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.