Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Vox Populi

Vox populi, vox dei goes the saying. Voice of the people, voice of god. It's a more loaded statement than one would initially believe. For instance - religion; quite literally the voice of god is often a function of what the people find popular at that point. Of course - I could open a whole can of worms, and I will - but religion is not the can of worms I'll be opening today. Instead I want to talk about the mass hysteria surrounding Anna Hazare.

Full Disclosure: I do not approve of his methods so before I criticise my bias (which I readily admit to) I implore you to question my arguments. I also do not consider myself patriotic, but I am as much for rooting out corruption as the most patriotic of you.

There have been enough opinion pieces about Anna and most of the ones I have read have been critical of him. I attribute this in part to the fact that he enjoys enough support that opinion pieces supporting him don't need to be written all that often and in part to my own bias. But the one thing I find very striking in all the pieces are the reactions, the only gauge of which I have access to being the comments.

A majority of the comments disapprove of the articles - which is fine. What isn't fine is the general pattern of comments. Anyone who criticises Anna and/or his methods is not a puppet of the government. Anyone who doesn't support his ideology doesn't automatically support a corrupt government.

One of the best articles I have read in a long time was an interview with Nandan Nilekani (Full Disclosure: I am a fan of him and his work) where he states his view that the Lokpal bill is not a magic bullet that will rid the country of corruption and that anyone who thinks so is drinking the Kool Aid. He went on to mention that not all politicians are corrupt and that it's important to engage in parliamentary proceedings and that his own experiences were pretty pleasant. And here are what were some particularly; for lack of a better word - gnarly comments:

See what a few months spent in the North Block of Indian Parliament and interactions with Manmohan Singh , Kapil sibal , P Chidabharam can do to a person.

He is now completely talking like a corrupt Congress Agent .
Not even his former colleagues at Infosys will agree to it

Likes: 21

Because OF course - the commenter knows exactly how his Infy colleagues would have reacted. And as far as I know - no one from Infosys came out to criticise the guy.

I mean - sure; criticise his stand, but not by attacking him personally. Even if the accusations levelled were true, they would not and should not diminish the point that was being made (whatever the merit of the point itself).

If you do not have a solution, do not criticize others who have, and are putting in effort to bring in the change.

Likes: 9

This is a favourite; for how utterly inane the statement is and just how often it is repeated. Let me put forth a terrible analogy for how terrible the argument is - if someone points out that 2.4343*pi*(e^(5/6))*-1=5 is wrong because you're multiplying the expression by -1 and so the answer should be negative, they shouldn't have to give a solution because their reasoning for why the answer is wrong is sound.

Mr.Nilekani...........big sorry comes for you!!!!!!...if you are so concerned about the country and against the way Anna is using for fighting against corruption!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!then please suggest some solid measures for the eradication of corruption and come up in front of every one and help the citizens of India!!!! WHO ARE GETTING MORE POORER AND PEOPLE LIKE YOU ARE GETTING MORE RICHER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!.......................SHAME ON ALL OF YOU ...


Looking past the terrible grammar, extended exclamations and Caps Lock abuse, it is obvious that the commenter has not even read the article or watched the video. If criticism is levelled against the person you support - you can only counter it if you know what the criticism is. Nilekani clearly states suggestions and why he thinks what Anna is doing is a bad idea and some of the things that need to get done (and of course; promoting the nationalised ID system as ONE of those steps. Full Disclosure: Nandan Nilekani heads the project).

These are only some of the inane comments I have read. Others include things like "you {insert random political ideology}-ist upper class in your AC room are not connected with what's happening in this country and so cook up these conspiracy theories".

Assuming that the person writing that has any idea what that political ideology even stands for, it's an outrageous claim that they are somehow more connected with what's happening than the person they disagree with.

The latest I came across was " even a true cause fails to touch our hearts....its a pity.....".

A blind appeal to emotion and an implicit claim that the opposition is somehow less true in its intentions.

One of the worst are claims like "India is Anna". No it's not.

Say even a hundred thousand people supported Anna at Ramlila maidan (which they didn't) it's hardly representative of the millions of others who haven't said anything (for whatever reason).

I do have problems with Anna, I make no secret of that. But I respect your right to support him and I expect you to maintain my stand. If I have problems with your claim that I want to address - I will address them and not attack your character, your motivations or your backing.

Now I'm not claiming that one has to have a similar personality to the commenters quoted if they have to support Anna. But if your response to criticism is anything along the lines of the responses here, I urge you to reconsider your stand.

