Monday, April 30, 2007

Combined NRI wealth more than India's GDP

The combined wealth of the 20-million strong non-resident Indians community is estimated to be over $1 trillion dollars -- more than the country's entire economy.

Overseas Indians are estimated to hold financial wealth, apart from real estate, gold and art, of over $500 billion. The total wealth would be over $1 trillion, according to the report by High-Powered Expert Committee appointed by the Centre to suggest ways to make Mumbai an international financial centre.

These NRIs were a natural beachhead as a customer base where an Indian Personal Wealth Management industry can get started. Their wealth management services were presently being sourced almost exclusively from abroad, the report said.

The report listed 11 activities typically provided by an international financial centre (IFC) and referred to PWM as one of the most important activities undertaken at an IFC.

According to the report, PWM for high-net worth individuals is estimated to involve management of personal assets of $8-10 trillion globally.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

North America's biggest solar farm set for Ontario

Work on North America's biggest solar power plant will start next year in Ontario, the Canadian province's energy minister said on Thursday.

Once complete in 2010, the 40-megawatt project, near Sarnia in southwestern Ontario, will be able to supply enough emission-free electricity to power up to 24,000 homes.

Currie would not disclose how much it will cost to build the project, but said typically a project in a 10 megawatt range would cost up to C$80 million.

The solar farm will stretch across nearly 365 hectares, and about one million panels will be erected as high as 7 meters off the ground. Currie said the company plans to begin building the solar farm in spring 2008.

Ontario pays solar power generators 42 Canadian cents a kilowatt-hour for electricity, a key reason OptiSolar chose to build its project in the province.

The Ontario Power Authority has agreed to purchase the electricity under a 20-year contract that will see the power go into the provincial grid.

The solar farm project is part of 14 new, renewable energy projects awarded through Ontario's Standard Offer Program, which sets a fixed price for small renewable energy projects.

The program is expected to add up to 1,000 megawatts of renewable energy to Ontario's electricity supply over the next 10 years.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Cup Runneth Over

British women have the biggest breasts in Europe. Yes, confirming something that I have personally researched in depth over a period of many, many years (all in the interests of science, of course), the boffins working on behalf of a British bra company have discovered that the British Woman has a far heftier d├ęcolletage than her European counterpart. They went on to say that over a third of British women wear a bra with a D Cup or greater (and if it’s a Friday night and the booze is flowing, they aren’t averse to�’getting them out’, either!)��

The study found that today’s more buxom women have sent sales of structured and supportive underwired bras soaring. Demand for the underwired bra is up by 12 per cent in the last two years and now makes up 70 per cent of the bra market. Sales rose 12 per cent in the last two years as part of a 27 per cent increase in Britain’s total £1.2billion annual lingerie spending. But the bottom has finally fallen out of the thong market - down 14 per cent last year - as French knicker sales shot up by 36 per cent.�Analyst James McCoy said: “There has been something of a backlash. Shorts leave the wearer feeling less vulnerable than they do in a thong.”

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Samsung, Microsoft - Linux

This "patent indemnity" system is turning patent monopolies into patent cartels as protection rackets. They are all so clearly anticompetitive that they should not be allowed whatsoever.

I've been part of some negotiations to sell some new applications that include GPL software to some established service providers to be deployed in their networks. They're all freaked out about "patent indemnity": how will a little company offer patent indemnity along with the apps they deliver? When the little company tells them "we abide by the GPL, so we're safe from license problems, and we wrote the new code ourselves", that's not good enough. The big companies now love to say "what if something happens to you like how Verizon is shutting down Vonage on patents, how will we cope with losing your services?" Even though Vonage has deep pockets, and there's nothing GPL about their conflict with Verizon.

Not only are the patents monopolizing innovations, and way too broadly. The entire racket has big, risk-averse companies avoiding business with the source of most innovation and economic growth: little companies. We are heading for a total freezeup of real innovation and growth. And these bogus patents, used like a weapon, are killing it.

