prior knowledge." Doctors believed his behavior to be hysteria. His parents brought Sathya home to Puttaparthi. Concerned, they took him to many priests, "doctors" and exorcists.
On 23 May 1940, Sathya called household members and reputedly materialised prasad and flowers for his family members. His father became furious at seeing this, thinking his son was bewitched. He took a stick and asked him who he was. To this Sathya announced calmly and firmly "I am Sai Baba", a reference to Sai Baba of Shirdi. He proclaimed himself to be a reincarnation of Sai Baba of Shirdi—a saint who became famous in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Maharashtra and had died eight years before Sathya was born.
Devotees say they have observed Sathya Sai Baba manifesting vibuti (holy ash), and sometimes food and "small objects" such as rings, necklaces and watches. In some books, magazines, filmed interviews and articles, Sathya Sai Baba's followers report miracles of various kinds that they attribute to him. The first ever record of Baba's miracles by a foreigner was made by Howard Murphet in his book, Sai Baba – Man Of Miracles. Devotees have said that objects have appeared spontaneously in connection with pictures and altars of Sathya Sai Baba. Sathya Sai Baba's devotees believe that he relieves his devotees by transferring their pain to himself.
(and the rest of the section "Reputation for Miracles and Clairvoyance").
The Vancouver Sun in 2001 reported that Sathya Sai Baba told his adherents not to browse the Internet due to allegations rapidly circulating on various Internet websites and in a few newspapers. In a 2000 public discourse, Sathya Sai Baba said, "These teachings (the Vedas) are highly sacred. Today people are ready to believe all that they see on television and internet but do not repose their faith in the Vedic declarations. Internet is like a waste paper basket. Follow the 'innernet,' not the internet."
I will finally end with this video:
An argument in favor of people like the aforementioned Raju is that he can get stuff done to help the people who need it most.
I still don't think we need to resort to blind faith in something supernatural to do this. I don't mourn his death more than I would mourn anyone else's.
I must also link to a BBC documentary series and an excellent reddit thread discussing these issues.
Monday, April 18, 2011
The post contains this patently illogical statement:
In 1950, the city had a population of over 4.5 million. Bombay’s population stood at 2.6 million and Delhi’s at 1.4 million. Bangalore had just 0.8 million people. By 2007, Bombay’s population was nearly 19 million, Delhi and Bangalore had 16.7 million and 7 million people respectively, while Calcutta’s population was 14.8 million. While other cities have successfully projected themselves as offering economic opportunity and upward social mobility, Calcutta is a shadow of its former self and wouldn’t even be counted among the top four cities in India. It has long been surpassed not just by Bombay and Delhi, but arguably even Bangalore, Pune and Hyderabad.
IMHO the author (Rajiv Mantri) needs to rush to a hospital to get his head examined.
Exhibit (2) -- This article in the Financial Times, which seems to want to give the communists the benefit of the doubt.
Certainly both can't be right, unless this is Schrodinger's politics.
Needs some investigation.
Saturday, March 19, 2011
(1) Let the banks fail and face the depression that the pundits promised would follow.
(2) Big governments saves the banks, averts a depression.
Method (1) would have been the capitalist way out. The free market way out. The fiscally conservative way out. Method (1) would have instilled a fear of misbehavior in the banks and other financial institutions - and thus ensured that the crisis would not have occured again.
However, method (2), the "big government" solution was implemented. The banks were saved by taxpayer guarantees. A depression was averted (say Krugman et al.). Let us pause here and note that the more fiscally conservative politicos decided that capitalism was a no-go. Bush et al. decided that they needed a strong state to "guide" capitalism. They decided that the invisible hand was too harsh a fitness function for the Genetic Algorithm that is the market, especially when one is dealing with banks.
Now that method (2) has been implemented, we must forget about method (1). There is no way we should even consider unfettered capitalism in the short run (with the same companies which benifited from the handout still in existence). The only way out is to regulate the banks to hell. If politicians manage to impose method (1) characteristics on the system what will result is a bastard child of socialism and capitalism -- one where losses are socialized and profits are privatized. There is a bunch of people that believe this has already happened.
So, my understanding is that there is no option but to regulate everything, sit down and shut up and accept all the inefficiencies that come with it. If you want to say "market knows best", then I will remind you that in your worldview, you are dealing with financial institutions which should have died. If you let them get away with no regulation, you should realize that what is happening is not capitalism anymore. Moral Hazard, yada yada yada.
So, in essence, fiscal conservatives should also realize that their philosophy is fundamentally incompatible with democracy. After all, a fiscally conservative president rescued the banks with government money. This should be enough evidence for us to throw these ideas (from Ron Paul et al.) into a bottomless pit.
