Posts filed under ‘Deesha’

Joy of Giving – Ample Supply of Goodness – Banyan

Vandana Gopikumar (founder of Banyan, an organization that helps those in need) in the Jade Magazine of Nov’09 has this to say about the joy of giving…

Though there is a lot of suffering, there are also a large number of people and institutes and corporates doing their best to alleviate it. Goodness is not in short supply. Buddha said this in his sermon on charity, “Hard it is to understand: by giving away our food, we get more strength; by bestowing clothing on others, we gain more beauty; by donating abodes of purity and truth, we gain greate treasures; give till it hurts.” Most other religions and prophets have preached the same. In a country such as India where more than half of the population lives on less than 20-rupees daily (or 50c, hey, it is far less than international yardstick of poverty at 2$/day, interesting), it is the responsibility of the privileged fellow citizens to change the skewed balance between the haves and have-nots. Basic needs like food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, education, water, electricity that several of us take for granted are even today a struggle for several. Fortunately, the conscience of the common man is awake and alive. So are corporate hearts and dedication of NGOs.

Sounds too much of an advertisment but well, thank goodness that there is some good still left although I opine that poor are poor because they are suggestable and keep electing criminals time after time after time who are responsible for this mess which is a serious problem than is acknowledged. Maybe they deserve to suffer.

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5 December, 2009 at 14:46 1 comment

Food Price Inflation – WPI at 15.58% – Subsidy PDS

In response to “Food Prices Scale High at 15.58%” in DC on 27-November-2009 (full article after fold), I wanted to do something but yet again, Subhani beat me to it through this nice cartoon depicting the situation of a poor family sitting for a meal…

Food prices kept their upward trend hitting the common man hard. Food inflation rose to 15.58% for the second week of November with potato prices rising by 111% As compared to last year the prices of pulses were up by 35.60%, wheat by 12.53%, cereals by 13.04% and rice by 11.89%. Also prices of vegetables moved up by 11.96%, onions by 27.33%, fruits by 10.97% and milk by 11.36%. On a weekly basis, products which saw a rise in their prices are urad and poultry chicken (15% each), eggs (8%), moong (6%), arhar (5%), fruits and vegetables (3%) and milk and wheat (1% each). However, the prices of barley (2%) declined. The increase in food prices is due to shortages caused partly by a weak monsoon and partly by floods in some parts of the country. Said Mr Trehan and Mrs Mathur respectively –

    In a country where even a simple vegetable like potato has become so expensive, how can one expect to have three meals a day. Survival has become really tough. How frugal can one become?

    One has to think twice even for grocery shopping. Everything has become out of reach. Be it milk, vegetables or pulses. And worst, public transport has also gone so expensive. How can we honestly manage?

    Inflation for all commodities more than doubled to 1.34% for the month of October from 0.50% in September due to costlier minerals and fuels, as per data released earlier. The finance minister, Pranab Mukherjee, said on Thursday that government is very deeply concerned about rising prices and will take all fiscal and monetary measures to contain it. Arjun Sengupta in his “Fair Food Deal for All” in DC on 30-November-2009 comments that it is high time that the government initiates a universal public distribution system (PDS) covering at least the essential commodities because the bulk of the population, about 70%, remains poor with their dire struggle for minimal livelihood –

    About 350-million people remain below poverty line (BPL). The prices of essential commodities have been rising at an unprecedented rate. Not only foodgrains but vegetables like onions and potatoes are becoming costlier day by day. These affect all Indians but for the poor they are devastating as all their meagre incomes get exhausted, not meeting even a portion of the necessities. Prices of these products are no doubt largely due to shortfall in production but there are clear signs of market cornering, hoarding and price fixing. It is, however, very difficult to control speculatory tendencies by physical measures because the players are too many in the country and not just big traders and producers, even the common rehriwalla is hoarding. Unless those expectations are dampened they cannot bring down the speculation. The only way to do that is to increase supplies, if not through temporary production increase measures, then through additional imports.

      To mitigate this problem, the universal PDS would be the first important step beginning with the BPL population by supplying them with the essential commodities at cheap and affordable prices. If PDS is targeted to a limited BPL population it may also be possible to increase their supplies through market purchase of these products and sell them at subsidised prices. This would push up the open market prices somewhat further. But targeted PDS can be sustained if the government is willing to subsidise the difference between market price and issue price of commodities. Hopefully increased prices, supported by planned increase in production incentives, will raise output in a short period reducing the supplies bottleneck. But in the immediate future, the government has to be ready to bear the cost of maintaining the PDS. However, the most important requirement is organisation of the system. That cannot be achieved by market incentives or subsidies. The government has to build up a huge and efficient structure of distribution throughout the country. It has to procure, purchase or import products and reach them to different destinations of the PDS. This can be done only with the help of state governments, first to identify the BPL beneficiaries and then to have fair-price shops supply the products efficiently. National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India Limited (NACMFoI) or similar organisations can be created for vegetable and other such products. They should build up storages and have contract farming both at home and abroad. The time has now come for all kinds of out-of-the-box thinking to meet a serious problem of economic management in the country. Indian development, if it has to follow an inclusive path, must reinvent itself so that the poor develop an equal stake in our growth process.

