Monday, July 28, 2008

Blasts in Ahmedabad and Bangalore

Two successive days of chain bombings in metros across India has raised more than eyebrows. It is disturbing to see people all along the length and breadth of the social spectrum discussing the events and groping for answers. In most cases a dismissive wave of hand hides what now appears to be a previously unseen sense of vulnerability in the minds of the common man.

To Beat Terrorism, Smile!
For the aim of terrorists is to stop you from smiling. There is a lot to be gained for our enemies if we collectively stop smiling and start living in a state of constant anxiety. There will be social, economic and political ramifications.
Gone are the days of open wars and even the Low Intensity Conflicts. Now we are entering a phase in our existence where what we "feel" like is what is being targeted. Why do you want to fight a long drawn out, economically sapping war with a militarily strong (enough) country. Especially if you know that within a week the UN and the international community will step in.
So why dont you just "scare" the whole country????
Spread fear and insecurity that will ultimately influence every decision made by the people. Fewer people will send their sons to the services, distrust between religions, castes and communities will rise, economic burden of increased expenditure on the forces and policing, lesser investments in the country, more conservative developmental thrusts by the government.
If you observe, there has been a significant shift in the “bombing strategies” of terrorists. Single high intensity devices targeting key installations commonly in key metros or “symbolic” geographic regions has been replaced by the use of multiple low intensity devices targeting soft and “socio-economically” important targets like Bangalore (Bengaluru). Even the inputs used in the devices has downgraded from RDX/TNT/PETN mixtures to the use of commonly available inputs like Amonium Nitrate, fuel oil, urea etc.
Of course the increasingly difficult logistics for connecting sleeper cells across the subcontinent and the mere fact that the use of sophisticated materials would indicate sophisticated know how and thus the hand of “foreign” agencies; the terrorists have resorted to using smaller, less powerful devices on low value targets.

Now the main aim is not to maximize the impact of one device physically but to maximize the psychological, economic and political fallout of smaller blasts.
The “psychological” part is obvious. Strike deep seated fear and insecurity into the minds of common citizens in places otherwise perceived of as safe and you have a nation that is “afraid”.
Economic fallouts too are very simple to understand. Any single such incident, affects the market sentiments and thus the equity markets. This is especially true in India where institutional investors and FIIs account for the lion’s share of the market cap. Apart from that the global economy allows nations and companies to utilize the competitive advantages offered by nations and that is how they decide where to go. Most models of decision making for foreign investments take into account the social, political and security climate of the country. So why would any company invest in India when they can see the security situation worsening? Especially when they know the neighbours we have and the disagreements we have with our neighbours.
Politically, terrorists are exploiting the very basis on which the partition of India took place and the basis on which politics are conducted in India. It would be prejudicial and stereotypical to talk of only one religion when discussing terrorism especially when you consider that other religions too have displayed signs of intolerance. The blasts took place in BJP ruled states and the blasts in Gujarat started with blasts in Maninagar the constituency of CM, Mr. Narendra Modi. The political climate in India was already charged and polarized. The blasts have now added fuel to fire and has given the centre and the concerned states enough to lose sleep over and as we always do, bicker over who was wrong.

But. . . . . Smile to Beat Terrorism????
Yes. The aim of whoever was behind the blasts was to make you anxious, make you discuss this “scary” incident rather than your normal conversations, fill the airwaves with gruesome pictures of the dead and wounded.

No one is trying to win wars. They are trying to do what they do best. Make you scared. The common man can rarely do anything to stop them, but we can definitely deny them their goal of making us scared. So let us all smile and have a great time!!

Friday, July 11, 2008

My Views on the IAEA Agreement

The IAEA safeguards agreement draft was made public on 10 July, 2008. The agreement is divided into 11 sections. There is a preamble, which notes that the Safeguards Agreement is an “essential basis” for India to gain “uninterrupted” access to the international nuclear fuel market, including uninterrupted access, and support its effort to develop a strategic fuel reserve to guard against any disruption of supply. Following are some of the highlights of the agreement:

