Thursday, November 21, 2013

Why bother about connected load? Isn't actual usage more important?

One of the biggest hurdles related to getting a new electricity boiled down to the connected load. The only purpose it serves at present is the security deposit collected by the department.

If the planners at electricity department actually use this data for planning, it would be as useful as applying Newtonian mechanics to individual molecules instead of statistical mechanics to a volume of gas!

Currently, it would be easy to compute the security deposit based on actual consumption, e.g. proportional to the maximum consumption during a billing period over a year. A billing application could automatically raise a request for a higher deposit as an when the consumption or the price of electricity increases.

Sending forms to the consumers which confuse them is hardly useful.

Stamp paper, getting a new electricity connection and the bureaucratic processes

As I wonder about the time it took to get an additional meter installed and who should be held responsible for the delays, I wonder whatever happened to the administrative reforms planned by Manmohan Singh. Here are a couple of references I found:

Times of India April 2005:
In keeping with the changed dynamics of governance, as compared to what they were four decades ago, the new body would grapple with new issues like citizen-centric administration, promoting e-governance and crisis management.
Frontline August 2004:
This is not an impossible task; Dr. Manmohan Singh brought about radical reforms to the way the government functioned when he was Finance Minister and did away with licensing and the plethora of approvals that tied up all development initiatives into knots. He did it because he had the unqualified backing of the Prime Minister at the time, without which he would not have been able to push the reforms through. Now that he is the Prime Minister, it is up to him to take the initiative and go ahead with radical reform of the civil services and the way in which they function as the present age requires.
While it is very tempting to blame the officials with whom I dealt, it is obvious that they were just following the rules. The officials with whom I dealt did not create the rules. They probably had no say in even suggesting that perhaps the rules could be modified.

Unfortunately, the people who created such processes are hidden and not visible to us. Fortunately, the Internet gives me a chance to rant against  them:(

A shop keeper had suggested that he will send a contractor and I won't have to visit the Electricity Department even once. But I am retired and the process on the official site seemed straight forward. So, I decided to do it on my own rather than worry about whether an unknown contractor was  taking me for a ride. A few of the steps whose purpose I failed to understand:

  • What's the advantage of a blank cancelled stamp paper? The staff of electricity dept also could not understand it and required another stamp paper with an application for a new connection on it.
  • Why require a certificate from an authorized contractor regarding the load when an engineer from the department comes home to verify it? 
  • Why do two engineers, once before the application is accepted and once before the connection is given, have to visit home to verify the load?
  • What's the point of getting each socket, light bulb, appliance specified in the load requirement? If so, should we not be taking permission of the department before buying any additional appliance?

All this implies that time and effort wasted by the engineers from the electricity department as well. No wonder the bureaucracy is always short staffed.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Confusing retirement policies of government - well meaning but ???

"EPFO caps pension contribution of firms" but why?

What puzzles me is that when I had retired, I had wondered about what my pension should be and I was informed that there was a cap of Rs. 6500. So, the fact that I took a job with much lower salary to teach had no impact on the pensionable amount.

Had it not been so, the pension amount would not have been so embarrassingly small! It makes me wonder if the information given me was correct but not enough to make me want to make the effort to verify it.

However, it does make me envy the generosity of government towards its own officials. This was illustrated recently by a couple. Both retired about 15 years ago. The husband was in a public sector employee and had a pension twice that of his wife's, who was in government service. Today his wife's pension is double his.

In the long term in our inflationary society, the lesson is that it is not the pension(unless one is a government employee or is married to one) but income from other investments which can ensure a comfortable life after retirement!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Chandigarh: minimal house tax but a scary self-assessment form

The news that "Estimate running into Rs 2 crore, but MC only manages to collect Rs 9 lakh as house tax in a month" is hardly surprising. But I think the interpretation that "City residents seem to be going slow when it comes to paying property tax on residential property" is way off the mark.

I have had the forms with me for a while. I finally decided that I will sit down and fill them as I was driving to the nearest Sampark center anyway and driving is no longer pleasant.

Filling the form was not as terrifying as it looked. Over half the form I left blank as the questions did not seem relevant. I was dreading being told that I had not filled the form correctly. After all, I loved the Ziggy cartoon which had a caption(from 40 year old memory): You are in a heap of trouble, mister. This transfer is for route number 11 and this bus is route 11A.

I was in the queue for 5 minutes. During which one other person paid the house tax. Another person asked to see my form that how had I filled it. Still another person wanted to know how to fill the form and the counter person sent him to the supervisor.

It bewilders me that
  • why did the bureaucrats use the same form for residential property as they do for commercial property.
  • why ask for more information than is needed. We need only give the address and the size of the plot.
  • why call it self-assessment form and make it sound as if any incorrect information on even the redundant fields might cause one to be prosecuted.
Oh, well, I won't have anything to blog about if they did not complicate our lives unnecessarily :)

Or may be they want to prove that house tax is not a viable option?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Compensation for Medical Negligence - Does it solve the problem?

My first reaction to the following news was discomfort - 
The Supreme Court on Thursday awarded a whopping Rs 5.96 crore as compensation to be paid by Kolkata-based AMRI Hospital and three doctors to a US-based Indian-origin doctor for medical negligence ...
It did not feel right. In  fact, it reminded me of Michael Sandel's concerns about becoming a market society where money dominates even moral and ethical issues. 

It feels terribly wrong that the difference is compensation can be so large based on a person's status in life. I wonder how courts will value a child. Will it based on the expected earnings as determined by his or her family background - an obvious reality but hardly the one we should be condoning and encouraging.

The US health care system is not exactly an inspiring example of a system which provides excellent care, without negligence, for all.

The chances are that even in India :
  • the hospital will have an insurance cover
  • insurance company will pay
  • insurance company will raise insurance rates
  • hospitals and doctors will raise their rates
  • we will pay more
  • the doctor will make no fewer errors as it is highly unlikely that the doctor wanted to make a sloppy diagnosis or provide wrong care
  • high costs result in perverse incentive for delaying/avoiding treatment
The same logic is true for motor vehicle accidents. I have not heard of a single person who is a more careful driver because of the compensation he may have to pay in case of an accident.

What may be more effective?
  • A person who makes the error should be accountable and punished.
  • Revocation of a license quickly (not 15 years later) in case it is malpractice or an error which should(not could) have been avoided
  • Limit compensation to a socially valuable amount. A poor victim's family needs financial help a lot more than a rich victim's.
  • Impact of a victim's lost income should be covered by the individual's own insurance policy and not the insurance company covering the doctor (or the driver in case of motor vehicles).
I may even be inclined to favour an insurance cover by the doctors and hospitals where all care costs of the patient are returned in case treatment does not succeed regardless of whether a medical error was involved.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Health Insurance - there has to be a better way

After renewing our health insurance and increased the coverage, I keep wondering about what our actual need is.

The desire, of course, is that we should never need to use the insurance and that is probably why most of are satisfied with just a broad understanding of the policy. But I would expect that if I am ill, the last thing I want to worry about is the expenses related to the treatment. I doubt if that goal is met.

