September 29, 2013

About Ayn Rand and Individualism

Well, the economic philosophy of Ayn Rand as sought to be implemented by one of her chief acolytes, Mr. Greenspan, has already been shown to be a massive failure. I think.
But here's the more important 'Idea of Ayn Rand.' I think it's about applying some THOUGHT to one's place or role in society and having some idea about the purpose or meaning of life.
Looked in that sense, the idea that Indians (even the 'elites' coming out of those top B schools or engineering colleges) might be something of individualists or non-conformists has got to be the most hilarious idea.
I mean, Indians are the most conformist, conservative kind of people/society out there. Even when they go abroad (to places such as where you live), they take their silliness with them and become Baba Ramdev devotees or Double Sri Ravi Shankar devotees. Can you think of anything more ridiculous and a more egregious example of 'non'-thinking?

September 26, 2013

What Is Wrong With Indians

Why Explore Space?

This question is being raised today and it was being raised 40 years back during the Apollo era. Dr. Neil Tyson answers that question beautifully in his various popular stage lectures and in a testimony to the U.S. Congress.

In 1970, Dr. Enrst Stuhlinger answered this very same question in a powerful way.

"How do you justfiy spending billions on research about sending missions to Mars when there are children starving here on Earth," asked a nun from Zambia.

Dr. Stuhlinger, then the Associate Director of Science at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center wrote back:

May 6, 1970

Dear Sister Mary Jucunda:

Your letter was one of many which are reaching me every day, but it has touched me more deeply than all the others because it came so much from the depths of a searching mind and a compassionate heart. I will try to answer your question as best as I possibly can.

First, however, I would like to express my great admiration for you, and for all your many brave sisters, because you are dedicating your lives to the noblest cause of man: help for his fellowmen who are in need.

You asked in your letter how I could suggest the expenditures of billions of dollars for a voyage to Mars, at a time when many children on this Earth are starving to death. I know that you do not expect an answer such as "Oh, I did not know that there are children dying from hunger, but from now on I will desist from any kind of space research until mankind has solved that problem!" In fact, I have known of famined children long before I knew that a voyage to the planet Mars is technically feasible. However, I believe, like many of my friends, that travelling to the Moon and eventually to Mars and to other planets is a venture which we should undertake now, and I even believe that this project, in the long run, will contribute more to the solution of these grave problems we are facing here on Earth than many other potential projects of help which are debated and discussed year after year, and which are so extremely slow in yielding tangible results.

September 23, 2013

The Talented Mr. Kejriwal

While I see no reason at all why Mr. Kejriwal should not get a chance to be the CM of Delhi if he wishes to, in India's Westminster-style democracy, AAP will have to win in enough MLA constituencies to form the next government.

The challenge lies in finding 30 or 35 honest and capable candidates. I can think of Mr. Kejriwal, Mr. Sisodia, Ms. Shazia Ilmi, Mr. Yogendra Yadav, and Mr. Prashant Bhusan. I am not sure if all of them are candidates. At any rate, who are the other 20 or 30 candidates? Are they as honest and purposeful as Mr. Kejriwal or just moneybags?

The other challenge for honest people to make an entry into politics is campaign financing. On the one hand, the legal limit is said to be laughably low and everyone is supposed to be spending up to 20 or 40 times the artificially low limit.

Even otherwise, I think a really honest person may find it tough to be able to 'splurge' 10 lakhs on an election. Do the candidates pay that out of their own pockets or does the AAP provide financial support to the candidates? And if the party does help, where does the party get the money from?

The tussle about bringing political parties under the RTI has thrown up figures of 1,000s of crores that the Congress /BJP/SP/BSP and others get in anonymous contributions. There is no accounting of who are these dedicated patriots who are so generous with their hard-earned money to so freely contribute it to our 'oh-so-honest' politicians such as everyone from Kamal Nath to Sharad Pawar to Mulayam and Laloo to Mayawati and so on.

More likely, unscrupulous businessmen make cash donations to their favorite political parties (or indeed to all the political parties) expecting various favors in return. To take a random example, a leather tannery owner in Kanpur might make donations to the SP and the BSP and the quid pro quo may be that he gets to evade a few crores in various taxes or that his tannery gets preferential electrical power during times of shortage, say during the summer months.
This process, this unholy nexus, between the corrupt businessmen and politicians, is going to be a really tough problem to solve.

