Sunday, December 27, 2009

Developing World and Climate Change

I have been the US for the last four years as a PhD student. I have gotten used to American customs, American televisions, American politics and American residences. I have seen America elect its first African American leader - Barack Obama. I have also seen the US suffer through the Bush years. I have seen the US fall into an economic abyss - which it is still trying to fight its way out of.

I have seen the Republican war on science in the US. There are nut cases here that deny human evolution. There are more nut cases who deny anthropogenic global warming - despite mountains of conclusive evidence to the contrary. I have seen policy made by people who have absolutely no empathy for the millions of people in the world who are suffering in war zones. There are some in this country who think that Afghans and Iraqis should have gratitude towards Americans for helping rape and pillage their motherland.

All that aside, I have seen that Americans are some of the most polite, least xenophobic and most accepting people in the world. Racism is frowned upon by both liberals and conservatives in this country - and those who practice it are usually marginalized. At the personal level, interaction with each and every American person has been very pleasurable. It is far more likely that I walk out of a business establishment upset in India than the US! Also, I have it from fairly unimpeachable sources that Americans are certainly less racist than Europeans - probably a consequence of the US being such a melting pot. As a consequence, I feel right at home in the US - because the American people are so warm and welcoming.

It is quite tough to reconcile these two Americas. But I will try to do so here, by addressing a current sticking point: emission cuts pertinent to climate change.

Population Issues:

People in the west say that there's too many people in India.. and that's a bad thing. They have this picture of India as one of those places that each familiy has a gazzillion children and that the population growth rate is absolutely out control.

While the above might have been the reality a few years ago, things have changed these days. India right now has a 2.7 children per woman rate fertility rate. India's population growth rate blew up in the 1960s-80s due to revolutions in sanitation, food availability and medical care. As dramatically more people started to survive, India's population started to grow. Indian reproductive practices took a little more time to adjust to the reduction in death - and this transient differential resulted in a population explosion. Now that birth rate has gone down to values close to the developed country average - and is still heading in the correct direction, it is unlikely population growth will ever be a problem in India.

What will be a problem is that a lot of these desperately poor people will start to become richer, and hog resources. So, it's not a population problem in India any more. It is a prosperity problem. Indians are beginning to consume more. The average Indian consumes 20 times less than the average American. Indian emissions are going to shoot up because the average Indian is likely to emit only one fifth the average american, rather than one-twentieth.

Lifestyles and Emissions:

Americans and the other inhabitants of the first world want the developing world do everything to ensure that their future emissions are under check.

Here's the scenario:

(1) The west has developed until now without any restrictions on its emissions because they did not know that CO2 emissions were contributing to climate change. The current emissions of the west have pretty much saturated (and just track the population expansion rate).

(2) The developing world, on the other hand (a) Is increasing in population (b) Is getting richer, and therefore increasing its emissions dramatically.

The recent increase in emissions, the western world argues, is due to increasing population and prosperity in the developing world.

Given that the increase in emissions is due to the developing world, the developing world ought to be the ones that should discipline their power plants and cut their future emissions. They can do so with foreign aid - because the rich world was responsible for the emissions until now. Some amount of emission cuts must also come from the developed world - and this can be accomplished by a cap-n-trade system.

This was essentially the import of both the Kyoto and Copenhagen declarations. The former resulted in a protocol calling for drastic cuts in emissions from the developed world. The latter was a blatant failure, resulting in a statement. If treaties are meaningless (like the Kyoto thing has proven to be), what hope does one have of declarations?

While the Copenhagen statement seems to be perfectly reasonable at first glance, a deeper look shows it to be horribly inequitable. I will try to elucidate how in the remaining space.

American McMansions vs Indian Apartments

For just argument's sake, let us consider the apartments that some of the richest people in India stay in. I'm not talking the Ambanis or the Birlas here - they're exceptions to the rule. I'm talking of people who are the General Managers in large companies (or even CEOs/Vice Presidents). I'm talking of professors at IITs (even though the latter are grossly underpaid).

And on the other side, let us consider mansions owned by large proportions of 40-somethings in the US. They need not be in the top income bracket - they could, say, own a shop in the downtown of a typical American town.

How big is the house?

Indians, listen. Americans want you to cut emissions. You know that extra table fan you bought to negotiate the 45C summer (with 90% humidity)? Well, they want you to trash it in the name of cutting emissions. If you don't throw away that table fan, they will threaten to impose climate sanctions on you.

And while you're getting rid of the table fan, the Americans will be sitting in their swimming pool cum Jaccuzi that they have just installed.

The American house under consideration has, on the average, four bedrooms, two studies, two living rooms, four bath rooms, a washer-and-dryer (which dries clothes completely, since clotheslines are not permitted by real estate developers). It is not uncommon for most houses to have a massive swimming pool in the garden - as well as the aforementioned Jacuzzi. The water in the Jacuzzi is usually heated to the correct temperature by in-line water heaters, sucking in kilowatts from the power grid. Poorer americans might not have such large houses - they might skimp on the pool and the jaccuzi - but not on the number of bedrooms and living rooms. The average American house has a square footage of 2400. [Very informative article, I must add.]

The Indian house on the other hand (and here, I am talking about the rich Indians) has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a decent sized kitchen and a hall-cum-dining room. Gone are the days of the bungalow - land cost is extortionately exorbitant (due to lots of people speculating on land - i.e. buying and hoarding land because they see it as an investment to pay for their daughters' weddings, in the process driving up the price for people who really want to build a house there.)

How much of the house is centrally air conditioned?

Just to get an idea of the contribution of air conditioning to energy consumption, let me tell you about our electricity bills in Texas. Our summer electricity bill (in the months of July and August) averages to around $150 a month. In winter, when we usually do not have to use the heater or the air conditioner, we pay only $50 to $70 every month. Central air conditioning accounts for around 50% of the energy consumed by the house.

In the US, each house, each kitchen, each hall, each Walmart, each library, each mall, each skating rink, each airport terminal, each auditorium, each basketball court is fully air conditioned. When the outside is at a hot 34C, the room is called to a bone chilling 16C. When the outside is sub-freezing, the room will be maintained at the same 16C. To the Indian this would seem like hedonistic overindulgence. To the American this is just business as usual. And the American has the gall to ask the Indian to reduce emissions?


Friday, December 25, 2009

Evidence of India's Economic Growth

N.D. Tiwari, 85 is in the middle of a massive sex scandal. India's own Tiger Woods?
India has really arrived.

Both the Indian politician and the Indian media are as sleazy as their American counterparts.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Hybrid Motorcyles

Somewhere, Gandhi is smiling. Indian markets are going to get the world's first commercial hybrid motor-cycle.

Motorcyle ads in India commonly boast mileages of up to 80kmpl. Well, this this does one better. At 280 mpg (~ 120kmpl), these bikes are about the greenest personal transport available. With top speeds of 40mph (70kmph), these seem ideal people negotiating the relatively small distances that one encounters in Indian cities.

And at $855 (or Rs 40,000), these things are eminently affordable.

Can you sense a trend here? India getting to a western standard of living without consuming as many resources per-capita as the west does. India's move towards Gandhian engineering is a lesson for the rich world. India's per-capita income levels will never reach the levels of the US - but its standard of living will - and it will do so before the pundits in the west predict it will. (Here and here).

But for now we would do well to remember that it's not the poorest of the poor that can afford this thing - it's the middle class. Even Gandhian engineering cannot reach the poorest people in the world - that real unfortunate 14% of India...

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Compulsory Voting in India

I think this new initiative by Gujarat's Narendra Modi is the way to go, if ample provisions for absentee balloting are made. This should certainly be the way to go for India. I especially like the idea of 'negative voting' where you indicate on the ballot that all of the above are equally despicable.

So, if your excuse is 'I hate my elected representative - and everyone else in the fray is a moron', then you can go and say it in the voting booth. I suspect this is never really the case - most wealthy people just don't care. Because the rich have other more powerful ways of influencing policy - which has nothing to do with voting, but everything to do with electoral financing.

