Thursday, March 30, 2006

2040: An Introduction

Bansi Lal lived in Mumbai, India's largest metropolis. An urban agglomeration with 60 million people, the area housed more people than an average-size country. Only Tokyo, New York and Beijing had more people. And Mumbai was growing the fastest of them all, being the most tropical of the lot.

Bansi Lal worked as a news presenter: holographic images of him were beamed into the living rooms of several Indians while they had their breakfast. He spoke in a mix of English, Hindi and Tamil - a mix quite common in India at this point of time. He would present the news with confidence and passion. Looking at him, you would understand why he was India's highest paid anchor.

He had gained popularity in the Sri Lankan war, braving the supersonic bullets to get his spectators the story. It is said that many a maiden's heart was beating faster when he was doing this bit of field reporting. He had won India's heart thus. And the network gave him prime time breakfast news.

Today was a quite a good day, as far as mishaps were concerned. A hover-car had collided with a train, killing three - and that was about it. Bansi sailed through the story with aplomb. His was a cheerful heart today: only three accidental deaths in a city of 60 million per day was something everyone could live with.

Mumbai now was a town of hope. A town of development. A town of tomorrow. A town with a greater future than the rest of the world. It had more sunlight than the great cities of the United States, Europe, China and Japan. It had more skilled manpower than the sunny desert cities of the middle east and the vast expanses down under. Its main rivals were other Indian towns (especially Chennai and Hyderabad), Mediterranean towns of Madrid and Los Angeles. Mumbai had expanded by 2040 to cover what was once the metropolis of Pune, the town of Aurangabad - and as far north as Daman.

Something remarkable had occurred over time. Something that changed the face of the planet in the preceding 30 years. Something that helped the planet avert the energy crisis and tide through global warming. Solar energy.

perseverant research had been happening at the academic level - throughout the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century. The best brains in the world were working on solar cells; on harnessing solar energy for the future. Photovoltaics were always a "promising" technology. They were never economical.

Never economical, until that fateful day that fuel prices hit $140 a barrel (2005 dollars). Gradually solar photovoltaic cells started disappearing from store racks. More started being manufactured. Advertisements were being played on local and national television. India started becoming a "solar" country. The grid would supply power only at night or on rainy days using coal power.

It was ironically that disease that had blighted humanity since times immemorial - religion - that had brought forth the current prosperity. Hatred between two prominent religions in the world resulted in an oil crisis. This also resulted in a hectic funding of scientific research in solar energy. Indian universities focused on an innocuous sounding plant called "Jathropha" which was instrumental in the production of bio-diesel.

Jathropha was taken to en-masse by the farmers. This had a multi-pronged effect. Since the average farmer started to earn more, only a few farmers were left who were willing to grow food crops. This resulted in the use of more efficient farming methods. Yields in India started being comparable to the rest of the developed world. And the other farmers formed a vital link in the supply chain of India's new fuel: solar bio diesel.

And almost overnight, India was transformed from a fledgling, energy hungry third world country to a sophisticated self-sufficient democracy. Development started occurring at a scorching pace.

But this is not the story of Mumbai. Or India. It is the story of Bansi Lal. And it is as much a story of romance as it is a story of hope. A hope for a better future.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

What makes the USA tick?

My temporary flight to the U.S.A is not merely to enrich my knowledge of Heat Transfer, but is really a journey of discovery. I did set myself an ambitious target: find out what makes this powerful economy tick. Find out what makes the USA the most powerful nation in the world, financially and politically. And six months into my stay here, I think I might have struck upon the answer.

And the answer is as inoccuous as trash. The secret to America's success lies in extra packaging. In wastage. In excesses that would give any a third world country a mocked feeling. The answer lies in that mountain of junk mail that fills your post box daily. In that ton of rubbish that the newspaper boy delivers on weekends. In that ton that the garbage man takes out daily.

