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Saturday, December 11, 2010

Is your battery alive ?

TMV batteries
It is understood that over a period of time the lifeforms that we see around will tend to be cyborgs, augmented mechanically for greater functionality. In a complete flip we have seen a machine (ok battery ) augmented functionally by a biological entity. Researchers have found that the efficiency of a Li ion battery can be enhanced many times over by getting tobacco mosaic viruses to attach themselves to the electrode. Shades of Arthur C Clarke and Rama.....
Read more here.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Solar powered lifeforms

Oriental hornet (image: Matti Paavola)

This amazing insect has been found with solar harvesting structures in its abdomen. Read more here.

Monday, November 29, 2010

2G revenues

There has been a lot of noise on the "2G spectrum scam" where the UPA telecom minister stands accused of policy formulations that have cost the country 1.7 Lakh crores of lost revenue and personal corruption. Leaving the personal corruption angle aside (lets assume for the sake of argument that it's true) a simple dissection of the matter at hand yields the following inferences.

1. The 1.7 lakh crores is the retrospective interpolation of the average yield based on the numbers achieved in the 3G auction.
2. If a similar yardstick is applied to say , power distribution by state owned disco's, every power minister can be accused of exactly the same crime of causing the nation losses of lakhs of crores of 'potential revenue'. Ditto for fertilizer, road transport and virtually any sector that is granted some public subsidy to increase penetration. Hence either the review methodology must be applied across sectors or telecom should be understood as a GDP multiplier.
3. The teledensity when the government of the day (NDA) moved from spectrum auctions to revenue sharing, is a small fraction of what it is now. It can be argued (and quite convincingly) that the growth in teledensity was inversely proportional to the cost of ownership and prevailing call rates. The single largest reduction in call rates can be directly attributed to government allowing lower spectrum charges which resulted in lower call rates and increased competition. Also spectrum costs went from cap-ex to be expended before rollout to op-ex that could be paid as it were generated.
4. Obviously the biggest beneficiaries are telecom users, also know as aam aadmi etc. The maid who takes care of my house has 2 phones on a monthly income of say 8-10 K. Would this kind of equitable usage of spectrum happened if the government keeps the call rates in the stratosphere ? Contrast 12 rupees a minute to 30 pisae for the same in 10 years.
5. If the CAG formulas are applied our average call rates will still be in the 2-3 rupees range. how does this benefit the common man ?
6. 3G is now slowtracked successfully by auctioning the spectrum at ridiculous prices. End of the day the telecom companies dont pay for the spectrum, you and i do and that's why ARPU is so important in the business. What we need in this country is cheap and abundant data bandwidth, internet penetration in india is still bad as the cost of broadband is prohibitive even today.
7. Now the same is being applied to mobile data. Looks to me like a conspiracy to keep data exclusive and out of the reach of the common man. If anything there should be a JPC to probe the de facto hijacking of spectrum (a finite resource) by the elite. Keeping out the riff-raff, in the best traditions of the british raj !!

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Colony Collapse Syndrome Cracked

A very serious issue that has been off the radar for many people seems to have been finally understood. Once cannot underestimate what CCS will do to the agrarian economy. Finally after blaming pesticides, cell phone radiation and maybe even the little green men from mars, entomologists working with US army researchers have fingered the culprits as a deadly combination of a virus and a fungus (saprophyte). Read more here.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

what is the higher judiciary smoking ?

The Allahabad high court finally came up with it's crack smokers verdict on the Ramjanambhoomi- Babri masjid title dispute for which almost a century of wrangling has passed. To say the summaries i hear at this point are shocking is to put it mildly. Clearly this is an attempt by the judiciary to have a go at policy rather than interpret the law which is what they are paid to do. Watch this space for more analysis once the judgment copy is public.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Sustainability Series : Abey speaks

Abey is an old friend who has kindly (though rather late) contributed this opinion piece.

When Shiv asked me to contribute my thoughts on Sustainability my first reaction was 'Oh cool. This is something interesting to write about. Plus it will earn me some good karma."

Notwithstanding the incentive of good karma, writing about it is proving to be tougher than it looked. After all 'sustainability' is a hot topic and worst case if I read up a few experts on the subject am sure I could regurgitate something quote intelligent unquote. The problem however is this. The more I think about it and the less I like it.

