Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Loot by Sharon Waxman - The battle over the stolen treasures of the ancient world

Looters keepers, Losers weepers?

When we look with amazement and wonder at the antiques in the Louvre, British Museum, Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles or the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, we seldom ponder on how they were collected and the stories behind the acquisitions of those pieces. Now in this detailed book ‘Loot’ , Sharon Waxman tells us the fight (both legal and political) that is going on between the countries like Egypt, Italy, Greece and Turkey from where many of the antiquities came from, and the museums where they currently reside. We get a glimpse of the life behind the museum’s staid facade, the trade in stolen antiquities and how the museums are now being forced to give back many prized pieces to the countries they were stolen from.

However, the book is not a one sided version - it also explains the great value being provided to society by these museums, not only in educating the public, protecting the antiques from destruction and vandalism, but also in research, excavations and studies that have given so much insight into many old civilizations and cultures. But times are changing and old colonies are now independent democracies who feel the need to demand back what was ‘stolen’ or removed from their temples, tombs and other archaeological sites over the last few hundred years. The challenges undergone by the four museums that I have mentioned above are covered in full detail.

Some of the important disputed antiques whose ‘stories' are covered in this book are ‘The Rosetta Stone’, ‘The bust of Nefertiti’, ‘Zodiac ceiling of Danderah’, ‘Sculpture of Ankhaf’ from Egypt, ‘The Lydian Hoard’ from Turkey, ‘The Euphronios Krater’, ‘The Elgin Marbles, from Greece, ‘The Victorious Youth’, ‘Statue of Aphrodite’, from Italy as well as many others.

The museums that seem to have been affected most seriously are the Getty museum and the Metropolitan Art, who have been forced to return many valuable antiques to the country of origin. The Louvre and the British Museum seem to be holding out better, though it remains to be seen how long they can withstand the pressure.

With a good mix of the stories behind many of the prized antiques as well as the important players in this drama such as the museum curators, collectors, dealers and the politicians, the book provides a lively narration of a subject which typically does not get much coverage. However the drawback of the book is that the narrative is often too long, points keep getting repeated and the author seems to lose focus at many places.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Chetan Bhagat - 2 States!

Chetan does it again!

Through his latest book '2 States - story of my marriage', Chetan Bhagat shows the world why he is the best selling English author in India. This one is also bound to be a best seller like the rest of his books.

In this book, Chetan returns back to his student days at IIM-A, where he meets his future wife and the rest of the book is their story till marriage. Chetan from Punjab and Ananya from Chennai as well as their respective families bring to life the conundrum that is India. How, educated and well intentioned people create so many problems because of their traditional beliefs is highlighted clearly by Chetan.

Even if you were fortunate (mis!) not to marry some one from another state or religion, you will appreciate the trauma the characters in this story go through. Chetan's sense of humor flows through out and the striking contrasts between the punjabi and madrasi way of life is brought out well. As Shashi Tharoor says- India is like a thali where different dishes can be brought together to make a great meal!!!!

I recommend this book - you will enjoy it!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Kindle goes International - a revolutionary step!!

Amazon is definitely an amazing company. When they launched the Kindle a couple of years back, the reaction from the publishing industry was rather muted. Well, the Sony ebook reader was already available and there were not many users. The industry was rather skeptical about Amazon's move - can a internet retailer develop and sell and consumer electronic product? Who will buy ebooks? After spending hours in front of a computer screen would professionals want to spend even their leisure time with another electronic screen? However, Amazon proved everybody wrong - not only did they keep improving the Kindle, but they built up their ebook collection quickly and steadily (now at over 350,000 titles) and continued to put pressure on the publishers to reduce the prices of the ebook versions. It became clear that the users loved the Kindle - especially the cellular wireless feature that allowed them to download the books from anywhere in the U.S, without a computer or an internet connection. I wonder how a consumer product giant like Sony could have missed out this feature!!

The Industry finally took notice - Barnes & Nobles announced the launch of the ebook reader (called Nook) with all Kindle features and more (part color LCD screen below the e-ink screen, book lending feature etc), Sony announced their next version with wireless, Plastic Logic and many others are now coming with their own products....