Just the other day, I was to recieve a tripod stand for my camera. It was a mini tripod stand, and was built more on the lines of the average human thumb as far as size is concerned. I ordered it on; I really do not know why. So, a week later, a rather tired looking Fed-Ex guy knocked on my door and delivered a box (built more on the lines of a wooly mammoth than a thumb). It was a cubical box with a side of roughly 35 cm. I thought I recieved a television or something. I opened it up excited. I was hoping that Amazon made a mistake - that they sent me a T.V instead of the tripod stand.

But Amazon seldom errs. It was the tripod stand, alright. But there were a lot styrofoam peices within the box (impact absorbers?) , making the search for the tripod stand akin to that of a needle within a haystack. After sweating a few beads of sweat, I managed to ioslate the tripod stand. It is small enough to fit in my pocket.

Electronics in the U.S.A are sold in appetizing packages. These packages might look good from afar; they might catch your eye in a department store. But to open these packages, you will need a very sharp kinfe, scissors, gloves, a very strong set of teeth, a huge trash can, band aids - and even the kitchen sink. I have spent agonizing hours trying to open (often unsucsessfully) mp3 players, ear-phones, mobile phones, thermometers, battery cells ... the list really is endless.

It's something like this. Suppose a small package was used to, say, ship the tripod stand. Suppose almost everyone else in the U.S.A used appropriately small packages, like they do elsewhere in the world. Then, Fed-Ex would not be able to charge extra. Their entire business model would fail. There would be no "shippers". And without shipping, there would be no Amazon. No ebay. And essentially, internet would not have grown so fast. (As an aside, there would be no outsourcing to India. India would probably be in some sort of License Raj still, globalization failing to have taken root). This is not to mention, the nullfication of the current demand for trucks by Fed Ex.... the McDonalds frequented by the drivers will suffer .. the uniforms will not be sold ...

America has lots of resources. Lots of land. Very few people. This wastage is a way of saying to the world: we can afford to live extravagantly. And today's business (the consumer-suck up model) forces us to live extravagantly, even if we got scruples.

America seems to mock the world: You can't live extravagantly. Ha - Ha.

Note that I have not used my favorite 3 letter word in this post: oil. Saving it all up for a future post.

Friday, March 24, 2006

India is moving in the right direction

You know a developing country is well on the path of development when most of the following is true.

  • When the biggest danger facing the nation is identity theft as opposed to mass genocide.
  • When the political wars are between subtly left leaning parties and subtly right leaning parties, not between the Ku-Klux-Klan and the Maoists. **
  • When privacy and the environment make headlines, not rampant debilitating corruption and debauchery
  • When gay rights becomes an issue, as opposed to just rights
  • When television plays a lot of "tasty pet food" advertisements
  • When new religions and gods are concocted (such as Scientology and FSM)
  • When South Park (or its equivalent) can be aired
  • When people think twice about using pirated copies of Windows
  • When mature anchors like Prannoy Roy and Barkha Dutt are replaced by cranky, opinionated Bill O'Rielly and Lou Dobbs
  • When everyone is concerned about their privacy, yet their government knows everything about their income.
  • When people are concerned about robots reading their email and placing advertisements on it
  • When late night comedy shows (featuring pompous know-it-alls) have more than a "niche" audience
  • When MTV starts playing indigenous crap
  • When every city has a sport team - and people actually come to watch games.
  • When international sport is not given a damn for.
  • When a locally made version of "Who wants to be a millionaire?" is immensely popular
  • When the poor suffer from obesity (thanks to McDonald's) and do not starve to death
  • When majority of the people drink brewed, as opposed to instant coffee.
  • When people love their pets, but eat equally large animals
As you can see, India is almost there.

