Jag Venugopal's Blog

August 27, 2011

Finally, success with Andromeda

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jag @ 2:57 pm

My daughter and I took up skywatching, beginning late last winter. The first few months were very interesting… there were many nights when the sky was clear, and sunset was rather early. One could grab an early bite, watch the sky and still go to bed at a sane hour.

Sadly, summer has been a washout with cloudy skies. On the few days the sky was clear, either sunset was late, or the moon was out in full force, overpowering all but the brightest stars.

Last week, we finally got a night to watch the skies, without the moon getting in the way. We were out at about 9:30 PM. The skies were still not completely dark, but the stars were still out in force. We finally located the one object that we were looking for all spring and summer… Andromeda. This galaxy is 2.5 million light years away from us, and is one of the largest in our close vicinity. And, if you were to survive for another 5 billion years, you might just get to witness its collision with the Milky Way. Right now, it is approaching the encounter at a leisurely 140 kilometers per second.

Our implements in this quest were simple… a star chart, a pair of binoculars, a Celestron SkyScout, and a red flashlight. Andromeda resembled a largish smudge in the binoculars. Those breathtaking pictures you see on web sites were all captured with very expensive telescopes by professional astronomers. Nonetheless, the best picture of Andromeda cannot compare with the joy of seeing it with one’s own eyes, and imagining that on a planet somewhere in that galaxy of a trillion stars, there might be a father and daughter similarly searching for the Milky Way from their backyard.

This week, with hurricane Irene about to bear down on us, skywatching seems a remote possibility. But for sure, Prerna and I will be out in the backyard at the first hint of clear, dark skies, to continue indulging in our shared delight.


August 20, 2011

From the “I told you so” department

Filed under: Information Technology — Jag @ 11:06 am

Back in July, I had pronounced the fate of WebOS and others. I knew that the demise was coming, but even my prognostication failed to realize how fast it would be.

WebOS could be a great buy for someone at fire sale prices if there were a bunch of patents to go with it that could be used in the coming Mobile Patent Armageddon. The WebOS software is doomed. Developer interest can be sustained around one or two platforms at best… and they are iOS and Android. The rest can cut their losses like HP just did.


With all that said, what boggles the mind is that management can get away with making a $1 Billion purchase, and then writing it off a scant year later. And they pay these geniuses in the tens of millions each year to commit blunders. I could commit the same blunders for a lot less, if only someone gave me the opportunity.

August 17, 2011

Is the US behind Anna Hazare’s agitation?

Filed under: India — Jag @ 11:52 pm

The Congress Party has all but insinuated that the United States is behind Anna Hazare’s campaign against corruption at all levels of Indian government. The “foreign hand”, oft mentioned by the late lamented Rajiv Gandhi appears to be making a comeback!

Anyone with a brain larger than that of a fruitfly should recognize that the allegation is laughably absurd. When the ruling party’s peons make such asinine statements, by extension it hurts the credibility of the Indian government, and that of the Nation.

I guess being a Congress Party spokesman requires two qualifications:

  • Ability to lick the boots of the Nehru-Gandhi family
  • An IQ below 50

India’s problems are, and were always, of its own making (including the British Raj (no one could have enslaved 300 million Indians without the connivance of large sections of Indian society), Kashmir (how many times did we play dirty with Sheikh Abdullah, and the elections?) and Punjab (who propped up Bhindranwale?)).

Looking around for someone to blame just makes us look foolish.

In other news: The Congress spokesman alleges that Anna Hazare is a reincarnation of Sauron.

August 5, 2011

How Government Policies Twist Market Functioning

Filed under: India — Jag @ 6:28 am

Diesel cars are not very popular in the United States. They’re nosier, cost more to purchase and maintain, and belch out black, sooty smoke.

Which leads one to wonder — why is diesel such a popular fuel in India? If anything petrol (gasoline) engines should be more popular because they are cheaper, easier to maintain, and their exhaust isn’t so miserable.

The answer to this question is found in diesel subsidies. Diesel is cheaper than petrol by a third at the pump. Petrol buyers are overcharged, and some of the extra money levied is used to make other fuels such as diesel, kerosene and cooking gas cheaper. The excuse for subsidizing diesel is that it is used by truckers, and keeping the price of diesel under control helps keep overall prices in check. Kerosene is cooking fuel for poor people, and cooking gas is the same for the middle class.

Faced with such market-distorting subsidies, Indians have done what they do best — adapt. India is likely the world leader in the production of small diesel engines for three wheelers, small cars, and assorted other applications. And it is likely to retain that crown, not necessarily due to any technical prowess, but because there is no market for tiny diesel engines elsewhere. Similarly, artificially cheaper kerosene is often used as a fuel adulterant. And, drivers who value economy over safety have jerry-rigged their cars to run on cooking gas rather than petrol.

The latest news is that the government is considering making car owners pay more for diesel, as compared to truckers. I can foresee the famous Indian concept of adaptability (or “jugaad” in local lingo) at work: trucker goes, fills up, then pulls up to side of road, siphons off diesel to sell to motorists for a small premium. Petrol pump (gas station) owners could themselves get in on the act, marking in their books that a certain quantity of diesel was sold to a trucker, while in practice they would have sold it to a car owner for an under-the-table premium.

At the end of the day, government distortions of market-based pricing will not work. No government, howsoever powerful, can ultimately beat Adam Smith’s invisible hand.

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