Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Usual Suspects

Symbolic cartoon from Times of India:
My views...
Heartiest tribute to the martyrs, the Police, NSG or Army and victims of the Mumbai attacks.
On 26th November this year, the worst terrorist attack on the Indian soil took place. It was a massacre of Indians and the tourists. The terrorist attacks in India nowadays are becoming a normal phenomenon. There have been more terrorist attacks this time than festivals occurring in India in a year! This exposes the our impotent struggle against terrorism.
After every attack, there are same sequence of events occurring, Government condemns the attack followed by the world and reiterates that India will fight against terrorism, well with a change in voice for every event, media covers the whole event with so called "Breaking News" tag almost every second, ministers visit the site and the victims, express condolence, there are investigations and then dust settles. In all this, its the average Indian who suffers.
After the attacks, there's mounting enormous pressure on the government to act and public outrage. It's to be seen what path the government takes. Seeing the way things are going, looks like the govt. is more inclined to use US pressure which I don't think will make the Pakistanis budge. For simple matter of fact, the so called democratic Government of Pakistan is more like a "Public Relations" section rather than the one which controls the country. The real reins maybe in the Pak Army's hands. India, during Musharraf's regime had to deal with the General who was a single center of power, but now problem is dealing with two entities independent of each other viz., Army and Govt. Zardari's statement is a pointer.

Indian Response:
There has been some public sentiment for controlled military action, but it looks highly unlikely given that any such action will ever take place since there are chances of it to get out of control to full-scale war which will undermine US efforts in west Pakistan which has implications on India as well, given the al Qaeda's influence on terrorists in Pakistan. And any war at this juncture will undo what we've achieved in last 20 years. India may postpone peace talks and CBM's, but I ain't sure if there will be any results. As said earlier, looks like India is trying to build international pressure, especially US pressure on Pakistan. A covert ops might be better option...

Friday, November 14, 2008

Using Site Meter - Privacy Issues involved

The culprit cookie on my PC

I added Site Meter to my web page just three or four days ago. I found the the service very good and useful and gives variety of kind of information about your visitors. I got a bit interested and decided to do more research on Site Meter. The first few hits and I got something fishy. The Sitemeter copies some tracking and advertising cookies on the user's machine. Before beginning the discussion let's get a wrap-up of what are cookies.

Cookies are the information that a website stores on the visitors machine. Its just a string of characters that identifies you to the website. They are used to authenticate a user, session tracking(i.e. transaction time, cookie valitidity etc.) and remembering preferences of the users such as the theme you used on your social networking site etc. Cookies are pretty harmless by which I mean they aren't spywares (keyloggers etc.). Also a site can't read a cookie stored by another site. There are some tracking cookies which are used to track the habits of visitor.
Here's a normal function of cookies:
1) Visitor's browser requests a web page to the server
2) Server sends the requested page alongwith a cookie.
3) Browser sends a request for another page alongwith the cookie
However, third party cookies do have privacy concerns. Advertisements on websites are generally third-party advertisers. Means same advertisements on 2 different sites are provided by same advertiser. Which means they can track you when you navigate from one site to another.

The Site Meter stores such a tracking cookie called on the visitors machines. Site Meter is basically used to track the visitors to your site. But what's happening is the above cookie is used to track you and your visitors and this data is provided to the advertising company so that they can provide relevant advertisements (ofcourse Site Meter gets paid for this) . The advertising company can track every single of your clicks, websites visited overtly or covertly, your surfing habits. Does Site Meter include this in the Terms of Agreement? You can read more here. Infact, this story is about a year and half old and the cookie is still being used. I've switched to Statcounter (didn't find any such cookie in Statcounter). Google Analytics is another option.

The truth is, many companies including likes of Google, Microsoft store data about their visitors to improve their services. There are huge databases which store user's surfing habits. Data mining is done on this information, which is used to analyze customer behavior and draw marketing strategies.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Last Laugh... Tigers feed on the Kangaroos

"Damn... What am I gonna tell back home???"

The Bird's Eye - Reclamation

The fiercely competed cricket series between India and Australia has concluded today, with India snatching the Border-Gavaskar Trophy convincingly 2-0. As Hayden said, it was indeed like "two hungry dogs" facing each other. I'd always liked the cricket quality between these two sides, it transcends even the Indo-Pak rivalry. It's been a real treat. Also, Punter was chirping quite a bit before and throughout the series.

