June 24, 2004

Thought for the day....
"When we long for life without difficuties, remind us that oaks grow strong in contrary winds and diamonds are made under pressure."
-Peter Marshall

June 23, 2004

Welcome to the G-World!
A guest post by Pankaj - inspired by the GMails invites floating around....
So I finally got that coveted invitation. Invitation to open a google mail account .
I was excited. Excited about an email account, you ask?
I frantically emailed everyone I knew from my brand new gmail. My father was understandably perplexed. He writes " I fail to understand why should you be so excited?" I told him 1GB, repeat 1GB worth of space for free, a fantastic interface, all emails woven as beautiful threads of unending conversation. Everything searchable with google accuracy. Still he did'nt quite understand my exuberance.
I used electronic mail for the first time 7 years ago in 1997. It was a cumbersome interface on a 286 machine located in the basement chemical engineering gas chromatography lab in UDCT, Bombay. The email was from my senior who had gone to US the previous year for a Ph.D. It was a review of the then recently release movie Executive Decision.
I still remember my trip down to that dingy lab with my chemE friend, Amit*. The account holder was his advisor (students did not have individual email ids then) but Amit used to handle the emails for the lab and had given me the liberty to use that account for my purposes (apps/schols/you-know-the-routine). Both of us sat on that one stool in front of the terminal (half-n-half). He opened the a/c with the arcane password which went something like this "$cheVn%!". God only knows how he remembered it. After browsing his own messages he opened the one from my senior and let me have the stool for myself (he used that time to check on his gas chromatography and inject samples). With bated breath I started reading those formless fonts on that small screen. Someone from US of A had emailed me! I had no idea what Executive Decision was and why he had chosen to write about that movie to me. But I read the whole mail nevertheless as if every sent word was supposed to be revered, not rejected. I hit the r key and started typing with one finger, a short reply that took a longest time to type. All this time we both kept an eye on the door lest some chemE faculty found a pharma student accessing emails and suspended all email privileges. It was a thrill. And how good it felt to defy authority. Ctrl x and a whole new world opened for me.
I have become an email/internet addict over the years. Hardly one hour goes by without me checking the electronic mail these days. I have several accounts (including gmail!) and I still enjoy receiving and sending emails. And I do genuinely get excited about any new developments in my favorite mode of communication.
I must have sent thousands of emails but that first email from xyz@udct.ernet.in is the most memorable email.
*name has been changed to protect the student's life

June 16, 2004

Where would we be without the daily dose of web-surfing? Or for that matter, Google, Yahoo!....
With a "world wide" network consisting of un-interoperable networks. And having to pay roaming charges to surf simply because you are not in your home network? We owe a lot to him.

June 15, 2004

Agriculture in India - Globalization and Genetic Engineering...
Gitaben Senma, 38 years old and the mother of four, earns 50 rupees per day, or about $1, for the seven hours she toils in two small plots of fodder and sorghum near Ganeshpura, a tiny farming village in the northwest Indian state of Gujarat. Miniscule as it is, the pay is more than three times what she formerly earned, 15 rupees, working 11 hours each day as a laborer on a nearby bigger farm.

The better pay is tangible; better yet are the intangibles. "Now I can do anything," she says through an interpreter as she stands barefoot in the shade of mango tree on the cooperate farm that owns her land. "I have more confidence." Gitaben, the "ben" suffix means sister, is the face of Indian agriculture yesterday and today: brown, proud and mostly female.

And, according to officials met during a whirlwind six-day visit to India in late March, it's the face that haunts public and private agricultural policy makers as they move toward the titanic goal of transforming India from a developing nation to a developed one by 2025.

In simple terms, Gitaben and the policy makers face a question that is as easy to ask as it is impossible to answer: What will India do with its mostly poor, 600 million rural citizens and many of its 210 million farmers as biotechnology, mechanization and hoped-for international trade replace sweat, bent backs and water buffalo?

The question doesn't confront just India. As the crack-up of global trade talks last September in Cancun showed, Brazil, China, Chad, Mali, Birkina Fasso, Benin and the scores of developing nations who are home to two-thirds of the world's farming billions face it, too.

And the answer -- if one can be found -- will rattle the relatively few millions of farmers in the U.S., the European Union, Canada, Australia and other developed nations.

"In India," says Dr. Suman Sinha of the Gene Campaign in India, "agriculture is not a commercial activity; it's a livelihood. If these people can't farm, there's nothing for them to do." So too in the rest of the developing world. Sinha, who holds a Ph.D. in genetics from the University of Heidelberg and has taught at the universities of Saskatchewan and Chicago, is not given to overstatement. Indian agriculture, as rife with challenges as with people, is nearly impossible to overstate.

For example, in India: 570 million people are directly employed in the food sector. 115 million farmers own land, 95 million farmers own no land but farm under sharecrop leases. 78 percent of all landholdings are less than 5 acres, 59 percent are less than 2.5 acres and only 1.6 percent are "large holdings" of more than 25 acres. Mechanization per farm averages one-third horsepower, a nearly invisible fraction of that on Western farms. One-third of the annual harvest, equivalent to the yearly production of Australia, is either wasted or rots because of the lack of refrigeration, integrated markets, all-season roads and other infrastructure shortfalls. Of the 650,000 cities, towns and villages in India, not one has water 24 hours a day, seven days a week. $8 billion per year, or about $12 per citizen, is doled out in subsidies, many tied to irrigation and food assistance. India's farmers are monsoon-dependent, yet 47 percent of all rainfall evaporates, 31 percent runs off into rivers and streams and only 22 percent is captured for home or farm use. $43 billion, an impossibly rich sum for India, is needed to solve the nation's chronic farm water woes. 261 million of India's 1 billion people receive some type of federal or state food assistance.

In one way or another, Gitaben can be found in every one of those statistics. She's poor, landless and uneducated. Her key tools are her hands, water and will. But she's three times better off today than yesterday.

Tomorrow, however, will bring contract farming, tractors, biotech seed, international market pressure and global agribusiness, and neither Gitaben nor India is ready.

June 09, 2004

An obesity epidemic in the offing?
Should watch out for this documentary - "Supersize Me".
It is about this guy who goes on a McDonald eating binge. He embarks on a diet wherein he can only eat at McDonald's for a whole month, 3 meals a day. And if they ask him to supersize, he has to supersize his meal.
So obviously follow all the effects of such a diet.
Some trivia - Detroit is now the city to beat in the US with the most number of obese people around. Texas has 5 such cities in the top 10 in the US. All pointing to an obesity epidemic. And here is an article about this unusual movie.


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