Monthly Archives: October 2010

save oil, save gas, save our future

This article was published in The Viewspaper

I woke up startled with a disbelieving look on my face. Is it possible?

For a moment I had dreamt about a world, conscious about its natural reserves and keen on saving them, thus ensuring a blissful future not only for themselves but also for their progeny. That it was only a dream is what saddens me the most.

Bradley Millar has said, “To tell a child not to stamp on the caterpillar is as important for the child, as it is for the caterpillar.”

This saying summarizes the context of the discussion quite emphatically. In an ever dependent world on natural reserves to an extent that modern life would be alarmingly incomplete without them, it is saddening to observe the general callousness in their use and more precisely their ‘misuse’!

A casual reflection on our history books would reveal that natural reserves have been so intimately involved with our development that even ages have been distinguished by their discovery as the Iron Age, the Bronze Age etc. As the new and developed world molded, the use of natural oil and gas as efficient and reliable energy providers slowly dominated most spheres of human need for energy. It does not take long to realize how vital they have become over time. In a world of non-conventional energy sources and electricity, we can still hardly do without Mother Nature’s exquisite gifts.

However over consumption and over dependence on cheap energy resources has led to their massive depletion. Oil accounts for 40% of the world’s energy requirements where as natural gas accounts for 23% [USGE98]. However oil is being used at a rate of 77 million barrels a day which makes 26 billion barrels annually [IEAKEY 2003]. In US alone the annual use of natural gas is 12 trillion cubic feet.

Since the petroleum reserves are limited and their geographical production process is a long one, massive demand has led to huge depletion. The demand on the other hand hardly seems to lessen. According to an estimate by 2015 we will require 80% more fuel than what we need today. The depletion rate of gas is more alarming. The gas fields have been down by 17.30% in production over the years.

The magnitude of our fuel consumption can be understood if we take a look at the estimation that states 500 nuclear plants would be required in US alone to totally stop the use of natural reserves. At this rate, if the problem is not addressed immediately we would soon run out of oil, gas and alternatives that can replace them.

The first step to address the issue is to understand the chief reasons that have led us to such a dire strait. Firstly the present population of the world is 6, 602, 224, and 750 (July 2007). Demographers believe that the population will reach 10 billion before it can stabilize. This growing population demands an energy resource with flammability, high energy value and convenience of use. This puts an ever increasing pressure on the natural reserves to meet the demands of the populace.

Secondly, industrialization, machinery and faster modes of transport have become a way of life and symbols of prosperity. They use a whole lot of oil and gas everyday; however we are so keenly bent on development that we have closed our eyes to the larger picture that development has no meaning without support from natural reserves and thus they have to undergo a sustainable development and not one at the cost of each other.

Thirdly, in spite of the development of non-conventional energy resources the general populace is still apprehensive about their use along with natural oil and gas, chiefly because of their low energy value and inconvenience in using them.

Last but not the least, all our awareness campaigns have limited themselves to academic exercises only which are done on a few days. It has hardly affected the general attitude of the people.

Now that the various aspects of the problem are clear it is important to devise a policy for the sustainable consumption of these resources. The task ahead is definitely tough but as Mahatma Gandhi said.

“Manliness consists in daring to do the right and facing the consequences.”

The following three tier policy, called the 3A policy, looks to bring forward changes in the right direction. The policy is broadly categorized into three phases which need to run simultaneously.

ACT

1. All people must consciously try limiting their use of oil and gas. Better scientific and energy efficient practices can go a long way in curbing their misuse. Public transport systems, car pools and good driving practices must be encouraged.

2. Alternatives like hydro, solar and wind power and bio-fuels must be used more frequently. They are both and renewable and non-exhaustive sources of energy. This would bring down the demand for the natural gas and oil.

ABIDE

1. The Government has set many standards in the consumption of oil and gas. Better vehicles with good engine condition are certified. A good citizen should abide by these policies to minimize the misuse of oil and gas.

2. All government policies and initiatives need to meet the complete support and encouragement of the people.

3. International bodies must monitor the consumption of oil and gas by various nations and must set international standards for all nations to practice.