Sustainability is a crutch word. On it hangs the perceived absolution of many an environmental sin. On the one hand you have industry who hugs it as a quasi marketing tool. Its good to look green for customers and shareholders and there is also some obvious feel good factor that the industry leader will feel when signing off on a green initiative: "I am not a cut throat destroyer of the environment after all." Of course we will politely discount the unsaid: profit before environment.

On the other side you have the environmentalists: little puny stick insect figures who are usually squashed by rolling the juggernaut of destruction wearing the pleasing garb of good times, wealth, prosperity, Bacardi rum sips under cool equatorial coconut palms, and dressed in designer bodies.

In these caterpillar tracks of a consumption driven economy we talk sustainability. And it is just that. Talk where everyone is complicit. Even if you are reusing your plastic bags, all you've done is put up a personal shrine to your belief in the sanctity of the environment. Not that such shrines are not valuable. Individually they contribute to modifying the collective consciousness which will eventually bring about the change.

Meanwhile....Sustainability is a train of thought that is extraneous to any entrepreneurial discussion. It is a layered on activity usually driven by regulatory concerns or as is common in India by how un-bribe-able the enforcing officer or department is. This is not going to change unless there is a fundamental rethink on how we generate our wealth. Laws maybe tightened, departments and officers may become incorruptible, but as long as the underlying fundamental structure of wealth that is denoted by consumption and debt, remains unchanged, sustainaility will remain what it is: A cocktail dress that will make you feel good at the dinner convocation honoring environmental heroes.

Choka is right. True sustainability can only be achieved once it disappears from our vocabulary and becomes part of our culture's genetic heritage. And the ideal vehicle for such a transformation is when society is organized into self sufficient communities driven by consensus, engaging in deliberate thought as to the impact of our actions, and careful considered execution of enterprises that will bring in lasting and sustainable sustainability.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

MIT Team Unveils Airplane that Uses 70 Percent Less Fuel Read more: MIT Team Unveils Airplane that Uses 70 Percent Less Fuel | Inhabitat - Green Design Will Save the World

Inhabitat reports :

Today a team of researchers at MIT unveiled their latest feat of engineering — an airplane that uses 70% less fuel than conventional aircraft. The MIT team was one of six groups — and the only university led team — across the US chosen by NASA to help redesign current aircraft to increase fuel efficiency, lower emissions and allow planes to take off on shorter runways. The team accomplished all of NASA’s set goals with their innovative D-series plane, lovingly referred to as the “double bubble”.

Read more: MIT Team Unveils Airplane that Uses 70 Percent Less Fuel | Inhabitat - Green Design Will Save the World

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Shape of things to come: Open source hardware

This is a topic close to home as we are advocates of open source software but manufacture proprietary hardware. I have always wanted to open source our designs as the market is bigger than what any one company can service. However not everyone is convinced that it is the way to go. What is needed is a GPL like license that works for hardware innovation. IAC given the Indian context IP is so much bull. The Foocamp annual fest threw up 13 innovators who are making million + out of open hardware. The OH industry is estimated to cross a billion dollars by 2015. Very interesting if somewhat counterintutive business wise.

Open source hardware $1m and beyond - foo camp east 2010 from adafruit industries on Vimeo.


Monday, May 10, 2010

Civil Liberties : How safe are our EVM's.

While the opposition has been complaining of EVM manipulation, the EC has consistently rubbished these claims. The video below claims that EVM's can be cracked and manipulated easily. Given what i know of electronics and embedded systems the claims are highly credible. Check out the video below.

The attack of the superweeds

Maybe the fact that Intelligent design holds sway in the US, has induced this problem. After all anyone who believes in Darwin's theory of evolution also believes in the inherent arms race between prey and predator. Clearly the weeds have struck back. In what is being described as 'the single largest threat to production agriculture that we have ever seen,', heavy use of the defoliating agent Roundup has accelerated the development of super weeds that are resistant to, surprise, Roundup. The entire agri economy in the US depends on mass poisoning of fields with such 'herbicides' and then planting with GE verities of the crop that are resistant to it. Little wonder that the genes have crossed over to weedy relatives of the crop. Super weeds have the potential to kill agriculture due to cost escalation in handling. Wonder what Monsanto will do now....
I wonder how many people know that monsanto was one of the first and largest producers of Agent orange, used extensively by the US occupation forces in Vietnam. Another was our good friend Dow chemicals.
This article in today's ET is scary for what such moves mean in the long run. Points to ponder.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

