Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Bt Egg(plant) on the Face

Much has already been written about the Bt brinjal report fiasco by six of India's National Academies. If you don't know what I am talking about Nanopolitan has a nice summary including all relevant links. Yesterday one of the many distinguished fellows of INSA received a 'mea culpa' mail from the President of INSA. I am not at liberty to quote it since I was only shown it informally but the mail, if anything, makes things worse and carries traces of the same sloppy work of the main report.

To begin with, it even misspells the name of the Minister of Environment Jairam Ramesh as Jayaram Ramesh. You would think Jairam Ramesh has been in the news long enough for his spelling to register in most people's mind. Secondly after much talk about how this was the first attempt to bring six academies together (as if six academies together should be excused for sloppiness but one shouldn't), it actually admits that they could have done a better job and that the present report should be withdrawn and re-written. However, and this is interesting, the 'baby should not be thrown out with the bath water' meaning I suppose most of the conclusions should stand. I wonder why that should be so, since it also turns out that this is not an independent report but a rehashed version of a report by one Anand Kumar. Why should be assume that a genuine independent study by the academies would throw up the same conclusions?

The second interesting point is that the President of INSA chooses to present his defense to what might be called his biradari -- the fellows of the academy. Should not this mail have gone to the public in general and specifically to the media which mounted this campaign along with an advocacy group against GM crops. Why keep the justification within the family -- what purpose does it serve? Of course, one does not know if the President of the other academies have even sent a letter justifying a stand or they just hope if they wait this out, it will all blow over.

This is not an isolated incident. Many people will recall the episode of the Mashelkar report and accusations of plagiarism. Why do these things happen?

I really don't believe that these scientists are mediocre or are plagiarists -- far from it. Both the Presidents of INSA and IAS (Bangalore) are very distinguished scientists. However, there is a tendency in India to pass off work to a low level flunky, particularly if it is considered not so important (and definitely not a paper one is writing for a reputed journal). I suspect this is what has happened here too. The work was probably palmed off to some low level functionaries who used that well known research tool 'Google' to do their 'research'. The top bosses glanced cursorily at the result (surprisingly not noticing that a cornerstone of research papers -- proper referencing -- was non existent). There was, in other words, no serious oversight, no proper attribution, and yet, the heads of the academies were willing to put their reputation on the line by putting their names on the report. They presumably assumed that the report would just end up in some dusty cupboard in some government office never to see the light of day. Instead of which, it landed on the table of one of our most pro-active ministers!

Just as a comparison, here is the report on global warming by the American Physical Society. Click on the link to get the PDF version of the full report.

P.S. Just learnt from Nanopolitan again that the National Academy of Medical Sciences has dumped the report! Hmm....a case of rats deserting a sinking ship? Wonder what else will unfold in the next few days....

P.P.S.: Here is the letter of the President of INSA to the Fellows of the Academy, complete with misspelt name and all (courtesy a colleague).

P.P.P.S.: See also a recent letter by Gautam Menon and Rahul Siddharthan on this issue.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Speaking Paper

This morning the venerable Hindu newspaper arrived, complete with an implanted chip on the back page that, in a disembodied voice, extolled the virtues of the Volkswagen Vento . Hapless souls like us who also subscribe to the Times of India, got the effect in stereo. Interesting, it would stop on closing the newspaper. Since we had two samples, I tore off one and here is what it looks like from the outside

And here is what it looks like on the inside, on tearing it off the page

No big surprise there -- a small chip with batteries and a small speaker. Apart from the sheer irritatingly repetitive yammering which is not going to win the Volkswagen Vento any friends, I got to wondering if this was going to be the wave of the future.

For example, one could think of the whole daily newspaper converted to audio and arriving with an implanted chip which would read out the news. This could be a boon to the visually impaired. Of course one can do the same I presume with the on line versions of newspapers but that involves having a computer, an internet connection, and other such paraphernalia. This, on the other hand, could be as easy as picking up the paper from your doorstep and then just listening to it. In its present form, you would have to listen to the whole newspaper which is a pain, since there are no user controlled functions on this object. But those could eventually come.

Small sound producing chips aren't new by any means. In the 80s I recall sending friends and relatives, from the US, greeting cards which played a song when you opened it, much to the excitement and amusement of the recipients. Compared to those, this one is surprisingly bigger in size. Also the cost of such an object, even though small, can hardly be included in the price of the newspapers, which typically are Rs. 3 to Rs. 5. So it would have to be ad revenue supported. But in today's world of the internet, SMS, cell networks, is there a genuine place for such a product? Are there some innovative uses one could put such a device to, other than the single one I mentioned above?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Teppanyaki Juggling

A new restaurant has recently opened in Chennai called Teppanyaki as an addition to the old Thai restaurant Benjarong on TTK Road. Teppanyaki, as Wikipedia informs us stands for teppan (iron plate) and yaki (grill) and is a style of Japanese cooking which grills and stir fries on an iron griddle. It is usually done in front of the diners so that the chef can show off his prowess. Most of the food is of the stir fried style, but produced with great style and elan.

So here is our chef warming up, throwing his weapons around with great abandon, and rather worryingly, missing occasionally. (I apologise for the poor quality -- the light was insufficient, and I also couldn't find a way to turn some of the videos around).

Some tricks with a bowl

And then with eggs. Watch carefully how they land on his spatula and yet don't break - though there are a couple of mishaps as you can see. Can you figure why the eggs don't break despite landing on a solid steel spatula? (you will need to turn your head to see this video).

And finally, here is a generic one of him doing the actual cooking.

A set menu (soup, salad, main course, which is the teppanyaki, noodles/rice and a dessert bar) costs around Rs. 950 to Rs 1150 depending on which set you choose. There is also a la carte which will probably set you back a similar amount, though without as many items, but with more choice.

Overall an interesting experience, though regrettably the food gets a B. But that probably has something to do with it being Chennai :-(. The one in Hip Asia (Connemara) is better.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Foam Burst

This is the third time. The can of shaving foam I keep in the bathroom cupboard burst sometime during the day. We returned home to find a part of the bathroom looking like it had been hit by a snowstorm. Most of it had subsided so it wasn't as dramatic (the earlier one was more impressive, perhaps because we caught the event earlier). But here it is There was much more foam but some it was washed away before I could take this picture. The poor can can be seen lying on its side on the right of the washbasin. It appears that all these cans rust in the bathroom in the presence of water and humidity and finally the joints give way.

One nice thing about this is how trivial it is to clean. A jet of water from say, a hand held shower and directed appropriately washes it all off.