ADVOCATE

It is of vital importance that the message of conservation of oil and gas must be spread to as many people as possible. It should be passed on as a social responsibility. Through various schemes and campaigns school children and the youth must be involved in the procedure. Awareness Campaigns should be conducted at regular intervals.

Research in new alternatives and better techniques to conserve oil and gas should be adequately funded and encouraged by the government as well as non government organizations.

Preaching without practice will never help and so we need to see that the policies have to be realized by the people and not remain as academic exercises only.

It must be pretty clear by now that oil and gas need to be preserved or the day will soon dawn when they will be gone and then mankind will be thrown centuries back in progress. Our industries will come to a standstill and the fast world which is turning the globe into a village will become slow again.

Nature, as Einstein remarked, may be profound but she never cheats; that is she plays the game according to her rules. The rules, of course, are decided by her. Man might meddle with it time and again but a substantial alteration could bring about disastrous changes. Natural oil and gas are not ours alone. It is our responsibility to see that they get passed on to our future generations. However if we do not, the following poetic prophecy will definitely be realized

“And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man?”    – William Wordsworth

This article was written as a part of my internship with The Viewspaper

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Review: sachin tendulkar – a sport even outside his game

This article was published in The Viewspaper

Square Cut:

During a World Cup, this man learns that his father is no more. He comes back home for the funeral rites; only to be chided by his mother because he did so. “You were playing for the country. Who asked you to come back?” He returns the next day and in the match that follows scores an unbeaten one hundred and forty.

I could have introduced him by his records which is an object of envy for every player in the world; I could have narrated one of his many amazing batting displays; I could have told you that he is the only contemporary cricketer in Sir Don Bradman’s all time dream team; I could have counted out the various trophies that he has received; I could have told you that he is Sachin Tendulkar.

And yet, I chose to introduce him in a rather unconventional way because that is precisely what he has meant to the game of cricket beyond his talent and his records – the spirit of a perfect sportsperson – passion, commitment, discipline and a never ending urge to perform.

Cover Drive:

His cricketing abilities need no words to be described. Over the years he has always let his bat to do the talking. A perfect gentleman on the field, he conducts himself with an exemplary attitude. A cool demeanor and a disarming smile – and you can easily take him for a rather gentle player of the game. Not so when he welds his willow. Ask the best bowlers of their worst nightmare and you would realize the kind of devastating effect that he can have on his opposition. A British Newspaper had this to say on his batting prowess “Commit all your crimes when Sachin is batting, because even God is not looking any where else then.”

On his day, he can murder any bowling attack, ruin the statistics of the best bowlers in the business and make the entire opposition run for cover. And he has been doing this for many years at a trot now. And he has been doing this without the slightest of arrogance for many years at trot now.

Straight Drive:

Over a span of sixteen years that Sachin has dominated the cricket world, he has earned as many fans off the field as he has earned on the field – people have fallen for his humility, sweet yet caring talks and that ever pleasing smile. His straight and simple persona has influenced even his worst critics and rivals in the professional world; which goes on to speak volumes about him as a person.

He is rich. He has been in media glare for most of his life. And yet, there is not a single controversy (the ones that haunt the rich and the famous) which is worth mentioning about this player. No wonder a British Newspaper called him ‘GOD’. As a person he is very much like his favorite shot on the ground – a Straight Drive!

Sweep:

With that kind of a personality and the charisma that he welds with his willow; he has wooed a nation of a billion cricket crazy people. In a country where cricket is religion and new stars are discovered everyday, it is unimaginable how this genius has managed to hold on to the attention that he had grabbed sixteen years ago as a young promising lad in the team. May be, that is the reason why he is a genius.

A single raised finger that proclaims Sachin out breaks a billion hearts in the country. A survey suggests that the Happiness Quotient of India is up by three percent when Sachin scores a century. Need I say more to justify that this man has swept all cricket lovers off their feet – and guess what he has been doing this for the last sixteen years without fail!

Flick:

Cricket did exist before Sachin and will definitely do so beyond him. But Sachin will always be remembered as a phenomenon that happened to the game. With respect to cricket’s entire history, this Indian Batsman might just be a flick; but a flick good enough to mesmerize an entire nation and enthrall every lover of the game on his day. What is even more wonderful is that he does it equally well off the field also. Cricket, after all, is a gentleman’s game.