** American politics, in my opinion is a sad joke. It is really pathetic to see people so passionate about being either Democratic or Republican. Both the parties have a rather minor difference in ideology... Something like the Congress and BJP in India. In this respect, I would dare suggest that India has developed more than the US. Lots of leaders who leave the BJP just fit into the Congress, and vice versa. There is no "ideological" difference. Of course, what drags India's development down is the left, which has proven to be stubbornly ideological, often pulling down governments whose ideology they disagree with.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

IITs, their utter irrelevance and why we need more of them

The impact that IITs have had on the world is well known - right from New York to Los Angeles; From Bismark (North Dakota) to Orlando. But it is their impact on India that is marginal to say the least. It is my conviction that they are utterly irrelevant to India.

Yes, you might get the odd IAS officer, the odd professor, the odd engineer who works for the government, but that is about it. Four years of rigorous mechanical engineering - and the best job that you can hope to end up with is a line-in-charge at either HLL or ITC. Though I have nothing against such a job, there is absolutely nothing "techy" about it. And hence the exodus from India to the US of A. (Why not Europe? The U.S. has been the traditional destination, and welcomes skilled labour of any sort).

In one's final year at IIT, one has to make a choice. Does one want to be true to one's passion; one's subject, or does one want to stay in one's country? If the latter, opportunities abound in Finance and other management related fields. Research has not yet caught on in India.

But we desperately do need more institutions of excellence. In my opinion, the recent conversion of a university in Cochin to an IIT is a step forward, since that shall mean a higher priority to research and an admission to the undergraduate programme via the JEE, which has proven to be an excellent filter of talent (the coaching classes notwithstanding).

India is booming. It is almost certain that the research work in India tomorrow will be way higher than what it is today. Soon will come a day when our indigenous industry will be able to support world class research ... the day when the average PhD from an Indian university will mean a lot more than it does now ..

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The day that 30 met 328

When finally, 328 from 243 was free;
328 thought it would just walk into prosperity.

But the ride was tough, the road was bumpy;
Most from 328 were still of 243 wary.
So, 28 adopted a "social democracy";
- and was plagued by rampant beauraucracy.

Forty five years later, an economist,
328 from the shackles set free.
328 started to grow enormously -
Enough to catch the attention of 30.

328 opened up, started to drink oil,
Started to make cars and drugs on its own soil.
And one fine day in a desert,
328 created a fungus.

30 started to spit venom;
Started to treat 328 like scum.
But 328 had problems of it own,
186 and 136, to mention some.

Though 328 dreams to be a 30,
Most of 328 is lost in poverty.
Although, lots of 328 diffuses to 30;
density gradient, you see.

328 does a lot of work that is dirty
For the rich - especially 30.
But 30 still shunned 328,
For creating the fungi.

30 and 328 seem to be in love again-
Peace brokered by "mutual economic gain".
Harness the fungi for peace, they did say;
When 30 came to 328 today.

[ You might need some help decrypting this.]

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

A new blog

Just as the velocity of a fluid particle in an arbitrary reference frame can be split into two parts like:
I propose to split my blog into two parts. This part ( shall be the part with the spin; the part with the opinion, the part with the arrogance, the part with the attitude. The other part is the simplistic, non-layered day to day journal, where emphasis shall be on mundane, day-to-day experiences of the notorious PhD life, and not on comprehending the complexities of this world. This part lives under the domain name

Purists among my readers will spot a cliche in the name. The alphabet "e" is shared by both mundane and existence, making it a rather lame title. I hope that does not deter them from visiting the blog.

People might argue that I am running low on material to fill up one 'blog, so, what right do I, the author, have to inflict the world with yet another of these monstrosities. I anticipate that people would have looked at Victor von Frankenstien the same way when he had just created his "creature".

The material for the new blog will be something more on the lines of "I had my coffee today. Then I went to class. I walked, nay, cycled on the road. The day was warm.". As you can see, the title (The Mundane life of a grad student) is quite apt. The reason for the new blog, of course, is to laugh at myself and my stupidities in the future.

I am also in favour of the odd technical discussion in the same. I believe this new blog would be a nice way to archive my "ideas" as I work on my PhD problem. Of course, I am assured that plagiarism will be impossible, since no one reads my blog anyway!!