I probably would be happier with a policy which did not cover the expected problems and are not expensive to treat but did not have a limit for the unexpected(and expensive to treat) ailments.

Top up plans may partially be a solution but I do wish there were a simpler unambiguous solution, e.g. excellent public health services for serious ailments and we should not need insurance.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Chandigarh - Why make Sector 17, Chandigarh boring?

A few days ago, I had seen several reports in the Tribune regarding Sector 17. A couple of extracts:
  1. Now as malls and hotels had come up in the Industrial area, city’s Sector 17 plaza had lost its sheen. People are now not coming to Sector 17, he said.
  2. shopkeepers in Sector 17 have started restoring the facade of their properties by way of silicon treatment or by other means. Keeping in view the heritage status of Sector 17, the estate office has been issuing notices to the traders.
But I wonder:
  • What would Times Square or Ginza be without the glitter? 
  • Why not move away from the drab grey? 
  • Why not let the area or each block be redeveloped like a mall - with escalators so not just the ground floor is easily accessible?
Why do we need to stick to the original plan of Le Corbusier  without question, e.g.

Le Corbusier’s ideas weren’t all so great. Critics (like Jane Jacobs) argue that his vision for urban life was destructive to the city, alienating people from one another, and elevating the car over the human. He was on the fascist end of the political spectrum for a while, at one point working for Mussolini. And for decades, he tried (and thankfully failed) to get Paris to raze the Marais neighborhood and build one of his city plans (like image 3). Contemporary designers seem less driven by Le Corbusier's modernist idea that “all men have the same needs,” and more into the postmodern concept that everyone has different wants.
A very nice talk on how New York City is re-imagining the streets - Janette_sadik_khan_new_york_s_streets_not_so_mean_any_more.

Roundabouts in Chandigarh

The following statement in "Like parliamentary democracy, roundabouts are a great British export with a risk" struck a chord:
Yet roundabouts tend to work only when motorists observe the British virtues of fair play and stick to the rules. Alas, this is not always the case.
I will never forget the policeman scolding me for not barging in to the traffic at a roundabout. I waited as I did not wish to create a deadlock by blocking traffic in the circle which needed to exit the roundabout.

The policeman may have been right. I may never have been able to enter the roundabout but by shoving and being rude :(

Update: The surprising pleasure of not being rude

I stopped at a pedestrian crossing. I had to request the pedestrians to continue walking as they had stopped in the middle of the road upon noticing my car.

I am surprised at how nice it felt. However, there was no car behind me. How often can I expect that?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Much ado about nothing - the fuss over an ordinance.

It is hard go get excited with various news items about the ordinance to not disqualify MP's and MLA's immediately after conviction by lower courts.

After all it gives the convicted leaders an additional time to file an appeal and get a stay. What is another three months after it takes over 20 years to get the conviction or just 17 years in a very high profile case of missing fodder.

As in programming, we emphasize - GIGO. Why worry about when a person gets disqualified. Worry about how such a person gets into the system.

I wish I had statistics to justify my perception.

What is likelihood of the spouse or a child of such a person being elected once the seat is vacated?

Perhaps, the better way to phrase it would be that what is the likelihood of the spouse or child of the convict NOT being elected in his/her place from the same constituency?

Nothing to do with Shakespeare's Much about nothing except that all the drama around the ordinance feels like a farce.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Loving mankind is fine but what about its constituents?

What can one say about people? Here was a news item about ambulances -  Meant to ferry patients, road rage victims themselves - an example:
In Balasore district's Hathigad area last month, an ambulance was called for a victim of snakebite. When the vehicle arrived, at least five relatives of the victim tried to get in. When a member of the ambulance staff pleaded that they could not accommodate more than one attendant, he was beaten until he was nearly unconscious. All five relatives of the victim forced themselves in.
A couple of days ago, I found that a car had parked so that the row behind was inaccessible. My anger at the driver's stupidity subsided soon as I had just seen James Flynn: Why our IQ levels are higher than our grandparents'. I wondered instead why a large part of the Indian population seems to think at the level of great grandparents or even worse. How do people learn to think? In schools or the general environment? Either way, we seem to be failing badly :(

The following sentence from Dostoyevsky's Brothers Karamazov has stayed with me for about 40 years now -
 “I love mankind, he said, "but I find to my amazement that the more I love mankind as a whole, the less I love man in particular.”

Monday, September 23, 2013

Headline I'd prefer - Ban Marriage to Curb Dowry Deaths

The following headline in the Tribune made me want to throw-up - Ban same-gotra marriages to curb honour killings: Khaps.

What can one say about the following sub-headline in the same article -  Ban on wearing jeans - because it is the
 'root cause' of rising incidents of eve teasing
I would like to see the Khaps being made to take a course in biology followed by watching at least the first episode of Richard Dawkin's documentary series "Sex, Death And The Meaning Of Life" - WITH their family.

It is depressing that a newspaper exposes the Khaps' ignorance (ancient wisdom?) on front page without it being a satire.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Tolerating religion - taking the easy option

I came across the following Reading the Bible (Or the Koran, Or the Torah) Will Make You an Atheist from is-this-the-first-honest-bible, which also had this wonderful link God Is Disappointed in You: Original Sin.

I had personally been relieved when the anglican school allowed us to opt out of the bible class and take moral education instead. My teacher was very disappointed. I was the best student. I could answer the questions as expected to the delight of our teacher :) I never had the courage to actually tell him what I thought about what he was teaching us.  Aside from the emotional scar, the content was GIGO.

Similarly, I avoided any argument or discussion about my views of Ramayana. Aside from the childhood memory of loving Rama burning the Ravana effigies on Dussehra, I can't ever recall any appreciation of his actions. I preferred Ramayana Retold by Aubrey Menen. I had read it abroad (my father had bought it). I believe it was banned in India. More recently, I also loved Sita Sings the Blues (on Wikipedia).

Stories from Mahabharata were different. Even Yudhishtra could be made to lie! The moral ambiguities of the heroes were quite a learning experience. The irony of Dron Acharya forcing Eklavya to cut his right thumb and then both of them fight on the same side against Arjun is something which still troubles me.

As a child, I am told I troubled my parents because we visited a temple ruin and there was no priest to give me prasaad. However, for as long as I can remember, I have been extremely uncomfortable whenever I had to go to a temple or any religious place. I tolerated it out of politeness. Even today, I take deep breaths and ignore statements about "god's will" or similar statements as meaningless and not worth offending my neighbours and relations. But, I have to make a strenuous effort to avoid the temptation to respond.

I suppose the content mentioned above had a greater impact today because of the depressing headline about pointless violence in today's paper.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

FM tries to save money while govt funds treatment of IAS officers abroad

This news of Govt to fund treatment of civil servants abroad surprised me. The government officers have been sacrificing for over 60 years now :( I did not expect it.

On the one hand, the timing is a bit surprising given Chidambaram's efforts to economize. On the other hand, the senior officials have more information and may be aware that India will never be able to match its exports to its imports. So, there is no point in persisting in sacrificing their health to save a few dollars.