Because if you make the same fallacious arguments; you're adding to a growing list of people who do the same. And if these people are representative of the large majority of Anna's supporters, and if one accepts that the large majority of Anna's supporters are indeed representative of the voice of the people; they are the vox populi - then it is indeed worrying and makes for a disturbing vox dei.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The selfish scientist

We are nearing the end of an era. After 30 years, the shuttle program is at an end. Discovery made its last flight and soon Endeavor and Atlantis will make their flights. STS 133, 134 and 135 will mark the end of a remarkable and revolutionary space program. And I shall mourn its loss.

The shuttle missions, and manned exploration in general have brought about a number of advancements. The ISS would not have been possible without the shuttle missions. But while I do mourn for the fact that we've suffered a technical throwback, I'm sad for other reasons.

When I was a kid; every second person had a stock response to the question "What do you want to be when you grow up?" - invariably it was "astronaut" or "fighter pilot". Not many knew what hard work went into either - but they thought it was cool. That was reason enough.

Satellites orbiting earth help with communications, remote sensing and have brought about a revolution in the way we view our world. Measurements that could never have been taken in the past can be taken with ease because of remote sensing satellites. Satellites have made technologies such as GPS possible. While not space exploration per se, it is an industry that evolved with it.

Science is often considered a noble and higher human pursuit. It often leads to the betterment of the human condition, but often - that is not why scientists do science. They do it because it's a reward in itself. A number of scientific discoveries are completely useless. They fulfil nothing more than a desire to know about how the world exists. I can't think of many reasons why knowing the minerals that make up a random main sequence star in a distant cluster is useful. The Hubble space telescope has taken pictures of the cosmos that have revealed a lot about our place in this universe. It has also generated a lot of pretty pictures of the stars, which now adorn many a room.

I will probably receive a lot of flak for this, but I think that the fulfilment of human curiosity is reason enough to do science. Just as we do movies. They both fulfil needs that rise beyond the ordinary base desires of humanity. They both work to extinguish our boredom; something that we got along with out higher mental faculties.

Those who do science often have to deny this because admitting to the fact that returns are never guaranteed in science is taboo. And it doesn't help while asking for funds either. Of course I'm not claiming that science is useless. It has, in fact contributed to humanity's progress more than probably any other field. I'm just claiming that once shouldn't and can't expect scientific research to produce material that will help humanity.

And space exploration is one such science where results are not guaranted. I can't and wont say that space exploration is intrinsically useful. I don't think that landing man on the moon accomplished much. But I'll be darned if it wasn't cool. And I'm sure it was a catalyst to a number of people getting into science.

Not many people will admit to this, but I say scientists are not social workers. That's not to say they don't care about the world, but they're not always working *to* make the world a better place. Of course; there are medical researchers - vaccines have saved thousands, maybe millions of lives, but even in medicine there exists research for which there isn't any immediate apparent use. We can hope that eventually uses are found for scientific applications, but even this is not guaranteed.

I believe that this quote from the great Richard Feynman sums it up best - "Physics is like sex. It might have some results, but it's not why we do it". I suppose I have done a terrible job to advocate science, but I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels this way.

I can say this though. Doing science doesn't guarante results, but not doing it will impede progress.

Meanwhile I hope that enough people want to know more about the universe that the space program remains strong. And as for anyone claiming that we "waste" money on space, I will bring attention to the spending on space (in the US).

Obama's 2011 budget proposal has the US government spending (in 2011) ~31.44 billion dollars on science, of which we will spend 12.78 billion dollars on space research. Contrast that to the defense budget - 738 billion dollars. A significant portion of that money goes towards researching better guns and bombs. To kill people. I'm not going to debate the ethics of the obnoxious spending (in this note), but I will say that I am of the opinion that this kind of spending is odius.

(Source: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/02/01/us/budget.html?src=tp )

I do hope that the end of the space shuttle doesn't mean the end of manned space exploration. And I hope that we have effective re-entry vehicles for future missions. The shuttle was unique in it's design approach, and a few unfortunate accidents due to human error should not mean the end of the program, but having reached its inevitable end one can only hope that it's replaced by a worthy successor.

Irrespective of your views on whether this is a positive thing, I don't think there can be disagreement on the fact that this is indeed a landmark time.

I would also invite you to checkout the following radio program (BBC World Radio: Have your say) on which I was featured, which contains some interesting viewpoints on space exploration.


