Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Flying an A330 like a glider

About six years ago I was learning to fly gliders. I spent about 40 flights, and though I never got the opportunity to finish my training and obtain a license, my coach had taught me how to appreciate the nuances of flying. He always believed that flying a glider was far tougher than a power-plane (since you have no engine support in a glider), but a good pilot must always learn to fly gliders since it kept them closer to the physics (and nature) of flying. He always said that a pilot who understood gliding should be able to bring down any powerless aircraft to safety (given the conditions, of course). He also cited an example of a pilot doing so, but I forgot the details.

I rediscovered the case. Captain Robert Piché and First Officer Dirk DeJager safely brought down an A330 (Air Transat 236) after all the engines stopped due to a fuel tank leak. The first engine failed at 39000 feet and the second at 33000 feet. From there on, the pilots adopted the principles of gliding to safely bring it home with no casualties or structural damage to the aircraft. Though they were also blamed for not detecting the leak properly and not following the checklist, credit must be given for the application of safety and presence of mind to bring it safely. My appreciation to them.

Oh and you can watch the National Geographic feature on the flight:

Monday, December 21, 2009

Cricket: A better way of penalizing slow over rate

Ok, so Dhoni has been suspended for two ODIs following the slow over rate. I am somewhat satisfied that something has been done, but as always it feels like too little and too late (its after the match ended). Before you jump to put in your angry comment, lets analyze why we need a strict way of enforcing over rate in the first place.

Cricket is a long game, ranging from 4 hours (T-20s) to 35+ hours (Test matches). In these fast paced days, hardly anybody has the time to follow a full test match live on TV. Moreover, in the day of globalization, with viewers tuning in from various parts of the world, you need to account for the time differences too. A day night match in India is a evening-night match in Singapore and a night-night match in Australia. So, lets get this simple fact out of the way - cricket is not a viewer friendly sport.

Now, largely because of an utter neglect by the authorities of the game, successive generations of captains have gotten away with slow over rates, mostly in the name of strategy, but actually because nobody is looking over them and fixing it. It wasn't always so - with 4 pacers, West Indies of the 70s were famous for never going beyond their time. Slow over rates just compounds the viewer-unfriendly nature of the game, making it impossible for a viewer to time the finish of the game. Moreover, enough test matches have finished in a draw because one of the captains could slow down the game and reduce the number of overs bowled.

Now, lets look at what the ICC has been doing and why none of it actually solves the problem:
  • Reduce overs for chasing team: This was a ridiculous idea that only penalized the team batting second in an ODI while letting off the team batting first (they were penalized with match fees, but no one cared about that). You need to be more equal than that.
  • Penalize through money suspensions: This sometimes works and sometimes doesn't. If a captain wants to spend more time on the field defending in a tense situation in a major tournament's final, he doesn't care about getting fined or suspended the day after.
So, what do we need? We need an in-match solution (one that has the opportunity to affect the result of the game), equal on both teams irrespective of batting order, consistent on all matches (important or otherwise) and potentially penalizes the entire team for poor over rate.

I can't take credit for the proposed solution (I watched this on TV in a English County T20 game), but here is how it goes:
  • Fix the maximum time for the innings up front on a large countdown clock visible to all including spectators.
  • On each injury, keep record of the time involved, either in a separate clock, or by stopping the countdown clock. As soon as the clock hits zero, start the injury time countdown.
  • For every bowler not bowled by the end of the clock, punish the bowling team by adding 6 runs (per over not bowled) to the batting total.
  • The quantum of per over punishment can be debated. My suggestion - go with the average run rate of the past 100 matches in international cricket of the same form. This way, it gets adjusted to the form of the game and keeps in trend with the ever increasing run rates (I don't like that either, but I will need a separate blog post for that).
With this solution, the problem is solved. You have a solution that affects the match, and hence adds seriousness to the entire effort. Its equal on both teams and penalizes the entire team instead of just the captain. And since there is the entire match at stake and not just money, our rich cricketers will have something to fight for by being on time.

It is high time the authorities of cricket made the game more professional and more viewer friendly. Each of these minor improvements will help to hold on to your viewers and in these days of empty cricket stadiums, you better retain each TV eyeball-minute that you can capture.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Musings on the Telangana matter

Have you been following the latest news about Indian Government's decision to carve out a new state Telangana from the what's currently Andhra Pradesh? If so, you might also quickly realize that it is one of the very rare events involving a government decision which has left the Indian public opinion completely split.

