Sunday, December 28, 2014

Getting Lost on the Highway

After a 2400 Km drive spread over 8 days, I can say that the road travel in India has become far simpler and safer with divided highways.

On the highways (NOT in the towns we passed through), driving shows greater discipline and courtesy than I would have expected. But one has to accept that it is perfectly safe, or even safer, to overtake from the wrong side:) The driver should just accept it and not feel any guilt for violating the road laws - no policeman in India is likely to give a ticket for it.

I got lost once but it was my own stupidity. After Jaipur, the next convenient halt was Bhilwara. I got on the road to Ajmer. I was pretty sure I was on the right route - it was going to Udaipur and the route I had selected, thanks to Google maps, was the shortest/best route to Udaipur from Jaipur. After a while, I noticed signs indicating the distance to Beawar - it seemed a little nearer than I had expected Bhilwara to be.

My mind had made a discovery - given the fondness of our politicians to change names, Bhilwara's name must have been changed to Beawar. I was so convinced about this discovery that I did not think it worthwhile to stop and confirm it. I had not noticed any major turning, so this route had to be right.

On reaching Beawar, I tried to find the hotel, only to discover to my embarrassment that I was a 100Km from where I was supposed to be. A state highway connected the two - it was narrow, often very rough road, occupied frequently by goats.

I had missed a turning - there was a sign for going to Shrinager. But how was I to know that it was not an exit to a small town but a exit to a highway?

A lesson learnt!

Moral hazard of going to a Goan Wedding

It was in 1964 at the wise age of 14 influenced by the flower generation, I became a vegetarian and have remained so for half a century. I had found solace in G B Shaw's statement
  “I do not want to make my stomach a graveyard of dead animals.”    George Bernard Shaw

Yesterday, I became aware of having eaten a tiny chicken sandwich soon after eating it. I drowned my sorrow with another glass of beer.

I can't help but wonder would it have been so hard for the wedding organizers to have an option of a vegetarian snacks plate? Or am I being unduly difficult?

Anyway, I was mentally prepared to leave before dinner knowing that the buffet won't open till well after my bedtime and I did :)

However, this is the wedding I am not likely to forget because I ate a chicken sandwich!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The start of disillusionment with Delhi Metro

I just returned from Delhi. In my last trip, I was amazed at the ease with which I could visit my relations using the Delhi Metro and at my age. It was particularly impressive to see young people get up without being prompted and offer me a seat - seeing my grey hair - for the seats reserved for old folks. Only once did I need ask(I was tired and the journey was long) but the guy pretended not to listen. Sadly, the person sitting next to him gave me the seat and it did not seem appropriate for me to insist that the impolite guy get up.

I did notice crowding at times. However, on this trip, at 12NOON on a Sunday, I found the train packed like the Mumbai local. I just could not have gotten down at, say, Rajiv Gandhi station. A youngster just ignored the senior citizen standing close to him. It is very difficult to be polite if there is no standing room :(

The congestion seemed significantly worse just after a few months.

Given the goodwill of all Delhi citizens for the Metro, I can't think even a single person would object to an additional charge on petrol and diesel to compensate the Metro for making the citizens' journey more comfortable.

I was surprised that the train frequency is not being increased. On many routes not all trains are 8 coaches. Why not make them even longer? Why do we need to have people packed like sardines? Is maximising the money from public transport so important a consideration?

My disillusionment grew by this news today about a scandal in the order for Metro trains.
At an internal meeting, Naidu was of the view that the contract be cancelled immediately, but sources said that Secretary Shankar Aggarwal explained to him that cancelling the tender would delay the project by at least two years, which would reflect poorly on the government.
These are coaches for the 3rd phase! If an improvement in frequency is desired for existing phases, we should expect a minimum gap of two years after a decision is taken.

Meanwhile, I ended my journey by taking an auto to go to the station. It was 4PM, office traffic would have started and I just could not take the risk.

I have never liked Delhi. Our old area reminds me of a prison with gates and fences on public roads.

I am even less inclined to visit it even as a tourist in the future. I will let the money in my smart card lapse.

 I will probably not praise and brag about the advantages of Delhi Metro to any one any more - and I feel extremely sad about that. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Helplessness about events like the Bhopal Tragedy

The article by Indira Jaising was a grim reminder of the past. I think I became conscious of the scale and implications of the Bhopal tragedy only after I had seen the Yes Men Fix the World a few years ago.

I saw their prank on BBC  again. The sadness is about the drop in the stock price of Dow after the prank was broadcast. By a coincidence, I watched Chabrol's The Story Women yesterday and was struck by the statement of one of the characters - "Once you have a little money, you want more".

Increase in the value of my investments makes me happy though with little awareness about the reason for their growth. Investing via mutual funds makes the distance between my 'wealth' and corporate actions even more far removed :(

Monday, September 22, 2014

Road to Simla - thoughtless design

Last week, we took a road trip to Simla. I did not enjoy the scenery on the route. The driver had been told in advance to be conservative. He was. However, my mind was pre-occupied by trying to estimate whether it was safe to overtake.

It is my belief that at no point after the two lane highway started was it ever safe to overtake. Each time a vehicle overtakes another it depends on the following three to varying degrees:
  • Ability to fall back to one's lane in case needed
  • Faith that the other driver will be considerate
  • Plain and simple luck
What did the highway planners expect? Consider an example of speed limits:
  • Cars 40 KM/hour
  • Trucks and buses 25 KM/hour
Unless the traffic is remarkably low, especially of heavy vehicles, it is obvious that there will soon be a convoy of vehicles. Even if we assume that the trucks and buses will not be overtaking each other (I know it is a ludicrous assumption), car drivers will get impatient. The longer a convoy gets, the riskier the overtaking becomes and, worse, more impatient the drivers get.
If there cannot be a well defined 3rd lane for safe overtaking at reasonable intervals(separate locations for uphill and downhill traffic), why not enforce movement of convoys of trucks at fixed time slot with no higher speed limit for cars.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Nuclear power and human reaction to risks

Yesterday, I saw a documentary "Gentilly or not to be" about the closure or refurbishing of a nuclear power plant in Quebec. I was deeply affected. Was the increase in the risk of cancer in children being deliberately ignored? I spent a couple of hours searching and reading various articles, especially related to the German study.