BBC World Have Your Say - Space by avic

Of course, not everyone has the same opinion - I would love to hear what you have to say about it.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Future war dynamics - I

Without a doubt - war will change (and is already changing). For one, it is beginning to involve less and less people. The war in Iraq already used robots and significantly reduced human casualties. Sample this - http://www.latimes.com/la-fg-drone-crews21-2010feb21,0,7450196.story .

Robot drones are in many cases cheaper than human soldiers. They don't have to be physically trained, they don't need special combat protection and they don't need to be paid. They might need an operator, and even the need for an active human operator is being phased out. Yet, I will limit my discussion to robots that are remotely controlled from another location and where the entire "robot-interface-controller" package is cheaper than deploying a real soldier on the field.

Take for instance the Prototype "Predator B" drone capable of carrying 215 kilograms of payload. The predator has evolved from a surveillance device to a truly dangerous attack device.

The following videos illustrate the utility of these drones

As interested as I am in how these machines are great technology, I will not continue in that direction. Instead, I will focus on how these machines will change warfare.
What will it be like? Will we have fewer human casualties than ever before, or will newer weapons make war casualties mount?

At this point it would be safe to say that in terms of destructive power, nuclear weapons aren't about to be exceeded anytime soon (at least with technology I am aware of). Atomic weapons have redefined the dynamics of war, and Mutually Assured Destruction is a powerful deterrent for war today. Of course, one could dispute the previous statement - but that's not the focus of this piece. I am going to claim that robots; aircraft, tanks, fast moving artillery vehicles, remote controlled submarines are all going to change how we look at war dramatically.

I'd like to start by constructing a scenario where there are two democratic countries (Absurdistan and Baloneya, A and B for short) sending out soldiers to fight at the frontlines.

Both sides suffer heavy casualties, and some sort of peace treaty is signed. Of course, peace treaties haven't stopped wars before, and the treaty failed. War was declared again, only this time - A started replacing soldiers with bots and won the war. Like with any war, both sides experienced a loss of human lives BUT the side with bots experienced a much less loss. Another peace treaty was signed and in effect. But B wanted the secrets behind A's success and sends Russian spies to steal the warbot plans. Astonishingly; they're successful in doing so.

A few years pass and news breaks out of B arming itself with advanced warbots. Of course; A hasn't been resting on it's victory and has now replaced every human soldier on the frontline with a remotely controlled drone. B is still hurting from the earlier war and deploys diplomatic measure to avert a new one, but is in the process of phasing out its own soldiers.

A few more years pass and both A and B have advanced war drones. Fast forward ten years or so. The peace treaty breaks down again because WikiLeaks leaks documents detailing the exploits of the Russian spy. This time both armies are full of robots remote controlled from secret locations. A and B start warring with their guns blazing and find themselves evenly matched technologically. The shift probably wont be as abrupt, but I'm skipping the "shift phase" to a robot army for the sake of convenience.

This is where I stop with the hypothetical scenario; as I am simply unable to come up with a single scenario to describe what would happen next. I do have plenty of questions though.

With either side having eliminated the prospect of soldiers dying on the frontlines, there would only be robot casualties. What motivation would either side have to end this war? Would it be purely economic? Countries draw up a peace treaty for various reasons, one among which is a mounting death toll. With that disincentive to continue war eliminated, will we only be more eager to continue a war?

War is expensive, but remotely controlled machines will make it cheaper in many ways. Will this prolong a war?

Will one country be forced to target civilians or hold them hostage in order to up the stakes for the other country? If it is illegal for any country to do this (not that international rules of engagement ever deterred countries strongly enough) then will they coerce other countries to use human soldiers when robot replacements would suffice perfectly fine. It would be advantageous for a country to use robots to replace its own soldiers, but have other countries use humans.

Once the feasibility of robot soldiers has been proven, will countries have a responsibility to start replacing their human soldiers? Will there be a demand to do so; just as newer techniques for saving soldiers lives have a pressure to be adopted.

How will terrorism change?

Will frontlines be littered with nuts and bolts instead of blood and bodies? What would be the significance of war then? Would we still see as much of a need to avoid it?

Would war just be a game where soldiers play Modern Warfare 9000+, only with real world consequences?

And will we finally have to come face to face with the fact that war means murder, or will it distance us from that reality?

I really want to know your thoughts about this, I welcome all thoughts - but please lay off possibilities of a robot Armageddon a.la. Terminator. Why this isn't a plausible scenario is a topic for another entry in the blog.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

What seems to be the problem?