1. Assurance of uninterrupted nuclear fuel supply to India by the members of NSG (Nuclear Suppliers Group) on a commercial basis.
2. India will have the freedom to separate “civilian” and “dual use” facilities.
3. The facilities designated as “civilian” will only be safeguarded once India determines that “all conditions conducive to the accomplishment of the objective of this Agreement are in place.”
4. The agreement supports for Indian effort to develop a strategic reserve of nuclear fuel to guard against any disruption of supply over the lifetime of India’s reactors.
5. Agreement allows India to take “corrective measures” in case of disruption of nuclear fuel supplies.
6. Indian nuclear weapons program will stay out of purview of the IAEA safeguards.
7. The agreement says safeguards would be implemented in a manner so as not to obstruct Indian efforts to use technology, equipment and nuclear material acquired or developed by India independent of the agreement “for its own purposes.”
8. Promise of 'full' nuclear cooperation, including access to advanced plutonium reprocessing, uranium enrichment, and heavy water production technology.

· The agreement though an almost exact replica of the standard IAEA safeguards agreement has given a lot of latitude to India. The most important fact is that India will be free to decide what is civilian and what is military and even the civil reactors go under safeguards once India feels it is ready.
· It is interesting to note that the provision for “corrective actions” by India in case of discontinuation of fuel in the event of a test by India appears only in the preamble. Combined with provision allowing India to create a “strategic reserve” of fuel, the provision for corrective measures ameliorates the 1960s Tarapur like threats by the NSG.
· The controversy over the non clarification of “corrective measures” is only to provide for options in the event of circumstances and events not foreseeable at the time of drafting the agreement.
· India has not given a list of facilities that will go under safeguard though it is known that in their agreement with USA, the government has declared 14 out of the 22 reactors as civilian facilities.

Overall the agreement seems to be beneficial and most of the fears of the domestic entities irrelevant. India is already running low on Uranium supplies and the effort to move away from oil for energy security would need a stable supply line of nuclear fuel. As the cryogenic engine comes of age, India moves into the IRBM and ICBM zone. The need for thermonuclear devices as plausible deterrent is only obvious. Militarily too, the deal will only benefit as India gets access to sensitive technology.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Shiv Pawar: A Good Teacher

What Makes a Good Teacher?

Knowledge, communication skills, personality, ability to control and guide students blah, blah, blah. These are some qualities that come to mind that might differentiate a “good” teacher from a “bad” one. I will write on this later but today I want to dissect one of my colleagues, whom I confidently categorise as a good teacher.

Meet. Mr. Shiv Pawar. He heads the IT department at GJIMT, Mohali and has been here forever. His areas of professional interest (his personal interests cannot be revealed on forums non ESRB vetted forums!!) include; Computer System Architecture, Digital Circuits, Microprocessor, Wireless technologies……. those above our heads kind of stuff. He is an engineer from SLIET and has the distinction of spurning an offer of M. Tech at Punjab Engineering College, Chandigarh. He is single and knocking the doors of early 30s and the way things are going, he will remain single for a very, very long time!! He belongs to a close knit middle class family. Shiv adores his mom and is constantly worried about her.

This was Shiv in brief. So what is it that makes me declare him a good teacher? Let me see….. for starters, he is a dreamer and unfortunately he dreams in binary!! His commitment to his area of work is remarkable. Though his current professional “condition” does not need him to be knowledgeable, he is, I am proud to say fairly intelligent.

But what makes him special is that he is hungry……. consistently hungry for more. The more he gets, the more he wants and this enthusiasm for exploration, research and knowledge is infectious. His students and dumb colleagues like me are often swept away by his drive. His students respect him, his colleagues like him, his management needs him. In short, he is an indispensable asset to his college.

Let us all learn from him and try to work with a commitment to our profession. Let us try to fall in love with our work. Like my friend Shiv.

About Me

I have always found the “About Me” heading the most difficult to fill up. I would usually resort to monotonic, one liners like “An average human being” or “A simple guy”. I have come across profiles on Orkut with extensive and sometimes poetic descriptions about oneself.

I knew I would not be able to that even if I wanted to. But today I noticed that there were a few errors worth rectifying in my profile on Orkut and while doing that out of nowhere I just keyed in the following in the “About Myself” tab.

You psychoanalysts out there, what do you think, does this say something???? What does it tell the reader about me (apart from me being nuts)???Does it show signs of internal conflict (or am I asking leading questions???)