      Well, I agree in moral principle to Dr Sengupta (a Member of Parliament and former Economic Adviser to assassinated-good-riddance Prime Minister Indira Gandhi) but does this universal PDS not sound too communist? Why should the poor be further subsidized when already farmer markets, ration shops and pink/white cards etc. exist? Are not the high prices a result of supply-demand and greed (read, free-market capitalism) and therefore, market-based solutions are needed? Let missionaries, NGOs, social enterprises and fortune-at-BoP marketing gurus deal with solving something tangible like hunger for a change other than human rights, empowerment or whatever cause. Oh wait, they tried. And failed. And chickened out.

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      30 November, 2009 at 12:00 3 comments

      Authorized Graffiti Paintings on Bangalore Walls

      On the last trip to Bangalore, I observed painted walls (with art that is) which I thought were the Indian version of graffiti which made me smile because after all, graffiti is a form of expression of bubbling anger mostly. I was soon disappointed because on digging deeper (read, chance encounter of an article in a magazine), I found this is a pesky initiative from the Greater Bangalore Muncipality Corporation, better known locally as Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagar Palike. The BBMP it seems is planning to fill up walls with art to give them an identity of sorts, improve the beauty/aesthetics of the neighbourhoods while creating revenue and exposure for many struggling artists and make the paintings serve as conversation starters to build a closer sense of community. Or something to that effect. A quick shot…

      I can only imagine what the future directions to lost tourists would be. “Go left on the painting that is about grief and suffering inviting the viewer to contemplate the evanescence of life speaking to the horror of ones own mortality and from there, take first right to the rather safe, predigested, bucolic genre scenes depicting the crass shallow values of the human condition”. While the former could be a banian advertisement and latter, a cinema poster, a tourist will be able to find the address in question and empty his bladder on the avant garde piece of a hole in the ground.

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        22 November, 2009 at 14:23 Leave a comment

        GE Edison Challenge – Renewable Energy for India

        Raghotham in GE Edison Spotting reports on some of the student demonstrations at GE Edison Challenge 2009 in Bangalore (you cannot lure me to use the new name Reddy buggers). Here is a nice photo (of ‘Urjas’ or ‘Tech Innovas’) from IIT-Bombay (used B-word Thackerey morons) followed by clips from other finalists from IIT-Madras (get it?), SVCE, IIT-Kharagpur…

        Srinath Ramakkrushnan and his IIT-Madras team who call themselves ‘Graminavitas’, are a lot more ambitious lot, proposing an integrated solution that spans rice de-husking in Natham, a 300-household village 60 km north of Chennai (with a de-husking machine he himself made after a two-year stay in Ujire in Karnataka) to building a micro-grid architecture that would partly use biogas produced from the husk to produce power to providing a workable public toilet system to improve rural sanitation to using the waste from the toilet to produce biogas to replace the need for LPG… phew.

        Neha (chirpy 20-something Punjabi kudi in pink tees and blue jeans) and team from Sri Venkateswara College of Engineering are trying to produce electricity using local resources in a village in Tamil Nadu so they can have power supply round-the-clock, instead of just two hours a day. The ‘Energy Boosters’ chose Kaliyapettai village near Chennai, which has a textile mill nearby discharging industrial effluents. Neha and friends used the effluents as nutrients to grow algae on. Algae convert carbon dioxide absorbed from the atmosphere into lipids, which are then converted into biodiesel to generate electricity in a diesel generator. The team grew algae in a tank and have sent in the oil they produced for analysis of its power potential. Neha says the oil produced in 5 days can power lighting for the village’s 600 families through the day, for an initial cost of as little as Rs. 1 lakh (or 2000$).

        Shashikant Burnwal, Arnab Chatterjee and Ashim Sardar of IIT-Kharagpur have built a pot-in-pot storage system that helps store vegetables and cooked food at temperatures as low as 8 to 10 degree Celsius, using nothing more than two earthen pots and a fan picked up from the insides of a desktop computer. Refrigeration, with minimal electricity necessitated by global warming. They have also designed a home cooling system in which sunlight falls on a PVC roof and heats it up, causing airflow between low pressure and high pressure areas, cooling homes – again, no electricity used.