A few days ago, I ate something that would sound odd but was quite nice - mango sambar. Most of the few eyeballs that scan this blog probably know what both are, but just in case. This is a mango - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mango and this is sambar http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sambar_%28dish%29 . And while I admit that it was pretty good, I am left wondering as to how many people would accept my culinary tastes.

This train of thought led me to Section 377, and the recent ruling by the Delhi High Court ruling the section to be unconstitutional. Frankly, I was surprised, because I didn't think it would happen. And the reactions were expected. Religious reactions apart, I found some reactions... Well I couldn't understand them. I don't know where to start.

First off; the claim that it is against culture and nature. Without debating the truth of these claims, I would like to proceed. We do a lot of things that are "against nature". We drive cars, we bathe - with soap, and the list goes on. "Animals" don't do these things. And what of the "against culture" argument? I must say I have my reservations about whether this is even a valid argument. There are many things that were "against culture" at one point.

Racism was part of culture, so was Sati ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sati_(practice) ), even bathing was not encouraged by Victorian culture. But back in the day, people rode horses - which is awesome, and the environment was also more respected (apparently). Now all I'm saying is that any practise must be examined on it's own merit and not on whether it's part of "culture". Culture is a dynamic entity, and there is no obligation to keep it static.

Then there's the standard "aping the west" argument. This is something of a moral panic, and again, ties back to the culture argument. Must we not adopt something just because it is prevalent in the west?

Then there's the "what are we going to legalise next" argument. Hmm. This is something of a slippery slope we're traversing. There are a lot of things to say about those activities that would be legalised, but then again - that's not what I'm talking about here.

Then there's the "children to be protected" argument. This makes no sense any way you look at it. Sex with a minor is illegal. Period. Non-consensual sex is rape. Now if a new law to prevent homosexual sex with minors was implemented, how will two laws deter offenders when one didn't? Section 377 still regulates sex with minors.

Then there's the genetic/non-genetic argument should not even be raised. A lot of things are genetic - the predisposition to out-group violence, incest avoidance and many more. Whether homosexuality is genetic or not should not be relevant and it should be debated without this in mind just as other behaviours are.

In the end why regulate an activity performed by consenting adults in the privacy of their quarters? It's not worth debate, because it's a question of a section of society wanting to do their thing. If tomorrow a section of society wants to jump up and down holding hands in their private quarters with whomever they like to jump with, then should we even debate regulating it?

In any case, whether people like it or not, whether people think it is "disgusting" or not, it is a question of tastes. And I wont let you take away my right to eat what I want - like my mango sambar (although I am told that it's quite a traditional dish, and a quick google search confirms this).

Saturday, November 29, 2008

It's a Mad, M.A.D. world

It's a Mad, mad world. Not that anything wrong with that, we're all a little insane inside.

But this Madness is of a different kind. It's the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction - M.A.D.

A little more about the concept - MAD is a doctrine of military strategy in which a full-scale use of nuclear weapons by two opposing sides would effectively result in the destruction of both the attacker and the defender It is based on the theory of deterrence according to which the deployment of strong weapons is essential to threaten the enemy in order to prevent the use of the very same weapons. The strategy is effectively a form of Nash equilibrium, in which both sides are attempting to avoid their worst possible outcome—nuclear annihilation.

This has worked well in the past, and to a great extent, is still working really well. Yet, there are some flaws to the inherent assumptions of the concept. Indeed, I am going against my general personality and being cynical, pessimistic and playing doomsday soothsayer; but I can hardly help thinking that even the most optimistic prediction makes for only a fearful world, teetering on the brink of war.

MAD is not a new concept, but nuclear weapons bring the concept to an entirely new level, and takes the power out of the hands of many, and puts it in the hands of a few.

I will cease disserting MAD further, and move on, in general to Weapons of Mass Destruction.

WMDs have changed the dynamics of war. While war was always an arena to prove one's superiority over the "enemy", never before has it brought with it such utter and dramatic results, and never before have they had the potential to be more destructive - or more prolonged.

There are many kinds of Weapons of Mass Destruction today - Biological, Chemical, Nuclear, Conventional, Radiological (Dirty) - each with its own "Pros and Cons" if weapons could ever have them.

Oh, and additional terms used in a military context include atomic, biological, and chemical (ABC) warfare and chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) warfare. We even have funky abbreviations for the types of weapon.

Weapons exist for one sole purpose - to destroy, but the weapons of today make it much easier to take a life than ever before.