I don't understand what the companies signing these deals are thinking.
It seems like suicide to me. You sign the deal, and MS agrees not to sue you for awhile. But eventually you have to re-sign the deal, and MS can dictate whatever terms they want... because if you don't sign the deal, you won't be able to distribute Linux anymore?

After all, MS can argue in court that your acceptance of the prior deal was basically an admission that you wouldn't have been allowed to distribute Linux without their blessing. So as soon as you sign the deal, you are forever controlled by MS (at least with regard to Linux distribution). Why would a company purposefully agree to have one of their business plans depend upon the whims of another company?

I typically don't like conspiracy theories, but it is almost as if Microsoft is creating these deals (using shady behind-the-scenes payoffs?) in order to create a climate where they can, eventually, either crush Linux through patents, or at least make money off of every Linux sale.

This website, created by OMB Watch, is a free, searchable database of federal government spending. To begin searching, select either the Grants or Contracts tab at the top left side of this page. You can easily switch back and forth as you search.

The data below on total federal spending was taken directly from the database. With over $14 trillion in federal spending, this more open and accessible tool for citizens to find out where federal money goes and who gets it is long overdue. We believe this website is a good first step toward providing that access.

Mohr Family Farm

Trac - wiki and issue tracking system

Trac is an enhanced wiki and issue tracking system for software development projects. Trac uses a minimalistic approach to web-based software project management. Our mission is to help developers write great software while staying out of the way. Trac should impose as little as possible on a team's established development process and policies.

Open Source ERP

Django is a great framework for building custom web apps -- but I am not sure it is the most sensible solution for your needs. If what you want is standard ERP functionality, delivered over the web, there is no need for you to reinvent the wheel. Quite a few existing open source projects may meet your needs; check out OpenBravo, Compiere, ERP5, webERP, etc.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Smugmug - Amazon S3

But wait! It gets even better! Because of the stupid way the tax law operates in this country, I would actually have to pay taxes on the $423K I spent buying drives (yes, exactly like the money I spent was actually profit. Dumb.). So I’d have to pay an additional ~$135K in taxes. Technically, I’d get that back over the next 5 years, so I didn’t want to include it as “savings” but as you can imagine, the cash flow implications are huge. In a very real sense, the actual cash I conserved so far is about $474,000.

But wait! It gets even better! Amazon has been so reliable over the last 7 months (considerably more reliable than our own internal storage, which I consider to be quite reliable), that just last week we made S3 an even more fundamental part of our storage architecture. I’ll save the details for a future post, but the bottom line is that we’re actually going to start selling up to 90% of our hard drives on eBay or something. So costs I had previously assumed were sunk are actually about to be recouped. We should get many hundreds of thousands of dollars back in cash.

I expect our savings from Amazon S3 to be well over $1M in 2007, maybe as high as $2M.


DocMGR is a complete, web-based Document Management System (DMS). It allows for the storage of any file type, and supports full-text indexing of the most popular document formats. It is available in many different languages and is easy to translate into new languages. DocMGR runs on PHP, the Apache webserver, and Postgresql. It optionally uses tsearch2 for full-text indexing which provides for faster search results and result ranking. DocMGR supports LDAP authentication, the ability to easily add and remove "objects" for storage in the system, document workflow, object subscriptions, WebDAV access, and an ever-growing set of features revolving around content storage.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Django on Windows

Make sure that the versions match. mod_python is finicky about the apache and python version.





Test as suggested here:


Follow official version:

Monday, April 16, 2007

Why We Pay Without A Whimper

Governments at all levels have voracious appetites for cash, but taking revenue from the middle class is a politically risky maneuver; after all, that's where the votes are. So lawmakers have crafted ingenious ways around the dilemma, imposing hefty levies on those with lower incomes but relying on stealth taxes to do it. If you're going to tax widows and orphans, you'd better be quiet about it; use a sales tax.