The news about increased retirement benefits for those over 80 had stated:
According to The Lancet, the average life expectancy in India is 63.2 years for males and 67.5 years for females.
I really would like to have the conditional probability of the life expectancy in India given that the person is a government employee.  But I am too lazy to make the effort to get these statistics.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Prime Minister Communicates in Rajya Sabha - there is hope for Indian parliament

After a long time, I watched Rajya Sabha in session and listened to the Prime Minister's statement about the economic problems and the discussion that followed.

It demonstrated that Manmohan Singh can communicate! It is sad that he does it so rarely. He comes across very nicely in small groups (obviously televised as I have never seen him in person) and interviews  but sounds boring in speeches.

I wish he would have a monthly one-to-one interview, possibly with a different interviewer/channel each month.

I recall the disappointment with V P Singh's talks on TV after he became the PM. Somehow, his language and presentation moved from conversational and inspiring to bureaucratic and stiff. Possibly, TV was a new medium in India and his advisors must have been bureaucrats. Today, he could have seen Obama, Blair, Clinton and realised the alternative styles and ignored the bureaucrats.

V P Singh as PM seemed to talk as a PM was supposed to "talk" - serious and remote. It was sad and that stiffness probably caused his ideas and aims of social justice to be missed by the public. It is ironic that there was no opposition to Mandal after his government fell. I like to believe that discussions on social justice at that time might have resulted in far better mechanisms for positive discrimination to achieve some common aims than the rigidity of reservation percentages.

Back to the discussion in the Rajya Sabha today.

The points raised by the opposition were pertinent though surrounded by verbosity. I wish they would follow the elevator pitch. Were their interventions as precise and pointed as one which would not be longer than an elevator ride, effectiveness would have been far greater. They may even learn from twitter. Raising one pointed issue may raise the level of debate and cause discomfort to the government to a far greater extent.

It was ironic that when the PM responded and pointed out that a functioning parliament is critical for investor confidence, the opposition interrupted him repeatedly. They didn't seem to realise that they were proving the PM's point!

I loved PM's one liner to an interruption I could not hear - "I am not the custodian of files in the coal ministry."

One question which no one asked - why consensus in parliament is needed to improve bureaucratic processes and reduce red tape?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Food security bill, pensions increased for bureaucrats and share the pain fo the retired rest

I had a disturbed night's sleep, quite possibly affected by "Markets give UPA's Food Security Bill a thumbs down, fear its impact on economy". However, that was not the first news which struck me.

The news I noticed was the bureaucrats taking care of their retired bureaucrat parents! No wonder, it is hard to believe the finance minister, Chidambaram, no matter how much one wants to do so. His worst enemies could not have chosen a more symbolic time. My mother's pension will improve but my comfort depends on the economy and if the current trends continue, I will have to be dependent on others or search for a job whether I want to or not :(

It seems petty to question the benefit given to the bureaucrats who have spent their life serving the nation. I recall an episode of the Twilight Zone, where the aliens have come to earth which each one committed to the book "How to serve man". It was a cook book :)

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Our fate: wasted onions in peak time and wasted parliament during session

The handling of food as illustrated by Onions keeps surprising me. Why are we not preserving food?  Another news item a few days ago was even more saddening - In onion belt, BARC unit to increase shelf life lies unused.

We would be happy to use dehyderated onions whenever fresh are too expensive for cooking or even routinely for its convenience. Safal frozen peas has had a significant impact on the way we consume peas. What's puzzling is that what is preventing food processing from taking place. It makes no sense that we keep wasting food in season and paying a high price during shortages.

And our parliament is in uproar over missing files and who should tell that they cannot find them. Though any time I visit a government office, it seems amazing that they can find ANY file!

Our fate appears to be wasted onions in peak time and wasted parliament during session :(

I wonder what would have happened if our currency was part of the Eurozone and instead of the currency rate collapsing, government had to implement a Cyprus-like solution. Perhaps then the discussion in the parliament might have been more pertinent.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Public sector pensions - Generous world wide!

I was somewhat surprised by The Unsteady State of America which I read in the Indian Express. The surprise was that the generous pension which various Indian governments had been offering their employees was not all that unique. (Realistically, it is the government employees who are taking care of themselves.) Even US public sector had been offering pension based on the number of years of service and the last drawn salary!

Governments seem to have been remarkably ignorant of the life expectancy of their people or the financial implications of the long life span.

Government of India tried to offer the same pension option for even private sector employees(mandatory). I wonder what led them to implement it with an absurd limit of Rs. 6500 per month (less than US $ 110 per month) rather than scrap it. My unhappiness with the pension scheme is because all it seems to do is increase the size of bureaucracy while hurting the interests of the "organized sector" employees and doing nothing at all for the informal sector employees.

Monday, July 29, 2013

James Burke's Connections, Laxmibai smoking a hookah offends and the Story of Ekalavya

Watching James Burke's Connections, I was rattled by my lack of exposure to a critical analysis of India's history so that we have a better understanding of why our society stagnated.

The following comment in "Textbook image of Laxmibai smoking hookah sparks row" perhaps indicates why our education is so poor:
The publisher has issued an apology for hurting sentiments of students, teachers, parents, educational institutions and others concerned.
I recall only a minimal description of the period between the "Golden Age of India" and the invasions which followed centuries later. We were taught more about kings and kingdoms and very little about the society  in general. Even if there were no great empires and small kingdoms were fighting each other, why was there so little change in society? What kept India a static society? If the society was rich so that it was attractive for invaders, what did we do with the surplus?

Are some of the reasons for our society's status quo still present?

For example, is Drona really the villain in the story of Ekalavya? We admired Eklavaya and I do not think I have ever come across a criticism of his actions.

Drona seems to act consistently  with the rulers protecting their own position. It is Eklavaya's cutting off his thumb which implies conforming to the society and status quo rather than trying to change it. And we are brought up on Ekalavya being heroic.

I have often felt that in our modern Indian society as well, desire for respect is confused with insistence on obedience.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Some light shines on bureaucracy: Will affidavits and stamp papers disappear?

I wanted to highlight the news 'Unnecessary' affidavits done away with, Punjab counts its gains but couldn't find it after a few days. That is until the news Union ministry wants to do away with affidavits, the Punjab way.

The only disheartening part is that the union ministry needs a concept paper! The nuisance of the stamp papers and affidavits must be obvious to any person who has had to deal with government bureaucracy and that, I am sure, includes the bureaucrats themselves!

I frequently wonder that if the current processes do not encourage lying. It seems from our processes that our statements have no legal binding unless they are on  a Judicial Stamp paper. Hopefully, that is not true but who knows what is present in our laws. Here is a silly example of Baltimore.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Grim reminder of why I stopped commuting and quit teaching

The news about an accident in Kharar between a school bus and a private bus was a painful reminder of my rationale for not continuing to teach a course at IIT, Ropar. This was the route on which I drove :(

I had forgotten the number of times the private buses had terrified me. I was beginning to feel that perhaps I should not have stopped as I find myself not exploring as much of software as I used to.