Knowing Modi's track record, I cannot but be skeptical and think that he has his own axe to grind. Since it is fairly well known that he likes his cup of minority blood with dinner, I propose the following theories:

(1) He knows that minorities turn out and vote more because that's their only voice. So, if you force the silent majority to vote more, then their votes will drown out the minority vote. And Modi will be CM until he decides to be PM. Shrewd political move, because what he is doing is fundamentally democratic.

(2) If, for some reason, polling stations in minority areas start to malfunction and not report votes, then he secures an easy win. And also, he has an excuse to make minorities languish in jail, because they did not vote. ;)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Cutting a Pizza

Interesting article on this week's new scientist. About cutting pizzas.

Here are a few more compounding issues:

(a) What about elliptical pizzas? Most pizzas cannot be circular - and might be better approximated by an ellispse.

(b) What of the non unifiormity of topping distribution?

(c) Have the authors considered experimentally proving their conjecture, using, say, Matlab?


Wednesday, December 09, 2009

I want a state of my own too

All I need to do is pretend to starve and die. The Indian government will carve a state out for me.

I am not in principle opposed to having more states in India (India has 3 times the population of the US and has only 28 states right now, compared to the US' 50). There is probably something to be said for further decentralization.

That said, I find the idea of a dude threatening to starve to death being the reason for the creation of a state quite antithetic to how things ought to be done in a democracy.

I will withhold further judgment until I review the facts of the matter.

Monday, December 07, 2009

I smell an opportunity for gandhian engineering

Some genius found that central air conditioning is an energy hog, and it would be a good idea to air condition only specific areas. There's no point in chilling a corridor to a bone chilling 16C when it's 40C outside.

If you want to jump around in temperatures close to 16C, do it at your desk. Just provide vents near the desks to keep them as comfy as you want, and warm up the remainder of the office to a warmer temperature of, say 23C, which is fairly comfortable.

I would go one step farther. If you have to air-condition corridors, lobbies and restrooms, make them as close as possible to the outside temperature as comfort will allow. If it's a 35C day, then having the lobby at 27C would not be such a bad deal. It it's a cold day on the outside (say 2 or 3C), then 15-16C would be a good idea. You can keep your desk at a toasty 23C if you feel like it.

Cheap Pure Water

If this is as cheap as the authors of the article say it is, then I think this is nothing short of a massive breakthrough. Cheap water for the masses will improve the health statistics of places such as South Asia and Africa.

Fingers crossed.

It encouraging to see TATA make modest profits by making lives of the bottom of the human pyramid a little better.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

More thoughts on vegetarianism

I've been a vegetarian all my life until now. This is because I am stuck up in the following holier than thou sentiments:

(a) When I can eat well without causing pain to sentient beings, why should I go out of my way to cause pain to sentient beings? It's not like I am starving on lentils, veggies and beans and the like. (I have made some more progress on this viewpoint, contending that eating free-range wapeti and salmon (for instance) would probably be okay with my code of ethics - because that's the way of nature. I still have not eaten any wapeti, rabbit and free range salmon yet - because of lack of opportunity, and significant pushback). My issue is with industrial farming.

(b) With each animal taking a significant amount of energy to raise, can a world with 9 billion (projected) people really afford to feed animals that are slaughtered to feed the rich? Animals in the US get better food than lots of Indians. Since each kg of meat takes more than 200% of the energy a corresponding kilo of vegetables, meat is an unnecessary luxury.

(c) Since each kilo of industrially raised meat takes more energy than a corresponding kilo of vegetables, certainly meat farming emits more CO2 (and methane). This is fairly unequivocal: The planet is warming because of human-related emissions and deforestation. Meat is guilty.

If they manage to do away with issues (a) through (c), then I would definitely eat meat. And it looks like it might every well happen soon. In-vitro meat is just around the corner.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Course on Climate Change

I've started watching one lecture of this per day, and I am hooked.

From what I've seen yet, this course seems to explain most of the issues with climate science quite well. As a heat transfer specialist, I find the course all the more useful and enlightening.

I might even buy his book soon. [I'm talking about Professor David Archer from U Chicago here. Maybe he ought to have a nice little chat with Steve Levitt].

Swiss Bigots?

Can anybody please tell me how the recently approved Swiss ban on building minarets is not against the freedom of expression?

If you're banning minarets on mosques, then you must ban steeples on churches and idol-like thingies on Hindu temples. You may consider banning the public display of meatballs by Pastafarians and white handkerchief equipped mannequins, and space movies in theaters.

Et tu, prosperous liberal socialist neutral alpine countries?

Are India, the US and the UK the only true liberal democracies left?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Of Heat Engines and Climate Change

There's this interesting study from the university of Utah which asserts that we're in deep trouble. The study seems pessimistic about action on global warming - claiming that economic growth is correlated with energy use, which is correlated with carbon dioxide emissions. And therefore, nothing short of a full-scale-economic depression will save the world from a climatic armageddon (if I may use some rhetorical flourishes).

The author's main contention is that all the gains made out of efficiency will be reinvested and will result in further economic growth. This will result in the a sort of grotesque law of conservation of CO2 emissions. It's just like people with high mileage vehicles tend to go on longer drives than the SUV owners.

The authors model the world as a system which takes in fuel, belches out low grade waste heat (along with CO2) and extracts work (i.e. economic growth). Fascinating analogy.

A standard argument going around liberal circles is that 1-2% of the world GDP invested in clean energy and carbon sequestration type technologies will be sufficient to get CO2 levels under control.

Clearly, the two views are at slight odds with each other. I need to read more.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Are Indians Genetically Stupid?

This article got me thinking, nay, fuming. And this one, even more so.

Why is India's average IQ 81, and that of China 100? Is that why India is growing slower than China? It seems politically incorrect, racist but why is it impossible?

Or is it because, well, India is poorer, so Indian children are more mal-nourished, so their brains don't develop? Is there a poverty bias in IQ tests? After all, Latinos consistently test lower in IQ than Caucasians in the US - and they're poorer. Are they poorer because they have lower IQs, or is it the other way around? Is there also a language gap when it comes to the IQ tests? Were the IQ tests in India taken in English, a non native tongue to most Indians, and taken in Chinese in China - considering that English is less widespread in China, so it is conventional to do nothing in English?

And what of India? Are the richer people smarter than the poorer people? Historically, India has had this shame-on-humanity-caste-system. Did it have anything to do with IQ?

And now with this reputation for smarts than Indian Americans are building in the US ... what does that mean for India? With all the "outliers" drifting towards greener pastures in the US of A, are we leaving India a dumber place than before?

My two cents, finally: The study is not peer reviewed. It is a book. Books are not peer reviewed. It is pure junk, and more rigorous studies need to be performed to be convincing. Averaging some 10 tests in Shanghai and arbitrarily subtracting 6 will not make good IQ measurement.

While it might be possible that reality is not politically correct, I just don't think we have the information to call it yet.

India's new Nobel Hope?

If Jairam. Ramesh, in his capacity as the minister for environment and forests, does something concrete to tackle India's all-pervasive filth, he would be a candidate for the Nobel.

Here is Mr. Ramesh, contending that India deserves a Nobel for its filth.

If anybody makes serious inroads into India's filth, I will myself force the Nobel commitee to give them the prize. Because I don't think the lives of those who live within the filth (and there's around a 100M, or 12 Israels, least of those in India) are peaceful now.

And how tough do you think removing filth is? There's a lot of poor people out there who are suffering. Pay some poor people some money to take care of the filth, ensure that they're doing their job to get their pay .. and things should take care of themselves.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Mental Workouts

I have decided to stem my mental atophy by doing the of occasional mental push ups. Today, I tried to prove that \Sigma^N_{i=1}(x_i - \tilde x)^2 = \Sigma^N_{i=1}(x_i ^2- \tilde x^2)

I feel proud of myself. I intend to work out these algebraic problems occasionally (perhaps throw in some indefinite integrals for fun), so that I keep my brain nimble.