Government thus takes more from the wealthy through income taxes, but extracts more from the poor with all the other taxes. By doing this, politicians get to pretend that they are virtuously redistributing wealth from the richer to the poorer, and they can maintain that fiction without sacrificing the cash. Voters seem to like this approach.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

How Your Tax Dollars Are Spent

Do you wonder what your tax dollars buy? As the deadline for filing federal income taxes rolls around again this year, you may well wonder where those hard-earned bucks you've forked over to Uncle Sam actually go. The answer might surprise you.

This year the federal government expects a haul of about $2.7 trillion -- give or take a couple hundred billion or so, depending on the economy, corporate profits and Wall Street and of course, how honest everyone filing a return is.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Delusions of skill and of grandeur

Industry pundits like Guy Kawasaki, Michael Arrington, and other respected, successful people who have achieved fame and fortune dismissed Smalltalk in the 70s and 80s. Virtual machines? Garbage collection? Integrated development environments? Clearly, this had no place in business computing. You know why? Too slow. Too weird. And, actually, too innovative for their pea-brains to recognize the significance of. Respected industry pundits knew that serious business computing had to be done using serious systems programming languages like C, assembly language, or C++. Now no one would think of developing a business application that has to be rapidly brought to market in a language that wasn’t garbage-collected, and, if at all possible, dynamically typed. What was useless academic research is now common sense. Now Ruby, an interesting rehash of Smalltalk ideas into a form more palatable to people used to C-style syntax, is the shit for creating web applications and enterprise integration.

Arrington and the rest of the Web 2.0 echo chamber nitwits think they know what’s innovative and where things are going. They don’t and they never have. They have no appreciation of the fact that they owe their entire careers to the work of people in academic and industry labs. The TCP/IP stack and the Internet; GUIs, the WIMP interface, and pointing devices; IDEs; garbage collection; virtual machines; relational databases; dynamic typing (Michael Arrington doesn’t know what many of those things actually are, of course); all of this comes from people with PhDs at places like Berkeley, MIT, IBM, and Xerox. When they create it, it is useless and worthless. Twenty years later, navel-gazing pundits like Michael Arrington are confronted by the fact that they have become essential in creating computer software. It then becomes common sense and it’s perfectly OK to take credit for the things done in labs by forgotten names long ago.

Where is the praise for the real innovators like Alan Kay? Kay’s work with Smalltalk and human factors strongly influenced nearly everything we consider essential today. But Michael Arrington doesn’t care about Alan Kay or any of the other people responsible for the stuff that is now his livelihood. Does Alan Kay work at Google? Does he have a me-too startup with a faux-reflecty logo and an Ajax chat application in beta? No? Then forget him.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Storage – SQL Server I/O

SQL Server and the Storage Subsystem

So how does all this fit in with SQL Server? Well, you need to make sure your servers have the fastest drives possible, and have the proper RAID configuration.

At a basic level, data is stored in files. There are two types of files used in SQL Server. The first is the database file type, which normally has an extension of .mdf. There may be one or more of these for your database, as we’ll discuss in a moment. The second type of file is for the logs, normally with an extension of .ldf. Data is written first to the log file; then SQL Server writes the data to the database file. This is called a write-ahead log.

The log is written to in a sequential fashion, since all writes, deletes, or edits normally go through the log. All reads normally go through the database. For that reason, it’s best to separate the physical drives used for the logs and the database. Your server will then be able to write log entries and read data at the same time.

You can have multiples of these two types of files. That is, you can have more than one data file, and more than one log file. You first create the extra files, and then you create (or move) objects such as tables or indexes to those files. The speed increase becomes really clear when you use separate drives. Let’s look at a concrete example.

Suppose you have a database with a heavily used table, which also contains a fairly wide (many columns) index. That makes the table and index compete for the same access on the hard drive, slowing down the total access time. In this case, it makes sense to separate out the physical files that the table and the index use, and to place them on separate drives.

Optimization goes a bit further than separate files. SQL Server also supports Filegroups, which is a logical grouping of files into a single name. Filegroups are normally used for backups and allocations.