I wish there were a way to nudge drivers into acceptable and socially responsible behaviour as Stockholm did in handling traffic congestion.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Dealing with Metamorphosis with cards for “tough times” or “extended illness”

I loved this cartoon, probably, created in celebration of the birth anniversary of Kafka.

I had recently reread Kafka's Metamorphosis after a gap of 40 years. It was as powerful an experience as it was 40 years ago. I did not find it quite as gloomy as my recollection of it. However, it definitely follows the Vonnegut's Kafkaesque shape of a story.

One factor which I think I had not appreciated in the early twenties was the reaction of outsiders, that is people other than the family members. It is difficult for people in general to know how to react to such a scenario. So, it is nice that the greeting card industry has found an opportunity to meet the needs of the customers as I found in this article in the Economist. The image on the article is terrific.

However, I am not really certain whether I would prefer a card to indifferent silence.

Pointless differences makes an unhappy tax payer

I discovered yesterday that the salary for government jobs is computed from March to Feb instead of the financial year - April to March.

It doesn't seem like a big deal, except that I had included the March salary in my tax return last year. I had ignored examining the Form 16 as no tax had been deducted for the few months I had taught.

This year's Form 16 included the March salary as well and tax deducted. So, I will have declared one month's salary twice and paid tax on it twice!

I don't think it is the extra tax I am paying  which bothers me. Rather, it is the inconsistent rules which make it easy to violate rules and, thus, creating the fear of bureaucratic hassles. Effectively adding needless anxiety and tension.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Should we punish officers who make the rules instead of the ones who take bribes?

As I read 'Passport verification for sale!', I keep wondering why is there not enough discussion of why our society keeps creating such opportunities.

The key point for me was
However, with a large number of young workers from other parts of India working in the IT and other sectors in Bangalore and needing to travel abroad at short notice....
Even without a short notice, our rules are painful for mobile workforce. IT personnel are very much mobile. They change jobs. They change residences. They change cities.

Even about 5 years ago, I had a tough time opening a new bank account. I was not working full time. I had accounts in other cities but I could not open one locally easily. I succeeded but it would have been even harder if I tried today.

I had a problem trying to register my car. Fortunately, by chance, I got a voter id card just after I bought and replaced the old car.

I once needed to open an account in SBI for what turned out to be an embarrassingly small pension from the PF office. Since my long term plans are to settle in Goa, I tried to open an account in Goa. I own a flat but its address in the sale agreement was in terms of village records and not particularly useful or acceptable by SBI. I had proof of residence for a place in Margao as per my passport. As per the rules, that would have been fine! It did not matter that I did not stay there. However, I would have to open the account in the Margao branch :(

I had a PF account at the same branch but that was not usable for SBI as PF account was an account on behalf of central government and not SBI!

Although I was upset with the SBI officer, but it was not her fault. Fortunately, people in Goa tend to stick to rules.

The real point is - why can't we have a correspondence address and an address for which proof of residence is available. I think it is because our government is too busy  trying to prevent potential illegality that they are oblivious to the inconvenience and irritation to perfectly legal residents. Worse. As the news above implies, perfectly legal citizens are compelled into indulging in, often via an intermediary, in illegalities :(

I can't forget the line of Roman Polanski's Fearless Vampire Killers :
Little did the professor realize that he was carrying away the very evil he had come to destroy
In fact, my biggest disappointment with Manmohan Singh's current government has been that the government has done very little to streamline administration and eliminate pointless rules, which was my understanding of his promise when he became the PM. (Wish I could find a link for that).

Friday, June 28, 2013

Scamming of the retired by insurance companies

Insurance penetration in India is supposed to be low. It is hardly any surprise if I consider my experiences with insurance companies. My father who was over 80 kept getting calls from agents of 2 private insurance companies. I was surprised at their persistence in spite of getting a 'Do Not Disturb' on his landline. It was very frustrating and depressing to get these calls for him even after he passed away.

My small protest was that I have not invested even 1 rupee in even the mutual funds of these companies. After the second experience given below, I requested my children to do the same.

Recently, I tried to help a distant relation, who retired some years ago. He was the target of a very friendly and 'helpful' insurance agent from one of the companies which had pestered my father.

The agent gave him a mountain full of BS getting investments in multiple different policies. My relation believed that these were like fixed deposits to help with the wedding expenses of his children.

Actually, he was paying the first premium of a life insurance policy for over 30 years, where he could get the money if he lived beyond a hundred years! He told me that the agent was such a nice youngster! Since the first instalments were from his retirement benefits, the insurance agent knew perfectly well that it was not possible for the insured to pay the subsequent premiums.

Since my relation did not act in 15 days, all his investments are lost. By the way, all the policy details were in English only. The legalese English in fine print was hard for me to decode as well.

It amazes me that IRDA allows insurance companies to target the retired people. It makes no sense to me for a person to take a life insurance policy after retirement, and, hence, such policies should be banned.

India is not unique. I recently saw a show about the Swiss insurance companies on TV5 Monde where the insurance companies were charging a lot more for the same benefits which were provided by the pension funds!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The end of the Notary Public in sight?

Cornell University's Virtual Notary, I suppose, is another indication of the inevitable - any thing that can be done by 'self-help' will not require any intermediary. There are obvious economic and efficiency benefits though that is normally not what motivates governments. Chances are that social and electoral pressures will force the governments also to fall in line fairly soon.

I am always amazed at the number of lawyers sitting outside the court in Chandigarh on tables in a covered veranda and working as notary publics. Stamping papers, getting standard texts typed on stamp papers. What a waste of education!

Speaking of stamp papers, I am wondering how the Chandigarh administration will handle that requirement when introducing "100 important services to go online"!

Robots, Software, Internet destroying jobs?

Although the Foundation Trilogy made no mention of robots, in the Foundation series, it becomes clear that it is a robot which is guiding and preserving the human race. It would appear that Asimov had greater faith in robots.

It is easy to trust software and robots as they would act as per the laws implemented, whereas humans may state allegiance and adherence to some laws while disregarding them in practice. (This obviously leads to the corollary for software to be open source otherwise how can we possibly trust it.)

My faith in software was emphasized yesterday. I got a call from my satellite tv service provider. I did not understand what the point of the call was and paid little attention. It appeared to be a confirmation of my renewal just two days earlier.

However, I have no idea how the human being interpreted what I said and changed the subscriptions and got rid of the English channels, which are about the only ones I watch on satellite tv - other than Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha TV's.

I now have to struggle with other human beings to get the subscriptions rectified. It is not yet painful enough to switch service providers.

This personal experience illustrates the predicament for human societies. What will most people need to do to live a comfortable life?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Rediscovering Asimov's Foundation Series

I had planned on gifting Isaac Asimov's Foundation trilogy and was surprised to find that it was now a larger series! It was embarrassing to have been so ignorant :(

I had 'lost' interest in science fiction novels after reading the trilogy in my college days. I suspect that no other science fiction novel I came across matched the expectations created by Asimov's novels.