I would rather a Bonobo ran Goldman Sachs

New Scientist has this remarkable article. And here I quote:

There's even one observation of a bonobo who worried about getting too much. During tests, a female received large amounts of milk and raisins, but could hardly miss the eyes of her friends on her, who were watching her from a short distance. After a while, she refused all rewards. Looking at the experimenter, she kept gesturing to the others until they were given a share of the goodies. Only then did she finish her stash.This bonobo was doing the smart thing. Apes think ahead, and if she had eaten her fill right in front of the rest, there might have been repercussions when she rejoined them later in the day, not unlike the nasty notes scribbled on the portrait of Richard Fuld, the final chairman and CEO of Lehman Brothers.

Since Lehman is only a figment of people's imaginations right now, we must use Lloyd Bla-I'mdoinggod'swork-nkfein as a proxy. (As an aside, clearly he believes in a malevolent god rather than a benevolent one).

So, if anyone's keeping count the current score is Bonobos 1, Goldman 0. (Unless we're talking money here, then the score would be Bonobos 0, Goldman 1e+10.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Oceans Better at Absorbing Carbon?

New research in Geophysical Research Letters, by Knorr et al. seems to indicate that oceans are still absorbing a constant proportion of CO2. Their efficacy as a carbon sinks not seem to be deteriorating as the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is increasing.

Here's my two cents (as a layperson who has informed himself though the perusal of websites such as RC and the like)

This basically means that CO2 concentrations may not increase as drastically as some of the models have suggested, due to the worsening of the sink performance. But that certainly does not place us out of the woods. Concentrations are currently as 387ppm, which are quite high already - and they do look like hitting 450.

This essentially tells us that nature might be more forgiving than some of the gravest predictions. This is good news, a sign of hope. Also, I expect this still lies within the error bar of the IPCC projections. Of course cuts in CO2 are still necessary!

However, if I were you, I would wait for updates on RC (or some other resource made by actual climatologists) before I reach a conclusion. I'm no climatologist.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

India's Brutal Occupation of Kashmir?

Professor Noam Chomsky, in his latest article available on his website lashes out at every known power structure.

Even India. He calls the Indian occupation of Kashmir "brutal".
I am sure, given the chance, he would offer a much different take on India's naxalite problem.

Professor Chomsky is usually correct. I pretty much agree to a good degree with him on a lot of topics.

Perhaps this tells us that even democratic power structures are, to an extent, repressive and evil. Consider Kashmir. Yes, the Kashmiris are suffering - at the hands of India, Pakistan and the Mujahideen.

Yes, things are brutal. But what are the options? What are the options that will be acceptable to the states of India and Pakistan? What are the options acceptable to the people of India and Pakistan? Is a reasonable resolution possible in a democracy?

Perhaps professor Chomsky's criticisms of the Indian state are actually criticisms of democracy in general. That would make sense. Because any democracy in India's shoes would occupy a territory like Kashmir. What if Pakistan were also a secular democracy? Do you think they would still not lay claim to Kashmir?

A Depression Averted

I stumbled upon this website while browsing Professor Paul Krugman's blog. The plots in this website convince me that

(1) What happened last year very similar to 1929
(2) Governments knew how to handle this downturn quite well, thanks to Keynes
(3) It looks like things are getting better again

Though plots pertaining to India and China are not shown here (primarily because they did not matter back in 1929), I anticipate that would be interesting reading too.

These plots do indeed make the case for economic stimulus very strong. I would like to see conservatives reply to this.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Benefits of Wildlife Conservation

It is nice to see the lives of those who have taken up violence terminated.

Kudos to the bears. Let's hope their numbers increase, and that they kill more terrorists.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Malthus Vindicated?

Yes, there is a lot of talk going on about climate change. There's hypotheticals being discussed. There's the Stephens at superfreakonomics trying to convince the main offenders, the public in the western world that the current global warming scientific consensus is similar to the joke that was global cooling in the 70s and 80s. There's that superfatted fanatic moron Rush Limbaugh and that nitwit fossil James Inhofe shouting that it is a lie.

And then there's ground realities. This is one of the most startling studies I have seen in a very long time. Not model projections, but data.

Tibet's glaciers are retreating. And they're going back like nobody's business. And the tree line is receding by 350m a year. (I really can't believe this 350m statistic, but apparently that's the way it is).

What does this mean to the Indian public? One simple word: THE END OF THE GANGA during summer. And possibly the more sporadic monsoons. This is a humanitarian disaster.

Droughts in north India. Desertification. Floods in south China. Droughts in north china. This is so dangerous because 30% of humanity is under the gun here. And it would be horrible if a semi-literate blowhard in the western world stops action. (I'm talking about the Limbaugh here).

Update: More perishing glaciers. This time in Tanzania.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Dyson vs Wienberg

Freeman Dyson is an eminent physicist and darling of conservatives, when it comes to climate change. While he does believe that the climate is changing due to man, he thinks that projections of the future due to models are questionable. (Personally, I agree with him to an extent - of course there are uncertainties associated with the models for the future, but, since a lot of models seem to be agreeing in trend - I think humans must take them seriously. Things could also be worse than projected!).

Steven Weinberg, an American Atheist, who probably thinks that it is wonderful that Israel kills a gazillions Gazans for each of the pathetic little rockets that they send across the border, said the following:

"With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil—that takes religion. "
Mr. Dyson agrees with the statement, but adds another caveat:
"And for bad people to do good things—that takes religion."
Fascinating stuff.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The "green" agenda

I don't personally like calling environmentalism "green". It sounds pompous. But I do think this website has some quotations from really smart people:

Here's one from Paul Elrich at Stanford:

Giving society cheap, abundant energy would be the equivalent of giving an idiot child a machine gun

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Feynman on Teaching

Rechard P Feynman, surely the world's best known physics teacher wrote this. His thoughts on teaching are fairly profound - even though he calls it a pain in the neck.

I find it a very inspiring piece. Especially this paragraph:

If you're teaching a class, you can think about the elementary things that you know very well. These things are kind of fun and delightful. It doesn't do any harm to think them over again. Is there a better way to present them? The elementary things are easy to think about; if you can't think of a new thought, no harm done; what you thought about it before is good enough for the class. If you do think of something new, you're rather pleased that you have a new way of looking at it.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Snakes on a ship: looks like someone's been reading my blog

There's this gentleman in Europe who decided to transport said reptiles/mammals strapped to his body on a cruise ship.
Avid reader(s) of this blog might recall a post that I had made long ago regarding snakes, airplanes and how to ship one onto the other. Looks like this gentleman did something similar. Would have been able get through security to fly with those things taped on to him? We wonder...

Monday, October 26, 2009

This is probably not going to work

Looking at how wonderfully successful cloud seeding has not been in India and other places, I cannot but be skeptical at this megalomaniacal scheme.

The Clean Coal Situation

The moniker 'clean coal' has become a lightning rod for criticism. Liberals (and I am a liberal too) seem to think that clean coal technology is a joke, an obfuscation by greedy energy companies to make profits off warm and eco-friendly sounding names. The airwaves, these days, are saturated by ads (a) advocating clean coal technologies (b) claiming that there's no such thing as clean coal. Even the yes men (whom I usually appreciate) have gone on record claiming that there's no such thing as clean coal.

So, what is clean coal?

Let me summarize. A good place, of course, to start is the wikipedia page talking about clean coal.

Coal is dirty. It is basically carbon in its elemental form. When this carbon burns in oxygen, it forms IR trapping CO2. And that's why coal is dirty in the modern perspective.

Natural gas, on the other hand, is essentially methane. The good thing with methane is that one of the products of combustion is also water. Since methane consists of a significant amount of hydrogen, the amount of CO2 per unit Joule of energy produced is considerably less.

The idea behind clean coal is to use either of the following approaches

(1) Use pulverized coal (as is being done right now). But use a carbon capture mechanism in the flue gases. This can pose some issues, since the flue gases are typically at ambient pressure. This CO2 has to be captured, compressed, liquified, transported and sequestered.

(2) Use a coal gasification scheme, where the chemical energy is transferred from C to nH2 + mCO (a syngas). (A final goal is to make m = 0, converting all the C to CO2.) This CO2 can be concentrated BEFORE combustion itself (the second C in CCS). This is the idea behind the IGCC, and this is where I come in.

