April 27, 2010

Good Old Days ...

Perhaps the good old days of spying during the Cold War is not quite back. But it's good to hear about the arrest of an enterprising official of the Indian High Commission in Islamabad on charges of spying.

And, the official is female to boot. So, women are trying to compete with men in this sphere as well or trying to attain equality which is an absolutely admirable endeavor.

I don't know if the lady official is an IFS officer — somehow, I feel that's probably not the case ... alas ... since if that had been the case, the shit would have truly hit the roof.

Corruption!

Oh, already I can see folks yawning ... it's almost second nature to Indians. Only this time, the head of the Medical Council of India has been arrested for taking bribes.

When is the head of the AICTE going to be indicted in a similar manner?

Education is big business in India. Engineering and medicine remain two dream careers for the millions of youngsters passing school and college every year — their passports to wealth.

Yeah, a very pathetic situation over all anyway you look at it. And a complex web that seems almost impossible to simplify.

There will always be competition to enter a medical or engineering college because of the sheer population of this country. So, there will always be huge demand for seats in 'private' colleges and so such private colleges will continue to mushroom. It's a lucrative 'business' of course. The 'owners' of such colleges mint money aplenty.

And they do not mind 'investing' a little bit at the beginning to get 'recognition' from bodies such as the MCI or the AICTE. What a strange web indeed!

Jai Ho India!

But, it's still a bit of an especially sad occurrence to see the head of the MCI being arrested for being so brazenly corrupt. Medical colleges are not like any other colleges. Doctors are made in these colleges. I shudder to think about the quality of such 'doctors' who come out of these second-rate institutions and how much they will value their 'sacred' responsibilities as doctors. Perhaps, all such nobility has already substantially vanished from the medical profession already and doctors are mostly busy minting money as well just like the rest of society.

It's a very good morning in India then!

April 26, 2010

Aliens are here!

No, not quite. But Stephen Hawking talked about the possibility of extraterrestrial intelligence but cautioned against trying too hard to make contact with them.

I am firmly in the corner of folks who believe that alien life exists. The vastness of the universe means that the probability of the existence of life elsewhere is just too high. There's no reason why life can evolve only on planet Earth — an ordinary planet if ever there was one. Earth is of course 'just right' for the existence of life in so many ways. It's neither too big nor too small. It's neither too close to the Sun nor too far away from it. It has a moon which is unusually large relative to the size of the home planet. Water exists in liquid form on the planet. There are oceans and there are waves in the oceans thanks to the large moon. All these factors have been propitious in leading to the evolution of biological life on the planet.

It's truly fascinating to speculate about what forms life might take on other planets in different circumstances.

When Hawking suggests caution, perhaps he is right. Some of the species out there might not look upon Earth benevolently. But our ways of looking for extraterrestrial life is mostly passive rather than active. We are mostly listening to the universe in wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum that we believe might point to the existence of extraterrestrial life.

In the centuries to come, humans will become sufficiently advanced technologically and our confidence in our own abilities can grow correspondingly.

Perhaps, life is common elsewhere in the universe but most of those lifeforms will be basic like virus or bacteria. It is likely to be far more rare for complex organisms like humans to evolve.

I am reasonably sure that our galaxy only has one technologically advanced life form and that exists here on Earth. Perhaps even 100 or 1,000 galaxies might harbor only one planet with intelligent creatures like humans.

Here's the article about Hawking:

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/science/space/article7107207.ece

Jai Ho

Well, I was thinking about the brazenness of the charltans in India who go by various titles: baba, Sri Sri, etc.

Let's take one in point — the Yoga guy, Rama Dev. His real name is Ram Kishen Yadav but that's besides the point.

What is outrageous is what he offers: yoga can cure everything. I suppose he is not the first one who discovered the virtues of yoga. Others have spread yoga out in the West as well during the sixties when people in the West were looking for an alternate model of living.

What makes me angry is to see these third-rate illiterate folks go on criticizing the ill-effects of science, the dangers of science, while all the while benefiting from science in a hundred different ways.

This guy has become rather famous in a short time (not to mention the multiple Sri guy) due to the availability of the electronic media. People of India are rather lazy to indulge in really deep and hard intellectual pursuits like reading books and so they like to switch on the TV. And you have these charltans peddling nonsense on various channels and their ideas tend to reinforce the idiotic notions that Indians already have inherited from their ancestors. So, the stock of these jokers has risen.

So, you have the hilarious circumstance of a joker like Ramadev criticising science while not being afraid to use airplanes for his journeys or using microphones to teach his stupid lessons.