Today's day was an absorbing one. Kangaroo's desperately hopping towards the target of 382. It would have been wise to play a steady the 1st session with minimum damage. Instead it was a wild gung-ho right from start (needless to say I was happy for every blunders they committed). Hussey's dismissal started the debacle, getting caught at slips to a top spinner. Then went Haydos, afterwards was a procession of Aussie batsmen joining their team "mates" in the hutch for a cool beer! The deliveries plunging from the rough ruffled the feathers of the batsmen. The strategy of 8-1 field was also brilliant one, catching the Aussies off-guard. The main difference between the sides, where India gained was indeed with their fast bowling. Fast bowlers made inroads and spinners finished the rest. The Aussies, however struggled to penetrate the Indian openers. There was lot of talk that Australia's main strength is fast bowling but they failed miserably, Binga, Johnson, Watson, all alike. Krejza surely was the missed trick. And not to mention, Singh was King again today!!!! Delighted to see his doosra again...

Most of the stadiums during the series were empty. Seeing the amenities (or lack of them) in the stadiums and the scorching heat, I guess its better to watch it at home! Neither do the ticket prices help. The BCCI should at least provide shades and basic amenities in the stadiums.

Its been the last hoorah for Kumble and Ganguly too. Kumble has rendered the Indian subcontinent a frontier that has never been won consistently, getting his victims most times in 1st 3 days of match being lbw and last 2 days caught by bat-pads. For 18 years this has been going on... yawn!!!! Ganguly taught India how to win abroad and made it a habit. We'll certainly miss these two fellas.
On Aussie side, I guess this will be the last tour of Matthew Hayden. He is indeed the most complete batsman in current Aussie side. I'll especially remember him for his fierce assault on Shoaib Akhtar. No Aussie batsman is so complete, not even Ponting.

Lastly, I'll certainly follow the Aussie newspapers in coming days for the drubbing they received here:P!!! Looks like Punter's in a hotseat and will have to explain quite a bit Down Under!!! He hasn't got that chance since last Ashes tour to England I guess :P!!!
Peter Roebuck as always will be sharpening his sword and as he wrote in his today's column "The pain of the SCG Test had been assuaged, the anger had been purged. Perhaps that is what it was about all along." The hunters were at last hunted!!!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Hey, That's My Lunar Uranium!

Warning: Read at your own risk!!! ;)

India launched Chandrayaan-I on 22nd October; our nation's first lunar mission. It consisted of a probe to study the surface of the moon. We are also looking for a rare earth mineral viz., Helium-3, for our future energy requirements. An interesting thought stuck me while reading the about the mission profile. With India-US Nuclear deal in the backdrop, I made up a complete scenario. Just imagine, what if we could just mine Uranium from the moon. That would be cool!! Just forget the cost factor for a second(which we obviously shouldn't :P). We would get a reliable supply of Uranium and need to depend less on "genuine" nuclear supplier countries like US, Australia, Canada and "so called nuclear suppliers" (and maybe whiners) Ireland, Austria, New Zealand(God knows what they supply).

Thence we could generate enough electricity to provide power to our growing population and could also fulfill our military needs. There are three main questions here. The 1st one, "Is there Uranium on Moon?" The answer is "Yes". JAXA, Japan's Space Agency announced that the Selene mission has gathered detailed information regarding the mineral composition of parts of the Moon's surface, including thorium, potassium, and uranium sites. You can see the complete report here. The Chandrayaan-I will confirm the JAXA's data and hopefully find some new data.
The 2nd question is, "Can we claim the Uranium deposits on the moon?" The answer is "No". To this effect, Outer Space Treaty was signed and ratified in 1967 by almost all countries (all countries with launch capabilities included, including India). The treaty explicitly forbids any government from claiming a celestial resource such as the Moon or a planet, since they are province of mankind. outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means. Not only this, the treaty bars States Parties to the Treaty from placing nuclear weapons or any other weapons of mass destruction in orbit of Earth, installing them on the Moon or any other celestial body, or to otherwise station them in outer space. It exclusively limits the use of the Moon and other celestial bodies to peaceful purposes and expressly prohibits their use for testing weapons of any kind, conducting military maneuvers, or establishing military bases, installations, and fortifications. However, the Treaty does not prohibit the placement of conventional weapons in orbit.
The 3rd million dollar question is, "Is mining allowed in outer space?". The answer is not defined, but presumed as "Yes". The Outer Space Treaty keeps mum on the issue of mining of resources from outer space. Space-faring nations maybe favorable to mining. However, if a country or company were to open a mine on Moon, it would be legally uncertain ground.
For those of you who've claimed to have bought a real-estate on moon, you've invested your money on nothing (you'd atleast get something, if nothing had you invested in Share markets even today!!! :P); I wished you'd done a little more research :D