The fuel obtained from the coal gasifier contains a lot of hydrogen, and relatively less CO2. This results in a higher concentration of water vapor in the flue gases. Water vapor gas a higher thermal conductivity - and therefore results in a heavier thermal load on the blade. We need more aggressive cooling of the blade - and that's my hope for the future. This gives me a reason to keep on working on better cooling of turbine blades.

Neither of the two methods is economical right now. Things will of course should be different in a cap-n-trade regime. This method of sequestering produced carbon will of course add to costs - and this would never be able to compete with current fossil fuel based energy costs.

Now that you have all the CO2 that you have either sucked from the fuel before or after combustion. The kicker is, what does one do about it? How does one store this captured carbon?

One could do the obvious stuff like grow trees (especially in deserts), bury trees in landfills, create more landfills, have pet algae sucking in CO2... But that's not what I am interested in. I am interested in the more physical ways to sequester the carbon. And here's a few (which I glean from wikipedia...)

1. Put it in spent oil wells
2. Put it in acquifiers
3. Put it in underwater (though this might end up acidifying.the sea, destroying coral reefs and killing the fauna).

Let me agree with Harry Reid here. At this point in time there is indeed nothing called clean coal. There is something called 'cleaner-coal' technology. This technology might sound bad, but it is nothing to scoff at. While we cannot get rid of all CO2 from syngas (making m=0 is very, very tough), we can reduce carbon emissions significantly. We have this sobering reality:

Coal is actually one of the world's easiest fuels. It is available in large quantities in USA, India and China. India and China don't consume much energy per-capita at this point, but they're rapidly growing. Their energy needs are growing. Energy usage will increase in India and China - and that's a human rights necessity. (I expect India and China are representative of the developing world in general). It does not look like the usage of coal will decline on planet earth. It looks all set to increase. So, if we use coal, might as well ensure that the coal technologies under use are cleaner coal technologies rather than the current dirty coal technology.

And here's another point: rather than have politicians decide what works and what does not (an approach that has a success rate in single digit percentages), why not let the market do it? All the politicians have to do is, after all their internal bickering, come up with a Carbon trading scheme - or just a carbon tax - which will make apparent economic savings of clean coal in comparison with dirty coal. And then, the politicians can just take their hands of the wheel as far as climate change is concerned.

In conclusion, while people are right to ridicule current clean coal technologies, the future almost certainly has a place for clean coal, given the relative abundance of coal reserves in comparison with depleting petroleum reserves.

Arundhati Roy on the Maoists

Ms. Roy, who seems to want to fashion herself as India's Noam Chomsky, contends that the government must end its vilification of and arbitrary attacks on the Maoists. She urges unconditional talks with the naxal terror groups.

I can't say I disagree with her. India should negotiate with the maoists - because, at some level, they are people who perceive they have been dispossessed and ripped off by the state apparatus. expect that they have indeed been ripped of by the Indian government - and they have taken to arms as a last resort.

We have two options before us. Declare all out war against these Maoists (like the US had done in Afg. and Iraq) - or negotiate with them and find out what their problem is. Arrest those who murdered policemen - hang them using the judicial apparatus - but just don't create any more entropy by declaring war on them. Nothing good can come of it - as both Iraq and Afghanistan show right now.

I fully agree with Noam Chomsky on Iraq and Afghanistan. It is quite likely that I will fully agree with Ms. Roy here, when I do read a little more about the Maoist struggle in India, which I intend to do almost immediately.

My Journal Tally Has Doubled This Weekend

Nice weekend as weekends go.

Friday evening, I had two journal publications. Monday morning, I have 4.

I had two papers languishing in the recommended-to-journal-by-conference-session-chair-but-hanging-in-balance-waiting-for-journal-editor deadlock.

Looks like the journal editor was working this weekend, clearing up his backlog.

Good stuff.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

What not to do when trains run late.

When trains run late in India, and one has to catch a connecting flight, what options does one have?

One smart gentleman in Delhi decided to try his luck with a bomb hoax on a plate. He is currently, presumably, making friends with an irate cellmate in central delhi jail, one hopes.

Karzai's Humiliation

The western media confirms that even American military interference cannot ensure a fair election in the middle east. Afghanistan elections have allegedly gone the way of the Iranian elections, the west thinks.

And for some reason the Obama administration thinks that humiliating the strongman who runs the country into accepting a runoff would be good for the morale of the very proud Afghan people.

You see, it's all about sustaining political momentum in the US. The American voter is going to hold the US government responsible for screwing up the elections in Afghanistan. So, might as well make sure that the American public is convinced that democracy is doing well in Afghanistan - regardless of the fact that western interference will lead to further deaths in Afg. and now, unfortunately Pakistan also.

This article from the Hindu is a scathing analysis - the sort of analysis you just don't see in the American media, which is busy Manufacturing consent. (The Indian Media is quite reliable when it comes to affairs that do not concern it. But when it comes to Naxal violence, we see the Indian media take the government's side, just like the American media is taking its government's side right now.)

The article also contains this very good sentence towards the end:
All the same, the U.S. officials have begun arguing, the raison d’etre of continued western troop presence in Afghanistan still remains insofar as Pakistan’s stability has now become the new focal point. But then, no one remembers anymore that it was the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan that in the first instance destabilized Pakistan. Thus, the U.S. sidesteps the core issue – a timeline for ending the occupation of Afghanistan.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Who knew?

Who knew that one of the biggest problems in the successful intstallation of wind turbines here, there are everywhere is... radar?

Turns out, wind turbines are getting picked up by radars - and this noise is confusing military and civilian aircraft monitors in densely populated continental europe. (This is not so much a problem in sparsely populated US).

And turns out a British company called qinetiq has developed a way to screen the blades from radar without using a lot of paint on the blade. (Using an absorbent layer on the blade is a non-starter of an idea, considering that these things flex).


Friday, October 23, 2009


The RTI act in India is something that must not be tampered with. The idea of holding government employees accountable will go a long way in stemming corruption in India. Corruption in India is deeply inequitizing in my opinion. It allows the rich to get richer by bribing their way through.

Hope Dr. Singh listens. Putting arbitrary clauses against 'vexatious and frivolous complaints' in the law will present a massive loophole - and can also provide a shield for the guilty. The additional inconvenience caused by looking at frivolous requests will certainly not outweigh the societal costs of making corruption easier.

Dr. Singh is probably the most intellectual PM we have ever had. Would he want to go down in history as the person under whom (a) It was enacted AND (b) It was weakened?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Chomsky Interview

This article from the Belfast Telegraph.

I am unable to find a single sentence in this article that I disagree with. From taking issues with America's arrogrant and entropy generating response to 9/11 to optimism about human rights to frustration with inaction regarding climate change.

Most of the people in the world (except 300M odd Americans and 8M odd people from Israel) think of Prof. Chomsky as the most relevant intellectual alive. 6.3B people can't be wrong.

Interestingly, Hardltalk will be interviewing the Man on 29th October, for broadcast in Novermber 2009. Here is the link - one can submit questions.

Population, Contraception and the Like

This is in response to a particularly egregiously underinformed article in the NYTimes. Rush Limbaugh was on to something (of course for the wrong reason, that goes without saying). Here's why:

Population growth is no longer a problem (link to Hans Rosling) in countries like India. India has 2.7 children per woman - and the number is coming down. It is higher than US' 2.05, yes. It is impossible that India's population will double now. The bomb went off long ago when people stopped dying, thanks to modern medicine and better sanitaion. It took some time to adjust to a low birth rate. The same is true for most south Asian countries. Africa, on the other hand, just did not develop. Of course African population will go up this century - it should, because Africans will stop dying because of ill-health.

Since the average American woman adds 2.05 people to this planet, and the average Indian woman adds 2.7, the question is, whose offspring will warm the earth more? With per-capita emissions of CO2 20 times more in the US than in India, it is a no brainer to see that the American woman is 20 times more at fault than the Indian woman.

Alas the best green technology is still the financial derivative, which can destroy economies, start recessions and reduce carbon footprint. Go, Goldman, Go!

Monday, October 19, 2009

A big yes to the yes men

Suppose, back in the 1600s, someone had penetrated into the bastion of orthodoxy that was the church, and accepted (in the name of the Pope) that the solar system was heliocentric, would it have not been a wonderful thing?