It's of course fundamentally the idiocy of the people that lends legitimacy to these charlatan jokers.

It's not fair that such an illiterate person should be allowed to question the validity of scientific principles in whatever domain. It's easy of course to point to the limitations of science in terms of its inability to cure certain illnesses: AIDS, or some forms of cancer, etc.

Of course, people still ultimately die. Science has not yet made man immortal. Neither has any of these jokers.

But it's astonishingly stupid of people just to ignore all the triumphs of science, all the gadgets that have made our lives so much easier, all the diseases that ARE curable thanks to medical science, all the miraculous technologies from cell phones to rocket science.

For a better critique of these shallow god men, here's an article:

http://nirmukta.com/2010/04/22/yogi-in-politics-a-rationalists-thoughts-on-baba-ramdev/

April 22, 2010

Taj and Oberoi

I always felt that the 'anger' at last year's attacks in Mumbai was somehow manufactured. I thought the 'rich' were the ones who got 'affected' at last by terrorism and so they suddenly started jumping up and down — in a manner of speaking.

So, all the nice things about the reopening of the Oberoi apart, there are some simple facts which can't be ignored.

Here's the story from the New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/21/business/21hotel.html?src=busln

Well, the story talks about how more 'suites' have been added since they are all the rage apparently ... I won't know.

The bottomline is the price — not more than one percent of Indians would be able to spend 25,000 ($500) to 300,000 ($6,000) rupees per night for one day's stay in these suites.

Inevitable ...

There are some things which are 'pan-Indian' to use a much-used phrase.

Religion, movies, cricket are three things which come to mind immediately. There are other obsessions as well such as with marriage rituals or with caste or with babies.

IPL has transformed cricket into prime-time entertainment.

So, it was inevitable that the man behind it all — Lalit Modi — must have a cupboard full of skeletons. And now they are just beginning to tumble out. All the usual suspects are involved as well of course — I mean, p-o-l-i-t-i-c-i-a-n-s, of course. Politicians have a sure nose for anything which smells like easy money.

Oh well, nothing new. Indians have a lot of time on their hands to watch cricket and so a few smart people will make money.

On a different note though, I am wondering which is a better circus — cricket or the staged wrestlings of WWE, WWF, etc.

Well, I used to watch golf. So, I guess I should not complain about other folks 'wasting' time in watching cricket. And I also used to watch Formula One. And others might be crazy about baseball or basketball or soccer or football or whatever.

Well, I guess everyone can't be a Feynman or keep accumulating degrees like Mike Griffin.

Champagne please ...

Oh, Angelia and Brad are to marry!

Oh, for the sake of their six children ...

But I thought they must have been married already! You thought so as well? Well, no wonder!

Indians should take some lessons from this 'couple' about how to do things in reverse I guess ...

April 19, 2010

Being Shashi Tharoor

Shashi Tharoor successfully navigated the intricate waters of international diplomacy for more than 30 years.

However, he finds the waters of Indian politics to be rather murky.

Tharoor’s undoing has been restlessness to a certain extent. He has tended to assume that being modern and transparent in a democracy bursting with youngsters can only be the right thing to do. However, India is more complex than that. Perhaps, Tharoor needs to re-absorb the lessons that Nehru mentions in his Discovery of India. India’s roots stretch back thousands of years into antiquity. Though Indians might appear to have adopted all the tools and benefits of modern technology — such as cell phones and airplanes, etc. — that does not mean that Indians have foregone their ancient heritages.

So, Indians continue on with their archaic ways of worshipping gods and ‘sacrificing’ animals as the occasion requires.

Indians continue to practice the age-old ‘custom’ of dowry in a non-so-subtle manner and casteism is all-pervasive.

Indians are well-versed with the art of implementing the law only in letter but not in spirit.

So, as per the statute books, seeking dowry is a criminal offense. Well, so it is.

In the realm of politics, India is an odd sort of democracy. Surely, however, India is not a meritocracy.

So, Tharoor’s case might have been one of overconfidence at his own obvious superiority compared to the run of the mill leaders.

While urban Indian youngsters might have taken to tweeting with a vengeance, the fact remains that India is an overwhelmingly poor country where hundreds of millions are still without basic sanitation, safe drinking water, or electricity. India is surely home to the largest number of illiterate people in the world.

The simple fact is that a Member of Parliament is elected from a particular constituency. Therefore, Tharoor’s popularity in the Twitterverse is of no use whatsoever when it comes to his strength or weakness as an MP candidate. As such, he should realize that he is someone without any political base whatsoever.