Are middle-class Indians willing to put their money where their mouth is? Can Mr. Kejriwal mount an online funding drive like Obama did in 2008? I suspect, many millions of Indians who are outraged about headline corruption cases such as 2G, Coalgate, Adarsh, Vadragate and so on may hesitate to donate thousands of rupees to any political formation; whether it's the AAP or anyone else.

At any rate, the hotshot 20-something voter typically tends to be a blind supporter of Mr. Modi. On the money front, after the usual 'priority' expenditures for youth such as alcohol and may be installments on that four-wheeler (or flat screen TV), I doubt if very many folks have any 'spare' money left to 'donate' to that honest politician or political party.

People are somehow always strapped for money. As middle class folks grow older, they take on traditional responsibilities which can be captured in one word: family.

Once you got a spouse to feed plus a kid or two and their schooling and that home loan and may be those old parents too, man, it gets really, REALLY tough, you see.

That salary of 1,00,000 rupees per month does not go as far now as it used to earlier.
Not to mention the government which keeps whining and pestering for its 'fair share' in the form of ever increasing taxes which are sadly deducted at source from the salaried folks and hence no scope for egregious evading.

And the wife keeps nagging about that long-promised 'honeymoon' trip to Thailand ...

So, all in all, sorry Mr. Kejriwal: you are on your own.

September 21, 2013

Are Indians Racists?

I posted this comment on this Open magazine article about that Indian-origin winner of the Miss America contest.

Agree with Madhavan obviously ... 

I see in the comments that the 'HIndu warriors' are out in force ...


But that is an easy thing for me to do. I want to pause and really think about this.

Of course, what matters is 'discrimination' and not whether you want to define it as 'racism' or 'caste-ism.'

So, let's talk 'racism' in America. It was 'allowed' till the '60s. Then the Civil Rights movement led to enactment of 'laws' during the Johnson administration which officially 'abolished' discrimination.

September 16, 2013

The Euphoric Indian?

While the debate about Raghuram Rajan being portrayed as a 'sex symbol' might be worth having, the thing I noted was this unnecessary sense of euphoria in the avalanche of articles that came out when Mr. Rajan assumed the office of the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India.

It got me thinking. Is this euphoria limited to article writers who need fodder for their articles or is more widespread? Well, certainly the stock market types need any peg they can find to 'talk up' the markets. So it serves their purpose too if the markets 'rally' on the basis of the 'pep talk' given by the new RBI Guv.

But probably the larger population is not so easily driven to euphoria. Actually, if you see, there is this pattern in media reporting where they go into paroxysms of joy whenever someone new comes along.

Look at these articles that came out when Mr. Chidambaram 'returned' to the Finance Ministry last year.

My thoughts on the state of the Indian economy are as follows:

(And this was posted as a 'comment' on a Livemint article)

LOL. I agree with the pessimistic outlook presented in this article.

But you guys had a 'gung-ho' article yesterday which was full of optimism.

My sense is that the media tends to get into these phases of 'irrational exuberance' over "personalities" which is based on hype rather than fact.

Tales of Voyagers

Does there have to be a human at the apex or tip of an endeavor — a historic endeavor — for that project to register in the human imagination? Think of Apollo and it's most closely associated with Neil Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins of Apollo 11 fame. Then there are the many other well known names from that era of historic space exploration.

But surely Apollo was a project that required the efforts of a million talented men and women and not a dozen or two dozen astronauts.

The old explorers such as Columbus and Magellan were financed by kings and emperors of that time. They were sizable exploration efforts requiring money and many humans and yet they are associated with a few individuals.

Same with the climbing of Everest and the first humans to reach the poles.

Perhaps the Great Wall of China and the Pyramids are the only major achievements of humanity that are not associated with specific individuals.

