Science and Technology

R Ramachandran, in the latest issue of Frontline, profiles Sathamangalam Ranga Iyengar Srinivasa Varadhan, the recipient of the 2007 Abel prize, and in an accompanying piece puts the award in perspective by indicating that the prize is comparable to Nobel prize in terms of value and eligibility criterion.

The delightful profile, though sounds a bit parochial at times, not only traces the career of Prof. Varadan but also locates him amidst the mathematical talent of his generation:

It was a period when South India produced many students interested in research in mathematics, particularly from Presidency College (the only college where you could do an honours course in statistics at that time), Loyola College and Vivekananda College in Chennai and St. Joseph’s College in Tiruchi. V.S. Varadarajan and J. Sethuraman from Presidency, K.R. Parthasarathy and R. Ranga Rao from Vivekananda, names that became well known in mathematics in later years, were already at the ISI from the South. Varadhan easily became one with that group.

“There was a tradition possibly [in the South] of grooming students for research in mathematics,” says Parthasarathy, now Professor-Emeritus at the ISI in New Delhi. “This was mostly owing to individual teachers who themselves did not do any research but were enthusiastic about mathematics, like Father Racine at Loyola, Raghava Sastry at Vivekananda, Suryanarayana Iyer at St. Joseph’s. Father Levy in Calcutta [Kolkata] too was doing the same,” he adds. Besides, Varadhan’s father, Ranga Iyengar, was a schoolteacher who taught mathematics and, according to Parthasarathy, always wanted his son to do the ultimate possible and was very proud of his son’s achievements in college. Apparently, he used to taunt Varadarajan, three years senior to Varadhan in college, about how Varadhan had consistently outperformed him.

There is also some interesting mathematics history trivia:

For Varadhan’s thesis, the foreign examiner, as was customary those days, was the famous Kolmogorov. According to Varadarajan, Kolmogorov’s report was in Russian and he was one of the few at the ISI who was familiar with the language. “I still remember two sentences that stood out in that report. Kolmogorov wrote that this thesis was not that of a student but that of a mature master… [and] the thesis deserved the second degree in the Soviet Union.” The first degree in the former Soviet Union was called the candidate’s degree and is roughly equivalent to a Ph. D. elsewhere. The second degree, D. Sc., is given only for distinguished work, usually several years after the candidate’s degree. The apocryphal story, which is included even in Varadhan’s biography hosted on the Abel Prize’s website, of Kolmogorov sitting as a stranger at his thesis defence at the ISI and asking probing questions much to Varadhan’s surprise, does not seem to be true. It is, however, true that Kolmogorov did visit the ISI in February 1962 for a month on C.R. Rao’s invitation.

Then there is the nice Tamb(a)ram touch:

Apparently, he enjoys Carnatic music and likes listening to Thiruppavai, a collection of verses in Tamil written by Andal in praise of God.

The profile itself ends in a very moving note:

He has reportedly donated his Steele Prize money to a hospital in Tambaram, where his roots are. Currently he is on the governing council of the Chennai Mathematical Institute and visits Chennai regularly. Varadhan’s only regret at this hour of glory is perhaps that his eldest son Gopalakrishnan Varadhan is not there to share it with him. He died while at work in the September 11, 2001, attack on the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Centre.

A must-read piece on a mathematician about whom all of us can be proud of!

Update: Prof. V S Varadarajan profiles Prof. Varadhan and puts his work in perspective.

ISRO is an organisation that Indians are justifiably proud of; as this article points out, Indians are less cynical about ISRO and it had the lowest employee turnover for any government department as of 2003; and, I guess, it still does.

Take a look at the ISRO Wiki page for the history and achievements of ISRO, and this article by Dr. Kasturirangan (pdf) for some interesting early history.

As successful as ISRO is, how efficient is it? Some economic aspects of ISRO is analysed here, for example. Apparently, a new book, The economics of India’s space programme, analyses the economics of ISRO in greater detail. The review by S Chandrasekhar in today’s Hindu calls it a path-breaking book:

Sankar’s appraisal is neither eulogistic nor unnecessarily critical. By sticking to facts and data and allowing them to speak for the programme, he has brought rigour into the process of economic scrutiny. This is a work of scholarship that should be read by all people interested in the Indian space programme.

Here is another write-up on the book by D Murali in BusinessLine.

The bottom line? Indian space programme is very cost effective, and the efficiency can further be increased by increasing the number of flights per year. Though this is not surprising (see this Wired article for example), a proper analysis is always welcome. So, it probably is a good time to say “Kudos” to ISRO, and wish them all the best for their future endeavours!

Well, after months of speculations, the Logan is finally here.

Mahindra and Mahindra, today finally made its entry into the sedan segment, by the launch of Logan, through its partnership, with French car maker Renault. The car, is the first in the offering of many to come from the partnership.