This article was written as a part of my internship with The Viewspaper

wall graffiti

This article was published in The Viewspaper

A casual walk around the city, with a flirting glance at the walls around and the designs that adorn them will tell you volumes about a very subtle story in our society. I do not know what pleasure exists in seeing a virgin wall and unleashing one’s creativity on it but it definitely presents a very interesting picture to study. Usually they are either overlooked or ignored completely. I, however, see a society at loss in those wall graffiti with a youth that has forgot to differentiate between expression and responsible expression.

The first of the designs that come on the wall are the red spits of some road romeo for whom the pleasure of having a pan lies in the amount of spit that he can generate in the process and use the same on an unfortunate wall, specially the one with a ‘NO SPITTING’ board on it. The nature of this art is usually random and there is no distinct pattern to be observed but it is practiced rampantly through out the country with the pros taking a great effort in teaching the amateurs the perfection in the art – how much to spit, and when and where.

Once the background color is in place, literature takes over. The wall now gets covered with couplets, love proposals, erotic thoughts, phone numbers of girls, and various other details of the female anatomy, occasionally elucidated by graphic diagrams for the viewer’s pleasure. The wall now serves as an index of all one sided love stories in the society and also a vent for letting off the frustrations of the sex starved youth in the society. Most people do not seem to approve of them but they do have an occasional look at them as if to make sure that no one in their family has featured on the walls yet.

Virginity lost, the wall is now covered with adult movie posters; girls in skimpy clothes and supernaturally chiseled bodies compete for the passing male attention from the confines of these posters. I do not know where they come from; but layer on layer they keep on getting added every week. And to look discreetly at them is an art to master – the look comes from the corner of the eye devouring as much of the image as possible but without letting anyone know what you are looking at.

Slowly but surely the wall degenerates into the crudest and most explicit form of expression that mocks at the civilized societies that we live in. The situation gets worse when these wall graffiti appear on school boundaries or in children’s parks where they are exposed to the young minds of the society. Forget the general walls around the city, even places of historical importance and sites of heritage are not unknown to these kinds of graffiti. In fact, these days they are everywhere. Railway stations, public toilets, theatres and on the back of the seats on the local buses – nothing escapes them. And worse, we have done nothing about it over the years except condemning them over tea in the local tea stalls over casual discussions.

Expression is a liberty that every individual must enjoy. However it is also necessary that we ensure that this liberty does not degenerate into license. And if it does, adequate measures have to be taken by the society as a whole to ensure that some lines of limit are drawn. It is precisely then, we can differentiate between a collection of families living together and a society.

The disrespect towards anything that is in order is an admirable quality in the youth. For ages, it is this quality that has brought positive changes to the society that we live in. But utter disrespect towards any order leads to anarchy. The youth must be allowed to do what they fancy. Only then, we evolve as a society. But the youth must know where fancy ends and temptation gets in. And if some of them do not, it is necessary that those who do show the way – forget the taboo associated with these walls, protect them, get them cleaned and if necessary fight for them. It is necessary that the society starts looking straight at these walls for a possible change to happen rather than looking at them from the corner of an eye deriving a sadistic pleasure from them.

And somewhere deep down, we need to understand that we do not want just the spirit of the youth to take over our society. We want the spirit of a responsible youth to take over our society.

This article was written as a part of my internship with The Viewspaper

Book Review: jonathan livingston seagull – a story

This article was published in The Viewspaper

Jonathan Livingston Seagull – A Story by Richard Bach is one of those books on your shelf that you can never have enough of. The book contains an inexplicable connection with your innermost dreams and seems to tell a story that everyone can relate to. Like every other book of Richard Bach, an avid pilot, this book also revolves around the beauty of flying. However, this book, in all of its ninety six pages, also tells us about the beautiful world of dreams, the single minded approach to see them fulfilled, the world that will never believe you unless you have achieved your dreams, and the pleasure in seeing your dream inspiring others to carry on from where you have left it.

