Monday, June 30, 2014

Little things - from Rickshaws to Hyderabad Blues

  1. From my  childhood, I have been reading about improving the lot of the rickshaw pullers by improving the rickshaws. And now this hi-tek version :) Not have driven a rickshaw, I am not sure if there has been any significant improvement; however, I doubt if any of them is made using lightweight composite materials or even aluminium. We are probably too poor to use such technology.
  2. Then there was this news of insistence on loudspeakers which reminded me of the last scene of Hyderabad Blues! I suppose most people implicitly realise that its the neighbours who matter as god probably does not exist or doesn't really care.
  3. Then there was the bank official who said that there was no connectivity. The passbooks printed so I went back to him and said that it has now come. Then, he said that it will take time, come back in the afternoon. Why can't I just get a pdf online :( But then I would not have any sense of achievement - so, thanks, bank officer.
  4. I improved my mood by stopping at a pedestrian crossing and letting the people pass. It is amusing to see the bewildered faces of people when I indicate to them to continue crossing :) By the way, I had made sure that there was no vehicle behind me before stopping.

High tech company: Wrong emails containing wrong email address to contact if a problem

I got a very cryptic and confusing email from a mobile company. It took me a while to confirm that I had never had a sim with the mobile number mentioned. So, I was the wrong recipient. I ignored it.

I got a second time the same email. Wanting to be helpful, I tried the following:

1. Replied to the email. It bounced.

2. Noticed that there was a helpful message to forward the email to mailman... in case it is not meant for me. Guess what. It bounced as well :)

It can't be that hard to make sure that a 'helpful' message attached to each email contains correct information.

I kept getting financial statements for a loan by someone in a small town. Since no one bothered to do anything about the replies I sent, I added a filter to direct all mails from that company to the bin.

Should do that for this company as well!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

fyup - What's the fuss other than the awkward abbreviation

My experiences with conventional higher education have been disillusioning. The Delhi University's Four Year program was at least an effort to be different even though it did not address the centralized examination system which, in my opinion, is the single most important cause of lack of learning and waste of time.

Education in US forced me to study various subjects across disciplines though I would have opted out of them at that age. I was definite that I would spend my life at a university teaching and researching physics and nothing else mattered! Fortunately, it wasn't to be.

However, there is little doubt in my mind that the most useful courses for me have been philosophy (ethics), psychology (especially behavioural) , social sciences (e.g having to read Nathaniel West's A Cool Million in a capitalist society).

Had I succeeded in the corporate world, I may have even found the Physical Education course I took(Golf) useful, which incidentally brought down my GPA.

The whole discussion seems to be entangled and procedural. I did not find it interesting except that there seems to be a feeling that foundation courses and exiting after 2 years are of no use at all.

Our society is accustomed to hiring over-qualified people just because they are available cheaply. However, what are the skills needed for most service sector job, e.g. retail, sales people, customer facing staff in any organization, general call centre employees, etc.

  • Communication skills
  • Ability to deal with people (psychology)
  • Functional mathematics
  • Ability to work with computers
    • functional literacy  - keyboard usage, GUI interfaces, browsing skills, understand error messages, etc.
    • NOT programming skills.
What else are the foundation courses?

However, can any university prepare us for the robotic future?

If the debate focused on education for the future in a world where software eats all jobs, that would be enlightening! Optimistic, Inequality, Plausible and likely, Pessimistic, and Bleak fiction by Marshall Brain.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Reconstruct Markets and not Convert Pedestrian spaces for Emergency Vehicles

A Dedicated Corridor for Emergency Vehicles seems like a bizarre solution as a response to the recent difficulties faced in fighting a major fire.

If a vehicle can reach some place, experience in India tells us that vehicles will be parked there!

Even if they have an alert tow-away service to make sure that no vehicle blocks the emergency corridors, how will it be applicable in any other sector's market?

I worked for  a while in one such building in sector 17 of Chandigarh. The stairway was dingy and narrow. Most stairways I have been in Sector 17 remind me of ugly urban structures in urgent need of renewal.