Friday, March 04, 2011
I have been told that it is a beautiful city with snow covered peaks in the vicinity (Mount Hood), beautiful evergreen forests and the rugged pacific coast. Unfortunately, there was no way to verify this claim, as the city's skies were saturated with clouds all along. This was the case in November -- and it was also the case now. For all I knew, all the maps and photos could be an elaborate ruse, and that surroundings of the city could be as flat as central Texas.
Did I mention the gloom? I believe most native Portlanders believe that the sun exists only for 3 months a year, and the rest of the year it is replaced by some sort of hazy continuum in the sky. Stands to reason that Copernicus, Galileo and the like did not hail from Oregon. And it rains all the time. It rains so much that there's moss on the asphalt!
My employer (who shall remain unnamed) has several campii in the area -- and each campus hires several thousands people, who commute on the perpetually wet streets of Portland. I found one fairly ironic thing on campus: a covered parking area with solar panels on top. It certainly is the height of optimism to expect to produce any useful amount of electricity from the 270 days of utter gloom that the city encounters. I'd like to meet whoever did the ROI calculations on that.
I could now relate to why Nirvana, Alice in Chains and the like produced such gloomy music -- Seattle essentially has the same weather. There is no way you could expect bubblegum pop to arise from such a setting.
On a concluding note, I look forward to one of my subsequent trips to Portland being in Summer. I have been told that those 3 months (from July to September) begin to resemble paradise. This will be a welcome change from the 50C temperatures in the Valley of the Sun, which spring, summer and fall invariably bring with them.
Monday, January 24, 2011
We had assumed that getting a parking spot would be quite a simple deal -- but it did not work out. There was not a spot in sight -- just a line of cars ahead of us, seeking that non-existent spot.
Since Camelback wasn't going to work out, we though going up Squaw peak (2 weeks in a row) should not be such a bad deal --- it'll get the heart beating fast -- good cardio.
Same problem there. No place to park. For a city with so many things to do, Phoenix does not have enough parking places to keep your car while you do the things that you can do.
So, we made our way to South Mountain. (We were going to get that cardio -- no two ways about it). And as soon as we entered the park, we were informed that it was a silent Sunday, and that no motor vehicle would be permitted within.
We took some bikes on rent near the parking lot and climbed up (all the way to the summit). It took us a good 1 hr 35 min to go up (because we were no physical shape to do so). The bike that they gave us was a thick wheeled mountain bike -- and it did not perform as well as one of the thin wheeled ones. The way up was a struggle, though reaching the top did allow us to wallow (for a little while) in a sense of achievement.
And then the downhill ride was fun.
All this was done without coping with vehicular traffic on the mountain thanks to the city's silent Sunday program. This is what they ought to do on every paved mountain around the world!
The surprising variability of climate never ceases to amaze. Clearly, the last line of the article makes sense. Nature is the total perspective vortex!
“Just when you publish something and it looks like you’re seeing a connection,” Dr. Wallace said, “nature has a way of humbling us.”
Monday, January 10, 2011
Source map available here. Figures are from the BARC documents referenced above.
The map is mildy suggestive of a correlation of U concentration in water to proximity to Power plants. This correlation was originally investigated by an article in the Observer in 2009.
The technicalities of Uranium pollution due to thermal power generation were then explored. PJ cites a couple of articles
Around 90% naturally occurring uranium could be stopped in the RO membrane. However methods like ion exchange would be more effective. If it is a naturally occuring uranium(?), is probably composed of 99.3% uranium-238, 0.7% uranium-235, and a negligible amount of uranium-234 (by weight), as well as a number of radioactive decay products. The half-life of uranium-238 is about 4.5 billion years, uranium-235 about 700 million years, and uranium-234 about 25 thousand years. 235 and 234 isotopes are much more harmful than the 238 one. US EPA guideline for drinking water is 20-30 µg/l, Australia is 20 µg/L and California Public Health Goal for Uranium in Drinking Water (not a regulatory standard) is 0.5 µg per litre. So the water in Punjab is definitely 6-7 times higher in concentration even by the modest guidelines. This level of uranium is not dangerous for example if one was to be in the water or bath in the water. But it is NO NO for drinking. Because all uranium isotopes are primarily alpha emitters, they are only hazardous if ingested or inhaled, so definitely NO NO for eating the vegetable products in the area as well. Several of the radioactive uranium decay products are gamma emitters, that is why workers in the vicinity of large quantities of uranium in storage or in a processing facility can also be exposed to low levels of external radiation. This could come in picture if there is a dump site. This is a very serious issue and definitely worth taking considering this will affect generations to come (ofcourse it would depend on the extent of contamination in all of Punjab and neighbouring state waters).
PJ Also supplies a link to a SciAm article, which asserts that coal ash is more radioactive than nuclear waste. However, the article asserts that both are fairly harmless and does not get worked up about it.
There are several unanswered questions at this point.
(1) Why Punjab? If fly ash is responsible – why not the USA, which gets more than 50% of its energy through coal? Why not other areas in India?