But that is when Amazon launched the bombshell - an international version of the Kindle which will work in 100 countries!! The rest of the pack now sits around with egg in their faces.......

Why is this move by Amazon revolutionary? Amazon had been concentrating only in the U.S as far as the Kindle is concerned. People knew they would eventually move into other markets - but that would typically be one country at a time - right? - you would think they would need country wise telecom connectivity & approvals, local marketing, support, regional rights for the content and so on. Well, I am not sure how they are handling all this - but they definitely managed to upstage everybody with this clever move of a simultaneous launch in 100 countries. And just like they did in the U.S in sticking to a online sales model (Kindle is not available through any retail stores in the U.S), they are doing the same internationally. You can order online at the Amazon web site from any of the 100 countries and they will ship it to you from the U.S. They will handle the customs duty and provide you with an estimate total cost upfront.

Is the product worth it? Absolutely!! In India the landed cost will come to about $400, and the price of ebook will be perceived as high - since paperback publications in India are available at normally 20% of the international price. But still if you normally read business books and other international publications (which you can get only at U.S prices), the Kindle will not only provide you immediate access to these content but also reduce your costs by about 50%. And think about the access now to the thousands of books that are normally out of print!

I am sure in the next couple of years, Amazon will sell many times more the International version of the Kindle than they have sold the U.S version. Though U.S remains the biggest single market in the world, we will now be able to see the effects of globalization and this will become a classic case study of how innovative U.S companies can leverage the global market without wasting time on building local outlets across the world - even for consumer products.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

MBA Grand Challenge 2009

I am the moderator in a competition for MBA students in Kerala, India which is being telecast in Kairali TV, from Oct 24th onwards. The program is aired every Saturday from 3 to 3.30 PM (IST).

From over 40 MBA institutions in Kerala, 12 teams were selected to compete through a screening test. Each team had to make a presentation on the subject "Will India become an economic powerhouse in the next 20 years? What are we doing right? What is going wrong? ". The presentations were followed by Q&A - each team was given about 30 minutes. Our original target was to select 18 teams but many did not come up to the mark.

Now the 12 teams will compete, with 3 teams in each contest, which would based on a book. The three teams would make presentations and there would be some Q&A sessions (more in the format of a group discussion) and a quiz. There will be a different book for each contest. The winners will move on to the next round.

For more details please visit www.mbagrandchallenge.com

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Case for God - Karen Armstrong

An uninspiring case

'God' seems to be a good currency these days for the publishing industry, considering the number of books that have been coming out recently, for and against God. I guess Richard Dawkins stirred the pot with the 'God Delusion' and it seems to have provoked a large number of people. 'The Case for God' by Karen Armstrong is the latest in this saga.

Karen Armstrong is an excellent religious historian. She also writes very well. However 'The Case for God' does not make a good case. Most of the content is a rehash from her earlier books and a lot of historical details are not enough to make a good case. The books attempts to track the evolution of religion from the paleolithic age to the present, though depending more on the Western world than the Eastern. Through that, the author tries to make the case that religion is a practical discipline which can be understood only though rigorous practice like how we acquire any other skill (example of the way a musician learns an instrument). However the author fails to realize that this is exactly what Dawkins was pointing to the harm being done by religions across the world. By indoctrinating young minds from childhood, religious rituals create imprints of awe and fear that are very difficult to erase later. That these are false imprints is obvious by the fact that we do not feel the same awe or fear for other religions which seem to inspire millions of other people.

How much we all might argue for or against God, it cannot be denied that any human civilization has craved for spiritual relief and sought answers to the questions of existence. While it has created plenty of strife and suffering (as any effort by humans seem to do), religions have provided peace and solace to billions of people through the centuries. It has also inspired many, to do good things and fight against seemingly impossible odds. So, was religion and God a basic necessity for human evolution and survival? If so, is it still needed in the future? These are questions that I feel 'The Case for God' should have answered.