I then went for a walk and while reflecting on it, started to wonder about my fear of flying. Even today, as the plane takes off or lands, my stomach tightens, my heartbeat increases. I am unreasonably stressed. I think it is related to the minimal survival chances should there be an accident. The true risk is the probability of not surviving and there is an accident! Our emotions seem to ignore the second factor!

I started to look at some numbers to, at least, get a non-emotive perspective.

acute respiratory infections
The most common cancers in children are (childhood) leukemia (34%), brain tumors (23%), and lymphomas (12%).[11] In 2005, 4.1 of every 100,000 young people under 20 years of age in the U.S. were diagnosed with leukemia, and 0.8 per 100,000 died from it.[5]
The issue is not just cancer. It is overall health. I think I will still choose to stay close to a nuclear power plant than downstream from a dam or near a thermal power plant.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Lure of the US

The attraction of US for the girls who committed suicide, reminded me of a friend. He was telling us of his engagement. His fiance and her family were very impressed with his US experiences. He, however, had told them that he had returned - period. The fiance agreed that he would not be returning.

I met him six months later. His marriage had fallen apart. His wife and her family could not convince him to migrate back to US even AFTER the marriage!

I had lost touch with him and most of my academic friends and colleagues. I met a mutual friend some half a dozen years later. The tragedy was that my friend had recently returned to the US. For reasons unknown.

I suspect it was not a reconciliation with the spouse. I too would have desperately tried to return had I not escaped from Indian academics into software industry :(

To understand why: just consider the advice being given by UGC to IIT :)

An unstable society thanks to risk aversion?

This was the first news I read and it depressed me. Why should they have felt:
Everyday a new man would come and chase us. They would pass lewd remarks and offer us phone numbers.
The people around us would stare as if we had done something wrong.
 I have not done anything wrong to bring shame to my family.
Both shared a dream: a life in America, a world removed from Rohtak.
Why couldn't they just shrug off the idiots? Why should their dreams and hopes be migration and escape to the US?

Here are some memories triggered in my mind:

  • Years ago, a friend said that after returning from US, he decided that he was not going to get married in a traditional way. He said that if he told of his efforts, we would be rolling on the floor with laughter while he is still licking his wounds. (He finally asked his parents to find him a wife.)
  • I tried to convince our principal that we should have a formal welcome and introduction of new students. He did not agree. Ragging had to be avoided. The college had no ragging; however, there was minimal interaction between the students across years. (To be fair, if I had to take the decision, I too may have opted for the safe option as the press and publicity with any ragging incident, real or presumed, would have been intolerable)
  • A colleague who looked and dressed like a student, sat on a bus with a new student. She was terrified! He relaxed her by telling her that he was faculty member. But is such a fear reasonable at all in any society?
  • A school principal mentioned about his efforts to convert a boys only school to coed. He told us that the behaviour of some students from the school when they went to 11th class was uncivilized. He felt that it was the first time many of the teen boys were interacting with girls and just did not know how! (I expect that the behavioural problems of teen boys  would be considerably worse outside Goa.) He failed to get the school converted.
We cannot protect our children from all danger or harm. They need to learn to handle and cope with life. As the following talk by Jeremy Rifkin mentions empathy would not exist in Utopia! Or we can learn from the biography of Gautama Buddha:
Despite his father's efforts to hide from him the sick, aged and suffering, Siddhartha was said to have seen an old man. When his charioteer Channa explained to him that all people grew old, the prince went on further trips beyond the palace. On these he encountered a diseased man, a decaying corpse, and an ascetic. These depressed him, and he initially strove to overcome aging, sickness, and death by living the life of an ascetic.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Hoping for a humanist democracy

I like Python and, thus, liked this a lot:
Python would be Humanism: It's simple, unrestrictive, and all you need to follow it is common sense. Many of the followers claim to feel relieved from all the burden imposed by other languages, and that they have rediscovered the joy of programming. There are some who say that it is a form of pseudo-code.
I don't even want to link to newspaper news which reminded me of the above. I wish we could alter the election rules so that sectarian politics was self defeating  even in a 'homogeneous' society.  First past the post has not led to anything near a two party system in India as it should have.

From Wikipedia:
Because voters have to predict in advance who the top two candidates will be, results can be significantly distorted:
  • Substantial power is given to the media. Some voters will tend to believe the media's assertions as to who the leading contenders are likely to be in the election. Even voters who distrust the media will know that other voters do believe the media, and therefore that those candidates who receive the most media attention will probably be the most popular and thus most likely to be the top two.

International missed calls a fraud?

I had once returned a call only to find out that I was calling some place in Africa with an absurd calling rate. It wasn't a pay per minute type of a call. The person who picked up the phone was an Indian and seemed as confused by my call as I was.

I now look at the country code before responding. Though once I almost made a mistake but the Indian telecom authority cautioned me that I was making an international call.

Yesterday, I got a call with an Indian voice saying that she couldn't hear me. Today, a missed call from the same or similar number. Being a little smarter, I didn't call back Tanzania.

I suspect that it is not an accidental wrong number call but a deliberate racket. However, I keep wondering, who makes the money on such calls?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

City Beautiful - Today's Needs not the Glorious Vision of the Past

Last month, I needed to go to sector 34 (Chandigarh) twice. On the first occasion, it had rained and the muddy paths and chaotic parking did not help.