So how does SQL Server allocate and store that data? SQL Server’s storage is arranged in pages and extents. A page is 8KB of data (128 pages per megabyte), and an extent is 8 pages (16 extents per megabyte). A row can’t be larger than 8060 bytes. If you do the math, you’ll notice that 8060 isn’t 8KB. That’s because there is some overhead involved in storing the header.

The database can be set to grow automatically, by either a percentage of the size of the database or a set number of megabytes. I normally choose the percentage, since as the database grows larger it has to reallocate space less often. Your mileage will vary.

Databases can also shrink automatically. I don’t use this setting, because I’ve noticed a DBCC command running throughout the day to accomplish the task. I normally just let my maintenance plans take care of shrinking the files during maintenance. Also, shrinking the file almost guarantees that the indexes will become fragmented, which is a bad thing.

As another consideration, it’s best to have as many spindles in a database drive setup as possible. Microsoft Windows and SQL Server both allocate threads from the operating system based on the number of physical drives you have, so the more the better. Also, separating your files (based on the read/write patterns they have) allows the drives to be spinning at the same time for a write as a read. That way the drive doesn’t have to wait until a write completes to do a read, or visa-versa.

So to recap, the way you want to arrange your storage is highly dependent on the type of attachment and drives that you have. At a minimum, I recommend that you split the operating system and the program files for SQL Server from the page file onto separate physical drives (not just drive letters), place the database files on another physical drive, and use yet another physical drive for the log files. Even better is to use another physical drive for the indexes that you set up, so that the indexes can update their values as the table data is written.

Free Culture - Lawrence Lessig Keynote from OSCON 2002

Lawrence Lessig - Free Culture

It was a parody, a take-off; it was built upon Steamboat Bill. Steamboat Bill was produced in 1928, no [waiting] 14 years--just take it, rip, mix, and burn, as he did [laughter] to produce the Disney empire. This was his character. Walt always parroted feature-length mainstream films to produce the Disney empire, and we see the product of this. This is the Disney Corporation: taking works in the public domain, and not even in the public domain, and turning them into vastly greater, new creativity. They took the works of this guy, these guys, the Brothers Grimm, who you think are probably great authors on their own. They produce these horrible stories, these fairy tales, which anybody should keep their children far from because they're utterly bloody and moralistic stories, and are not the sort of thing that children should see, but they were retold for us by the Disney Corporation. Now the Disney Corporation could do this because that culture lived in a commons, an intellectual commons, a cultural commons, where people could freely take and build. It was a lawyer-free zone.

Let's talk about software patents. There's a guy, Mr. Gates, who's brilliant, right? He's brilliant. A brilliant business man; he has some insights, he is even a brilliant policy maker. Here's what he wrote about software patents: "If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today's ideas were invented and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete standstill today." Here's the first thing I'm sure you've read of Bill Gates that you all 100 percent agree with. Gates is right. He is absolutely right. Then we shift into the genius business man: "The solution is patenting as much as we can. A future startup with no patents of its own will be forced to pay whatever price the giants choose to impose. That price might be high. Established companies have an interest in excluding future competitors." Excluding future competitors.

Virtual Computing Chart

Whether you think of this new computing offering as On-Demand Computing or Utility Computing or Reducing Complexity – or whether you use a vendor name like HP’s Adaptive Enterprise or Sun’s N1, it all comes down to getting more for your money and having your computing investments work more smoothly and adapt better to fast changes in your business needs.

Record spent by drug lobby on Medicare

WASHINGTON -- Drugmakers and their trade associations spent a record $155 million to lobby the U.S. government as legislation was debated to allow drug prices to be negotiated by Medicare, according to a watchdog group.

The money was spent from January 2005 to June 2006 by lobbyists including the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and drugmakers such as Pfizer Inc., according to a report released Sunday night by the Center for Public Integrity, a non-profit consumer group.

The drug industry successfully persuaded Congress to oppose changing a provision of the Medicare Prescription Drug Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003 that bars the federal government from negotiating prices of Medicare drugs. The Veterans Health Administration is allowed to hammer out prices with drugmakers.

