Simply put Sanjaya Malakar is to American Idol what Shilpa Shetty was to Big Brother. A lucky 17 year old who found instant stardom after participating in the American Idol season 6. More known for his on & off stage charm and much less for his singing talent.

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So what’s the fuss about now, one may ask?
He is not much of a singer. But so are many others who participate in American Idol you might say.
He has funny hairdos. So what? You exclaim!
Well, he is half-Indian. Aah! Now I get it you say. J
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Here is a little snapshot on Sanjaya  

    • Sanjaya & Shyamali both auditioned for Americal Idol season 6 and both got selected for the Hollywood round. But only Sanjaya made it till Top 8.  
    • His father is a Bengali Indian while his mother is an Italian American.  
    • He has J Lo for a “fanjaya” for she said, “I like this kid. I love Sanjaya!” after hearing him sing in Spanish in rehearsal, the only one of the remaining 8 contestants to do so 
    • The real controvery started when Howard Stern, veteran radio and television personality, announced that he was launching a campaign with his listeners to vote for Malakar to win the competition.
    • Simon Cowell told Extra, an entertainment news television program, that if Sanjaya Malakar wins, he wouldn’t return as a judge to the show, even though he is contractually obligated to return

What I get to understand is – The world of entertaiment has hit on this new age formula for instant revival of dying television shows & it is quite simple – 1. Start a new season or series, 2. Get an Indian to participate (whackier the better), 3. Throw in few hundred supporters and a few thousand opposers. Sit back and watch your fortune turaround.

For now we got to wait and watch what magic Sanjaya spins for American Idol.

[Image Source: Wikipedia & Bodog Beat]

Cross Posted Here

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When the state transport secretary GS Gill was taken for a ride by a cabbie in Mumbai, all hell broke loose. But the result is that rides in Mumbai cabs are going to be easier on the pocket as electronic meters will be installed. Electronic meters are not only difficult to tamper with, they will come with a printed handout which will make it easier for customers to prove that he/she has been cheated. In fact a cabbie taking an unusually long route from point to point will also be caught. This itself should act as a deterrent.

Fines for rigged meters will also rise. We hope. Because cabbies are not too happy with the move as they feel that not only are electronic meters expensive, they will cost more to repair. In any case taxi unions are already very unhappy… taxi fares have been reduced by 50 paise per km, because cabs have switched to CNG. And fines for faulty meters now stand at anywhere between Rs 500 to Rs 1500/-

Unfortunately the reduction in fares as well as the increase in fines is going to be challenged in court by the taxi union. Reduced fares or not, the union hasn’t accepted it, and consumers have to pay the original fare.

We have to admit that though Mumbai cabs are said to be the safest in the world – when it comes meter tampering, they don’t score very well.

Actually, the move to improve the cabbie system in Mumbai is not a new one. Upgradation of the rickety black and yellow cabs is very much in keeping with the state government’s policy for improving the city of Mumbai. In fact recently the chief minister inaugurated a modern fleet of GPS-based technology taxi services, with the flag off fare of Rs 15. Six months ago, a similar service was introduced.

One can only hope that the taxi union’s plans to scuttle the government’s move to reduce fares does not succeed. Well, at least the union has not opposed electronic meters, and once they are installed, Mumbai will be safer from cheating cabbies. If there are complaints one can complain online at trafficpolicemumbai.org

Finally, it took the state transport secretary to suffer at the hands of a cheating cabbie for all this to happen. While electronic meters were to be installed on all new cabs anyway, now they will have to be installed on all cabs. 🙂

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.

I meet my friends in Thrissur on Sundays and holidays. Last week when I took two days off from work for the holy weekend, I met my friend Lijo and we spent sometime in the town. While we were coming back Lijo pointed at a woman walking on the footpath. It was almost 10 at night. It was just another beggar or gypsy woman that you wouldn’t even care to notice.

Do you know what can happen to that woman in another two hours or so?” Lijo asked me.

What, do you mean to say she can be a prostitute and her customers would come to pick her up?

In a way, yes. But it would be more like kidnapping than ‘picking’.

These customers are usually local goondas (thugs) and wouldn’t pay her even a penny for the ‘work‘. These people come as a group, take her, use her and dump her. It is not always the goondas. Sometimes its middle aged men, older men or young men, wealthy men or day-light gentlemen – Age, financial status and social status do not matter.