I was reminded of the visits by ‘High-rise buildings against edict of Chandigarh’:
 The UT submitted, “According to the edict of Chandigarh as envisaged by Le Corbusier, ‘no construction should take place in the area north of the Capitol Complex’.
I am more concerned by our own views and vision of  today than by what Le Corbusier thought half a century ago.

Back to sector 34 visits.

The second time, it hadn't rained. So, the open areas were dry and very uneven. Parking was as chaotic as before.

Once I was inside the service centre of a multi-national, it was very comfortable. However, the entrances to buildings were even uglier than sector 17 without the open pathways and exotic show rooms on ground floor to compensate.

Ugliness is inevitable. Given the cost of land, the stairways are as narrow as possible. Interiors are often dark and dingy. Many offices are cubby-holes without being snug with adults occupying spaces more suitable for children.

I had to visit more buildings than I wanted as the office had shifted and it took me effort to find the right place :(

Today's issues -

How does the city reduce the dependence on cars?
How does the city make working and living spaces affordable (even for people who are not a part of the government)?

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Love of Films - Remembering how it started

Thinking about Stanley Kubrick and Juvenile Justice reminded me of the very first film of Stanley Kubrick I had seen - Dr. Strangelove. I suspect that after seeing that film I probably stopped wanting to be nuclear physicist :)

Actually, that film was among the first English films I had seen, thanks to Government of India. My father was among the last to be transferred who had to travel to US from India with his family by ship! The ship from Southampton to New York showed a film every day. So, I saw 5 or 6 films during that journey.

The ones I still remember aside from Dr. Strangelove:

7 faces of Dr. Lao - probably the only one meant for my age at the time.
7 Days in May - I liked Kirk Douglas a lot though I remember him most for his role in Kubrick's Spartacus.
So, Thank you, Govt. of India!

Oh, a political thriller I found more thrilling than 7 Days in May: Costa Gavras' Z

Juvenile crime and A Clockwork Orange

Juvenile Justice (should one say revenge and retribution?) reminded me of, possibly the most disturbing film I have ever seen - Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange. I had seen it when it came out.  The ideas it had raised remain fresh in my mind.

Recently, when my son saw it at retrospective, I decided to read Anthony Bugess's original book, especially 21st, the last, chapter left out of the American edition and not a part of the film.
Kubrick called Chapter 21 "an extra chapter" and claimed[7] that he had not read the original version until he had virtually finished the screenplay, and that he had never given serious consideration to using it. In Kubrick's opinion, the final chapter was unconvincing and inconsistent with the book.
However, the final chapter makes it even harder to think of retribution as a part of juvenile justice. It makes the whole juvenile period seem like a biological imperative through which many human males pass and outgrow. All this makes the plight of dealing with victims even harder.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

What happened to the high tech after the era of Mahabharat?

I have been an admirer of Pran and was saddened by the news that the creator of Chacha Choudhary and Saabu is no more. Watching my children enjoy reading Chacha Choudhary books will remain a very pleasant memory.

With the admiration of Saabu in the background, I was inspired by the German Political party, Die Partei, to come in support of what all Indians would like to believe is true and that makes it the truth. I think teaching history of the Mahabharat era should not be just the preserve of Gujarat.

We do need to study the intervening period. Something happened because by the time the invaders came to rob us of our wealth, the technological power which was prevalent in the times of Mahabharat was not in sight. There is no way the horses of Alexander could have withstood the vimaan power of Mahabharat.

My conviction is that just as in the 20th century, Superman came to protect the American way of life and Doctor Who protects the British values, we had our own aliens.  It is a self-evident truth that in the time of Mahabharat, all aliens would have come to protect Bhartiyata.

Unfortunately, unlike the Time Lord, our aliens were mortal like Superman. When the last of the aliens died after the time of Mahabharat, India discovered zero.

No power, all the fault of the 93% consumers

I read such news and get depressed(though depression may have its advantages). Not because people not reporting the connected load is the cause of not getting stable, continuous power.

Flipkart, Amazon, Google, Facebook - I could go on and on - do not ask for anything about what equipment or resources we have which can use their services. And the scale at which they operate is a bit larger than the electricity department.

I feel depressed because I expect the electricity department to be giving me information about my consumption and not the other way around. It is a critical need for energy conservation, e.g.
Building technologies and smart meters can allow energy users, business and residential, to see graphically the impact their energy use can have in their workplace or homes. Advanced real-time energy metering is able to help people save energy by their actions.
The collection of papers which state all the equipment one has is a waste of the trees and money. The cost of processing those papers, if ever done, would also be high. Even filing the papers costs! I was amused to read a letter to the editor requesting help from the electricity department to fill the forms!

If the department really needs the connected load, let people fill that ONE value online though it would amaze me if it leads to any better planning of the load.

Here's an example or two they could examine.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Ironic - the fate of computer teachers in the era of Software

It is ironic to read 20 computer teachers injured in police action. Using private companies to teach school children IT skills started as a quick solution to fulfill  an urgent need. However, it probably became a permanent feature as a way of keeping costs of the education departments low. I am sure(or hope) such considerations are not involved!

An excellent example of the effectiveness of private sector in a public role is the experience of the US Prisons as wonderfully explained by John Oliver!

Trying to save money by offloading public services and infrastructure to private sector is probably a pretty bad idea.

About time first premium of lapsed insurance policies is surrendered to the insurance regulator

The following statistic in Hiking FDI limit in insurance is remarkably illustrative of  morality of companies:
It is quite disquieting that some major companies have a very high rate of policy lapses like Birla Sun Life 51 per cent, Future Generali 49 per cent, ICICI Prudential 42, Reliance 38 and Bharathi Axa 36 per cent.
It explains that my effort to help a retired person scammed by insurance agents was hopeless.