Very capable technologies will be required if we have to achieve any of the above. Not to mention the cost of the technologies. Cheap ways must be found to launch system into space. ISRO's AVATAR RLV's to launch satellite into LEO is a small step in this direction, as was building of Space Shuttle. Then we'll need a Space station capable of storage, then mission control centers, management systems, telemetry and communications centre. Then, a fleet of space transport vehicles. In short, a complete Star Wars like system. So, we are centuries away :D

I wrote above analysis as fun, however, space agencies maybe indeed looking at space as resource waiting to be utilised. Also technology is advancing really fast, with new fields of genetics, nanotechnology emerging to revolutionalize our lives. With deep space programs such as Constellation Program by NASA, ESA's Aurora program, Russia's Lunar missions, China's CLEP (in Chinese), India's manned Chandrayaan-III in pipeline, countries are also showing keen interest in moon, mars and Solar System. The space research and development is following an evolutionary progress. So maybe after 100 years we'll be mining on moon and hopefully by 2145 we will be doing same on Mars(year sounds familiar, remember Doom 3 game ;)
In 1969, Neil Armstrong said while he set foot on moon,"A small step for man. A giant leap for mankind."
God bless the Homo Sapiens Sapiens!!!:)

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Indian Navy 2008 - A Great White Shark with no teeth???

Advanced Technology Vessel model| Source -Wikipedia

The latest report by the Comptroller and Auditor General has slammed the Ministry of Defence for the poor health of the navy. the news article can be read at
Excerpts of the text are:
1) No more than 48 per cent of India's submarine fleet is available for waging war, should India be attacked. The auditors have blamed this situation on an ageing fleet, which the Defence Ministry has failed to replace.
2) The Indian Navy currently hold just 67 per cent of the force level envisaged in its 1985 plan.
3) At present, the submarine fleet strength of the Navy includes 12 Kilo-class and four HDW. Currently, six Scorpene submarines are under construction at the Mazgaon Docks in Mumbai and the Navy has floated fresh Request for Information to acquired submarines.
4) Some of the submarines have already outlived their maximum service life.
5) The report also castigates the performance of the newly acquired sonars costing Rs 168 crore as being unsatisfactory.
6) The report also sounded a grave alarm about the status of India's air defence, which are based on outdated, 32-year-old technology.
7) Shortage of key radars was to the tune of 76 per cent making India particularly vulnerable to air attacks.

This is my analysis based on open source data:

Considering the facts, I can assume that the current SSK's, 10 Kilo Class (Sindhughosh), 4 Type 209 Class (Shishumar) and 2 Foxtrot Class in India's armory maybe/are below par than Pakistan's Agosta 90B. All we can hope for is the numerical superiority (nullified against PLA Navy). As if adding insult to the injury, as above report states, only 48% are in the state of readiness, rest undergoing refits. Keep in mind, the Type 209's and Foxtrot's are almost of the "Gandhian" era! The Kilo class only being latest of them(late Cold War era). While it may not mean that India has lost the edge, but the collateral damage in case of skirmish will certainly be greater at present.
The under construction Scorpene class are certainly more advanced compared to Agosta 90B's, however bear in mind they'll not be in service before 2010. This too, is an optimistic assumption. Additional RFI proposals may/are floated for another 6 SSK's, looks like 6-8 Russian Amur class submarines maybe on the radar. With 3 Advanced Technology Vessel's (ATV) under construction in India (4-6 planned) and 1 or 2 SSN Akula class submarines under construction in Russia, future looks fairly comfortable.
Another important factor to consider is the AIP system for Scorpenes and Amurs. It'll be interesting to see whether we choose French MESMA or German PEM, the latter outperforms former (Pakistani Agosta's are equipped with MESMA's). India's sure to buy the MESMA systems for Scorepenes, though Siemens has offered to fit them with PEM . I have read that Hydrogen and Oxygen tanks in PEM have raised safety issues (I would be very happy if we go for PEM, looking at the advantages they offer :D). Though I'd love to see more nuclear attack submarines in our armory, due to their range and speed advantage over SSK's over.
India's first SSBN, the ATV, capable of carrying 12 nuclear-tipped Sagarika missiles of range about 750km and maybe 4 Agni-III SLBM with 5000km range, is scheduled to be launched next year.