The book is still a good read - especially the Introduction, the two chapters on Science & Religion and the last chapter on the 'Death of God?' These chapters can be read independently too - if you don't want to spend time reading the full book.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Spiritual Creolization - a discussion with Xavier Gravend-Tirole

It was in a chance meeting at an airport in India with Xavier Gravende-Tirole (Jesus look alike?) that I learnt about Spiritual Creolization - how religions absorb from each other and manage pluralism. Xavier is traveling in India studying the absorption of Hindu rituals in Christianity for his Phd thesis 'Creolization as a new theological category in the anthropology of believing: study inspired by Hindu-Christian cases' at the Trudeau Foundation in Geneva.

"His dissertation explores how creolization can become fertile theological grounds for examining identity, relationships with the other and religious pluralism. Managing pluralism may be one of the greatest challenges for religions today – both within religions themselves and in their relations with other religions – but the many types of creolized religions that arise from pluralism face even greater problems being recognized at their true worth. The sullied, the contaminated, the syncretic and the impure are still widely vilified by religious institutions. And yet while the logic of purity may provide dangerous fodder for different types of fundamentalism, other novel, alternative or liberal ways of being religious are coming to light that merit recognition, whether or not they are emerging from within traditional institutional frameworks."

For more details see http://www.trudeaufoundation.ca/tf/Xavier_Gravend-Tirole

Xavier has been traveling in different parts of India and Sri Lanka for his research work. I felt envious.

We followed our initial meeting with a dinner the next day and it was great fun to understand Xavier's work. I hope once he completes his research, it would also be published in India. Considering the growing fundamentalism in India and elsewhere, studies like this can teach us how all religions absorb from each and can co-exist peacefully.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Business stripped bare - Richard Branson

Read but dont follow!

A great book to read for any entrepreneur or business manager. With great insight as well as humor, Richard Branson tell us his view of the business world, his many success stories and a few disappointments. It is an inspiring story but people like Mr.Branson are one in a billion. If the rest of us try to follow the act, we will quickly realize that none of it is as easy as it looks. As an entrepreneur I can very well admire and appreciate Mr.Branson's capabilites. But just like how a club tennis player can look with awe but cannot imitate, the elegance of the strokes which Federer plays with such ease, we need to realize that a Brenson act is one that would be practically impossible to be replicated by anyone else.

But the book offers good advice, though Mr.Branson still seems to be continuing to sell his brand through the book as well - especially in the first 200 pages. The last 100 pages are more fascinating as Mr.Branson moves away from the Virgin story and tells us the challenges the world is facing. His approach to solving the problems of humanity is very inspiring and he shows how all of us at any level can contribute in our own way. And no contribution is too small.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

A miracle in India !

"Bankruptcy to Billions - How the Indian Railways transformed" - by Sudhir Kumar & Shagun Mehrotra

Can you imagine a mammoth 100 year old Government organization in any country (let alone India) with 1.4 million employees transforming itself from a near bankruptcy situation to $6 Billion in cash surplus over just four years! And that too without privatization, layoffs or price increases! To cap it all they improved service levels significantly and actually managed to reduce prices (over 40%) for the poorer customer segments !! I am sure that everyone will agree that this qualifies as a miracle.

Well, that is the story of the Indian Railways from 2004 to 2008, and it is clearly told in this book “Bankruptcy to Billions” by Sudhir Kumar and Shahgum Mehrotra. Sudhir Kumar, a Government employee in the Indian Administrative Services was deputed on Special duty to the Minister of Railways (Lalu Prasad Yadav) and played a key role in this miracle story. Keep in mind that India has one of the largest railway networks in the world - daily running 13,000 trains (including 9000 passenger trains) over 63,000 km of routes and carrying 17 million passengers.

How did they do it? For an in depth understanding one needs to read the book. But I would summarize the management strategy as follows:

(a) Re-conceptualizing the Railway’s business - realizing that they are not a monopoly if they see themselves being in the Transportation business competing with buses, airlines, shipping lines for passenger traffic and trucks, ships and pipelines for the freight business (b) Innovation and Asset optimization - running faster longer and heavier trains, coordination and cooperation among the thousands of internal departments (c) Strategic investments for increasing utilization of existing assets by filling gaps (d) Alliances with private companies to meet soaring demand and co-opt competition (e) A deliberative and calibrated approach to make small changes and then learn, revise and scale up in a phased manner.