While one section clearly despises the decision in the name that it creates yet another division in what is already a fragmented nation and sets a bad precedent, on the back of which, further fragmentation looks unavoidable. One the other hand, is a very sizable lot who believe that this was a very fair decision in the interest of keeping smaller, easily governable units which can only be expected to generate better results in the future. They agree with the first lot that the way the actual division was announced could have been done in a better way, they consider it only a trivial in what was a generally solid move.

I have been giving a little thought and hence the late response. Like the nation I have been equally split within my head over whether this is good or bad for our nation. Instead of trying to take sides, I am going to talk about various aspects of this and how we could have done a better job.

Let me start with history behind the formation of the States and the socio-political interests that emerged subsequently:
  • In 1956, with the establishment of States Reorganization Act, there was an impetus to uniting the country into a few small units mostly combined on the basis of language spoken in those regions.
  • The political class of the nation has always been found wanting. Instead of uniting the country into one homogenous unit, the class has thrived to keep them segregated into vote banks along lines of language, religion, regions, castes and classes. Hence what should been a gradual but definite building of strong nation based on these few states soon deprecated into an infighting to grab and control power.
  • Unlike the august thoughts of the freedom fighters and the leadership of the Independence era, the society in India never matured. They still put enormous impetus on holding onto what they knew best - the walls of religion, caste etc and hence each section of the society preferred to hold their own forte rather than merge into whatever was the larger cause of the larger unit they were part of. Maybe the poor political class contributed to it, but I believe this is the making of the society itself.
In the wake of this, lets analyze the current decision:
  • The principle behind the decision and what one section of the debate is supporting is that smaller units allow for better governance and would encourage the leaders to promote growth. As the population of these states grow, this principle definitely finds merit. We are pretty much the fastest growing large nation on earth and hence this is something we need to keep doing again and again. But the key is that the same issue will come up in almost every other state in the country. Why did the Government decide only on one state and not worry about every other state? Inconsistency #1.
  • The state of Telangana was fought on the following reasons (at least historically): Telangana had a less developed economy, but higher revenues (due to tax on alcohol, while the larger unit had prohibition); Dam projects don't favor them; Telanganas feared a disadvantage with respect to job finding with the natives of rest of the rest. Do you see the pattern? These are the same issues that are repeated not just within every state but across every state. Mumbaikars complain of north Indians coming and stealing jobs; TN and Karnataka have fought a bitter battle over Krishna water; Job opportunities have caused migration and subsequent pain to successive generations of Indians. So, what is required, I believe, is a stronger political will to solve these problems and not a creation of a new state. Unless the leaders wake up to start looking at solving these problems, forming a new division is not going to help.
  • The formation of smaller states is often underlined on the basis that a government of a smaller state can look after the interests of the residents better. Oh really? Do you know the small north eastern states (Manipur, Assam, Nagaland etc) as the most developed?
  • The bigger issue with starting a new state is the increase cost on the nation. Have you tried moving goods across states? Have you tried hiring a commercial vehicle from Karnataka and driven into Andhra? Have you tried to set up a company spanning factories across state borders? Have you tried understanding the complex plethora of inconsistencies across the educational systems of the individual states? We have just managed to create one more new division.
So, what could have been a better resolution?
  • Focus on the cities. Give them higher autonomy to control their finances and allow them to thrive independently. Many argue that this would leave the rural population into a disadvantage. So what? Over a period of time, the rural populace would move into the cities leaving what's left of the rural areas as a manageable units. This is exactly what has happened in the whole of the western world.
  • Focus on building a effective system of delegation leaving those at the bottom of hierarchy with enough decision making powers to make an impact. In the absence of that, new powers to a new CM sitting in a distinct state capital won't help the nation.
  • Have a consistent policy for the future fragmentation, if that is going to be the mantra. Indicate that when the density of a state crosses a particular number, a natural review of the state borders shall be undertaken. This leaves everyone in a happy state.
  • And for God sake, start working on homogenizing the nation across the lines of India and not let this game of divide and rule continue.
  • And I know I am asking for too much here - but can we just rewire the brains of all the politicians and insert some moral goodies into them. :-)
Debate on this page is most welcome. Waiting for the readers to start a constructive thread.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Retrospect on running the 10k run

I ran the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon 10K run today. I managed to finish it in one second short of 80 minutes, which I consider pretty good based on my training. It was the first time I was stretching my body so much. I had been practicing for it for a bit now, but even the longest practice run had taken me only about 6kms.