Navy's Air Arm:
Here again, the INS Viraat is nearing end of its operational life. The Sea Harrier bought from the BAe are also fairly old enough. I guess RAF has already phased them out. Carrier Admiral Gorshkov is undergoing upgrade. The new MiG-29K's to be bought will again take time.
Project lags, cost overruns have frequently plagued the Armed forces. Many equipments like radars, Klub missiles are legacy systems of the Cold War era, which in fact are indeed outdated compared to latest technology.

Considering the above facts, it is safe to say that the Indian navy will be a force to reckon only not prior to 2020, when all of its submarines, ships, weapons and avionics are fully in service. Presently, we maybe/are fairly vulnerable. However, gaining blue water capability may take longer, but it'll come surely!!!
The Defence Ministry has assured to fill up the loopholes... They'll have to say that, considering massive budgets allocated for military!!!

Trivia: As for the title, I'd always like to stay away from a Great White Shark even if it is toothless, it has strong enough jaws to break a spinal chord!!! :D

SSK - Hunter-killer submarines (Diesel powered); in simple terms submarine to destroy other submarines or ships
SSN - Attack Submarine (Nuclear powered); in simple terms same as above, except faster than SSK's
SSBN - Ballistic Missile Submarine (Nuclear powered); in simple terms, submarines used to launch ballistic missiles from underwater

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Dark Night - Facing power shortage

5.50 am, 22nd October 2008
I painstakingly woke up in the morning for the 1st time in 6 months to witness the launch of India's 1st moon probe, Chandrayaan-1 scheduled at 6.20 am and to see the excitement in the mission control. PSLV's been always been successful in past couple of years, so I was fairly convinced enough that it would be a successful launch, even considering the uncertainty factor. Then it struck at 6.00am!
The power was cut off. Load shedding had begun. The most outrageous part is the uncertainty in the timings of load-shedding. Nowadays papers declare schedule, which is seldom followed by the Electricity Board. It's as per the convenience of theirs. This monsoon was the worst in Maharashtra, with upto 7 hours of power cut in cities while 12 hours in rural areas. Lack of rain was the main reason. Another important point is load-shedding isn't uniform everywhere. Some areas have almost zero load-shedding while some have as high as 12 hours, worst being rural areas. I dont get the logic behind this asymmetry and discrimination. Industries and citizens alike are hit by this. Other incident occured on the eve of Commonwealth Youth Games, with power down for 2 days.
The behavior of the board is not very pleasing either. They dont care to communicate the people the reason as well as answer any questions raised. Its been time since the MSEB's been privatised, but nothing seems to have changed. The power crisis needs to be tackled asap. The contentious Nuclear deal maybe a step in this direction.

False positive on the first post!!!

My 1st post on Google's Blogger wasn't what I'd expected! Google's flagged me as a potential spam blogger, although I'd signed up barely about 13-14 hours before. Filled up my profile, thought for a topic for my 1st post, but couldn't get one. So decided to search for some inspiration by reading some blogs which I followed. At last made up my mind to post. On hitting the "Posting" tab I got an error something like "Try again after some time". After numerous attempts in vain yielding same message I signed out. Today morning, I signed in and Guess what, I got a new message on my Dashboard "You are flagged as a potential spam blogger. We need to investigate blah blah..." something like that. I was quite bemused seeing the message that the filters classified me as a spammer. I'd read about false positives generated in Information Retrieval, but not what I was expecting one.
I've heard how Google responds to bugs found in their programs, claiming them as a "Features" of the program! While at the same time their Engineers sit back and patch the problem quietly while their PR's are explaining the "Features" (for more information
Hmm... so maybe this is just another of the product's "Feature" to keep out spammers! Remember??! Prevention is better than cure... eh!!! :D
One thing's for sure, even the most infallibles are prone to failure...