David Foster Wallace — This Is Water This Is Water

Transcription of the 2005 Kenyon Commencement Address - May 21, 2005

(If anybody feels like perspiring [cough], I'd advise you to go ahead, because I'm sure going to. In fact I'm gonna [mumbles while pulling up his gown and taking out a handkerchief from his pocket].) Greetings ["parents"?] and congratulations to Kenyon's graduating class of 2005. There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says "Morning, boys. How's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes "What the hell is water?"

This is a standard requirement of US commencement speeches, the deployment of didactic little parable-ish stories. The story ["thing"] turns out to be one of the better, less bullshitty conventions of the genre, but if you're worried that I plan to present myself here as the wise, older fish explaining what water is to you younger fish, please don't be. I am not the wise old fish. The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about. Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude, but the fact is that in the day to day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have a life or death importance, or so I wish to suggest to you on this dry and lovely morning.

September 13, 2013

You Want A Physicist To Speak At Your Funeral — Aaron Freeman

You want a physicist to speak at your funeral. You want the physicist to talk to your grieving family about the conservation of energy, so they will understand that your energy has not died. You want the physicist to remind your sobbing mother about the first law of thermodynamics; that no energy gets created in the universe, and none is destroyed. You want your mother to know that all your energy, every vibration, every Btu of heat, every wave of every particle that was her beloved child remains with her in this world. You want the physicist to tell your weeping father that amid energies of the cosmos, you gave as good as you got.
And at one point you'd hope that the physicist would step down from the pulpit and walk to your brokenhearted spouse there in the pew and tell him that all the photons that ever bounced off your face, all the particles whose paths were interrupted by your smile, by the touch of your hair, hundreds of trillions of particles, have raced off like children, their ways forever changed by you. And as your widow rocks in the arms of a loving family, may the physicist let her know that all the photons that bounced from you were gathered in the particle detectors that are her eyes, that those photons created within her constellations of electromagnetically charged neurons whose energy will go on forever.
And the physicist will remind the congregation of how much of all our energy is given off as heat. There may be a few fanning themselves with their programs as he says it. And he will tell them that the warmth that flowed through you in life is still here, still part of all that we are, even as we who mourn continue the heat of our own lives.
And you'll want the physicist to explain to those who loved you that they need not have faith; indeed, they should not have faith. Let them know that they can measure, that scientists have measured precisely the conservation of energy and found it accurate, verifiable and consistent across space and time. You can hope your family will examine the evidence and satisfy themselves that the science is sound and that they'll be comforted to know your energy's still around. According to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you're just less orderly. Amen.

September 12, 2013

Top 10 Reasons Against Marraige

So you think you've found your soulmate -> the guy who has the exact same crazy hobbies as you and wants to spend time doing the exact same goofy things as you do.
  1. You were always looking for a partner who was into reading classic literature and now you are sooo looking forward to spending the next months, years, and the lifetime itself together reading wonderful books to each other. But what if your interests doing quite coincide? You are sure you can reconcile your differences? So you're both into Hemingway and Faulkner and not into maudlin romances. But what if one of you suddenly develops a liking for 50 Shades? No gray areas? Well, you never know. You haven't spent 30 years talking about your interests. Indeed, your interests might change as you grow older and who knows, two people might grow old differently. They might be possessed of different demons.
  2. So you're both ornithologists. But what if one of you is interested in migratory birds while the other is more into water birds?
  3. So you're both doctors. But one of you might be interested in the theoretical stuff, extending the envelope, crazy experimental stuff, trying to understand the "junk" DNA, or grow spare body parts in the lab for autologous transplants, while the other might be into epidemeology and public health issues.
  4. So you're both lawyers. But one of you is into constitutional law or fighting for civil liberties or interested in doing pro bono work primarily while the other wants to make millions being a corporate lawyer. What if one of you is in favor of giving the death penalty to the maximum number of people while the other takes up cases to reverse the death penalty given to those on death row.
  5. May be you both love sports. May be you both love baseball or football of hockey or cricket or soccer. But what if you support different teams? A Yankees fan cohabiting with a Red Sox fan? Eww.
  6. What if 'He' is a Republican (and speaks with an Austrian accent too) and 'She' is Democrat. And look at how THAT turned out!
  7. What if you're both religious --> but belong to different religions and worship different gods. May be one of you is Amish and the other is a Mormon. Millions have been killed because of differences of opinion regarding which god created the universe.
  8. What if both are in the IT business? Well, that might work out as both will be busy and .... well, there are successful precedents such as Marissa Mayer and Mr. Mayer who's also the SurveyMonkey guy, right?
  9. What if the bossman is a banker or hedge fund guy or some such Wall St. millionaire/billionaire and she's the former blonde model who's 30 plus now and retired. Well, that will probably work out as well.
  10. What if both are Hollywood actors? You mean like Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman? Or Cruise and Aniston? Or ... well, they are ACTORS. So, it doesn't matter either way.
Also, all good memorable legendary stories of romances are those where one of the parties suddenly dies in youth. There's the story of Edward VIII but there's also the story of Diana, Princes of Wales.