SC bans drugging people and calling the result 'evidence'

In a long overdue move the Supreme Court of India banned the use of drugs and polygraphs is the pursuit of law enforcement. These practices are routine in India and are deceptively called 'Brain Mapping' and 'Narco Analysis'. Nice way to say they drug the shit out of the alleged perpetrator and use the induced verbal diarrhea as evidence in court. Significantly this has been ruled as violative of Article 20 (3) of the Constitution, which prohibits self-incrimination.

Read more here...

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Demand Side Management : Other voices

Matt Millman of relampled an ESCO company based in the US, has a good writeup on the ESCO model, demand side management and how LED's fit into the the space. The data he has used is so close to what our own analysis tells us, that i was wondering if my colleague Atul wrote it :) What it confirms is that no economy is that different from any other given the 'flattening' effect of Globalization. It all appears quite fractal, different from the top, but identical at some scale.

Sustainability Series : Akash Ganga

Akasha Ganga or the River from the sky is an innovative NGO scheme that has shown a path to sustainable use of water and also establishes a scheme for water harvesting and storage. The project led by B.P.Agarwal has won the 2010 Lemelson-MIT Award for Sustainability

Sustainability Series : Sustainability by numbers

Most of us believe things as articles of faith. That our current consumption driven lifestyle is unsustainable is more an article of faith than based on any hard data. Of course i acknowledge that hard data does not often capture the essence of a decaying or destroyed landscape. However in a democracy where accountability of the ruling class to the people is still important, there needs to be an unambiguous way of deciding what deserves attention and what does not. Hence numbers in all their glory become important in preparing a case.
Sustainable Development - a gateway is a portal run by the Government of India with some canadian funding. The four categories of indexing sustainability are

1. Environmental indicators
2. Economic indicators
3. Social indicators
4. Institutional indicators

the site has data captured from various surveys and institutions. Worth the 30 minutes it takes to skim through it.
What i liked most about the site is that there is no commentary on the data provided. It is left to the gentle reader to use the data as they see fit in measuring sustainability.


Monday, May 03, 2010

Horizontal gene transfer to mammals

The Science daily reports that for the first time conclusive evidence of lateral transfer of genetic material from parasites to their hosts was found. Very interesting. Calling some one a louse may no longer be incorrect :)

Thursday, April 29, 2010

I love this

The LA Times Reports :

Happy Meal toys and other promotions that come with high-calorie children's meals will soon be banned in parts of Santa Clara County unless the restaurants meet nutritional guidelines approved Tuesday by the county Board of Supervisors.

"This ordinance prevents restaurants from preying on children's' love of toys" to sell high-calorie, unhealthful food, said Supervisor Ken Yeager, who sponsored the measure.

Read more here.

Sustainability Series : Choku Speaks

In response to my request for thoughts on sustainability Chockalingam Muthiah, a wise friend of mine was kind enough to provide his insights in a mail (reproduced below). Choku, as he is known is a genuine Green Karmayogi, one who put's his money where his mouth is. A Gandhian who has changed his entire life around the concept of sustainability also practices Natural Farming apart from being a successful businessman. Choku is one of the few who has walked the talk and has been living off-grid in the middle of bangalore for almost 4 years now.

Hi shiv,

There is so much in the language we use that we do not pause to know the meaning but use it because they are fashionably in vogue.

Amazing, great, fine, cool and so many more.

Sustainability is one such word.

So i am trying to find out what is sustainable.
To be able to sustain what?

"being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged " - Merriam-Websters

This is the current english meaning from the Dictionary and it was not very convincing for me.
So i went to root word:

"L. sustinere "hold up, support, endure" - Etymology, Latin.

Hold up, support or endure what?

We do even more with our lives to the extent perhaps even our creator had not envisaged at the time of Adam or Eve.

I feel the key is, we should take charge of our lives to be able to support or endure.

Even for the basic needs we depend on Electricity boards, Water supply Board, of late the cola giants for water, Corporates for food and the list ever boring.