Jonathan Livingston, as the title suggests, is just another seagull except that he does not fly for the sake of food. He flies for the sake of flying. So while most of his community is busy looking for food, Jonathan Livingston is busy discovering the various nuances of flying and in the process doing things on air that no Seagull had ever done. Unable to explain himself to the Elders, he gets thrown out of his community only to find himself in the company of a Great Seagull who resides in a very different world – a world that not only appreciates Jonathan Livingston’s fancy for flight but also teaches him new and unimaginable details of the same. Jonathan Livingston grows up – a master in the art of flying.

But wait. Things are still not done. Jonathan Livingston realizes that there are other Seagulls like him who are interested in the art of flying. So he comes back to his community as a mentor to all those who share his dream. Jonathan Livingston fights with the initial suspicion to win the confidence of many Seagulls who follow him, look up to him and learn from him. However, his increasing popularity does not go well with the Elders of the community who intend to drive him out. In the events that follow Jonathan Livingston disappears only to resurrect in front his trusted disciples, pass the baton onto them and move to those who are waiting for him in other worlds.

The book has a very nice flow that takes the reader along a journey with Jonathan Livingston as he goes through the various phases of his life. It is written in lucid, easy flowing English but the imagery made is so powerful that you almost start visualizing Jonathan Livingston as you go through the book – the hallmark of a classic. You feel the thrill of flying without any bounds, the pain of having to explain your love for something, the pleasure when your love materializes and the satisfaction in seeing your love being accepted by others – all in ninety six pages only. The book also contains some very beautiful photographs of Seagulls that Richard Bach took on his flights that add to the charm and the overall look of the book.

In fact, so engrossing is the book that at the end the reader is left wanting for more and wondering if ninety six pages could do true justice to the wonderful idea behind the book. But everyone who has dreamt of something to achieve, something to live for will find the book largely personal – with the Seagulls, the hardships and the success as metaphors to various things in his own life. And it is then that you realize the inexplicable charm in the book.

Some say it is the story of Jesus Christ told in an unconventional way. I do not question them. In this little world where every one of us wants to do something that we love, something that we enjoy, it definitely is the Bible!

A must read for everyone – dreamer, non-dreamer; theist, atheist; successful, unsuccessful; a habitual reader or someone who does not like reading much.

This article was written as a part of my internship with The Viewspaper

satyam and lies

The irony lies in the name.

The fourth largest software company in India with 53000 employees and the winner of ‘The Golden Peacock’ award for exemplary corporate governance for the year 2009 – that was Satyam for you until B. Ramalingam Raju, the brain behind Satyam, confessed to have cooked up the balance sheet of the company to show inflated assets worth 5040 crore and thus accumulating interest that does not exist. He also admitted to have shown an operating margin of 649 crore in place of 69 crore for the last quarterly. As more and more investigation followed, it turned up that the whole affair of acquiring Matyas was a just a ploy to cover up this anomaly in the Satyam’s account-books.

More or less, all of us have got over the Satyam Scandal. The newspapers have stopped discussing it in their columns and the general public has moved on to new things to talk about. Sensex went down by 749 points after the Satyam disclosure but has recovered since. Satyam has a new set of Directors who are working hard to get things right in the company. However, the question marks that all this has left on the Corporate Governance ethics in Indian Companies are still to be answered. Are there more Satyams, Enrons and World Coms around? Or better still, is corporate governance effective in India?

There are genuine reasons to ask these questions which cannot be ignored.

  • Most of the Indian Companies are family owned businesses. In fact statistics show that     half of the Benchmark 30 Share Index companies are family owned in India.
  • The role of Independent Directors has not ensured any added security to the concept of Corporate Governance as they are hardly involved with the intricacies of the Company.
  • Satyam had Price Waterhouse Coopers as their auditors and still were able to cook up their account-book, which does put a question mark on the security provided by External Auditors.
  • The Security and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) does not seem to have enough teeth to enforce proper Corporate Governance on the erring companies.

How do you guarantee that in an environment as mentioned above, there will not be more Satyams discovered in the future? In a tightly funded world business community and that too a very competitive one, these very questions can steal away the credibility of Indian Companies in the global market, thus resulting in less investment and less dealings with Indian companies.