We all remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki - "Little Boy" (Hiroshima) had a yield of 13-18 kilotons while "Fat Man" (Nagasaki) had a yield of 21 kilotons.

While those numbers by themselves mean little, I would like to hazard a guess that visuals may help. This ( http://www.sonicbomb.com/modules.php?name=Content&pa=showpage&pid=126 ) is a 50 tonne bomb. Exploding this bomb would be equivalent to exploding 50 tonnes of TNT. Now imagine exploding 840 of these all at once in the same place. That was Nagasaki.

I shall not argue on whether the specific actions at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were warranted, all I wanted to do was paint a picture of the destructive potential of our weapons - but wait, we've made progress since then. Now we have Megaton bombs. The Soviet Union's Tsar Bomba was originally designed to have a yield of about 100 megatons of TNT; however that was reduced by half in order to limit the amount of nuclear fallout that would result.

A 100 megaton test would have the destructive potential of about five thousand Nagasaki's. The test with reduced tonnage released about the same energy as two and a half thousand Nagasaki's and about four thousand Hiroshima's.

Thousands of people died without a name. Thousands more still live with its effects, and the entire world lives either in the shadow of fear of a blissful (and often wilful) ignorance of the possibility of war raising its ugly head again. The possibility now is more real than ever.

There exist lost Nuclear weapons in the world, and as Giles Prentice (Frank Whaley) says in a movie bearing the name of what these lost weapons are called - "I don't know what's scarier, losing nuclear weapons, or that it happens so often there's actually a term for it." That movie was Broken Arrow. And yes, it is a real term, and yes, there are Broken Arrow's in this world.

Of course, I only talked so far of nuclear weapons. What of the other kinds. I fear I'm losing my audience here. I urge you to stay with me for just a while longer. If need be; grab a coffee, take a leak or listen to some happy music if this depressed you.

"Kill one man, and you are a murderer. Kill millions of men, and you are a conqueror. Kill them all, and you are a god" (Jean Rostand). How true. And so is what Oppenheimer said when he exclaimed "I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds." and so is what Test director Kenneth Bainbridge said (replied?) to Oppenheimer: "Now we are all sons of bitches."

Oh, and Oppenheimer said this during the Trinity test, a precursor to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The test was an explosion with a 20 kiloton yield.

It isn't just nuclear weapons. Guns, bombs, high explosives, landmines, grenades, trip mines, torpedoes, homing missiles. All these are weapons that can are meant to be able to make killing cold, ruthless and efficient .It wasn't in a day that all these weapons were made; certain nation(s) [hint, hint] spend the most on "defense", even in the middle of a recession. There's never enough money for whatever needs it, but there's always money for mayhem.

Call it whatever you want; defense, security, it doesn't matter, although in truth, the obscene spending on what should rightly be called offense can best be called insecurity. Why is it that when we are armed to the teeth, we are still quaking in our boots?

Why is it that the very power that empowers us drains us? It's what maintains the delicate balance in this fragile world. It was what kept the world together - and yet apart at the same time. How can you truly be friends with someone when you know that they could potentially decimate you? Do we actually take pleasure in taking life?

I can hardly think of a better answer to this than that we have merely made it easy - taken emotion out of the equation. Take guns for example. All it needs is one pull of the trigger. It isn't called the great equaliser for no reason. At the same time, it made it easier to take a life.

Anyone (feel free to disagree) who has been in a fisticuff though, would attest to the how surprised they were at how much of a fight they put up as well as how much of a fight the other person put up. Sure; it was two people aiming to hurt each other. Yet at some level - there is fear, there is respect for the other person, and at the end of the fight, there is surprise at what was just "achieved". There is a feeling of being tired, more appropriately - spent. The next time, you'll think twice before getting into it even if you "won".

Now imagine a person wanting to kill with their bare hands, it can be safely assumed that he/she in for a long fight and they must really want the other person dead if they want to succeed.

Take away the method of violence; what remains is the effort it would take to resort to those acts. If world leaders, terrorists, soldiers, criminals, shooters, and pretty much anyone with intent to hurt or take life had no option but to fight with their bare hands. Just their bare hands, I have a feeling we'd have much less violence in the world.

We need to go back to the time when taking life meant murder, passionate revenge, directed violence, mano a mano. Instead, we have decimation, utter and complete obliteration, annihilation of people with no means to defend themselves as means to becoming a god or a martyr. We need emotion. The fact that taking life still means you're killing should be brought back into the consciousness.