I am a seeker......
I do not know what I seek

I am a dreamer.......
Usually with eyes open

I am extraordinary......
In my ordinariness

Change......I hope to achieve......
Yet even my hope is constant

I am driven by the salt.....
Salt in the tears of time

I am driven by the screams......
Screams within me.......Silent screams
The scream of a seeker.....
A call to the elements......
For answers......
Questions and answers.......

I am questions and answers.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Drinking Water Crisis: Wake Up!!!!!

Consider the following points.

· I live on a second floor apartment in Mohali, Punjab. Mohali can be called a developed city in a rich state in India. My family does not have access to fresh drinking water quite like many in my neighborhood, city, state and country.

· In most metros in India, it is an accepted fact of life that drinking water will be a major problem, wherever you choose to live.

· The number of incidents of gastro cases and their severity has gone up in all hospitals.

· In many places on this planet, people have to walk for miles for drinking water.

If things go the way they are going today, in less than a decade, all of us will face an acute drinking water crisis. The biggest problems mankind is facing today are the food crisis, the water crisis and the energy crisis. But the noise on energy, especially oil has relegated food and water crisis into the background.

As I understand, I am much better off than people living in the vast hinterland of India especially towards the centre and the west, where access to drinking water assumes critical nature. Around the world when the media and the political establishments are bickering over prices of crude, no one is talking of this silent but ominous threat. Are we even bothered??? If yes what are we doing about it?? And if no, is it because the water bill in any household will be a max. Rs. 35???

Satish, a dear colleague and me recalled these points lamenting the issue:

· He says that in his neighborhood, most people indiscriminately use drinking water for watering lawns, washing cars and other wasteful activities. This is despite a law against such misuse of water and by educated people.
· He recalled an incident when he saw more than 10 ambulances being “thoroughly” washed inside the premises of a government hospital. The best part: After the washing orgy, the gentlemen concerned left without bothering to turn the tap off. Satish had to take the initiative to that!!
· A discussion with few MBA students, revealed that none even had an inkling about the issue.

Have you ever heard anyone in this country discuss an issue of such importance??? At least I haven’t.

Have you ever heard even a single politician, irrespective of his or her ideological affiliations talk of this issue?? Promising taps and pumps is another matter.

The facts are simple: One day we will thirst for clean drinking water because of the following:
· The indiscriminate usage patterns,
· The tendency to waste,
· The increasing population
· The increasing migration of population to the cities

There is approximately 1.4 billion cubic km. of water on this planet. Only 1% is the freh water in the hydrological cycle and of this too only 0.1% is the water in rivers, streams and lakes which is fit for human consumption (Reference: ). Beleive me there is very little water and we are wasting it indiscriminately.
I am writing this with the knowledge that I cannot change the way people live their lives. I am writing this with the hope that I will be able to ignite a few thoughts in the minds of my students. Conservation of drinking water is not a choice, it is a necessity. Please follow the law and try to reduce wastage of drinking water wherever possible. Even turning of the tap while brushing your teeth or shaving will be a good start.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

XP Vista Battle Rages On!!

The vista or XP question raised its head in the class yesterday. (Yes classes are on; the MBA preparatory thing GJ-IMT does). I was asked for my views on OS of choice. Here is the answer, read on if not bored to death already!!

Tried Vista ultimate a couple of years ago, returned to XP. Too many driver and compatibility issues…… Tried Vista Business an year ago, returned to XP. But this time most commonly used software had become “Vista Compatible” and there were far fewer driver issues (none that I recall). We came back to Vista only because the systems we have at the college are not built for Vista. Yes Vista can run on 1 GB Ram (we have even run Vista Ultimate on 512 MB!!), but anything less than 2 GB will cause bottlenecks, freezing and system hang ups. My system is a “barely decent” setup with Asus Maximus Mobo with the Intel X38 chipset, Quad core Q6600, 4 GB DDR2 800 Mhz, nVidia 8600 GTS). These days I am on Vista Business X64 (64 bit) and I am pleased to inform one and all that I have not come across any bottleneck, compatibility issue or speed issues. Even Vista Business 32 bit which I used for a few months (Dec – April) had no issues at all except one: Acrobat and the issue of 64 bit OS. But that is not Vista or Xp issue. It is a 32 bit or 64 bit issue.