Same is the case when they choose the victims as well. Age doesn’t matter. A little girl (aged around 7 or 11 I guess) of a gypsy family was kidnapped in the middle of the night when she was sleeping with her family in the roadside. The father woke up after a while and found the girl was missing, but they had no one to complain. Later in the morning, someone found out the girl from a nearby lonely place. The little girl was brutally raped and she couldn’t stand straight at the time she was found. The police is still searching for the culprit.

An old lady, who died sometimes back, used to tell a friend in town the stories of how some men approached her while she was sleeping in the roadside. The poor lady had to accompany her mentally retarded son throughout the town and had to resort on the roadside at nights. I think she was more than 60 yrs old when she told this story.

A beggar woman was found lying in her own blood in a bus-stand one day. The bus drivers who came to the bus-stand in the morning took her to the hospital. Doctors said there must have been more than 10 men raped her and the woman did not have any count or lost count.

Who is bothered about them and who is going to raise their voices against such issues? I haven’t seen any known feminist organizations talking about this. Perhaps these women are not beneficial for them. The police force has to act properly and strengthen their night-time patrolling to prevent such incidents. They have to make sure that the night life in our towns do not belong to such criminals.

Until that happens, we will hear more such stories of face-less victims of crime in our towns. And we will never know how horrible it is until we think ‘What if it was me and my family in their place?

Cross posted here

The curtains have been drawn for a show that promises to be quite interesting.The PM Manmohan Singh’s suggestion yesterday that judiciary should not breach the thin line dividing judiciary and legislature and asking the courts to follow some guidelines before accepting PILs was followed by the CJI,KG Balakrishnan’s asserting the judiciary’s independence and its power to review the actions of Parliament and legislatures.

There were a good number of incidents where there was a confrontation between the two systems-the Bihar assembly dissolution, Jharkhand government formation, expulsion of MPs in cash-for-query scam, reservation in promotions, 9th schedule and now the stay on implementation of 27% OBC quota.The legislature responded favourably only in the case of cash-for-query scam.

Its natural for the ruling class to be irked by the constant ‘interference’ by courts in what they consider to be their own domain,but its very much essential for the smooth functioning of the democracy.As the CJI rightly said,there may be some tensions between the legislature and the judiciary some times,but its a sign of a healthy democracy.There were many clashes between the two forces earlier too,the most famous being the Allahabad High Court’s ruling that declared the then PM of India,Indira Gandhi’s election as void.Indira Gandhi retorted by imposing Emergency,a blot on Indian democracy.Now though we can be sure of such situations being repeated,thanks to a much politically-aware society and the media revolution and the emergence of internet as the most popular means of communication, answerability of the legislature to public is still a distant dream.

The PILs are one of the few options left to the public to question the policies of the Govt.The Govt has tried to tamper with the other option,RTI act,but was met with stiff resistance by the public.If all the policies are made in the larger interest of the public and not for political mileage or personal benefits,why does the Govt want the courts to restrict PILs?Absolute power in the hands of a few people will be disastrous for everybody.And healthy discussions are an absolute necessity for a flourishing democracy.Just because you are elected by the public
(?) doesn’t mean you are immune from from judicial review gentlemen.There is a rule of law in this country and let it be there.

And why does the Supreme Court still wants to be out of the purview of RTI?

Image Source:http://www.hindu.com

Cross-posted here

Short Answer: Yes. It can be!

According to the Open Budget Index 2006 (pdf), while six countries (France, US, UK, New Zealand, South Africa and Slovenia) provide extensive information to citizens, and nine countries (Botswana, Brazil, Czech Republic, Norway, Peru, Poland, Romania, South Korea, and Sweden) provide significant information to citizens, India is among the countries which provide some information to its citizens. The International Budget Project (IBP) home page provides some more details; for example, the budget groups in India, and a page explaining participatory budgeting.

I ended up at the IBP homepage via this article in the latest issue of Economic and Political Weekly (pdf) which argues for a more transparent and participatory budget preparation for India. The article further notes that there is no evidence to indicate that a closed budget process is essential–on the contrary, there are some reports (I guess the references are to the reports available here and here) which show that such a closed budget preparation system actually leads to corruption, inefficiency and speculation.

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!