Readings: “How to Win the Nobel Prize”

A friend of mine, who was a fellow grad student at UC Berkeley, gave me as a gift Michael Bishop’s How to Win the Nobel Prize [Harvad Univ Press 2003]. “In 1989 Micheal Bishop and Harold Varmus were awarded the Nobel Prize for their discovery tha normal genes under certain conditions can cause cancer”. I’d like to quote from the chapter, People and Pestilence, because it is relevant to my obsession with India’s population problem. Continue reading

“GPS for the common man”

Every now and then, I screw up enough courage to read the newspapers. I am faint of heart and avoid newspapers because they generally report such stuff that nightmares are made of, such as Islamic terrorism killing a few hundred in Russia (recently but around the world with sickening regularity.) But occasionally they report news from a surreal world and my morbid curiosity wins over my basic distaste of horror stories. A few days ago, I came across an item that gladdened my heart: Sibal plans GPS project to help common man reported the Times News Network on September 3rd.

Can’t find your way around in a metropolis? Don’t know how many bus stops are there in your town? Want to know the exact size of your farm? Geo-technology may give you the answers.

The science and technology ministry has embarked upon some major projects which it claims could change a common man’s life. By 2005, the ministry is planning to provide global positioning system (GPS) for motor vehicles in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, Bangalore and Kolkata.

A central server will be set up by the ministry that can be accessed by GPS screens installed in cars. “Most sedans have GPS technology, but car owners who don’t have it can get it installed and access the service,” said science and technology minister Kapil Sibal.

This system would allow drivers to know their location and the directions to reach their destination,” he said.

The concern that the policy makers in Delhi feel for the common man is nothing if not touching. Their passion for the commonweal is awe inspiring. Imagine, if you will, the horrors that the common man faces as he drives his car looking for an address in an unfamiliar neighborhood. But the common man need not worry anymore. Science and technology (and the passion of the Indian policy makers for the common man) will solve this incredibly complex and terribly urgent problem.

Some time ago, I had written in a piece called It’s the small stuff, stupid:

I just went out to lunch in the neighborhood of where I work. A passerby stopped me to ask me where a certain company was. I said I don’t know but if he had an address, I could perhaps direct him. He only knew that it was close to the ‘Empire Building’. We spent some time trying to locate it and then finally gave up. I don’t know how long he spent walking around in the noon-day sun trying to get where he wanted to go. Perhaps he just wasted an hour, a lot of shoe leather, sweated in the heat, and when he arrived, he was tired. The opportunity cost of his trying to find a place is small but non-zero. He could have spent more time with his family or done some productive work. Add the cost of millions of people spending non-productive time searching, and soon you get a significant amount of loss.

That streets should have a name and locations along a street should have a number is a concept that should be evident to the meanest intelligence, one would expect considering that it is not exactly rocket science and that many parts of the world have had that innovation for generations, if not centuries. Yet it is a rare exception when you can find a place in India without an algorithmic description of how to get to it.

“GPS for the common man” should rightfully be listed under the LET THEM EAT CAKE category. Other items in that set: One computer in every village. Never mind that most villages lack a teacher who comes somewhat regularly to teach the children, and electricity is almost non-existent.

Deva, deva!