Why not let one or more blocks be redeveloped as a single integrated complex with adequate parking within the complex, wide stairways and conveniences like escalators and elevators.

Imagine a software firm constructing a high rise workplace with upper floors as residential flats and restaurants on the lower floors :)

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Healthcare - spend on prevention not cure

Where should we spend more money - on primary health care or advanced care? In my view, obviously the former!

Why not to spend more money on exclusive hospitals:

It is painful to read "More patient-friendly steps at PGI" after our personal experience of over a dozen years ago. A doctor in Goa had given an opinion that a biopsy  was suspicious. We were coming to Chandigarh anyway on a holiday, so decided to combine the medical concerns with the holiday. The result:
  • The worst vacation of my life
  • At least 2 visits to PGI every week
  • Each visit took at least half a day
  • Chaotic conditions and lack of empathy for patients was the norm
  • Net result - zilch
We decided to return to Goa and not extend our stay. After returning, we got an appoint in Manipal hospital.

Spent just a day. The doctors said that the original suspicion just doesn't make sense on the basis of the slide and were surprised that no doctor at PGI had told us that. Immediate treatment for infection with a follow up advised after 3 months, just as a precaution.

Why spend money on primary care:

A routine examination showed elevated levels of sugar. The fear of diabetes was enough to make me conscious of our diet.
  • In spite of being bombarded with ads, stopped eating even a little snack with evening tea
  • Sought out information about diet - e.g. Sugar the Bitter Truth and cut out items like sugary drinks(even in the summer heat) and even topped eating ketchup. The quantum of sugar in ketchup came as a shock.
  • Read food labels with greater care - e.g. the "healthier" looking Brown bread was nothing more than sugar added for caramelisation to the atta bread! A lousy marketing signal that worked till awareness dawned :(
Makes one wonder how to ensure that the economic growth does not result in the excessive growth of fast food industry and entertainment industry which pushes us to ill-health.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

We don't need enemies. An anonymous blogger will do.

I am reminded of a cartoon in my professor's office ages ago on reading this news about violence in Pune. The cartoon was of a scientist stabbing himself in the back and the caption read, "No one else can do a better job".

The sadness of such mob behaviour does not  even need the justification that a peaceful society needs tolerance of free speech as a safety valve.

Anyone with even minimal skills can write anything on the web by creating pseudonyms or anonymous posts. The person may be a resident of Timbuktu or may even be a bot designed for flaming.

What does bewilder me is that how does the mob come across such posts? May be the mob leader has set a google alert for them?

For anyone with any doubt about what a bot can do, Turing test passed!

"The Turing Test is a vital tool for combatting that threat. It is important to understand more fully how online, real-time communication of this type can influence an individual human in such a way that they are fooled into believing something is true... when in fact it is not." (

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Why can't we go up, after all our population has gone sky high

I feel very sad every time I read news like this:

While Panjab University will be allotted 100 acres in Kajheri and the area vacated after razing Colony Number 5, the PGIMER will be given 150 acres in the Sarangpur institutional area.
Confirming the development, UT Chief Architect Sumit Kaur said: “The PGIMER will be allocated land only in the institutional area, which may be split in parts.”
A senior UT official said PGIMER Director Prof YK Chawla had requested for land area closest possible to the existing campus in view of the emergency involved in patient care and quick commutation of staff and patients.
The  reason is that we as a society seem to be remarkably closed minded, not just to the idea of building up. Building up does not mean arbitrary increase in height of buildings. It is a conscious decision which may allow a far easier and more economical provision of infrastructure for a reasonably comfortable life. For example,
UPDATE: Came across the problem of garbage in the  garden city.

I find it very difficult to believe that
Simple solutions could lend themselves to cities across India. First, the city’s waste collectors should put a stop to picking up organic waste. These have to be composted in houses or within building communities.
I just don't see how millions of us can handle organic garbage within a house or a small complex. Had it been simple and economical, it would have spread virally. All people I know want to have clean surroundings. Most homes do not even have a garbage disposal unit like an InSinkErator for convenient disposal of waste food, which stinks a lot and very soon.