The attempt to allow Medicare to negotiate prices failed "after a huge lobbying blitz" and "is often cited as a poster child for the industry's influence in Washington," wrote M. Asif Ismail in the report.

The drug research association spent more than $18 million last year, the most the group has spent since 1998 and more than any other group, the report said.

Pfizer, the world's largest drugmaker, spent $12 million, the most among drug companies.

"What we are doing is trying to see how the pharmaceutical industry is influencing public policy," said Ismail.

Pfizer spokesman Jack Cox confirmed that the figure was accurate for the New York-based company's spending.

"Pfizer is committed to providing quality health care to all Americans and we actively support legislation and policies that advance scientific innovation, expanded research, coverage for the uninsured, improved health-care outcomes and better models for controlling costs," he said.

The pharmaceutical industry was the biggest spender on lobbying from 1998 to 2004, Ismail said.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Center for Responsive Politics is a non-partisan, non-profit research group based in Washington, D.C. that tracks money in politics, and its effect on elections and public policy. The Center conducts computer-based research on campaign finance issues for the news media, academics, activists, and the public at large. The Center’s work is aimed at creating a more educated voter, an involved citizenry, and a more responsive government.

Lobbying Overview

In addition to campaign contributions to elected officials and candidates, companies, labor unions, and other organizations spend billions of dollars each year to lobby Congress and federal agencies. Some special interests retain lobbying firms, many of them located along Washington's legendary K Street; others have lobbyists working in-house. We've got totals spent on lobbying, beginning in 1998, for everyone from AAI Corp. to Zurich Financial.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The Future of the Interstate Highway System

Although the Interstate at 47,000 miles represents only 1 percent of total system mileage, it carries 24 percent of all traffic and 41 percent of combination-vehicle truck traffic. It is a strategic system of arterials which performs well. But it has meant far more to our economy and way of life than its designers could have imagined.

The Interstate Highway System was a technological breakthrough which increased productivity and transformed the country in ways not anticipated. A safer, 65 mile-per-hour system was overlaid onto a less safe, less well-maintained 20 to 40 miles per hour system which previously existed in urban and rural areas. National, multi-state, regional, and local economies were all empowered to reorganize to take advantage of new capabilities. The quantum change it brought about has been compared with the railroads of the 19th Century which also more than doubled speeds and capacities of connections between places, and the jet aviation system of the 20th Century which tied together the nation and the world for business and leisure travel.

Regions that were not part of the nation’s economy became integrated through new opportunities to have longer distance links to goods movement and for personal travel. Look what has happened to the south and west over the past 50 years. Urban areas were able to expand and grow, enabling more agglomerations of industries and skills with much larger urban boundaries. Metropolitan areas now generate over 80 percent of jobs, growth, and development.

The Interstate Highway System has made significant contributions to U.S. productivity growth. During the 1950s, the contribution of highway network investments to annual productivity growth was 31 percent. It averaged 25 percent in the 1960s, and by the 1980s the net social rate of return on highway capital was 10 percent, about equal to rates of return on private capital.

The Interstate System enabled the U.S. economy in the last half of the 20th century to develop within a much larger envelope of potential size and productivity. However, as the capacity and the performance of the current Interstate Highway System are used up, this will reduce the Interstate’s ability to support the increased productivity the United States will need to compete in the global economy.

Greater supply chain productivity and lower logistics costs have been critical to U.S. economic growth. From 1980 to 2003, the cost of transportation was cut in half because of infrastructure improvements making U.S. goods globally competitive.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Companies propose Ethernet/SAN love-in

While Fibre Channel is the standard in high-end data storage, the cheaper Ethernet option is becoming increasingly enticing with better reliability and 10Gbit/s technology on the horizon. The fresh standard could help unite the two worlds.

"This enables people who already have a large Fibre Chanel SAN infrastructure to keep everything they have in place," market analyst for Enterprise Strategy Group Tony Asaro said. "Users can merge this with 10G Ethernet without giving anything up."

