Sunday, August 27, 2006

Global Cooling is here

If you are an NGO starved of funds, here is a new cause. It is as frightening as global warming, equally wide-ranging in impact and involves esoteric stuff such as glaciation, solar emissions and the like. Global Cooling is here. The earth has reached its maximum possible temperature, it appears. In the next 50 years, global cooling could affect billions. Except for the odd sceptical view from people like Bjorn Lomborg and Michael Crichton, both of whom I have written about before. As we all know, it is more important to guard this world from an unknown, unproven danger that is likely in a 100 years than it is to provide basic healthcare and infrastructure to the starving millions. So, go for it.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas

Soon the educated mother will have to serve Noodles or Nuts or whatever! No more "nine pizzas". In case you did not notice, MVEMJSUNP is a mnemonic for the nine planets of the solar system, with even NASA popularising it. Or should I say, was a mnemonic. Yes, Pluto is being voted out of the Solar System. No one is disputing that there is a body that revolves around the sun just after Neptune, but it looks like Pluto does no fulfil the important condition of having its own orbit. Pluto's orbit overlaps that of Neptune. It will be called a "dwarf" planet from now on under a newly accepted definition of "planets".

This raises several issues for trivia lovers: (a) what happens to all those astrological predictions that depended on 9 planets? (b) what happens to Walt Disney's lovable character? - I remember that in the Greenwich Observatory outside London, there was a telescope that promised to show PLUTO, but it turned out to be Pluto the dog! (c) what about all those geography textbooks that mention 9 planets? (d) what happens to several religious beliefs, including the Hindu one, that there are 9 planets for a reason? - the counterargument to this question is that Pluto does exist, only that some scientists do not wish to call it a planet.

Anyway, the replacement of Pizzas with Noodles could represent an important immigration issue! It recognises the fact that Europeans have less influence on the American diet than ever before - and that there is a Chinese joint even in the remotest of American villages. We should probably have a Mexican dish for Neptune, but I am not familiar with that cuisine. Allow me to suggest the venerable Naan to represent the increasing Indian influence on America:-)

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

spectators come "to see me bat, not to see you umpire"...

...said the great WG Grace a century back. The Inzamam-Hair controversy has received such one-sided coverage in the British press! Surprisingly, it seems one-sided in favour of the Pakistan team. Or is normal, considering that the British are supporting the Pak team against an Aussie umpire. Meanwhile, the Aussies do what they do best - defend one of their own. Suddenly, cricket is a game that should be played within the codified rules. It is okay for Glenn McGrath and Co., to sledge, abuse and display "gamesmanship" because there is nothing in the rules that prevent them from doing so. So, ball tampering is bad, but mood tampering is okay! But the Aussie article is well-written and is worth a read.

This episode should help bury a few nonsensical myths:
  • that playing cricket improves international relationships - perhaps a controversy worsens relationships, but the converse is not true. in fact, when pushed into a corner, cricketers latch on to something parochial such as religion, region, skin colour, etc.
  • that cricket is somehow different from other "commercialised" games and umpires are highly respected in cricket
  • that the tail is not wagging the dog - what are the chances of umpire Hair being called to officiate at venues around the world? Thus, competence alone is not going to be enough in getting umpiring opportunities
Oh well! Thank you, Saurav Ganguly for standing up to a bunch of bullies and making Indian cricketers better at "gamesmanship".

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Unwiring the city - Internet-access as a basic public good

Just as roads, electricity, water supply and sewerage are goods that any member of the public should have access to, should internet be made available to everyone too? Arguably, in today's world, telephone connections are only slightly less important than electricity or water. Extending this argument, not just telephone connections, but the entire gamut of telecom connections are becoming "basic goods".

But what about the notion of "scarce resources"? If the goods that a government has to provide demand scarce resources such as money, manpower and government time, should the govt set aside internet access in favour of water supply (for example). Not for very long, because internet access is becoming a basic building block of business and life itself.

Perhaps the best way to provide universal internet access ("democratise" in the words of a West Coast blogger) is to unwire. That is, create huge communities or geographies with easy access to wireless internet. Then, anyone with a laptop or a comparable instrument with a chip can potentially wire himself to the WWW. I have heard that some US cities are trying this out in partnership with the private sector (Philly, PA and Portland, OR if I remember right).

As usual, east Asia is one step ahead. The Taiwanese (who along with the Koreans and the Japanese are any electronic gadget marketer's dream consumers) are trying this out in Taipei, their capital. Seoul and Osaka are set to follow suit.

The basic conditions for a city to unwire are (a) high density of population (b) high tech awareness (c) high-rise buildings to set up access points. Does your city have all these?

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

why you should stop travelling by air

this has been coffee machine conversation in the past week when carrying a bottle of water suddenly became a security risk. now, i usually support any measure that the airport authorities take to ensure safety. some of them might be knee-jerk, but i think they have a tough task and we the travellers should support them in carrying it out. remember, they have to get it right every time!

now, for geographies well connected by road, rail or internet, these additional security measures have other repercussions. for example, if a businessman not allowed to carry his laptop with him loses precious time just lazing in airport lounges. does he have an incentive to travel by road or simply not travel at all (teleconference?). what then is the impact on all the white elephant airports around the world? what abt airlines? this is the one bad news that airlines did not wish to hear, i am sure.

this Bloomberg article captures it well. i am suspicious abt the environmental impact argument, but this is otherwise a good read.