As such, he might well have been better advised to devote more energy to building such a base. But perhaps that’s not his ‘core’ strength.

Perhaps, he should become one of those ministers who are perennial members of the Rajya Sabha and never get elected to the Lok Sabha.

Remember that Pranab Mukherjee belonged to that club until pretty recently.

And the PM of India has never been elected to the Lower House. Speaks volumes but that’s a different story.

One positive aspect of this is how flexible Indian democracy is.

April 16, 2010

We Shall Overcome!

Well, I think it's time for ISRO scientists to sing that song to keep themselves motivated. Or, the Hindi version of that song.

ISRO has achieved many feats in the past. This failure of the first flight of the indigenous cryogenic stage is a failure. But, ISRO will do the necessary post-portem and learn the required lessons. A rocket going into the Bay of Bengal rather than into space can teach many important lessons.

ISRO is essentially a success story to be proud of — I don't know what the internal work culture there might be. I don't know if it's like a typical Government of India operation. It clearly operates within a great many constraints.

Some of these constraints are:
  • Technically gifted youngsters in India do not necessarily wish to join organizations such as ISRO or any of the others. They look forward to migrating to the United States. That is of course an understandable decision. Perhaps, I would have chosen to do the same as well if I had the choice. So, ISRO probably gets personnel that is only second-best.
  • India being a perenially 'developing' nation puts financial constraints on ISRO's endeavors. The Govt. probably can't grant every ISRO wish. The wily politicians in Parliament have to approve of the budget after all. Politicians can be smart. Sometimes they are honest. They might come from the marrow and soil of this country and realize the enormity of the problem of poverty that still exists. These politicians would not want to fritter resources away in trivial pursuits such as space exploration. Then there are the corrupt politicians who do not have the faintest idea of what space exploration is. Well, one can't expect much from these.
  • So, considering the fact that ISRO gets only limited resources and has only second-best scientific/technological brains, ISRO's achievements have been nothing less than stellar.

So, to ISRO: Keep up the good work.

And sing if you want ... 'We shall overcome ...'

A Different Direction

President Obama's administration is taking NASA in a different direction than has been the case so far.

The history of NASA and its great achievements is curious. NASA facilities are spread all across the United States. Evidently, this was to successfully lobby Congress for the huge funds.

The Apollo program had some connection or other to at least 48 of the 50 American states. That probably made it a lot easier to get Congressional approval for the huge budgets that Apollo required.

So, the advanced projects that NASA has conducted — whether the Shuttles or the Voyagers or the Pathfinders — have been sort of like job programs for highly skilled professionals.

This is now apparently going to change. Instead of next generation space exploration programs like Constellation, private companies will be awarded contracts for ferrying folks to space. This is a new direction. Although, even now, it's really private industry that executes most of NASA projects. The difference perhaps is this: instead of established players like Lockheed Martin or Boeing, it will be up to fresh new competitors to execute this vision. Hopefully, the newer companies will be small and nimble and swift and cheap and capable.

It's all about costs at the end of the day. It's clear that America is in deep economic trouble — by the standards of an advanced economy that is. It has a huge unemployment problem. A great many high paying technology jobs are getting outsourced to destinations like India while millions of low-skilled manufacturing jobs have moved to China.

So, Americans are being buffetted by many problems and visionary stuff like space exploration seems to be far from their mind at the present time — quite predictably.

The rest of the world is not much better, of course. Much of the world still continues to wrestle with basic problems — food, shelter, sanitation, drinking water, basic education, vaccination of kids, etc.

So, it would appear that for the forseeable future — for the duration of our lifetimes — humanity's focus will remain firmly 'grouned' to Earth.

At a fundamental level, the core problem is that people are only interested in activities that they can relate to on a personal level. People want to have babies. People want to get married. When people are old, they want their kids to get married and have more babies in turn.

The planet is overpopulated. Resources are dwindling. People have various material desires such as owning houses or cars. And people's lives get spent in taking care of these sort of concerns.

And so space exploration has to take a backseat. Dates for landing a human on Mars continue to be deferred. The first human is supposed to land there in the 2030s now. That will be long after my death.

The 21st century will see spectacular advances in compouting of course. We will see cell phones with amazing features and other cute products like the iPods and iPads. We'll get used to reading ebooks.