One of our learned freedom fighters, who was also a qualified economist, observed that we fit our legs into a standard size shoe whereas our feet are supposed to be clothed by the footwear.
In my childhood we always stiched hardy shoes that were measured for my feet and the arche support etc.

We have become so mediocre that we go to malls and pride ourselves in shopping the best.

My son wants one for football, one for cricket, one for school and of course one to look cool.

Centralised supplies will corrupt us, make us mediocre, fits us in standard sizes, are inefficient because of cross subsidy, and the consumption economy it serves, is wastefull of resources.

I believe we all can sustain life on earth if we decentralise and disconnect from the grid supplies of everything.

Communal or individual arrangement for consumption will only be sustainable and give us the fitness and time to enjoy the life of being.

Less of doing translates to more of being.

We are human beings afterall!



The World has enough for everyone's needs,
but never enough for one man's greed:

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Sustainable living series

The last decade has seen the word "Sustainable" attain cult status among the glitterati and hence a tremendous amount of interest among the general public. As part of the energy efficiency industry i am often asked to comment on sustainability or better still offer sustainable solutions for traditional problems using technology as the enabling vehicle.
Sadly, but for a few honourable exceptions sustainability to most people is business as usual with a technological twist that suitably lowers their consumption. This is shallow and imho not what sustainability is all about !
This series will have small opinion pieces written by guest columnists and try to look beyond the veil and unmask pseudo sustainability. I invite my fellow bloggers to send me their opinion pieces on sustainability, issues with consumption etc to help put together a collection of articles in this blog that will pique the interest of the intelligent netizen.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Counterintuitive cleanup conundrum

Slashdot is carrying a crazy story today on why less is actually more.

Scientists estimate that the US Clean Air Act has cut a major air pollutant, sulfate aerosols, by 30% to 50% since the 1980s, helping greatly reduce cases of asthma and other respiratory problems. But NPR reports that this good news may have a surprising downside: cleaner air might actually intensify global warming. One benefit of sulfates is that they've been helpfully blocking sunlight from striking the Earth for many decades, by brightening clouds and expanding their coverage. Researchers believe greenhouse gases such as CO2 have committed the Earth to an eventual warming of roughly 4 degrees Fahrenheit, a quarter of which the planet has already experienced. But thanks to cooling by aerosols starting in the 1940s, the planet has felt only a portion of that warming. And unlike CO2, which persists in the atmosphere for centuries, aerosols last in the air for a week at most, so cutting them would probably rapidly accelerate global warming.

Read More in the LA Times

Demand Side Management

The Energy Conservation Act 2001, passed by the government of India is finally getting into mainstream implementation. Looks like it takes a decade for the implications of the act to sink in and funds to get allocated for the same. The government has however woken up. It is clear (as a former top technocrat once confessed to me) that the government can never put up enough infrastructure to meet the projected demand. Forget meeting the demand, even a fraction of the demand cannot be met. The alarming growth in Consumer power demand had also put an end to the cross subsidy route that has worked well till now. Basically any serious industry comes up with captive power or tries to enter a serviced zone where adequate power and backup is available.
Hence the current focus on demand side management. As the name implies the policy planners are trying to reduce the energy consumed for a given task to reduce the demand projection for a given growth rate of GDP. This is indeed laudable as a law. Further the Act has teeth. The nodal body heading this initiative in each state has funds to offer as carrots and penalties for non-compliance to wave as a stick. They have also identified the top energy consumers by industry and are using the new Energy Auditor function to track the actual implementation on the ground.
What does this imply for Industry ?

A huge socially important initiative is underway and offers Indian consumers an opportunity to upgrade their infrastructure to optimally use what is fast becoming a scarce resource, power. It opens up the floodgates of innovation and provides space for innovative companies to build great products and services around this demand. In a way this is a decisive move against the L1 culture that characterizes indian procurement, private or public. Specs are diluted, standards stretched in getting the cheapest product for a given job. Obviously energy efficiency is not key when lowest unit cost is the main criterion for selection. The move of the government in creating the BEE and imposing minimum standards for key products is laudable and will work wonders for raising the energy efficiency of Indian operations. Currently our energy efficiency of manufacture in most areas is probably the lowest in the world. The absence of capital for technology up-gradation is the main culprit.