An insightful look into the whole affair of things, however, presents us with a very different picture with the reasons provided for raising a question mark on the Corporate Governance ethics of Indian Companies acting as its fundamental points against any such question. Satyam was a single aberration in the whole scheme of things and cannot be instantiated as an example to blemish the entire Indian Industry.

  • For every Satyam, we have a lot of TATAs, Infosys’ and Reliances that has grown over the years not only in the domain of their business but also in the trust that they command from the people. And interestingly most of them are family owned.
  • The set of Independent Directors are usually common across many companies. So the very fact that other companies have worked fine under them for years together goes on to certify their credibility.
  • There is no question on the functioning of the External Auditors. The only question is whether it is good enough. External Auditors need to be vested with more power and need to be appointed by a Governing Body (SEBI or otherwise) rather than the company itself to ensure more fair play.
  • In the context of the recent developments, SEBI must do a self introspection of how effective it has been. But the fact that a body like SEBI exists goes a long way in saying that Indian Industries do not take Corporate Governance lightly.

“It was like riding a tiger, not knowing how to get off without being eaten.” So read the resignation letter of B. Ramalingam Raju. What is interesting to note, after all this fiasco is over, is the fact that there might be more of such hidden tigers around. But a well worked out system can definitely ensure that most of the companies do not eventually end up riding on them.

This article was written as a part of my internship with The Viewspaper

 

miniature marvel

This interview was published in The Viewspaper

Mr. Iqbal Ahmed, the Guinness World Record holder for the smallest working steam engine and the recipient of the India Innovation Pioneers Challenge Award for 2006-07 is a big name in the miniature world. As you enter his house, you see tiny models of various machines adorning his shelves. They have a world of their own, a charm that can be visualised but can hardly be put to words.

His “smallest working stationary steam engine standing at 6.8 mm (0.267 inches) high, and 16.24 mm (0.639 inch) long and weighing 1.72 gm (0.06 oz) with a flywheel measuring just 6.8 mm (0.267 inch) across” is an engineering marvel by itself.

Here’s an excerpt from that memorable talk we had with him:

V.P – Good afternoon, sir
Mr. Ahmed – Good afternoon.

V.P – In a world of the bigger and the biggest, why insist on miniature?
Mr. Ahmed – When I look at big machines I always wonder if they can be replicated at a smaller scale…..it’s this ego of seeing big things at miniature levels that keeps me going. From eight inches to four to two to one to thumbnail size, a perfectly designed model must always work. Ultimately it’s in the work that you put in – big or small hardly makes a difference.

V.P – Is there any practical use of miniature models as such?
Mr. Ahmed – Miniature models are less expensive and friendlier for experimentation. Innovation has to start at a small scale for it to be feasible. Apart from that, it brings a huge personal satisfaction to see self made small replicas of huge machines.

V.P – Is there any particular reason for you being so interested in the miniature world?
Mr. Ahmed – It’s been a childhood passion with me. I used to see the links and joins of steam engines and marvel at their functionalities without realising how they actually work. I had a dream of making one myself. Finally, after twenty five years of work I saw my dream being realised. The steam engine that I made worked on its first run. That it entered the Guinness World Records is another story though (smiles)

V.P – How much of general awareness do you think exists of this miniature but beautiful world?
Mr. Ahmed – Sadly not many are aware! Most people get excited after seeing my models; even enquire about them. However, only a few remember them. The concept of miniature engineering dies down the moment the exhibition is over. The process of miniature engineering requires huge patience, perseverance and interest because the results are not instantly obvious. This acts as a turn off for many people.

V.P – Which has been your favourite model or one that has given you a lot of satisfaction?
Mr. Ahmed – The four-stroke engine has been the most satisfying one. I had no blueprints, no specifications and no designs. The engine was self made from whatever ideas I had by observing large four stroke engines and it worked perfectly fine on the first run.

V.P – Any specific future plans or ideas that you are nurturing as of now?
Mr. Ahmed – I have lots to do. My models have participated in a wide range of international competitions winning accolades and there’s more to come in the near future. I am working on a Crankler’s engine right now. It’s a bit difficult but it’s shaping up well.