I ordered the additional books from the series for me. It was great fun to read the Foundation's Edge as I felt I was back in my college days - my mind lost in outer space oblivious to the 'reality' around me :)

Monday, June 10, 2013

Unknown tomorrow - no jobs, no place to stay and no destination for migration

It is nice to see a TED talk which confirm one's opinions. The nature of jobs is changing so rapidly that a fairly substantial number of people will be unemployed or poorly paid. It is hard to expect that all humans can become successful at the jobs which seem likely to survive. However, those with wealth do not need to worry. They will be able to own robots and earn a very comfortable living from the work done by the robots.

One wonders what even the near future holds given that there is a lot which is wrong, e.g. in US. The following about China would easily apply to India.
For the outsiders, governmental officials have an "iron bowl" – a steady job and they enjoy relatively high welfare ... each year millions of Chinese applicants sit for exams to become civil servants and compete fiercely for popular posts
Ultimately, rich people choose to emigrate because they feel unhappy living in China. There are too many things that money can't buy, such as good education, clean air, safe food and an investment environment protected by a legal system.
This is a lose-lose situation. Everybody feels unhappy.
It is hard to imagine the quality of life improving in India. The following news item illustrates the desperation:
The day he died, his wife was assured by the police top brass that one of her children would be given a job on compassionate grounds. Much to her chagrin, her two representations requesting the police authorities to grant a job to her 21-year-old daughter have been turned down.
This seems like like an unfortunate example of paternalism - arbitrary action on the part of government using "compassionate grounds" as a justification.

The real reason for a job on compassionate grounds is " she is looking for ways and means to retain the accommodation given by the police department". The value of government accommodation is obviously very high.

Given the strain of our population, I find it hard to be optimistic that the future is brighter for those who chose to stay in India.

May be migration to Mars is an option worth considering.

Counterproductive law - abetment to suicide?

Suicide is an emotionally disturbing experience not just for the friends and family of the victim but also for the society as a whole.

Every time I read that the police has arrested someone for abetment of suicide or the family is complaining of police inaction in spite of the suicide note, it disturbs me.

Is the law itself not an abetment to suicide? If the victim feels utterly helpless in life, doesn't the law give hope of punishment for the tormentors after death?

I wonder if such a law even exists in other countries. I do not recall ever reading about such cases elsewhere.

It would be better if the punishment is for acts which would have been punishable even if the person were alive. The victim's statement is a piece of evidence.

A better society would have provided avenues for the evidence to be examined while the victim were still living.


Another reason is that it may affect normal behaviour - at least it did mine.

It caused me anxiety. The newspapers were writing about suicides among IIT students. I had to fail a student whom I hardly knew. He rarely attended classes and did not submit assignments. It was not what is expected of a student. Although my anxiety was misplaced, it made the unpleasant task of failing someone far harder.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Board exams and ranks and admissions and insanity

When I read news items like the following Lack of uniformity raises questions, I am reminded of the  wonderful definition of Insanity:
Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results.
It puzzles me how anyone can create a system where you mix a common exam with a local exam and expect the result to be uniform. This is a process begging to be 'gamed'! The system so obviously lacks transparency and accountability. However, perfect 10's create pages and pages of news.

It had bugged me when I started teaching when this gaming of the system was used as a justification for the impossibility of internal evaluation to be fair. Even if there is a reluctance to move entirely to an internal system, where the degree explicitly mentions the name of the institute, even the alternate option of reporting two separate marks was never even considered.

Companies face the same concerns with ranking of employees. A common solution is to force each division/department to rank employees based on a common quota. This is certainly not a practice without criticism. If even a comparatively homogeneous group like the Microsoft cannot have an unambiguous best practice for ranking, a school board should not even attempt it.

Let each school rank its own students. Let each recruiting institution weigh the comparative ranks of students across schools. Most importantly, let each institution have its own measure for deciding whom to recruit/admit.

How many universities in India would have the freedom to admit someone like Rahul Gandhi or Ratan Tata without a suitable rank on some uniform list? It would be regarded as unfair. Whereas an institution with even minimal flexibility would jump at the opportunity of having a powerful alumnus and, even more important, providing networking opportunities to its students.

Lets face it. Admission of the best students would not create the best institution. To keep believing it is another symptom of insanity.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

How to hide from Big Data?

Fortunately, I am not using twitter so I am safe for a while from marketeers targeting my personality  :)

I am looking forward to a blogger providing a list of words which I may use in the blogs to ensure that the new software is assured that I am a part of the "neuroticism" segment of no commercial value to direct marketeers in conformity with 
the new software has the potential to serve people as individuals rather than “vague demographic blurs”.

HIt and run - What about the victims?

I seem to have become more conscious of the plight of victims after watching documentaries on this topic on TV5 Monde. This line stared at me: "the family of one of the injured children may have to sell their hut in a slum to raise money for their daughter's surgery" in a story about hit and run.

I wish the focus would change from "whom to punish" to "how to help".

Shouldn't the society mandate free immediate treatment for victims. The hospitals should recover money from insurance companies or the government in case no insurance claim is possible.

Government being the default payer would appear to be fair as it is an obvious failure of governance if the car cannot be located or was being driven without insurance.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Poor weak men - mannequins are the cause

What can one add to this piece of remarkable wisdom -
Tawade said the display of inadequately clothed mannequins was indecent and could lead to "wrong acts" by men.
Update: See this talk  Jackson Katz: Violence against women—it's a men's issue instead for a far discussion of far greater relevance on this serious social problem.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Why not less charity and more taxes?

I wasn't exactly convinced by Peter Singer. I still donate to a charity for children as a personal 'goal' and to another one for old people as my father liked to do. I probably give more than I used to simply because I am now better off. However, I do it to avoid the guilt of not giving to road side beggars. I lost the comfort of giving after this incident in a crematorium.

The idea of even the need for 'effective altruism' bothers me. Why are NGO's preferable to government? I prefer the views expressed here. I would like to pay more taxes and see that the government works. Some corruption or pilferage of funds is probably no worse than overheads of charities. Obviously not in moral terms but in the quantum of money which is actually spent on the desired objectives.

It isn't that NGO's or Charities are irrelevant. Rather, I am bothered by the perception that government is not relevant.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

'We’re coming after you' - taxman warn

Reading 'We’re coming after you' - taxman warn, I started to wonder what drives human motivation.

What if the Forbes list of Richest People was based on the quantum of direct taxes paid by an individual?  Wouldn't people want to be on it?

Monday, May 13, 2013

Delhi University Changes - Contentless Discussions

Reading "Delhi University VC makes his case for shift to four-year undergraduate courses" led to the same uncomfortable feeling I have had for several weeks now. Here was still another issue which seems important to me and, yet, I cannot understand the discussions around it. I had switched out of a discussion on even Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha TV (which have a much higher signal to noise ration than the private channels) as it seemed irrelevant to the concern of how to ensure that students learn and are well equipped to deal with the current world. The changes suggested now might have been meaningful if done at least 3 decades ago. (See An Indian education? for an view of the current state.)

There is no discussion around ideas like MOOC, learning from each other students as explored by Sugata Mitra or learning from failures as explored by various speakers at TED Talks.

How do you prepare students for employment if you have no idea of what skills the jobs will need. Possibly by encouraging each college to try its own strategy and never forgetting that failures are great for learning.