This is a very interesting phase for innovative indian startup's in the energy efficiency space as the scale of the indian market allows them to become global very fast if they know their game. The beauty of local consumption driven growth is that it is relatively immune to global trends. Watch this space for action.
Get the details here. and here.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

IPL, BCCI and the real question

Anyone with a power connection in India would surely have not missed the IPL tamasha over the last week. While i like Tharoor, i cannot condone such self serving Kleptocracy.
I am sure that the average alert netizen is in possession of the major facts. How there is crony capitalism, hidden stakes, match fixing, etc in the IPL, BCCI etc. However i have but one question

1) After all this crap, why is the BCCI, which according to Wikipedia is

" The Board of Control for Cricket in India, or BCCI, is the apex governing body for cricket in India, headquartered at Mumbai. The board was formed in December 1928 as the national governing body for all cricket in India. BCCI replaced Calcutta Cricket Club. It is a society, registered under the Tamil Nadu Societies Registration Act. The BCCI often uses government-owned stadiums across the country at a nominal annual rent. It is a private club consortium. Basically to become a member of a state-level association, you need to be introduced by another member and also pay an annual fee. The state-level clubs select their representatives (secretaries) who in turn select the BCCI officials. BCCI are not required to make their balance sheets public. In the past, tax exemptions were granted to BCCI on the grounds as promoting cricket was a charitable activity but since 3 year due to IPL that stand has come into question. [1]

As a member of the International Cricket Council (ICC), it has the authority to select players, umpires and officials to participate in international events and exercises total control over them. Without its recognition, no competitive cricket involving BCCI-contracted Indian players can be hosted within or outside the country."

Given a monopoly on cricket in India ? Why is the stewardship of a "gentelman's game" vested with such an obviously corrupt body ? I can understand what the ICC wants, beggar britons dont have much choice but to fellate choice sub-continental meat, starting with Dalmia who actually gave modi the ideas he seems to pioneer today. Why is the Republic of india that is represented by an unambiguous constitution putting up with the national team being run by a "private body, registered as a society in T.N" without anyone questioning this franchise. Why on earth would a stricken union minister want to be pres of the BCCI and the minister of agriculture ? Altruism ? Especially when his daughter and in-laws seem to have multi crore stakes in the IPL :)

Cut the bull shit .. Why is cricket the monopoly of BCCI which is not a body accountable to the CAG ? Why was the ICL hounded out ? Why cant we have 2 or 3 or 100 leagues that compete on a transparent rating system ? Why are the players quiet ? Why has no government including the current opposition never had a problem with this ? Why does an NCP minister forward stolen commercial intelligence to someone who in theory is an opponent? Well my friends the ruling classes have figured out how our constitution can be circumvented in the pursuit of power. Nothing new in this, just a stupid population that is so ready to be seduced, that its child's play for the old feudal class.
While the government of the day and their predecessors seemed to agree that competition is good for the consumer, why the consensus on keeping the de facto national game in "private and unaccountable " hands ? As they say in the past " follow the money". But with the apathy that i know exists, what the hell!!!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Compulsory voting revisited

With the media reporting the return of the Gujarat local body voting bill, it is heartening to see the constitutional checks and balances still working. This blog has pointed out in the past that such idiotic unenforcable laws that are truly anit-democratic will run into issues with constitutional propriety. here. The sangh parivar's fundamental problem stems from the fact that the founding fathers thought out the constitution rather well. My undying gratitude to the constituent assembly for their foresight and the concept of underlying "Spirit of the Consttitution". The recent very stupid anti beef consumption laws passed in the karnataka legislature is another such case in point. On one hand we see progressive legislation like the RTI getting passed and as a counterpoint the right wing rushes in crap like this. Anyway they even tried to "review" the constitution in Vajpai's period. Wake up time...

Friday, February 19, 2010

US DOE releases SSL energy report

From LEDS Magazine

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has released a new report that analyzes the potential energy savings of broadly deployed solid-state lighting (SSL) sources – predominantly LED- and OLED-based products. The DOE projects that between 2010 and 2030, SSL could save 1,488 terawatt-hours representing a savings of $120 billion at today's energy prices.

The full report is available here