Mahindra Renault Logan

Mahindra Renault Logan

The Logan, manufactured at M&M’s Nashik plant, is priced at Rs. 427,950 for the base petrol model, and goes up to Rs 568,789 for the top end model in the petrol offerings.
In the diesel the base shall cost, Rs 547,064, and the top end model is priced at Rs 643,939. (All pries at Ex Showroom Mumbai). The car comes with three engine options, which include a 1.4L and a 1.6L petrol engine and a 1.5L diesel engine.

And as I learnt from a TOI article, the engines are being sourced from Romania and Spain, and shall be replaced by locally manufactured at a later date.

As, says about the car,

The Logan redefines its segment in terms of spaciousness as well as performance, technology with the latest generation dCi common rail engine. It has been designed for the Indian market incorporating a contemporary styling and design…

One of the main USP’s of Logan, is its wide body, and as per the stats shown on the Mahindra Renault website, the car is widest ant the tallest amongst the compared competitors, like Tata Indigo, Honda City, Chevy Optra, etc. Thus what can definitely be expected from this no frills sedan is plenty of space inside, and a very roomy interior. The boot space offered is also plenty, which is 510 liters, as stated on the website. The car also comes with safety features, like airbags, and is known to have gone through various safety tests, to comply with the standards.

Mahindra Renault Logan

The car’s website has this piece of information, a lot in the offering given the price tag, inside too the car looks very much upmarket with beige colored interiors.

The Logan comes with an in-built Tachometer and an LCD display. The car is also equipped with an advanced driver information system that updates you of overall fuel consumption, kms you can travel with remaining fuel, average fuel consumption, predicted fuel autonomy and average speed. The alphanumeric display in the centre of the dashboard provides you with trip computer data, warning messages and practical information like time, fuel, gauge and temperature.

Personally, I feel this is a car that was very much needed in India. A diesel car, with a large boot, should be perfect for a winning story, add to it that it’s a common rail. I believe the car has in it what it takes to appeal to the Indian customers. And add to it the Mahindra, tag which is very much well versed with us, thanks to Bolero and Scorpio.
And just like Bolero and Scorpio, who are the leaders in their respective segment, I expect this one to be the same.

And if you haven’t read my earlier post, on my personal blog, on Mahindra Renault, then check it out. I expect them to get here the Clio hatchback and the Megane sedan, those cars are simple superb. Just love their styling.

For specifications, Check out the Mahindra Renault site,
Pics Courtesy: Official Website of Mahindra Renault Logan.

{Cross posted here}

Mark-II pumpFew inventions ever have changed the lives of people.And even fewer inventions made a difference to millions of people in water starved areas.And the Mark II  is one of those rarities.Well,its nothing but the ubiquitous hand pump.

It happened in 1960.India was reeling under severe drought and water was scarce.The people needed a hand pump that can be used easily and durable.The cast iron pumps that were used earlier were more suitable for use in homes,to be used only a few times a day.

At a workshop conducted by UNICEF together with Govt. of India at Bangalore,the search for the perfect pump has started.They were looking for a pump that could be manufactured in an unsophisticated workshop,that wouldn’t cost more than $200 and most importantly,should be durable.

The search ended in a mechanic’s workshop in Sholapur, Maharashtra.The design found universal acceptance and was an instant hit.Slight improvisations in the form of polypropylene washers and galvanised steel parts to prevent rusting.They were exported to 52 countries across the world,including the water-starved regions in Africa and Latin America.More than 30 lakh units were used in India itself!

Over the years, the pump has become more sophisticated with increasing use of stronger, lightweight metal, and has spawned the new avatar of the best known hand-pump in the world: India Mark III.

Parts of the article have been taken from an article on the same in India Today

Picture Source:

Long back, once in a while, my linux computer used to give me this fortune cookie:

Network is the computer; Oops! Network is the network; computer is the computer. Sorry for the mix-up.

Or, something to that effect, which is an obvious joke on the logo of the Sun microsystems.

Today’s Hindu carries an editorial about broad-based computing, which relies on network as the computer paradigm. The homepage of the company referred to in the article, Novatium, also has some information on their netPC.

As usual, the Wiki page on Network Computer is full of information and contains links (among other things) to this FAQ (which is rather old) and to this article (which is relatively recent).

As the Wiki article points out, the idea of Network PCs might have been ahead of its time. If so, I would tend to agree with the conclusion of the Hindu editorial that the network PCs along with open source software might actually be able to bridge the digital divide effectively:

For the majority of the people, bridging the digital divide will depend on innovation that exploits low-cost hardware, open source software, and network opportunities such as cabling, mobile telephony, and wireless to broaden and democratise access.

Finally, with all this potential, can Google be far behind? While Google denied the report, a thin client maker says that they did in fact have discussions with Google on the issue.