I can't imagine profitability being any higher than on policies which lapse after a single premium.

Given the above statistics, it would be great if, at the very least, the premium of policies which lapse after the payment of just one premium is confiscated by the insurance regulator.

Furthermore, cancellation of policies should hurt the bottom line. Hence, the insurance companies should not be allowed to deduct any cancellation or service charges when refunding the policies which have been cancelled during the "free look" period.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Beyond CSAT - aim to select the optimum group of civil servants and not the "best" individuals

I watched a discussion on Lok Sabha Tv for an hour about the aptitude test of UPSC which has been in the news recently - its need and its fairness. Neither the discussion nor anything I have seen in the paper talks about the fact that if there is a single test, any single outcome may seem unfair even if the test is not.

As the ratio of the number of candidates to the number of people selected increases to the levels in India, a thought experiment can tell us that if the test were repeated, examiners interchanged, the list of selected candidates can vary substantially.

A very large number of candidates not selected could have done better than the selected candidates on another day or in another mental state.

The scenario becomes far more complex if one tries to think of what would be an excellent group of candidates for the civil service. After all no one would select a soccer team by any method where all the selected players  could turn out to be goal keepers!

The concern about the mix of the outcome is very real. The discussion had references to states  complaining about the number of candidates selected from their state because of the changes in the exam system.

Suppose there was a  formula for the optimum selection of the group with factors like
  • Test result
    • overall
    • individual subject
  • hetergeneity
    • male/female
    • economic background
    • mother tongue
    • place of residence
    • social background
  • Affirmative action 
    • Replacement of reservations
  • New blood
    • people whose parents/relations have not been in any government service
Factors to be considered could be specified. The multiple objective functions could be specified. The number of objectives could be quite large. It will make no difference to the implementation of the algorithm. The source code of the algorithm could be published.

These could be tested against the past examinations to create the lists of who would have been selected had this process been in use.

I am certain if the outcome is fair to all stakeholders, the concern over unfairness of the exam and bias of examiners will decrease. But more significantly, we can have a group of administrators in whom the society as a whole has confidence and which as a group is likely to deliver better outcomes for the governance of the country.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Private insurance companies are cheating more than LIC

While I would like to be trusted, I would also like to be able to trust. Experience appears to be that while socialism makes people behave badly, capitalism seems to do that to companies!

Will the increase in foreign equity result in better behaviour by the insurance companies or greater pressure to get results regardless of the means?

Moral hazards  are an integral part of the insurance industry. I look forward to the day when software robots are the insurance agents and not commission based humans!

Still no access to mother's pension - bureaucracy and rules supreme

There must be a reason for results like "The more people are exposed to socialism, the worse they behave".

I was thinking of my own experiences, including not being successful in getting access to the full pension of my disabled mother.  I can easily imagine persisting and finding a "solution"(more like a work-around) to this problem if I had monetary problems.

The complaint to RBI resulted in a response -  contact the bank or  its head office. The complaint to the bank resulted in a response with the mail being forwarded to another department. And nothing after that.

The complaint to the Central Pension Accounts Office resulted in a reply  asking for some details and silence after that.

I am certain that had I persisted, the operational staff at the bank, in addition to being sympathetic, would have offered a way out. I am also certain that the way out would have required lying at the very least.

Why do societies which have welfare of the people as the primary goal create rules which assume that the person seeking help cannot be trusted :(

Monday, July 14, 2014

Accidents and Compensation - Losing the moral issues

I recall seeing a show as a young boy which deeply moved me.  A person had just been acquitted of causing a death in an accident. The accident resulted from a medical problem(blackout?) the car driver had but without being aware of it. However, this person is not able to come to terms with his own role and commits suicide.

This story is refreshed in my mind whenever I read news of accidents and compensation. It seems as if the moral culpability seems to be getting lost in the financial compensation conflict. I doubt if higher compensation causes the drivers to be more cautious - e.g. "people in that car may be very well off so I had better be careful".

The compensation was awarded now for an accident four years ago. So, wouldn't it be better if there was a very fast, unambiguous payment to the victims without any need for courts or tribunals and without having to determine the status and potential worth of the victims in society.

Each individual should have his or her own life/accident insurance  to ensure that his/her family is not financially hurt by an accident, whether in traffic or roof falling down or gas cylinder exploding or ...

There has to be a better way to minimize the number of accidents and ensure that the victims do not suffer or have to fight for their rights.

Interesting perspective about medical malpractice suits in the US. It seems to reflect that the malpractice suits are not a financial burden but rather a significant cost to the society in non-monetary terms.

But medical malpractice is a business driven almost purely by profit through tragedy. Decisions often hinge on the theatrical performance of two competing teams to an audience selected specifically for their lack of knowledge regarding the issue they're judging. There has to be a better way.
A change in the attitude of the doctors may have reduced the malpractice suits. E.g. the following which still holds for India
It seems hard to believe now that there was a time when medicine was such a paternalistic profession that we were never expected to consult with a patient about any treatment plan or procedure (I'm the doctor, you're the patient was the expected answer to any question). It was once considered unethical even to inform a patient of a bad prognosis (we felt it would be detrimental to their health if they knew they were dying).
Who should compensate

From the news report:
The accident occurred because the taxi was being driven at a high speed and the Canter driver suddenly applied brakes in the middle of the road.
 ... Gurdev and Uday Shankar to pay the family a compensation of Rs 1.19 crore, including costs. However, in the interest of justice, the court ordered that Bharti Axa General Insurance Company Limited, the insurer of the Canter, would make the payment of Reena’s share of Rs 60 lakh and then recover it from the two accused.
I would have guessed that the taxi was unambiguously at fault for not keeping a safe distance - no matter what the driver in front does. Canter driver may be fined and penalised if the brake lights were not functioning.