The other current issue which makes me feel very stupid is that I can't understand the 'scam' in coal scam. Incompetent governance yes but ?

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Ironic: Garbage - those who don't need it, want it!

Today's news: "Oslo has a problem: Shortage of garbage to generate power"

Norway has oil and gas as well. We have very little oil and gas but a lot of garbage and few plants to process the garbage! On warm days, I can smell the garbage in Chandigarh when we go for a walk. The odour is definitely stronger than that of roses in Rose Garden :(

I suppose no one wants a garbage disposal plant in their neighbourhood just as they don't want a nuclear plant in their neighbourhood. I wouldn't want to live downstream a hydroelectric dam either.

So, until we have fewer people so that we have space, we may need to find a way to send the garbage to Oslo in exchange for some barrels of oil :)

Some more news of robots making the rich in US richer! A big emotional advantage will be that the consumers won't have to feel guilty about cheap clothes from Bangladesh where people have to work in high risk environment.

Hope Danes do not dismantle their welfare state but others learn from it

I read this news about the welfare state of Denmark with a lot of interest. The tone of the report was distinctly negative. It implies that something is wrong - the state is discouraging people from working.

It seems to me that the Danes are well off because they have hit upon the solution for the modern predicament - jobless growth! I may agree with Erik Brynjolfsson: The key to growth? Race with the machines; however, I find it hard to believe that all or even most human beings can be productively employed in a robotic future.

People may be able to spend their time, exactly as I am doing - writing a blog, reading and sharing news, spending some time on Google+ and, even, Facebook. But I am not earning anything from these activities. I have earned this 'right' to do nothing by 'retiring'. Society may have to face up to the reality that a fair fraction of the population will never be employed as appears to be happening in Spain.

I have to admit that anyone can do well in the new economy - what else can one say about Honey Boo Boo. Logic, though, tells us that anyone can does not imply everyone will. The best anti-dote for optimism remains A Cool Million!

New industries like Google, Facebook need an audience and content creators - an audience who are in a position to spend money making it worthwhile for advertiser to pay these companies.  We may have trouble doing so in India but the richer countries should be able to pay people to spend time on social media instead of working just like they pay farmers to not grow food. If the option boils down to dying or paying higher corporate taxes, the latter is bound to win.

I was surprised to find that the concept of negative income tax has been around so long and even more surprised that one of its first proponents was Milton Friedman.

Negative income tax may interesting side effects, e.g. better services. People may work in a coffee shop or a bar not to earn money but to interact with people. Many jobs may move from their lowly economic status to a higher socially conscious status. I recall reading that a prominent author worked as a nightwatchman so that he could work on his novel in peace!

For Indians in India, the future does not look rosy. We need to accept that robots are cheaper even in China! This news confirms the absurdity of the idea of demographic dividend. We have a large unemployed and unemployable population, unfit even for blogging or creating YouTube videos. It seems absurd to brag about it rather than working frantically to reduce population growth and move towards Danish style welfare state when each of us becomes a socially conscious rag-picker.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Cyprus Crisis and the Realisation that we are Poorer

A tax on bank account savings seemed so strange that I was wondering who could have thought of it.

I then had the opportunity to send a gift to New Zealand. I would not have noticed the exchange rate except that we had received a gift from New Zealand just a year ago. And how I wish the sequence of events was inverted. The New Zealand dollar was worth about Rs. 35 then and about Rs. 45 now :(

So, effectively, I am poorer by almost 30% and I wish I could swap places with Cypriots and pay 10% but only  of my bank deposits! But I am sure that paying the 10% would have hurt a lot more than the Indian rupee going downhill :(

Monday, March 11, 2013

Robots will do the work but who will own them?

In the good old days, the Noblemen had a great time. Their serfs and slaves did the work while they appreciated the good things of life.

We won't need slaves. Robots will do just fine. There is just one little hitch. Will we be the owners of the robots. Not likely if we look at these statistics.

So, I suppose without any job or the wealth generated by the robots, we can spend our time creating content for youtube or facebook and, even better, consuming the content.

This brings up a contradiction. These sites need enough of us to click on ads and SPEND money. Unfortunately, most of us may not have any!

So, is the future bright with robots removing the drudgery or bleak with most of us surviving on dole - even if we are very well educated.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Robots are coming. Are we safe?

Computers and robots are taking over many of the jobs. This is very nicely and positively presented by Andrew McAfee: Are droids taking our jobs?

I was reminded today of IBM's Watson becoming a chef.

In the 60's, the Avengers had a lovely episode in which the computer churns out romance novels with just a few parameters. It wouldn't be a surprise today if it is revealed that the computer software is already assisting a prolific author.

While digital version of Audrey Hepburn may not match the original, I may prefer the digital Audrey to many real life alternates :)

But one thing is still assured. Most organizations want us and not robots to consume their content. Watson may create the recipe but we will need to eat the outcome. Computer programs may create books or videos but we will be needed to read and view them.

We seem to be safe. Robots and computer software will need us to give relevance and meaning to their creations.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Waiting for Streaming TV Options

It is very disappointing. I look forward to 6:30 to 8:30 on weekdays to watch TV5 Monde's fiction programs. Today, the channel disappeared.

I had been surprised to find that the local cable was broadcasting TV5 Monde and DW after switching to digital cable. I was worried that the cable operator may have been sending these signals out of ignorance. My fears for these channels may have been correct.

It is particularly painful to realize that better television exists but we are stuck with 100's of un-watchable options :(

I wonder when we will have streaming options available in India. 

Update - The channels have re-appeared after 3 days. I hope they will stay :)

Friday, March 1, 2013

Shouldn't society be more helpful to victims of crime?

Two crime news items struck my attention, especially with a show I saw on TV5 Monde this week. 

The first news was about a person accused under the IT act possibly because the police did not know that the American date format is mmddyy and not ddmmyy :) A fairly obvious case of mistaken identity creating havoc in the life of an ordinary person.

The second news was the arrest of a landlord for not getting antecedents of his tenants checked! The tenants got into a fight and murdered a neighbour. As it is, getting someone to give accommodation on rent is very-very hard. I am sure filing papers with police will make it even harder and it is very doubtful if it makes the city any safer. I would be inclined to look at the landlord as a victim of the crime. His life is bound to be affected by what his tenants did.

The show on French tv was about victims of crime. In this episode, it was identity theft. One woman discovers that she is supposedly married when she tried to get married! Some woman had used her identity to get married. Why would one need to do that? Anyway, the victim has been struggling to get her past cleaned up.

In another incident, someone had defrauded a lot of banks by overdrawing on accounts by using the identity of a person. He is now stranded without any credit cards and is trying to clean up his fake past. He has to suffer little indignities like his clients looking at him strangely when he pays a large restaurant bill in cash!

It is easy to find that huge sums of money are spent on fighting crime and punishing criminals. Usually, few object to spending even more for these activities. Yet, I am not sure if any money at all is spent by the society in helping the victims.