Ram Guha reminisces about the times when being an employee of the Government of India was an honour:

Truth be told, both Bhawani Singh and my father were merely representative of the times. Among Indians of all classes then hung the clean, if somewhat antiseptic, air of the freedom movement. This was especially true of those in public service; whether an unlettered peon or a scientist with a PhD, to be in the employ of the government of India was recognized as an honour that, despite (or perhaps even because of) its lack of material reward, somehow elevated you above your countrymen. With this sense of honour went a sense of duty and responsibility. Hence the respect with which Bhawani Singh treated the laboratory keys placed in his charge; hence also the doggedness with which my father would refuse to allow me to sit in the Dodge that Mahanand drove.

In the latter part of the article, he ties these up with the Mashelkar fiasco. And, he has some more ‘interesting’ information about Mashelkar too:

In his time at the CSIR, Dr Mashelkar had a reputation for dynamism, for infusing life and energy into a somnolent organization. To be sure, he did things scientists were not supposed to do. For example, he was felicitated in a function hosted by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Again, Dr Mashelkar joined the board of Reliance Industries very soon after leaving office.

What is more, given Mashelkar’s background, Guha finds the plagiarism accusation the most serious of all:

Breaking bread with the RSS, cosying up to corporate India — these are things we have become accustomed to, from our journalists and social scientists at any rate. We should perhaps not be too judgmental about a scientist following the same route. However, the charges of plagiarism will be harder to wish away. For nothing can be more damaging to a scientist than to be told that his conclusions are stolen from someone or somewhere else.

Finally, Guha touches a raw nerve of the Indian science establishment in the last paragraph:

As I write this, news comes in that Dr Mashelkar has resigned from the Technical Expert Group on Patent Law Issues. Although belated — it comes several weeks after the charges of plagiarism were made public — it is a welcome acknowledgement of error, if not negligence. With this, the controversy in the press will die down. However, Dr Mashelkar has still to withstand the proper scrutiny of his peers. I would be most interested in the reactions of the scientific academies of which he is a member, sometimes a leading member. Will they chastize him for violating the ethical code that mandates scientists always to scrupulously acknowledge the source of their data or analysis? Or, will they instead close ranks and let off the errant member of their community? This will be a test of their integrity, as well as their courage.

And, as Guha should well have known by now, even during the height of the controversy, no Indian science or engineering academy (we have a couple, I guess), as far as I know, made any official pronouncement on the issue. And, personally, I do not think there are going to be any.

I have seen scientists criticising their peers in the letters to the editor pages of the Hindu or sometimes in their interviews in the Frontline; however, in this case, I have not seen a single response. Nor are there any letters to the editor of Current Science, where again, such arguments are common.

Finally, to be fair to Mashelkar, the committee did consist of four more members; there are not any comments from them or about them in the press either, which again is surprising!

When there was another plagiarism complaint against a physicist for example, the physics community did respond to it effectively. So, the silence of the scientific community in this case, coming to think of it, is indeed eloquent, and something to certainly mull about!

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It was another eventful week in Mutiny, and here is a categorized summary!

  1. Music: Jo began the week with some cool news about the availability of teasers from BlogSwara and followed it up later with the news of the launch of the site.
  2. Science: Cakerfare discussed the idea behind genetically modified malaria resistant mosquitoes in tackling malaria, while Vishal followed the story of the discovery of 3.8 million year old rocks and the relevance of the discovery to geological theories of plate tectonics.
  3. Cricket: While Chacko was optimistic about the chances of the Indian team and did some number juggling, later in the week, Sridhar Kondoji felt that the products endorsed by Indian cricketers need to be boycotted as a mark of protest against the abysmal performance of the team India.
  4. Pseudo-religion: Gentledude admonished Indians for their blind faith in godmen with specific reference to Baba, and followed it by another post on the paradox of Lord Balaji being the second richest god in the world, while half of India is languishing below poverty line.
  5. Education: Polite Indian wonders if corporate punishement is needed at all, and concludes in the negative.
  6. Society: While Nita wrote for the need of sensitivity on the part of all of us in the wake of Sikh community taking exceptions to Sardar jokes, Guru pointed to Andre Beteille’s article which argued caste to be an Indian socio-economic institution.
  7. Justice: SwethaIyer’s confidence in the Indian judicial system is reinforced after the verdict of guilty for the accused in the killing of Manjunath Shanmugam.
  8. Management: Vishal, while narrowing down on the reasons for the dumb decisions that managers make, also identifies five signs that indicate trouble in an organization.
  9. News and Media: While Guru laments the dearth of “real” news, Nita finds that the marriage of Liz and Arun Nair is still the hot selling item on the streets.
  10. Tips: While Jo tips us about the free phone call service Fone Mine, Sridhar Kondoji tells you what to do when the markets are down.
  11. Issues: Guru felt that the Mashelkar committee should be terminated, and (in a follow-up post on brain drain) indicated that brain drain is not that bad after all; and, Jo dedicated a song to the victims of Nandigram.
  12. Interview: Ujj interviewed Vinod George Joseph, the author of Hitchhiker (shortly after his review of the book).

Hope you enjoyed reading mutiny and voicing your opinions on issues as much as we enjoyed our writing and hearing from you.

Hope to see you in these parts of the blogosphere soon, again!

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