One such incident occured today in washington DC, when a very agreeable yes-man posed as a member of America's chamber of commerce, an organization whose anachronistic denial of climate change makes them appear like the modern day flat earth society.

For a few moments, some of the people in DC believed that the powerful chamber of commerce stopped living in denial and had come to accept climate change as a reality. These were just a few minutes. The chamber members finally woke up, but it was fun while it lasted..

Hyderabad's New Flyover

Turns out, Hyderabad is trying to treat the handful of rich people who inhabit it quite well. There's this new 11.6km flyover that they made in the city, which they're banning two wheelers and auto rickshaws from, because some people are more equal than others.

View Larger Map

Basically, the entire region on above map where the road is highlighed (From Mehdipatnam to NH7) is to be a flyover. This flyover, incidentally, is India's largest - proof that India's rich handful are turning their country within a country into a developed oasis.

I find it reprehensible that the government is trying to encourage such elitist behaviour. I am all for building these flyovers (it's good for the economy to transport goods fast and to employ many people while building it), but they MUST allow auto-rickshaws, two wheelers and the like on board.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

I made a discovery today

As implied by the title, I did indeed make a discovery on the internets today. The discovery has something to do with a Swedish professor of Public health, Hans Rosling. Professor Rosling has these incredible presentations on TED. His talks bring statistics to life.

So, it turns out that he has done all the hard work of putting those statistics up on the internets, so that one can bring them to life oneself. His remarkable gapminder website is a wonderful way to kill time and enrich one's understanding of the planet. If one is lazy, one can watch Prof. Rosling himself deliver talks..

I had seen the TED talk by prof. Rosling a few years ago when it first came out. I did not know that the software was up and alive. I stumbled upon an obscure Tyler Cowen post, which linked to gapminder. I've been hooked to it ever since.

Friday, October 16, 2009

On birth rates

This is a wonderful website that I got off Tyler Cowen's Marginal Revolution. There's several possible combinations one can try on the x and y axes.

You can see the population bomb go off in (a) USA (b) India (c) Pakistan (d) China (e) UK in this link. Most fascinating.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A billion hungry

350M Indians don't know where they will get their next meal from. An America in India does not know if it is going to eat.

This is clearly not acceptable. We really need another Norman Borlaug.

Water Vapor Blues

There's this standard argument that so called 'climate skeptics' like to toss around.

There's so much water vapor in the atmosphere. Since water vapor is a more potent greenhouse gas, surely, the teeny weeny CO2 concentrations (only limited to ppms) can't trap all that radiation! Thus Al-gore is after my bank account.

I'd always assumed that the amount of water vapor was constant, and not growing - therefore it was not to be such a big deal. This is probably incorrect, since an increase in global temperatures will mean more evaporation, and therefore more water vapor at a given point of time. A positive feedback.

However, things, it seems are much more complicated. The atmosphere is so massive that it does not act like a single lumped layer. There's some radiation frequencies that the atmosphere fully absorbs (and starts re-radiating), there's some that go through unscathed.

Apparently, CO2 that's way high up, where no water vapor molecules dare to go. Also CO2 spectral transmittivity differs from that of water vapor. That's why increasing CO2 concentration increasing average global temperatures. This remarkable article from clarifies. I also found this page fun to peruse. Fairly wonkish, I will have to read this in more detail later.

So, I tell you why there's so many skeptics out there. The science is too tough to understand, so people would like to follow their gut. And the gut of the average American conservative is a pretty simple thing. It will follow the mantras of individual responsibility and small government. The American conservative does not think too much of 'ivory tower inhabiting liberal intellectuals'.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A first post on Music

To readers of the blog, I might come across as someone who is absolutely tuneless. But if one were to consult the wife, the neighbors or even the lab-mates, one would realize that the reality is different. I listen to music almost all the time.

What kind of music am I into?
  • I'm a classic rock fan, who loves Zeppelin, Floyd, Beatles, Dylan, Neil Young and the like.
  • I like my metal heavy. Some tracks by Maiden, Metallica, Priest and Megadeth. The only light metal I like is Lithium by Nirvana.
  • I like western classical music. One of the pieces I really love is Ludwig Van's Ninth. That's why I am hoping that I never fall into the hands of the British government, a-la-Alex from Burgess' 'A clockwork orange'. I like Tchaikovsky and Morzart and Vanessa Mae.
  • I have been listening to a lot of jazz lately, (especially Steely Dan). I also like Prasanna's take on jazz. He's incredible with the guitar - especially when he gets into intricate south Indian raagas.
  • I personally think that I am a philistine of sorts right now, since I do not have ear for south Indian music. One of my goals in life is to develop an understanding of Indian music.
  • One of the genres of music that I have been getting into of late, is essentially inspired by Dad. He's discovered this entire thing called 'alt-country' (sitting in front of his amazon in India). I usually purchase CDs in the US of A, and look for Bakras traveling to India to deposit the same with him. And I must say he's onto something good. The music sounds really good. I've gotten to alt-country all by myself too - liking and disliking songs on Pandora. Bands such as 'Son Volt', 'Band of Horses', 'Fleet Foxes' and 'Slobberbone', the last of which has a remarkable rocker called 'gimme back by dog'.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Eating Meat

My attitudes towards non-vegetarianism are evolving. I shall describe in this post, my current thoughts and ideas.

I no longer hold non vegetarians as barbarians. I no longer see non-vegetarianism as necessarily a bad thing. I no longer reckon that causing pain to animals is evil. Because that's the way of nature; the food chain and the like. The deer in the meadow killed by the lion... you know the standard cliche.

I now have overcome the fear of eating formerly live animals. Confronted with roadkill or free ranging wapeti on a plate, I promise not to wince. I am not philosophically opposed to ingesting a rabbit that I might encounter on a hike. I am not opposed to eating venision in deer season. Since there's no natural predators around, humans will have to fill in the void, to 'thin out the numbers'.

But what I am opposed to is eating cows and goat and chicken and turkeys and the like, unless they've been accidentally killed.

I find the hopelessness of industrial farming deeply unsettling. I feel that lives of sentient, conscious animals spent living in restrictive cages is utterly unacceptable. The ethical carnivore must consume meat which has not been raised industrially. The ethical carnivore must consume meat that has been slain humanely - and eat meat that is in season.

Since these thoughts are just 'works in progress' at this point in time, I urge people not to alter their habits based on what is in this post. Do your own reasearch; I am not trying to preach here.

A world without Nukes

I'm not sure what to make out of this article. This article (appearing in TIME magazine) argues that nuclear weapons are what have kept us safe for the last few decades.

There were 2 world wars in the world without nukes. And the world with nukes has been the most peaceful the planet has ever been. There have been wars, of course, in the last 65 years. But none even close in magnitude to the two horrific world wars. The post war period has been a period of unprecedented prosperity and happiness. Even underdeveloped countries such as India have seen life expectancies shoot up in the post war era.

I think I do agree with the thesis of this article. But I still think America's bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is among the most shameful moments in human history.

Has global warming stopped?

Our good friend Matt Drudge (a purveyor of cherry picked articles that further his wrong and arrogant view of the world) has been using an obscure story from BBC as evidence that the globe is cooling rather than warming. Of course, a serious analysis proves that Drudge is wrong. Nature also corroborates that the BBC quotes scientists who have zilch credibility.

The globe is warming, still. The idiot who wrote the BBC story, the idiots who are quoted in the story, that idiot Matt Drudge, they all have no idea how to analyze systems that fluctuate. They should all take Statistics 101.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Obama's Nobel: A Joke

Barack Obama is a nice likeable guy. He speaks real well, and speaks with high ideals. He speaks a lot.

While he is yet to implement much of what he says (and some might contend, any of what he says), it seems that five Norwegians who matter have decided to give him the Nobel peace prize.

The credibility of the Nobel peace prize is close to zilich anyway, considering that Kissinger got one in the 70s with blood on his hands. Efforts to retrieve some credibility by giving Nobels to Mohammed Yunus and Al-Gore nothwithstanding, their credibility is a round zilch. [ I support Al-Gore's prize, because he took up an issue which was not getting the needed traction in the western media and made it a talking point.]