I don't condone killing, but all I'm saying is that it's too easy now. It's easy to forget death when confronted by numbers. One dead, I can feel something, 2 dead - sure. What about five, or 10, or 78 dead, 150 dead, 45 injured. I hear the news tell me that 85-90 people died, why; don't the five people make a difference to the count? What does all this mean to me - ALMOST NOTHING! I shed a tear now and then. Once in a blue moon I shed two - one for the fact that so many people are dying, and one for the fact that I'm so inured to it that I could write something like this without shedding a single one.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

http://snipurl.com/3j4x3 - My latest

My newest post was pretty long (with this it wont be my newest anymore; but let's spare the technicalities), So I set the year of publishing as 1988 so it doesn't show up here and the other posts are visible as well. Read my latest at



I'm not going to talk much about it. Instead I'll let my disdain for customer service in general and in particular with ICICI Lombard Insurance and particularly in India be known.

Here are transcripts of the chat I had with customer service. (with my contact details * bleeped * out)

Tilak: May I know what is your query?

Avinash CHandrashekar: yes

Avinash CHandrashekar: I was charged for an insurance policy that I tried to buy

Avinash CHandrashekar: but wasn't able to"

Read for yourself what follows at


Wednesday, July 9, 2008

God, Calvin and Hobbes

God is a concept we all wrestle with. Does god exist? Who is he? Or is it a she? Or does god transcend such trivialities? I haven't taken much time in my life to think about god, and I'm not sure I believe (s)he exists, and I don't feel any less complete for it.

I don't unbelieve in god either, because saying I don't believe in god is claiming knowledge about the truth of god, of which I have none.

Yet; if I was forced to pick a stand, I would say lean more towards belief than not; and this has nothing to do with my knowlegde of the truth of god's existence and more to do with the comfort and satisfaction the belief provides. There are times when I believe in god more strongly than others, and in my darkest times, that belief helps me.

I apologise if I sound confusing, but it may be of a little help if I draw a parallel to an exceptional comic that the genius Bill Watterson used to draw a long time ago called Calvin and Hobbes. The times I believe in god, or come as close to doing so as I do, my character is closer to that of Calvin and I view god as a friend and maybe a voice in my head, but at that point, god is almost as real to me as Hobbes is to Calvin.

And then there are the times when I don't think about god at all, and at these times, my character would be close to that of Calvin's parents'. They never see Hobbes as alive, maybe only because they don't think about him as such; and he makes no difference to their lives. Yet; at their darkest times, they view Hobbes differently. Calvin's mom talks to Hobbes when she sits next to a dying raccoon Calvin found, and talks to Hobbes, even mentioning that she does so when in such situations.

When their house was burgled, Calvin rushes to find Hobbes who they had left behind and Calvin's dad he wished he had a stuffed tiger to comfort them.

The reality of Hobbes itself isn't settled. For example; Calvin had Hobbes tie him in knots that couldn't be untied even by his father who is immensely surprised by that fact. On the other hand, Hobbes is never animated when Calvin's parents are present, maybe because of not needing to be or Calvin's parents not believing in him.

Hobbes seems neither a figment of Calvin's active imagination, nor a tangible entity. And that reminds me of the focus of the piece: God and his existence. But maybe that's the beauty of it all; we never do know the truth about God. Maybe that's how it's supposed to be, we can go on with our life being either believing in god or not, and he appears that real to us.

If there is a benevolent god and I have lived a full life, I will be rewarded, regardless of whether I believe or not. If there isn't a god, I would have still lived a full life.

And that is how I will lead it. God (if real) would approve.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

(English) Literacy is for everyone

One can't afford to be behind on the current affairs you see

Fuel Prices: Part 1.5

A follow up to the earlier post.

I showed the post to my father who commented on an error in the post, which was identified again by my good friend Vatsan, and here is what he wrote; and what sums up the error; and my response

And yes; there will be another, more detailed and accurate analysis of fuel prices in the (near (hopefully)) future

Anonymous Vatsan said...

dude, there is a mistake in your analysis of the prices.
even though you can get only 46% petrol from crude, that doesnt multiply the price of petrol by 1/0.46, because there are other components of crude that have monetary value.
these may of lower or of higher monetary value. and this could even give an error in the range of +50% (or more, or less. depending on the value of these other commodities obtained from crude) in the price of petrol.
and you also havent factored in the price of the fractional distillation and the refining. which would increase the price by a bit.
but, i do think that it is safe to say that all factors included, the price of a litre of petrol, without subsidies and duties, would be a sizeable amount lesser than 76 INR.