The book explains step by step on how the strategy was executed and it is an excellent case study of what can be achieved when politicians, bureaucrats and technocrats collaborate and innovate. It is also an example of how political compulsions can be reconciled with commercial objectives and produce a win-win situation for all. The book also dispels the notions that were spread by some in India that the turn around was more though accounting jugglery and just leveraging the vast real estate that Indian Railways owned. Further it also shows that the success was not just by plucking low lying fruits, but by making fundamental changes which should continue to propel Indian Railways forward. I hope that this story is used as a case study for MBA students world wide.

The book has some drawbacks though - the most critical being the lack of visibility in the book, of the key players who achieved this miracle. The team is just mentioned as ‘reformers’ - perhaps the author himself being one of them, was reluctant to project his role. Some more background of the railways from it inception at the time of the British, and its growth since independence, pictures of trains, stations and employees, would have been useful for non-Indian readers. The challenges that the team must have gone through are downplayed - the authors themselves don’t seem to have fully realized the scope and impact of their achievement!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A History of Ancient and Medieval India by Upinder Singh

An excellent reference book on Indian History

This is the most comprehensive and well written book on Ancient and Medieval Indian History that I have seen. Starting from the Stone Age and going up to the 12th century this is an excellent reference book, both for the student as well as for the general public. Well illustrated with color maps, photographs and figures, the book is printed and bound beautifully. Regarding the organization of the chapters let me quote from the book:

"Each chapter constitutes a chronological unit within a larger framework, providing a comprehensive overview of historical issues and details, and constructing profiles of the various geographical regions in the sub continent. The chapter outline provides a view of the broad organization of the chapter. An opening story from a variety of sources serves as an engaging start for the chapter and also presents a strand from the rich thematic core of the chapter's discussion."

I can't put it any better, but can only confirm it is not at all an exaggeration and each chapter looks like an art of work! The links to the early Indian literature, the tools, coins, inscriptions and other archeological evidence, external sources, later scientific interpretations of the evidence, and new directions of research are so well covered in each chapter than one cannot ask for anything more.

The book is expensive (Rs.3,500 in India and over $120 in U.S) but well worth it for the serious student of Indian History. I was also told that the author is the daughter of the India's prime minister, Mr.Manmohan Singh. I have not cross checked that, but anyway all Indians can be proud of Upinder Singh's contribution.

Monday, June 15, 2009

'The Hindus - an alternative history' by Wendy Doniger

A fascinating tale of two stories

Instead of just being a excellent history of Hinduism, this book is also a great book of Indian History. The author traces India's history from the period of the Indus valley Civilization to the the end of the British Raj in the 20th century. And what a story!

Without any bias or cultural hangovers, the author provides a very neutral analysis of the development of Hinduism. However it is bound to provoke lot of criticism - especially from the religious groups. Further the emphasis of the author to the alternative voices (that of the women, lower castes etc) will also raise many hackles. However I found the book fascinating.

One of the most impressive aspect of the book is the in depth coverage of the ancient Indian books like Mahabhartha, Ramayana, Arthsastra and Kamasutra and the influence of these books on each other. The influence of the religions like Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism on one another during the centuries makes very interesting reading.

It is amazing how the author has made what typically would be a dry subject into such an interesting narrative. And once in a while the author's sense of humor surfaces with a very apt witty comment. I enjoyed the footnotes also tremendously - one of the best being Longfellow's poem on King Trisanku.

With over 700 pages, the book is meant for the serious reader. Also a good knowledge of Hinduism and India is essential to enjoy the book. A religious Hindu might find it difficult to handle the analysis of the texts and the actions their gods. But if you are really keen to learn more about India and Hinduism this book is one of the best.

Now for some criticism - the Upanishads could have been covered in more detail; The Mughal period was rushed in a few pages; The chapter on 'Hinduism in America' seemed completely out of place. Ideally the book should have been divided into two - the first part stopping at around 1500 AD and the second part (if really needed - there are many books covering the period since then) from 1500 to present date. The influence of Hinduism on the rest of the world could be covered there (and not just America).