I am not writing this post to say I ran the race. A tweet would have sufficed for that and that I did earlier today. What I want to highlight upon is the amount of effort one has to put into doing something which involves one's body. Being from a conservative middle class Indian family, I was encouraged to do well in studies and discouraged from spending time in sports related activities since it was considered wasted time. Not that I didn't have my share of playing sports - I ended up playing quite a bit of diverse set of sports, starting from Cricket, Table Tennis (Ping Pong to those who live between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans), Chess and dabbled in Tennis and football too. That said, the general assumption, when you come from that background, is that sports (and I am talking about the casual type, not the professional type) is easy and studies is not.

I want to break that myth. The fact is that running long distances is hard, very hard. Seriously. Any long distance running beyond the trivial takes a lot of effort - both physical and mental. Thats the key differentiating factor - in studies, your physical fitness is insignificant - if you trained your mind, you were good. Running is about both - physical and mental endurance. You need to plan, focus, concentrate and improvise, both in training as well as execution. That's the key - you need to bring both your body and mind into alignment.

Having done this today, there are 2 individuals I need to thank. The first is Shyam Mani, aka @fox2mike. He is a fitness freak, but more than that, he is an encouraging mentor. When I had brought up the idea of running for this run, he instantly agreed to helping me out. He ran the first few training sessions and always offered invaluable inputs on training, running, and the mental games involved. Many thanks to him.

Second is my dear wifey. She encouraged me from day one and egged me on to do this. Waking me up at 6 and sweet talking me to head out; having tea alone (her favorite coupling thingy) while I was out running; or waiting to have dinner, while I switched from morning to evening - all of this helps when you are trying to achieve something thats difficult for you. Many thanks to her too.

What's next? I am not sure - there will definitely be more running involved - but whether I want to stretch on distance or improve on time is something I haven't decided yet. Sometime soon I hope to decide.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Secrets of Red Lantern: An odyssey into Singapore's past

One of my colleagues had organized a walkabout tour of Chinatown, Singapore through the Original Singapore Walks. The walk that we chose was the Secrets of the Red Lantern, and the objective was the travel the road less traveled. The walkabout was about 3 hours long and touched upon the history of Singapore - specifically with respect to Chinatown, migrations from China, its past of prostitution, opium addiction, poverty and slavery spread over 200 years starting from early 19th century.

To say that it I was completely enamored by what I saw and what I heard would be an understatement. A few highlights from what we saw:

  • Behind the prosperity of today lies a time when there was utter poverty in Singapore. With heavy immigration from China, all of whom hoped to make it big, what resulted was housing in small cubicles of about 30sqft each housing as many as 6-7 people at a given time. Take a moment to visit the Chinatown Heritage Gallery to see a depiction of the size of the cubicles, kitchens and toilets.
  • Behind the drug safe city of today lies a past where a significant share of Singapore residents were opium addicts. History goes that many of the rickshaw pullers of the day had to pull their carts with bare feet on melting tar that the pain of resting them in the evening brought out so much despair that a 15 minutes relief through opium was a natural option. The opium sale was promoted by the British rulers of then as a form of government income. They had licensed 43 wholesale vendors for the purpose.
  • Behind the highly women-safe city of today, there lies a time in Singapore's history when over 50% of the women were forced into prostitution and other related professions through a system that gave them no choice. There was a time when there were 60,000 Chinese migrant males, but only 6000 female migrants, out of which over 3000 were licensed prostitutes. There are stories abound of suicides by the girls of that era.
  • Behind a country which offers its citizens free access to over 150 countries through the prized Singapore passport, there lies a time when slavery was abound. Migrant workers, promised of a bright future would be shipped to Singapore and auctioned off, sometimes for anything as low as 30c to $1, by the underground organizations of the time. There is little proof of the British authorities of the time having tried anything to prevent the practice, barring one raid. The police officer leading that raid has confessed of having never seen such a deplorable sight.
I learnt that there is a lot more about the tumultuous past of the city and its transformation into a prosperous and clean city offering its citizens a standard of living matched by only a few other nations in the world.

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