Wouldn't it be more reasonable to accept that given human nature and our knowledge of biology, some crime will happen. Shouldn't we balance the expenditure - spend less on hopelessly trying to eliminate crime and spend some money on helping the victims cope.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A Shootout over Parking near City Beautiful - Inevitable

The first news I noticed today was about a shooting in Mohali over a quarrel over parking. I can sympathize with the victims family as I have bottled up a lot of anger against neighbours who have at least 4 cars and we have had to learn how to park and take out our car with relatively complex maneuver for people our age.

The sadness is that the people who can have many expensive cars can show off their wealth by buying such vehicles. However, they are not well off enough to buy or rent a place where they can park such objects of 'desire'. Actually, come to think of it, people like us could not possibly have bought the place where we are staying were it not for our grandparents' and parents' foresight -  even if accidental.

So, the general hostility towards even 4 storey "high rises!" amuses and saddens me. It is indeed highly undesirable to have tiny plots with 4 storeys with narrow roads leading up to them. Solution would be to find ways by which a whole area can be redeveloped rather than merely blocking haphazard growth. If no solution is allowed, people will find ways of circumventing the rules.

I used to work on the 4th floor(ground + 4) of a building in the commercial heart of Chandigarh - Sector 17. Each block consists of adjoining but independent plots. So, each little building has a narrow, ugly stairway. Our building had a non-functional lift, most likely because it was too expensive to maintain. In general, the ground floor is very  valuable but, I expect, that the upper floors are not.

What if the all the adjoining plots were consolidated and a single complex built. It would be economical to have nice lifts, escalators, toilet facilities and each floor would be commercially valuable. Everyone but the shops on the ground floor would benefit.

The same setup is true for each of the markets in each sector. Originally, the space above the shop was probably intended for the residence of the shop owners. I know of only one such instance now in our sector's market.  The sector markets need urgent redevelopment. Most shoppers even from within the sector come on cars and not walk. The shop owners have cars. The parking is a mess. The traffic flow is already chaotic.

And we still advertise is as city beautiful and want to insist that everything should be as per the original Le Corbousier plan :(

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Digital cable and discovering European channels

I was saddened by the disappearance of BBC Entertainment from India. Hence, it was quite a surprise to channel surf and find German channel DW in English and TV5 Monde, French with English subtitles on many of the shows.

The first pleasure is the pleasure of watching a show without interruptions. I think I have not had that experience since watching PBS in US 40 years ago! And I do not have to run to decrease volume during the announcements! It is such a civilized experience :)

I like the documentaries as they offer a different perspective. E.g. there was a show about crime or rather its impact on the victims. I am also delighted to find that French cinema has not been taken over by Hollywood. The story matters and is not overwhelmed by special effects. I had loved French cinema in the 60's and 70's, especially the New Wave, and could watch films by Truffaut, Rohmer, Bresson, Bunuel and more any number of times :)

I wanted to give feedback to Rajya Sabha TV and Lok Sabha TV where the interruptions seem unnecessary. However, the feedback form asks for too much information and, at the end of it, it mentioned that I had entered an incorrect character and I could not find any. I had just used [0-9a-zA-Z,.]. At best there may have been an enter as well. It doesn't matter as the suggestion would have been ignored anyway.

I like these channels as they often have discussions which are not shouting matches, speakers being interrupted in mid-sentence and obnoxious behaviour by the comperes. There is, though, an unfortunate trend to follow the commercial channels and make the shows look similar with multiple windows and occasional aggressive behaviour.

Even DD could dispense with ads and schedule a break between shows where longer informative commercials could be shown. I saw such a commercial on DW of Frankfurt Airport and I watched it!

My father did not like it but I would have liked to have been born a European - well, actually, a Finn!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Is there hope for living a good life in Chandiarh?

It doesn't take any psychic abilities to know that Chandigarh residential areas are headed in the direction of the terrific colonies like Greater Kailash and South Ex in New Delhi.

It is a matter of time before we will be fighting with neighbours over which part of the road is meant for whose car.

The houses belonged to my grandparents' and parents' generation. They are passing on to the hands of my children's generation. It is inevitable that the need for additional accommodation has arisen and municipality is rising to the needs of the people. It has allowed additional area to covered and provided additional fsi.

Of even greater significance is the need to unlock the value of the land when the inheritors are scattered across the world. We see houses around us demolished to be replaced by lovely flats. As it is, we are inconvenienced by our neighbours who have at least 4 cars. The honking of vehicles trying to make their way into and out of the colony irritates me to no end. The inconvenience is bound to increase.

Hopefully, we will go back to Goa and take a place in a quiet village by the time living in our neighbourhood becomes an aggravation.

But does it have to follow the inevitable route? We can't wish away the population or the rising land prices which make the conversion to flats such an attractive proposition. However, nature will find solutions even if we don't. Take this extract from the Wikipedia on Rennaisance as an example:
The demographic decline due to the plague had some economic consequences: the prices of food dropped and land values declined by 30 to 40% in most parts of Europe between 1350 and 1400.[38] Landholders faced a great loss but for ordinary men and women, it was a windfall. The survivors of the plague found not only that the prices of food were cheaper but also found that lands were more abundant, and that most of them inherited property from their dead relatives.
 I have actually been fascinated by high rises. While high rise slums as seen in crime films and tv serials look depressing, living in a lovely flat in Manhattan was a very attractive experience. What if the city decided that the fsi would be based on the area of the plot which is covered. Lower the covered area, higher the fsi. Also, what if the whole block of houses could be torn down and the entire block rebuilt with high rises. Each block would have open spaces to play and socialise. The parking would be within the building. Even  shopping complexes and office spaces could be within the building. It would be a different lifestyle. Not like the old days of Chandigarh but, mercifully, not like Greater Kailash and South Ex either.

But I am sure the path of reconstructing block as high rises will just not happen - at least not in my lifetime.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Please don't make Panaji into a 'world class' city

One of the  benefits of digital cable is that they are showing France's tv5monde and Germany's! It is remarkable how much better the viewing experience is without ads.

A few days ago, I came across a show on competition on tv5monde - LE VILLAGE PRÉFÉRÉ DES FRANÇAIS:
There are 22 villages, each more beautiful than the last. Each charming town offers a unique experience (rural, coastal, natural preserve, etc.). Each one has an extraordinary historical and cultural heritage. But which one was voted THE favourite village by the French?
It would be nice to have such a competition in Goa - probably the only state in India where the villages aand towns are actually comfortable. It may result in the once lovely places like Calangute and Candolim trailing badly and, hopefully, changing the mindset of the people.

I felt saddened by the failure of Skybus Metro as some facility like that is needed in order to discourage the migration of people towards urban centers. I wish politicians would consciously avoid making Panaji a 'world class city'; however, that is highly unlikely.

Urbanization results in phenomenal growth in the property values and how else can one get :
..holding company had assets worth Rs 287 crore as of end-March 2012 — much of it in cash — up from only Rs 43 crore at the end of March 2008.
Quite possibly all the success by just having advance information(insider trading?).