I did not see a mention of M.T.Vasudevan Nair's 'Randamuzham' which is an alternative story of Mahabharatha (and more plausible). The author would have definitely found it very enjoyable and it would have been worth using in some places in the initial chapters. It is written in Malayalam - I am not sure if an English translation exists.

An Indian version (in English) with the poems and quoted texts in sanskrit/hindi would be a great next step for 'The Hindus - an alternative history'.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

King Trisanku - Poem by Longfellow

Most Indians would know of King Trisanku whom Sage Viswamitra sends to heaven in his human form and God Indra sends him back. Poor Trisanku gets stuck in between by these opposing forces and lies suspended in limbo for ever. This story has provided the Indian idiom 'Trisanku's heaven' which is more or less equivalent to the English idiom 'Between a rock and a hard place'.

However I did not know about the this lovely poem about Trisanku by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow - given below:

Viswamitra the Magician,
By his spells and incantations,
Up to Indra's realms elysian
Raised Trisanku, king of nations.

Indra and the gods offended
Hurled him downward, and descending
In the air he hung suspended,
With these equal powers contending.

Thus by aspirations lifted,
By misgivings downward driven,
Human hearts are tossed and drifted
Midway between earth and heaven.

I saw the poem mentioned in the book 'The Hindus - An Alternative History' by Wendy Doniger; a very interesting book by the way. A detailed review of the book later.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Between the Assassinations - Aravind Adiga

Fails to impress

I would have liked to say that Aravind Adiga did it again - but unfortunately this book fails to impress. I guess after the awesome 'White Tiger' it would be very difficult for anyone to repeat the feat.

'Between the Assassinations' is a collection of stories set in a small coastal town (Kittur) in Karnataka near the Kerala border. Some of the stories are quite good and shows glimpses of excellence. Mr.Adiga's talent for story telling is obvious, but in this case he has not meshed all the stories together into a full picture. Or maybe I missed the point.

Not a bad book in any way but with the high level of excellence that Mr.Adiga has set with his 'White Tiger' this one does not match up.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Right of Thirst - Frank Huyler

A very moving story!

It is a great feeling to discover a good author - and Frank Huyler will definitely go places. An excellent book with a fascinating story of a naive American doctor who after a personal tragedy goes to a third world country to help people affected by natural disasters.

The setting seems to be in Pakistan but the author is careful not to mention the country directly and get involved in any of the politics. With great flair he is able to take the reader to the more important real tragedies of life and how different cultures handle them.

The characters come strongly to life and the author has done an excellent job of keeping the story moving at a fast pace. This is a book that one will not easily forget.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments by George Johnson

Beauty of Tabletop Science!

A great book that brings out the beauty of Science! The author has picked up the ten most beautiful science experiments - starting with Galileo and ending with Milikan. Though one might argue with the selection, the author's excellent descriptions will more than make up for any differences of opinion.

Compared to most of the current scientific experiments which costs millions of dollars and involve the collaborative efforts of many scientists, these are of the earlier age when most scientists were working alone in their labs. Reading this book, one can enjoy the creativity and hands on work of the previous generation of scientists - very inspiring. I would recommend the book to all those interested in the history of science.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Rats leaving the sinking ship?

I am told that the sure sign that a ship is sinking is when you see the rats trying to get out!

Well, it looks like the great ship of 'America' is sinking. After Obama's calculated announcement of trying to get the American MNCs to pay the tax on their overseas earnings, the CEO of a venerable Silicon Valley company told their employees that they are not really an 'American' company - they are a 'global' company! It is interesting the note that these companies 'expense' more in the U.S and 'make profits' abroad so that the net tax rate of some of these 'global' companies is around 2.5%!!!!!!