Then Why Do People Hate/fear/disbelieve/suspect Vista???

The problem is everyone wants the Aero interface but at their own terms. The reasons are numerous and in most cases there are none. Here is a list of what I think are the dominant reasons for Vista baiting:

1. They are still dragging the history…. In the past, Vista had issues but as a common home user, I have found that those issues don’t exist anymore.
2. The migration from Windows XP to Vista requires significant hardware up-gradation too. Since most of us will try to run everything on our “P4” which used to be our pride a few years ago, problems will arise. Vista needs one of the newer chipsets, at least a core 2 duo, at least 2 GB RAM, at least 256 MB Graphics card (preferably nVidia 7 series or better).
3. Certain features of Vista like UAC might be irritants for the user who does not like to be interfered with but there are ways around it.
4. It is a fashion to bash Microsoft, Bill Gates and any product that release. The much loved XP too faced this when people like you and me were reluctant to migrate from 2000 to XP.
5. Last is the status quo and the natural inertia to change. If I have become comfortable using one OS over that past few years, I will shy away from the upheaval my computing life will go through because of a change in OS.

Bottom line is: I like Vista, I have no issues with it but I think XP is a rock solid OS. So it is a matter of personal preferences and the configuration of the system you have.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Summer Training

You guys had started screaming your heads off for summer training barely couple of months into your MBA. Now that the time has come, most of you are at sea. The following should give you an idea of the whole funda:
Ideally summer trainings are learning platforms designed to allow the student to gain exposure to the actual workings of the industry and build a bridge between the theory and practice. The summer training should allow you to make a decision regarding the following:
1. Industry of choice (to target for a job if you need one)
2. Ability gaps if any (abilities and skills that will be required for a good career and your current state)
3. Behaviour of theory in the field (obviously only for serious career seekers)
Unfortunately summer training (especially for regional b schools has degenerated into disguised employment events, where companies use cheap (often free) manpower to drive sales for a couple of months in return for a certificate and pipe dreams of "a job if you do well". Even the b schools are unable to formulate policies and practices to maximise the benefit for students.
So what you should be doing as summer trainees:
1. If you are lucky enough to be in summer training in the industry of your choice, build networks (human!!), learn about the major players in the industry, their sizes, product lines, market shares and more importantly the market structure (the company, intermediaries till the end user, their interrelationships).
2. If you are not in industry of choice (or dont have a choice) then look around hard, do what is given in point 1 of the industry you are in and the one that you want to be in. Of course you will have to work harder in this case. The logic of learning about both the industries are that you never know of the employment scenes an year from today.
3. Get to grips with the lifestyle in the real world. Most of you come from insulated protected environments to the college which again is anoth artificially protective environment. If at all you do land a job, the shock of transition sometimes is quite severe. If you are good enough, you will learn the ropes (as much as you can) during the summer training itself.
4. Keep in touch with your teacher in charge regularly (even if for no reason).

Who was he?

I dont have a clue who he was but I think he have been six or seven years old.....

One of the millions born and bred on the roads of India. We would not have noticed him had he not sitting in the middle of the road, scribbling in the dirt. After all it is such an inconvenience to see a six year old sitting in your way and imagine irritating it is to brake suddenly and swerve. Braking and swerving I am told, increases petrol consumption and with crude at over $140, the boy deserved the irritated and angry glances he was getting.

Why adoes a child of six have to sit in the middle of the road and scribble in the dirt oblivious of the heavy traffic around him? It it not an indicator of disturbed behaviour? Dont you think that such disturbed behaviour, such deviations at that age would have resulted from immensely traumatic experiences? Do you think he is victim of abuse, maybe a witness to daily episodes of drunken orgies of domestic violence? Dont you think his silence was screaming out for help?

Dont you think I should have stopped and tried to help?

Of course, what could I have done to help......... In retrospect, I think even taking him to a safer location would have been enough.I am sure there are many others who wanted to help but for some reason, they could not stop and help. Just like me.What does it say about us, our people, our society? What does it say about India as a country? When did we become so insensitive?

Why dont educated people in India who can and should make a difference not care anymore?

I want all of you to reflect and look for answers.......... your own answers.

I shall post my views later.