President Obama might very well prove to be a decent administrator. He might very well solve the problems Iraq and Afghanistan. He might very well not start a war in his tenure. He holds tremendous promise, because he talks in peace.

But he has not done anything yet. He has not even stopped killing Pakistani citizens using those predator drones (in the name of killing terrorists). And it is for this reason that I feel that the Nobel peace prize should not be given the attention it now gets, in the future. A prize awarded by people who are so distant from reality has no meaning. Norway is a very rich country. The average Norwegian does not face the suffering that the average Pakistani does. Expecting norway to decide who the world's most peaceful man is, is bound to have a bias towards western Liberals - because the Norwegians just don't have the information to make a judgement.

Tell you who deserves the prize? Noam Chomsky. Noam Chomsky has been one of the few voices telling the truth for the last 50 years. He is an intellectual giant, whose love for footnotes is unparalelled in the history of humanity. His arguments (almost always critical of imperialist US foreign policy) are lucid. I have not heard a single cogent non emotional rebuttal of his ideas.

Addendum: This delightful article from Alternet, which contends that Obama's Nobel prize is some sort of futures trading.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

How many Muslims are there in the world?

For all the statistics wonks out there, I have culled the following information from this very informative article in the Hindu.

The current population of Muslims in the world is 1.6B, of which 160M are in India, 202M are in Indonesia and 170M are in Pakistan. India has the third largest Muslim population in the world - though Muslims form only 13% of India's population. 96% of Pakistan is Muslim, BTW.

The world's Shia population is concentrated in Iran, Pak, India and Iraq. They constitute only 13% of all the world's Muslims.


The west is supposed to be the bastion of freedom of speech and expression. But looks like European conservatives value their xenophobia more than their founding principles. This purported ban on the Burqa in Berlusconi's Italy is shameful.

If the Italian people are on board with this arbitrary and racist policy (like the French are), then the question is, do they really believe in the freedom of expression? If a woman wants to wear a Burqa, who are they to stop her?

Thankfully, I am an Indian who right now lives in the USA. Both countries would never ban the Burqa. Not that I would ever like to see anyone wear the Burqa; I feel forcing women to wear the Burqa is barbaric. So is forcing them to not wear it.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Borlaug Memorial

A&M will host a Normal Borlaug memorial today at 11am, which can be streamed off

Among speakers today will be Dr. MS Swaminathan, ( a living legend in India) who recognized the potential of the Mexican Dwarf varieties which Dr. Borlaug had worked on. Dr. Swaminathan's contribution to the green revolution are nothing short of extraordinary. It might well be worth hearing them speak on the live stream if not go to the real thing.

I will be tuning in because I do not have the time to make it to the actual memorial.
This article in Rediff where Dr. MS Swaminathan reminisces about Prof. Borlaug. Quite touching.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Climate Change: Retreating Himalayan Glaciers

This article in CNN in quite scary. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that himalayan glaciers retreat because climate change. This will have severe repurcussions for more than half of humanity (India, B'desh, China, Burma, Mayanmar, Pakistan, Nepal...).

Fears of conflict between china, internal conflicts within India and China..

Have we passed the point of no return? Will a successful carbon trading market reduce the probability of this happening?
The floods in AP are awful. With areas (which were under a severe drought until a few days ago) getting 50cm of rain in a day, the place just flooded like crazy. And with all dams having to discharge water at the same point in time, lots of villages were submerged in a watery grave.

How much of this flooding was caused by excessive damming of these river systems? Had large dams not been built to stem the flow of the river, would these floods still have occured? Or is it just impossible to budget for 50cm of rain on a given day? Cities in the developed workd (US, for instance) suffer immensely when they get 10 inches (25cm) of rain. 50 cm is much higher..
Everybody's favourite prizes, the Ignobels have been awarded this year. Icelandic bank CEOs figure quite prominently on this list - as people who have showed man's ability to toy around with massive economies. And the Zimbabwean reserve bank got the mathematics prize for printing 1 cent denominations and well as one trillion dollar notes. Not to mention one smart gentleman who developed a bra which can be used as two gas masks, should the situation ever call for it.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

An interesting restaurant

I probably would not love to go here, since I am a vegetarian with a revulsion for cauliflowers, broccolis, artichokes and the like. An interesting idea, nevertheless.
The credibility of the NYTimes, when it comes to international affairs, is a round zilch, in my opinion. They are specialists at toeing the official US line. Their recent condescending editorial about India's carbon emissions was so far from reality, that it pretty much confirmed all of my suspicions about them.

But this article, even by their horrendously low standards, signifies a new low. Apparently, Iran has the data to make a bomb. The bomb technology is 60 years old - making one is not a big deal. Did some student take a textbook in quantum mechanics to Iran? Is that what they mean? Did someone derive E=mc^2.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Monsoon blues

The IMD says India has had a 23% deficient monsoon, which is a fairly stark number. Apparently, the last time this happened was in 1972, so yes, there seems to be cause to worry.

But they're talking as if the monsoon is over. (Their cutoff date for the end of the monsoon was Wednesday this week). The monsoon had a late onset this year - more than a couple of weeks late. It might very well withdraw a couple of weeks late. Indications of a late withdrawal have been confirmed in the same article. Perhaps this will improve the statistics of the monsoon? Make it around 15% deficient rather than 23%?

So, it makes for strange reading that the rain deficient state of AP is suffering from "torrential downpours". I hope the IMD recalibrates its start and end dates of the monsoon to account for a late withdrawal before declaring a rainfall deficit.

Of course, another question still lurks. Now that the schedule of the farmers (sowing and reaping) has been offset a bit, will this have any effect on the crop yields?
Today's is Gandhi's birthday. Happy birthday, Gandhi. Your life is proof that resorting to violence is not necessary to solve complex problems. If enough people do follow your methods, the world will become much better place.

Gandhi's legacy unites India and lets it reap the benefits of the economies of scale of being a large, relatively stable nation. Gandhi is an inspiration to all communities, sub-communities in India.

Here' s to the hope that India continues down the path of progress this century - with the primary emphasis on the poorest of the poor. That was Gandhi's message - and is universally accepted by smart economists as the number one priority in the developing world.


Thursday, October 01, 2009

Terror in 2009 Until Now

How big a problem is terrorism in India? Where are all the deaths from terror in India right now?

2009 has been quite peaceful in India until now. There have been only 14 deaths, and all of them are in the east. Assam and West Bengal, probably not because of those LeT militants, but because of another variety of militants, the ULFA.

Pakistan on the other hand, is not so lucky (221, and this does not include the deaths of innocents caused by American drones, because if the American kills, what the victims experience is not terror, but a form of salvation.). So perhaps it is time we treat Pakistanis as victims of terror rather than sponsors of terror.

I note with some relief that jingoism cannot work in India as a political ploy right now as most of the voting Indians are way too preoccupied to keep earning to feed their families.

So, of course, I think the authorities down under are delusional if they think that sending their team to India would be unsafe. India conducted the world's largest elections ever peacefully earlier this year. You think terrorists would target cricket matches when they had the entire electoral exercise?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Climate Change Predictions

There's no chance that these predictions will all come true. But there' s a good chance that some of the doomsday scenarios will come true - primarily because such copious amounts of CO2 were never spewed into the atmosphere.

Predictions about fluctuating monsoon intensities could have serious consequences for a massive population. Balmy arctic summers and significant sea level rises might well prove to be the undoing of humanity.

The latter seems pretty much bound to happen. Sea levels are all set to increase - because a warmer planet will inevitably mean more melted ice (which is currently sitting on land). Water levels will go up, come may .

And I am not too optimistic about action by humans. The west will try to use this as an excuse for stopping the poor nations from developing - and the poor nations will not stop developing. I expect that the 4c rise in temps will be pretty munch inevitable.
This is proof that I live in a trigger happy and delusional county.

How many people in this place know that Iran is 3 times as large at Iraq? Iran is a middle class country, not a poor country. Taking military action against Iran (a) will be extremely unethical because you're exposing a lot of people to danger - an argument that does not go down well in the US - just look at what has been done to Afghanistan and Iraq (b) will not be as "easy" as Iraq has proven to be, given the size of the Iranian economy (c) will not be good for global crude prices, which will mean costlier fuel in these recessing times.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

How much of an exception is this?