Obama must have expected some of this - otherwise why club "taxing overseas earnings" with 'outsourcing' in his recent announcement? Make it easier for the enemies to band together?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Decoding the Heavens: A 2000 year old computer and the century long search to discover its secrets

by Jo Marchant

Deciphering the Antikythera Mechanism

Most people would not have heard of the Antikythera Mechanism - it is a 2000 year old device which was discovered in 1900 in an ancient ship wreck close to the island of Antikythera between Cape Malea and Crete in the Mediterranean. The device was so much damaged and in many fragments of corroded lumps that it could be fully deciphered only recently using the latest microfocus X-ray imaging and computed tomography (CT). We now understand that it was meant to be used as complex scientific calculator (or an analog computer) for calculating astronomical positions.

In a fascinating story written more like a detective novel, Jo Marchant takes us through the discovery of this device from the ship wreck by sponge divers, the early futile attempts in figuring out what the device was, the years it spent in anonymity in the Athens archeological museum, the laborious efforts by some scientists in the last few decades who figured out parts of it, and the final culmination of its near complete understanding by 2008 when better technologies were available.

Written very well, with simple and clear explanations of the basic science involved the author is able to bring out clearly the trials and tribulations involved in scientific research. In addition, the author succeeds in bringing out the excitement of solving a mystery and educating the reader of the gap in our understanding of the progress made by the ancient greek scientists two thousand years ago. The Antikythera Mechanism not only proves that complex geared mechanisms existed (till recently thought be invented in the 18th century) then but also that they were in rather common use because of the detailed instructions provided in the device for enabling its operation by the layman.

I also very much liked the author's attempt to figure out who in the ancient greek world would have devised such a mechanism and how it could have ended in the ship wreck. The logic as well as the detailed research makes the book a pleasure to read.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Solar power from space?

Science fiction to turn into reality!

Originally proposed by science fiction author Issac Asimov in 1941, the concept of a space station capturing solar energy and beaming it back to earth - seems to become a distinct possibility now.

Solaren, a start up based in Southern California plans to deploy a solar array in space, convert the solar energy into radio frequency waves and beam it back into earth. Unlike nuclear or coal fired plant which have a conversion efficiency of about 33 %, the RF conversion is supposed to get an efficiency of 90%. Further solar arrays will have 8 to 10 times the efficiency of terrestrial solar arrays since they can work continuously ( no night time) and there is no cloud cover or atmospheric impurities.

Find all this difficult to believe? Well, California's PG&E has requested approval from the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to enter into a power purchase agreement with Solaren Corp. in Southern California. Solaren would deploy a solar array into space to beam an average of 850 gigawatt hours (“GWh”) for the first year of the term, and 1,700 GWh per year over the remaining term, according to a filing to the PUC.

While Solaren would provide 200MW of electricity to PG&E, according to the filing with the PUC, Solaren anticipates generating a total 1,000MW from its satellite. Expected to go live by 2016.

Friday, April 3, 2009

ET - Where are you?

Confessions of an Alien Hunter: A Scientist's Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence - by Seth Shostak

As a senior astronomer at SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), Seth Shostak is eminently qualified to take us through the last fifty years of our search for alien life in the universe. Interspersed with humor, Seth brings to life the challenges such an effort faces and raises the question of how we would respond on the search being successful. The book is an easy read and provides the layman a frank opinion of the low chances of success our current efforts have, and the inadequacy of our tools. It is a good confession indeed - from one of the experts in the field.

The author then tries to the justify the continued efforts - which however is not very convincing. Even a science enthusiast will wonder whether the money and effort is being put in the right direction in our search for alien life. Other than providing a small chance of knowing whether we are alone or not, the SETI efforts do not seem to provide much benefit.

Considering that our technology development is progressing so fast wouldn't it make sense to wait till we have the right tools? And maybe put more effort in developing better tools and different approaches other than just depending on tracking radio signals? Further, everybody (including the author) seems to agree that any civilization that we might find will have to be many times more advanced than ours. In that case wont it better to let them find you? (the needle in the haystack analogy).

The book clearly explains the fundamentals underlying the current search of ET life, but unfortunately fails to inspire or reach the level of books like Carl Sagan's Cosmos. However for anyone interested in learning more about SETI and understanding the limitations of the technologies that we have now, this book will be useful.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Stimulus for Science & Technology

Now that Obama's $787B stimulus plan (ARRA -America Recovery and Reinvestment Act 2009) has moved into action, let us take a look at the one time bonanza Science & Technology is getting. Depending on how you classify the various line items the amount allocated for Science & Technology can vary from $55 Billion to $65 Billion to be spent in the next two years.