June 21, 2008 11:00 PM

Blogger Avi C said...

@ Vatsan; you're the second person after my dad to point this out to me. Yes; what you say is right. Absolutely correct. In fact, I was planning to write a new blog entry explaining my error.

I could say that I've chosen a worst case scenario, but then again, I haven't included the refining costs, etc.

I did look up the actual price and saw it mentioned somewhere and it was about Rs.71/L , which is about 5 rupees away from my estimate.

A best case scenario, on the other hand would be about 76*.46 (assuming all the crude is refined into petroleum and there are NO extra costs involved), which is about Rs.35 but that, obviously isn't the case. That said, I am planning on a blog entry with more variables involved.

June 22, 2008 12:08 AM

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Traveller's Tales

While I can't really say I've travelled too much, I can say, with all the confidence in the world; that I've made the most of each and every trip. To begin with; I'm the kind of person who's probably throw away a map just so I wouldn't look at it, and to say that a rainy day is only an occasion to eat something different. Yet; there was one trip that really wore me out; one from New York to Frankfurt, with my flight postponed by over eight hours, my luggage lost in transit, my phone battery running dead, having drunk black coffee without a meal; there was little I could do but wait.

I soon began cribbing to a fellow passenger. Misery loves company. I soon settled with being bored and looking at the pictures I had taken of my exploits before my arrival. All I was hoping for was a distraction, and it soon came in the form of a large man, who I've since tried to contact many times, but have been quite unsuccessful. We got chatting; but after a while, I could only remain silent. That was one of the few times in my life I can remember listening without saying a word.

RSK was a millionare, and that was past tense even when I met him. He was a prisoner, now free and on his way to his home country. As he went on, I got more than just a way to pass my time. He originally went to Nigeria for some business dealings, and things seemed to be going well until someone stole his identity and he was convicted of fraud. He went on with his story; he was forced to stay in dark, dingy cells and undergo inhuman treatment. He was forced to sign a confession everyday, and the only thing that stopped him from doing so was his integrity.

In spite of his inhuman treatment, he candidly admitted that of all the inmates, he was meted the best treatment; and there would often be fights in the prison on who would stay with him in the cell; him being the only "whitey" there. The impact of racism hadn't become as apparent to me until then. His own government seemed ill inclined on pursuing his release. He continued about how for many days he had almost no food to eat. His torment ultimately did come to an end six months later, when thanks to the intervention of the Goverment, he was flying on an Emergency Visa to Canada, hoping that he could take up his issue with his government.

I recorded many things on that trip on my video camera; but I missed recording this "interview". When I look back, I do regret it, but it wouldn't really have been the same with me pointing a camera at his face.

I decided, of course, I would keep in touch with such an interesting person, and asked him how I could contact him, and he scribbled his email behind the receipt for his Big Mac (or as he called it; his first taste of home) and handed it to me. I've never succeeded in contacting him, but I still have that receipt, safe with me, and a lone picture to remind me of him; or contemplate on when I have a really bad day.

Then again, I never really needed a picture: RSK is a man I will never, ever forget.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Fuel Prices: The Long and Short of it

This is not a post that describes
1) Goverment Policies
2) Conspiracy Theories
3) Organic Chemistry
4) Eric Theodore Cartman

The short of it;
a litre of petrol; as of Tuesday, June 10th, 2008 should cost 76.3458 Indian Rupees, but it still costs less than Rs.60

This is NOT accounting for the numberous other charges that will inevitably add to the cost of petrol like duties, profit margins, sales tax, etc.

Feel free to draw your own conclusions

The slightly more in-depth analysis
Let's get on with it

Oil Dashboard
June, Tuesday 10 2008

Anyway; that's the price for a barrel of crude oil according to http://oil-price.net/
So; how much is a barrel?

The barrel is the name of several units of volume

Oil barrel: 42 US gallons, 158.9873 litres,[1] or 34.9723 Imperial (UK) gallons.

Taken from Wikipedia

so 158.9873 litres of crude for US $131.50 as of June 10, 2008.

This works out to about 131.50US$/158.9873 L of crude; i.e. about 0.82711009 US $ / L of crude. Keep in mind that this is NOT what you put into your vehicle.