Medical science will find some miracle cures for hitherto incurable diseases. Some forms of cancer may become treatable or some forms of dementia may become treatble. Of course it will be such a blessing if breast cancer or melanoma or brain cancer becomes treatable or if AIDS is no longer life-threatening.

But the 21st century probably won't see any breathtaking advances in the realm of space exploration.

Not at least in the first half of it. Who knows what might happen as we approach the middle of the century — 2050.

It would of course be foolhardly even to speculate about what might happen in 2100. I wonder if we would have made contact yet with extraterrestrial intelligence by then. That will be a game changer.

Or, if we can find some drug that people can take and thereafter become as smart as Einstein or Feynman.

April 04, 2010

Some Woman Gives Birth on the Pavement

I am not even really bothered about the details of the story ... it's just something I read in the news ... I mean, these things ... strange things ... odd things ... have a way of happening in India ... for example, a few months back, a woman gave birth in the washroom of a moving train and the baby dropped through the hole in the washroom and fell onto the tracks and the woman jumped off the running train ... OBVIOUSLY ... and the baby was of course alive ...

Am I kidding?

NO, SIR! or, MADAM! for that matter ...

This is merely India — where truth can be stranger than Hollywood fiction ... or, Bollywood fiction for that matter ...

Ah, better to go back to watching Hollywood movies ...

Maoists Murder 11 Special Ops Guys in Orissa

Orissa happens to be my home state in this continental nation ... and Orissa happens to be one of those states somewhat affected with this Maoist violence ...

This is still under the radar as it were ... it doesn't matter much if 10 jawans die here or 10 policemen die there ... perhaps, a tool of 200 uniformed folks in an year ... perhaps, 500 ...

India can absorb that. And so the fight continues ...

May be, things will get worse in the future and the Army will be called in ... that's after the paramilitary is called in first, of course ...

This is of course a problem that is completely internal to India ... nobody can point a finger to Pakistan or any other nation.

Ah, I guess, not my problem really, just a headache for the Home Minister of India, which I am not ...

Here comes Formula One!

One more driver of Indian origin in F1! And an F1 team owned by an Indian. The only thing remaining is for F1 races to happen in India. As per plans, that should happen in 2010/2011 I think ...

These plans have been getting postponed for a while now, so I don't know the latest status about them ...

Perhaps, I will get to see a Formula One race in Greater Noida!!! I wonder how much the tickets will cost ... 10,000 bucks perhaps ... I mean, in rupees ... but, that's still a bit steep ... but perhaps I will still pay ... what the heck!

A Love Story Going Awry?

It seems the 'nascent' cross-border 'fairy-tale' romance is already hitting road blocks ... I am sure Sania is mature enough to handle these bumps in her private life.

The 'old man' of Maharashtra petulantly commented about this simple romance ... what a silly man!

My thoughts drift to other 'successful' ladies ... movie stars who have become IPL team owners ... it's good to see women competing with men in these admittedly empty-headed adventures ... I mean, why should only men be empty-headed!

I am already thinking of Season 2 of Sania's romance ... oops, IT'S season 2 already ...

And Aamir is going to host Season 4 of KBC ... take that!

When am I going to be on the hot seat? I wonder ... although, I don't know how I would go past the initial questions about movie songs and such ... may be, I will utilize all the lifelines initially ...

Empress of Uttar Pradesh

Mayawati continues in her merry ways ... establishing a police force with the sole purpose of guarding her statues ... is this a democracy or what! Great!

Yeah, how else will she 'create' a legacy ... like Ceasar and Alexander and Napolean and Shahjahan (perhaps, that's the closest likeness ... at least, geographically speaking).

Well, India has many colorful politicians ... we have one in Bihar who is also in a class by himself ... people of India have not 'dumped' him in spite of some significant scandals that he has been found to be involved in ... of course, India's legal/judicial system is malleable enough that it can be manipulated so that legal proceedings can 'proceed' for longer than human life spans ...

Tamil Nadu is the land of the famous 'Amma' ... well, that means there are two 'Ammas' then ... one of the religious kind and the other of the political kind ... I wonder, in this God-crazy country, which kind is the more powerful ...

The political menagerie is going to get even more interesting of course with the addition of one more interesting creature ... Ram Dev ... he comes from semi-religious territory and people have taken to 'following' him with such zealousness that he feels it is his job now to 'cleanse' India's political system ... surely, a noble intention and WHY NOT!

Viva la India!

Krishna o Krishna

So, India is probably begging China to please, please, please let it become a member of the UNSC please, please, please ...

What a sad state of affairs!

