Friday, December 31, 2004

A fight between rich kids

Originally posted elsewhere on 8 December 2004:

Anil Ambani, Vice-Chairman and Managing Director of Reliance Industries, has an op-ed in yesterday's Economic Times titled "Rules and Tools for Leaders". His article is ostensibly about his father Dhirubhai Ambani's views on leadership, but Anil gives the game away about halfway through the article, with sentences like these: "... leadership is not a matter of inheritance or right", "[it] is a function of merit", and "it lies in the ability to inspire others to put their faith in you".

Wait a minute, there is more! Non only does Anil want to tell us (without telling us, of course) what he thinks about his brother, but he also wants to give us some deep gyan (wisdom) that he says his father lived by. Consider this:

Not for nothing is Dhirubhai remembered as a great visionary, a dreamer. "All of us", he would say, "have the capacity to dream. It is the human condition. But for me, a visionary is one who has the God's gift of dreaming with his eyes wide open".
Then, we have this:
I remember asking him once: "What is the definition of a true leader?". His reply was so stunningly simple that it seemed, at first, to be banal. "A leader", he said, "is one who attracts followers".

Boy, am I grateful for all this wisdom! We all knew that Dhirubhai was single-handedly responsible for several fabulous bull runs on the Bombay Stock Exchange; we now know that one of his sons is capable of an entirely different kind of stuff for which "bull" would make an appropriate adjective.

An editorial in today's Economic Times called for an early resolution of the "deuce between the two Ambani brothers". I disagree; I want this spat to go on publicly, acrimoniously, loudly, and for as long as the two brothers can make it last. For one thing, it would serve the noble purpose of bringing to light corporate India's many shady practices. For another, it is just starting to be fun. All the TV time and newsprint devoted to it would be such a waste if it is not allowed to become at least as gripping and down-an-dirty as, ... mmm, ... women's wrestling on ESPN!

However, as of today, it looks like a patch up between the brothers is imminent. That would be too bad.

Update: This post was originally written on 8 December 2004. I am happy to report that the brothers are still at it!

Go Google!

Just a quick link to "The magic that makes Google tick" by Matt Loney over at ZDNet.

It starts with the following raw facts:

  • Over four billion Web pages, each an average of 10KB, all fully indexed
  • Up to 2,000 PCs in a cluster
  • Over 30 clusters
  • 104 interface languages including Klingon and Tagalog
  • One petabyte of data in a cluster -- so much that hard disk error rates of 10-15 begin to be a real issue
  • Sustained transfer rates of 2Gbps in a cluster
  • An expectation that two machines will fail every day in each of the larger clusters
  • No complete system failure since February 2000

Update: Here is another post from April 2004; I knew it was there somewhere, but it took me a just a little while to find it (using Google, of course!). Read this one too, and prepare to be amazed! Don't forget to check out the comments!

Ashis Nandy on academic freedom and the state

This was also written about three weeks ago; I am moving it here ...

Times of India published on 4 December 2004 an op-ed by Ashis Nandy under the title: "The Other Emergency: Indian State Has Stifled Intellectual Freedom". I suggest you read the article, simply because Nandy is willing to name a few villains (however, all of them are either dead, and otherwise out of the limelight). His rant is specific to social sciences; some of it sounds quite alien to those of us in science and engineering. After reading Nandy's piece, one ends up feeling pretty sorry for Indian academics in the social sciences.

More importantly, Nandy's piece is a call for greater academic freedom. He ends it on a poignant note:

We love to talk once in a while on the brain drain but we hate to admit that most gifted scholars run away from the country not for money but to protect their dignity and avoid the loving embrace of the intellectually challenged bureaucracy.

I have one minor quibble, though: one gets the impression that, according to Nandy, academic freedom is not something that is exercised by the academics themselves, but to be given away by the state (probably since the state took it away in the first place). Here is a quote:

"It requires the state to return higher education to their practitioners and to give them priority over semi-literate politicians and bureaucrats".
Now, this doesn't sound like a viable proposal, does it?

An economist's view of the impact of nanotechnology

Here is something I wrote about a year, but never bothered to post anywhere ...

Brad DeLong, an economics professor at the University of California, Berkeley, has an article about the economic impact of nanotechnology. He first outlines what he calls a framework for analyzing the impact of any 'technological revolution'. The following four questions of economic and social relevance form the essence of his framework:

  • "What commodities--what goods and services--become extraordinarily cheap as a result of the technological revolution?"
  • "What human activities--what jobs and skills--become key bottlenecks, and thus become remarkably valuable and well-paid?"
  • "What risks blindside the society as the technology spreads?"
  • "What risks do people guard against that turn out not to be risks at all?"

He illustrates his framework by applying it to the British Industrial Revolution. He then goes on to examine the nanotechnology revolution, and poses the all-important question: "Will nanotechnology be a set of tightly-focused technologies revolutionizing small discrete sectors of the economy, or will it be broad and long-lasting?". The rest of his post is (not a very convincing) speculation about how nanotechnology might pan out, and about its possible economic and social consequences. His article is a little too US-centric for my taste; on the positive side, it gives us an interesting way to look at things, and it is not too long. Strongly recommended!

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

The first post

Hi! Welcome to my little corner of the Web! I am not sure about why you are here, and perhaps you too are wondering about it. This first post is a good place for me to tell you what to expect here.

Primarily, I plan to write about things that I do for a living: materials science, physical metallurgy, microstructures, and simulation techniques (in particular, phase field models). Thus, you can expect thoughts, opinion, commentary, suggestions, and speculations on various aspects of these fields. I know, I know, ... these areas are not as catchy and interesting and important as the theory of evolution or cosmology; but, I plan to just play with the hand that I have been dealt.

Like so many others, I too find that when I put my thoughts down in writing, things become clearer to me. In fact, even as I write this post, my real reasons for this blog are coming into better focus. So, you see, the main reason for this blog is purely personal (did I hear someone mutter "navel-gazing"?). Having said that, I do want to make sure that what I say is sensible to those who happen to read this blog. So, I promise to do my best to write clearly, coherently and convincingly.

In addition to fields in which I have some professional training, there are others that I dabble in purely out of personal interest. I certainly cannot claim competence in some (or, even all) of them, but I do expect to write about them. So, you may occasionally find thoughts and rants on very many other things such as economic development, stock markets, sociology of science, etc. I do realize, however, that I have to draw a line somewhere; as of now, I draw it so that I will not have to discuss murderous muttheads and other such topics ... ;-)