V.P – What are the qualities that you would like to see in present day engineers?
Mr. Ahmed – There is a huge difference between practice and theory. An interest in practical solution of a problem is a must for any engineer and this must be encouraged at all levels of education. An engineer’s education must not be limited to text books and let’s not forget necessity is the mother of invention and hence unless you create necessity you won’t be able to do anything innovative.

The Viewspaper Team wishes you all the best in your future projects and thanks you for the wonderful talk, sir.

This interview was conducted as a part of my internship with The Viewspaper

Review: goa: sun, sea, sand and the spirit of life


Located on the west coast of India, washed by the scenic Arabian Sea, Goa is a tourist’s paradise and a must visit place for everyone looking for a break from their routine lives. In fact so mesmerizing is the charm of this small but beautiful place that it is difficult to keep one from coming over to Goa again and again.

Goa’s capital city “Panjim” is well connected by road, rail and air to all important cities of India through out the year. Of special mention is the “Konkan Railways” that connects Mumbai to Madgaon because of the highly picturesque path that it takes – dotted along the way by a large number of long serpentine tunnels and small waterfalls.

Goa enjoys a pleasant climate all the year round except for the time the monsoons hit the state and can be visited in the summer and winter alike. However, the mild heat during the winter (that makes sun bathing a really awesome experience) coupled with the grand celebration of Christmas and New Year’s Eve makes winter the perfect time to be in Goa. Winter is also the time when a large number of foreign tourists flock Goa thus making it more colorful and lively. The various carnivals organized during this time are a must see.

Being a tourist hot spot, Goa provides a wide range of accommodation facilities across all price ranges. Prices may be a little steep during the peak time in winter and considering the large number of tourists that visit Goa, getting accommodation facilities booked well in advance would not be a bad idea. Goa provides a wide range of cuisine catering to every taste. However do not miss out on the sea food and local delights that are unique to this part of the world.

Primarily situated around its capital city “Panjim”, Goa is divided into North and South Goa. There are readily available facilities like Tourist Buses and Cabs that will take you around all the important places in North and South Goa taking a day for each. However Goa is best travelled around by the self driven motor bikes that are available on hire. It brings you real close to the place giving you enough time to sink its quintessential beauty in.

Goa boasts of sun kissed beaches which have no comparison anywhere in the world. There are a large number of beaches around, so many that you can never ever visit all of them. However, of special mention are “The Colva Beach” (the second largest in India after the Marine Beach in Chennai), “The Calagnut Beach” (for the crowd that it pulls and the water sports that it provides), “The Vagator Beach” (for the picturesque settings that it is in), “The Anjuna Beach” (it is otherwise called The Hippies Paradise, need we say more), “The Wagah Beach” (for the beautiful nightlife that it has) and “The Morjim Beach” (for clear crystal water, lesser crowd and serene environment). Do carry a good sun screen lotion along with all the beach accessories though as the sun can be very damaging to your skin after the long hours in the water.

Apart from the beaches, places like “Dona Paula” (a place with a romantic story as its history) and “Fort Champura” (of the Dil Chahta Hai fame) are other major crowd pullers. There are a few lesser know temples worth a visit if you are really adventurous. You may not be religious but Goa is not complete without a visit to its historical Churches. Grandeur, a vibrant history and serenity are the hall marks of these architectural delights. A must visit place with lots and lots to offer.

Goa has a thriving nightlife scattered over its numerous pubs, discos and casinos. However these might prove to be an expensive affair unless you are on a spending spree. Goa, otherwise, has very less for a shopaholic. You might be interested in buying a few memoirs from the place at the best.

The tourist spots of Goa can hardly be described in words. They can only be enumerated. You will have to be there to understand why they make Goa what it is. In fact, if there’s something in Goa, that you will never find anywhere else, it is the spirit of Goa – the spirit that lives in its old styled streets, the spirit that lives in the music and guitar of the people over there, the spirit that lives in the serenity of the churches and the neighborhood, the spirit that lives in the sun, sea and sand of Goa.

And if you come back from Goa without being bathed by it, you have surely missed the most important part of Goa. For a successful vacation, come back from Goa with lots and lots of memories and drenched in that spirit of Goa! Have a nice trip.

This article was written as a part of my internship with The Viewspaper