There was a time when Nehru maganimously refused an invite for India to become a member of the UNSC and instead offered the seat to China ... or, something along those lines. I am not really familiar with the detailed history of all of that ...

What is the UNSC by the way? And who are the members? And, perhaps more importantly, who are not?

UK and France ARE members ... ok, nations with about 60 million folks each ...

India is not a member ... population: 1.2 billion and counting ...

Japan is not a member ... still the second largest economy in the world, I think ... about the same size as UK and France combined ... I mean, in terms of the economy.

Germany is not a member ... with an economy that's DEFINITELY (right Rain Man?) bigger than UK's or France's.

Oh, I forgot ... luck of the 'losers' ... oops ...

IIM-C Raises Fee

Well, well, well, are Indians getting rich or ruppe is getting cheap?

One has to pay a paltry 13.5 lakhs for the 'flagship' MBA program known as the PGDM.

I guess 'graduates' of the program would manage to recover the 'investment' once they become investment banker, consultants and such ...

Still, Indian students are perhaps in a better position than American students who run up such huge student loans that they have to keep paying it back till the next 20 years ...

God speed to the IIMs and the IIM aspirants!!!

Cryogenics of my own!!! At last ...

One of those 'old' Indian technological/indigenous developments is at last reaching fruition/completion.

It's the cryogenic stage of the 'indigenous' GSLV, India's 'answer' to the Ariane ...

It has been about 15 years in the making ... long story ... how India wanted to buy the technology and the Russians and Americans were in the running. However, when GE lost the bid, America threatened Russia with sanctions and so Russia only decided to give India 7 engines to use instead of sharing the entire technology.

And now ISRO has developed the engine on its own!!! Great work!

This on the heels of other recent accomplishments such as the ATV — which is India's first 'indigenous' nuclear-propulsion submarine ...

And India is also developing its own 'ingigenous' aircraft career ...

Well, I hope too much indigenousness doesn't lead to indigestion ... oh, very bad joke, I guess ...

Cheers Indian scientists!!!

Apollo 13

What a movie!

I had seen it twice before and so naturally I was thinking that it would not be such a thrilling experience to watch it for the third time or so ...

And so I was ecstatically surprised as I enjoyed it so much watching it again ...

So many touching moments ...

A few random ones that come to mind ... how Ken Mattingly got pulled out at the last moment because he might have had measles ... I was thinking how if I put in say a couple of years of effort into something and the project got cancelled at the last moment, how I would feel ..

So many cinematically brilliant moments that I find so emotionally touching ... the usual stuff associated with spece exploration which get me 'high' like some drugs ...

How Americans had lost interest in 'going to the Moon' by the turn of Apollo 13 and how suddenly everyone was interested once the accident happened leading to all the drama and suspense ...

How Jim Lovell tells the Congress members about imagining if Columbus had returned from the New World and if nobody had bothered to go back ... of course, humans have done precisely that more or less with respect to manned lunar exploration ... but that's par for the course, I guess, considering the state of things overall on the surface of the planet ... too many folks overall plagued with too many 'earthly' problems ... basic nutrition, basic healthcare, too many moms dying during childbirth, too many kids working/begging on the streets ...

Shows what an extraordinary feat it was ... going to the Moon in 1970 and in 1969 ... and Indians are still mostly living in the 1800's in my opinion ... it's still the Victorian Age here in India ... indeed, there ARE two queens in India at the present moment ... one that lives in Rashtrapati Bhavan and one who lives at 10 Janpath ... What a country!

But the IT guys are doing pretty well, thank you! Just wanted to put that on the record ...

Going back to Apollo, imagine the irony in the fact that most of the stellar achievements of Apollo happened while President Nixon was in office and so he got to make most of those historical phone calls ...

If he hadn't had to resign, perhaps a few NASA facilities would have been named in his honor ... Johnson Space Center might well have been Nixon Space Center ... or, perhaps not ... Texas is Johnson country, I guess ...

What's there in California? NASA Ames, that's what ...

Anyway, what a movie ... I wish I would see the movie once every month ... or, would that be an waste of time?

Cut to the present ... yet another age in space exploration is about to end with the retirement of the shuttles ...

And the amazing thing is that there are no successors!!!

Perhaps America has decided that it's rather pointless to explore the near Earth regions using humans ... too costly perhaps or may be they have done enough of it over the last 50 years.

Well, new comers are coming into the picture ... India and China who want to send humans into space now ... reinventing the wheel all over again 50 years since those days of superpower rivalry ...

Well, it's good I guess
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