Justice? Wasn't the taxi insured? Isn't it a legal requirement to have 3rd party insurance? Who monitors it?

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Value for Society versus Economic Value

As I read about the smallest banking trojan in circulation, I was pleased that I will soon be converting one of our neighbours to Linux. I managed to fix her Windows problem. I also installed the open source Clam anti-virus after removing a commercial product which kept scaring and nagging her to pay for renewal.

However, she said that she wanted me to install Linux on her free partition as I had mentioned that I have never needed to use an anti-virus software!

The entire anti-virus industry would not have appeared had it not been for Windows. Obviously a loss to the economy, but would it have been a loss to the society?

Since I do not have to make effort to make money, I can spend my time learning. Thanks to open source, I can, without having to spend anything over and above my internet connection, learn OpenStack, Hadoop, Zotonic(an Erlang based Web framework), and whatever my mind decides is exciting or useful to know this week or month! My experimentation does not add any value to the economy. I like to think that the open source universe does add value to the society as it makes it possible for anyone to learn.

There is little doubt that windows has created a lot of economic wealth. I am not so sure it would be even a fraction of the social wealth created by Linux and open source software. That is, if we could find a way to measure social wealth! E.g. see or read "The Clothesline Paradox" though I would like to think that we can find a way to measure wealth without resorting to money.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Irony of paying less tax for making money from money by doing nothing

As I get older, I would have expected to become more conservative. Instead, I am more likely to be upset by Arun Jaitley promises more income tax relief if economy improves and discussions on tv where it is taken for granted that India has a high rate of taxation, which needs to be brought down. Rare left wing economists talking about the low tax to gdp ratio are brushed aside.

I find it ironic that I pay less tax now thanks to a major part of my earnings coming from divindends in mutual funds than I did when I worked 9 to 5. What is  so special about earning money from money?

In fact, the government takes a 20+% on dividends of non-equity funds, which benefits the richer people far more than people like me.

I suppose, the motivation is supposed to be an incentive for people to invest, but what will I or any person with surplus money do? Can't be kept under a mattress. People like me may put it in the bank instead but the motivation for investing in equity funds is hardly the low tax rate. It is the gambling instinct of riding a bull run :)

No one starts a factory in the hope of paying low tax on profits! Yes, the richer people can move the money to other countries. I would say let them. How much can Cayman Islands and other tax havens consume?

Since I was not going to get a government pension, it was obvious that I needed to save and not spend. However, if the government taxed me more but had a negative income tax for my old age, would it have mattered?

We need to worry about what will happen as we can't stop the following from happening - "Hi, I’m a tablet. I’ll be your waiter tonight".

As a consumer(in US), I do not want to pay the waiter 15% or more tip. I do not want to feel guilty about not paying the tip because the person is probably being paid a minimum wage. As a consumer in India, I am immune to the treatment of such workers in Udipi-like joints. I have learnt to close our eyes as the alternate would make me far too aware of my own incompetence and helplessness and make it impossible to eat out (or do anything) at inexpensive places. Even in the US, I wonder what are the earnings of fast food joint workers but they were supposed to be students working part time to supplement their pocket money.

We need to re-think the importance of money - investments increasingly no longer imply wealth for the society but only for some individuals in the society.

I recall reading a comment. There will be no shortage of things to do for humans in future. The issue is whether they will be paid for it. No one can deny the importance of raising children and the effort involved in it. Today, does the society pay a mother (or father) who has chosen to stay at home for this task beyond the maternity leave?

UPDATE: Longer holding, higher tax takes sheen off debt funds
Better, but wouldn't it be simpler to just treat it as interest from bank deposits no matter what the duration? No special treatment and treat dividend distribution tax as "tax deducted at source" to be treated like any other income.

While at it, do the same for equity funds.

I wish the exercise of increasing capital gains tax was philosophical rather than just a way to collect more tax.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Goa as a location for a first University Town

I have long felt that Goa could be a great place for education in India. Goa University campus location is beautiful and valuable. That makes it possible to consider creating a new University Town with little monetary burden on the government.

The location of Goa University in Taleigaon is "prime real estate". It would be wonderful if the University could sell the land and shift the campus to a common location with Goa Engineering College. Goa Institute of Management could also shift as it is in a cramped location.

Given the irrationality of real estate valuations, the money from Taleigaon would be more than enough to build a new campus with a lot of surplus. I would not be surprised if the income from the surplus may ensure that Goa University will never need any funding from Government for its operating costs.

University should have undergraduate courses on the campus as well, making it possible to seed a University Town quickly. Admission for students from out of state should be encouraged.

The infrastructure should ensure a very comfortable lifestyle for the faculty, students and researchers. Within a few years, it may be possible to get insights into whether such a model can succeed and sustain itself.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

More EPS fine provided the employees can opt out into NPS

News items like EPS-95: Rs 1,000 monthly pension, 28 lakh to benefit really upset me. I realised the scope of this scheme only on retirement! This is a scheme which sought to give private sector similar benefits as central government pension (discontinued for new employees as it is a financial burden for the government -  actually, the current tax payers). The scheme is subject to some arbitrary constraints which make it viable at the expense of the better off. Charge higher taxes but don't cross-subsidize in a non-transparent manner.

I had assumed that I was not a member of EPS because I had not opted for it when it came out. I did not realise that my option was not valid or relevant after I had changed my job and moved from the company managed fund to the government managed one.

From the same news item(emphasis mine):
At present, workers whose basic wage at the time of joining is up to Rs 6,500 per month, including basic pay and dearness allowance, can be subscribers of the EPFO schemes.
This is news to me. The companies always me the impression that membership to EPFO was mandatory. Given a choice, even PPF would have been preferable. And these days, NPS would most likely be the preferred option for anyone earning more than the EPFO limits.