Tamil Nadu is one of the states with the best statistics in India. It has a high literacy rate (73%), a high Human Development Index (0.736, compared to India's 0.61). It has a massive urban population and a fertility rate of 1.8 children per woman (which is less than the US' fertility rate). Tamil Nadu is as good as statistics get in India.

So, it is severely disappointing to see this news story from TN. Whipping women (as a form of exorcism) is certainly a big no-no in western society. And it is not as if it is just one woman being whipped - it is 2000 - a number too large to scoff at.

How should policy deal with this outrageous incident? Should the government step in and arrest all the offending priests? Should the women who were whipped against their will (apparently there were some who got whipped consensually) be given free legal aid to sue the priests and get them jailed?

I am sure that this awful incident is the exception and not the norm. My question is: how much of an exception is this?


The UN is passing a resolution calling the Hindu Caste system a human rights abuse. I whole-heartedly support this measure. If 65 Million dalits still face widespread discrimination (as I know they do, what with myself being Indian and all), perhaps international humiliation will shame Hindus into renouncing their caste.

If I were a hindu, I would renounce my caste. I am not a Hindu. I am an atheist, so I do not have a caste to renounce. As a statement of solidarity with the 65M Dalits of India, I implore all my hindu reader(s) to renounce their caste.


Varun Gandhi is causing inconvenience to a lot of people around the planet. Much the same way Adolf Hitler caused embarassment and inconvenience for all other people called Adolf on the planet. Varun Gandhi's latest espousal of a delusional right wing ideology (which claims that western music and culture are awful, but Hinduism's shameful treatment of 65M Dalits is the way to go) is no doubt causing immense heartburn to all those called Varun in the country. He has ruined a perfectly good name. Now, how many morons will call their son Varun?

Monday, September 28, 2009

The dying environment and other links

Professor Paul Krugman is filled with despair again. And this time it is because he thinks that (a) Despite the fact that almost all climate models made by smart researchers seem to have reached a consensus that unmitigated global warming will indeed be catastrophic, they are still not able to sell their ideas to the public. (b) This exceptionally hard sell is probably because the truth, as Al Gore contends, is inconvenient. (c) The hard sell is also because there's several vested interests driving media campaigns denying the basic facts. Since action on climate change would require government intervention, conservatives are finding it philosophically more convenient to deny climate change rather than alter their philosophy to account for an externality like climate change.

Can't say I disagree.
There's a posting for a lecturer position in Baylor University, which has this line at the bottom:
"In light of Baylor’s strong Christian mission, successful applicants must have an active Christian faith."
I was not considering this anyway, but this is the first time I encountered something like this in an educational institution.
Tyler Cowen says this book is good. It must be. If I ever finish reading the various books I have at home, then purchasing this book (or just getting it from the library) will not be beyond the realms of reasonable possibility.
I have no Idea what Indians do with so many cows. I must say I am a little skeptical of the claim that there's a cow for every 4 people in India. Considering that the US consumes more milk than India, I suspect there's something fishy about the Indian figures. All the more strange because beef consumption is almost zero in India.
Did you know that the average Indian works 400 hours per year more than the average American? At 8 hours an american day, that works out to 50 work days more. This is quite telling. (From the stats at the bottom of this page). The next time anybody complains that India is a lazy place where people don't work, I will cite this page and see them writhe in humiliation. (HT: Wife) .

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Working on a Sunday: Today's Links

I'm in the lab today because I want to acquire pressure distribution around a turbine blade experimentally.
First of all, Stephan Pastis hits a new low today. This is worse than his usual groaners. And I think rat is almost right in the last line.
What would the world look like if we removed the poorest per-captia, such that they cumulatively would comprise of only 5% of the world gdp? Well, you end up removing 43% of the world's population, including matrubhoomi! This is a fairly humbling statistic - and indicates that India has years to go before it can call itself a developed country. (I think they took nominal rates - and if they did take PPP GDP rates, then india might actually remain in the plot, but just barely).

Friday, September 25, 2009

Pigs, Swine Flu and Other thoughts for the day

How many porkers are currently in Afghanistan? The answer is here. But CNN's Dr. Sanjay gupta and his cameraman caught the H1N1 flu in the same country. Proving once and for all that the term 'swine flu' is a misnomer.
This article from alternet
argues that panic about the swine flu would kill more people than the flu itself. While I do not disagree with the gist of the article, I still think that if a virus like the spanish flu came around again, it would kill a similar number of people overall - especially in developing countries. Though strides have been made in public healthcare, populations have also gone up. And there's more extremely poor people in India now than they were then.
Further obfuscation on climate: the developed world is trying to sell a fishy norm that they call 'carbon intensity', which measures greenhouse gas per-dollar of GDP. It is also unfortunate that China is playing the same game now.

I have myself sounded off on something similar before.

Off the top of my head I can come up with several objections to this.

(1) This norm rewards wastage. Your denominator increases if you waste a lot. It's like saying a hummer is more efficient that a yaris (which it might very well be, if we were comparing miles per dollar spent on purchase of vehicle).

(2) The west has a large financial sector whose main emissions are only indirect (like air-conditioning their offices etc.) This inflates their denominator and gives people the impression that the west is more efficient. And what of all the goods that China exports to the US dirt cheap?
How mobile phones are changing the world. Interesting article from the Economist. Apparently, they're saying the 'Indian business model' can help in mobile phone penetration into other under-developed places. Good stuff. This is happening.
Schmeat? This device is another which seems likely to take the ethical objections away from consuming meat. But how resource intensive is it? How carbon intensive is it? And how do they get animal muscle cells if they don't want to kill aminals?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Professors from my alma mater on strike (and other stories of the day)

Professors at IITs have decided to go on hunger strike, demanding more money. Professors at IITs make anywhere between 40k a month to 75k a month (the most senior of the lot). That's clearly a pittance - grad students in the US make the same amount (if one were to convert directly).

But a good way to compare pay is dividing the rupee amount by 10 rather than 50, for purhcasing power parity. (This is not perfect, because though a $2.00 loaf of bread in the US would cost Rs 20 in India, a $150 TV would cost closer to Rs 10k than Rs. 1500.). But dividing by 10 would be a good rule of thumb.

5 lakhs thus works out to $50k a year. Since assistant professors in the US earn about $70k, there might be some sense in asking for a 40% raise. But IIT professors get subsidized housing in probably the best area of the city - and some other perks. The money value of the subsidy will also have to be considered.

The problem with IITs is that they are run by the government. There are no nobel laureates at IITs. There is scanty industry sponsored research. There is no real incentive to work with the industry back there. Perhaps adopting an American (captialist) model of paying oneself from one's own research funds during summer could prove to be of value.


And in other news today, people have shown that a heat cannot travel from cold to hot areas; eggs don't unscramble and go back into their shell. Evolution is not reversible.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Coal vs Nuclear and other thoughts for the day.

I have already linked to a not-so-very convincing article about the Coal vs Nuclear bargain. This article seems to be written by better informed people - and the arguments are fairly well made. The consensus seems to be (a) Coal is here to stay. We've got to figure out how to scrub CO2 out of it. There are pitfalls to sequestration (the fear of the unknown!) and they need to be overcome, but still. (b) Nuclear would be nice - and should be pursued too, because it has proven to be safer and cleaner than coal. (c) Demand side management is cheaper than supply side management.

Talking of demand side management, have people seen the New Physics building that they have here at Texas A&M. It's a remarkable, yet disappointing piece of architecture. The disappointment comes from the fact it is entirely centrally air conditioned like every other building in this univerisity. I still don't see the point in air conditioning stairwells, corridors and other places that are not populated for most of the day.

