HMS Titanic — 2

The HMS Titanic was a giant of a ship. It was doing 21 knots that fateful night.

Now it was 9.40pm, and still the ice warnings came. At no time had Captain Smith or the senior officers ordered a cautionary reduction in speed, or had gone to the trouble of having extra lookouts posted, something which Captain Lord of the Californian had already performed before he called it a day and brought his own vessel to a halt in the ice. When you put-together the ice warnings Titanic had received that day, it revealed that there was an ice-field 80 miles long directly in her path, and only two hours away if the current speed were maintained. Surely somebody in the next couple of hours must realise that Titanic is steaming at full-speed into an ice-field which has already made other vessels to heave-to for the night?

The warning messages kept coming in. Ice ahead. John Phillips was the radio operator in the Marconi room busy at the controls of the transmitters, sending messages to Cape Race in North America.

… under the immense pressure of sending commercial traffic, and at the same time having to cope with incoming warnings and messages, he snapped, as the nearby Californian sent an ice warning to Titanic. “Shut up, shut up. I am busy. I am working Cape Race.” Phillips’ now infamous snub highlighted how the commercial traffic had priority over the warnings. Perhaps if the Marconi men had not been so busy sending messages, the Titanic would never had foundered. But all of the previous warnings didn’t stop that happening either, so a last minute aversion was unlikely.


Exponential growth can be a terrifying thing. We all know the story of the king who was foolish enough to grant a boon to one who was familiar with the concept of exponential growth. To recount, the king said, “Ask and I will grant it to you.”

The man said, “All I want is a few pennies. I want one penny on the first square of a chess board, two pennies on the second square, four pennies on the third, eight pennies on the fourth, and so on till we reach the 64th square of the chess board.”

The king, like our present day innumerate kings, was immensely relieved. Here was this idiot asking for pennies when he could have asked for a ton of gold. “Done,” said the king and asked his minister to make the arrangements.
Continue reading “Numbers”

The HMS Titanic

Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

What an absolutely evocative expression. I cannot get that out of my head every time I muster up enough courage to read the newspapers. Most of those out there on the top deck are busy with something trivial while below decks the situation is dire.

It was a cold and dark night on the 14th of April in the year 1912. The dead calm seas were lit only by moonlight as the HMS Titanic made its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York across the North Atlantic.

Ice is a seasonal hazard in the unforgiving winter seas of the North Atlantic, and in the couple of days since leaving Southampton, many ships had reported ice in the exact area into which Titanic would be sailing. On the 11th April, she received 6 warnings from ships stopped in, or passing through, heavy ice, 5 more on the 12th, 3 more on the 13th, and 7 on the 14th. All of these messages would have been written down as they were intercepted, logged in the radio book, and passed on to the officers on the bridge. There was now no way that the Captain, along with the officers, would have been unaware of the huge field of ice that now lay directly in front of Titanic.    Source.

Perhaps other matters occupied the Captain’s mind, such as the need to retire with a big bang. This was his last command and perhaps he did not want the ship to be late on its maiden voyage. Perhaps the owners of the White Star shipping lines did not want to let ice interfere with their grand ship.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied . . .

I don’t know if Leonard Cohen is right about that. Not everybody knows.

The Rationality of Underdevelopment

Dorothy L Sayers took a rational view of the world and stressed the causal nature of the universe. She wrote:

War is a judgement that overtakes societies when they have been living upon ideas that conflict too violently with the laws governing the universe…Never think that wars are irrational catastrophes: they happen when wrong ways of thinking and living bring about intolerable situations.

It is important to understand the nature of war — that it is a rational response to intolerable situations which have been brought about by wrong ways of thinking and living. Please bear with me for dwelling on that quote.
Continue reading “The Rationality of Underdevelopment”

Please Visit India in 2020

This is from the NOT A VERY BRIGHT IDEA Department. Mr. Ram Narayanan sent out an email reporting that a US Congressional delegation was going to visit India. Quote:

Congressman Crowley said, “…With over 300 million citizens considered middle class and with a burgeoning economy and geo-political role, strengthening US-India relations is more important now than ever for trade and security. I commend the Confederation of Indian Industries for putting together this exceptional program to give the delegation a well rounded overview of the political, economic and cultural vitality of India.”

Congressman Crowley’s delegation includes Congressman Steve Israel (NY), Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy (NY), Congresswoman Denise Majette (GA), Congressman Jim Marshall (GA), Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA), Congressman Anthony Weiner (NY), and Congresswoman Linda Sanchez (CA). Congressman Gregory Meeks (NY) will join the delegation in Mumbai. Except for Congressman Crowley, no other member of the delegation has previously visited India.

None except Crowley has ever been to India?

The last thing one should do to people who are favorably inclined towards India (from news reports and such like) is to bring them to India. The disillusionment cannot be but a total reversal of opinion.

If all I knew about India was from hyped-up news reports that claim that India is an IT superpower, from pictures of the Taj Mahal, pictures of regal Royal Bengal tigers, pictures of pretty village women dressed in colorful ghagras carrying shiny pots on their heads, and other such advertizing copy, it would be a total shock for me to arrive at any of the international airports and find that it is so dilapidated that it beggars imagination, and from then on, it would be a downhill run when I see the unimaginable crowds and abject poverty amidst the filthy rich of any city of India.

I think the best thing for friends of India is to stay as far away from India as possible and to use their time reading the articles by President Kalam and other visionaries. I recommend they put off their visits till — shall we say — 2020.

The Land Grant Colleges and Universities of the US

The development of an economy is a natural consequence of the shift of labor from agriculture to manufacturing, and subsequently from manufacturing to services. Note that the shift refers to the labor; agriculture has to go on still but with fewer people.
Continue reading “The Land Grant Colleges and Universities of the US”

We are Made of Stuff

… We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

Shakespeare’s The Tempest

Writing in the Dec 28th, 2003 edition of The Week, President Kalam says, “In the 21st century, knowledge is the primary production resource instead of capital or labour.”

I have been unable to fully comprehend that insight, fundamentally because it does not make any sense. Sounds profound but makes no sense. What is a ‘primary production resource‘? Did Kalam imply that once upon a time capital and labor were primary production resources but knowledge wasn’t? What changed so that labor and capital got displaced and now knowledge holds that position?
Continue reading “We are Made of Stuff”