The major items for scientific research are:

1. $10.4B to National Institute of Health (NIH)
2. $1.12B to National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
3. $3B to National Science Foundation
4. $2B to the United States Department of Energy
5. $1.3B to University Research Facilities
6. $1B to NASA
7. $830M to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
8. $580M to National Institute of Standards and Technology
9. $140M to United States Geological Survey

Check the web sites for the above agencies to find out the details for usage of the funds.

The major items for Technology are: (I am not sure how one can track these - but check out Recovery.gov which is supposed to provide the information related to AARA fund usage)

1. $19B for Health Information Technology (of which $17.2B will be incentives provided through Medicare & Medicaid)
2. $11B for an electric 'smart grid'
3. $7.5B for complete broadband and wireless access
4. $2.5B for energy efficiency research
5. $2 B for advanced car battery systems
6. $400M for electric vehicle technologies

Not only do these provide great opportunities for research, but also will result in signifiant benefit to the economy in the next few years.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Indian Silk from Indus Valley?

Contrary to the belief that silk originated from ancient China only, researchers have found more compelling evidence for independent development of silk in the Indus Valley Civilization at Harappa (now in Pakistan).

A recent paper published in the Archaeometry Journal by I.L.Good, J.M.Kenoyer and R.H.Meadow, highlights new evidence based on microscopic analysis of archaeological thread fragments found inside copper alloy ornaments at Harappan sites that yielded silk fibres dating to 2400-2000 B.C. This important discovery challenges the notion of sericulture being an exclusive chinese invention.

The silk seems to have come from silk moths native to south east Asia (species of Antharaea), while chinese silk comes from the domesticated silk moth (Bombyx Mori)

For more details visit http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/121646748/abstract?CRETRY=1&SRETRY=0

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Kindle 2 - Continuing Innovation

Amazon recently released the second version of their ebook reader - Kindle 2. Here are my thoughts on the device:

Kindle definitely got better with the new version.

Major improvements:
1. The vertical menu bar went away. A joy stick replaced it - can access all parts of the screen
2. Thinner, looks very pleasing
3. The 'Next' and 'Prev' page buttons got smaller and better - no more accidental page flipping

Remaining drawbacks:
1. Keyboard has not improved; the small keys are very frustrating
2. Screen could have been bigger - lot of real estate wasted
3. Closed system still - please open up an SDK for third party applications

Why not another version of Kindle 2 - say Kindle 2' with touch screen, wifi and multi-language support? It will be more expensive, but I am sure many users will love it.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Michael Panzner hits back!

I guess when you dish it out, you have to take it back too.

I had posted the same review (my post of yesterday) in www.Amazon.com and the author Michael Panzer responded:

"Michael Panzner says:
It appears that the "reviewer" is the CEO of California Software Co, an India-based company whose share price has collapsed 84% since January 2008. Based on past history, a near total wipeout like that usually signals serious incompetence or malfeasance in the executive ranks. Or that those in charge have totally lost touch with reality. I wonder if that had anything to do with this "review" (I use the term loosely, since it's not clear the "reviewer" actually read the book)? "

I felt that since Mr.Panzner may not be aware of my blog, I should post his reply here also.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A Roadmap to Nowhere

I normally hate to write bad reviews on books I read, but 'When Gaints Fall' by Michael Panzner raised my ire to a high degree.

The book predicts the fall of America (I guess not a difficult prediction now) and then paints a picture of doom and gloom in the United States and the rest of the world. About ten to fifteen points (Fall of the U.S, De-globalization, Increasing violence & wars, Fall of the Dollar, Changing Demographics, Energy crisis, Water shortage, Shortages of other natural resources and a few more) are repeated through out the book - the continuous repetitions making it a very difficult process to read the book. Extensive quotations are used - so much in fact that about 65 pages of the 260 page book are used up for bibliography!