        Are these ideas, and those of the other 15 teams, practical, scaleable and worth the trouble? Well, the judges went around grilling the participants on the economics, the scientific principles and technology and the novelty of the ideas. GE and the Indian government’s Department of Science and Technology (through DSIR TEPP program) have already sweetened the deal. Each of the 18 finalist teams will take home Rs.20,000. In addition, GE will award the winning team, to be announced on Friday, Rs.5 lakh and a runner-up Rs. 1 lakh. And, to boot, the DST will consider funding their ideas so they can turn it into reality. While I feel that I have seen some if not all of these ideas during the days when there was only one TV channel in India (so the whole family watched just about everything from cheesy Mahabharatha to agricultural programs on biogas and mushroom farming), I suppose, there are some positives. Atleast it got some people thinking even if it is heavily incentivized.

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        6 November, 2009 at 14:49 1 comment

        Google, reCaptcha and Crowd Computing

        Google has acquired yet another startup. This time around however, they did not just buy a company but got something a lot more in the base bargain. By acquiring reCaptcha, Google acquired a “crowd computer” along the way as has been described here. For those who do not know about reCaptcha, you have no business being here but even to those who see those pesky little ‘enter the words you see in the image’ and understand what is happening in the background, it is only fair to keep them in the know. Technically, Captchas (short for Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart) are deliberately distorted words to augment existing OCR algorithms. Some quotes…

        Two words are always presented. The trick is that reCaptcha already knows one of the words, but wants you to help solve the other word. If enough people solve that other word similarly, the system gains confidence and now knows what that word reads. The second word is a typically smudged one that even the most complicated systems cannot solve. Or, they are just crowdsourcing OCR tasks to millions of people. Hence, reCaptcha is a “crowd computer”. reCaptcha’s utility is to provide spam protection AND help turning scanned books into searchable digital text in open domain

        Google clearly aims to apply reCaptcha for their books and newspaper digitization projects to help with the quality of their existing OCR (Optical Character Recognition). This now means you’ll also help Google’s efforts. reCaptcha mentions they’re serving 30 million Captchas daily and that generally, people spend roughly 10 seconds on a captcha – that’s quite some human computing power. Do the math. Assuming, a typical brains capacity is a few petaflops (on a focused task), this could very well be the beginning of the worlds most powerful and cleverest supercomputer!

        Who’s to say that in the future, we’ll not be solving other captcha tasks? Telling humans and bots apart and several other puzzles are tough for today’s AIs, but easy for humans. For instance, a captcha may show you a collection of a dozen images and ask you to click on all images showing a cat. For most images Google knows whether it’s a cat or not, but for one image, Google only suspects that it’s a cat based on keywords found on the same page the pic was hosted on. If many people click that picture, Google may gain confidence that it’s indeed a cat (or conversely that it isn’t)

        These are straightforward applications; even more power could be unleashed if any company figures out a possibility to break up bigger questions into easy humanly solvable chunks, which would – after being solved – be merged to form a deeper answer. Maybe at some point, people would be selling the computing cycles too. Not unlike how Amazon is selling cloud computing cycles. Else we’re slaves.

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          24 September, 2009 at 12:56 Leave a comment

          I Support GMC Affordable Private Schools Initiative

          I have lived in the UK and suffer from a condition that can only be called “charity fatigue”. Like me, there are too many patients who think there are just too many people doing too many things to save too many people. But now that I am based in India and fairly well aware of 3rd world situations, I have to say that there is just too much misery and charities, NGOs, social enterprises et al. put together are nowhere near enough. So much so that I seriously thought about going into the non-profit sector myself and while I again got lost and overwhelmed by the sheer numerosity of it all, one organization stood out from the rest of the pack. It is ‘Gray Matters Capital’ which has been dabbling in an “Affordable Private Schools Initiative” for quite a while now. They have setup India operations and want to build an ecosystem connecting the stakeholders in the education domain viz. principals, investors, parents, teachers, students, media, educationists, volunteers, entrepreneurs, vendors etc. Of course, with a philanthropic ideology, GMC also maintains a wonderful portfolio. I wish someday I could be part of their efforts…

          One has to understand the problem (read the documents) of appalling state of schooling in India to understand what am talking about. So, I will take an analogy. Imagine this scenario. You are aware of a potholed stretch of road and complain about it. One day some outsiders come and start resolving this issue. What would you do? I would do as it says in the figure. Try to join them and try my best to spread the word. The former will take time but this is me doing the latter. Go support GMC.

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            22 September, 2009 at 23:46 1 comment

            Indian Railways and Cleanliness

            Whenever I hear people give those stirring speeches where they blurt, “nothing is impossible” and such crap, one can always disprove that by citing cleanliness in Indian Railways. So, when the new Rail minister, Mamata Banerjee said that she would put in a big push to make sure the trains and stations would be clean, Eenadu Sridhar drew this very true to life depiction of what it would take…

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              4 July, 2009 at 18:38 Leave a comment

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