I suspect the limit has been increased to make the operation of EPFO/EPS temporarily solvent and postpone the actual financial problems of the organisation to the next generation.

New IIM's and IIT's - why not University Towns

As I sat passively listening to various post budget discussions on Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha TV, one commentator struck a chord. It is fine to build new IIT's but without quality faculty, mediocrity will prevail. And why would well qualified people go to remote places?

In another discussion, one commentator, I believe an expert in economics, was asked about jobless growth. He ridiculed it and said that there was no such thing. You cannot have growth without jobs. It blew my mind. I wanted someone to question that comment but no one did. It is not just a problem of the rich countries with software eating jobs.

The government wants to create new IIT's, IIM's and urban centers of excellence. Nothing wrong with the idea itself.

So, what if instead of creating each institution in a separate place, the government creates university towns starting with a student population of 10,000 plus. Obviously, Berkeley and numerous small but well known towns in the US come to mind. However, our visit to Manipal had been a remarkably pleasant experience. Now one can even point to the CEO's of Microsoft and Nokia and suggest that Manipal may be an example worth emulating.

A university town ensures that academic and student populations of diverse disciplines interact and learn from each other and not just what is taught in classrooms. The size of IIT, Kanpur assured that there was just one restaurant, I think called Red Rose. It was dark & dingy and I saw rats running around. (I spent a year as a postdoc at IIT,K). An adequate student population ensures a lively, vibrant environment. These are fun environments for faculty and families as well.

The best way to prepare for the future is to learn and not based on the jobs available today, which is why I had thought that the Delhi university four year program was a worthwhile experiment. University towns may instead be tremendous opportunities for the young Indians.

Personal Experience:
Ropar is not all that remote just an hour's drive from Chandigarh. Yet, the IIT Ropar has a problem attracting faculty, at least in Computer Science. I enjoyed being able to experiment with content and style of teaching unlike in a traditional engineering college. Although I was not very happy with the outcomes, I was ready to try another experiment based on this video of Eric Mazur. However, the desire to experiment and see if students would learn better was not enough compensation to drive an hour each way for even three days a week.

Build one in Goa

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Incomprehensible Customer Service

One more bank tries to make me happy :)
"Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort." - Franklin D. Roosevelt
I found that I could not carry out online transactions.

I had recently disabled sms alerts as it bothered me that they started deducting quarterly for SMS alerts without any intimation. From the branch, I came to know that the procedure for getting rid of SMS alerts is to delete the mobile number!

So, online transactions need me to enter a number sent to a mobile phone, which never reaches me as there is no mobile number! Ah, the system assumes that the phone number exists and no need to check.

I had to call the call center about a solution to this dilemma. How to carry out online transactions without subscribing to sms alerts?

It took a while for the call center employee to appreciate my predicament. The complaint is registered and I got a complaint number. Then came the solution which was beyond anything I could have imagined.

"Call back after 7 days. Tell your complaint number and we will let you know what the solution is".

I suggested that the call center can send me an email - they do not have that facility.

Simply amazing.

I would definitely achieve happiness if I succeed. I have already made a lot of effort. I will have to make some more effort and I am sure, I will need of creativity to get around their system :)

Oh, the site has an email option and, now, even a grievance monitoring option. So far my experience indicates that these services are connected to a black hole. I have never got even an automated acknowledgement.

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.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Using IT for Real Estate Registration and making the use of Black money risky

The following comment in an Indian Express column by Pratik Kanjilal reminded me of my own feelings that we talk of money in Swiss banks and ignore the elephant in the room which affects almost anyone needing to buy or sell property:
But gentle reader, do put yourself in the shoes of the black money-wallah, who has allegedly salted away $1.5 trillion. Would you stash it in a European bank where a return of 3 per cent looks fantastic, or in an Indian real estate project where 25 per cent is boring? When shall we see a programme on black money which asks why it must be recovered dramatically from foreign shores, when most of it is obviously here in India?
And I wonder what if the property registration process was modified as follows:

  1. Register a sale on a web site.
  2. An auction is initiated for, say, 10 days.
  3. Anyone can bid over the registration price.
  4. At the end of the auction, if a successful bid is present:
    1. The seller received the extra amount
    2. The buyer is refunded his purchase price
    3. The government gets extra stamp/registration duty.
  5. Property is registered in the name of the buyer of the successful bidder as the case may be.
 Wouldn't everyone benefit :)

Friday, May 23, 2014

The True Right to Education - Goan experience 20 years ago

When I think of the RTE act, I think of my personal experiences around 20 years ago.

I had been transferred to Goa and it was the middle of the school year. I sought help of colleagues for admission to schools and was suggested a school near my residence (and office). We went to meet the principal. I was terribly scared.

The experiences in Delhi with schools were memorable and by no means pleasant. We had been lucky with our elder son. A new school had opened and admission was relatively simpler. I had been deeply disturbed about the alternate of taking help of my father's connections for admission. Situation is most likely much worse now in Delhi than it was a quarter of a century ago.

Anyway, after a brief talk, our sons were admitted and we happily went to the school office. We asked where to pay the fees. The office was confused. It took them and us a while to understand that the education was free. No fees whatsoever!

So, this brings me to the point which bothers me about RTE. Private schools are being asked to reserve seats for the under privileged, whereas I would have preferred a scenario where even the rich want to go to public(as in free) schools as our children experienced in Goa.

The more I read about the teachers being absent from school or not teaching and the more I fail to understand.
  • How can a person stand in front of children for years and ignore their needs? 
  • What sort of a person would do that?
  • How do such people wind up in the school system?
    • Is the selection process the culprit?
    • Is the schools' culture such that the teachers conform to not teaching?
    • Has the society become so perverse that we do not feel any shame or guilt about not fulfilling our responsibilities?