Companies have already been working on product compliance in parallel to the submission, but it will still be about three to four years - fingers crossed - before the technology will make an impact on the market, according to industry reps.

Asaro also speculates that 10G Ethernet technology has to go down in price before people look at it in a practical sense for the highest-end tasks. 10G Ethernet currently costs about $3000 to $5000 per port.

SAN-in-a-box scores with Fibre Channel fans

As iSCSI gains traction in the market, cheaper Fibre Channel is back on the agenda this week, with both EMC and Fujitsu-Siemens picking up 4Gig SAN-in-a-box packages assembled by Emulex and Brocade. Could this be the long-awaited low-end breakthrough for Fibre Channel?

EMC's version is an upgrade to the 2Gig InstaSAN package that it's been selling for a while now. Intended for the Clariion AX150 array, it includes two Emulex LightPulse HBAs, an eight-port Brocade switch, cabling, and what Emulex optimistically calls "intuitive installation and management software".

The equivalent from Fujitsu-Siemens Computers includes a disk array as well, but goes by the playschool name of My Very First SAN. A company spokesman apologised, and claimed that all the good names had already gone - although he also seemed to think that HP's My First SAN qualified as 'good'.

Anyhow, FSC reckons that by pruning the package down to a 500GB FibreCAT SX60 disk array, eight-port Brocade switch and a single 2Gig Emulex HBA, it can sell it for just EUR 8000, which is around £5400. OK, so calling it a SAN when it only connects one server is perhaps a bit optimistic - but the company offers larger configurations too, including those 4Gig ones.

"Thanks to our complete solution, even smaller companies can now start reaping the benefits of having a SAN for their data storage, reflecting today's high demands for information availability and security," declared FSC storage veep Dr Helmut Beck.

Packages of this kind have been around for several years. For example, three years ago QLogic introduced a €10,000 package called SAN-in-a-Box, comprising an eight-port Fibre Channel switch, four host adapters, cabling and management software.

The fact that that amount of money will now get you a disk array as well shows just how much Fibre Channel prices have fallen. Also significant is the work that Fibre Channel developers have put into making their equipment easy to set up and use - for smaller installations at least.

So if these packages work it is more likely to be as door-openers, in persuading SMBs that Fibre Channel isn't quite as expensive or complex as the iSCSI salesperson told them last week.

Biosand Filter Reduces Diarrheal Diseases

University of North Carolina researchers, lead by Mark Sobsey, are the first to scientifically document that filters made of concrete, gravel, and sand can significantly reduce the incidence of diarrheal diseases, the leading cause of death in many third world countries.

Sobsey and researchers in UNC's School of Public Health compared rates of diarrhea and the condition of drinking water in homes in two villages near Bonao, Dominican Republic. They monitored about 150 households without filters for four months, assessing the rate of illness. Then, about half the houses were given biosand filters - concrete containers that hold gravel and sand. All households were monitored for another six months. The team's initial analysis showed the filter reduced diarrheal disease among household members by an estimated 30 percent to 40 percent, including in highly vulnerable young children less than 5 years old. At the end of the study, filters were given to all participating homes.

Sleepwalking woman had sex with strangers

Sleep medicine experts have successfully treated a rare case of a woman having sex with strangers while sleepwalking.

The behaviour had disrupted the lives of the woman and her partner. At night while asleep, the middle-aged sleepwalker - who lives in Australia and cannot be identified for reasons of confidentiality - left her house and had sexual intercourse with strangers. The behaviour continued for several months and the woman had no memory of her nocturnal activities.

Circumstantial evidence, such as condoms found scattered around the house, alerted the couple to the problem. On one occasion, her partner awoke to find her missing, went searching for her and found her engaged in the sex act.

“Incredulity is the leading player in cases like this,” says Peter Buchanan, the sleep physician at the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, who handled the case. But a combination of factors convinced him that the case was a real sleepwalking phenomenon, including the distress of the couple, and an in-depth clinical evaluation.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Can Foreign Ag Firms Help Feed China?