What if one of the partners is for the death penalty and the other is against it?

What if one of the partners loves Game of Thrones and the other is in love with Homeland.

September 11, 2013

Data Center News

The interesting thing about technology is that it keeps advancing at a relentless pace. While this may be disorienting for some or at times, it is better than being stuck in millenia-old ideas or concepts or technologies.

High Performance Computing is the leading edge of computer science in many ways. The race to build the next fastest supercomputer continues non-stop.

Here's a story about the Oak Ridge Supercomputer Facility. Will we get exaflop supercomputers by 2018? An exaflop is 1,000 petaflops. One petaflop is 1,000 teraflops. One teraflop is 1,000 gigaflops. So, an exaflop refers to one billion billion floating point operations per second.

Here's a Google technical paper about large, distributed systems such as what Google uses.

Here's a story about when fire threatened the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Here's a look at the Top 10 Supercomputers at that time.

Here's a look at the NYSE's data center.

The Lawrence Livermore Sequoia Supercomputer which is an IBM Blue Gene system put the U.S. at the top of the Top 500 list at that time.

September 04, 2013

Syria As A Cautionary Tale For India

How are we sure that India won't end up in the same chaos that Syria is experiencing today?

As I read this excellent article about why the Syrian crisis is pretty much intractable, I was thinking about how India with its enormous diversity could well be a much larger version of Syria.

India too can be said to be an artificial creation of a European colonial power. India is of course an 'old' civilization with a long history but does that afford any obvious advantages?

Does India's long history or civilization or diversity unite or divide Indians?

How many of us look at ourselves as 'Indians'? Frankly, nobody does; if only because that would be essentially ridiculous in such a diverse nation. We have certain 'roots' that tend to trace to one state or one mother tongue.

While exceptions exist, mostly Indians live in self-contained communities within linguistic and state boundaries. With modernity and industrialization, migration is taking place and hopefully, people become more and more aware of their 'Indian' identity.

September 02, 2013

India's Economic Troubles

I would not have written this but for the fact that I put in a comment on M. J. Akbar's article today.

I came across the article in Mr. Akbar's Facebook feed although it may have been penned for his Times of India blog.

All of Mr. Akbar's articles are available on his blog.

There is much consternation and hand-wringing going on about India's current economic woes. So, is it entirely the fault of the UPA? Of Manmohan Singh and his co-conspirators Mr. Mukherjee, and Montek? Or Chidambaram and the ultimate Big Boss Sonia?

I doubt it. For example take the currency de-valuation.

It is interesting to note that while China attracts much criticism from its main business partner USA for keeping the remnimbi artificially under-valued, we see some weird nationalistic pride getting hurt when the rupee devalues.

It seems almost axiomatic that the rupee's moderate de-valuation will help the export sector and India's dreams of becoming an economic superpower presumably depend on export-led growth.

Like Krugman asked on his blog recently while talking about the rupee devaluation: "What am I missing?"

I suspect India's economic woes emanating primarily from a slowdown in GDP growth has much to do with the recession or the anemic growth conditions afflicting the developed economies.

If the U.S. and European economies were to grow at 4%, I think the boat of India's economy would happily make it to the shore as our exports would be "booming" which would create lots of secondary employment.

For a country as dependent on oil imports as India is, exports are the only way to earn the dollars to pay for those imports. Japan is probably the only other country which is so dependent on energy imports.

Is India as innovative as Japan?
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