Friday, May 16, 2014

Indian Elections and a Definition of Insanity

Can election results get rid of corruption?

The expenses on elections are visible. What is not visible is the amount, its source and the givers' expectations. So, what can zero tolerance for corruption mean?

But I still vote. Oh, well, the following quote helps :)
Insanity is doing the same thing in the same way & expecting a different outcome. Attributed as Chinese Proverb
Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Bureaucracy and rules versus reasonableness and operational constraints

My mother gets a family pension. The pension amount, as it was two years ago, is transferred to a joint account by standing instructions. So far so good.

The pension has increased as per per the defined pension policies (ridiculously generous for the officials by the officials). I wanted to get the standing instructions for the amount transferred increased. I tried to convince the bank to apply reasonableness as I am the nominee of the pension account anyway. However, the bank officials do not know what to do as there is no way for them to communicate with my mother and get a confirmation that she wants the standing instructions to be modified in her present state of health.

The additional monthly income hardly matters to me but I decided to pursue as there will be people for whom this would make a major difference.

In the process, I found that to contact RBI, I needed to use IE! Submitting the form on Linux/Firefox failed. I have a vm of windows xp for such exigencies.

I have also communicated with Central Pension Accounting Office. Let me see if I get any response of any use.

While I sympathize with the bank officials' constraints, I also see news like  Wilful bank loan default crosses Rs.70,000 cr. Oh, well. I suppose rules were followed in those cases. I also wonder what is the source of the money for elections, no matter who out-funds whom :(

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Indian Elections - Feeling cheated - time to add a negative vote as well

In the winner take all, I am reminded of the information asymmetry in Economics. While in economics, it can lead to market failures, in elections it can lead to failures in outcome of elections which can aggravate the differences in the social groups and lead to a worse environment for all people.

There are two ways I could use decide for whom to vote - for a specific candidate or against a specific candidate. This does not cause any conflict if there are just two candidates. But how to chose in a scenario with more than two candidates? There is no rational way for me to decide as there is no information. Polls may be useful, however, they may very well be unreliable and misleading.

The winner take all leads to obvious misuse of dummy candidates standing for election as seems fairly obvious in the case of Manpreet Singh Badal.

In a fragmented society like ours, it is extremely unlikely that we will ever evolve to a two party system. In fact, that may not even be desirable.

A simple option could be a rerun of the leading two candidates - so that in the first election I can vote for a candidate and in the second, I can vote against a candidate in case needed. I would not feel cheated of my vote.

We could avoid a rerun by having two votes in the beginning only - one for a candidate(positive) and one against a candidate(negative) and the winner is the one with the maximum net votes. This could create an environment in which cooperation is the preferred outcome.

The alternate way to avoid a rerun would be to use a proportional system similar to that of Germany.

I hope the system is changed no matter what the outcome of the election this year. The trouble is that how to get the elected majority to change rules which may be against them :(

Friday, May 9, 2014

xkcd radiation chart putting fear of nuclear power in perspective

I came across the xkcd radiation chart again and was reminded of the irrational fear many people have of nuclear power. Fortunately, Supreme Court finally cleared Kudankulam nuclear power plant. Good news now that the summer season of power cuts has started. At least it gives hope that cuts may be fewer in future.

I was surprised to find that the nuclear agreement Dr. Manmohan Singh had fought for has had an impact - Nuclear power the one bright spot in year of core slowdown.

I wouldn't be surprised if the fear of anti-nuclear lobby discourages the government from highlighting the achievements in power generated from nuclear power plant.

Someone(on Lok Sabha TV?) had suggested that government should give subsidized and 24 hour power supply to all people in the area surrounding the power plant.  This may be a great motivator if the Rajya Sabha tv report was correct - villages and towns in the region surrounding some of the largest and oldest thermal power plants in UP get power only for 4 hours!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Elections, News Channels and Allergies

John Oliver's satire on Indian elections is remarkably funny, especially his description of our commercial news channels.

I appear to have developed an allergy to a number of people caused by overexposure even though I hit these channels only while channel surfing. I begin to feel physically sick if I pause on one of our commercial news channels for any length of time.

And I feel tempted to blame Rajya Sabha TV and Lok Sabha TV because if they did not interrupt their shows with advertisements, I would not be channel surfing. Why do they have the interruptions when the interruptions are announcements for other shows and public interest messages is beyond me. Why can't they follow the continental Europeans if they are looking for role models :(

While DD News channel is rather boring as it wants to play it very safe, the discussions on RS TV  & LS TV are often enlightening aside from being calm. This, sadly, is not the case if the guests include representatives of political parties. The participants on their shows are more varied as well, only a few guests are repeated occasionally.

One tragedy is that both these channels are trying to absorb the gimmicks of the commercial channels, like multiple windows, distracting graphics and more guests than appropriate. The worst shows are when there are four guests and the silent guests are staring into space waiting for their chance. The guest speaking at times does not get a chance to complete his thought because the other guests need to be accommodated. And some hosts insist on have their own say and dominate the discussion time with elaborate questions.

Robots will take jobs, Inequality will grow & Rich will inherit more

I read A billion shades of grey in the Indian Express a couple of days ago and the next day came read Today In Dystopian War Robots That Will Harvest Us For Our Organs.

Reading the two makes it obvious that the Economist article is wishful in thinking that
But governments should focus not on redistributing income but on generating more of it by reforming retirement and education.
Seems odd given that their analysis also states:
Wealthy old people will accumulate more savings, which will weaken demand. Inequality will increase and a growing share of wealth will eventually be transferred to the next generation via inheritance, entrenching the division between winners and losers still further.
One would expect that some way of fairly increasing inheritance tax seems to be obvious option.