And don't even get me started on the Dallas Cowboys' new stadium in Dallas. The stadium is a shameless orgy of opulence. To create a stadium in the middle of suburbs with square kilometers of parking in the vicinity is wrong. This is why I hope petrol (gas) prices reach $6 per gallon and stay there. This will teach the morons who design monstrous stadia in suburbs lesson that they really deserve. I hope the guys who financed the stadium go bankrupt.
There's no shortage of characters in India. Had the gentleman profiled in this article had the good fortune of being born in a developed country, I suspect he would have a successful diner of his own - with air conditioning and all. And maybe he would be wedded to his lady?
Very cogent discussion regarding birth and death rates in the world. The main claim is that, initially, a poor society has a high birth rate to ensure that at least some of the offspring in a family do survive - but better sanitation sets off a population bomb - since people stop dying, but the birth rate takes time to adjust. Asia's population bomb has gone off long ago, and now, the population seems to be stabilizing, birth control is working quite well. Africa should be next. People should read this before talking about overpopulation being the world's only problem.

Oil prices went up earlier this decade - so people invested more in finding more oilfields. And it turns out that the oil companies are reaping the benefits of thes e investments this year. A lot of new oil reserves were found all around the planet this year. This is actually horrible news in my opinion. Emissions are not going to go down - and gas will never reach the $6 and the guy who owns dallas cowboys will not go bankrupt. Sad.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Discussions for the day

This article is wrong. India should not test its H-bomb again, even if the original has been an abject failure. Nothing good can ever come of it. Sanctions from the west (after a hard won nuclear deal) would be disastrous to the 1billion poor of India's 1.2 billion people.

Since Pakistan does not have any N-bomb, India's only arguments for building the bomb are threats from China. But how will building one h-bomb ever act as a deterrent? China has tons of them. And if India builds one, china can build 10. They have the know-how.

India should work on its h-bomb only if it is known for sure that Pakistan is proceeding with its h-bomb plan (which it is not, right now).

And by this time, India should have realized that the largest threat to its stability is (a) Inside Maoist Rebels (b) Islamic terror which is destroying Pakistan right now. China does not figure in that list. Only some perverse ultra-nationalistic alarmist would think of China as a threat rather than an inspiration.

Throwing the sub-continent into an arms race and unifying the Pakistani people in hating India is certainly not what India needs right now. India and Pakistan must join hands and destroy terror in Pakistan - India's own self interest lies in this.

No amount of thermonuclear devices, no amount of N-bombs will ever quell the threat of terror. Talking about these devices is an immoral waste of time.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Discussions for the day

Paul Krugman seems to think the same way I do about GS employees getting back to whatever they do, after their jobs were saved by the American (and European) taxpayers. He makes a strong case for the Obama administration to impose strong pay caps on these jokers who don't do anything tangible but make tons of money on wall street.
This is a fascinating article on poverty in India, from, Rediff. The thesis is that inequality in India seems to be increasing - and in some cases, can even be more dire than China. Also, there is a claim which says that India's rapid economic growth has not trickled town to the poorest of the poor - which is a worrying trend. If this is indeed the case, does further market liberalization hit a political road-block?
Rice that does not need to be cooked, just soaked in water for half an hour? This seems like a good idea to cook without using fuel, which could be a good thing. Until one considers the following: where will the poorest of the poor in Orissa (the obvious targets of this thing) get the water to soak the rice in? Odds are it will be from a borewell or a river or something. And with India's water being notoriously congested with microbes of all variety, I am afraid this innovation will either be a non-starter or will kill many people. Probably the former.
This report from the New Scientist makes sense. If we allow the people of this planet to deposit 750B tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere until 2050 (which most scientists agree is the maximum we can allow before the magic 2C increase in global temperature, thought to be a climate tipping point), then how should be distribute them?

If we were to distribute them to nations according to their current population, the US would get to put in a measly 35B tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere - something it would do in 6 years. India on the other hand would have 30 years to spare at its current level - a statistic which India is working hard to change to perhaps 10 years in the red. The only way for the US to continue would be to purchase energy credits from the poorer countries who will wind up with a surplus. This will make Americans become more energy efficient.

I will change my name to Adolf Mussolini if this works. There's no chance in hell that any legislation to curtail emissions in the US will ever comply with the recommendations of this report. The USA cannot agree on something as trivial and black and white as healthcare reform. Imagine the US trying to pass a bill which will require Americans to buy credits from poor countries.

And if Obama tries this, he will lose the elections. The republican party will come back to power, attack Iran and create more quagmires on the planet.

A few posts ago, I had contended that the Cash For Clunkers situation was an ecological sham. Turns out, I am almost right. There's two reasons. Firstly, the Prius itself is an energy hog (during its manufacture phase). It takes more energy to manufacture a hybrid than it does to manufacture a conventional vehicle. So, if all clunkers in the US are trashed for Priii, the amount of emissions increase, because people who would not be in the market to procure transportation will actually purchase more energy intensive vehicles.

And secondly, consider this. If your vehicle gives a larger mileage, people will simply drive more. A fuel tax is the only reasonable solution, short of auto rickshaws or Tata Nanos for everyone. Not going to happen in the US. If Obama tries this, he will not get elected again.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Today's discussion (s)

Here's a fascinating image of the American space shuttle discovery re-entering the atmosphere. At these speeds, the velocity of air that the space shuttle encounters is immense. This results in a significant viscous dissipation within the boundary layer - especially in the 'impingement' stagnation zones.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Today's links

Tiny Vehicle of the Day. I've always held that small, efficient things will do well in India. So, this Reva car should be right up India's alley. The biggie here is the price. If the four seater is anything beyond 2.5 Lakhs, then it is probably going to flop.

That said, I like their idea of having some reserve battery power which can be remotely activated by customer service center - this makes it doubly sure that the vehicle will not be stuck in no man's land. It reminds me of the 'reserve' knob that auto-wallahs have under the passenger seat in India....

Green Initiative of the day. There's this gentleman in the North-east US, who has come up with a plan to industrially digest plastics and spew out diesel fuel for as less as $10 per barrel. I'm not fully sold on the idea yet, primarily because there's this jarring line in the article:

Production depends on the plastic used as feedstock, but each ton of waste will produce 3 to 5 barrels of product, according to Envion. Producing a barrel consumes between 59 and 98 kilowatt-hours — two or three days’ worth of electricity for a typical house. The price of electricity per gallon comes to 7 to 12 cents, the company says.

That's a lot of high grade electricity that they're using for this. So, the question is, is this sustainable?

And this is bad for the environment, because carbon trapped in plastics is being released into the atmosphere as climate changing CO2. Why is this on the "Green" blog again?

Cheap information fact of the day. Guess who is planning to set up kiosks all around the place which can print any of 2 million books on demand? Who else?

This story has fascinating repercussions. We're moving in the direction of having all our information, opinions, arguments and written art accessible to every (prosperous) human being, just a click away. Already, the internet is revolutionizing the way research is being done. What Newton, Einstien and the like would take months to do (perform a literature survey), an upstart philistine of a professor can perform in a couple of hours beside a computer.

The question is, has this seemingly infinite access to an infinity of verifiable information made us any better off? I suppose we could argue that we're living in the most peaceful time that the planet has ever seen (I am serious, the current time has the highest life expectancy and least unnatural deaths per capita), and this is probably (at some level) due to the ease of access to information in modern age. Because technology is the product of free flowing information.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Discussions for today

Shashi Tharoor has made a big fool of himself.

Politicians are servants of the people in a democracy. They are elected by the people - and the people decide whether they get hired next time. So, if a politician wants to make some not-very-pc jokes about his electors, then he/she is doing so at the risk of losing the election next time. Mr. Tharoor's elitism (agreeing that the economy class, that of his voters cannot afford to fly in, is 'cattle class') could (,should and will) be exploited in the next election cycle by his rival.

Perhaps Mr. Tharoor should sit down and get some good work done in his ministry (of state) for external affairs. If he does well, then perhaps he has a future in politics. Otherwise he shall just be consigned to an eternity of making pointless appearances in American comedy shows.

This thing from Freakanomics. What is the probability of me conking off before I complete this sentence? I am sure that I can get a decent estimate looking at the plots in this post. A few quick thoughts about this:

1. I am sure insurance companies do know about this. Does this mean that the younger people get lower premiums?

2. Wonder how this changes with different geographic locations. Wonder how the curve would look in (a) India (b) Iraq, where a lot of the young have been killed by the war

3. And temporally, how was the distribution before and after the green revolution happened in India?