Now how much PETROL do you get from a litre of Crude

I was wondering the same and so I did a bit of googlin and I found a nice little blog. The blog linked to a certain cars.com site which didn't work and so had to be accessed using the wayback machine

Click here for that site

From that source, we obtain the data that only about 19.5 gallons of the 42 gallons of crude cab be obtained as petroleum. Going ahead with the math, this is only
Only about 46.42 % or .4642 of the crude is petrol.
This means from one barrel of Crude, we obtain .4642*158.9873 L=73.8019 L of Petrol per barrel
This means the cost/litre of petrol is
131.50US$/73.8019L=1.7817$/L of petrol.

How much is this in Indian Rupees (thanks to XE.com)
Live rates at 2008.06.10 20:26:13 UTC

1.7817 USD


76.3458 INR

United States Dollars
India Rupees
1 USD = 42.8500 INR
1 INR = 0.0233372 USD

There you have it; a litre of petrol; as of Tuesday, June 10th, 2008 should cost 76.3458 Indian Rupees, but it still costs less than Rs.60

This is NOT accounting for the numberous other charges that will inevitably add to the cost of petrol like duties, profit margins, sales tax, etc.

Feel free to draw your own conclusions

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Things I don't understand (Short Version)

Organic Chemistry
Bigger Picture
Etc (this too; I do not understand et cetera)

Saturday, April 19, 2008

What is it that you want the most. Tell Me; and you may have it

I'm serious. You MAY have it. Ask for WHATEVER you want. Whatever. I wont tell you WHEN you'll get it. Or even IF you'll get it. But I can assure you that there IS a chance you will get it. I can also ASSURE you that if you don't ask, you DEFINITELY WONT get it.

Ask for anything. I already owe people (including me) a Lamborghini, a trip to space (or was it the moon), an engineering college, a HUGE treat, a few beatings, a phone repair, miscellaneous repairs, my music collection, one Avinash cooked meal, essays, a ferrari, a mac, 3 fiddy, etc.

Shoot the moon, though I don't assure you you'll get it; so make up a list; and we'll see what you get.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Fear, Hope, etc.

Fear. What is it about it that so fascinates people? There's a word for every fear, from Arachibutyrophobia; the fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of the mouth to the fear of long word; ironically called Hippopotomonstrosesquipped
aliophobia. All emotions; passion, joy, sadness, anger and vengeance atleast seem uniquely human. Yet fear is an emotion that permeates through all creatures. A surprising number of decisions seem to at some basic level have grounding in fear. Even extremely motivated decisions are sometimes beset with the fear of failure. Fear is what makes the M.A.D. (Mutually Assured Destruction) concept so very effective. Fear seems to make any situation worse. The ancients prayed to their gods for fear of divine retribution. The fear of fear is a device that moves forward many a movie. And speaking of movies, one doesn't often pause to think why the gun is never loaded. The gun is pointed to the head and the next thing to happen is not for the gun to go off, but for the (wo)man to slowly wrap the thumb behind the pistol and cock it. Death; formerly staring at you in the face, now stares you right in the eye. That is the power of fear.

And then there's courage. Courage, people say is not the absence of fear but the ability to face it. The primal instincts leave no room for courage. The first instinct is to fear, to stay away, the second is flight, to run and only the third is to fight. Yet courage seems almost the polar opposite of our basic survival instincts.

What motivates this instinct? Is it to break away from that which seemingly ties us to our "animal" roots? To be courageous is to be noble, to be human. It also symbolizes to some extent hope; in the words of the great Architect of the Matrix "The quintessential human emotion; simultaneously the source of your greatest strength and your greatest weakness." It really must be quite some emotion to be described as the quintessentia of humanity, and indeed it is. After all, it is the last thing to come out of Pandora's Box; the metaphorical box that was the cause of all suffering and disease also contained hope.

Nobody embodied hope as much as did Robert Krueger, a man I met while on my way to India from GYLC. Flying to Canada on an emergency Visa, he was imprisoned for eight months in Nigeria when someone stole his identity. A millionaire, he was forced to undergo brutal treatment at the hands of the authorities, yet he lost not hope and was eventually rescued.

Indeed, it is as much a strength as it is a weakness. It's what keeps people going when all seems lost. It's also why people risk so much in their attempt to gain something, when they know they could lose everything.

All other emotions seem to follow; love, courage, ambition and happiness, and it seems to answer why hope is so essential. It's a key to the other emotions; including happiness. If we never hoped and treated everything as mere fact, then none of the other emotions would exist. And if happiness is the reason to live, then we couldn't afford to lose emotion. After all, it isn't possible to feel happy without feeling anything at all. Is it?