Thought Control the Goal? : Censured for irresponsibly expressing "ideas" that could hurt people

The day started badly. I looked at the newspaper and two headlines stared at me -
I was already depressed. I am reading A Clockwork Orange. The blurb on the back says -
"I do not know any other author who has done as much with language ...a very funny book' William S. Burroughs
I haven't searched for the original quote but that is obviously a statement out of context. I can't believe that Burroughs could have ever meant 'funny' - not even like Dr. Strangelove. Anyway, the book was ordered online and the blurb on the back had no influence on me except now to increase my irritation at marketeers.

I can't help but wonder if anyone in India would have allowed this book to be published. As per the introduction, Burgess had felt guilty that perhaps the book might have had an influence on the cult of violence. He shouldn't have as I doubt if even a single person indulging in mindless violence had ever read his book or even heard of him.

A Clockwork Orange and Dr. Strangelove are two unforgettable films by Stanley Kubrick. So, when my son saw A Clockwork Orange in the US recently, my interest in it was revived and I became curious about the chapter left out by Kubrick in the film. Now that I am retired, I can sit in the sun and read this phenomenal, though hard to read, book.

The book is even more relevant today as I avoid looking at the daily doze of news items about 'ultra-violence', which make me cringe.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Commercialisation of special days

The first caller to wish me today for our wedding anniversary was a woman from our car dealer! It took me a while to realise why she was calling! After wishing me for our anniversary, she asked me if I would like to share my birthdate! I politely declined.

Afterwards I was trying to recollect when and why would I have shared the wedding date with the car dealer. May be I had been hoping they would send a cake or a bottle of wine :)

Monday, January 14, 2013

Ignorence is bliss as per Mumbai Police chief?

The headline "Sex education leads to more crimes against women, says Mumbai police chief" was obviously striking. My immediate reaction was - what would Martin Beck think? I was already sad and depressed after having finished reading the series yesterday.

The sadness was not just because I now had no more novels of Sjowall and Wahloo but, more so, because as Martin Beck's career progressed, his bosses became more insufferable and incompetent.

As Martin Beck says to his soul mate who finally leaves the police force in disillusionment that a decade ago when the nationalization (centralization) of the police force began is the time when the decay started. Sadly, our nation also seems to want CBI to do every investigation :(

The key message, though, for me was that violence in society cannot be solved by increasing violence by the police. That would instead set an example to be followed. It also results in alienation of the police from the public.

We can see the difference - Martin Beck started as a cop on the beat. The recruits by the end of the series were represented by the example of Kenneth Kvastmo.

The "illustrious" example of Bulldozer Olsen can be seen in the recent harassment of Aaron Swartz - only worse.

Returning to the headline, I am at a complete loss at what to make of it except that "Ignorance is bliss"! It would be a terrific joke were it not a representation of closed minds. There should be more sex education so that the social values are harmonious with biological and psychological imperatives.


Saturday, January 12, 2013

Waiting for Godot - oops - Cooking Gas Cylinder Repairman

I hope Shekhar Gupta is right that Indians are now willing to pay. This would require enough people who are not able to expedite service thanks to either their connections or their wealth. However, they have to be well off enough to be able to pay.

Our gas cylinder consumption is fairly low. It would not be much of a dent in our standard of living if we were to pay the market rates. Would we volunteer to forego the subsidy - Heck no! Would we go to an alternate supplier who provided good service - Very likely yes.

Replacement cylinder was leaking. The emergency number of the distributor did not work. The phones to the office invariably said that the person is on his way. It will take 20-25 minutes. A typical north Indian response - yes, it is being done. How does one respond even if one knows that it is just bullshit.

On a number of occasions, the repairman has come and changed a rubber ring. For the life of me, I cannot understand why the refill factories have such a poor quality control. It would seem like a trivial process that the rubber gasket should be routinely replaced on each refill. After all, gas leak is a risk.

I was also wondering if anyone has ever sued Indian Oil for a gas cylinder tragedy?

I hope private gas suppliers can resume operations. They were a boon for me when I was transferred to Bangalore in the late 90's.

Friday, January 11, 2013

An Interaction on Open Source - what a disappointment

I got an email from a government official that he wanted to discuss open source with me. I was flattered. Just to make sure that it did not have to do with the Institute, I mentioned that I had stopped teaching.

I got his call the next day. He mentioned that he had accidentally come across the web site and had seen an ad for position requiring open source experience!

I was wondering why he was interested as the position was not that high. It transpired that he was searching for a job for his son. That in itself was a sufficient indication for me to conclude that his son must be incompetent.

However, I was not in the picture and told him so. The job details and the process which needed to be followed was on the web site. So, what was the problem? The due date had expired and he wanted me to help.

He insisted on telling me about his son's degrees and experience in open source of half a dozen years. He seemed to expect that the rules would be bent for him.

I was beginning to feel irritated and it took some patience to politely get him to stop talking to me and contact someone else.

I hope his son is not incompetent and has taken his current job to be as far from his parents as possible :)

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Sleepless night, a blocked nose and society's problems

It has been bitter cold in Chandigarh. I woke up with a nightmare. There were hijras outside my home. The gist of the nightmare was that they demanded the right to dance in celebration of my sons' weddings and demand money unless I could prove that I had already paid hijras in the towns where the weddings took place.

I have never been able to figure out why Punjabis created this sick custom and how anyone living in the society can avoid it.

I had a blocked nose and felt miserable. The mind wandered from one problem of our society to another and the harassment we fear we may face.

Finally, what if I were to sell the place where I stay and move to a warmer location? From what I gather, getting out of real estate in India is not easy  for anyone not knowing what to do with cash!

I could finally sleep when I thought that government should allow a seller to declare a higher value for the sale of his property than the buyer and deposit the cash in a bank. The seller can pay the usual tax on the excess amount and be free to use it in any way he chooses.

Ah, we can have dreams not just nightmares :)

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The culture of privileges

In 2008, Punjab had introduced special police stations for the convenience of NRIs. I wonder if they were ever created or are still present.

Now, the government has another plan for the privileged NRI's -
The card holder will also get preferential treatment at various reputed hospitals, schools and commercial establishments.
And the obvious implication given the resource constraints - the rest of us should be prepared for worse treatment :)

Still, it is not as brilliant a step in governance as donating to a privileged school.

First Day of the Rest of my Life - Retiring

I handed over the key and completed various formalities. I will no longer be working(teaching) even part time. It is a relief though with a little disappointment of ending on failure.

The primary reason for quitting was the risk of driving 50KM each way to IIT Ropar from Chandigarh and I do not think one can regard fear of driving on Indian roads as irrational - unlike the fear of radiation making Japanese children fat.

The risk has to commensurate to the reward and the reward was not sufficient. For my courses, very few students gave feedback which was quite positive and said that they learnt a lot. However, my perception was that these students would have learnt anyway and I am not sure I made any impact on the rest. They remained indifferent.

On the other hand, at an IIT, I could experiment. Each semester I tried something different which by the end of the semester left me dissatisfied. However, each disappointment gave rise to ideas which I could try in the next semester. Hence, had Ropar been closer to Chandigarh, I would have continued the experiments even if the results continued to disappoint. May be one day I would have found the right combination by which the students would have learnt instead of me.

Who knows, I may get bored with retired life and then what next?