Sunday, October 16, 2016

Bad memories of why I left research

This article, China Has Now Eclipsed The US in AI Research, would not have triggered bad memories had I not come across this article, Meddling with education needs to stop if India wants to compete in technology-driven world, just a few days back.

I recall the first interview I attended. There were over 50 candidates to be interviewed in one day for 2 positions! Most of the time of my interview(just over 5 minutes) was taken up by the Vice Chancellor worrying whether I met the minimum requirements - a second class Master's degree. I had a BA (Summa cum laude) and a PhD from well known university but I did not have a Master's degree! The fact that the Vice Chancellor was wasting this time in an interview just destroyed my mental equilibrium.

I was pleasantly surprised when I got hired at a small research institute after a fairly serious interview lasting about an hour. This was just my second interview. I had not expected the job because I had been advised by 'well connected' people that the jobs are fixed in advance! Anyway, my happiness lasted till a change in director.

As I was walking past his office, the new director called me in and there were two visitors in his office. I was supposed to be the faculty in charge of technical equipment. Out of the blue, he said that he felt that one of the senior faculty members was making excessive use of the photocopying machine and I should monitor it!

This was the final trigger and I was lucky to have switched to software industry otherwise I would have migrated back to the US.

On second thought, lucky?

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Why I look forward to robots as waiters

I am somewhat guilt ridden. Should I have tipped more? It has been quite some time since a person seemed to be so desperate and pleading for more tip. It wouldn't have mattered to me but may have made a difference to him. But it brings up the same dilemma of giving to a beggar. I may help a person and feel good about it; but I may actually be contributing to the preservation of a bad and unjust social setup.

It was the last leg of our trip to Kerala. We took the Trivandrum Rajdhani from Ernakulam to Margao. It was painful to watch 3 attendants sleeping in the corridor outside the compartment - one on the proper berth and the remaining two on the floor.

I wondered why was there a need for three attendants and whether they were actually employed by the contractors.
  • Was it just the easy option of hiring extra people at a very low cost in order to 'improve' service? 
  • Could it be that railways insist on the extra staff to make sure that one person is not overworked for the long journey? 
  • Wouldn't it be desirable and better to have the staff change midway?
  • Or does the actual employee outsource his job to desperate youngsters for no wage but tips?
Since I can do little about it, I would rather not have to think about whether to tip and how much to tip. That would be easy if the server were a robot.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Why don't you open the bank account in Margao?

As I thought about the bureaucratic hassles in day to day life, I recalled trying to open a bank account in Goa.

The proof of residence I seemed to have was not enough for the bank. The officer was very happy that my passport had a Goa address and suggested that I open an account in their Margao branch. Thanks to computerisation, it just wouldn't matter for my normal usage.

It did not matter that I did not stay in Margao anymore! I could give them the proof they needed to complete the paperwork.

RTO Agents - Not Touts but Service Providers

I paid still another visit to the RTO office. I expected it to be the last but it wasn't. If I look back, I have not faced any deliberate delay. In fact, most of the time, the people involved have been helpful.

There has not been a single occasion when I felt that any attempt was being made to delay the work and re-enforce the impression we have. It is just that the process is needlessly complex and pointless.

For example, the proof of residence was not one of the accepted ones. So, I needed to give an affidavit on a stamp paper that I stay where I say I stay.

Are our rules so bad that if give wrong information to the RTO, it does not have any legal implications. For me to be penalised, I have to re-iterate the wrong information on an affidavit?

I had expected in 2005 that Manmohan Singh make day to day life easier. I don't think I will ever understand why he did not or could not.
The Union cabinet, chaired by PM Manmohan Singh, decided to constitute a group of ministers to finalise the terms of reference of the body that will be set up to prepare a blueprint for revamping the public administration system acr-oss the country.
I am retired and stay not far from the Chandigarh and Goa RTO offices. However, I am convinced that it would have been economical even for me to go through a tout, rather, a very valuable Service provider!

Friday, January 15, 2016

Life guards on the beach - saving lives or removing fun?

I have very mixed feelings about the strike by life guards in Goa. I became aware of the strike the day after I went to the Calangute beach recently.

It was surprisingly quiet on the beach. I realized the reason when I read about the strike the next morning.

On a visit to the beaches a couple of months earlier, there was an almost continuous whistling by the lifeguards. It appeared as if they did not want the people to get into the water at all.

A life guard seemed to be gesturing towards me to move out of the area though I was at best in ankle deep water on the edge of the beach. It is possible that his gestures were directed towards someone else. However, I just moved further away seeking a quieter area.

In fact, at one place I saw a fight between the guards and some tourists and it seemed like a very likely occurrence. Typically Indian solution. Just don't do it. No explanation or reason for why :(

I want to hear the sound of the waves not whistles on beach.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Wealth, Quality of LIfe and Paradise Lost

I was pretty sure that I would retire in Goa. I loved the place. I like the greenery and the beaches. I like the small towns and villages with the comfort of a modern life.

Now somehow Bob Dylan's Things Have Changed resonates. The road in front of my flat now hums with traffic and it is bound to get worse. Taxi services are aimed at tourists who have no other options. With such conflicts, there is little chance of Ola or Uber like services.

If one way taxis from home to point of destination were easily available at reasonable costs, I for example would be happy to use them and not own a car. Who wants to search for a parking place near a beach or in the town?

I can't imagine roads being cleared of parked vehicles anytime soon. We don't need more roads but using the roads more effectively. That too is not going to happen.

I don't see any efforts on changing the mindset of the people. We should expect polite and courteous behaviour on the roads. Discourtesy should be the exception and not the other way around. Try showing courtesy to pedestrians and observe their nervousness!

I don't see any chance of cars being stopped and parked outside the coastal villages. We should move around the beach area by walking or using small electric vehicles like golf carts.

I can expect that we will widen the roads, create new roads. We will not create a society where people do not need to move around so much or need personal vehicles.  We will not be able to manage well with what we have. Growth is the modern mantra :(

In short, Goa is no longer an obvious choice for retirement. The cold and the heat of Chandigarh no longer seems so bad. I can walk to rose garden.

India should stop building roads and spend on autonomous transport

The surprising message for me after hearing this talk Keynote - AltCars Expo was the great reduction in the road space needed.

Assuming that this technology enables us to have a far better movement of traffic with the existing road infrastructure, we in India should be actively pursuing this future rather than building ever more roads. Can we make it work in India?

The cost of NOT doing it is visible in the example of Delhi:

I recall having a sore throat on every trip I took to Delhi by the time I reached my office from the airport. This was on trips to  Delhi prior to the introduction of CNG. The experience after that (2002 onward?) was far better  for some years. Meanwhile, Delhi built more roads, more flyovers, and even a metro, but the net result is that it has achieved the status of the most polluted city in the world!

How can autonomous vehicles share the road space with the current Indian traffic? It just seems impossible when even in the US, humans tend to hit the autonomous vehicles from the rear.

We should start with autonomous public transport, both buses and taxis, and create a legal framework which disciplines the human drivers harshly.

How about legally treating any human driver who hits an autonomous vehicle as attempting suicide. All legal responsibilities of insurance companies would be exactly the same as in the case of a suicide.

We can experiment with such a law today with riders on motor bikes  who are not wearing a helmet. I am pretty sure it will introduce social pressures and modify the behaviour of the riders. It may even help create a market for air-cooled helmets.