(2) Is food from Punjab (grown, presumably on this high U water) dangerous?
(3) Are we confident that U is responsible for the retardation in children? Is the number of retarded children in Punjab abnormally high?
(4) Are the concentrations of U unequivocally die to coal ash?
An email was sent by Mihir to offer help with this issue to Ms. Smit in RSA.
Hope this email finds you well. I am part of a small group that has recently discovered the issue that you have been working on (regarding extremely high levels of exposure to Uranium in children in Punjab's S Malwa region) and have read the paper that you published together with the team from Microtrace.
Quick introduction to who we are: We are a community of Indians - living both in India and abroad - who have graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology Madras sometime between the last 5-8 years. Our group focuses on policy discussions, but we also want to help out with targeted issues such as this.
First, we wanted to thank you for all the work you have done to analyze and publicize this issue. I am sure it must have been an uphill struggle, and I cannot imagine what it took. For all of this, thank you.
Second, we wanted to ask you how best we could help. Here are a few avenues we are toying with, but we would be interested in your thoughts:
It seems to us that our effort may need two clear goals:
1. Identify and mitigate the root causes of the uranium exposure as quickly as possible
2. Evaluate how widespread the effects of this problem are (eg. Most of India's food comes from the Punjab - is there a possibility of the metal seeping into groundwater that is subsequently used for agriculture?)
There are potentially a few ways of doing this (all thought starters at this point):
a. Get the company I work for (I am an Engagement Manager at a consulting firm called McKinsey) to do a pro-bono study on this issue through their social sector office with a group of volunteers from within the company and try to unearth key causes.
b. Organize fundraisers to highlight this issue and fund academic studies that help us get to the root cause/ mitigate it
c. Reach out to contacts we have in the media in India to ensure that we raise the profile of this problem
d. We may need to do all of these to get anywhere
For now, we would be quite interested in 2 things:
1. Understanding if you are still actively working on this issue, or is there another person you can point us to that may be a better point of contact.
2. If you are active on this topic, we would love to set up a conference call with you and speak to you on what the right approach/ setup might be to make a difference to the children of Faridkot.
Apologies for this long email, and please let us know what we could do to make a difference. Thanks so much!
I'm disabling comments on this post -- let's keep the discussion on FB.
Monday, December 27, 2010
Just to put things in perspective -- Obama's proposal to do away with the Bush Tax cuts would have affected only the top 1.7% of the population. The 1.7% that would feel it the least.
And it would have helped balance the budget a bit better.
Monday, December 13, 2010
Friday, December 10, 2010
This is in stark contrast with the current Nobel Peace prize winner, Chinese dissident Mr. Liu Xiaobo who is currently languishing in a prison in North China.
The west certainly bestows upon those who can express themselves the freedom of expression. Prof. Noam Chomsky comes to mind (who seldom has a good thing to say about any power structure). As does Julian Assange. As also do the usual suspects(the KKK, the Neo Nazis et al.).
The problem with this freedom of expression is that it is selective. The rights of, say, the Iraqis who have been killed for no fault of their own have certainly been trampled upon.
The plight of silent victims is often ignored by the western system -- often with explicit knowledge of American authorities. This is what the Wikileaks cables are revealing.
And this is where I believe transparency is important. And this is where I think Mr. Assange has done the right thing. If the American people know how their government is exploiting people in the third world to "protect their freedom", certainly, they will vote differently. Maybe I am too naive, but I think this has the potential to create a paradigm shift in the way America (and the west) votes.
Mr. Assange will go into the history books as a hero. Of that I have no doubt.
Monday, November 29, 2010
The purpose of this blog will be to
(a) Save interesting articles on the web (and editorialize on them) - something that I do on Facebook - an interface which I have begun to dislike.
(b) Write serious articles
(c) Write humorous articles
My emphasis will be on energy, climate science/politics, electronics (my new thing), thermal-fluid sciences, development economics and statistics.
I am fairly liberal as Americans go (on economic and social issues). That said, I believe in fiscal conservatism for India. Oh, and I have a thing for Chomsky.
Saturday, August 14, 2010
Friday, January 29, 2010
Of course homeopathy works.
Because the Placebo effect works.
If you believe homeopathy works
Then it works.
Because of Placebo.
But proving that homeopathy does not work,
You will ensure that the placebo does not work.
Because if people think that homeopathy works,
Then their faith will heal them.
Of course you can argue that they believe in a lie.
But what's so bad about it, if it works?
To me homeopathy is a lot like religion.
They're both factually wrong.
But people are happier with them.
People are fitter with them.
Faith is underrated.
Homeopathy works because of faith.
And to prove that it's wrong
will kill those who believe in it.
Because, bottomline: they're being healed by placebo. By faith.
Faith is under-rated.
Placebo is under-rated.