Maybe the future predicted by Mr.Panzner is a possible outcome and he is entitled to his opinion. But the book claims to provide a economic roadmap for the future and also promises to show 'how the chaotic years of the future would present a singular opportunity for the reader to realize goals....' (quoted from the cover flap of the book). Here the author grossly misleads the reader. The book hardly provides any suggestions for the future except to 'focus, analyze, prepare well, network..' and to keep in mind that nothing will work out as planned!

The book is divided into two parts - Part 1 of 122 pages explaining the descent into chaos and Part II of about 60 pages supposedly to tell the reader how to prepare for the future. However Part II continues to repeat most of the points made in Part 1 with hardly a worthwhile suggestion. After some laborious effort, the author comes close to making a couple of positive suggestions (Invest in Canada, Invest in commodities & precious metals) but then immediately highlights why those steps are also fraught with danger!

The author completely misses out on Science & Technology and how today's challenges can be tomorrow's opportunities. A book written in haste - I guess to take advantage of the current pessimistic world outlook.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

India's National Science Day

In Honor of "Raman Effect"

Today (Feb 28) is celebrated in India as the National Science Day in honor of the discovery of the 'Raman Effect' by C.V.Raman on the same day in 1928. This won him the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1930.

What is the Raman Effect?

I found a simple explanation by Dr.Nirupuma Raghavan in India-Space portal.

Check it out if you are interested : http://www.space-india.org/nr/national_science_day.pdf

Friday, February 6, 2009

Full Gene sequencing for $5000 !!

Door opens for Personal Genomics

With the announcement this week by Complete Genomics Inc. that it will offer $5000 sequencing of a whole human genome (~3 billion base pairs) by mid-2009, the door is finally opening for Personal Genomics.

This means in a few years, millions of people will be getting their genome fuly sequenced. Think about the huge opportunity not only for gene sequencing companies, Pharmacogenomics players and so on, but also for IT companies who will need to create solutions to store, analyze and interpret the data!

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Another Universe? if you dont like this one :)

A strong hypothesis for another Universe

Distant galaxies that are hurtling at high speeds towards the same patch of sky may be evidence that something very big lurks beyond our cosmic horizon, such another universe.

Sasha Kashlinsky, a Senior Scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Centre at Maryland, has been studying how rebellious clusters of galaxies move against the backdrop of expanding space. He and colleagues have clocked galaxy clusters racing at up to 1000 kilometres per second - far faster than our best understanding of cosmology allows. Stranger still, every cluster seems to be rushing toward a small patch of sky between the constellations of Centaurus and Vela.

Kashlinsky and his team claim that their observation represents the first clues to what lies beyond the cosmic horizon. Finding out could tell us how the universe looked immediately after the big bang or if our universe is one of many. Others aren't so sure. One rival interpretation is that it is nothing to do with alien universes but the result of a flaw in one of the cornerstones of cosmology, the idea that the universe should look the same in all directions. That is, if the observations withstand close scrutiny.

It can't be caused by dark matter, Kashlinsky says, because all the dark matter in the universe wouldn't produce enough gravity. It can't be dark energy, either, because dark energy is spread evenly throughout space. That, leaves only one possible explanation, he concludes: something lurking beyond the cosmic horizon is to blame.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Therapy from Human Embryo Stem Cells - Finally!

Geron Corp of Menlo Park, California finally won approval from U.S Federal Regulators to start the first trial of an experimental therapy derived from Human Embryonic stem cells (hESC) in patients with acute spinal cord injury . Geron will inject the cells into the spinal cords of 10 newly injured patients. At this point Geron's treatment only has a chance of success if it is administered within a few weeks after the spinal injury.

GRNOPC1, Geron's lead hESC-based therapeutic candidate, contains hESC-derived oligodendrocyte progenitor cells that have demonstrated remyelinating and nerve growth stimulating properties leading to restoration of function in animal models of acute spinal cord injury.

The ultimate goal for the use of GRNOPC1 is to achieve restoration of spinal cord function by the injection of hESC-derived oligodendrocyte progenitor cells directly into the lesion site of the patient's injured spinal cord.

Coming days after President' Obama's inauguration let us hope that this signals the new administration's position on Science!