If more people are educated better, it is far more likely that even programmers will earn minimum wage and a smaller proportion of them will be employed. 

It is interesting that discussions around what the kind of an economic system we will have - After Technology Destroys Capitalism is becoming common.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Rich Get Richer not quite the Fairy tale of capitalism

It was a very pleasant surprised to read Mihir Shah's Fairy Tale Capitalism today after my entry just yesterday. For example,
In slowly growing economies, past wealth takes on a disproportionately higher importance. Inherited wealth grows faster than overall output and income.
Exponential growth has obvious limitations; so, the growth has to slow down.

Thomas Piketty is striking a chord :) Hopefully, the interest generated will result in political changes forcing the politicians to bite the hands which feed them

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Create Sovereign Wealth using an Inheritance Transfer law

Income inequality is growing and is now considered as the most serious risk to global stability. Sovereign wealth may be a way to fund and manage the growing economic inequality especially in view of  jobless growth.

While countries with natural resources or surplus income may be able to create sovereign weath, how can a country like India create one?

One of the valuable taxation tool to reduce the obvious advantages of being born rich is the inheritance tax. India stopped the inheritance tax in 1985. It is easy to understand the implementation problems. Aside from estimating the value of the assets, how will the inheritors convert assets into cash so as to pay the government?

Current capabilities of technology and software make new options possible which would have been unthinkable using manual systems.

One way would be that a proportion of the assets as per the inheritance tax rate is transferred to the sovereign fund of Govt of India. Operational control of the assets may continue to remain with the legal heirs. However, the appropriate proportion of any income derived from the assets would belong to the sovereign fund.

For example, any residential property would continue to be in the possession of the heirs with no liabilities except when they sell it. Keeping all such records on the computers is trivial.

Such a mechanism would make it possible to have a law which is not riddled with exceptions to minimize unfairness.  Furthermore, as an asset it will provide long term income to the government rather than additional income which is likely to be wasted especially around elections.

Any  issues related to improper reporting of income are no worse than the current experiences and practices in collection of taxes.

If such steps are not taken, it seems inevitable that more and more wealth will be in the hands of increasingly fewer people.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Elections and Farce

It is both amusing and sad to read about dummy namesake candidates standing for elections and getting a kite as a symbol which may mislead voters.

Since India does not have a two party system, we should switch from the first past the post system.

I am impressed by the Grand Coalitions in Germany. The proportional system with a cutoff in Germany appears to compel parties to work together if the need arises. I cannot imagine such a scenario in India, US or UK. 

This is in remarkable contrast to the US gridlocks seen in Obama's terms. 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The men who made us fat - What can we do in India

While watching The Men who Made us Fat on BBC World , I was happy to realise that we still have options for small helpings in India. However, there is a growing trend towards bundling and offers in fast food restaurants to encourage us to consume more calories.

Even while shopping, we do look at various sizes to see if we get "a better value" for buying larger packages. Among the middle and upper classes, we cannot avoid noticing excessive weight on many.

So, it is imperative that we encourage some regulation now on packaged food industry to prevent these trends from becoming epidemic.

The simplest fairness rule could be that the cost of food should be the same per unit regardless of the packaging size and mandate a minimum size based on calorie count. Eliminate the 'value for money' syndrome with an option to buy small.

The second option of a Fat tax is as in Europe is well worth emulating for ensuring that the heavy snacks are consumed moderately.

Leaving it up to market forces is to hope for a miracle.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Future - A Very Convenient Society but without Jobs

I can't imagine a security guard who can hope to match the skills of even current robots, e.g. Knightscope's K5 beta. Such devices will replace security guards in, at least, high risk areas and soon.

Drones will deliver pizzas and our packages in case the delivery person is unreliable or expensive. The obvious implication is that such jobs cannot be anything other than low paying.

Robotic telemarketers may be a joke at present but reduction in the growth of call centers is inevitable. Call centers were probably the most important transformation in job market for the educated in India.

Who wouldn't like to see, at least, bad drivers replaced by driverless vehicles

Statistics as in "Unemployment in the Era of Jobless Growth" show that unemployment rate in India increases sharply as the level of education rises and is over 25% for graduates and above. It is not going to be cured by improvements in education. For example, I would expect that there is a far greater chance of some smart programmers replacing the need for programmers than most of the software engineering graduates being productive enough to be employable.

So, is any political party anywhere in the world talking about the needs of the society once a fair proportion of the society will be unemployable and a fair amount will work for low wages with little hope of improvement? We will need more government intervention and not less. Europe is probably better prepared for the future and India should emulate European welfare states rather than the US.

The bus protests in San Francisco may be just the beginning as the implications of a very convenient, tech driven society sink in.

We shop using computer programs, pay using computer programs. A computer program and a robot communicate and pack what we have ordered. A drone is informed of the delivery address and the package arrives at our doorstep!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Children's Mind - the little memories that remain indelible

Franz Kafka's Letter to his Father is tied up in my mind with a tiny incident which still makes me feel guilty. Chances are that I recall this incident because I was told about it as I was growing up.

My father was keen that my grandmother learn to read. She started to read headlines. She was too embarrassed to keep asking my mother or father so would ask me instead. It seems that I lost my patience once and said that "How many times have I told you that".

My grandmother told my father that I was right and that she was too old to learn. There was no way that I could undo the damage I had done and still remember it even when I am a grandfather.

Perhaps that's why the following sentence deeply affected me when I read Kafka in my college days. The way a child interprets events is not necessarily the way we(adults) expect:

I am not going to say that this was wrong—perhaps there was really no other way of getting peace and quiet that night—but I mention it as typical of your methods of bringing up a child and their effect on me. I dare say I was quite obedient afterward at that period, but it did me inner harm.