The country's farmers need all the help they can get. Not only have they been deprived of funding and technology, environmental math is against them too. Farmers lack the equipment required to respond to an increasing demand for agricultural products, as well as an adequate social security apparatus.

China's farmers have to feed a fifth of the world's population using 10% of its arable land. Government analysts say per capita water levels, currently one quarter of the global average, will drop below internationally defined crisis levels by 2030 if usage continues at its present rate.

In a nation where agriculture accounts for 70% of water consumption, catastrophe may only be avoided through improved efficiency.

With their years of experience in mechanization, agricultural chemistry and biological research, foreign agri-tech firms are uniquely positioned to capitalize on China's needs. Meanwhile, well- financed overseas food processors and retailers are able to implement large scale infrastructure improvements that are beyond their domestic competitors.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Firefox » Gmail Manager

This is a Firefox extension that allows you to manage multiple Gmail accounts and receive new mail notifications. Displays account details including unread messages, saved drafts, spam messages, labels with new mail, space used, and new mail snippets.


  • Manage multiple Gmail accounts
  • Receive new mail notifications
  • Support for Gmail hosted accounts
  • Ability to import/export account preferences
  • Tooltip with account details and new mail snippets
  • One-click access for loading your Gmail account
  • Mailto: links detection
  • Quick mail compose for Gmail accounts
  • Customizable icon placement in the toolbar/statusbar

I think therefore I am, I think

But the American neuroscientist Benjamin Libet has shown that before every such movement, there is a distinctive build-up of electrical activity in the brain. And this build-up happens about half a second before your conscious ”decision” to move your arm. So by the time you think, ”OK, I’ll move my arm,” your body is halfway there. Which means your conscious experience of making a decision - the experience associated with free will - is just a kind of add-on, an after-thought that only happens once the brain has already set about its business. In other words, your brain is doing the real work, making your hands turn the pages of this magazine or reach over for your cup of tea, and all the time your conscious mind is tagging along behind.

But if this is true, the implications for our systems of morality, of crime and punishment, are shattering. We only punish those we think voluntarily did wrong - not those who literally had no choice but to act as they did. But if there is no free will, then no one has ever had a choice but to act as they did. That Eve ate the apple was as predetermined as the leaves falling to the ground in autumn. None of us could ever truly be said to be responsible for our actions. In very different ways, three new books tackle the question of whether we are free and what it means if we are not.

There is already ample evidence that prison is effectively where society sends those whose brains do not work properly. A report released last month suggested over a quarter of the UK’s almost 80,000 prison population have an IQ of lower than 80 and suspected learning disabilities, such as forms of autism and dyslexia. Another study carried out at the Young Offenders’ Institute in Aylesbury showed that if prisoners were given minerals and fatty acids essential for proper brain functioning, they committed 37 per cent fewer violent offences.

Why the government keeps Indians poor

To understand the enormity of the falsehood, let me put things in perspective. The net per capita food availability in India in 1971 was 394 gm per day. This was just after the onset of Green Revolution in India. Exactly 30 years later, in 2001, the net per capita of foodgrain availability was 396 gm per day: a princely rise of 2 gm! In effect, for over 30 years our farm growth has barely kept pace with our population growth.
A comparison with other countries is central to understanding the extent of food shortage prevailing in India. Advanced countries, on a per capita basis, consume anywhere between 500 gm to 600 gm per day. Such healthy consumption in these countries is supplementary to the substantial quantity of meat, fruits, vegetables and milk.
The government spends about Rs 26,000 crore (Rs 260 billion) every year on food subsidy, through the public distribution system (PDS), for those living below the poverty line. It is estimated that for every Re 1 of subsidy to reach the ultimate beneficiary, the government has to spend approximately Rs 7 on the administrative mechanism. In fact, of the 300 million poor estimated to be below the poverty line in the country, only 25 per cent are estimated to have access to PDS.