“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!

The Cupidity of the Indian Government

Yesterday’s post about the government’s anti-Midas touch concluded with the question of what explains the sordid performance of practically anything undertaken by the government. I believe that the answer has to do with what is called the objective function of the government.

Loosely defined, an objective function embodies the goal of an economic agent and which the economic agent attempts to optimize in some sense. So for a commercial enterprise, the objective function could be to maximize market share, or it could be to maximize profits. For a consumer, it could be to maximize utility. For a government, it could be to maximize social welfare, or to minimize unemployment, etc. The objective function for a central bank could be to keep inflation below a specified value while maintaining adequate liquidity in the money markets, etc.
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Reciprocal Rights and Privileges

From Anish Sankalia:

The President is said to have informed her that according to Section 5 of the Citizenship Act of 1955, she has no right to assume the office of the Prime Minister of India and that he was seeking the advice of the Supreme Court on this issue. Section 5 of the Citizenship Act of 1955 says the rights and privileges allowed to foreigners who become citizens by application (not by birth) are conditional upon the rights and privileges granted to Indians in the country of the concerned person’s origin (in this case Italy).

The President reportedly told Sonia that he had to ascertain the legal position in this matter as there was no confirmation that all the rights and privileges granted to persons of Italian origin are reciprocated by Italy in the case of Indians who become citizens of that country. Sonia is said to have decided not to take the risk after the President’s briefing.

So there. Sort of what happens in commerce — you grant most favored nation (MFN) status to a country only if they grant you MFN. Also, you grant a certain number of landing-slots to the carrier of a foreign country only if they grant you reciprocal rights in theirs.

A naturalized Italian citizen of Indian origin cannot become the municipal commissioner of a third rate town in Italy. India cannot in good conscience reciprocate by allowing a naturalized Indian citizen of Italian origin to become the chief of the executive branch of the government.

Of course, there is a very compelling personal reason for Mrs S Maino Gandhi to not take a shot at the PM’s seat — security. Indian soldiers provide personal security to Indian leaders, not Italian soldiers. At some level deep inside, soldiers have very strong sense of nationality and duty and honor and pride and all sorts of things that make them willing to put their lives in danger for the protection of their motherland. I, as an Indian, would not trust Italian soldiers to keep their guns pointed the right way if I was to somehow get to become the prime minister of Italy.

Be that as it may, it was a pragmatic decision. A challenge in the Supreme Court of India would have been all and she would have been asked to vacate. Better to take the high road and avoid being thrown out, is my guess.

Wrong again, Mr. President of the US of A

There’s a lot of people in the world who don’t believe that people whose skin color may not be the same as ours can be free and self-govern. I reject that. I reject that strongly… I believe that people whose skins aren’t necessarily — are a different color than white can self-govern. [Source]

The above, in case you haven’t figured it out, is the ever articulate President of the United States of America.
Continue reading “Wrong again, Mr. President of the US of A”

The AP results are in: Chandrababu Naidu is out

Andhra Pradesh (AP) election results are in and Chandrababu Naidu is out. He was an unusual CM. He wanted to make Hyderabad into a Singapore, and make AP a shining state. From what I hear, it appears that his stress was on the use of hi-tech for bringing about transformation. I am not too informed about what the game plan was but it appears that the common person did not obviously share his vision and they voted him out. Perhaps he fancied himself to be a Lee Kwon Yew and did not realize that unlike the Singaporean dictator, he had to seek a mandate from the masses. The masses are more interested in the short-run rather than the long-run.

Continue reading “The AP results are in: Chandrababu Naidu is out”

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